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The Tale of The Phillies and the Dying Home Run

The Phillies could not avoid the symbolism of yesterday's stadium promotion and the performance of a powerless offense.

The heart of the Phillies order take a stroll along the base paths after Wednesday's game.
The heart of the Phillies order take a stroll along the base paths after Wednesday's game.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies were shut out by the L.A. Angels yesterday afternoon, 3-0. It was the third time in the last nine games the Phils' offense has been shut out. They are 12th out of 15 NL teams in runs scored, 12th in isolated power, 11th in slugging percentage, 9th in on-base percentage, and 9th in batting average.

In other words, the Phillies rank among the bottom half of all National League teams in virtually every important offensive category.

But the one area that is hurting the Phils the most is the area the team used to be known for the most.

The home run has disappeared from the Phillies playbook.

The team's 25 HRs in 38 games is second-worst in the NL, ahead of only the St. Louis Cardinals, despite playing in what is still considered a very homer-friendly ballpark. It is perhaps one of the reasons the Phillies are just 6-11 at Citizens Bank Park this year. They are simply unable to utilize the main advantage their home park gives them, the long ball.

At the current pace, the Phillies would hit 107 HRs over the course of a 162-game season. Here's how that compares with their homer totals since 2007...

Year    HRs
2007    213
2008    214
2009    224
2010    166
2011    153
2012    158
2013    140
2014    107

As you can see, their home run totals have dwindled since they reached a peak in 2009. But the issues this year are even more pronounced than the last few years, and it's grown worse as the season has gone on.

In the last seven days, the offense has been able to muster just two home runs. In the last 14 days, they've hit just six. And over the last 30 days, they've hit 12.

Of course, home runs across baseball are down. By my rough math, and small sample sizes taken into consideration, MLB has seen an average of about 0.90 HR/game so far in 2014, compared to the 1.03 HR/game rate seen in 2009. Still, the Phils' drop this year has been even more precipitous than the rest of the league, with the Phils averaging just 0.66 HR/game, far below league average.

The reason this is such a big deal is that the lack of home runs means the Phils have to work extremely hard to manufacture runs, which requires lots of hits and walks to be bunched together at the same time in order put up crooked-number innings.

"We need the timely hitting, especially here at home," manager Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday's game. "We need to tune up the bats here at home and score some runs and put the two together to create a chance to win."

And while that is very true, timely hitting is a difficult thing to count on. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. But a team that has home run hitters on it can sometimes fight through those stretches where the timely hitting isn't there.

During the Phils' 2008 World Series run, the team didn't do terribly well at hitting with runners in scoring position. But the offense scored runs because they hit lots of home runs.

That just isn't realistic for this group, however.

At the moment, Ryan Howard leads the team with 7 HRs which, when projected over an unrealistic 162-game schedule, would put him at 30 HRs for the season. Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd both have 4 HRs, putting them on a pace for 17. Chase Utley, who is having a terrific season at the plate, still has only 3 HRs, the same number as Cody Asche. That would equate to 13 HRs for a 162-game season. Domonic Brown and Carlos Ruiz have just 1 HR and, of course, Ben Revere will never hit a home run as long as he lives.

The lack of power from the outfield is particularly disturbing. Right now, the trio of Byrd, Brown and Revere would combine for 21 home runs over the course of a 162-game season. Jayson Werth eclipsed that total himself all three years he was a Phillie regular (2008, '09, and '10). Shane Victorino averaged 14 HRs a season in the five years he was the everyday center fielder, which of course is 14 more than Revere will give the Phillies in that same capacity. And the combination of Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez averaged 27 HRs a season from 2007-2011, the same number Brown hit last year.

Is there a solution to this problem? The hope is that Brown can rediscover last year's power stroke and start putting some balls into the seats again. Perhaps Byrd, who is having a very solid season at the plate without hitting homers, will start to elevate some pitches out of the park as the weather gets warmer. Maybe Howard gets hot in a way he hasn't since '09 (although I doubt it). And while it's unfair to ask any more from Utley, maybe he'll increase his homer rate. Utley, by the way, has not homered since April 13.

That's a long time.

But asking for more power production from Asche and Chooch is unrealistic, and you can forget about Revere. It's the consequence of having an aging core combined with young players who are going through some struggles at the moment. Perhaps Maikel Franco and/or Darin Ruf will provide some power if they join the team at some point this year, although that probably won't move the needle all that much.

Sandberg said after Wednesday's whitewashing by the Angels that he would consider making lineup changes with the off-day scheduled for Thursday. But what changes can he really make? Remove Revere and his sub-.300 OBP from the top of the lineup? Bench Brown and Asche? For whom?

I just don't see where the production is going to come from.

The offense is sunk if they don't suddenly see an increase in power from the young players or a drastic increase in the team's overall on-base percentage and hitting with runners in scoring position. There's no way they can support a decent starting rotation and/or help bail out a weak bullpen if they keep going like this. It's going to make it very difficult to sustain any kind of winning streak.

It's going to lead to a lot more days like yesterday.