Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Up and Down

An 11-2 win is nothing to sneeze at but the overall numbers are the ones that don’t lie. With slightly less than a third of the season in the books, the Phillies are two games above .500. Average. Win one; lose one.

Putting it all together hasn’t been easy for this year’s installment of the Phillies and despite the lopsided totals last night, the bigger picture continues a disturbing trend.

Following another poor start in April, the Phillies turned things around in early May winning twelve of thirteen. During that stretch it seemed every night a different player stepped up and made a difference. Then came the swoon during which it was just a likely that every night a different players let the side down.

The first few innings of last night’s game were prime examples of this pattern.

Batting from the right side, much-maligned Jimmy Rollins doubled to open the game. Since returning to the lead-off spot three games ago J-Roll has been on a tear. Chase Utley moved him to third on a ground out to the right side and Bobby Abreu followed with a ground out to short, scoring Rollins. There were a few rarities in that half inning of play: Rollins entered the game only hitting .189 versus left-handers and the Phillies almost never score playing small ball.

Unfortunately, in the next half inning a far more commonplace occurrence followed. Jon Lieber promptly served up a long home run to the first batter he faced, Ryan Zimmerman and the score was knotted at one all. Phillies pitchers in general, starters particularly, have surrendered leads in the next half inning with alarming frequency. If nothing else, it has to be deflating to the offense.

This particularly night, however, another unexpected hero stepped up. Clay Condrey, on the roster because Cole Hamels is on the Disable List, came on in relief when Jon Lieber suffered a groin injury at the end of the second inning. Condrey had been on the Phillies’ roster briefly earlier in the season but for all intents and purposes he hadn’t spent significant time on a big league roster since his tenure with San Diego in 2003. Condrey pitched four innings of one-run (unearned) ball to earn the win.

In the sixth and seventh innings the Phillies broke the game wide open including Ryan Howard’s 12th opposite field home run and 18th overall for the season. The three-run blast was, in Howard’s own words, atonement for the throwing error earlier in the game that allowed Washington to again tie the score at 2 all. It was Howard’s eight error of the season, making him the guy who stepped up and let the side down all on the same night. That’s what I am talking about.

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Generally speaking I like Larry Andersen’s commentary, especially when he wonders out loud why pitchers are afraid to throw certain pitchers when ahead in the count or why so many batters fail to recognize the game situation. He tells it like it is.

That said, however, if I hear him say one more time that given the heat and humidity the ball is going “fly out of here” at Citizens Bank Park I am going to turn off the sound for him as well. Jon Lieber’s gopher ball to Ryan Zimmerman had absolutely nothing to do with the heat and humidity. He threw what looked like an 86 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate and Zimmerman crushed it. That was not telling it like it is, Larry.


RickSchuBlues said...

It was a typically crappy pitch from Lieber that Zimmerman hit out but I have to say I couldn't believe it went out. The homers to right field in CBP are always the ones that surprise me - a lot of them just look like deep fly balls that have no business being homers. I'll never forget the one Todd Zeile hit the first year it opened, it looked like a catchable line drive just to the right of center field, that wouldn't even have made it to the wall on the fly in a normal park. And then it was in the seats. Wha...? So I have to stand up for Andersen and say the temperature and the dimensions had a lot to do with that ball going out. It was a cheapie.

Tom Goodman said...

That is what he said, too. That it just seemed to carry and carry and there it went. But it was a lousy pitch from a guy who came here with a reputation as a ground ball pitcher.

RickSchuBlues said...

Yeah. I don't understand how Lieber just can make so many mistakes game after game. Keep the ball down, Jon. He's supposed to have this pinpoint control, but can't he adjust it so that pitches are located a bit more strategically instead of right down the middle of the plate?

gr said...

i wouldn't go so far as to say that zimmerman's HR was crushed. it was an opposite field homer that landed in the front handful of rows. zimmo is a dynamic kid, so i think it's a case of a young guy taking a pitch the other way with a "youthful, energetic" swing. i don't think it was a cheap HR, but anytime someone not named ryan howard hits an opposite field HR in CBP, you have to think the park accomdates it a little. remember the manny popfly HR to right center off myers last year? an extreme example of opposite field "power" at the citizen's bandbox.

gr said...

by the way, i was there and had a nice vantage point of the ball's trajectory, sitting in the front of 142 in LF (howard's homer landed 4 rows in front of me). it was a well hit ball, but it did kind of look like a fly ball that never came down. amazing how quickly the fence comes up on some of those balls, if you know what i mean.

Tom Goodman said...

I stand corrected on "crushed" but, damn it, he threw the ball right down the middle of the plate and virtually any major league hitter is going to send it out. Why argue over semantics or ballpark dimensions anyway; it was another home run from Lieber and came after his mates had staked him to an early lead. If he cannot keep the ball away from the power hitters coming up, give it to someone else. I am tired of blaming the weather and CBP's dimensions for the inability of veteran pitchers to make good pitches.