Monday, July 31, 2006
Yesterday’s lopsided trade of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees for four less-than-top-drawer prospects and the assumption of all but $1.5 million of Abreu’s salary sent a clear message: Pat Gillick has a mandate to disassemble this team. Whether or not he can rebuild it is not nearly so clear.
Only last week I suggested in this space the Phillies would package Abreu and Lidle in a deal at the deadline, but I hardly suspected the latter would be a throw-in. I have no doubt Bobby’s time was over in Philadelphia. He appeared to be unhappy from Opening Day. Despite an on-base percentage every commentator, color analyst, and play-by-play announcer loved to point out every single time he stepped up to the plate and drew another walk, his batting average continued to slip, his power numbers were down dramatically and his base-running and fielding were paradigms of indifference. He needed this change of scenery.
Interestingly, in the few comments received thus far on this blog (see the post below), Lidle’s name isn’t even mentioned! Now I know Cory isn’t the second coming of Catfish Hunter, but in the baseball world of today he is hardly chopped liver. By all indications, the Yankees weren’t going to take on Abreu’s bloated salary unless Lidle was included in the deal. Gillick blinked.
Lidle was leaving town after this season anyway, but a quick look around the Majors suggests there were more than a few clubs who needed a number three starter. Frankly, given the state of pitching in the National League in particular, Lidle is a number two starter these days. Coming off three straight quality starts (and then some), Lidle is a valuable commodity. In the deal with the Yankees, however, he was the first player-to-be-named later whose identity was revealed within seconds of the initial announcement.
As for the whole matter of rebuilding the Phillies, Gillick has already written off 2007. I’ll grant the Phils’ GM this much, when he sees something he doesn’t like, he doesn’t mince words. Gillick wrote off 2006 prior to the start of the season (you could look it up) and he isn’t about to spin the situation for next season when it is abundantly clear his team’s prospects, literally and figuratively, are poor.
So, the Phillies now have the “financial flexibility” deemed mandatory to compete in today’s atmosphere. That suggests Gillick sees the road to the post-season leads directly through free agency, not the farm system. A quick glance at the crop of free agents who will become available this off-season is less an awe-inspiring, especially among pitchers. Then, there is the problem that the reputation of Citizens Bank Park, to say nothing of the team that calls it home, all but insures most free agent pitchers will tell their agents not to take calls from Gillick over their dead bodies.
Let us not forget another thing about free agency: the Phillies already went down that road in the recent past to decidedly mixed results. The addition here and there of a significant free agent is probably helpful, but in the long run the Phillies need good prospects, especially at catcher, pitcher, third base and at least one outfield position. And top prospects are what the Phillies are not getting in the deals consummated thus far.
These are your Philadelphia Phillies. Still mediocre after all these years.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Our winner is probably lying low at the moment, waiting until the hoopla dies down before he comes forward to claim his prize. Right now his family is urging him to hire a lawyer and financial planner.
If nothing else, Bell’s departure confirms the Reverse Curse is alive and well. (See the last paragraph of yesterday’s post.) As soon as I heard the news it also occurred to me that George S.’s infamous Black Hole was the first casualty of the new order.
Bell was shipped to Milwaukee for Wilfrido Laureano, a 6’6” 170 pounder. My first thought upon reading the details was how in the world did scouts even see the guy if he were standing sideways?! The 22-year old Laureano was 3-2 with a save and a 3.96 ERA in 29 appearances. In 63 2/3 innings he struck out 62, walked 36 and allowed 54 hits. I don’t know how, but those figures computed to a .218 average against him according to the paper. So, what do we have here? A kid who strikes out a batter an inning, allows nearly a hit an inning and walks a batter just under every other inning. A project.
Is that all a veteran third baseman is worth on today’s open market? Hard to believe, Harry.
I watched a post-game interview with Bell and to his considerable credit he handled himself with tremendous grace, expressing sincere regret the club never reached the post-season during his tenure and noting he had made many friends for life among his teammates. He certainly didn’t make many if any among the fans, but that is water over the dam now.
So, get ready for Abraham Nunez, folks. Earlier in the season a lot of people including yours truly clamored for Nunez to get more playing time.
Watch out what you wish for…..
Friday, July 28, 2006
By Monday we can all stop logging onto ESPN’s Insider every 45 minutes to check out the latest trade rumors. The guessing games and speculation will be over for another year and your Philadelphia Phillies will either have moved several veterans, stood pat or made a modest deal.
We needn’t waste time or energy here recapitulating the leading candidates in this melodrama, but if you want to read a fine summary of those players currently up for parole (his term), read Jim Salisbury’s excellent piece in today’s Inquirer. Jim suffers for all of us.
Regardless of the outcome, I am prepared, indeed expecting, to suffer again next year. That’s right, sports fans, I do not anticipate the 2007 version of our Philadelphia Phillies will provide a marked improvement over the current edition. There are simply too many holes to fill at one July trade deadline or subsequent off-season. This is going to take longer than we want.
If pitching was the weak link in 2006, the potential departures of Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber, average or below though they have been, hardly points to an improved starting rotation next year. Randy Wolf? He makes his first start of the year this weekend. Put him down as a complete unknown quality at this juncture of his career and rehabilitation. Ryan Madson? He remains a project at best and a middling middle reliever at worst. Cole Hamels? Full of potential, which doesn’t mean that he will fulfill it imminently. See his first six or seven starts for confirmation. Brett Myers? Still the king of the hill in this town despite his personal problems. Gavin Floyd? Scott Mathieson? A promising future but based on the experiences of some other rookie pitchers of late, it’s far too early to count on him.
The relief corp won’t offer much of the same either if Rheal Cormier departs or, more to the point, reverts to his every-other-year effectiveness. Ryan Franklin? No one wants to see him back in town with a baseball in his hand. Arthur Rhodes? No one wants to see him in the 215 area code preparing to walk the first batter he faces. Geoff Geary and Aaron Fultz should return. Tom Gordon is likely to return as well. Fabio Castro will either be in the Witness Protection Program full time or at Reading. (By the way, for those who are counting, and Jason Weitzel and I are, he was last sighted 21 days ago somewhere in the vicinity of the Phillies bullpen.) There are a few other guys out in the same bullpen whose names I still haven’t committed to memory. They can leave, too, as far as I am concerned.
The outfield is a mess. David Dellucci could be gone before I post this morning. If this guy doesn’t have his bags packed, he is less of an optimist than I assumed. Pat Burrell will be back to torment us another season, taking an inordinate number of called strikes in the process. Aaron Rowand will probably be back. If Bobby Abreu doesn’t privately want to be released from his sentence in Philadelphia I am badly misreading him. He looks pained to me. Frankly, he is my poster boy for a guy who needs a change of scenery. I would not mind seeing Bobby back in town, but I no longer believe it is in his or the Phillies’ best interest to play out the string. (Maybe the Phillies will package Abreu and Lidle in a blockbuster deal.) Shane Victorino is going to get a chance to play more next season. His batting average has dropped dramatically over the last few months since he lost his temporary starting job to incumbent Rowand, but his hustle on the base paths and in the field has not suffered, proving once again that a player needs regular AB’s to stay sharp. (Ask David Dellucci for confirmation.)
The catching situation is another disaster zone unless one believes Chris Coste can be the every day guy, which I don’t. This spot is right up there with number two starting pitcher for problem demanding most immediate attention.
Apart from third base, the infield is set for some time to come. I would not be at all surprised if the Phils offered David Bell, yes, that David Bell, a one year deal to return. There are simply too many other holes to fill.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
There are a whole lot of major league teams out there who could use that kind of pitching right about now…including the Phillies. Chances are, however, his current team isn’t in the running for his services beyond this season if not weekend. Truth be told, a lot of Lidle’s other suitors may not be either – he is a free agent after this season – but by then one team may have gotten all they wanted from him anyway.
While Lidle’s stock rose, Bobby Abreu’s has probably fallen a little further each day as he continues to struggle for base hits during the current home stand. Bobby’s salary for the next two seasons was always going to be the stumbling block anyway, but it cannot have helped his value to watch his average trend slowly downward. For the month of July Bobby has 20 hits in 20 games, but six of them came in just two of them. In the six games played during this home stand, he has four hits and one rbi.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the outfield, Pat Burrell has been doing a lot of sitting lately as the Phils showcase their other hot commodity, David Dellucci. By now Burrell’s virtues and liabilities are well-known to all buyers out there and his absence from the lineup lately has done nothing to diminish nor improve his stock. Dellucci, on the other hand, continues to see his value rise. Numerous reports have his suitors numbering near double digits. Again, the Philllies would seem unlikely to be in the running for his future services for one simple reason: they have already burned their bridges with him, having misused the left-handed hitter in the opinion of the one person who counts the most: David Dellucci.
Jon Lieber remains the other Phillies pitcher most likely to depart, and while his seven inning, eleven-hit, four run performance Wednesday evening might not have set the scouts in attendance to furiously calling home from their cell phones, it was the kind of yeoman’s effort a lot of teams are seeking.
A record 45,459 fans including Beerleaguer, Ball Sticks & Stuff, Philliesflow, yours truly and special guest commenter extraordinaire George S. (all the way from Vietnam) were in attendance last night at the Bank to get their very own Ryan Howard Bobblehead figures and, by the way, watch the Phils beat the Diamondbacks 6-4.
Who’d of thunk it? Neither Barry Bonds nor opening day in April, 2004, nor Chase Utley Bobblehead figure night could top last night’s turnout in steamy South Philadelphia. It was a glowing testament to Howard’s enormous popularity in this town and to grown men’s’ mania for collectibles. Sure, the target audience is allegedly the fans 14 and under, but trust me, I saw Beerleaguer clutching his boxed figurine throughout the evening, glancing at it lovingly! (“It will look very nice next to the Ryan Howard Bobblehead figure in a Reading Phillies uniform I already own.”)
True to our routine, the aforementioned Phloggers never took a seat during the game, instead standing at one of the many aluminum counters that ring the concourses, sipping our beers, eating our peanuts and analyzing the proceedings. Indeed, for the second straight game most of us never even looked at our tickets to see where they were located. These days, we are more likely to buy the cheapest seats in the house just to get in and take up our positions at one of the counters.
There was much to see and talk about.
Chase Utley continued his torrid hitting streak, now at 26 straight games. In the process he hit his third home run in two nights and raised his batting average to .321. Howard didn’t get a hit, but what more do you want from a guy who draws a record crowd just for lending his image to some effigy makers in a factory in China? P.S. They got the stance right, but missed high and outside on the facial resemblance.
Much of the night was spent speculating about moves the Phillies might make as the trade deadline approached. All of us were rooting for starter Jon Lieber to have a good outing so that the many scouts in attendance would send back Buy signals to their respective clubs. Each hit he surrendered (eleven in all over seven innings) produced an audible moan among us, none louder than from Beerleaguer, who badly wants to see the rotund righty on a one-way ticket out of town.
David Dellucci was another player being showcased for the visiting dignitaries. Dellucci got the start in left field last night on merit and delivered a home run on cue. Of course it didn’t hurt his cause that the Phils were facing tough right-hander Brandon Webb, a legitimate Cy Young candidate. This was no time to get Pat Burrell more AB’s.
Shane Victorino got the start in center. All agreed he gets to the ball much more quickly than Aaron Rowand and has an absolute cannon of an arm. In the sixth inning he threw out Connor Jackson, who tried to stretch a single into a double. The ball came in low under the radar, about two feet off the ground all the way, on the fly. No hops. No skips. No errors. Victorino is an exciting ballplayer who deserves more regular playing time to prove definitively whether or not he can handle a fulltime job.
Today, Cory Lidle, also the subject of numerous trade rumors, gets the start. More than a few of us are wishing him well and sayonara.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Rowand’s fall from grace has to be the most rapid and precipitous in Philadelphia sports history. Following The Catch, he was the toast of the town and his teammates. No one could ever fault him for courage, determination and hustle. That said, his performance at the plate and in the field has hurt the club.
Rowand has a major hole in his swing. He hits nearly everything to the opposite side, often weakly. A typical Rowand at-bat could become the Wikipedia definition of a humpback liner. He stands too close to the plate and frequently pays the price as pitchers consistently jam him inside. He shows little patience. His average has steadily declined since his return, falling roughly forty points.
The bigger surprise is his defense. Lauded prior to his arrival here as nearly the second coming of Gary Mattox, Rowand has played just as shallow a centerfield as the Secretary of Defense, but with far less ability to go back on the ball. When I first saw him live at Citizens Bank Park, I was struck just how shallow he played. I assumed he positioned himself to compensate for his weak arm, which still might be the case, but I was unprepared for how many balls are hit over his head.
Rowand may be one of those guys you want in your foxhole, but in the more narrow sphere of baseball, he is not the answer to the Phillies outfield problems.
As currently constituted, this team is loaded with players who would rather lurk in the shadows than take a teammate aside and tell him the facts of baseball life. (See RickShuBlues’ comment in the post below for an illustration.) One exception appears to be Chase Utley, who I suspect will assume a primary leadership role one day if he hasn’t already, not only on the field where he clearly leads by example, but in the dugout and clubhouse. Utley doesn't strike me as the kind of player who remains passive when he sees mistakes or lack of hustle in others. One need not be a screamer to get a point across; a leader knows when to speak up. Utley, in his first full year as a starter, cannot do it alone, however. He is going to need some help along the way.
The veteran presence on this club has never stepped up. Lieberthal, Abreu, Burrell, Rollins and Bell have all avoided the responsibility. Early this forgettable season some suggested, improbably, that Sal Fasano could be a leader of sorts, but he wasn't. He is more or less a rah-rah sort of guy whose animated gestures made for good photo-ops but who didn't have enough baseball skills to command respect. I suppose you can have a leader who isn't a star, but it makes his job harder if his teammates don’t admire him for his accomplishments as well as his attitude. I cannot remember the last time the Phillies had a player of that caliber since Darren Daulton, who for a few seasons was a respectable performer and dominant clubhouse presence, departed for Florida. That was a long time ago as we well know.
Leadership qualities are pooh-poohed by many as overrated, but in their absence you get unending seasons of mediocrity. If nothing else, the law of averages would suggest the Phillies try a different course.
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Baseball’s current version of dying and going to heaven is to be traded from the Kansas City Royals to any other club but especially to the White Sox. Mike MacDougal, come on up!!
On the other hand, the reverse must surely be to be traded from any club to Kansas City. Disgruntled LA Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez, who complained about being demoted to the bullpen but projects as a starter in KC, come on down!!
* * * * * * * *
David Dellucci is a candid guy. He is willing to serve his time in Philadelphia, but when his sentence is up he isn’t coming back. Even if the Phillies were to guarantee him playing time, Dellucci will opt to sign elsewhere. Who can blame him? He has felt misused since his arrival. Indeed, Dellucci still cannot figure out why the Phillies acquired him. Neither can I. Cory Lidle insists he would like to finish the season with this club, but in the same breath he makes it clear he would be happy to go elsewhere if the Phillies fold their tents for 2006. Lidle, reported to be the object of desire by several teams whose tents are still standing, is signed through the end of this season and is unlikely to return. He is my candidate for player most likely to be traded.
Jon Lieber is also the subject of much speculation. In this day and age an out-of-shape 36-year old pitcher who just came off the disabled list and sports a 3-7 record with a 5.55 ERA is in demand. That says a lot about the overall quality of major league pitching, but in Lieber’s case the principal attraction seems to be his experience in pennant races. Clearly all of that experience is being wasted in Philadelphia.
Tom Gordon has also been the subject of rumors lately. Many people who follow the Phillies argue it is too difficult to come up with a top closer to give one up, but Gordon has been far from impressive in his last three outings. Batters are sitting on his fastball and the results have been disastrous lately.
* * * * * * * *
Someone should issue an APB for Fabio Castro. The guy hasn’t appeared in a game since July 6, versus San Diego, when he pitched an inning. What’s the story here? Is he hurt? Jason Weitzel over at Beerleaguer suggested he is a Rule 5 player who has to be kept on the roster. If so, fine, but does that mean he just sits? Are the Phillies so pitching rich they can afford to carry a guy on the 25 man roster just so they don’t have to offer him back to someone else?
Speaking of pitching rich, Ryan Franklin doesn’t qualify on any count, but that doesn’t prevent Charlie Manuel from running him out there again to serve up a game-losing home run when needed.
Finally, when are the Phillies going to give up on the Ryan Madson experiment? Do they really require further evidence that he isn’t starter material?
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Hamels started last night’s game against Atlanta in impressive, Phi Beta Kappa fashion, striking out the first four batters he faced. After getting Matt Diaz to ground out, however, the roof began showing some cracks in the second inning as Hamels served up back-to-back home runs to Adam LaRoche, who hits his fair share of dingers, and ex-Phillie Todd Pratt, who does not. Hamels then struck out the side in the third and fourth innings and retired two of the three batters he faced in the fifth on strikes. Twelve strikeouts in five innings, but the Phillies trailed 2-1.
The third time around for the Braves proved to be the charm as Atlanta scored five runs off of Hamels in the sixth and sent him to the showers and, with any luck, back to the books for the evening.
Hamels has three major league pitches, a good fastball and curve and a changeup every announcer, color analyst and opposing manager is in love with. So, what’s the problem? Thus far the rookie southpaw has had difficulty with his command, walking 27 batters in 55.2 innings, but last night the bigger problem was location. Nearly every time he tried to throw his fastball by someone right down Broadway, they turned it around in a hurry. Along with his 5.98 ERA he now has surrendered ten home runs in those 55.2 innings.
It’s hard to argue with twelve K’s in slightly more than half a game, but the bottom line counts, too, and Hamels is simply not getting that job done. In nearly every one of his starts Hamels has put himself and his mates in an early hole, usually by serving up a long ball. Could he benefit from a catcher who knows how to call a game? Hard to say. He has thrown to three if not four different catchers already. Of course, Mike Lieberthal, Sal Fasano, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz are a foursome unlikely to make anyone forget Yogi Berra or Johnny Bench. Could he have benefited from more time at AAA? He was blowing everyone away at that level before being summoned by a desperate parent club.
After the game, Hamels told reporters, "It's kind of frustrating. When you go out and don't win, it's basically just another frustrating start. It's kind of like, 'When is the luck going to turn?'”
It isn’t a matter of luck, Cole. Making good pitches has always been the key to success.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Of course, the focus last night was on Brett Myers, making his first start at home since his arrest and release in Boston several weeks ago. Would the infamous Philly fans boo him? Inquiring minds wanted to know and had cameras and microphones pointed at nearly every seat in the house. Ah, but as it turned out the fans had their curve ball working, too. A smattering of boos were heard but for the most part the faithful in attendance seemed more than willing to give Myers a chance at redemption. You can be sure that story won’t make national headlines. Indeed, a quick check of ESPN’s web site this AM found no mention in the headlines of Myers’ appearance or treatment.
Television doesn’t do stories about cats who aren’t stuck in trees.
* * * * * * * *
With little else to cheer or think about, the focus of most Phillies’ observers (a decidedly and understandably dwindling fraternity) is squarely on the July 31 trade deadline. The name of the game is Buyer or Seller and in today’s Inquirer GM Pat Gillick more than hints he will be both.
The roster moves are already underway with the release over the weekend of folk hero Sal Fasano and retention of Cinderella Man Chris Coste as the backup catcher. Fasano’s tenure here was brief but celebrated. Unfortunately for the Fu-Manchued one, his celebrity had more do to with personal appearance, ethnic pride and pizzas than with on-field heroics. Sal was, by most accounts, a good guy and a gamer, but he was severely handicapped in the skills department. Some have argued that Mike Lieberthal is hardly an improvement at this stage and they may be right. Right now, Chris Coste should be playing regularly, but in Charlie Manuel’s world, veterans don’t lose their jobs due to injury.
* * * * * * * *
Here’s is my surprise prediction regarding roster moves: the Phillies are going to attempt to re-sign David Bell to a one year deal. Settle down, Black Hole Conspiracy Theorists, I don’t like the move any more than you do, but the guess here is the Phils have too many other holes to fill, there clearly isn’t any help in the minors at his position, and there don’t appear to be many free agents available at that position. So, with his recent resurgence at the plate, Bell is looking better to the alleged brain trust.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Speaking of Gillick, he has caught deserved flak for some of his moves - Ryan Franklin, Sal Fasano and Abe Nunez are three. But he's not catching nearly enough hell for the Vicente Padilla blunder.
Yes, it's a blunder when your organization is too inept to deal with personality and social issues of the kind that come up in any disparate group of 25 young men and, consequently, lose a valuable starting pitcher.
It appears Gillick was sold a bill of goods on Padilla's off-field habits, his uncoachability and the large financial hit an arbitrator would surely inflict on them last winter. Pat himself tossed out the ubiquitous "sometimes you add by subtracting" line to explain not getting more from the Rangers than the worthless Ricardo Rodriguez they released during spring training.
The key here is that Conlin faults Gillick for buying the company line on Padilla. Blame that one on the rest of the organization but not on Gillick. Padilla was here for several years and rubbed everyone the wrong way primarily but not exclusively for his off-season habits including his refusal to refrain from pitching winter ball despite arm problems during the regular campaign. The Phillies also weren’t too happy about some of the company he kept in his native Nicaragua.
In light of this history, was one of Gillick's first moves going to be to tell everyone they didn't know what the hell they were talking about? Hardly a good foot to get off on with your new staff.
The loss of Padilla can be laid at the feet of Charlie Manuel, Rich Dubee, Mike Arbuckle, Ruben Amaro, Jr., and, I'd bet anything, on Dallas Green.
On the other hand, the fact that Gillick made two subsequent trades with the Rangers, for David Dellucci and Fabio Castro respectively, suggests at the very least that Texas GM Jon Daniels may have more than Pat’s ear, he also seems to have his number.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
A host of veterans including Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Rheal Cormier, David Dellucci, Arthur Rhodes, Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, and Aaron Fultz among others have all been the subject of trade rumors lately. The prominence of Phillies on the list of players attracting interest hardly comes as a surprise given the pre-season prediction that the Phillies were a competitive team except for their pitching. Of all the names, Abreu’s has been on the list the longest, at least since last Winter. Whatever complaints we have about Bobby, he remains a premier player. Were it not for his huge salary, Abreu would unquestionably be the number one target of several contending teams.
One or more of the above players should be joined on the road out of town a few months later by Mike Lieberthal, David Bell and some of those whose contracts are expiring and do not figure to be renewed.
With their expected departures the Phillies will be looking to rebuild around Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand (if he doesn’t return to Chicago) and a few minor leaguers such as Scott Mathieson. Bret Myers may or may not figure in that mix by the time next April rolls around.
Phillies’ fans tend to believe this team is always rebuilding, but the truth is what they have been doing is perpetually retooling, tinkering with the addition of a veteran here or there along with the influx of youngsters, hoping they could find the right mix. They came close once, but never grabbed a post-season spot.
Lieberthal has the longest tenure here of anyone, twelve years. Abreu was acquired nine seasons ago from Houston. Burrell was the club’s first round draft pick six years ago. And yet, can we honestly say we ever knew them?
None ever moved permanently to Philadelphia or, for that matter, ever seemed to embrace the city. Every October, they all packed their bags and headed for warmer climates and continents. Except for Liberthal, they never even did local television spots, one of the traditional ways of becoming an icon in the community, and in his case he was teamed with Jeremy Roenick of the more popular Flyers. They clearly never rode flatbed trucks up or down Broad Street, thereby etching their images indelibly into the collective minds of the city. There was no Fred Shero in the locker room reminding them they would walk together forever if they won it all.
In this era their transient status in Philadelphia is hardly unique to this team or city. I suspect only California- and Florida-based teams have much of a chance of enticing their players to become year-round citizens. Instead, they were here for what feels like a relatively brief time, like shooting stars, and then disappeared.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
If the NFL could move the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers from the NFC to the AFC when the two leagues merged in 1970, baseball can realign and live to tell about it. Think of inter-league play as the prelude.
My new alignment would have the following two leagues:
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Chicago White Sox
I know, the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox in the same division???!!!!! Admittedly, that may be a little too intense while somewhat diminishing the NY-Boston rivalry. On second thought, I’ve had it with that rivalry. Every time the Red Sox and Yankees meet the networks evoke Armageddon. Put ‘em all in the same division and let ‘em duke it out!!
The NL Central is a wide territory to be sure, but take it from someone who has lived in Texas and the Southwest, the natives in both locales are forever telling anyone within earshot that distances are nothing in those parts. Let ‘em prove it!!
Why are the two Chicago teams in different divisions? First, it seems important to maintain the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. But what I really love are the travel possibilities for the AL Central. They could all go by train or bus.
Not as long as they are running the likes of Ryan Franklin out there, Pat.
The Phillies dropped another game on this current Western swing when leading by three runs and fell to 42-49 overall, “good” for third place in the NL East behind New York and Atlanta (yes, fans, they are back) and a mere one game ahead of AAA impostors Miami.
Tell us that is just your poker face, Pat.
Cole Hamels continues to struggle, especially in the first inning and especially with the long ball. He has now surrendered seven dingers in just over 50 innings of work and his ERA stands at a robust 5.36 after ten big league starts. While the young left-hander shows flashes of dominance, he struck out six batters in 5.2 innings last night, he still appears to be searching for the right mix of pitches at the right time. It is difficult to know if he is shaking off more experienced heads behind the plate or in the dugout, or both, or if he is still having problems locating his pitches.
Whatever the answer, Hamels left the game with the lead and watched the bullpen blow another chance for him to come out a winner.
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell provided most of the offense yet again. Utley has hit safely in 19 straight games and Howard has hit three home runs since winning the HR Derby at the All-Star game. Meanwhile, Burrell, who is 8 – 13 with 6 RBI’s on the current road trip, clearly likes playing away from Citizens Bank Park. Perhaps he is putting on a push in hopes of being traded.
We know you’d listen to offers for Pat, Pat.
Monday, July 17, 2006
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There has been much speculation in this space and elsewhere that Pat Burrell is one of baseball’s purest guess hitters and that based on his track record he should not be relying on the lottery to supplement his retirement income.
Now Jim Salisbury has provided some interesting statistics on Burrell’s proclivities.
Ever watch the Phillies and get the feeling that Pat Burrell takes an awful lot of called third strikes?
The Elias Sports Bureau confirms your suspicions.
In 2005, Burrell struck out 160 times, second most in the National League. Of those 160 Ks, 68 came on called third strikes, the most in the majors.
Burrell also led the majors in taking called third strikes in the first half of this season. He struck out 76 times before the all-star break, and a whopping 39 of them came while looking at a called third strike.
Sounds like someone needs to be a little more aggressive.
* * * * * * * *
Yesterday the New York Mets showed everyone why they are going to go deep into the post-season, potential pitching woes notwithstanding. Down 5-0 to the Cubs in Chicago after three innings, the Mets rallied to win going away, 13-7. The big inning came in the sixth when the Mets hit two grand slams en route to eleven runs.
Pedro may be ailing and Glavine may be aging but these guys are going to outscore their opponents at least .598 times out of 1.000. I know, in a short series pitching is everything, but the Mets have a frightening lineup consisting of speed, power and good but not great defense. And remember, left and right fields have not been productive most of the season. If Cliff Floyd rebounds, they could be even more fearsome.
Everyone assumes the Mets’ GM Omar Minaya will not sit still at the trading deadline and that pitching is foremost on his mind. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind having Chris Benson right about now. The Mets have prospects to trade, especially Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfrey, but they don’t want to move Milledge because their current corner outfielders are definitely on the down slope and they would be loath to give up Pelfrey, their top pitching prospect.
The biggest questions facing the Mets is whether or not this year is THE year and what do things look like next season. Pedro and Glavine aren’t getting any younger or healthier. Billy Wagner will have more mileage on his arm and his mouth by next year. Carlos Delgado is no spring chicken. Do they go for broke now?
Friday, July 14, 2006
As the Phillies crash and burn and the Eagles prepare to start camp, Comcast Sportsnet gathered the GM’s of the four major professional teams in town to talk about the 23-year old championship drought and what steps the four were taking to end it.
I would hazard a guess more than a few viewers might have suggested starting with firing at least two of the GM’s themselves, King and Clarke, both of whom have shown themselves to be utterly inept at making trades and bringing in the right personnel. As for Heckert and Gillick, it wouldn’t matter what happens to the former since he has no real authority anyway while we should finally know more about the latter when he shows his hand as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.
I can’t wait for the sequel that will presumably find Charlie Manuel, Andy Reid, Ken Hitchcock and Mo Cheeks in the same room offering their formulae for success. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one or more of them opened the festivities by saying he could use a better GM for starters.
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Just when you thought the City of Brotherly Love had a monopoly on GM’s who love to deal with their former teams, along comes GM Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals who made an eight-player trade with GM Wayne Krivsky of the Cincinnati Reds,. The consensus is that Bowden, who was fired by the Reds in 2003, certainly served the coldest dish in any major league clubhouse yesterday when he snookered the Reds into trading Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and a prospect for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendon Harris and a prospect. Frankly, I don’t buy the party line. I think the Reds may end up the winners in this trade. With the exception of Royce, who is joining his 11th club in a fifteen year career, the Reds improved themselves where it meant the most, pitching and defense (although Clayton will probably move on to his 12th club shortly). As for Kearns, clearly the principal from Washington’s standpoint, he has never shown me he is a top-tier outfielder.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Not a single member of the Phillies’ ownership or front office has gotten the Brett Myers case right from day one. From the decision by GM Pat Gillick to let him pitch the day following his arrest and release for spousal assault to the pitcher’s own statement that he was, in essence, sorry he was caught, to the general managing partner’s lame attempt to clarify the team’s decision and response, to Bill Giles’ third-hand statement that someone saw something that didn’t happen, to the latest fumble by David Montgomery that, gee, Mr. Giles may have misinterpreted what he was told, the Phillies have made a bad situation worse.
Now they have their perfect storm.
Everyone is focused on their ineptitude. Oh, sure, Ryan Howard’s triumph in the All-Star Home Run Derby provided a temporary respite from all the vituperation and contempt, but two days later the Phillies’ alleged brain trust is backtracking yet again with David Montgomery announcing that Bill Giles got the story wrong because "Obviously... I didn't explain it very well."
Oh, now I get it, Dave, you didn’t spin it right. Which part do you think Giles didn’t understand? Myers did it or he didn’t do it?
No one knows how this mess will finally shake out, but I am going to make a prediction: by the end of the year or, perhaps, before the July 31 trade deadline, so-called public relations guru Scott Palmer will be given his unconditional release.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Giles also offered a unwitting variation on Myers’ own statement following his arrest that he was “sorry it had to go public” by telling reporter Todd Zolecki “The best thing about the last two weeks was I was in Italy, so I didn't get into that [Myers] mess.”
Talk about addressing difficult matters head on. Maybe Giles was out of cell phone range, though having been in Italy within the last few years that is impossible to imagine.
All of this is in aid of at least one indisputable fact: the Phillies are sticking by Brett Myers. Get used to seeing him in red pinstripes, fans.
Giles also dismissed notions that maybe the Phillies’ current committee of owners should consider selling. Over his dead body…and ours.
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Say it ain’t so, RyHo!
Look out Phillies’ fans, another of your favorite sons has won the All-Star Game Home Run Derby.
Ryan Howard altered his batting practice swing for the occasion and bested the Mets’ David Wright for this year’s crown. In doing so, Howard admitted freely ahead of the competition that he normally doesn’t swing for the fences (or in this case the Allegheny River) during BP. The operative word here is “normally” and we can only hope the temporary change doesn’t come back to haunt Howard like it did last year’s winner, fellow Phillie Bobby Abreu.
It is worth noting almost all of Howard’s home runs last night were to center and right field whereas during the course of the regular season the majority of his taters are hit to left field.
If Howard’s home run production falls off for the remainder of the season look for the Phillies to insert new language in every player’s future contracts. Just after the line that offers a $75,000 bonus to any player who makes the All-Star squad and a $100,000 bonus for being name a starter, there should be a line requiring that any player who agrees to participate in the Home Run Derby will have to pay the Phillies the same amounts listed above.
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Speaking of the Home Run Derby, how about those flashy uniforms the NL All-Stars were sporting? I am a sucker for bright yellow with red mixed in, so Howard’s Phillies cap was a perfect match for his striking uniform. It’s time for the Phillies to rethink their regular season uniforms. Maybe that’s the problem with this team: they literally look dull!!
Monday, July 10, 2006
For those remaining optimists (relatives, wives and significant others of the players and coaches) who look at the imminent return of Brett Myers (yes, he will be back) and Randy Wolf and the recent recovery of Jon Lieber and see reasons to believe, I have a bridge for sale.
For everyone else, we need hardly recapitulate the Phillies’ many failings to date, but one in particular bears mentioning: these guys are not much fun to watch. The current crop generate little excitement and, more often than not, have fallen hopelessly behind before coming to bat for the first time in a game. In a world that is constantly reminding us that sports are a business, this may be the Phillies’ greatest crime against its fan-base: they aren’t entertaining.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
For those of you who like things neat and tidy, the nadir was officially reached on July 7, 2006, following the Phillies 85th game of the season when the manager publicly asked fans to “pray for us” and one beat writer concluded his coverage by writing, Could prayer help? Maybe. So far nothing else has.
I am reminded of the story of a conversation between legendary Orioles' manager Earl Weaver and one of his players, Pat Kelly, who was also an evangelical minister. Kelly told the story of how he urged the decidedly profane Weaver to "walk with the Lord," to which his manager replied he'd rather have Kelly "walk with the bases loaded."
Friday, July 07, 2006
The Phillies’ 2007 season should begin tonight against the Pirates. This season is over as far as contending for a playoff spot. The balance of the year should be devoted to developing a plan for the future including shedding dead wood, acquiring new talent and providing opportunities for the core of this team to continue developing.
Forget salving the egos of some veteran players. Don’t worry about who isn’t receiving sufficient playing time. Get rid of malcontents. Trim salaries. Run controlled experiments instead of throwing un- or ill-prepared youngsters to the wolves. Let Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels et al know that the organization is finally serious about the future. Are you listening, Mr. Gillick? That means no more Ryan Franklins, Arthur Rhodes and the like. Stop wasting time and money on such filler. Admit that the waters around you have grown.
Above all, restock the farm system. That means trading veterans for prospects, not other veterans. We don’t need no more stinkin’ veterans. Utley and Rollins will suffice on that front. Heck, a year and a half with the Phillies must feel like ten years to Utley.
And whatever else they do, the Phillies’ alleged brain trust should not fail to include the manager and coaches when the house-cleaning gets underway in earnest.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Charlie Manuel? “He’s killing us.”
Bill Dancy? “He’s killing us.”
Arthur Rhodes? “He’s killing us.”
Pat Burrell? “He’s killing us.”
David Bell” “He’s killing us.”
The pitching staff? “They’re killing us.”
Manuel’s offenses are too numerous to list here, but one that caught my eye this morning was an item in the Inquirer in which he publicly acknowledged teams have been inquiring about Carlos Ruiz. Of all the possible deals this team may be contemplating, why would Manuel make public one involving Ruiz? Now I begin to understand who was behind the notion that Ruiz was “overmatched” his first time up while loveable and immovable Sal Fasano was viewed as a first string catcher. Manuel just loves losers, especially veterans who are hanging on. By the way, did you notice the screamer Ruiz hit to Vinny Castilla in the seventh inning? Charlie probably saw that as just another instance in which the young catcher was “overmatched”.
What will it take for the Phillies to realize that Bill Dancy cannot coach third base? His colossal mistakes in judgment now cover two seasons. The most recent offense came last night when he waved around Pat Burrell, yes, that Pat Burrell, from first on a double by Aaron Rowand. Naturally, the leaden footed one was out at home. With the possible exception of the aforementioned Fasano, there cannot be a slower runner on this team than Pat Burrell, and that is not taking into consideration his injured foot.
Arthur Rhodes has developed a nasty habit of pouring gasoline on fires. When he isn’t issuing free passes, his pitches usually have some of the plate, especially the middle portion. That little hitch in his delivery is no doubt the result of the aged one’s attempt to get a little more on the ball. His ERA over the last several games could be nearing triple digits, but his manager is quoted in today’s paper as having confidence in him. They make a fine couple.
David Bell? Well, he’s on the list on principle.
The Phillies finally get a good start from a young pitcher and said young pitcher, Scott Mathieson, shoots himself in the foot by yielding a first-pitch two-run homer to his opposite number, the first in Jake Peavy’s career. All Phillies pitchers should be made to write on the blackboard 100 times each “The opposing pitcher is not an automatic out.”
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
The trouble with this line of reasoning is that the Phillies have been doing that since day one and look where it has gotten them. At this juncture it might be easier to list those “bright prospects” down on the farm who haven’t had a cup of coffee or two in the big leagues.
The latest prospect to be summoned is actually here for a return engagement. Carlos Ruiz was recalled for the second time only after the Phils placed back-up catcher Sal Fasano, who had been masquerading for months as a starting catcher, on the DL, where putative first-string catcher Mike Lieberthal already resided. Got that? Ruiz will split the duties with Chris Coste, who would have been listed at the beginning of the season as the emergency, i.e., third string, catcher but instead was the final cut before the Phillies broke camp. Got that? To summarize: third string catcher Carlos Ruiz and emergency catcher Chris Coste are now splitting the first string duties.
Ruiz has been the subject of much debate in the blogosphere, almost all of it critical of the Phillies’ alleged brain trust. An excellent receiver who was hitting more than .300 at AAA, the 27-year old was superior to the alternatives defensively if not to the real thing himself (Lieberthal); nevertheless, Ruiz was considered “over-matched” at the plate during his first stint with the club more than a month ago and was sent down after only 35 at-bats. No problem. On his first day back Carlos went 2-3 including his first major league home run. Take that, alleged brain trust!!
The majority of other prospects who have had a fling or two with the big club include, of course, Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson, both of whom were pressed into major league service when so many of the regular rotation went down with various ailments including a chronic inability to miss opposing batters’ bats when throwing a ball. A few other youngsters, chief among these Eude Brito and Chris Roberson, are considered to have somewhat dimmer futures in the big leagues, but they, too have made appearances. Roberson is back for at least the second time this season.
Former bright prospect Gavin Floyd will remain in the minor leagues for the foreseeable future. His name does not come up publicly these days when discussing pitchers who might be able to help. Even guys like Adam Bernero are more highly regarded, albeit for one start only. Newcomer Fabio Castro, the latest expatriate of the Texas Rangers, will be given plenty of opportunity to pitch in relief here, especially given how early and often the Phillies have to go to the pen.
Other than those mentioned, there really aren’t a lot of other candidates down on the farm who are ready to step in.
Monday, July 03, 2006
It doesn’t seem all that long ago we were speaking about a different group of youngsters on whom future success would seem to be built: Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers. The news on that front is decidedly more mixed. Jimmy remains a core player on this team despite the frustrations he engenders as a lead-off batter. He has few peers as a defender and, frankly, brings a palpable joy to playing the game that is increasingly rare. Burrell is another story. He looks unendingly unhappy in a Phillies uniform and if a buyer can be found it seems likely he will finish his career elsewhere, to everyone’s relief. Myers’ well-documented personality problems remain unresolved and with them his future on this team.
For the moment, however, the spotlight is shining on Utley, Howard and closer Flash Gordon, all of them deserving All-Stars. Utley is one of those players who comes along once in a generation. Invariably, his name comes up any time people speak of players around whom they would build a team. Labels such as “throw-back”, “hard-nosed” and “franchise player” are routinely applied to Utley.
Howard is another prodigious talent who is still developing. Apart from his obvious power, the most impressive thing about him is that he never stays down long. Howard can strike out three times in a game, looking over-matched or badly fooled each time, and come back in his fourth at-bat to hit a home run. This month marks the one-year anniversary of his becoming the Phillies’ starting first baseman. In that time he has hit fifty home runs, driven in 132 runs and won the Rookie of the Year award. For those who wondered whether he would fall victim to a sophomore slump or fail to learn to hit left-handers, his answer is to make the All-Star team in this, his first full season as a starter. Not too shabby. The trick, as always, will be to find that supporting cast.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Jim Salisbury drew the short straw last night and his piece is the best one to date on what he calls the Sordid Season. Salisbury no longer makes any attempt to hide his disdain for this franchise, calling them “clutchless wonders” and noting that the loss dropped the Phils into third place, behind the Florida Marlins. “That's right,” Salisbury writes, “ the team with the $93 million payroll has been passed by the rookie-laden team with the $15 million payroll”. Jim, watch yourself, you are in danger of being dropped from the Phillies’ Christmas card list if you don’t lighten up!!
The Phils’ own latest sacrificial lamb was Adam Bernero, who had recently been released by the AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, a move sure to make this year’s top ten list for baseball ignominy. Not to worry, Adam, as long as the Phillies are still fielding a team you will always have a temporary home, albeit maybe for one start.
The 29-year old Bernero had major league experience and it didn’t show. He was rocked for four runs in each of the first two innings before being relieved by another newcomer, 21-year old Fabio Castro. More on Fabio in a moment.
Charlie Manuel deserves special mention for leaving Bernero twisting slowly in the wind. It was clear from the first inning Bernero didn’t have what it took to get out major league hitters, but Manuel seems to have developed a penchant for lingering to watch just how overmatched hurlers handle adversity. The trouble is, Charlie, you have eight other guys on the field who want a chance in a game that is only one inning old. Compounding the insult, Manuel didn’t get someone up in the pen by the end of that first inning, meaning Bernero had to struggle through another round of scoring before his manager had someone ready to relieve him. Shame on you, Charlie.
For his part, Castro was impressive in his Phillies debut, throwing three scoreless innings. The diminutive Castro had been the subject of much discussion in the blogosphere, most of it negative, since being acquired for prospect Daniel Haigwood the day before. It seems bloggers and commenters alike didn’t like his size, his history or the loss of Haigwood. For my part, I cannot recall another young pitcher who has auditioned with the Phillies lately and managed to set down the other side three innings in a row without surrendering a run.
The rest of the Phillies bullpen also pitched well, holding the heavy-hitting Blue Jays scoreless over the remaining innings. The Jays may simply have been exhausted from running the bases in the first two frames.
The only other highlight of the evening was another home run from the recently rediscovered David Dellucci, his third in three days. Since becoming a starter against American League East teams, Dellucci has raised his average to .319. You know what that means? He’s outta’ here. Word has it the Texas Rangers are looking to reacquire Dellucci. My advice to Gillick would be to delete the Rangers from his speed dial. For his part, Dellucci has made no secret of his displeasure with his role here, and who can blame him?! He will be a free agent after this season and though only yesterday I suggested the Phillies should tell him he would have a permanent starting job if he were to re-sign with them, I have to backtrack. Why in the world would he want to sign with this team? My bet is he will be traded to Detroit by the July deadline.