10/24/08 6:39 PM EST
Seeking spark, Phils may adjust lineup
Manuel could split lefties Utley and Howard, bat Victorino No. 2
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
The Phillies, as you no doubt know by now, have not played efficient offense through two games of the World Series. They've gone 1-for-28 with runners in scoring position and stranded 22 runners.
One or two -- or six -- lineup changes won't fix that, of course. Performance like that gets fixed by execution, not managerial maneuvering. But Manuel could make a couple of moves to put his players in the best position to succeed, and he's at least pondering the possibility for Saturday night's Game 3.
In particular, he's considering splitting his two left-handed sluggers, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. They typically bat third and fourth, leaving the Phils vulnerable to left-handed relief specialists. Utley has a minimal platoon split, but Howard becomes a much less effective hitter against southpaws.
"I think about that," Manuel said on Friday, in light of rookie lefty David Price's strong relief effort in Game 2.
"But also, if you sit there and think, the right-hand hitters have to get him, too. We have big right-hand hitters standing in there, too. They're the ones that have to take the slack off the left-hand hitters. When you balance out your lineup and you look for balance, that's the way I look at it. Howard and Utley, when I split them up, sometimes it works."
The way that Manuel did that in September was to put Jayson Werth in the third spot and move Utley up to second. Another alternative would be to flip Howard and Burrell, putting the righty-swinging Burrell fourth and Howard fifth.
|How the Phillies have fared with runners in scoring position so far in the World Series:|
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If Manuel chooses to put Utley second, he removes another of his more intriguing alternatives: returning Shane Victorino to that spot. Victorino and Werth have flip-flopped between second and sixth throughout the postseason and regular season, with Werth hitting second and Victorino sixth for the past four games.
The Phillies have scored more runs with Victorino serving as a table-setter than when he bats lower in the order. In 100 regular-season and playoff games with Victorino starting in the leadoff or No. 2 spot, the Phillies have scored 497 runs -- 4.97 per game. In 48 games where he has started as the No. 5, 6 or 7 hitter, they've scored 228 runs, or 4.75 per game.
It's not a gaping difference, but it's noticeable. And with an offense struggling to turn threats into rallies, a new look might help.
The greatest argument is more about the No. 6 spot than the No. 2 hole. The Phillies are short-circuiting when it comes to driving in runs, not getting baserunners. The hitters at the heart of the order -- Utley, Howard and Burrell -- have combined to get on base by hit or walk nine times in two games. It wouldn't hurt to have a little power behind them.
As a counter, it's true that Victorino's basestealing is better utilized at the bottom of the order. After all, you don't want to run into an out and remove a baserunner when Utley, Howard or Burrell is at the plate. But Werth's power is a better fit for the six-hole, since that position is much more likely to provide RBI opportunities.
Manuel generally prefers that configuration against left-handed pitchers, rather than right-handers such as the Rays' Matt Garza. But what's happened thus far isn't working. It's probably time for a different look one way or another.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.