Saturday, May 08, 2004

Offensive Words | It's no crime to need seven innings before touching Randy Johnson for a run, but one gets the feeling it may have been taken that long regardless of who was pitching last night. Despite the win, last night's offensive output was distressingly similar to the Phillies' season-long futility at the plate. Long balls have been plentiful, and have kept the Phils in the vicinity of .500, but their inability to put the top of the lineup on base and to hit with runners in scoring position has prevented them from grabbing a stranglehold on what appears to be a very weak division.

Take away Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, and David Bell, and you have no regular hitting above .235. Thome has clouted 10 dingers -- yet has only 16 runs batted in, a damning indictment of the early-season struggles of Marlon Byrd, Placido Polanco, and Bobby Abreu. Larry Bowa yesterday called the situation "embarrassing" and "not acceptable," while PhilliesBlog pleaded for "SOMEONE ... to help jumpstart the other players" and ease the considerable burden now weighing down Thome's broad shoulders.

Interestingly, despite five weeks of abject failure, it took the Phillies' four-hour flight to Phoenix for the horrific numbers to bite Bowa on the nose. As unacceptable as his hitters' performance has been thus far, though, he's not sure what else he can do, according to the notes column in today's Inky:

"We signed these guys to play," he said. "They're all established players with the exception of Marlon [Byrd]. The other guys are established big-leaguers. They all have pretty good numbers in their career. You've got to hope that they respond and start to hit."

There are two ways to look at this. The first is that Bowa, and Ed Wade, need to realize that the season is finite, and if certain players aren't hitting, some sort of changes must be made. Bowa's statement that "[w]e signed these guys to play" implies that because so much contract money is tied up in his underachieving bunch, he's going to stick with them come hell or high water. Yet this is what's referred to in the business world as a "sunk cost," an expenditure that can't be recouped regardless of how well or poorly the acquisition (in this case, players) performs. In other words, the money is already committed, so you lose nothing in trying out other options that may improve the bottom line (in this case, wins and losses) in the long run. The second view is that Bowa is correct. Nearly the entire lineup has a track record that warrants sticking things out, and it's not reasonable to think that proven hitters such as Abreu and Mike Lieberthal can be replaced, especially in early May.

The kicker is, both views are right. So, if changes need to be made -- if the Phils are a couple games below .500 and a few out of first, say, a month from now -- and if it's not reasonable to expect those changes to be made on the roster, where does that leave us?

More importantly, where does that leave Larry Bowa?


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