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Splitting Headache

Pat Burrell has 4 HR vs. lefties in 2006
(photo credit: Rube Waddell)
If you're wondering why the Phillies seem to be flailing at the plate these days--just two per game in four of their last five contests, and no serious offensive outbursts since they concluded their sweep of the Giants with a 9-5 win on May 7--it might have to do with where opposing pitcher s are coming from: the south side of the mound.

In their last three games, and four of the last six, the Phils have faced left-handed starters, and for the most part, the southpaws have had the better of it. Tom Glavine held the Phils to three runs in seven innings last Wednesday; okay, you say, Glavine's a future Hall of Famer enjoying a career resurgence at age 40. But the less than immortal Dave Williams (19-29, 4.46 on his career) surrendered two runs--just one earned--in 8.1 innings Saturday, and Brandon Claussen allowed a lone run, on Ryan Howard's pinch-homer, in 8 innings a day later. Tuesday night it was Chris Capuano's turn to hold down the Phillies: the Brewers ace gave up two runs in seven strong innings.

The heavy left-handed tilt of recent Phillies lineups has been a cause of some concern for a couple years now; Bobby Abreu, the now-departed Jim Thome, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, all noted mashers of right-handed pitchers, turn into different hitters against the lefties. In 2005, though, the Phils actually handled left-handers nicely: the club hit .274, with a .784 OPS, against them, a bit better than their .268/.767 off righties. Considering that the biggest lineup change of the off-season was replacing Thome, who was a miserable .158/.558 off lefties in his injury-marred '05 campaign, with Aaron Rowand (.303/.828), and that Howard almost had to improve upon his .148/.421 figures of a year ago, further progress seemed a reasonable expectation.

Put simply, it hasn't happened.

Through 38 games, the Phillies are hitting .225 against left-handers, with an OPS of .690. In 373 at-bats facing portsiders, the team has a measly 13 home runs. Recent injuries to Rowand and Mike Lieberthal, both of whom have healthy career splits versus lefties, might explain it... or maybe not. Before his trip to the disabled list, Rowand was just 6 for 31 (.194) off lefties, though two of those six hits left the park. Lieberthal has gone 4-14 against them, but all four hits were singles. The Phils' best lefty-masher has been Pat Burrell, who's hitting .308/.471/.667/1.137 in 39 at-bats, including four of his ten homers. David Bell, so great against lefties a year ago (1.053 OPS), has reverted back to his previous career habit of actually hitting right-handers better; he's just 6 for 33 (.182, .604 OPS) against lefties, but .291/.772 against righties.

Here's a full look at how the team has fared against left-handers thus far in 2006:

Burrell 39 .308/.471/.667/1.137
Victorino 20 .350/.409/.600/1.009
Howard 44 .295/.319/.523/.842
Abreu 35 .200/.383/.400/.783
Fasano 13 .308/.400/.308/.708
Rowand 31 .194/.242/.387/.630
Bell 33 .182/.270/.333/.604
Utley 45 .222/.352/.244/.596
Lieberthal 14 .286/.286/.286/.571
Rollins 38 .158/.250/.289/.539
Gonzalez 19 .158/.238/.158/.396
TEAM 373 .225/.318/.373/.690

Looking at the week ahead, the Phils are slated to see two more left-handers: Dana Eveland facing Cole Hamels Thursday in Milwaukee, and Lenny DiNardo of the Red Sox back home on Sunday. Eveland, a 22 year old rookie, has a 6.51 ERA in his brief big-league career; DiNardo has pitched to a 4.39 ERA, including a 6.17 mark this year. This would seem to be a good time for the Phils to return to their 2005 form against the southpaws.