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May 1, 2000

NL East Notebook

Not Getting Their Phil

by Derek Zumsteg

While everyone was talking about Florida's hot start--prior to their five-game losing streak--no one noticed that the Phillies were getting phlattened, to the tune of 7-16. The culprit? The Phillies are dead last in the National League with 82 runs scored. That's an average of 3.6 runs a game, a number that seems respectable until I tell you an average NL team's scored about five a game. The Phillies are also last in the NL in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, so their place in the runs cellar is reasonable.

The culprits? Not Mickey Morandini, though mark my words, he will be.

Name            AB   OBP   SLG

Alex Arias 29 .152 .034 Kevin Jordan 34 .171 .206 Rico Brogna 82 .270 .378 Ron Gant 84 .302 .393 Doug Glanville 93 .307 .344

Ouch. The only bright spot so far is the performance of Bobby Abreu, who is putting up a .441 OBP with good power. He and Scott Rolen have crossed the plate 28 times, or more than a third of the team's total runs scored. It can be argued that a good offensive team can support one or two defense-oriented, bat-challenged players like Rey Ordonez, but three regulars, plus a pitcher in the nine hole, and maybe Arias or Jordan taking a turn? This is an offense that, playing behind the league-best Atlanta pitching staff and its 3.04 ERA, would still lose more than half its games.

Stories are circulating that Rico Brogna is pressing or distracted by not having a long-term contract. These ignore the obvious problem that Brogna isn't a very good hitter in the first place, and his cold start is not wildly out of line with his career performance (an OBP of .325 and a SLG of .460). It's not like he's Pat Burrell or something (Burrell, it should be noted, is finally starting to come out of his early-season slump in Scranton).

It's quite likely that these guys won't continue to hit this badly and that the Phillies won't finish the season in last place. But the contrast is striking: just as the Royals were heralded for their quick start and lauded for their youth movement, so now is Florida being recognized for the job they've done assembling talent after 1997's slash-and-burn. In the city of Brotherly Love, meanwhile, the vultures are already circling and headlines read:

"No relief in sight"

"Marlins handle punchless Phils"

"The meek shall inherit the cellar"

This is really the value of the quick start: the Marlins, no matter what occurs the rest of the season, will appear in next year's annuals with their start mentioned as an indicator of their talent, while the Phillies, even if they go 35-15 over the next two months, will never be the apples of Baseball Tonight's eye.

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