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


Offensehas been the Phillies major weakness this season and the most alarmingflaw under that heading might be the teams hitting with runners inscoring position.

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

Sunday was shaping up to be anotherday of missed offensive opportunities for this team. Twice in the firstthree innings, the Phils had the bases loaded with one out only to comeaway with one run in each inning against Chicago Cubs starter DougDavis.

The missed opportunities hovered uncomfortably over thegame until the seventh inning when Ryan Howard made the 159th straightsellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park forget about those early squanderedchances.

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

The victory pushed thePhils to 6-5 in what has been a mediocre month of June. They take a40-26 record into Mondays off day before opening a four-game seriesagainst Florida on Tuesday night. The Marlins have had a terriblemonth, losing 10 of their first 11. Its time for the Phils to makesome hay, and they might be ready to do that if the offense hums likeit did for a good portion of the series against the Cubs. The Philsscored seven runs twice and had an encouraging late-game rally Sundayin taking three of four.

Sundays seventh-inning rally wasencouraging because one of the guys in the middle of it is veryimportant to this team. Chase Utley doubled off lefty reliever SeanMarshall, sending Shane Victorino (hit batsman) to third base. It wasUtleys second hit of the day and second straight multi-hit game. Hehad an extra-base hit in both of those games, including a homer onSaturday. It can only help the Phils offense if hes ready to be aforce in the middle of the lineup after missing most of the first twomonths with a knee injury.

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

Withrunners 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 mostprolific 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.

Howardhad an RBI hit against Marshall the day before. He saw all curveballsin that at-bat. In this one, he saw all sliders and hit the fourth oneup 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.

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

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

Howardshit in the seventh helped make a winner out of Roy Oswalt, who hadntearned a W since April 21. Oswalt allowed three runs in the firstinning, two coming when Aramis Ramirez hit a changeup into theleftfield seats, but held the Cubs in check the rest of the way.

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

Thatsnot my fault, he said. I could have gone longer a few times. I justthrow 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.

Thefive strikeouts were as many as Oswalt has had in seven starts. Hisvelocity has been down a tick or two, into the low 90s, since he cameoff the disabled list with a strained back in mid-April.

RookieMike Stutes received a nice challenge when he was asked to protect theone-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 onbase in the ninth inning and registered his 15th save when Utley made anice 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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