Thursday, August 17, 2006

One That Didn't Get Away & One That Shouldn't

Ah, yes, the trades not made.

Jon Lieber, all 240 pounds of him, was on the bubble July 31 as he took the mound for a 1PM start versus the Florida Marlins with the 4PM trade deadline looming. It was hot and steamy that day and Lieber, recently off the DL, had been very ineffective in his recent outings. Still, as a veteran pitcher with post-season experience, he was the subject of numerous trade rumors, a valuable commodity for some team trying to reach the post-season. Lieber threw a wrench into those plans, however, choosing that precise moment to submit to a public flogging by the Marlins, surrendering thirteen hits and nine earned runs in a mere 4.2 innings of work. All of the scouts in the stands that day simply folded their notebooks, put the caps back on their pens and signaled to the hot dog vendors they were ready to buy what they were offering instead.

Boy, were the Phillies lucky that day.

Ever since the deadline passed, the veteran right-hander has been his usual late-season self, pitching to an ERA of 1.80 over three starts including last night’s 3-0 complete game shutout of the Mets, the first by a Phillies pitcher in nearly two years. Had it not been for a fielding lapse on his part in a 4-3 loss to the Mets a few weeks ago, his record might be even better. Last night, Lieber’s command was tremendous, as good as it has been since his arrival in Philadelphia. What’s more, following strong outings by Cole Hamels and Randy Wolf, the veteran right-hander served notice that the Phillies’ once-shaky rotation was becoming formidable. Ironically, the most unreliable pitcher over the last few weeks has been putative ace Brett Myers; everyone else has been a world-beater lately with the exception of rookie Scott Mathieson, hardly an unexpected result.

As it turns out, last night Lieber was more than happy to share the spotlight with and give credit to his catcher, Cinderella Man Chris Coste. (Coste was the subject of a fine piece by Ben Shpigel in yesterday’s New York Times. Be aware this link is probably only active for six more days at the Times site.) Coste hit a two-run homer off Tom Glavine in the second inning and added two more hits to raise his batting average to .359. Everyone thought Coste would hit (though not this much), but his catching has been a welcome surprise, especially to the starting rotation. The Phils may have solved one problem for next season with the emergence of the 33-year old rookie. At the very least he should be able to share the catching duties. Reading about Coste’s hard-scrabble upbringing and his dogged determination to continue playing professional ball despite the setbacks and disappointments makes his magical season all the more satisfying to observe. If he never gets another hit in the big leagues he will have achieved a great deal.

* * * * * * * *

For those of you who might find my timing a bit suspicious in light of my latest anti-Dallas Green post, I want to go on record as having told Beerleaguer several weeks ago that I was in favor of bringing Cholly back next season. While it’s true ya’ gotta’ like a guy who can wag a finger in Dallas Green’s face and tell him where to get off, Charlie’s value to this club was becoming more evident with each passing day long before that incident.

The Phillies need him as much as he needs them. Maybe more.

When virtually an entire roster starts to hustle and play up to its potential good things happen and the players naturally get all the credit. When they don’t, the manager is usually the first to hear it. Manuel deserves a lot of the credit in the turnaround.

It is clear from everything one reads that the players like him. He has become more accustomed to the style of play in the National League including the double switch, a move that gave him fits in his first season. But most important, he has undergone a seismic shift in his attitude towards veterans and younger players, recognizing the need to inject the lineup with new energy and blood. He watched David Bell, his kind of player, depart and has stuck with his replacement, Abraham Nunez, when everyone was calling for a change, any change. Nunez has struggled all season at the plate, but is 10 for his last 30 since hitting rock bottom a few weeks ago.

Manuel has benched Pat Burrell more often than not, giving more playing time to David Dellucci and Shane Victorino. Early in the season he made it clear Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were going to play every day, whether or not a left-hander was starting against the Phils. He resisted all the clamor to move Jimmy Rollins down in the order, a move some still want to see. Jimmy has been on fire since the trading deadline.

The Phillies are facing a host of off-season changes as they try and fill several holes in their lineup and bullpen. The last thing they need now is a new manager. The current one has earned the right to oversee the next stage in the team’s development.


Oisín/Wizlah said...

As a card-carrying member of 'new team, new manager' club, I'm almost to the point of putting my phillies cap on a plate with a bit of salt and some mayo. I thought last years second half performance was a fluke by charlie, but if these performances continue, its solid evidence he's just like lieber - gets better at motivating the players the longer the season goes on.

Still, tho', can someone do some laser surgery on that ocular defect of his? Y'know, the one that stops him seeing fabio castro?

Tom Goodman said...

Funny line on Fabio. Is he still with the team?

tc said...

Try using this site to generate your NYTimes links. I think it will keep them "live" a little longer (it doesn't work with every story):

George S said...

I would not bring CM back for the simple reason that he doesn't have a clue about how to build and manage a pitching staff, especially the bullpen.
The Phillies offense is not self-managing, but close to it. They have scored runs in spite of some strange lineups and non-performers kept in the lineup.
Pitching has been and will continue to be the biggest hurdle blocking the way to the post-season.
So unless the Phillies can get a reputable pitching coach, then CM should be jettisoned for a manager that knows pitching.

Tom Goodman said...

George: When I wrote the post this AM I seriously considered just what you said and came to the conclusion that the awful starting pitching was hardly CM's fault. Where management becomes more of an issue is with the bullpen and there he hasn't been stellar, but, then, neither have the pitchers on balance. A good pitching coach would change things considerably. Earl Weaver had George Bamberger and Ray Miller. Bobby Cox had Leo Mazzone. The Phils have Rich Dubee, who is perhaps the most invisible of all their coaches. For all we know he may be good, but whatever impact a pitching coach has, his remains a mystery.

George S said...

It's difficult to evaluate Dubee because I don't know how much responsibility he has been given vs Manuel. For example, LaRussa lets Dave Duncan basically make all the calls when it comes to the pitching. On other teams the manager keeps control.

But at the very least I would have to hold him responsible for pitchers being in shape, for throwing strikes, for keeping their composure on the mound, and having a game plan. On that basis, he should be replaced.

And if it's CM who's in charge of the pitching and the management of the bullpen, then the Phillies will not win with him as manager.

George S said...

Speaking of pitching coaches, what is Mathieson still doing in this game? He barely made it out of the 4th inning and after the Phillies make it close they bring him right back out??

RickSchuBlues said...

I agree with you (yeah, again...boring, I know) about Charlie Manuel. I don't have a problem with him as the Phillies' manager. They are better off with him than some master strategist like Bowa who doesn't know how to handle people. I feel that he, like the vast majority of baseball managers, neither substantially hurts or helps the team. I suppose that means they could try to do better, but if they do, it could also end up being worse. I'm all for just leaving him alone.

Corey & Carson said...

I have to respectfully disagree with you about retaining the services of Charlie Manuel for next season. I'm willing to conceed that he has a calming effect in the clubhouse, and that the players probably like him for the most part...make him the hitting coach then! Too often am I sitting in my chair at home saying "what an idiot" about a move that Manuel made or didn't make. I'm not saying I'm "all-knowing", because I'm far from, but you have to admit he makes many mistakes...moreso than a manager should.