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Inside the Box Score: Life Without Utley and Howard

Apr 10, 2012, 2:25 PM EDT

A look at what the Phillies' first and second basemen have done at the plate through four games this season.

Everybody was bracing for a reduction in run production with the Phillies this season. Four games in, it’s even worse than many imagined.

The Fightins have managed to scrounge together a paltry eight runs in 37 innings this season. That total is good for dead last in scoring in the National League, and only half a run per game ahead of the Minnesota Twins for worst in all of Major League Baseball.

Some folks are preaching patience, because after all, it is only four games. That said, while the Phils likely can’t keep up the current pace, which would set a record for offensive futility over a 162-game season, there is little reason to believe things are going to magically turn around at the plate.

Not until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return anyway. Without their five-time All Star second baseman, or the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player at first, the Phillies are getting next to nothing out of the right side of the infield in the early goings.

Second base is one thing. Freddy Galvis has started all four games in place of Utley so far, going 1-for-13 with a walk in 14 plate appearances — good for the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the clubhouse. Additionally, they’ve had trouble turning the lineup over when Galvis bats eighth. The pitcher’s spot led off an inning six times in the first two games against Pittsburgh.

At least he has an excuse though. Galvis is a rookie who had all of 33 Triple A appearances under his belt prior to making his big league debut on Opening Day. We were already dealing in lowered expectations until Utley gets back.

Simply put, first base is a mess.

Who’s On First?

wigginton.firstbase

Charlie Manuel has already started four different players through four games. The combination of John Mayberry, Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton has come up with four hits and two walks in 29 total plate appearances, wherever they happen to be playing that day.

Officially, the position is 2-for-16 with one run scored, no walks, and no RBIs. The first baseman had come up fifth in the order for the Pirates series, but was dropped down to six against the Marlins on Monday.

Plus, defensive lapses at the bag have cost Philly as well — which, of course, has nothing to do with run production, but is quickly becoming a problem all the same.

On Sunday, Wigginton dropped a throw from Brian Schneider that would have made it two outs and none on in the seventh inning. Instead, the runner was safe, and Pittsburgh wound up scoring two in the frame, helping launch their eventual come-from-behind victory in the ninth.

Against Miami on Monday, Mayberry inexplicably backed up Cole Hamels on a bunt, then watched as the pitcher gunned the ball to the imaginary man at first base. The runner advanced to third on the error, and eventually came across for an insurance run in the sixth.

Howard may not be the greatest defensive first baseman ever, but he usually catches the ball, and at least knows where he’s supposed to be.

Mainly they’re missing his pop though, and not just the long ball. Without Howard and Utley in the lineup, the Phils have seemingly lost the ability to score quickly in any situation.

Extras Base Hits

marlins.baserunning

The Phillies have four extra base hits this year, the lowest total in baseball. Hunter Pence has two. Mayberry has one. Galvis, as you probably heard, has the other — it was arguably the biggest hit of the season so far, which is saying something.

By contrast, look at the top of the order. Shane Victornio has four hits, none for extra bases. Placido Polanco doesn’t have any either, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — he went the entire 2011 season with fewer than 20 XBHs. And Jimmy Rollins, who bats third now remember… you get the idea.

The only game in which the Phils scored more than two runs just happens to be the only game where they had multiple extra base knocks, which most likely is not a coincidence.

It’s difficult to score runs when you’re only ever advancing one base at a time. The Fightins can play small ball all they like, and if they do it right, they’ll even win some games. Had they managed to manufacture one more run in either loss to the Pirates, they might have swept the series — and the opportunities were there.

That was the Pirates though. The Marlins drove the ball on Monday. They found gaps, and yes, they even went yard a few times. They were able to strike quickly, producing runs out of one or two at bats, three at most.

In order to score by taking one base at a time, a chain of players have to do multiple things right, both at the plate and on the base paths. Even then, they’re often giving away outs to score a run or two, which makes rallying unlikely.

Not that it wasn’t already. Without Utley and Howard, the Phillies are severely lacking in big hits, and nobody has stepped up to replace them. Guys like Rollins and Victorino will get theirs, and Pence can really turn it on.

But as long as the right side of the infield continues to resemble a black hole, it doesn’t seem that will be enough. Having two automatic outs in a lineup with no power is probably too much for any team to overcome more often than not, even with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels in a rotation.

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