The Phillies concluded a four-game sweep of the Nationals today, getting offensive production from virtually everyone BUT Raul Ibanez. It was good to see the Phillies pull out a win without Ibanez having a big day, but more than anything else it was surprising to see him go hitless, as he was flat-out dominant in the previous three games, hitting 9 for 14 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.
While the rest of the offense showed positive signs in today's game, the Phillies got an abysmal pitching performance from Chan Ho Park. It seemed as if perhaps Park had turned his season around in his last two outings, but whatever confidence he had gained was surely lost after he surrendered 5 runs in just 1 1/3 innings.
Though Park wasn't the only Phillies starter to struggle against the Nationals. The Phillies also had poor outings from Joe Blanton and Andrew Carpenter. Brett Myers was the only Phillies starter with an impressive performance in the series (7 IP, 2 ER, 8 K).
The Phillies relied on their hitting and the bullpen to bail out the rotation and, this time, it worked. The offense, led by Ibanez, put up 33 runs in the series. While it was encouraging to see the team hit so well, it's worth noting that they were facing the worst pitching staff in the league.
We'll see if this can propel the Phillies to a hot streak, as they prepare for road series against the Reds and the Yankees. There were certainly some good signs that this offensive performance was not a fluke. Namely, the new lineup that Charlie Manuel unveiled, which features Ibanez batting third. Here's the lineup that the Phillies used in yesterday's game:
This is an upgrade over the more traditional Phillies lineup (Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Feliz-Ruiz) for a couple of reasons. For one, it takes advantage of the fact that Ibanez has been the Phillies' best hitter this season. He's been hitting superbly for over a month now and it's ridiculous to bat him sixth.
And while it appears to be unbalanced, with three lefties in a row, the fact is that Utley and Ibanez have hit left-handed pitching just fine this season. In fact, Utley has hit lefties better than righties, with a 1.096 vs LHP and a .999 vs RHP and Ibanez's splits are fairly even (though his BB/K ratio vs LHP is considerably worse than vs RHP).
What this might also do is get Rollins going. He's had a very poor start to the season, but his bat showed signs of life in this series. With Utley hitting behind him, he'll get some pitches to hit. Howard, and the offense in general, will benefit from the top 2 OBPs on the team in front of him.
Much of the reason for the Phillies' occasional offensive lapses was the fact that Rollins and Victorino have hit poorly and generally done a terrible job of getting on base for the Phillies' sluggers. Rollins OBP is only .268 and Victorino's isn't that much better at .304. With those guys as your 1 and 2 hitters, it's no wonder the Phillies offense has stalled. Hopefully the new lineup will get Rollins going and perhaps Victorino will benefit from the reduced pressure of hitting lower in the order.
It's entirely possible that the recent offensive explosion was a result of facing the Nationals' horrible pitching, but it does make a lot of sense and should give the team a lift. Hopefully one that lasts until their pitchers get it together.