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July 22, 2010

BP Unfiltered

Left Without Much Choice

by John Perrotto

Joe Blanton hit a home run for the Phillies in the 2008 World Series off the Rays' Edwin Jackson, a pretty neat trick considering that remains the right-hander's only extra-base hit in a combined 154 plate appearances in the regular season and postseason. Considering the state of the Phillies' injury-plagued roster right now, that qualifies Blanton as a better option than most of the hitters on the two-time defending National League champions' bench.

And that is why there is a good chance we won't be calling the Phillies the three-time defending NL champs at this time next year.

The Phillies dropped to just two games above .500 on Wednesday as they lost to the streaking Cardinals 5-1 at St. Louis. The Phillies, at 48-46, have fallen seven games off the Braves' pace in the National League East and trail the wild-card leading Reds by four games.

It might not be time to run up the white flag over Citizens Bank Park. However, a decision by Charlie Manuel in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's loss showed that surrender time is nearing.

The game was tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs when Manuel allowed Blanton to bat against Jaime Garcia. Blanton struck out to kill the threat then promptly gave up Matt Holliday's tie-breaking home run to lead off the bottom of the inning. The Cardinals scored three more runs off Blanton in the eighth to win their eighth straight game and send the Phillies to their sixth loss in seven games since the All-Star break.

Manuel said he had his reasons for allowing Blanton to bat in that situation. One was that Blanton has thrown just 74 pitches and another was that there were two outs. However, the biggest reason was that Manuel didn't have any better alternatives.

Four of Manuel's five reserves were left-handed batters in Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload, Raul Ibanez and Brian Schneider. Manuel, as has been his habit in recent weeks, started his top right-handed bench bat, Ben Francisco, in Ibanez's place in left field against a left-handed starter. Another right-handed hitter with some pop, Cody Ransom, was also in the starting lineup in place of injured second baseman Chase Utley.

Sending a lefty to the plate against Garcia is not a good idea as he had held them to a .225/.296/.258 line with no home runs in 99 PA this season entering Wednesday's game. Manuel's lone pinch-hitting option from the right side was infielder Wilson Valdez. It is never a really good idea to send Valdez to the plate in any situation. The fact that he has hit four home runs this season to quadruple his career total does not mask the fact that he is a .230/.272/.321 career hitter in 566 PA and has an extreme reverse platoon split this season, hitting .281/.301/.432 with all four homers in 146 PA against righties and .130/.184/.196 in 51 PA against left-handers.

As sure as you can count on Manuel using the word "like" in almost every sentence—"Chase Utley, like he's a real good player and we really miss him"—you can count on him to know his hitters better than any manager in the game. Manuel proudly proclaims himself as being "a hitting guy."

That Manuel knew his best chance to drive in multiple runs in a tie game in the late innings was to stick with Blanton and his .127/.178/.127 career line tells you exactly why, like, the Phillies are closer to .500 than first place with the season nearing the two-thirds mark.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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