First, something old. Later, something new.
Cory Lidle’s ill-considered and timed remarks in which he criticized the effort of some of his former teammates have touched more than a few nerves among fans not to mention those former teammates. Predictably, several commentators have likened the criticisms to Billy Wagner’s protracted parting shots, which actually began while he was still pitching for the Phillies.
Lidle subsequently apologized for his remarks and insisted he was only referring to a few players who were understandably feeling in limbo as the trading deadline approached, but the damage was done.
The whole petty matter begs one question: who were the guys who didn’t give their all, Cory? As I look at the current roster I am hard-pressed to figure out who’s been dogging it and who hasn’t. The only name that ever consistently came up regarding effort was Bobby Abreu’s, a current teammate of Lidle as it turns out, and everyone who watched Bobby over the years knows he gave his all except near the outfield wall.
The current Phillies play hard and want to win. They just aren’t good enough…yet. That brings me to the “new” part.
This team may not be as far from contending as some of us thought. The key, as always, is pitching. Last night we got a glimpse of some help that may be on the way. Scott Mathieson is young, inexperienced and clearly in development, but there are many encouraging signs. As Jason Weitzel pointed out in a conversation with me, he has beautiful mechanics and throws a hard, heavy, sinking fastball suited to Cititzens Bank Park. Mathieson also looks very poised on the mound. Here is how Scout.com reviewed him in February, 2005: Still, whispers were of a tremendously talented youngster with a strong mound presence who was burdened with a weak lineup and several bad breaks. Scouts who saw him pitch spoke not of the numbers but of the crackling fastball, solid curve and changeup, and of the mysterious but oh so real "mound presence." Plainly spoken, Mathieson just looked like a pitcher who knew what he was doing, even at the age of 19.
Mathieson earned his first major league victory last night against the Cardinals in their steamy new stadium under The Arch. Game time temperature was 100 degrees. If Mathieson continues his development, he may join Brett Myers and Cole Hamels as a formidable three-some. Apart from the youngsters, the real joker in the deck may very well be Randy Wolf. We should know much more about his comeback by the end of the season. Wolf has never been suited to Citizens Bank Park, but, then, how many pitchers are? In the period before he underwent Tommy John surgery, he was relying on a lot of slow stuff mixed in with the occasional middling fastball and he wasn’t getting by on that combination. How much of his lack of success was due to his elbow problems will only become evident as he works his way back. At this juncture, command is more of an issue than stuff. Once they come together with more work, we will see the real Randy Wolf, good or bad.
As much as we want to wallow in their underachievement, there are many things to like about these Phillies, not the least of which is three quarters of their infield. With his hitting streak in tact, the entire nation now knows what we have known about Chase Utley for a long time. He is the kind of player who comes along once in a generation. Ryan Howard is another one. It is astonishing to remind oneself that Howard has been a starter for just over one year now. It seems as if he’s been with the club much longer. He has the poise, talent and intelligence to become a great one. His timing ain’t bad either as he made his professional debut in front of his hometown family and friends last night in St. Louis and responded with a league-leading 36th home run to put the Phillies ahead for good. It is also worth noting that Howard’s fielding has been superb lately. He made a terrific scoop on a double play relay over the weekend and has been fielding flawlessly for quite a long stretch now. His errors earlier in the season were due to a lack of concentration, not skill. This kid is the whole package.
Then, there is Jimmy. Rollins is now one of the most senior Phillies and in some ways the face of the team. His love of the game is obvious and infectious. His sense of responsibility and leadership has grown significantly during the course of this trying season. One need only look into the dugout during a game to see Rollins, animated and in perpetual motion, cheerleading. He remains a frustrating leadoff batter but a decent overall hitter. His defense is superb.
Finally, how about Chris Coste for ongoing Cinderalla story of the season. Jason Weitzel emailed me this AM with the following data: I had to look it up this morning on Hardball Times, and my hunch was correct: Right now Chris Coste is one of baseball's best offensive catchers. They have a stat called runs created per game, which is useful for players like Coste who haven't played all season. He's second in all of baseball in runs created per game, behind Josh Bard and currently AHEAD of Joe Mauer.
By all accounts, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.