I'm about to throw some stats at you. Mind you, they aren't very good.
They concern the Phillies' No. 3 and 4 hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Both gentlemen have gotten off to very rocky starts here in 2015.
Utley is off to a 2-for-22 funk (.091) with six strikeouts. Howard is 4-for-24 (.167) with three doubles, one RBI and eight K's. Combined, the two are 6-for-46 (.130) through the team's first seven games.
That ain't good, and general manager Ruben Amaro was asked about the struggling middle of the order on 94 WIP Tuesday morning. Specifically, he cited Utley's ankle injury at the start of spring training as a reason for the second baseman's slow start.
"Chase obviously didn’t get as much playing time during the course of this Spring because of the ankle and he’s just gotta get into a rhythm," Amaro said. "He started off swinging the bat very well in Spring Training. He didn’t get enough at bats because of that ankle and he’s still getting into the swing of things. He’s still got good quickness in the bat, its just timing right now is not ideal. And I think he’ll be fine."
While it's true Utley was behind a bit at the start of spring training, he was far and away the team's best hitter down in Florida, 14-for-34 with four homers, 11 RBIs and an OPS of 1.297.
Now, I want to make this clear. Spring training stats mean nothing, almost as little as stats from the very first week of a six-month, 24-week season. There are 23 more weeks still to go, so everyone should be pumping the brakes on Utley here.
That being said, Amaro's reasoning for Utley's struggles don't really hold water. But hey, what else is he gonna say?
As for Howard, Amaro was asked if there was a chance the first baseman would start being platooned on a regular basis.
"There will be times when he gets some days off, perhaps could need them," Amaro said. "At the same time, I think it’s also important for us to try to get him—particularly early in the season—is to try to get him into some type of rhythm and see where he can go from there."
Mr. Amaro seems to be the only one left in the free thinking world that believes keeping Howard in against left-handers is going to HELP him get into a rhythm.
The truth is, if the Phillies really want to try and get Howard into a rhythm, they should prevent him from seeing as many left-handed pitchers as possible, because there is nothing good that comes from Ryno taking feeble hacks against the Jerry Blevinses of the world.
But Amaro wasn't done.
"Listen, the lineup is up to Ryno [manager Ryne Sandberg]. I think Ryan has to get to the point—we gotta get him to the point where he’s getting into a rhythm so that, that fine line between getting him enough at-bats and getting into a rhythm to see how productive he can be, and also to give other guys opportunities to play."
Did Amaro really just say that the lineup is up to Ryne Sandberg? Was that the case last year when the Phils were playing out the string and Howard was still there in the lineup, every single day?
While I was not inside the Phils' clubhouse at all last year, the sense from those following the team was that, by the end of the year, Sandberg's lineups were not exactly his own.
But it's now 2015, so perhaps the rules are different. The Phils would certainly love to build up Howard's trade value and get him to an American League team where he can DH on a regular basis. But playing him against left-handers is only going to hurt his trade value, and I'm not sure why none of the Phillies top decision makers can see that.
Howard simply is what he is nowadays. He's a hitter who can get hot and do some damage one out of every five weeks or so. That's it. And booing him doesn't make a lot of sense, either. It's not his fault that he suffered a terrible Achilles injury and his skills have regressed to this point. If the Phillies hadn't signed him to that silly contract extension, he'd be a bench player or off the team entirely.
For what it's worth, it was Howard, the guy who is booed mercilessly every game, who was out speaking to the media after Monday's 2-0 loss to the Mets. It was Howard taking the heat for his slow start. Utley was "not available" to speak about his struggles.
This not to slight Utley, but meant to show that Howard is a stand-up guy, and perhaps that should be considered when you are raining a cascade of boos upon him.
In the end, the Phils are relying on two aging, veteran players to anchor a lineup with no firepower anywhere else. It's not a surprise the offense is struggling, and it wouldn't be a surprise if it continued for the whole season.