Why it's hard to see anyone eclipsing the Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley hitting streaks anytime soon

Why it's hard to see anyone eclipsing the Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley hitting streaks anytime soon

You probably remember their long hitting streaks, but did you realize that Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley still have the longest two hitting streaks in baseball since 1988?

Just ahead of September 2005, Rollins said he would hit .400 in the regular season's final month. He ended up hitting in every single game that month, going 49 for 122 to hit .402.

Rollins' 38-gamer is the longest hitting streak in MLB since Paul Molitor's 39 in 1987. Rollins finished the 2005 season with a hit in 36 straight games and carried it over into the first two games of 2006. 

There was some controversy back then as to whether a true hitting streak could carry over into a new season. And even if Rollins did improbably beat Joe DiMaggio's 56-game record — which began 79 years ago this week — DiMaggio's mark still would have held up as the longest ever single-season hit streak.

Rollins, despite the superstitions typically associated with these things, wasn't shy to talk about it during that offseason. And the opportunity came up a lot.

"You know they'll be coming after you," a limo driver in Las Vegas said to Rollins that offseason.

"Huh?" Rollins asked

"The hitting streak," the driver replied. "You know the pitchers will be coming after you."

Rollins was shocked the driver knew. "They don't even have major league baseball in Vegas," he said. "I guess some people have noticed, and that's cool."

Utley's 35-game hit streak came later in the 2006 season, matching Luis Castillo's in 2002 and trailing only Rollins' over the last 32 seasons.

Utley's streak began on June 23, 2006 and ran through Aug. 3. He hit .405 in the 35 games with 25 extra-base hits, 30 RBI and 35 runs scored. Yet the Phillies went just 17-18.

Utley, unsurprisingly, handled his streak differently.

"I tried to talk to him about it one time," Rollins said in '06. "He had just gotten a hit in his last at-bat against Atlanta (on July 21, the 22nd game of the streak). We were out in the field, and I said something to him. He just gave me those big eyes. 

"I looked at him and said, 'Are you superstitious?' He said, 'Yeah.' That was the end of that. I haven't talked to him about it since."

Over the last two decades, many of the extended hitting streaks across the game have ended at exactly 30 games, whether that's something psychological or just a coincidence. From 2000 to 2016, Freddie Freeman, Andre Ethier, Ryan Zimmerman, Moises Alou, Willy Taveras and Albert Pujols all hit in 30 straight games and had their streak snapped in Game 31. 

In fact, the only player since Utley and Rollins to hit in more than 30 straight games was Dan Uggla in 2011, an ironic fact because Uggla would have been one of the least likely players of his era to deliver that sort of consistency. Uggla hit .233 the year he hit in 33 straight games and was a career .241 hitter.

It's not a coincidence that these long hitting streaks have largely disappeared from the game. MLB's strikeout total has risen 14 seasons in a row. In 2019, there were 10,563 more strikeouts than in 2005, the year Rollins' hit streak began.

Walk totals have also risen dramatically over the last five years. There were 1,875 more walks in 2019 than there were in 2014. Utley, a very selective hitter, walked only 11 times during his 35-game streak. In the current era, he'd have likely walked more, which would have given him fewer opportunities to pick up extra hits or perhaps extend the streak.

There are so many fewer balls in play nowadays, and you can count the infield shift as another reason.

The singles hitters like Castillo and Juan Pierre have never been valued less. For much of baseball's history, if you hit .290 without walking or hitting for power, you were still regarded as a .290 hitter. Now, if you hit .290 without walking or hitting for power, you're probably not at the top of your lineup, and your low OPS sticks out just as much as your .290 batting average, maybe more.

Rollins' streak nearly ended on opening day 2006. He went hitless in his first three at-bats, then faced a 3-0 count against Adam Wainwright in the eighth inning of a lopsided game. Give then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa credit for his handling of that AB.

"You have to play the game," La Russa said. "A hitting streak, that's part of the game. We can't walk him in that spot. I wouldn't want us to be the team that walked him in his last at-bat and took it away from him."

Rollins and Utley also just had the skill sets conducive to long hitting streaks. Both could hit for average and for power, both had speed, and when they got hot, look out. One of the most important factors in a hitting streak is beating out bang-bang plays. Utley had eight infield hits during his streak. Rollins had six during his.

Another major factor was lineup protection. As hot as Utley was in the summer of '06, intentionally walking him didn't make a ton of sense because he was batting in front of Bobby Abreu (until Abreu was traded) and Ryan Howard. Utley's 35-gamer took place the same year as Howard's historic MVP season, the .313/.425/.659 with 58 homers and 149 RBI season. Back then, you were not putting anyone on base ahead of Howard if you didn't absolutely need to.

In a shortened 2020 season, it is unlikely that someone will eclipse Rollins' or Utley's mark. Just fewer opportunities. Which active major-leaguers are best equipped to exceed Rollins' 38-game streak?

I wouldn't bet on anyone but my top four picks, based on skill, contact rate and aggressiveness would be Whit Merrifield, D.J. LeMahieu, Jeff McNeil and Tim Anderson. It's an enormous ask of any player, but the key would seem to be finding a very good hitter who doesn't walk much and bats toward the top of his order, allowing for the maximum number of chances to extend the streak.

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Citing huge losses in revenue, Phillies make salary cuts

Citing huge losses in revenue, Phillies make salary cuts

Projecting losses of "substantially more than $100 million," Phillies ownership on Monday instituted salary cuts for its top-earning employees.

The cuts, effective immediately, apply to employees earning more than $90,000 per year. Employees making $90,000 or less are not subject to cuts.

"Our senior executives have made significant and deep non-payroll expense cuts across the organization, but even with their best efforts, the Phillies will lose substantially more than $100 million this year," managing partner John Middleton wrote in a letter that was emailed to full-time employees and obtained by NBC Sports Philadelphia.

"These staggering losses have forced ownership and senior management to make difficult but necessary decisions, as have other clubs and businesses confronted with the impact of Covid-19, to protect the financial viability of our organization and to ensure our future. All of us, beginning with me, must make sacrifices."

Employees making over $90,000 will have a percentage of their pay reduced on a graduated basis; the higher the salary, the bigger the cut. The reductions will continue through October 31, the end of the team's fiscal year. In his letter, Middleton stated that he would forego his compensation for the balance of the year.

"While I remain hopeful that we will see baseball at Citizens Bank Park this summer, any games played will almost surely be played without fans in the ballpark which is regrettable," Middleton wrote. "The absence of fans creates an enormous financial challenge, as approximately 40 percent of our total annual revenue is generated by attendance — tickets, food and merchandise concessions, parking and sponsorships. With no fans in the stands, these sources of revenue evaporate."

Middleton stated that employees would be treated the same, whether they were on the baseball side or the business side.

In recent weeks, Phillies ownership pledged it would not cut jobs or employee benefits through October. Employees from some other teams have not been so fortunate. 

The Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A's, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds are teams known to have issued furloughs. Many other teams, including high-profile clubs such as the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers have instituted pay cuts. According to reports, 80 percent of Cubs employees have been subject to a 20 percent pay cut and Dodgers employees making over $75,000 have been cut up to 35 percent. Red Sox employees making over $50,000 have received cuts ranging from 20 to 30 percent.

"This salary reduction plan does not come close to eliminating our 2020 losses," Middleton wrote. "As a result of the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Buck and Middleton families must now invest an additional $100 million in the Phillies over the next year to ensure the continued stability of the club. During these uncertain and distressing times, our decision-making must address both short-term and long-term financial ramifications, especially since none of us knows when and how this pandemic will end. Our success historically has been defined by a culture of collaboration, and I am asking all of you to continue working with me to meet this challenge."

As the calendar turned to June on Monday, Major League Baseball and the players union continued to negotiate a way to bring the game back for a shortened season this summer. The sides remain apart on financial issues. A resolution must come in the next week or so if a season is to commence in early July.

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Phillies Talk podcast: MLBPA proposal, Roy Halladay documentary and 2008 Phils magic

Phillies Talk podcast: MLBPA proposal, Roy Halladay documentary and 2008 Phils magic

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman react to the MLBPA's latest proposal, the Roy Halladay documentary and recall some of their favorite moments from the Phillies' opening playoff series in 2008.

• Are players and owners closer to a financial resolution?

• It seems like the two sides are having completely separate conversation.

• What's more likely: 82 games or 114?

• Our takeaways from the Roy Halladay documentary.

• Halladay may have ended up coaching with the Phillies.

• 1-on-1 with Cole Hamels about 2008 playoffs.

• Best moments and memories of that 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers.

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