Thursday, December 13, 2007
The list everyone was waiting for included guys who threw the ball and guys who sent it back the other way...a long way in some cases. It also included players who will be forgotten in future years if they haven't been already. And you can be sure there were many other players who somehow escaped the dragnet and were not named. Indeed, it was the report's dependence on too few informants that diminished its potency when it came to identifying the players who had used various substances to enhance their performance.
The report doesn't end with the guys on the field. The Commissioner's office and ownership come in for plenty of criticism, too, as do the retinues of clubhouse figures that are part of the game. The Lords of baseball simply wanted the problem to go away. The Players Union simply refused to accept testing. The only group spared that deserved to be mentioned were the press, who simply looked the other way when players departed in October looking like Olyve Oil and returned in March and April looking like Popeye. This latter group winked a lot, but said nothing until the cat was out of the bag years later. The press overwhelmingly went along for the ride, too afraid to speak up or too constrained by their legal departments, who asked for evidence beyond what the eye could see. The single most repeated excuse I've seen retrospectively invoked by the press is that the height of the Steroids Era came on the heals of baseball's dark period of strikes, suspension of the season and the World Series and the scribes and commentators were loathe to prolong the agony just when fans were beginning to return and embrace the game. A few honest reporters simply said they were reluctant to spoil the fun when Sosa and MacGwire were chasing the Babe and Barry was chasing them and Henry Aaron.
Will the game recover? Yes, indeed. Fans continue to flock to stadiums throughout the land in record numbers especially when the poster boy for all that is enhanced, Barry Bonds, chased and broke Henry Aaron's legitimate mark. Will the record books be amended, asterisks added? That is doubtful. At what point do we start discounting Bonds' tainted home runs, at number 428 or maybe 502? Will the owners and players agree to a drug policy that is both strict and enforceable? That will probably be the one sure outcome though here again much tweaking needs to be done.
It was a sordid period in baseball's history and we can be sure most people who play and manage the game want to put it behind them. Inevitably stories have already begun to appear reminding us of the cheaters of the past. Spitballs, greenies, even alcohol are cited as are shenanigans ranging from stealing signs to grounds' crews tampering with the dirt in front of the plate or along the foul lines. This "they-did-it" defense is as pathetic in baseball as it is in a courtroom. What "distinguishes"the Steroids Era from earlier periods was how widespread it was and how clear and dramatic its impact were on performance by legions of players, not merely the marquee names. Brady Anderson, take a bow!
The recent suspensions of players caught using banned substances suggests not everyone is ready to move on but a tough, uncompromising policy against performance-enhancement drugs is all anyone can ever expect. That and the willingness to apply it without compromise.
The case for keeping Rowand could be boiled down to three factors: he was a positive presence in the clubhouse and capably filled a right-handed spot in the lineup and in the field. The case for letting him walk was far more substantial: (1) he had a career year in 2007 in a hitters' park and was unlikely to repeat it; (2) he is a vastly overrated outfielder whose greatest attribute is his reckless abandon; (3) he has the type of body that will wear down rapidly at his age, especially given number 2.
A three year contract would have been a stretch. Five years would have been another stupid move by management. Somehow, they figured that out in this case before it was too late.
Good luck to Rowand, a genuine team player. By the way, it's worth noting that he didn't hold out for a contract from a contender. The Giants are going nowhere, on merit and especially in their division. Rowand is going to sacrifice that body of his for the good of his estate planning.
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The Orioles made out like bandits in trading Miguel Tejada to the Astros. Not only did they receive five players, three of whom might turn into very decent major leaguers, they also rid themselves of a discontented, aging veteran who is definitely in decline. How extraordinarily uncharacteristic of the O's Peter Angelos, who apparently in another uncharacteristic move (at least for now) is actually giving new GM Andy McPhail some real authority. Now, if he'd let McPhail listen to offers from every major league club for Erik Bedard including teams within his own AL Eastern division, we'd know for sure the Orioles have finally reckoned with the reality that they are a lousy team that must begin the long rebuilding process NOW! The Orioles should emulate some of the Marlins' characteristics, at least the ones in which they look around the majors, identify the players or prospects they want, then call the GM's for said players' teams and say, "Any interest in Brian Roberts? Bedard?"
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As long as Johann Santana does not sign with the Mets or Braves, I could care less which team he lands on. Don't get me wrong, I have written previously that the wealthy clubs in MLB are making a mockery of competitive balance, but that state of affairs is not going to change any time soon. If he were to sign with Boston, the AL East race would, barring injuries, be over before it begins. If he were to sign with the Yankees, the race would tighten dramatically. Despite making noises about deadlines, the Yankees are desperate to avoid having him land on the same pitching staff with Josh Beckett.
Meanwhile, Detroit's offense is frightening to behold. Speed, power, bat control. They have it all in their lineup. If they can get their bullpen healthy and get another decent year out of Kenny Rogers, they will run away from the AL Central.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Philadelphia has seen more than its share of carcasses. One more was added to the rolls with the recent canning of Billy King, surely the most dapper but least competent GM's in our championship-starved city in many years. The future of Andy Reid, King's sartorial opposite, whose position heretofore seemed secure, has also been the subject of speculation as the Eagles appear destined to finish out of the playoffs. And the Phillies' Pat Gillick has indicated on more than a few occasions this coming season will be his last. Only the Flyers' Paul Holmgren seems certain to be around for the foreseeable future, his brief tenure thus far marked by a dramatic turnaround of his charges' fortunes.
These guys clearly make a difference...for better or worse. King turned out to be an extremely poor judge of talent and a lousy poker player at the trading table. When his dismissal was announced many people wondered about the timing, the consensus being it came too late. Andy Reid, stoic, stubborn and plodding, has always been fairly inscrutable to the local citizenry but when his teams were perennially winning and making the playoffs if not Super Bowl, those little foibles could be and were forgiven. But with his current team lurching from crisis to crisis each Sunday, the people grilling sausages in the parking lot want to see some passion to match their own. Forget it, fans. The man is not capable of such displays, which is one of the many reasons he can't manage a clock and make good decisions in the crucible of crunch time. You see, Andy still thinks there's plenty of time and nothing to worry about in those situations as well as his own circumstances.
Then there is Pat Gillick. Unlike his famous shortstop, who went out on a limb last Winter and declared his teammates the ones to beat in the NL East, Gillick, if anything, has been known to let it slip that he doesn't think his guys can win any titles. They always seem to be a year or two away according to him. Well, we are entering Gillick's third year at the helm, conceivably his last, and as things stand the Phillies are further from reaching the playoffs than they were last year when they slipped in thanks to their late charge and the Mets' colossal collapse.
Gillick's major failure has been his inability to see the big picture. Rather than put his club in a position to fill its needs with some sort of master plan, instead Gillick has made what for all appearances seem to be a series of disastrous decisions not only in terms of the value received but in terms of the money and prospects spent. His two worst decisions both involved the pitching staff and both came out of nowhere. The ill-advised acquisition of Freddy Garcia should replace Von Hayes in the annals of bad trades by this organization, and while Adam Eaton was perhaps worth some sort of risk, he wasn't worth the price Gillick agreed to. And while we are talking about pitching, the Abreu/Lidle trade netted the Phillies absolutely nothing as did the many trades with Texas. After more than two years the Phillies have absolutely nothing to show for all of those maneuvers.
Lest we forget, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were all products of an earlier administration. So, too, was Pat Burrell, who remains a Phillie despite obvious attempts to move him. Meanwhile, the outfield has been potentially weakened with the trade of Michael Bourn and the departure of Aaron Rowand and third base remains the Black Hole first described by commenter extraordinaire George Southrey.
The Phillies under Gillick do not have a discernible plan. No one can point at them and say, for example, they are taking the approach of a Billy Beane and his Moneyball or Daniel Dowd in Colorado who has slowly built the organization from the ground up. We are forever hearing some variation on the same theme from Gillick, that there isn't anyone out there who can help or who is affordable. The only themes running throughout his administration are that he likes players from his former teams, either ones he drafted or acquired, and he likes to rummage through the rubbish piles in hope of uncovering a hidden gem. It's a wish-and-a-prayer sort of administration and the results speak for themselves. Were it not for the great offensive core at the heart of this team, all players from the largely discredited Ed Wade period, the Phillies under Pat Gillick would resemble the Sixers more than the Flyers.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Among the newcomers, only Tim Raines seems certain to receive serious consideration from the voters. Among the returning candidates, Mark MacGwire is unlikely to receive much support. This paucity of sure-fire winners will likely mean that Gossage at the very least will finally get the support he deserves. Jim Rice will appear on the ballot for the fourteenth time. He remains a long shot to get the necessary votes, having slipped a little last year.
Will the voters fail to elect anyone? Not likely.
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With the news that former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was one of five people elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee it is worth remembering the time he voided the deals made by long-time nemesis and adversary Charlie Finley. Finley, always crying poor, had begun the wholesale dismantling of his highly successful Oakland teams by working out deals to sell Vida Blue to the Yankees for $1.5 million and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox for $2 million. Kuhn vetoed the sales. (Remember, we are talking 1976 dollars here.)
At the time Kuhn said ''Public confidence in the integrity of club operations and in baseball would be greatly undermined should such assignments not be restrained." Years late he added, ''If we let Finley's deals go through, how were we going to stop the weaker clubs from selling off players to the stronger ones, and what would become of competitive balance?''The Florida Marlins have been dismantling their team piece by piece for years, selling or trading veterans who were about to command serious money just before the players were going to collect, but yesterday's blockbuster trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit puts an end to their wheeling and dealing. The Marlins literally have no veterans left to trade. With the exception of Hanley Ramirez, they have no bonafide stars remaining on their roster and Ramirez is years away from a big payday. There are a lot of middling veterans in baseball making more money per annum than the entire Marlins' roster. Bug Selig and his brethren could care less. Perhaps their silence is a conspiracy to allow the Marlins to hit rock bottom before moving the franchise, probably to Las Vegas.
The Marlins are the strangest franchise in baseball. They've won two World Series in their brief history yet no one goes to see them. They had the worst attendance in MLB last year and are always at or near the bottom. If ever a locale cried out for a domed stadium it is hot, humid and rainy Miami, but the Marlins continue to play in an outdoor football stadium and cannot convince the 18 voters in greater Miami who do come see them in person to persuade several hundred thousand others to fund a new pleasure palace.
Pity the poor Marlin players who perform in front of tens of thousands of empty seats every night. Their best hope is that the Marlins' ownership will either sell the franchise or move it.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
For numerous reasons, marquee free agents rarely appear on local radar. Pitchers shudder in horror at the prospect of toiling in Citizens Bank Park. Position players seem more interested in playing for perennial contenders than perennial wannabes. Despite their first albeit brief appearance in the post-season in fourteen years, the Phils are still viewed by some as long-shots to make it to the post-season owing to a lack of quality pitching. Lest we forget, only a collapse of legendary proportions got them to the first round of the playoffs this past October.
Management here is also something of an obstacle to filling the team's most pressing needs. Many commentators are quick to point out, with some justification, that the cumbersome number of partners who own the Phillies make for messy decision-making. Despite appearances that Dave Montgomery is the man with day-to-day authority, it cannot help that the purse strings run through several pockets. Even recent revelations that some of those pockets are truly deep does not change the picture. For whatever reasons, the Phillies' current ownership group is not willing to break the bank to bring home a winner. Perhaps the shrewd businessmen among them still believe in making a profit, but the reality is that the greatest profit today comes when a franchise is sold rather than from year-to-year revenues from television deals, licensing agreements and gate receipts. How better to increase the profit than to put a winning team on the field!
Still, the Phillies don't seem likely to reach that goal by acquisitions. A quick look at their roster and the stars within suggests the best route to the Promised Land for this franchise remains through the draft and scouting. Rollins, Hamels, Utley, Howard and Ruiz are all products of the Phillies farm system, much-maligned as it is. Maybe the best route to success is to save those tens of millions of dollars required to sign an Aaron Rowand and spend them on scouts and player development. Beating the bushes internationally is becoming increasingly important and by all appearances the Phillies have, in anything, cut back in their efforts abroad if not home. If they ever hope to get to the next level, they'd better start now by finding the future stars of the club in the high schools and colleges throughout the land and on the playing fields of Taiwan, Caracas, and everywhere in between.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Johnny Estrada was traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the New York Mets yesterday. The move means Estrada will be playing for his fifth team since beginning his big league career in Philadelphia in 2001. It says something about him that he has moved so often but I cannot say exactly what! Suffice it to say quality catchers do not move around much as a rule so something that doesn't meet the eye is at work here. Oh, and by the way, he will be eligible for arbitration after next year and can become a free agent. He has a long way to go to catch the peripatetic Kenny Lofton, but he's also a lot younger.
Meanwhile, rumors have the Phillies showing interest in Randy Wolf, who is recovering from "minor" shoulder surgery after recovering from major Tommy John surgery a year and a half earlier. That's one too many surgeries in my humble opinion. Frankly, Wolf would better suit the Phils as a fifth outfielder. The guy can hit. Regrettably, he cannot pitch all that well any longer and as a flyball pitcher is ill-suited to Citizens Bank Park. Even if they get him for a song, the Phils would be better off spending the money elsewhere.
Finally, rumors, however unsubstantiated, that the Phils might be interested in reacquiring Scott Rolen are absolutely ludicrous. In the first place, this guy loathed playing here. In the second place, he is a shadow of his former self. And in the final analysis, he loathed playing here.
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One final word on Jimmy Rollins for now. If you haven't had a chance to listen to the full interview with him on MLB's site (among others) after he won the MVP, get a nice cup of coffee and plant yourself in front of your computer for the 25 minutes more or less that the interview runs. There have always been a lot of reasons to like Jimmy the person, but this interview, the lengthiest I've ever heard with him, underscores how generous of spirit and how supportive of his teammates Rollins is. He is the complete package: admirable human being and wonderfully talented professional athlete.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Congratulations to a great player who loves the game.
For the MostValuablePost on the subject, check out Erik Grissom's Philliesflow. Grissom's take should be required reading in the blogosphere and mainstream media, especially in Colorado.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Poole is going to have to get in line regarding that claim, and when Jimmy is named the MVP tomorrow afternoon, the line will get even longer.
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The indictment of Barry Bonds for perjury and obstruction of justice has brought out the expected number of opinions pro and con. Most commentators who oppose the indictment question why Bonds is being singled out when there are plenty of other abusers, some admitted ones. Other skeptics wonder why the Federal Government took so many years to bring the indictments if they had solid evidence all along.
Among the more amusing caution flags was one waved by the Inquirer's David Aldridge who wondered, "And what happened to our post-Duke reflexive gene, where we weren't going to convict people in the media anymore just because they've been indicted? Does Bonds not deserve his day in court to face his accusers?"
Actually, if nothing else, Mr. Aldridge, Bonds was indicted because he had a day in court and the Federal Prosecutors and a Grand Jury didn't believe his testimony.
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If Alex Rodriguez re-signs with the Yankees, some of the credit will be given to the Sage from Omaha, aka Warren Buffet. It turns out that Buffet, the billionaire investor and friend of Bill (Gates, that is) is also chummy with the MVP third baseman. Apparently, he urged Rodriguez to get in touch with his true feelings -- that he loves being a Yankee -- and negotiate directly with Steinbrenner fils and Cashman without the intervention of his agent, Scott Boras. If you believe Boras had nothing to do with this whole thing, I have a bridge for you from another borough of New York.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The Inquirer's Bob Ford and the Daily News' Bill Conlin are merely the latest observers to weigh in on the matter of money and the spending thereof. Bloggers and their commenters are also all over this issue complaining bitterly that ownership's stinginess will doom the Phillies to another season that falls short. The Phillies front men on the subject, Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro have flatly said their is a limited budget for new acquisitions and the Phillies are not going to exceed it.
There's no reason to recapitulate the list of prior contract commitments, ongoing obligations and the projected demands of players and their agents as the annual free agent market opens for business. The feeling is that short of a few good trades, and reviews of the Lidge deal before he takes the mound at Citizens Bank Park are generally positive, the Phils are not going to acquire or re-sign the high-priced talent out there. Instead, they are floating names like Randy Wolf and Bartolo Colon, players who aren't going to address their urgent need for quality starting pitching. Meanwhile, Gillick and Amaro have also flatly stated the third base situation isn't targeted for any improvement in 2008 while the outfield has already lost two of the five guys who spent time playing there last season including Aaron Rowand, their most productive outfielder.
I keep reminding myself the Lidge deal, or the Billy Wagner and Freddy Garcia trades of the past, came out of nowhere. We all know what happened with Garcia, but Wagner was reasonably successful here when not hurt or unhappy. Before recent times, one has to reach back a long, long way to find a successful trade. You all know who I'm thinking of.
Is the problem of dollars a local one, attributable to a consortium of owners who cannot or will not seize control if not the purse strings and spend, spend, spend a la the Steinbrenner clan, Peter Angelos in Baltimore or ownership in Boston? Is this a question of television revenues apart from the shared ones dispersed by MLB to all the teams? Do the big market clubs with their own cable systems or deals in place with cable systems generate far more revenues that can be cashed in once the clock strikes midnight in early November? What can the Kansas Cities, Pittsburghs and, yes, Philadelphias, do to remain competitive? Some might argue the whole question is moot. Look at Colorado. They did it without a big payroll, so why can't everyone else. The truth is, teams like Colorado can do it without a big payroll through shrewd scouting, drafting and trades, but the sad truth is their window of opportunity is very brief, as they are about to find out, when all that low-priced talent like Matt Holliday has a big year and is immediately in line for an expense, long-term contract. Colorado, I'm sorry to say, is an aberration.
What baseball really needs is some sort of salary cap. Will a cap level the playing field? It's hard to say if it has done that in baseball and football. We do know that only a few teams in baseball can consider the astronomical demands of Alex Rodriguez and his agent (or is that the other way around). And you can count on one finger how many teams could pay a Japanese club tens of millions of dollars just for the negotiating rights to a pitcher. The draft and free agent compensation systems have not really yielded much parity. Yes, Colorado made it to the World Series and over the last several years Houston appeared in the Series for the first time, Chicago made it to late October for the first time in memory, and Arizona and Florida, two upstarts, won the whole thing. And little old small-market Oakland has been the darling of those who argue money isn't everything. But in the end, the teams that can afford to sign or keep high-priced talent are normally the ones that make it to the post-season year in and year out. The trend suggests the teams with more money to spend will continue to be likely participants in the post-season while the ones with little capital will continue to fall short.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Cons: Albert Pujols still plays but fortunately in another division. A fly ball pitcher in a fly ball park. Recovering from knee surgery. Free agent after this year. Michael Bourn might hit.
Conclusion: Any move that freed Brett Myers to return to the starting rotation has to be seen as an overall plus for a team desperate for pitching. Depending on how he fares at Citizens Bank Park, Lidge might be a one-year rental or the change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered. Still, there is something about this trade that has Philadelphia Phillies written all over it. Rather than draft closers like Chad Cordero and Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies are forever signing mid to late career closers with baggage, in this case an alleged fragile psyche and a knee that requires healing. The trade we'd like to see is the Phillies' scouting and development staff for, say, Colorado's, or, realistically, an infusion of more talent among the bush beaters.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
That means Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs will man the hot corner because there certainly isn't anyone in the minors ready to step in. Mike Costanzo cannot even hit in the Arizona Fall League according to a report over at Beerleaguer. It is becoming increasingly doubtful the locally-connected Costanzo will ever help the big club.
That means we can already expect to see a scarlet C next to the Phillies' name when those inevitable pre-season report cards evaluating off-season moves are issued around February. Come to think of it, the Phillies have rarely landed a big free agent, the last one being Jim Thome, who cost them a bundle (and still does) and who in reality was only sought by two clubs at the time, his then-current one (Cleveland) and the Phils. More likely, the Phils will land the usual second and third tier free agents who love to come here such as Helms or Adam Eaton. In other words, the guys who receive no other offers.
If help, pitching or otherwise, is to be secured it will have to come via trade. The sticky part there is the Phils have precious little anyone else wants. The likely bait will either be Shane Victorino or Michael Bourn. Of the two, Victorino has proved he can hit at this level but he has yet to prove he can remain healthy. Bourn is unproven at the plate and certainly not Victorino's peer with the glove. He is slightly faster. His injury last season was a freak accident. The bet here is the Phils will feel compelled to part with Victorino, the better of the pair, if they want anything decent in return. If they are unable or unwilling to re-sign Aaron Rowand, they could begin next season with Pat Burrell in left, Bourn in center and Jayson Werth in right. Pardon me if I find that troika uninspiring. Coupled with the two-headed third base option, the Phillies will have lots of potential holes in their lineup. Gillick argues that with better pitching they won't need as many runs scored. If things play out they way they appear to be headed, he'd damn sure better get that better pitching.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The public reaction to Bonds requires little further analysis in this space. Baseball's greatest home run hitter (to date) is a pariah in many quarters. He felt the cheaters in baseball were getting all the praise and titles and he wanted his fair share. If that meant cheating, too, so be it. So Bonds bulked up, passed Mark MacGwire and Hank Aaron and went straight into oblivion. The celebration of his accomplishments lasted at two or three minutes beyond the fifteen minute minimum fame is supposed to guarantee these days.
Rodriguez is another matter. He and his agent Scott Boras incurred the wrath of MLB for announcing his decision to opt out of his contract with the Yankees, the richest in baseball history, on the eve of game 4 of the World Series. Nothing exceeds quite like the excess of upstaging the game's biggest event. In the case of Rodriguez and Boras, however, nothing is done without considerable calculation. The guess here is Boras had a few motives:
1. He wanted to push the Yankees to announce the naming of Joe Girardi before he announced his client's intentions, thus forcing them to feel the wrath. Uncharacteristically, a Steinbrenner led franchise refrained.
2. He wanted to put the Red Sox on notice that not only could they pursue A-Rod should Mike Lowell depart, they could have him at their arch rival's expense. Boras was willing to incur the Red Sox wrath because he wanted them to believe this is just business, not personal. The timing suggests it is both business and personal.
3. It also doesn't hurt that another opt-out client of his, J.D. Drew, signed with Boston last winter. Boras also represents Dice-K Matsuzaka and Jason Varitek. Translation: both parties know what and whom they are dealing with here.
4. At the very least Boras was announcing he and A-Rod were open for business immediately before any teams with an interest (the Angels and Dodgers are considered serious contenders) spend a nickel elsewhere. If you think that's far-fetched, keep in mind the Detroit Tigers have already traded prospects for Edgar Renteria, who fills in at short with Carlos Guillen moving permanently to first base. Retooling teams wait for no man or his agent.
A-Rod is just as disingenuous as his agent. All along he professed his love of New York only to dump them at the first opportunity. Consider all his protestations of love more than just another bargaining ploy. He timed his decision for maximum impact in the press and on the team. If players like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte were on the fence about returning if Joe Torre was fired, how are they going to feel about their biggest rbi guy leaving?
Meanwhile, some team out there can now sign Rodriguez for ten years at $30 million per and watch him march towards Barry Bonds' record, 3000 hits and maybe even that elusive World Championship. They can have all of that and a teammate who puts himself first. It's worth noting A-Rod has never meant the difference between winning and losing at any stop along his major league career.
Boras and his clients have been indifferent to public opinion for a long time. They aren't the first nor the last though it can be fairly said they have perfected the "art." This latest decision to have Rodriguez opt out of his contract simply underscores the reality that their interests are best served by worrying about numero uno, The question remains, however, which of these two -- the superstar agent or the superstar player -- can claim that title?
Monday, October 29, 2007
And what of the other finalist this season, the Colorado Rockies? They appear to have a promising starting rotation filled mostly with live arms beyond their number one, but we must wait another season to see if the promises are fulfilled. Their bullpen is very solid. The lineup features power and average and their speed is adequate. Defensively, they led the majors this past season. Their skipper made a few missteps in the series, but overall appears to have management's and his players' confidence. If the starting pitching holds up, they should contend next season.
Are the Phillies close to achieving the same overall balance? Not really. Their starting rotation features a young number one whose health will likely be a concern throughout his career, a wily veteran who at age 45 cannot have that much left and a whole lot of question marks beyond them. The bullpen remains in serious flux with the closer an unpredictable commodity who really belongs in the starting rotation. The batters are impatient and streaky in the main. Team speed is excellent overall. Their outfield is in flux, especially with the current centerfielder likely to depart via free agency. Defense is very good in spots and very mediocre in too many others. Their manager is well-liked in the clubhouse but doesn't add much in the win column for those handful of games that are decided on strategy. Worst of all, there is precious little in the minor leagues in the way of help. Ownership and upper management assembled a core of accomplished young players but never surrounded them with the mix of veterans to get them over the top. Chronic inadequacies at third base and on the mound conspire annually to undermine them.
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Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract, the richest in baseball history, and now stands prepared to sign for a new record-breaking contract elsewhere. The Angels or Dodgers would be a good bet but so would Boston if Mike Lowell departs. Oh, the irony of it all.
Meanwhile, back at Steinbrenner central, the Yankees should name Joe Girardi manager as early as today or tomorrow. The good news is he will be back at the helm of a major league team; the bad news is he will be at the helm of this major league team. He is going to inherit the worst Yankee club in more than a decade with the pitching staff that is in transition to put it mildly and an everyday lineup with several key players departing or aging less than gracefully. The Yankees could finish third in the AL East next year.
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Will Lowell, the series MVP, leave Boston? The Sox can certainly afford to bring him back and the guess here is they will do so. Can the Sox repeat next season? Well, Big Papi needs knee surgery, Jason Varitek isn't getting any younger and Manny Ramirez is, well, Manny. But they all seem to have enough left in the offensive tank and the pitching staff remains formidable, even if Curt Schilling departs as is expected. The Sox have a lot of young pitchers who appear ready to move up a level and their young position players certainly acquitted themselves well at the end of the season and during the playoffs.
The Phillies would be expected to make a run at Lowell should he opt for free agency, but it seems unlikely they will get the chance.
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The World Series ain't what it used to be. For one thing, the last four series have been lopsided with three of the four winners sweeping. Only Detroit broke the string of sweeps by taking one game against St. Louis last year. Hardly the stuff of drama. Advertisers and MLB executives fret over the absence of enough big market teams in recent World Series, but viewers will hardly remained glued to their televisions when the games themselves aren't very compelling.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
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Let the cooling off begin.
Everyone talked about how the layoff was going to affect Colorado and it didn't take long to prove all those pundits right as the first three batters went down on strikes in the first inning of the World Series opener last night. Hitting is so much about timing and the Rockies' was clearly off. Of course, a lot of major league hitters' timing was off this season when fireballer Josh Beckett was on the mound. If Beckett is normally money in the bank in the post-season he was paying interest well above the going rate against a rusty Colorado squad.
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Don Mattingly cooked his own managerial goose when first he had to deny reports he felt awkward succeeding Joe Torre and second he pronounced himself ready to guide the Yankees. Methinks he doth protest too much.
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Barry Bonds is at it again. Now he's complaining about everything Giants from the name of McCovey Cove to his having been "fired" after all of his accomplishments. Responding to a cream puff question yesterday as to whether or not he achieved all those records, Bonds replied: "I did, and then I got fired. Shame on me, huh?"
The Giants got what they wanted from Mr. Bonds, lots of fannies in the seats as he chased Hank Aaron's legitimate home run record. And he got what he wanted, a huge contract for a part time player and full time louse and cheater. Now, it's time for Barry to just go away but the guess here is some American League team is going to sign him as their DH. Shame on whichever team that will be, huh?
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MLB should hold tryouts for network announcers. They're all dreadful but Joe Buck takes the cake. His earnest drone is the best soporific I've found yet but truth be told, I usually turn off the sound immediately after pressing the numeric buttons that land me on his fair and balanced [sic] network in the first place. Equally annoying in an opposite, hyperactive way is ESPN's Chris Berman, who sprinkles every report with words like "legendary" and "historic" even while the story is unfolding. Berman never met a superlative he didn't embrace. Carl Ravich is so superior to Berman it's a shame they let the latter pull rank when the stakes get higher.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The World Series will not end until November, after at least one or two rain/snowouts. The Rockies will win it in six games because their young pitchers, unfamiliar to the Red Sox, will have the advantage and their bats can match Boston's. A few of the Rockies' veterans know Josh Beckett, which together with $5.75 will probably buy you a Coors Light (though heaven knows why anyone actually drinks that stuff.)
* * * * * * * *
From the like father-like-son-department, the new Yankees management won't be shy about upstaging the biggest event of the season: Joe Girardi will be named manager during the Series. Oh, and the Steinbrenner fils will continue to bad-mouth Joe Torre at every opportunity. For his part, Torre has said what he has to say and will move on.
* * * * * * * *
Aaron Rowand will not re-sign with the White Sox because as much as he loves that city, he doesn't love that team's prospects.
* * * * * * * *
Jimmy Rollins will be named NL MVP even though many pundits believe he is "only" the third or fourth best shortstop in the league. This may be the Golden Age of shortstops in the National League.
* * * * * * * *
Ryan Howard will be awarded a huge salary increase and his parents will still complain it isn't enough. I firmly believe his off-season pique in 2006 at not being made the highest paid second-year player in MLB history affected his play early in the year. The coming season will be a critical one for Howard. Is he a guy who can hit for average as well as power, or will he be a .265 hitter with power who strikes out at a prodigious rate?
* * * * * * * *
No matter what the outcome of the World Series, Boston is not deep in the starting rotation with Tim Wakefield ailing and Dice-K being less than the second coming of Cy Young let alone Luis Tiant. Therefore, they will probably attempt to re-sign Curt Schilling if he is willing to accept a short-term deal for less money and despite the fact that he has worn out his welcome in the clubhouse and around town. The politically conservative Schilling is not too popular in Liberal Boston.
* * * * * * * *
The San Diego Padres are living proof that good pitching is not enough. They must go after a big bat this off-season.
* * * * * * * *
Self-anointed genius Tony LaRussa has re-signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for two years. At his signing he admitted that he gets along with everyone on the team except Scott Rolen, who clearly has "his issues" with LaRussa. Who doesn't Rolen have issues with? Yes, I'm beating a dead horse, but Rolen's departure from Philadelphia really had little to do with the so-called unwillingness of the Phillies to build a winner and much more to do with the talented but now oft-injured third baseman's chronic discontent. More truths be told, Rolen thinks of himself as something of an intellectual among ball players and his ego was guaranteed to take offense at the equally super-sized one of his manager.
* * * * * * * *
Things we'd like to see this off-season: Chase Utley will be asked to join the All-Star squad that tours Japan after the Series but the Phillies will urge him to decline and he will agree with them.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Cole Hamels is a fine pitcher with a bright future, but he simply isn't a number one in a class with Boston's Josh Beckett. When the scowling Beckett takes the mound, the Red Sox are a confident team as they proved last night in a do-or-die win over Cleveland and their ace, C.C. Sebathia. Beckett is intimidating and dominating; Hamels is neither of these. Also, it's worth noting that Beckett has been this type of pitcher for a number of years now and is still only 27. The only thing that held him back in the past was a recurrence of blister problems.
Hamels may turn out to be the Phillies' ace in the long run, but he isn't going to intimidate anyone with a change-up as his best pitch. The Phillies haven't been able to send anyone similar to Beckett to the mound since the hey day of Steve Carlton.
* * * * * * * *
We've all lamented the pitiful scheduling MLB and the networks have subjected East Coast fans to in particular and now we are looking at a huge gap before the World Series gets underway. Here's something else to think about:
Autumn First Freeze Information
|Earliest Date of First Freeze:||September 8, 1962|
|Latest Date of First Freeze:||November 15, 1944|
|Average Date of First Freeze:||October 7th|
|First Freeze Last 8 Years:|| October 14, 2004 |
September 14, 2003
October 4, 2002
October 5, 2001
September 22, 2000
September 28, 1999
October 06, 1998
October 12, 1997
degrees Fahrenheit for the first time.
|Earliest Date of First Snow:||September 3, 1961|
|Latest Date of First Snow:||November 21, 1934|
|Average Date of First Snow:||October 19th|
|First Measurable Snow Last 8 Years:|| November 1, 2004 |
November 5, 2003
October 24, 2002
October 5, 2001
September 23, 2000
September 28, 1999
November 1, 1998
October 12, 1997
* * * * * * * *
Congratulations to Joe Torre. He has preserved his dignity by rejecting the Yankees' phony and insulting offer. The Yankees sure have a way of rewarding loyal not to mention successful employees. Now, the door is open for Tony LaRussa to step in and take the reigns. It would be a "marriage" made in baseball heaven: George Steinbrenner always acted like he knew baseball better than anyone else in the past and LaRussa still does. Let's see how genius works with a starting rotation in tatters, an aging group of position players at least some of whom are likely to walk and a closer who has already announced if Joe leaves he does, too. The Yankees could easily be a second division club come next season.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I'm tempted to write we are witnessing history with Colorado's run, but as it turns out very few people are witnessing any of it given the late starting times on the East Coast. That brings me to another matter, the business of television scheduling and the alleged waning interest in baseball in general.
The first point that needs to be made is that major league baseball set an all-time attendance record this past season, which means what's waning on the tube is waxing at the park. Fortunately for baseball, much of its season takes place while football players are recuperating and relaxing; unfortunately, just when baseball's races get exciting football players are donning their pads. Around these parts fans are all-too familiar with the traditional drop-off in interest let alone attendance at Phillies games once the Eagles report to training camp. There have been some seasons when more people showed up at the Eagles' training facility at Lehigh University than at Citizens Bank Park. The exception was this year when the Phils made their successful run for the playoffs while the Eagles stumbled and bumbled through the opening games of their season.
Despite the record numbers at the turnstiles, MLB frets whenever one of its big market teams is eliminated from the post-season. Even when a New York team makes it as far as the first round, MLB has already ceded television start times to the networks as part of their basic agreements; but, when two less-than marquee names made it past the first round of the NL divisional playoffs and both happened to be located in either mountain or western time zones, the handwriting was on the wall. Not only was fan interest minimal, but games started let alone ended when everyone but insomniacs were asleep on the East Coast, thus guaranteeing poor ratings. The common line in major East Coast dailies the day after normally said, "The Rockies-Diamondbacks game ended too late for this edition. For results, visit us on the web at...."
That fooftball surpassed baseball as the national pastime is very old news at this juncture. So, too, is the inescapable fact that the talent pool is being drained by the number of professional sports available. What has become obvious in the last several years is that baseball is no longer attracting black youth like it once did. Players like Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies and C.C. Sebathia of the Indians are taking steps to try and encourage more black youths to play baseball, but theirs is an uphill struggle as the numbers continue to decline.
Where baseball has seen a significant surge is in the presence of Latin American and Asian players. This raises yet another question. Are American households tuning out in some measure, however small, because of the makeup of the rosters, especially in smaller cities and rural areas who never have had a major league team? Is the hot-button immigration issue a subtle force in the lack of interest outside major urban centers? Is football still seen as a uniquely native sport played only by natives?
Frankly, a quick perusal of the rosters of the contending baseball teams shows a veritable UN of races, colors and creeds. Baseball is now the most international sport to have originated on these shores but in a country whose history clearly indicates that foreign misadventures are always followed by strong isolationist trends, the fans outside large urban areas may be voting with their remotes.
Monday, October 15, 2007
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The circus that is New York Yankee baseball just keeps getting more pathetic. The owner, reported suffering from some form of dementia, is apparently handing the reigns over to his two sons, who by all accounts have been meddling, er I mean running the show for some time now. The manager, who wears a perpetual weary expression, just concluded his latest stint on the hot seat and apparently was fatally burned. Now, several of his players who are eligible for free agency are publicly declaring they won't return if he doesn't. Meanwhile, their star among stars, A-Rod, may exercise his option to leave and his agent, the always understated Scott Boras, is promising the richest contract in baseball history should he depart. Make that the latest richest contract since A-Rod already holds the title.
* * * * * * * *
The other day Jim Salisbury mused about the return of two former Phillies: Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen. Actually, he admitted Schilling was only a possibility and Rolen a pipe dream. The Phillies aren't about to re-sign Schilling should he leave Boston. Schilling has too much mileage on his arm and mouth for the Phillies and would single-handedly upset the clubhouse atmosphere just when they don't need that complication. Rolen would come back to Philadelphia only if Rich Kotite were appointed to succeed Andy Reid.
* * * * * * * *
Dusty Baker is living proof that nice guys aren't finished as long as there are managerial openings somewhere in the big leagues. I am starting to lose count of where he has managed, but I think thethree year deal he just signed with Cincinnati is the fourth or fifth stop in his management career. Word that he is determined to manage as long as Kenny Lofton is an active player could not be confirmed by either party.
* * * * * * * *
I make no bones about rooting for Cleveland to go all the way this year. The Indians' faithful are nearly as long-suffering as the fans in a few cities we could name but hardly need to, the difference being that we aren't constantly subjected to stories of curses when their years in baseball's wilderness are discussed. The Tribe's comeback the other night in Boston was a real momentum builder. Not only did they take it to Curt Schilling early, but they rallied not once but twice against Boston at Fenway, something very few teams have done in the last few years. If the Indians do put away the Red Sox, they can take a crack at derailing the Colorado Express, not exactly an enviable task this season.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Management wasted no time in giving manager Charlie Manuel a two-year contract extension. To his great credit Manuel overcame far more than the series of devastating injuries and disappointments on his squad this past season; he also had to overcome the lingering snickers up North at everything from his Virginia drawl to his ongoing struggles with the double switch. He can't do much about the former but he can help with the latter, provided he seeks it. Someone among his many coaches must understand the practice so the question remains, does Charlie ask?
Of course his greatest asset appears to be his likability, especially among his players. Unlike marquee managers in some other locales (especially west of the Mississippi), Manuel has always deflected the spotlight from his considerable self to his players. They, in turn, like playing for him. Arguments as to how many, if any, games managers win or lose all by their lonesomes in any given campaign never yield any definitive answers, but the feeling here and around the league is that Manuel fosters a positive atmosphere in which to work and that contributes to winning. (Of course, there are numerous arguments with examples that teams can succeed in an atmosphere of open hostility, too.)
Now that management seems secure, the first order of business in the locker room is to improve the pitching, especially starting pitching. Right now only three players are penciled in for spots next season, Cole Hamels at number one, Jamie Moyer probably at number two and Kyle Kendrick at number...well...somewhere toward the back of the rotation. Kyle Lohse has reportedly expressed an interest in returning to Philadelphia but as usual that decision has as much to do with his agent as with the player himself and in Lohse's case that agent is none other than Scott Boras, who has a lousy history with the Phillies. Naturally, Boras has already begun building up Lohse as a premier commodity in both his age group and experience. His return is anything but certain and will not come cheaply no matter what.
The bullpen could also use some help and toward that end the Phillies will take a long, serious look at J.C. Romero, who performed admirably following his mid-season acquisition. Romero, too, has expressed an interest in returning here. That's not lip-service. When players depart, especially from Philadelphia, they rarely express regret; on the contrary, they generally cannot wait to vent. Just ask Todd Jones. On second thought, don't bother.
Another gaping hole remains at third base. The Phillies have already waved one white flag at that spot by releasing Abraham Nunez, the defensive stalwart who was signed as a free agent a few years ago after having a career-year at bat for St. Louis, where he subbed admirably for an injured Scott Rolen. Abe never hit a lick in Philadelphia. Heck, Abe hardly ever hit a fair ball here. Still, he could fill in at several infield positions (though it should be noted he never was called on to do so) and must be replaced. That leaves Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs as the only third baseman on the squad. In other words, the Phils have to go out and get a real one. Helms was a colossal bust in his first year here, carrying a very small stick and a big stone glove. He literally never got untracked. Dobbs, a super-sub, is not really a third baseman. Various names among potential free agents and trade prospects are being kicked around, principally Mike Lowell, the current Red Sox third baseman who will be a free agent at the end of the World Series. The 34-year old Lowell rejuvenated his career in Boston, where he was traded along with Josh Beckett two years ago when the Marlins concluded he was over the hill. Anything more than a two year deal with him would have to carry the term "saddled". Frankly, I'd stay away and go for someone younger. The Phillies haven't had a legitimate third baseman for so long it's finally time to stop interim solutions.
Re-signing Aaron Rowand looks like a long shot. The consensus seems to be that he will be too expensive and that the Phillies need to spend that money on pitching. They also have a legitimate center fielder in Shane Victorino, who should hit as well as Rowand, run much better, field much better and provide less power. That leaves Pat Burrell to man left field and Michael Bourn and Jason Werth to share duties in right. The Phillies might give the job outright to Bourn to see what he can do, but they might also trade him on the mistaken assumption that Werth can be the every-day right fielder. If they trade Bourn they immediately become very thin in the outfield. If they re-sign Rowand, Bourn immediately becomes the expendable one.
One area where the Phils appear set is at catcher. Carlos Ruiz handled the job splendidly and if he remains healthy should be solid there again. During the playoffs at least one commentator noted there were concerns about how he handled the pitchers. The notion is pure nonsense. Most pitches are probably still called from the dugout, at least on certain batters. Ruiz looks comfortable in his relationship with the pitching staff. He goes to the mound easily, whips the ball around the diamond without hesitation, and has done a fine job throwing out base-runners. Chris Coste will remain his backup.
Obviously, the Phillies are set at the remaining infield positions but there are areas that need improvement. It may be hard to criticize anyone who hits 47 home runs and drives in 136 runs, but Ryan Howard's season left much to be desired. The strikeout total, a new major league record, was ignominious enough, but worse was Howard's growing tendency to gripe at every called third strike. The image of Howard scowling and turning toward the umpire occurred all too frequently as the season wore on. Almost from day one opposing pitchers figured out how to stop Howard and he failed to adjust. Forty-seven homers and 136 rbi's seems like an awful lot of adjustment, but those totals also include a lot of mistakes. I haven't seen statistics on how many home runs Howard hit when the game was out of reach and would be interested if any readers have them available. In the field Howard went from bad to worse. I maintain his fielding problems are due to a lack of concentration not skill, but after 2.5 years in the league he should have learned how to focus.
Chase Utley had a terrific season marred only by his injury. Last year he wore down as the season wore on and it's difficult to imagine the forced time off didn't help his stamina down the stretch. He had a miserable playoff series, no doubt more disappointing to him than his legion of fans in Philadelphia and around the league. He is one of the best players to come along in many years.
Jimmy. What can we say about him that wouldn't somehow understate what he meant to the Phillies and their fans. He had a season unlike that of virtually any major league player in history. He played every game (and nearly every inning); set a major league record for AB's; fielded his position flawlessly; hit for average and power; stole bases; and, scored a ton of runs. And here's the key: he had a damn good time doing it. A lot of moments stand out from his season but the enduring image for this fan will always be of a smiling J-Roll, getting up from hitting a double, dusting himself off, turning around and talking to the nearest passerby, a second baseman or umpire, it didn't matter who, and just smiling and jabbering away.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Leading up to and immediately following their capture of the NL East championship, nearly every lead to every story about this club made note of the injuries it overcame. True, many clubs overcome similar adversities, but this team endured an unusual number of them to key players and still managed to keep on keepin' on. In the end, they ran into a buzz-saw from the Rocky Mountains. Colorado is a fine team with an even more explosive offense than the Phils, one which is frankly far more consistent. Their defense is considered the best in the league if not the majors. The pitching staff is loaded with young, strong arms. Their sweep of the Phillies was no accident though unexpected in most quarters.
Next the Rockies face Arizona as the balance of power in the NL swings momentarily to the West. Two clubs, one of whom wasn't in existence when the Phillies made their last appearance in the post-season and the other of whom debuted that same season, will square off for the right to go to the World Series. For what it's worth, my pick is Colorado. They are 17 - 1 after last night's victory and look like they may never lose.
Meanwhile, back East, Phillies' fans, among the longest-suffering in all of major league sport not just baseball, must console themselves with having broken the long post-season drought and look forward to next year. They have probably watched Aaron Rowand play his last game here, but the rest of the core of gamers remains. The off-season will be spent trying to shore up the weak starting rotation and bullpen. For the first time in memory players around the league will take a second look at the Phillies, correctly surmising this club has a chance to go further into the post-season next year.
It was an exhausting season for this fan. The Phillies flirted with sea level for weeks before finally breaking through the surface and making their run at the NL East title. At this juncture a break from the constant ebb and flow is welcome. I'll watch snatches of the rest of the post-season, but with the home team on the sidelines I look forward to some time off. Beyond that, the Hot Stove League looms some months hence as well as the announcement that Jimmy Rollins, who had one of the most magical and memorable seasons I've ever seen, has won the NL MVP.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Great shot, you say, and it is indeed. The photographer certainly captured the essential J-Roll. Not to take anything away from the guy behind the camera, but can you show me a picture of the Phillies' wonderful shortstop in which he is not smiling? As for the curse of the cover, forget about it. Jimmy's magical season still has legs.
* * * * * * * *
Best lead, print division, thus far in local playoffs coverage goes to the Inquirer's Todd Zolecki, whose opener this morning reads: Here is how long it has been since the Phillies have been in the postseason: An out-of-town sportswriter showed up yesterday at the corner of Broad and Pattison and wondered, "Where's the Vet?"
* * * * * * * *
Thumbs down to MLB and TBS for scheduling the first playoff game in Philadelphia in 14 years for 3PM EDT. We all know the people who make these decisions could care less how long Phillies fans have waited for this moment; they want New York and Boston to play their games as close to Eastern prime time as possible. As for Rockies' fans, they get to sit down to their television sets a 1PM, which means the work day there basically ends at noon. At least in Philadelphia some employers are hoping they get another hour or two out of their work force before losing their attention. The start time is lousy for the hitters, too, but the weather forecast might just help if it remains overcast.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
They are going to be tough. Todd Helton is a charter member of the Phillies-killer club, Rocky Mountain division. Matt Holliday received an invitation to join and is only waiting for the formal induction ceremonies. Throw in Atkins, Tulowitzki, Taveras, Hawpe and a rejuvenated Kaz Matsui and you have an offense every bit as potent as the Phillies...if not more so. Their team batting average is .280, six points above the Phils. They have nearly scored as many runs per game.
On the mound Jeff Francis is a fine number one and the youngsters who baffled the Phils the last time they visited CBP have live arms. Their bullpen isn't San Diego's, or wasn't until Trevor Hoffmann picked the least opportune time in a Hall of Fame career to falter.
Colorado is white hot, having won 14 of its last fifteen games. The Phillies are red hot, having won 13 of 17. One of them is due to cool off. Let it be Colorado.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are critical to the team, but had they lost Jimmy for a month instead of either one of them, it would have been over long ago. He is the irreplaceable one on a team on which all 25 men (well, maybe not Adam Eaton) contributed.
At one point Howard came over, acknowledged to the camera how much Rollins means to him and the team, said J-Roll was clearly the MVP and that he, Howard, would "gradly relinquish his title" to him. Howard's words were spontaneous and filled with genuine affection for the veteran shortstop who had mentored him when the then-rookie first baseman came up to the big leagues for good. It's clear from a lot of things said and written that the players on this team like one another and pull for each other. Charlie Manuel has said they have the best chemistry of any team he's been a part of. Pat Gillick has said he always believed talent was the only thing that really matter but now, after watching this collection of players pull together he had to agree chemistry played a role.
It surely did and the catalyst of all those little chain reactions culminating in the final explosion of triumph was a bundle of atoms named Jimmy Rollins. Rollins isn't going to be the subject of a book like the Summer of 1941 which featured the race between the Yankees and Red Sox and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Philadelphia simply doesn't play on the same national stage as those two franchises and its legendary stars. But Jimmy did have a season to remember, a record-breaking one which we as fans can point to years from now and say, "remember when Jimmy Rollins carried the Phillies from before spring training to the final day of the season" (and hopefully beyond.)? Fourteen years in the playoffs wilderness may seem like a long time, but it's been even longer since we've seen someone perform as joyously and magnificently as Jimmy Rollins did this year.
Couldn't happen to a nicer guy...or better teammate.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
(Editor's note: No provisions have been made for a loss.)
Friday, September 28, 2007
Hordes of white towel -- not flag!! -- waving fans, a sight not seen in these parts in a very long time, whooped it up as the Phils jumped all over Smoltz in the first inning for four runs and added two more in the third. The usual suspects led the way, beginning with Jimmy Rollins, who stroked Smoltz' first offering of the proceedings up the middle and scored when his partner in speedy crimes Shane Victorino dropped a beautiful bunt down the third base line and Smoltz threw wildly to first. After the usually sure-handed Mark Teixeira booted Chase Utley's hard smash to first allowing Victorino to score, Ryan Howard lined a shot over the night field wall. Smoltz came into Citizens Bank Park on the record as the number one hater in all of baseball of the Phillies' home field's cozy dimensions. He left town with his grip on first place firmly in place though it must be said neither Howard's shot, which was hit so hard it was rising when stopped by a hand or seat, or Burrell's, which cleared the petunias by at least twenty rows at least, was nearly as cheap as the one Jeff Francoeur hit in the ninth off Brett Myers. What's sauce for the goose....
The Phils now control their own destiny. "All" they have to do is sweep the Washington Nationals this weekend in Philadelphia and watch the Mets hit rock bottom and baseball ignominy and the division title along with a large portion of vindication for one James Calvin Rollins will be theirs. The Nationals are no pushovers, just ask the Mets, and have played the role of spoiler well over the few years of their existence. But something tells me this Phillies team is destined to defy all the odds.
We won't have long to wait and learn the outcome.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
J-Roll led off the game with his 19th triple of the season and scored on Ryan Howard's single up the middle. Gregg Dobbs, who has had a superb season as a super-sub, knocked in two more and Shane Victorino, who has accepted his part-time role without complaint, smoked a pinch-hit homer in the second deck.
It never gets monotonous to write about Jimmy. Indeed, on more than a few occasions this season I have reminded myself not to take him for granted. One day, many years in the distance we hope, he will hang it up and we will no longer have the pleasure of watching one of baseball's best all-around players. This year four or five players in the National League merit serious consideration for the MVP award but none has had a better season than Jimmy and none has ever flashed that grin as widely or taken such obvious pleasure in playing the game.
Meanwhile, back at the pennant race, the Mets continue to stumble and bumble their way towards possibly one of baseball's legendary late-season collapses. It couldn't happen to a nicer team. (On occasion I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, sit up straight and ask myself, "How in the hell did the Mets beat the Orioles in '69??!!") The Phils are only a game out of first with four games remaining. If they manage to overtake NY, they should award the Washington Nationals a full share of whatever post-season bonus awaits them, provided, of course, that the Nationals further cooperate and lose all three of their games in Philadelphia this weekend.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Last night Jamie Moyer looked like a 43-year old pitcher, a game one, but nonetheless an aging and tired one, allowing nine base runners in 5.1 innings. He surrendered a three-run homer in the first to Mark Teixeira and though eventually the Phils came back and took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, Moyer couldn't hold it. Geoff Geary and Flash Gordon each gave up two runs in relief, the first time in a while the bullpen collectively faltered. Now, of course, is not the time to falter and the fans let Geary in particular know that.
Individual achievements, most notably Jimmy Rollins' 30th home run of the season, were lost as the Phils fell 10-6. If they do manage to sneak into the playoffs, Rollins deserves to be the NL MVP, but right now they aren't focused on individual stats and accomplishments. Five games aren't many, but they are enough to overcome the deficits the Phillies still face.
Monday, September 24, 2007
You can't win 'em all and don't but the Phils just concluded a damn good road trip by taking eight of ten to scare the living daylights out of the Mets (NY Times headline today said "Mets Exhale, With Some Breathing Room") and inch closer to the WC leader San Diego.
* * * * * * * * *
Ryan Howard is on the verge of becoming the all-time strikeout leader for a single season despite having missed several weeks earlier in the year. If he finishes with something on the order of 210 strikeouts, that would average out to roughly anywhere from 42 to 52 games in which he didn't put a ball into fair play. That looks and sounds a whole lot worse than simply listing his total number of punch outs. Forty-two to fifty-two games where he might as well have not bothered going up to the plate. Yes, I know, I exaggerate here, he didn't strike out four or five times a game for those 42 - 52 games but it is still a colossally dismal effort.
* * * * * * * * *
Take a good hard look at Aaron Rowand because he's leaving. At the beginning of the season I predicted mediocre things for him at the plate and knocked his fielding as less than stellar, particularly when it came to the routes he takes to the ball. Shows what I know. The thinking around baseball appears to be that the Phils need to spend too much on pitching to give Rowand the rich contract his stellar season will likely command. If the Phillies had some pitching lined up for next season Rowand might want to come back, but that doesn't appear to be in the offing.
* * * * * * * * *
While you are taking a good hard look, fix your gaze upon Brett Myers, closer. If the Phils land a legitimate stopper during the off-season the pressure to move Myers back into the starting rotation will be tremendous. Problem is, he isn't going to go quietly. Myers likes the macho image associated with the closer role even if he hasn't exactly been the second coming of Goose Gossage or others who defined the role that way.
* * * * * * * * *
Wes Helms has certainly been the biggest bust among position players signed during last off-season and Adam Eaton is the title holder among hurlers. Yes, even Freddy Garcia gets a pass on this ballot because he wasn't honestly healthy enough for anyone to expect much except, it appears, Pat Gillick. Helms has been awful at the plate and awful as advertised in the field. Eaton is in the running for worst free agent signing in the league, not just in the Delaware Valley. And Freddy? Mark your Garcia ballots under the name Gillick, Pat.
* * * * * * * * *
The Phillies have a few pitchers on the roster who are recuperating from major arm surgeries and should get serious looks some time next season. Chief among these are Scott Mathieson, Matt Smith and Mike Zagurski. They may not look like world-beaters but they were literally sorely missed over the last few weeks.
* * * * * * * * *
Finally, I hope my readers picked up on the unusual note of optimism in today's headline. I sure did...as I whistled by the graveyard.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Those major-league leading forty-eight come-from-behind victories have impressed the constituency most difficult to impress, the baseball brotherhood itself. (Yes, last night's win counts in that total since Washington jumped out to a 1-0 lead.) Words like "swagger", "indomitable", "grit", "heart" and the like are making their way into every story about this team. More than a few commentators have said this installment of the Phillies has more determination than any team since 1980. Yes, that's right, any team including the 1993 version. When your pitching staff is put together with spit and baling wire and a few key position players have spent some time on the DL, too, and you are very much in the hunt with nine games to go your effort gets noticed and appreciated.
These guys have been a lot of fun to watch in no small part because so many different players have contributed. As has been well-documented, this isn't just the Jimmy-Chase-Ryan show. Pat, Jayson, Greg, Aaron, Carlos and Shane have all had many moments in the spotlight. In the end a local fan only needs to know this about the 2007 Phillies and their late-season surge: none other than Bill Conlin has called for giving Charlie Manuel a two-year contract extension. Now that's an endorsement!
Friday, September 21, 2007
The Phils should forget the Wild Card and line those New York Mets up in the cross hairs. The division title is theirs for the taking. The Philies continue their amazing string of come-from-behind victories, tops in the major leagues this season, and inch closer to the Mets. With nine games to play the Phils trail New York by 1.5 games. Much bigger deficits have been overcome before; much bigger leads have also been surrendered.
So much rides on these next nine games apart from the most obvious one, an end to the Phillies' fourteen year post-season drought. There is also the small matter of Jimmy Rollins' pre-season prediction his team was the one to beat in the East. Jimmy has never backed off from that statement and now with a little more than a week to go he can almost taste the redemption. Then, there is the not so small matter of bragging rights. Chants of "Let's Go Mets" would be just a wee bit more muted next season in games at Citizens Bank Park should the Amazins' complete their nearly-historic collapse. And finally, there is the strong likelihood that the same Mr. Rollins would become a leading candidate for NL MVP if he leads his team to the Promised Land.
Ah, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Phils still have six games remaining against the pesky Nationals, who gave them all they could handle last night, and three against Atlanta, which is suddenly on a roll again.
The pitching staff remains as unpredictable as the weather in Texas. If the starters aren't imploding, the bullpen is...and vice versa. One guy who keeps surprising to the upside is J.D. Durbin, who threw his second straight superb relief performance after losing his tenuous spot in the starting rotation with a few absolutely awful outings. Tonight, Adam Eaton seeks redemption for his rotten season. If he gives his team five or six solid innings, most but not all that has come before might be forgiven.
The offense, meanwhile, continues to deliver when all hope seems lost. If it isn't the quartet of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Rowand delivering, supersubs Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs can be counted on to step into the breach.
Nine games to go. They will be exciting.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
He'd pitched the night before as well and had blown that save only to be rescued by his teammates in the bottom of the 14th inning. Last night was different, however, as he took the loss. The box score will show he gave up two hits. Apologists will say one was a bang-bang play at first and the other a seeing-eye single. Both were sandwiched around a stolen base. I didn't see the play and cannot say whether or not Miguel Cairo stole the base on Myers, Chris Coste or both. All I do know is that for Myers the series boiled down to this: two nights, similar results, different outcomes.
Myers is anything but the dominating closer the Phillies fantasized about when they moved him into the role after the season got underway. Indeed, opponents show little fear when Myers takes the mound. Now, on top of his evident inconsistency, he's being overworked. A few more outings like last night and he can begin his off-season recuperation...along with the rest of the roster.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Only a week ago most observers including this one were preparing obituaries (or writing them!) after the Phils were crushed at home by Colorado, 12-0. Since then they haven't lost and in the process have moved to within 1.5 games of the Mets. Yes, fans, the Mets, not just the Padres.
Everyone literally got into the act last night as Charlie Manuel used his entire bench and a whole lot of his bullpen. On a team which sees a different hero virtually every night three unexpected ones emerged last night in St. Louis: Rod Barajas, Jose Mesa and J.D. Durbin.
Durbin came on in early relief of a rusty Cole Hamels and pitched two scoreless innings when the Cardinals threatened to run away with the game. Mesa, whose ERA is approaching the trade deficit, pitched two scoreless innings of relief (the 12th and 13th) while the rest of us were sleeping. And Barajas, the forgotten man, drove in what proved to be the winning run in the top of the 14th inning. Geoff Geary and Clay Condrey also shut the door on the Cardinals.
Cole Hamels did not look sharp in his first start in more than a month, not a surprising outcome. His bread and butter pitch, the change, wasn't fooling anyone and the location of his fastball, which sets up the change, was not there. The good news is he didn't complain of soreness after his three innings of work.
Meanwhile, in the nation's capital, the Mets were losing for the second straight night to Washington and the fifth time in a row overall. Following the Phillies' sweep at Shea Stadium last weekend a few Mets were less than complimentary to their division rivals, collectively huffing that they were still the team to beat. How delicious would it be forJ-Roll to have the last word on that score?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
With the specter of their meltdown in Atlanta a few weeks ago fresh in everyone's mind, the Phillies avoided having last night's game enter the annals of late-season horrors. There is no rest for the weary. Tonight may really be the most important game of the season when Cole Hamels, who has been on the DL for more than a month, takes the hill. Hamels will be on a strict pitch count according to reports, but if he can give his mates five solid innings the boost to morale will be incalculable. Coming at a time when the starting rotation remains in tatters and the bullpen is nearly spent, a quality start by Hamels could make the difference between a berth in the post-season or not.
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With so many different position players taking turns leading the Phillies second-half surge one player who has quietly played a key role has been lost in the shuffle. Carlos Ruiz has taken on the lion's share of the catching duties and has performed admirably. Any carryover from last season's reports of some language difficulties in communicating with pitchers have evaporated. Ruiz has also become something of a fire-brand, whipping the ball around, urging on his battery-mates, taking command, throwing out base-runners and hitting decently, indeed sometimes in a little bit of hard luck. He blocks the plate, handles bunts very efficiently and has become a very dependable backstop. Nor is he afraid to get into it with opposing players either when necessary. His energy level rivals that of some of the more vocal Phillies.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The team that made eleventh hour pushes for October the official time of the realm just completed their second sweep of the division-leading Mets in a fortnight to creep to within 1.5 games of the Wild Card lead. As usual, they did it in dramatic fashion, riding the pinch-hit grand slam home run of Greg Dobbs to a 10-6 victory at Shea Stadium. In the process the Phils overcame another rotten start by Adam Eaton to also post their major league leading 45th come-from-behind victory of 2007.
Dobbs had plenty of company this weekend, not the least of whom were Aaron Rowand and Jimmy Rollins. As far as Mets' fans are concerned, Rollins wore a scarlet letter on his back all season after proclaiming prior to the start of play the Phils were "the team to beat" in the NL East. Then, of course, he backed up his words, at least in head-to-head play, by leading the Phils to a season series victory including seven straight (four at Citizens Bank Park and three in New York) and three sweeps, two at Shea. If the Phillies fall short in their quest for a post-season berth no one will be more disappointed than J-Roll, their leader and catalyst. If they break their fourteen year post-season drought, Jimmy would get serious consideration as the league's MVP.
It's impossible to watch this team and not wonder what might have been with decent starting pitching. Heck, we are left to wonder what it might have been with healthy starting pitching! The reality is their pitching woes don't begin and end in the first few innings. A shaky bullpen from April on has also undermined their potent offense. There appears to be little doubt 2007 will be the last chance for this particular group to make it to the playoffs, as Aaron Rowand seems destined to depart via free agency. Rowand might have been tempted to remain if the prospects for improvement in the starting rotation were better, but no obvious help is on the horizon.
With thirteen games remaining, six against the Nationals, who always play the Phillies tough, there is plenty of opportunity if not time to make up ground on both San Diego and New York. As this past weekend demonstrated, the Phils hitters can go into a hostile climate and remain focused. Can their pitching staff do the same? That's been the question all along. The answer will appear shortly.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
If I were Jimmy Rollins or Pat Burrell I might consider upping my accident insurance. They are the only two starters who haven't gone down so far this year. Kyle Kendrick is the latest to suffer an injury when he took a lined shot off his knee last night. Moments before he had surrendered a 3-run homer to Matt Hollilday, the Rockies magnificent left fielder. It was Holliday's fourth home run of the series. In fairness to Kendrick, he got squeezed not once but twice on the two preceding batters.
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The Yankees and Red Sox play a big three-game series this weekend in Boston. Normally the media over-hype these meetings, assuming that the rest of the nation gives a damn about them. Chris Berman-like hyperventilating notwithstanding, this one should be good with the Sox leading the Yankees by five games. Boston has fifteen games left; the Yankees have 17 games remaining on their schedule. All of the games will be televised nationally either by ESPN or FOX, so get ready for Joe Morgan, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver...if that's possible. My recommendation would be to make sure the volume control on your HD-TV is in good working order, especially the arrow that points south.
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The Tigers fell apart in the second half of the season and pitching was the culprit. All of those Phillies fans who still yearn for Jim Leyland might take note of the fact that he can't throw the ball for the Tigers either.
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The Baltimore Orioles have sunk like a stone, losing at both a prodigious rate over time and per game. The have suffered the indignity of a 30-run loss along the way but they routinely give up huge numbers of runs in bunches. The franchise has hit rock bottom. Only new ownership could restore some of its glory and that doesn't seem imminent or likely.
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In his piece in the Inquirer this morning, Jim Salisbury asks whether the end is near for the Phillies or is the current series with the Rockies a detour. Neither, Jim. The end is not near, it's far, having come in Atlanta and Florida a few weeks ago. As for detours, consider the Rockies series a detour only if the Phillies were on their way to Cincinnati via Bermuda.
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Speaking of Colorado, that is one helluva an offense they throw out there. If they get pitching they will be dangerous in the future. Of course the Rockies will always have a lot of trouble attracting established free agent pitchers to Coors Field despite the humidor used to temper the flight of baseballs. They are going to have to acquire pitching via trades or the draft. They came into Philadelphia and threw a lot of young and inexperienced pitchers at the Phils, who naturally responded by treating these neophytes like Cy Young clones.