Monday, March 21, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Ballpark

Some of the Phillies starting pitchers need more work on the logic than their stuff.

Randy Wolf had another shaky outing last week, allowing six runs in just over four innings. Afterwards, Wolf told reporters he had his best command of the Spring. Yikes!

Brett Myers had another lousy outing over the weekend but with a logic known only to himself declared he was pleased with his fastball. The line score read: 11 hits, six runs, 3 1/3 innings pitched. Myers now sports an ERA of 9.56. But, oh that fastball!

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Poor Marlon Byrd. He has had a fantastic Spring and appears to be a cinch to head north with the club. Moreover, with Kenny Lofton still nursing a hamstring, Byrd looked like a good bet to begin the season as the starting centerfielder. So what happens? He dives back into first base to avoid a pickoff and dislocates a finger. As of yesterday, the finger was merely dislocated not broken, and no ligament damage seems to have occurred; but Marlon could be out as many as two weeks. Whatever the final diagnosis, it makes sense for him to sit until fully recovered. Jim Thome injured a finger last spring, tried to play through it, and never fully healed. But Byrd and the Phils must be disappointed.

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Indications are David Bell will be in the starting lineup come opening day. That leaves our old friend Placido Polanco without a spot. I’ll spare readers my usual litany of Polanco’s virtues and simply predict he will get a lot of playing time before too long.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hot Links

Looking for a new-age sign that the seasons really do turn? Take a glance at the list of hot links to the various sports that resides on the left side of ESPN’s opening splash page. Sure enough, MLB has moved up to the number three slot, right behind the NBA and College Basketball.

In Philadelphia, however, MLB would only rank number four. The locals can’t or won’t let go of the Eagles. As Grapefruit League play gets underway, most of the talk-show junkies -- hosts, guests and callers alike -- are far more preoccupied with whom the Eagles have signed, re-signed, declined to sign, tendered offers to, or not tendered offers to. The Phillies? Oh, yeah, the Phillies. Camp has opened, right?

The Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury devotes his entire column today to the region’s lack of enthusiasm for the Phillies. “This winter, you needed a high-powered stethoscope to detect a Phillies buzz,” Salisbury writes.

What is it going to take to turn a few more heads? How about winning? The Eagles have been to four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. True, they lost all four of them, but they have routinely advanced deep into the playoffs. The Phils last made a playoff appearance in 1993. Since then, they have had seven losing seasons. Five managers have come and gone. Great players have been signed and lost. The one constant has been disappointment and mediocrity.

Will this be the year things change? Few if any observers are predicting an end to the futility. A lot of good things must happen, especially among the starting rotation, and already one on whom much hope is riding, Vicente Padilla, has been shut down for the remainder of spring training with recurring tendonitis.

The bright spot may be their offense. Much of its success will depend on two players, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal. If the left fielder can regain his confidence and hit between .270 and .280, the heart of the order – Abreu, Thome and Burrell – will be potent. If Lieberthal can start as fast as he finished last season, the Phils won’t strand so many runners in scoring position. And with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and (I predict) Placido Polanco surrounding those three, the Phils should score runs.

Admittedly those are a lot of “ifs”, but, allowing for this big one, if the offense produces heads will surely turn and by the time the Eagles open training camp in July and the hot link to the NFL begins to rise over at ESPN, the locals will be too engrossed in a pennant race to be distracted.