Phils' big bats buoy offense, seal win over Cubs


Sunday, June 12, 2011
Posted: 4:24 p.m.Updated: 7: 13 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury


Offense has been the Phillies major weakness this season and the most alarming flaw under that heading might be the teams hitting with runners in scoring position.

In the last 58 games, the Phils are hitting .232 with runners in scoring position. That ranks 23rd in the majors over that span. The Phils have forged the games best record largely on the backs of their pitchers.

Sunday was shaping up to be another day of missed offensive opportunities for this team. Twice in the first three innings, the Phils had the bases loaded with one out only to come away with one run in each inning against Chicago Cubs starter Doug Davis.

The missed opportunities hovered uncomfortably over the game until the seventh inning when Ryan Howard made the 159th straight sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park forget about those early squandered chances.

Howard laced a two-run single up the middle to help lift the Phils to a 4-3 win over the Cubs. Howard drove in three of his teams runs, raising his season total 53.

The victory pushed the Phils to 6-5 in what has been a mediocre month of June. They take a 40-26 record into Mondays off day before opening a four-game series against Florida on Tuesday night. The Marlins have had a terrible month, losing 10 of their first 11. Its time for the Phils to make some hay, and they might be ready to do that if the offense hums like it did for a good portion of the series against the Cubs. The Phils scored seven runs twice and had an encouraging late-game rally Sunday in taking three of four.

Sundays seventh-inning rally was encouraging because one of the guys in the middle of it is very important to this team. Chase Utley doubled off lefty reliever Sean Marshall, sending Shane Victorino (hit batsman) to third base. It was Utleys second hit of the day and second straight multi-hit game. He had an extra-base hit in both of those games, including a homer on Saturday. It can only help the Phils offense if hes ready to be a force in the middle of the lineup after missing most of the first two months with a knee injury.

I dont know if hes 100 percent back, but his hitting is definitely coming around, manager Charlie Manuel said of Utley. His balance at the plate is really good.

With runners on second and third and his team down by a run with no outs, Manuel had the guy he wanted at the plate. Howard is the games most prolific RBI man the last six-plus seasons.

All we needed was for Ryan to make contact to the right side and we were going to tie the game, Manuel said.

Howard had an RBI hit against Marshall the day before. He saw all curveballs in that at-bat. In this one, he saw all sliders and hit the fourth one up the middle through an infield shift to score two runs.

I was really just trying to put the ball in play to the right side, Howard said.

Opposing managers love to use lefty relievers against Utley and Howard late in games. If they can keep putting together good at-bats against lefties, the Phillies will be well served. Howard has nine hits in his last 15 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.

Thats a good sign because lefthanders will be coming at us all year long, Manuel said.

Howards hit in the seventh helped make a winner out of Roy Oswalt, who hadnt earned a W since April 21. Oswalt allowed three runs in the first inning, two coming when Aramis Ramirez hit a changeup into the leftfield seats, but held the Cubs in check the rest of the way.

Oswalt went seven innings for just the second time in 11 starts.

Thats not my fault, he said. I could have gone longer a few times. I just throw as many innings as I can until they take me out.

Oswalt has been lifted on occasion for a pinch-hitter when the Phils have struggled for runs.

The five strikeouts were as many as Oswalt has had in seven starts. His velocity has been down a tick or two, into the low 90s, since he came off the disabled list with a strained back in mid-April.

Rookie Mike Stutes received a nice challenge when he was asked to protect the one-run lead in the eighth. He did it well with a pair of strikeouts. Ryan Madson survived a long line drive from Geovany Soto with a man on base in the ninth inning and registered his 15th save when Utley made a nice game-ending catch in shallow right field.

Cole Hamels gets the ball in the series opener against Florida on Tuesday night.

The Phils are just 1-9 on Tuesdays.

Ah, but theyre 9-1 on Wednesdays and that bodes well with a doubleheader looming this Wednesday.

But first, the team with the best record in the majors gets a day off.

Were in first place, but were not satisfied, Howard said. We think we can play better.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at Follow him on Twitter @JSalisburyCSN.

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