There was a play in Sunday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates that kind of sums up what the Phillies are going through right now.
In the top of the fourth inning, with his team trailing by a run, Domonic Brown ricocheted a ball off of the second-base umpire and into centerfield. Ryan Howard went from third to home, tying the game, and Carlos Ruiz moved up to second base.
Not so fast, though, as Major League rules state that once the ball hit the umpire it became a dead ball. Howard could not advance on the play even though Brown was awarded first base and Ruiz moved to second.
With the bases loaded, Wilson Valdez grounded into a doubleplay to end the inning and leave the Phillies down by one.
They went on to win the game and avoid getting swept by the Pirates, but that short two-batter sequence highlights the kind of scuffling the Phillies offense is dealing with right now.
A lot of times in baseball you hear about the necessity of luck for a team to go deep into the postseason. That “luck” often is referred to when fluke plays help you win games, and right now, it doesn’t seem like that luck is on the Phillies’ side.
I am still holding to my stance that, while it is admittedly frustrating to watch, there is far too much baseball to play to get overly worried right now. A snapshot of the rest of the division might make this Phillies pill a bit easier to swallow, as well.
Throughout their past 10 games (until last Sunday), the Phillies had gone 5–5 while losing some outings to teams they really should beat with ease.
Things happen, though — like balls ricocheting off umpires — and the “luck” seems to be laughing at the Phillies right now.
The Florida Marlins — the team right behind the Phillies in the standings — had a golden opportunity to make up some ground on the division leaders. They went 3–7 over that same 10-game span, though, and actually lost ground.
The Atlanta Braves, who were behind the Marlins, matched the Phillies’ 5–5 performance, moving up on the Marlins but staying the same distance behind the Phils.
The Phillies still lead the division by three games, plus they still have the best winning percentage in all of baseball.
Not a bad position to be in.
There has been a bright spot in the struggling lineup, though. Domonic Brown, the Phillies’ heir-apparent to the rightfield job, has been getting comfortable with his increased workload of late.
Over his last 10 games, the 23-year-old Brown had put together 13 hits and two walks in 32 plate appearances, while striking out just three times.
One of those 13 hits was his first home run of the season, but what has been more impressive is his consistency in making contact with the ball.
In that game Sunday against the Pirates, Brown smoked a few balls down the rightfield line that were just foul but had plenty of distance to be a home run. Then there was that earlier shot, which would have delivered an RBI had that umpire been a bit more agile.
The biggest positive to take from this is that these guys have been here before. Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins . . . they all have gone through prolonged struggles before.
They also have dealt with those struggles and won a World Series, as well as four consecutive National League East pennants.
It’s fair to say that time is still on the Phillies’ side. ••
Columnist Matt Godfrey can be reached at email@example.com