On April 17, 1976, Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt went wild. I’m not sure there’s a lot of commentary I need to offer beyond a link to this box score. If, however, you are too lazy to click, then let me draw your attention to the key line:
Mike Schmidt, 3B
That line represents four consecutive home runs as the future Hall of Fame third baseman helped the Phillies come back from a 12-1 deficit to beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field 18-16.
No one talked about PEDs back then, just the wind blowing out and an all-time great hitter who really loved to hit in Chicago. It’s fair to say that without the combination of Wrigley Field and poor Cubs pitching, Schmidt might still have gone to Cooperstown, but without the same high level of accolades (he hit .307/.396/.653 with 50 home runs in 138 games there).
In this case, Schmidt feasted off of at least one very good pitcher in Cubs starter Rick Reuschel, who was just a mid-career rotator cuff injury, a late-career affection for donuts and the Cubs organization itself away from a Hall of Fame career. It just wasn’t his day.
Although the Phillies scored five runs in six innings against Tim Lincecum on Monday night, they could use a hitter like Schmidt now, or even a hitter having a day like Schmidt’s. Heading into that game, the Phillies were hitting .260/.297/.345 as a team and ranked 15th in the league in runs scored.
When the Phillies began their current run of postseason teams beginning in 2007, they possessed the best offense in the National League with a .274 True Average. They dropped to fourth in 2008, rose back to first in 2009, were back to fourth again in 2010, and were a very average fifth in 2011.
Two down seasons hardly make a trend, of course, but the arrows have to be down.
Ryan Howard is hurt and had seemed to slide off his peak after 2009 (which is not to say he was bad, he just was no longer a four-win player). Chase Utley’s injuries have made his performance level and very availability open questions. What the two have left behind on offense—Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and an aging Jimmy Rollins—is not of a championship level.
Hitters like Mike Schmidt only come to a franchise once a generation, if that. Even if the Phillies had had one, Ruben Amaro Jr. would probably have traded him by now. The Phillies just don’t have a lot of alternatives to the John Mayberrys and Juan Pierres of the world right now, though they might think of breaking the glass on one alternative that they do have—come back, Domonic Brown, all is forgiven.