Friday, June 30, 2006

Winning Streak At One

Ryan Madson certainly threw a gem of wrench into the proceedings, didn’t he?   The up-and-down youngster was obviously up last night as he threw 8.2 innings of shutout ball.  Flash Gordon got the final out.

One start after a disastrous outing in Boston and Madson set down a good-hitting Baltimore lineup by doing what good pitchers do:  getting ahead in the count; mixing up his pitches; working quickly.

It would be nice if he could string together a few successive starts similar to last night’s.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The final game against Baltimore also found Pat Burrell sitting again and Bobby Abreu in the DH role.  Both moves gave more playing time to David Dellucci and Shane Victorino and provided more offense and defense to the Phillies’ lineup.  Dellucci becomes a free agent after this season.  His first few months in Philadelphia were a struggle as he was used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter, a role to which he was unaccustomed and ill-suited. Once he got a few more chances to start and the consistent at-bats that come along with them, he started producing.  The Phillies should have a serious talk with Dellucci about next year.  If they can offer him fulltime work he just might be interested in re-signing.   The key would be to make sure they don't mention the word “pitching” during any such discussions.

Victorino is a spark-plug.  He runs hard on every ground ball.  He hustles in the outfield.  He provides an otherwise leaden team with lots of energy.  He has earned a chance to play more.

Do Dellucci, Rowand and Victorino strike as much fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers as Burrell, Rowand and Abreu?  Probably not.  But if the Phillies want to stop relying on the long ball for their scoring and improve their overall defense, the former trio is the way to go.  More significantly, if they want to shake up this team and acquire the pitching they desperately need, Burrell and Abreu remain the best bargaining chips they have.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

More than a few bloggers and commenters were upset with the Phillies for trading yet another pitcher to the Texas Rangers.  When the news was announced yesterday that 22-year old starter Daniel Haigwood, acquired in the Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome deal, was dealt to Texas for 21-year old left-handed reliever Fabio Castro, the blogosphere was up in arms.  The more tame comments ran along the lines that the Phillies hardly had a surplus of pitching at any level and that Haigwood seemed to be one of their better prospects.   They might be right; then, again, we’ve seen a lot of higher rated prospects – Floyd, Hamels, Mathieson, and Brito -- come up from the minors lately and they haven’t exactly set the world on fire.   Indeed, the only Phillies’ prospects who are prospering in the big leagues are doing so for other teams.  

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Desperate Times

The Phillies are a shattered team. Nearly all the players have begun to sport the Gavin Floyd look, none more ominously than Cole Hamels. Even when they hit home runs there is little joy.

They start virtually every game behind, and even when they score first, they usually surrender the lead within an inning or two. At least two of their starting pitchers should still be in the minor leagues. Several of the veteran players have overstayed their welcome. Their best pitcher has taken a personal leave of absence.

They have lost fourteen of their last seventeen games and their manager is at a loss as to how to stem the tide. The General Manager keeps his own council. Ownership is mute. Normally, under such dire circumstances, the situation cries out for some measures, to relieve the suffering if nothing else.

The real danger is some players will quit, especially as the team falls further in the standings and the dog days of summer set in. As the old saw goes, you cannot fire the players. That doesn’t mean you cannot light a fire under them.

They need a new man in charge in the dugout. Now.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Peter Gammons

Peter Gammons, one of the genuine good guys and chroniclers of baseball, is in a Boston hospital ICU following a brain aneurysm.

Here is a transcript of his induction speech to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gammons' Speech. It is well worth reading.

The Wheels Have Come Off

A little more than a week ago Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick may have emphatically considered himself a buyer, but following ten losses in their last twelve games, he is just hoping to be able to field a team with enough working parts in the short term.

Starters Jon Lieber and Randy Wolf are both on rehab assignments and not faring too well, thank you.  Pitching at Clearwater last night (that’s single A ball for those who are counting) Lieber gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings, striking out three and walking none.  Wolf missed his scheduled start at A Lakewood following the discovery that he had a hairline fracture in his pitching hand after taking a batted ball off of it more than a week ago.  For the record, he was rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, not a hand injury.

The starting rotation currently available to actually pitch consists of a career .500 pitcher (Corey Lidle) who has been visibly pissed off at his manager for two consecutive starts; a career relief pitcher (Ryan Madson) who has been an unmitigated disaster in his new role with the exception of a single game; a rookie (Cole Hamels) who had less than 200 innings of professional baseball at all levels under his belt prior to being summoned to save the season; another rookie pitcher (Scott Mathieson) whose appearance in the big leagues was to be an emergency stop-gap measure, not a permanent situation; and Brett Myers, whose story bears no repeating here.

The relievers as a group may have impressive overall numbers, but they are terribly inconsistent and unpredictable, especially Arthur Rhodes and Ryan Franklin.   Worse, all of them have a tendency to come up small in big games.  Just ask Tom Gordon.

The receiving corps isn’t any better.  Mike Lieberthal continues to be plagued by injuries and is still not ready to come off the Disabled List.  He has appeared in 26 games this season.  In his place, career journeyman Sal Fasano has become the number one catcher by default, 33-year old rookie Chris Coste his backup, and minor leaguer Carlos Ruiz the forgotten and apparently buried alternative.

The infield remains the club’s bright spot with the exception of third base where David Bell’s already suspect “skills” in the field have deteriorated markedly and his inability to hit right handers and any handers in the clutch remains consistent with his career numbers.

The outfield is comprised of two corner starters who are either in funks at the plate or in the field, a courageous centerfielder who has struggled lately at the plate, and two replacements who should get more playing time before one of them (David Dellucci) escapes via free agency at the end of the season.

The bench, apart from the aforementioned outfielders, is the weakest one in years.

Is it any wonder this team is struggling?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Too Little, Too Late

Cooler heads may have finally prevailed, but probably not the ones that count in the end.

Phillies pitcher Brett Myers, arrested and released in Boston last week for assaulting his wife, has taken a leave of absence from the team through the All-Star break. The decision came amidst mounting criticism of the entire Phillies organization, which allowed Myers to make his regularly scheduled start the next day and defended the decision by callously announcing he was the team’s best pitcher.

In releasing his statement today Myers disputed “the facts as they are alleged” while recognizing his “behavior was inappropriate” and “embarrassing” to his wife among others. He also apologized to the organization, his teammates and fans.

Meanwhile, eye witness accounts of the assault continue to get air time, especially in Philadelphia. They are chilling to say the least, offering new details about Myers’ rage. Apart from whatever legal proceedings await him, Myers will no doubt be strongly advised to seek counseling. I have few illusions that a man of such volcanic temperament will benefit much if at all from therapy.

Have They Touched Bottom?

How bad are things?

-  The front page of today’s Inquirer, not the Sports page, carried a major story detailing the soggy weather that has enveloped the entire Northeast lately and writer Anthony Wood had this to say among other things:

Rainfall in Boston delayed another Phillies' loss an entire day, as Sunday's game had to be played yesterday.

-  A pitcher with a 5.11 ERA is reported to have had words with his manager after being lifted from a game in which he allowed 4 earned runs in 5.1 innings.  Sure, Corey Lidle pitched well for the first five innings of work, but that 1/3 of an inning was a killer with the Red Sox scoring six runs.  For a guy who came to town with a reputation as an “innings eater” that line hardly impressed anyone, least of all Charlie Manuel.

- Team officials were already being criticized in many circles for allowing Brett Myers to start a game the day after being arrested for assaulting his wife  When Larry Shenk, VP for public relations, was asked about the 200 e-mails and about a half-dozen phone calls the club received, he had this to say according to Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer:

"It's understandable," Shenk said. "We have our work cut out for us."

Shenk said the reaction is similar to the 1991 automobile accident that involved Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton. Both players were injured and Dykstra was charged with drunken driving.

The “reaction” may be similar, Larry, but the circumstances are not.  Dykstra’s reckless endangerment is not the same as Myers’ deliberate violence, a fact apparently lost on the Phillies organization.

- Baseball players close ranks with the best of units, but David Bell’s reaction to questions about the Myers incident and the series in Boston reveal more than the normal us-against-them attitude.  Zolecki reports:

Asked whether the weekend in Boston had been tough because of the arrest and three losses to the Red Sox, third baseman David Bell said, "That's none of my business. Nor is it anyone else's. It's my business because I care about him, but it's nobody's business who doesn't care about him."

It appears that hitting with runners in scoring position is not Bell’s only shortcoming.  Rational thinking seems to, pardon the pun, throw him a curve, as well.  While hardly responsible all by himself for the Phillies ten losses in their last twelve games, it would seem that  anyone who is 4-for-28 with no RBI’s in his last eight games played some role.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hardly Their Finest Hour

Baseball, not just politics, makes strange bedfellows.

Back in February, as pitchers and catchers were getting ready to report to Spring Training, the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury wrote a lengthy piece (which I cited in this space ) reporting that pitcher Brett Myers was pissed off about comments made by new GM Pat Gillick regarding the Phillies’ prospects for the coming season .

In the piece, Gillick is quoted as having said soon after his appointment that he didn’t feel the Phillies were a contending team.  Now, just before camp was to open, pressed to explain why, he volunteered that among other deficiencies, they didn’t really possess a big powerful arm at the top of the rotation.

Myers didn’t like that assessment one bit.  Salisbury’s lead to the story summed up the volatile Myers’ attitude this way:  Spring training hasn't even officially begun yet and already pitcher Brett Myers is sporting a midseason sneer.

All of us had seen or heard about that sneer before.  Over the years Myers has worn it for local fans, the press, umpires and teammates.   Fans weren’t supportive enough; the press was too intrusive; umpires were always squeezing him; and, teammates were forever making bad plays behind him.  RickSchuBlues, who comments frequently in this space, put it best:  [Myers is] the kind of guy who makes his own problems and then wants to glare at the fielders and umpires. That's real class for you.

Throughout the season Gillick has never said in so many words he had given up on 2006.  Only last week he responded to the question whether or not the Phils would be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline by emphatically stating they would be buyers…at least for now.   But inaction, or stop-gap measures, speak louder than words, and most of Gillick’s moves since the late Winter trade of Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand should be seen as temporary measures that failed to improve the Phillies current prospects appreciably.   He and the club remain hamstrung by big salaries and long-term commitments, some of which will finally be resolved next Fall.  

Prior to the start of the season, baseball people agreed about one thing regarding the 2006 installment of the Phillies:  they did not have the starting pitching to contend.  Nothing has changed since those pre-season assessments; indeed, if anything, the club’s starting pitching is even worse than anticipated.  More to the point, nothing Gillick has done since opening day has improved the situation, not on the field or, frankly, in the dugout.  Gillick may still make a deal or two at the trading deadline, but he won’t be a buyer, and by season’s end he could make even bigger moves regarding the manager and his coaches.

The Phillies had settled into mediocrity by the end of their most recent home stand, during which they lost seven of nine games.  Then came the incident early Friday morning in Boston when the 6’4”Myers, who weighs 235 lbs., allegedly punched his wife, who goes about 5’ and 100 lbs.,  and dragged her by the hair in public, in front of several witnesses, many of whom called 911 on their cell phones.

No one was surprised by the news and our revulsion only deepened when the Boston Globe reported that:

Courtney Knight, 26, who witnessed the alleged attack, said in an interview today that Myers was out of control.
"It was disgusting," Knight said. "He was dragging her by the hair and slapping her across the face. She was yelling, 'I'm not going to let you do this to me anymore.' "

Naturally, the immediate response by nearly everyone I read was to presume Myers’ innocence until proven guilty.  That response, however, was pure reflex.  Few if any doubted the story given the number of eye-witnesses and Myers’ history and many urged immediate punitive action.

For their part, the Phillies were faced with a dilemma.  Myers was scheduled to pitch the next day in a nationally-televised game against former Phillie, Red Sox ace and Myers’ hero Curt Schilling.

More than a few observers felt the Phillies had no choice but to sit Myers for the game.  Some called for getting rid of him altogether as soon as possible.  I would have been satisfied if Myers never appeared again in a Phillies uniform.

But Pat Gillick had other ideas.  "He's been our best pitcher, and I think it's in the best interests of the club that he does pitch.”  

The GM had fooled me all along; he wanted to win at all costs.  As disgusting as Myers’ behavior was, it was hardly his boss’s finest hour either.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Neither A Borrower Nor A Lender Be

It’s official…for now.

Speaking with reporters the other night, Pat Gillick announced "Absolutely, we're buyers now. We're not sellers." According to Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer, the operative word here is “now.” All would depend, it seems, on how the Phillies fare on their current road trip through the rest of the American League East and where they reside in the standings as the July trading deadline approaches.

What else is Gillick going to say? We’ve given up? Don’t bother coming to the Bank the rest of the year, we’re just biding our time?

The funny thing about buying and selling is the inescapable fact that both transactions are required to complete any deal. You know the old saw: If someone is buying someone else is selling. So, what exactly is the currency Gillick plans to use?

If the Phillies are absolutely buyers as of right now, we can safely assume they don’t have the ready funds for a straight cash transaction. Their bloated payroll and contractual obligations through the end of this season hardly provide them with much room to maneuver on the cash front. So, who not what, are they planning to exchange when they go shopping?

That is a long and familiar list, headed no doubt by Abreu and Burrell and potentially including at least one other outfielder, either Dellucci or Victorino. The Phillies certainly don’t have pitching to give, but they may decide to give up on Gavin Floyd, whose trade value is so low at this point he is more likely to be the throw-in than the bait.

What does this all add up to? I’m not buying that the Phillies are buying.

When the salaries of Bell, Lieberthal and Wolf are off the books at the end of this season and the obligations to Jim Thome are further reduced, then the Phillies will seriously enter the market. For now, Gillick is just rallying the troops inside and out of the clubhouse, many of whom are in retreat.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not All Phillies All The Time

What else can we talk about except the Phillies?

What’s with this taking off of shirts at the end of soccer matches? Are we supposed to be impressed by how lean these guys are or is something else going on? Is this some long-standing soccer tradition or did it start with Brandi Chastain? As far as the 2006 American men were concerned, if they were in such a big hurry to remove their shirts at the end of the game, the least they should have been planning to do was cover their faces with them.

* * * * * * * *

Ozzie Guillen is fast wearing out his welcome in Chicago. The best line I’ve read on Ozzie’s latest rant, his homophobic attack on a local columnist, came from ESPN’s Mark Kreider, who wrote:

It is the story of a man who became so lionized for speaking his mind that he forgot the part about having one.

At the end of the day Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and that portion of Chicago which roots in the southern section of the city will have to face the fact that the guy who brought them out of the wilderness is merely a crass big mouth. While it is probably true Ozzie will never have to buy himself another drink in Chicago, it is likely he is going to need a very long reach whenever he bellies up to any bar because sooner than later his permanent, year-round residency will be in Venezuela.

* * * * * * * *

Arguably the biggest loser in the NBA finals the other night was Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, a guy so full of himself he makes George Steinbrenner look like an absentee landlord.

Cuban is a self-made billionaire who thinks his riches entitle him to be one of the guys in:

  1. the locker room

  2. the boardroom

  3. the press box

  4. all of the above

When Jerry Stackhouse was suspended for the fifth game of the finals, Cuban donned the banished player’s uniform number in protest. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to be talked out adding himself to the active roster.

* * * * * * * *

Did you notice a few ex-Flyers were on the winning Stanley Cup team? A lot of bloggers and commenters in the Philadelphia area certainly did. Many of these people were particularly thrilled for Rod Brind’Amour, a guy Bob Clarke gave up on several years ago.

Given Clarke’s history as a GM, look for him to try and reacquire Rod prior to next season.

Time To Hit The Road

Cole Hamels bounced back. The rest of his teammates did not.

On a night when much-maligned leadoff batter Jimmy Rollins jump-started two different innings with solid base hits, no one else remembered to bring a bat to the game. In their defense [sic], the Phils were facing Jaret Wright, that world-beater who entered the game with a 3-4 record and an ERA of 4.45 (6.19 for June). In the process they wasted a fine effort from Hamels, who was coming off his worst performance since joining the Phils. I guess he hasn’t been around this team long enough to realize every game doesn’t count, especially against the Bronx Bombers.

So chalk up another desultory loss, their seventh in nine games during the home-stand that just ended. Things are looking up, however; the Phils’ itinerary for the coming days takes them to Boston, Toronto and Baltimore.

* * * * * * * *

Chris Coste was the feel-good story of the Spring, but we are in June now and Coste, the current backup catcher while Mike Lieberthal tries to return from his latest stint on the DL, has hardly set the world on fire with two hits in sixteen at bats. I guess he isn’t as overmatched in the eyes of the Phillies’ alleged brain trust as Carlos Ruiz was. Or maybe he is a better defensive catcher. Or maybe he can play more than one position. Or maybe the Phillies have decided to bury Ruiz. Or maybe they really do love the way Sal handles pitchers.

* * * * * * * *

I read in a few different places that Dallas Green, he of the lone World Series ring and big mouth, said on some radio show that the Phillies stink.

Dallas Green has been saying the Phillies stink for approximately 25 ¾ years, or ever since he stepped down as manager of the team. I don’t know why anyone would waste time re-interviewing him provided, of course, tapes from his previous rants are available, which I assume they are. I guess the keep dragging him before the mike just to hear him lay the blame for the latest stench he detects on someone new.

* * * * * * * *

The Yankees hit triples over Aaron Rowand’s head on consecutive nights and led directly to the loss Tuesday night and essentially cemented the loss on Wednesday. Rowand plays too shallow. I assume he feels he can go back on the ball better than he can come in, but the real reason may be compensation for his arm, which is his greatest weakness. This isn’t the first series during which Rowand has had some problems with balls hit over his head, THE CATCH notwithstanding.

* * * * * * * *

No one on the Phillies can complain about fan support during the last home stand. Sure, the Mets and Yankees were expected to draw extremely well considering the carloads of New Yorkers who inevitably make the trip to Philadelphia, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hardly household names even in Florida, drew very well, too. Not even Pat Burrell complained about the turnouts.

* * * * * * * *

Last night wasn't a total loss. As I surfed the dial in search of some relief from the Phillies, I tuned in at precisely the moment Billy Wagner was blowing a save in the Mets' loss to Cincinnati.

* * * * * * * *

I go back and forth on Bobby Abreu with the best of them, but I am finally convinced his act has grown a bit old in Philadelphia. Reports that he told Larry Bowa a "change of scenery" might not be bad have been denied by Abreu. Bowa, of course, is a first-class troublemaker, but in this case I am inclined to believe him. I have grown weary of hearing about Bobby's OBP, number of walks, great sense of the strikezone, total number of pitches he sees, etc.. He no longer brings much heart to the game, at least not while wearing red pinstripes.

I can see it now. The Phillies will finally trade him, either in July or after the season, and get a middle-of-the-rotation guy or the number two propect in some organization. It may not be solely a case that Abreu's value has fallen; rather, everyone seems to think he wants out, a situation that hardly puts the Phillies in the driver seat.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Save A Philadelphian

While Philadelphians far and wide try to recall that championship feeling, the city of Miami is celebrating its third professional title in nine years: last night’s NBA title won by the Heat and two World Series triumphs by the Marlins in 1997 and 2003 . 

Maybe the Fairmount Park Commission should consider planting a few palm trees along the River Drives.

Yankees 9 Howard 7

Is it possible to sue more than one party for lack of support?

Rheal Cormier may have one of the lowest ERA’s among relievers in the NL this season, but at first glance the overall numbers don’t always tell the whole story.  With RISP his ERA is 2.70; with RISP and 2 outs, it balloons to 6.23; with the bases loaded it tops out at 6.75.

Arthur Rhodes never met a batter in the late innings he didn’t want to walk.  He isn’t fooling anyone at this point…not even Pat Gillick.

David Bell has absolutely no range to his left any longer.  He isn’t too impressive on balls hit at him either.  He goes to his right well enough.  There is a guy on the bench who could spell him in the late innings.  See the highlights from Monday night’s game for any references.

Sal Pasano offered up his nightly passed ball.  For the last time, where is Carlos Ruiz when the Phillies actually need a catcher?

Cory Lidle, indeed most if not all of the Phillies starters (Myers included except Monday night) have a particularly galling habit of giving up runs immediately after their mates have either staked them to a lead or at least scored in the preceding inning.  Nothing changes momentum faster.   Lidle can stand there on the mound looking pained and shaking his head as much as he wants, but the reality remains he is a career mediocre pitcher.  Staked to a three-run lead last night, he promptly allowed the Yankees to climb back into the game.  He departed, finally, with the lead, but his numbers (5.1 innings pitched, ten base runners, four earned runs, two home runs) were hardly impressive.

Impressive was Ryan Howard.  One night after sitting against Randy Johnson, the kid returned with a literal bang, including a mammoth home run, an opposite field home run, a triple and seven RBI’s.  Too bad the rest of his mates were firing blanks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

I no longer know if that was the “real” Brett Myers who showed up last night or a pretender, but whoever that was, he pitched “real good” as his manager might say.  

Lots of walks – too many – but lots of strikeouts, especially when he needed them.  And some wonderful fielding behind him, especially by Abraham Nunez, who proved he should be given more playing time.  I can’t resist pointing out that without Nunez’ great stop of a hard hit ball by Randy Johnson, the Phils might have suffered yet another ignominious defeat courtesy of an opposing pitcher with a bat in his hands.

Shane Victorino also served notice yet again why he deserves to be  playing regularly.  Only yesterday I said he should be in the lineup every day, spelling one of the three regular outfielders.  He hits.  He runs.  He catches the ball.  He ignites this team in a way no other player does including Jimmy.  Watch.  They’ll trade him.

Chase Utley played first base last night.  Nunez was at second.  When Tom Goyne of Balls, Sticks & Stuff emailed me and some other bloggers prior to the start of the game and told us the lineup had Utley at first and Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard on the bench, I didn’t believe it.   (Say, Tom, where do they post those pre-game lineups anyway?)   I believed Tom, mind you, just not Charlie.  Hey, it worked, so I am not complaining…for now.

Nothing surprises me anymore.   Prior to this season I have never seen so many shifts put on for so many batters.  We are not talking about a shift only for Barry Bonds.  Just about every team with a pull hitter is seeing a shift at one point during a game, and even some guys who have a strong tendency to go the other way are being defended in the extreme.  You can be sure I’ve never seen a shift like the one Tampa Bay put on for Ryan Howard Friday night when I was at the game.  After the pitcher had Howard 0-1, Devil Rays third baseman Tomas “Pie Man” Perez shifted to left field, giving Tampa Bay four outfielders.  The shortstop was behind second base leaving the entire left side of the infield and most of left field (except the deepest part) completely uncovered.  I stared in total disbelief.  For their part, the Devil Rays figured he wouldn’t attempt to lay down a bunt with one strike on him.  Heck, they probably figured he wouldn’t lay down a bunt no matter what the count but even they wouldn’t chance their version of the shift when Howard had a strike to give.  Not only shifts, but situational ones!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Great Minds (Or At Least Good Ones)....

Couldn’t have said it better myself (though I did say it as well):

Phil Sheridan in today’s Inquirer:

Manuel hasn't asked for any advice, but here's some anyway: If your job is on the line, and it most assuredly is, then make sure to fire every bullet you have. Do things your way, without worrying about some veteran player's feelings or some rookie's long-term development.

If that means sitting David Bell in favor of Abraham Nuñez, do it. If that means playing Shane Victorino every day, rotating days off for the other outfielders, do it.

What is there to lose? The Phillies are one game under .500, 91/2 behind the Mets. The Yankees are coming to town with Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson both scheduled to pitch. Then it's off to Boston for three against the Red Sox.

Tom Goodman in last week’s Swing And A Miss:

Next, start Shane Victorino at least twice a week. When he plays regularly, he hits. He is not the kind of guy who can come off the bench for one or two AB’s a week. Have him spell Burrell. Let’s find out if he is for real. If he doesn’t produce, then make a decision about him, but based on his lengthy fill-in for Aaron Rowand, he looks like a keeper.

Nunez? This is a tough one. I’d bite the bullet and let him start for a solid week. Let’s see which is the fluke, 2005 or 2006. What have they got to lose? One thing is clear: he can’t produce in his current role. Have him spell Chase once in a while, too. Chase is scuffling right now, his average down nearly 40 points. He could use a break.

It’s time for the Phillies to see who is a keeper and who isn’t. In that regard, I have no problem bringing up minor league players for auditions though I think this approach applies equally to veterans already on the roster. The risk, especially with rookie pitchers, is that their confidence as well as their ERA’s can take a beating if they aren’t quite ready for prime time. Gavin Floyd is clearly exhibit A in that regard. In the end, however, the Phillies might as well know what their players are made of on the inside, too.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

One For The Road

The call came in around 4:45 Friday afternoon.  Beerleaguer was on the line.  “I’d love to see Hamels pitch tonight.  Do you want to go to the game?”

Sure, I replied.  We arranged a convenient place to rendezvous from which I would drive the final leg to the game.  Jason was caught in various beginning-of-the-weekend traffic jams and accidents along the way, but we finally linked up and departed for the Bank.

As we arrived at the parking lot we turned on the radio just in time to hear Hamels had yielded a home run to leadoff hitter Julio Lugo.  We looked at each other in disgust.  “Should we leave?” I half joked.  If only I’d known.  By the time the score was 7-0 we were looking for other forms of diversion.

“Tom Goyne (of Balls, Sticks & Stuff) is in the park tonight,” I said.  “I’ll give him a call.”  I reached Tom mobile-to-mobile and we decided to link up in Ashburn Alley, where we met him and his wife.

After our reunion Jason and I returned to our perch at one of the standup counters ringing the concourse where we commiserated with each other about the woeful state of the Phillies starting rotation.  

Jason opined that the offense simply could not start every game behind the eight ball and be expected to bail the team out.  We wondered how many more starts Hamels would be given before he was sent down for the seasoning he’d really never had.  “Who would replace him,” I asked?

I wondered whether this latest loss, their fifth in a row and to a team with a substantial losing record, would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  “Maybe someone is going to turn over the buffet table in the clubhouse,” I mused.  “Or get into someone’s face.”  

“This may be the moment when Gillick decides he’s seen enough of Charlie, though the lousy pitching isn’t his fault.”  I mentioned hearing an interview with Corey Lidle, the losing pitcher the day before, in which he lamented the one bad pitch, to David Wright, that ended up in the left field seats for a three-run homer.  One mistake, Lidle, repeated.  “Yeah,” I said to Jason.  “Lots of ballgames are decided by one pitch.  What’s new about that?”

Friday, June 16, 2006

On Fielding

Marcus Hayes of the Daily News offered the following observations on the Phillies’ fielding woes in a piece this morning (skip these if you have already read them elsewhere and see my take below):

The Phillies held pregame fielding practice yesterday for the first time since spring training, and for the first time during the season since Charlie Manuel was named manager.
What took them so long?
The Phillies' fielding fiasco featured in the first two games of a crucial series with the Mets, completed yesterday, served to display the gross miscalculation made by Manuel and general manager Pat Gillick.
Before the season began, to the questioned hearing of listeners, both opined that their infield might be the best in the National League East.
Maybe what they meant was that they had the best infielder - shortstop Jimmy Rollins - but, really, could a pair of baseball lifers with 92 years in pro ball between them so poorly evaluate this quartet? Were they serious?
Third baseman David Bell, who has a penchant for making the fearless, spectacular play, nonetheless is on his way to a third straight season with more than 20 errors. He leads the team, and all NL third basemen, with 11 errors. At 33, he probably is what he is.
Chase Utley, like Bell, is fearless and sacrificing. Sadly, he is an errant thrower, and he has trouble turning doubleplays. Period. This might never change.
What could change is the play of first baseman Ryan Howard, whose nine errors lead all first basemen. Without generous scoring in road ballparks by scorers seemingly bent on padding the homeboys' hit totals, Howard easily could have 15 errors. And that is ridiculous.
Of the trio he is clearly the most gifted fielder. He possesses soft hands, feet unfairly quick for a 6-4, 252-pound man, and athletic ability reminiscent of Andres "Big Cat" Galarraga .
However, Howard can be about as attentive as a sick cat and, at times, less fundamentally sound.
"It looks like he's always on the move when he throws the ball. He doesn't have good balance," said Manuel, who gushes that his first impression of Howard 4 years ago was that the kid was going to be a great fielder.
He still could be... if he works at it. Made to do it the right way. Every day. Not just once every 2 ½ months.

My take:

Reading some of the other blogs and readers’ responses to Hayes’ piece, I am frankly amused how many people are flabbergasted to read that major league team’s no longer take infield practice.  It’s all about offense these days, sports fans, and your average major league player is not going to work up a sweat taking extra ground balls.  Heck, after Spring Training, none of them practice bunting either not to mention hitting behind the runner.  Small ball is out and with it all the necessary skills required to play the game that way.   (A side note:  Jose Reyes dragged a perfect bunt to open the game the other night and three pitches later the Mets had essentially won.  Can you imagine anyone on the Phillies even thinking of such an approach let alone executing it?)

It should also be noted there are some exceptions to this general rule.  During an interview broadcast the other night on Comcast Sportsnet, David Wright spoke of taking lots of extra fielding practice trying to improve that part of his game, seen previously by some as his only “weakness”.   Tell Pat Burrell how weak Wright is with the glove.

No one has gotten on Ryan Howard’s case more than I, but I remain convinced his fielding lapses are errors of concentration.  Nothing in his play last season suggested he would be so unreliable this year.   Nothing in the abilities he has flashed at times suggests he cannot correct the problems going forward.  But he has to work on them and he has to do it more than once during the season.  Take him out there with a few other guys and hit ground balls at him.  How hard is that?  As for setting up on relays, how are guys going to learn what to do if they practice those skills in March and never again during the season?
As I wrote only yesterday, David Bell has always made the tough plays; his trouble is with balls hit at him.  Hayes says what you have seen is what you are going to get with a guy who is 33 years old.  I prefer my mother’s take:  “as people get older they get more so”.  
Chase Utley has improved on the pivot but will never be particularly graceful on that play.  Still, he has shown far more improvement in that area than Hayes intimates.  Where he has shown even more remarkable strides is in getting to balls.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that he goes all out on every ball hit within his zip code.  That sort of hustle makes up for a lot of deficiencies.  As for his throwing, it hasn’t been all that bad until the last week or so, especially on relays.  Look back over the course of this season and you will see a number of great plays by Utley.  He is much more than a decent second baseman in this, the end of his first full year as a regular.
Jimmy is a damn good shortstop.  Period.   His only real flaw appears to be when taking throws at second on steals.  He rarely seems positioned correctly, something the Phillies’ TV analysts point out at least once a telecast.  It could be the throws (Fasano is utterly incapable of putting the ball on the money) or it could be the way J-Roll is most comfortable.

Time To Make Some Changes

There’s nothing to be gained by standing on ceremony; time to start cleaning house. Don’t wait another day.

Begin with the coaching staff. Can all of them. Seriously. Time to give four other organization lifers a shot. Bring ‘em up now so they can get the same on-the-job training as their predecessors. Then, say goodbye to Charlie and let John Vukovich take over as interim manager. That’s right, Vuke. The cycle says it’s time for a hard-ass (Francona, Bowa, Manuel, Vukovich) and, after all, it’s only temporary. If he’s smart, he’ll decline the job, but I am sure they can persuade him as an organization man if they assure him it’s only for three months. Whomever they chose, for god’s sake don’t discuss it with Dallas Green.

Next, call up Carlos Ruiz and to make room for him send down Chris Roberson (more on why later). Then, sit Sal Fasano, who cannot throw, can barely catch, cannot run and is inexplicably hitting well above the Mendoza line for now, but give him time. Here’s all you need to know about Sal: his fan club and moustache are his two biggest assets. If bouncing throws or delivering them high and wide to second base were a virtue, this guy would be a perennial All-Star. I’ve read where the Phillies thought Ruiz was overmatched at the plate. Thirty-five AB’s and they are ready to bury him. That’s the Philadelphia Phillies way!!

Next, start Shane Victorino at least twice a week. When he plays regularly, he hits. He is not the kind of guy who can come off the bench for one or two AB’s a week. Have him spell Burrell. Let’s find out if he is for real. If he doesn’t produce, then make a decision about him, but based on his lengthy fill-in for Aaron Rowand, he looks like a keeper.

As mentioned, when Ruiz arrives, send down Chris Roberson, not Chris Coste. Why, you ask? Because Pat Gillick has general-managed himself into a corner, leaving the club with one spare infielder besides Abrham Nunez.

Nunez? This is a tough one. I’d bite the bullet and let him start for a solid week. Let’s see which is the fluke, 2005 or 2006. What have they got to lose? One thing is clear: he can’t produce in his current role. Have him spell Chase once in a while, too. Chase is scuffling right now, his average down nearly 40 points. He could use a break.

So could we.

Then, there is the pitching staff. Well, there ain’t much wiggle room here but there are a few options. One guy who’s act has grown old is Brett Myers. (Commenter RickSchuBlues had these astute observations of Myers’ character: Myers is such a putz. Really, I can't stand the guy. I'm willing to tolerate him when he's winning, but he just is so dislikeable. He's the kind of guy who makes his own problems and then wants to glare at the fielders and umpires. That's real class for you.)

Did you like his performance Tuesday night when he took two straight throws back from Chris Coste with his bare hand? The next time he shows up one of his teammates during a game, go out there and take the ball away from him. That might make an impression (though I doubt it.)

Trade Rheal Cormier, as Jason Weitzel among others has suggested numerous times. He isn’t coming back and for once I’d like to see the Phillies get something for a pitcher, even if it’s a bat boy or clubhouse attendant. His trade value is very high right now, too, which ought to turn on the light bulb for the alleged brain trust.

When Jon Lieber comes back from being out of shape, tell him he has dropped to number four on the depth chart, just ahead of Ryan Madson (for now), not even Cole Hamels. Note to Charlie: forget that nonsense about players not losing their spots or roles due to injury. In Lieber’s case, he lost it prior to his injury.

Here’s one from left field (actually, the bullpen is in right center): try Geoff Geary or Clay Condrey as a starter. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen, they only go three innings? The roster already includes four middle relievers in addition to either one of them plus Rhodes and Gordon. As it is, the alleged brain trust is either bringing up a guy from Reading who probably isn’t ready for the big leagues or considering two guys at Scranton who’ve been up to The Show and bombed.

Might as well think outside the old box because this season is rapidly turning into a disaster and it isn’t likely to get any better as the Phillies take on the entire AL East during the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Any Nominations?

Myers (L, 4-3) 2.2(IP) 9(H) 6(R) 5(ER) 1(BB) 4(SO) 1(HR) 3.86(ERA)

And with that, ladies and gentleman, let’s open the floor to nominations for the next closer for this ball club.

Yesterday afternoon, prior to the game, I wrote but did not post the following:

So, it comes down to this…

The Phillies are once again counting on Brett Myers to stop their latest free fall from becoming fatal. Myers, who has become the staff ace by default. Oh, sure, there are many who will point to his numbers and say he really is a top-of-the rotation pitcher, but I am not buying that. Myers may have the best stuff on this staff, but it stops around the neck. Nothing in his history suggests he has matured sufficiently to be considered among the elite starters in the league. Every time he takes the ball, the outcome is dependent on how his mates play behind him. A misjudged fly ball or errant throw is usually sufficient to throw him off his game. Myers is going to have to string together more than a few “quality” starts to make a believer out of me.

At about the same time I sent the following email to Jason Weitzel:

I really don't have a lot of faith in Myers. It all depends on how the guys behind him play. His last outing convinced me he is incapable of the maturity a lot of people thought he might finally have developed. Instead, he is always going to be a hot-head who cannot get over a lousy play behind him. If the guys play like[Tuesday] night, forget it. If they catch the ball, he has a chance to pitch well. He isn't an ace if by that we mean a guy with the character let alone ability of a guy like Maddux or Mussina or a half dozen other guys.

I decided not to post what I’d written for the simplest of reasons: how much gloom and doom can a man take? Against my better judgment I opted for a little bit of humor instead and posted the link below in How’s My Driving?.

Of course, by 7:15PM last night I wasn’t feeling humorous at all, and by 8PM, I was feeling positively steamed.

So, do we have any nominations from the floor? Corey Lidle? [pause here for effect] Corey Lidle??!!

* * * * * * * * *

I don’t want to hear or read anything more about how good a defensive third baseman David Bell is. Skip the range factors and other measurements and consider this instead: the play that gives Bell the most trouble is invariably the ball hit right at him. As for the ones he does manage to hold on to, it’s too bad there is no stat for number of balls caught in bread basket or chest; if there were, he’d be leading both leagues all time.

Ryan Howard needs a good talking to. As potent as his bat is, he is killing this team in the field and on the base paths. The fielding part is hardest to understand. Last year he played a very good first base and certainly gave no indication of the troubles to come. A month or so ago I wrote a comment on one of the blogs suggesting that if any player continued to make the kind of mistakes that were becoming commonplace on this team, e.g. poor base-running or lazy fielding, he should be pulled from the game on the spot. A rebuttal suggested that sort of public humiliation was counterproductive and I agreed. I no longer think it is such a bad idea. Nothing else seems to be getting through to these guys. Six errors in two nights. And consider this: Abreu’s botch of the Reyes’ “triple” was officially called a hit and Howard’s running himself into a third out doesn’t show up as an error at all in the box score. Whoever scored that Abreu “effort” a hit was obviously one of the voters for last year’s Gold Glove awards.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How's My Driving?

For those of you who drive to Phillies games, be prepared for quite a long delay when attempting to exit any of the parking lots after the game, unless, of course, you got your driver’s license here.

And Furthermore....

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah starting pitching.  Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah lousy defense. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah failing to hit with runners in scoring position.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Buying Or Selling?

There is a growing consensus around these parts that the next few weeks will determine whether or not the Phillies will be buyers or sellers at the July trading deadline.  According to many astute observers, the decision ultimately depends on which of two possible scenarios unfolds:

  1. To be sellers, the  Phillies would have to fall further behind the Mets and seemingly out of contention.

  2. To be buyers, they would have to win most of their upcoming series versus the Mets, Devil Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles and remain firmly in contention for the division lead or a WC slot.

The likelihood of the first scenario coming to pass increases daily as the starting rotation remains largely in disarray.  Any time speculation grows that the Phils might even be thinking of recalling Gavin Floyd from Scranton you know this club is in trouble.  Even Eude Brito’s name is being mentioned, but he cannot be recalled in the short term having been just optioned last week.  The rule states that at least ten days must pass before an optioned player can be recalled.  In Brito’s case, ten days would be insufficient to help him discover a major league out pitch.  Meanwhile, back at CBP, when a club is counting heavily on a pitcher with exactly three big league starts and one trip to the Disabled List under his belt, they might be getting just a little ahead of themselves, especially when said pitcher thinks he knows better than anyone else what pitches to throw in certain situations.  You want more?  Speculation is growing as to precisely when a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery will make his return to the big leagues.  This is not the staff of legends.

Starting pitching is not the only problem with these Phillies.  They need a catcher desperately.  They could also use a third baseman who can hit for power and at least one corner outfielder who can catch the ball regularly, but those spots can wait until the off-season.

If you can believe it, the second scenario is even a little more complicated than the first.  First, of course, is the small matter of beating those teams mentioned above.  Thus far this season the Phils have had little success against the Mets or Red Sox.  Then there is the question of who would be available to help the Phillies should they actually remain in contention.   A quick look at the available starting pitching does not look encouraging.  Some have speculated the Phillies would be able to land Dontrelle Willis in a multi-team swap.  Don’t believe it.   The Phillies don’t have what Florida wants, namely, cheap talent ready to step in and play for the Marlins now.   There are a few guys at Reading who might be ready a year or two from now, but even Jeffrey Loria’s AAA team masquerading as a major league team in Miami does not have the luxury of waiting that long.  As for the Barry Zito rumors, he isn’t coming to CBP to ply his trade any time soon.  This is not a park built for the likes of him.  And with free agency looming after this season, Zito would be an expensive short-term rental.  The Phils have been there and done that many times in recent years, always with disastrous consequences.

No other pitchers mentioned in trade rumors would help this club.  They are better off holding onto their own prospects, something they have failed to do in the past.

At the start of the season GM Pat Gillick hinted more than a few times he thought the Phillies didn’t have enough pitching to make up the five additional games he believed were necessary to get them into the playoffs.  Nothing has changed since then.   So, who could the Phillies offer to other clubs in contention as a step toward making up that difference?

Most speculation focuses on Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell.  Bobby isn’t going anywhere.  As far as the Phillies are concerned, he remains their most reliable OBP guy on a team that shows precious little patience otherwise.  As for his fielding misadventures, I have to believe no one in the Phillies organization was fooled by last year’s Gold Glove award.  What they see this year is basically what they have seen every year.

Burrell’s is a much more complicated situation.  He is a proven RBI man.  He is also one streaky hitter.   He cannot run and he can only field his position adequately.  He also has a big contract and a no-trade clause.   On the plus side (if you are peddling this commodity), Burrell would probably love to escape Philadelphia, where he has always seemed uncomfortable if not unhappy.   The most likely scenario would see him move to the American League where he could DH and play in the field occasionally.  The Yankees remain a good possibility as they continue to struggle with injuries to their corner outfielders.  The question remains, however, what do they have to offer?  Perhaps more significantly, would Burrell be happy playing in the largest media town given his distaste for this smaller one?

Neither scenario – buying or selling - would seem to offer much promise in the short term.  The prediction here:  the Phillies will stand pat until the off-season.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yanks' World Cup Comes Up Empty

If the United States Soccer Federation was counting on the American team’s opening contest at this year’s World Cup to finally convert millions of disinterested domestic sports fans to their cause, they can forget it.

Given such high expectations for this year’s squad at the very least most observers expected a competitive match against the favored Czech Republic. Instead, we were (mis)treated to a dreadful game from the American side. As tempting as it might be to credit the Czechs with playing great defense, such was not the case. The Americans simply never mounted any serious threat; indeed, at no point did the US team even seem to have a game plan. Their “attack” was completely unimaginative and disorganized and their defense broke down early.

After reaching the quarterfinals at the last World Cup, in Korea, American soccer was thought by many to be ready for the next level. After today’s 3-0 shutout it is clear they are not. Their next match is Saturday against a very good Italian team. It will take nothing less than a miracle to make it to the next round. The Yanks could easily be 0-2 by Sunday morning and on their way home shortly thereafter.

There Are Limits

Yes, sports fans, the Phils were due for a stinker.

Trouble is, it already happened Thursday night. The limit is one per series.

If nothing else the four games in Washington underscored the many problems this team faces beginning with the dreadful quality of the Phillies’ corner outfielders as both Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu botched plays over the weekend that directly led to runs scored. It also highlighted the problems at catcher, where Sal Fasano started three of the four games and third string catcher Chris Coste the other. Apparently, the alleged brain trust has decided to bury Carlos Ruiz in the minors after barely giving him a chance (35 AB’s) the first time around. This sort of snap judgment is a pattern with the Phillies.

Cole Hamels took yesterday’s loss, the first of his big league career. I wasn’t impressed with his pitch selection at times, especially with men on base, though it is impossible for me to know who was calling them. However, comments by Charlie Manuel following the game suggest either Hamels or Fasano were in charge of that department.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Failing To Step Up

How many games does a team have to lose following a very good road trip to the West Coast before that trip is a distant memory?


For the second straight night the Phillies came up short against the Washington Nationals.  This game had loss written all over it from the get go when Brett Myers, their best pitcher, struggled early and often; as it was, the Phils nearly pulled it out with a big five-run rally in the seventh inning led by, who else, Chase Utley.  But Rheal Cormier allowed Washington to tie the game in bottom of the frame and Clay Condrey took the loss in the twelfth inning.

There are some who will argue the 100 minute rain delay to start the game was the real culprit here, but I am not among them.  Staked to a two run lead in the first inning, Myers began the game by setting the Nationals down in order.  In the bottom of the second inning, he allowed a bad play behind him, a misjudged line drive that sailed over the head of Bobby Abreu, to once again upset his apple cart and from then on it was downhill.  A real ace wouldn’t collapse under those circumstances.  Myers did, however, giving up four straight hits and two runs before an error by David Bell allowed a third run to score.  The ball Abreu misjudged was ruled a hit, one of those vagaries of official scoring that says if the fielder did not touch the ball it was not an error.   Tell that to Myers.

Only yesterday I had written Myers was the most dependable starter, the only dependable starter, on this staff.   If he is their ace, however, it is as much by default as by performance.  Before commenters jump down my throat and point out this was the first game of the season in which the right hander allowed more than three earned runs (he gave up six of them in three innings of work), let me point out that there is more to being an ace than stats.   The Phils needed this win to avoid falling further back of the Mets;  they needed this win to maintain some momentum built up in LA and Phoenix; and, they needed this win because that’s what you want from your best starter following a moribund performance in a loss the night before: stop a swing in momentum dead in its tracks before things get out of hand.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Not Ready For Prime Time

Being the Phillies, prior to the game there was talk of removing Eude Brito from the rotation if he faltered (a good idea) and replacing him with Ryan Franklin (a bad idea).  Brito faltered, alright, but it should be argued Franklin outdid him, serving up a home run to Alfsono Soriano, the first guy he faced in so-called relief.   In an otherwise surprisingly dependable bullpen Franklin remains the lone liability.  He arrived in town with a reputation for giving up the long ball and his recent appearances have done nothing to dispel that perception.

In the end, starting pitching is still the name of the game and the Phils really don't have enough.  I, for one, am not exactly looking forward to Jon Lieber's return.  He had one good outing this year and one decent appearance; otherwise, he has been lousy, serving up a lot of home runs for an alleged ground ball pitcher.  Ryan Madson?  Encouraging, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  He wasn't exactly impressive in LA and while he beat a good hitting Diamondbacks team the Phils appear to have caught them when they were suffering a bit of a letdown.  I need to see several good outings from Madson before I anoint him the number three or four guy let alone the answer.  Cole Hamels?  I remain guardedly optimistic.  To take any other approach given his physical history just doesn’t make much sense.  Corey Lidle?  A career .500 pitcher, so we can expect win one/lose one going forward.  Brett Myers?  No doubt about it; he is the most dependable starter at this point. 

I'm sorry, this is not a championship caliber staff.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I Digress

It hardly comes as a surprise that the owner of the Flyers and GM of the Sixers have both announced in the last few weeks they are going to implement changes in the way their respective dysfunctional teams do business. Unfortunately, the solutions they propose will not work for the oldest reason in the book: they are the problem.

The Sixers’ Billy King indicated he would take a more hands-on approach in the coming season. That should come as particularly bad news to local basketball fans as they ponder the implications of King’s statements. If anything, his apparently hands-off approach of the last few seasons has produced a revolving door in the coach’s office and more than a few terrible trades and signings in his own. Last year the Sixers failed to make the playoffs despite King’s maneuvers of the previous few seasons. What can they expect from him when he puts his mind and hands to the task going forward? Not much.

As for the Flyers, owner Ed Snider has made it clear his team is no longer going to mortgage the future by trading away youngsters for old-timers. The Flyers’ future-is-now approach of the last several seasons has yielded an older, slower team that somehow reached the playoffs this past year only to make a quick, expected exit. A list of the disastrous Faustian bargains the Flyers made are included in a piece by Tim Panaccio in today’s Inquirer. It is a long and sorry one.

Panaccio also notes a number of Flyers front office people have departed recently, some of their own accord but not all. The sad truth is the biggest personnel problem remains GM Bob Clarke, the architect of all those terrible deals. Clarke never met a bruiser he didn’t want instead of a speedster. Nor has any GM ever been more enamored of players who had great track records against the Flyers. Clarke also likes to reacquire people he’s already traded, perhaps the most telling argument against his judgment.

Snider’s loyalty to Clarke is now 30 plus years in the making, a debt that has been paid in full many times over. As long as he holds on to his former star player, the change in direction Snider boldly announced will remain well off course.

Heroes All Around

A lot of heroes in yesterday’s game, so let’s get right to them:

Ryan Madson gave the Phils his best start ever and at precisely the right moment. Following Cole Hamels performance the night before, Madson worked 7.2 innings allowing three runs, striking out three and walking none. His effort could go a long way toward stabilizing the rotation.

Chase Utley drew a walk in the first inning and scored all the way from first base on a double by Bobby Abreu. Small ball at just the right time and naturally Utley was in the middle of it. Even when he goes hitless the guy is invaluable.

J-Roll did his best Albert Pujols imitation, going upstairs to nearly tomahawk a three run homer.

Abraham Nunez, the forgotten man on this squad, started at third base and made three excellent plays, one of them a diving stop. Despite his infrequent appearances and season-long hitting woes, the guy came to play. That says a lot about his character. Now, Charlie should give him more opportunities.

With Aaron Rowand getting a day off, Shane Victorino started in center field and made a terrific running catch late in the game. He looked like…well…Aaron Rowand now that you mention it.

Sal Fasano, banged up and limping slightly at the end, matched a career high of four hits in a game. As it was, he ended the day a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Had he done that, his bat would be bound for Cooperstown and his body for an oxygen tent.

Then there is Ryan Howard. There are so many reasons to like this kid. The great temperament; the home runs; the rbi’s; the good glove despite the eight errors. (He made a terrific diving stop of a ground ball late in the game.)

What impresses me most, however, is watching a young guy in his second year (really his first full one considering he did not become a regular until his call-up in July of last year) make adjustments from AB to AB, not “merely” game to game.

In the first inning of yesterday’s game he looked bad. Very bad. Rookie right-hander Justin Nippert made him look awkward the entire AB before striking Howard out on a breaking ball. By the next AB he had already adjusted…to the tune of a two-run home run deep to centerfield. Pitchers are trying to keep the ball inside on Howard, not allowing him to extend those massive arms. They think they know where the holes are in his swing, but he knows, too.

There’s no quit in this kid.

As a team the Phillies pulled off a minor miracle, sweeping the previously hot Diamondbacks in Phoenix. They concluded the western portion of their eleven game road trip with a 5-2 record. Last year an equally impressive western swing propelled the Phillies to their hot run at the end of the season. Perhaps they are getting started a little earlier this year.

Tonight, they send Eude Brito to the mound against the Nationals at RFK Stadium. The young southpaw will be pitching to maintain the Phils’ momentum as well as keep his spot in the rotation. As it stands right now, he should have plenty of help as nearly everyone on this squad is contributing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Trying To See The Future

In the aftermath of yesterday’s draft we ask the inevitable questions.  Is help on the way?  Can we hang in there that long?

Let us fantasize for a moment.

An infield of Howard, Utley, Rollins and either Mike Costanzo or a third baseman acquired through a trade.  Jason Jaramillo catching.  Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand and who knows who else in the outfield.  Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Randy Wolf, Giao Gonzalez, Scott Mathieson and/or Kyle Drabek in the starting rotation, providing a nice balance of left and right-handers.  Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary and a few as-yet unknowns in the pen.

That might be a pretty fair team depending on who the set-up guy and closer are.  A few of the names above are at least two or three years away, by which time three of the four infielders will all be approaching 30 years of age, the prime of their careers.  That third outfielder will be critical, too.  The Phils will need more power production from at least one outfield spot.

Conspicuously absent from this list is Gavin Floyd.  He pitched a complete-game win last night in his first start at AAA since being sent down, a good sign given the possibility he might have withdrawn further into himself after his demotion.  Still, Floyd’s future seems tenuous at best…at least in Philadelphia.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Draftees, Old And New

Check your expectations at the refrigerator door.

That’s the best approach to take this evening when you sit down in your easy chair to watch Cole Hamels make his third major league start and his first since coming off the disabled list.

If, however, you believe the fragile left-hander is finally healthy and ready to take the ball every fifth day from now until the first few days of October, congratulations, you are an eternal optimist.

Me? I’m taking his recovery on a scheduled start-by-scheduled start basis.

* * * * * * * * *

Within minutes of his selection, a lot of people weighed in regarding the character of Kyle Drabek, the Texas high school right hander the Phillies took with their first pick in the 18th round of the baseball draft. And where are they getting most if not all of their information? From sites like ESPN, where capsule scouting reports and draft predictions abound.

Spare me the third-hand “insights” and rehashes, people, and especially the cheap psychoanalysis. We don’t know enough about him.

To Hustle Or Not

It might not be up there with pointing to centerfield and calling your shot, but the legend of Chase Utley continues to grow in small, indelible increments.

I did not watch last night's game after the first inning but I have since watched replays of the seventh inning during which Utley beat the throw to first on a ground ball to second and Jimmy Rollins scored all the way from second base on the same play. Utley routinely busts it down the line on every ball he hits and, like last night, occasionally beats the throw. Do more than a few players in all of baseball hustle as much as Chase? For his part, Jimmy has scored in two consecutive games by hustling, but, alas, he is just as likely to take a right turn mid-way down the first base path on a routine grounder, too.

Following Sunday's collision at home plate in which Utley lowered his shoulder, bowled over the Dodger catcher and scored the eventual winning run of that game, we have come to expect this sort of all-out abandon from the young second baseman. Utley doesn't know any other way to approach the game; he is unable to take off a single play.

Then there is Pat Burrell. On Pat’s first plate appearance last night he appeared to be taking off the entire AB. With Rollins on third and two outs, Burrell took every pitch but the last one, on which he grounded out. A runner in scoring position and Burrell swings at one pitch. But wait; it gets worse. An avid commenter on this and other blogs sent us all an email this morning, the subject line of which was: Pat the Bat.

It's nice to watch your cleanup hitter. After being called out on strikes in a key situation, he was tossed for arguing. LA and others say it was a missed call, but they all miss the point. It takes three strikes to strike out.

Here's Burrell's game [last night]:

He came to bat 4 times.
Each time he came to bat, the Phillies had 2 men on base. That's 8 baserunners to be driven in in a close game against the league's best pitcher.
That pitcher threw a total of 16 pitches to Burrell during those 4 ABs.
Pat Burrell swung at 3 of them. He looked at 13 pitches. No swings and a miss, no foul balls.
He grounded out 3 times, including a GIDP.
He was called out on strikes the other time.

This is your cleanup hitter, not your leadoff man. He is being paid to HIT.
He has one of the league's HR leaders hitting behind him, so opposing pitchers are NOT pitching around him. They are throwing strikes. They are not going to walk him.

At times like this, CM should be starting Dellucci a few games until Burrell figures it out.

Then, there is Bobby Abreu. I have finally come to the conclusion the Phillies should trade him if the right deal comes along. I don’t care how many bases on balls he draws, what his OBP is this season or what his lifetime batting average is. I have had enough of Bobby.

On Sunday, Abreu was literally adjusting his jock strap when he took the first pitch of his game for a strike. Now, everyone knows Bobby rarely swings at the first pitch anyway, but this was ridiculous. He proceeded to strike out that AB and not for one moment did he look the least bit ready or interested. Late in Sunday's game, he pulled up short chasing a foul ball toward the right field line and stands with the Phils leading 6-4. He was nowhere near the seats when he gave up on the ball. [For an example of how to make that play, look no further than the Diamondback's Shawn Green, who made a terrific sliding catch of a foul ball in last night's game.]

Last night in the first inning with Rollins on third base and one out, Bobby drew a walk against Brandon Webb, one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. Rollins had already stolen two bases in the inning and the Phils looked poised to take an early lead against Webb, who began the night 8-0. Abreu did his best to stifle the threat by being picked off first base and Burrell finished it off by grounding out.

I’ve grown weary of Bobby’s act, and, frankly, with Utley providing us with a daily reminder of what hustle can do, maybe the Phillies’ front office will have reached a similar conclusion. It isn’t going to get any better with Bobby or Pat and I’d rather see Dave Dellucci or Shane Victorino, both of whom hustle, playing more regularly instead of the Phillies current corner outfielders.

Monday, June 05, 2006

All Fall Down

Once upon a time the major league All-Star game meant something. That was before interleague play and satellite dishes, and ESPN made it possible for everyone across the country, indeed the world, to see every team and every player virtually on demand. Now, the “mid-summer classic” is just slightly more interesting to fans than the Pro-Bowl game is in football and, then, only because it is played in the middle of the season. Move it to November and Hawaii and I guarantee only the parents, spouses and significant others of the participants would tune in.

Like so many other facets of baseball today, the All-Star game has been badly mismanaged by Commissioner Bud Sellig. First, he has turned the event into the same three-day carnival as in every other major sport with made-for-TV skill contests such as the home run hitting contest created solely to expand the amount of exposure on prime time television. Next, he agreed to allow ESPN have Boomer Berman and Joe Morgan provide commentary for the contest, insuring that bad puns and platitudes flew out of the park at least as often as the baseballs. Then there was the infamous tie he decreed a few years ago, which would have gone down as Bud’s greatest folly had he not surpassed himself by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league in the All-Star game. These guys need motivation, Bud opined. Foolish me; all along I thought the incentive clauses in their contracts were sufficient.

Many observers have also noted how flawed the voting system is, especially when smaller market teams cannot possible compete against larger ones when it comes to in-stadium balloting. Can the 4,325 people who show up in Miami have a snowball’s chance in South Florida of electing local hero Miguel Cabrera when the Cubs sell out Wrigley every day and have Derek Lee? While I find the argument correlating attendance and voting somewhat persuasive, I have to acknowledge there are alternatives, namely online voting.

Of course, when one goes on line these days he or she is limited to a mere 25 votes and must navigate the word verification system MLB put in place order to prevent spammers and programmers from, heaven forbid, exploiting the system.

A limit of 25 votes?? Is that per visit to the web or is that overall? What if I disable cookies? Can I vote forever? Could I write in Lou Collier?

[P.S. If Chase Utley is elected the starting second baseman, I take it all back.]

Some Things On The Ball

I’ll admit I know precious little about the Arizona Diamondbacks once I get past headliners Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, Johnny Estrada and Brandon Webb.

But I do know this:  they won the World Series in 2001 with a pitching staff led by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and then gradually slipped into mediocrity as fiscal irresponsibility forced ownership to unload those two plus salary.  Now, five years later they are leading the NL West.  Someone out there in the desert is using his noodle.

Webb is scheduled to face the Phillies tonight and if you think that 8-0 record came out of nowhere, look again.  The 27-year old has a career 3.18 ERA and his won-loss record over the last four seasons mirrors his team’s overall fortunes.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Everyone including Swing and A Miss has anointed Brett Myers the staff ace.  Yesterday’s performance was fairly typical of Myers in 2006, another quality start as baseball now understands and computes that statistic in which he had just enough to keep his mates in the game.  Myers never really impresses me as a dominant sort of pitcher, but that’s not what matters for this club any longer.  What does matter is that his teammates believe he can keep them in the game, something they no longer believe when Charlie Manuel trots any other starter out there.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Rumors persist that a few clubs are still looking at the Phillies’ corner outfielders and that the Phils are trying to find some starting pitching help.  Any such moves would be predicated on the notion that the Phillies have a chance to make the playoffs and, frankly, they do not.  First, the quality of pitching they need is not available.  Second, they need too much of it for one mediocre guy to make a difference.  Third,  Burrell’s stock is significantly diminished by his lingering foot problem.  And finally, if they trade Abreu they give up what little consistent offense, on base percentage division, they have after Chase Utley.  

As for the  rumor the Phillies were considering trading Aaron Rowand for pitching, that notion offers a textbook definition of fantasy baseball.   What do you take the Phillies’ front office for?  Wait, let me rephrase that.  Forget the rebellion such a move would produce in the local population that has justifiably embraced Rowand as a Philly-kind-of-guy.  Is the Phillies fan base so stable that the front office can afford to trade such a popular player?  Furthermore, apart from Utley, who among the Phillies regulars beside Rowand never takes off a single at bat or play in the field?  You want more?  Who would play centerfield?  Shane Victorino?  His two week stint as Rowand’s fill-in went very well, but it’s a little premature to hand him the starting job.  The bet here is he will either be starting at a corner position in a year or so or will himself be part of a trade package.

C’mon, rumor-mongers, get real.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Fine Mess

This much we know:

There is no immediate help down on the farm. Eude Brito arrived with a lot less fanfare than Cole Hamels and proceeded to justify the lower expectations on merit by yielding six runs in four innings Saturday in an 8-2 loss to the Dodgers. Brito began the game by giving up four straight hits.

Clay Condrey followed and had his first rough outing since joining the Phils, proving if nothing else there was a good reason why we hadn’t heard that much about the 30-year old pitcher before now.

On Friday evening Ryan Madson reminded us once more why he belongs in the bullpen. More than a few pundits have labeled him a one pitch hurler, but damned if I know which pitch that really is.

And, finally, Gavin Floyd was demoted to AAA Scranton where he will, in no particular order, attempt to: rediscover his confidence; loosen his grip on his fastball so that it arrives at the plate a little quicker and with something on it; and attempt to get meaner at the behest of his manager. The getting meaner part is going to be tough, especially when one recalls that last year Floyd hit an inordinate number of batters. Maybe what I thought was mean was just his poor command.

There may be help down the road, but right now the Phillies’ overall pitching is a bigger mess than at any time this season.

Finally, more than a few players and their manager noted how tough it is to constantly look up at the scoreboard and see you are trailing, but, frankly, coming from Chase Utley, it was all the more noteworthy. Here is how Todd Zolecki quoted the Phils’ second baseman: When you're always trying to come back, it makes it more difficult. But when you're in those situations, you have to do whatever it takes to get on base, just to put some runs across the board." The Phillies should be worried their most valuable player is showing the strains of playing catch up all the time. While all of us look at him and see Utley manning second base in Philadelphia for the next ten years or more, there’s nothing guaranteed about his remaining here that long.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Anyone who argues the manager is not critical to a team's performance is kidding himself. Despite claims that a manager cannot hit, pitch or catch the ball, his impact is profound.

None of us is privy to what goes on inside the Phillies clubhouse. From what we can gather, the overall atmosphere has improved since Charlie Manuel replaced Larry Bowa. I'm happy they're happy. I cannot help notice, however, that many of the most successful managers over time weren't too concerned with how the players liked them or, for that matter, each other. Any time 25 players and six or seven coaches live together for six or seven months there are going to be tensions.

What is clear by now is that Manuel does not possess the skills to manage a game and that starts with planning, not just in-game strategy. He cannot make out a lineup and when he does, he cannot seem to find the right combination. He cannot use his bench well at all. He hasn't a single clue about pitching. Nor does he appear to have the skills to assemble a group of coaches who can not only get the most out of their players but also correct mistakes, make adjustments and most critically evaluate the talent.

This is a dysfunctional coaching staff. Someone among the bloggers or those commenting made the observation recently that whenever the camera pans the dugout, pitchers are talking to Mark Bombard not Rich Dubee. Of course it's impossible to know if that is an accurate representation of the relationships on the team, but it was telling.

What does seem clear is that as an organization the Phillies could not handle some of their pitchers (Vicente Padilla being a prime example), could not evaluate others (trades by Ed Wade of some young pitchers were not made in a vacuum by him alone) and cannot seem to coach those who remain.

And what about hitting? Manuel is alleged to be a hitting guru but for my money I have never seen a team with less plate discipline or an overall sense of what is the appropriate approach to an at-bat. Few of them can hit behind the runner. Fewer can bunt. Most of them don't know when to take a pitch. This team is relying on the long ball to score nearly 50% of its runs. I don't know the stats on how such a reliance pans out over time, but my guess is that is not the way to win a pennant. What makes a good hitting coach? The easy answer would be: good hitters. Some of the best hitting coaches couldn't hit themselves. Charley Lau. The Phils have had a series of hitting coaches whose impact seems to have been minimal. Maybe good coaches are in short supply, like good pitchers.

I do know this: every time the camera pans to Manuel in the dugout talking with Gary Varsho (EVERY TIME), he is invariably making a motion like he's swinging a bat and every time LA, Harry, Wheels, and Scott Graham say how much CM loves to talk hitting. Yeah, and the part they leave out is how little he knows about pitching other than he couldn't hit it himself.

The current road trip could easily find the Phillies returning home five games under .500. They appear to be utterly lost at times and that approach can be laid at the feet of those who run the team.

Expect another announcement.

Expect An Announcement

Expect an announcement at any moment now. On second thought, pray for one. The Gavin Floyd experiment is over.

Contrary to my complaints about missing Phillies telecasts from the West Coast due to the late starts for us old folks on the East Coast, I am grateful to have been spared Floyd’s latest disaster. I didn’t even need to go to the web to read the gory details: my in box was filled with summaries and less neutral recaps from some faithful bloggers and those who comment regularly.

Truth be told, I went to bed assuming the Phillies had lost and, for the record, I was asleep by 10:27PM EDT. Sending out a guy with the worst ERA in the league can do that to you. But forget me; how do his teammates react when they know he is taking the ball every fifth day? They can’t be too optimistic either. Of course, it would help matters if they hit with RISP, caught the ball with greater frequency, and in general made some effort on his if not their own behalves. Still, when you give up seven hits, four bases on balls and seven earned runs in four innings, you can expect to lose. Floyd’s ERA now stands at 7.29.

It’s hard to imagine that sending the kid down to AAA will help. He doesn’t need the work; he needs the pitches. His confidence won’t be helped by getting rocked by minor league batters, which is more or less what happened during his last stint at Scranton. If ever a player were in need of a change of scenery, it would be Gavin Floyd. At this stage it is hard to imagine many other teams taking a chance for him. The best bet is that he will be a throw-in as part of a trade. Some other team is going to look at him as a project. How about Baltimore and Leo Mazzone? Home town kid (he’s from Annapolis, MD) returns! If all else fails, he might benefit from going into the Witness Protection Program for a few years and emerging with an entirely new identity. While he's at it, he might want to add a few more pitches to his repertoire as well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

They're Outta Here

I absolutely hate it when the Phillies play on the West Coast. They might as well be a space craft on the dark side of the moon. All communication with them ceases until 10PM EDT, or about the same time I am crawling into bed. Who can stay up that late only to watch J-Roll swing at the first pitch and pop up? Of course my morning paper won’t carry the story either; instead, there will be a little box advising me that last night’s game ended too late for this edition of the newspaper but I can find a complete recap by going to the newspaper’s web site.

No Harry. No Wheels (well, maybe there are some pluses).

They might as well be playing in Indonesia.

Will someone out there send me an email when they get back?

* * * * * * * * *

What the heck is up with Roger Clemens anyway? Why has this guy toyed with four teams specifically and baseball in general? Does a 43-year old guy need that much time off to recuperate? He couldn't start the season in April with some team if he wanted to pitch that badly? Julio Franco did it!!

Does Clemens really need to be seen as some sort of white knight riding into town at this late stage to put the [pick one] Astros, Red Sox, Yankees or Rangers over the top?

He retired. He unretired. Then he retired again and unretired again. ESPN has him retiring/unretiring three times but I count only two since this latest one was hedged from the get-go. Heck, there are prize fighters who haven't retired/unretired at the rate he does.

Frankly, I hope he stubs his big toe and goes on the DL. It's all so damn unseemly. Roger to the rescue. Hooey. [Tells you something about the lack of pitching these days, though, doesn’t it?. I wonder if Steve Carlton is still a conditioning freak?]