Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It All Seems Familiar

Yes, yes, we know it's only one game and there are 161 left, but Opening Day was emblematic of what ails the Phillies.

All during the Fall and Winter everyone throughout the organization spoke of getting off to a good start in April, a failing that not only has plagued the Phils the last few years but directly cost them a chance at the post-season each time. So winning on Opening Day is far more than symbolic, it counts in the standings!

No topic received more scrutiny this past off-season than the questionable debate centering on who bats behind (read: protects) Ryan Howard. No sense repeating the entire debate here; everyone knows the principals. So right out of the chute manager Charlie Manuel neuturalizes the Pat Burrell factor by flipping Howard and normal three hole batter Chase Utley. Voila! Now we know who's going to protect the MVP. If Manuel was out to prove he can adjust or think outside the box, he chose a strange way to show it. Naturally, his move left everyone scratching his head. Why didn't he try this during Spring Training, we wondered? To make matters even more confusing, Utley is as pure a number three hitter as there is in all of baseball and they don't make cleanup hitters any better than Howard. What did Manuel prove with this move? Hard to imagine.

Oh, well, on to pitching.

Brett Myers is a very good pitcher. By all accounts he has the best stuff on this staff. If he has failed to reach his full potential during his career to date it's because he hasn't always had the mental toughness nor physical conditioning to weather tough spots. S0 this Spring he came to camp a lighter man by 30 pounds and seemingly more confident than ever in his abilities. He had by all accounts squarely faced his off-field family problems and made no bones about thanking Phillies fans for giving him a second chance.

Manuel rewarded these changes with an opening day start and Myers pitched decently, holding a 3-2 lead over Atlanta going into the eighth inning. He got the first two outs quickly and next faced Edgar Renteria, who has a history of killing the Phils no matter what uniform he is wearing. When a tired Myers had him 0-2 you hoped in your heart of hearts he wouldn't groove one, instead throwing him some nasty breaking stuff. But Brett grooved it and Renteria turned it around in a hurry and tied the game in a single stroke. "I always look fastball," a grinning Renteria told reporters after the game. It's a macho thing with Brett. He may be a new man on the outside, perhaps, but he's still a dumb one on the inside.

The game was still tied but the Phils had let the Braves and starter John Smoltz off the hook.

Up to that point the game had unfolded more or less according to form. J-Roll showed early impatience but later locked in to homer and double. Wes Helms delivered with his bat as we hoped he would. Ryan Howard had two hits but made an error with his glove that wasn't costly and a base-running one that was. Aaron Rowand again proved he is an overrated outfielder when he allowed a double off his glove because he was playing too shallow. At least two other Phillies outfielders would have tracked it down with ease.

And then there was the bullpen. No other facet of this team received greater scrutiny this off-season and no other group produced more agita. Nearly every scribe, blogger and cab driver around figured the Phils' bullpen was their weakest link and sure enough newly-anointed set-up man Ryan Madson didn't wait long to prove everyone right. Madson served up a two-run homer to Renteria and game one of the 2007 season was in the loss column.


J. Weitzel said...

If Myers pitches like he did yesterday the rest of the season, I'll take it. Granted, pitch No. 106 was a mistake, but it was a quality outing, an encouraging outing, and definitely better than decent. Meanwhile, it took only a handful of pitches for Madson to blow it. That's the big problem.

Yesterday, I wouldn't have blamed Manuel even a little bit for the loss, but today I have just one beef. In the eighth inning, the plan was to pitch Myers and replace him with Smith for Chipper's at bat.

How many times does a premeditated move like that ever go to plan, especially late in the game? In my experience, very rarely.

J. Weitzel said...

... forgot to add the last part to that.

By now, Manuel should know Myers better. Either take him out after the seventh if you think he's losing it, or let him go and avoid Myers' patented last hurrah pitch.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

I don't think that *was* myers 'goodbye pitch'. There was no indication that he was shaking off signs from Barajas, and presuming they'd settled on a gameplan before (like any experienced pitcher and catcher do), you can't really put it down to myers being a knucklehead showing off in the heat of the moment.

You could put it down to bad planning, and fair enough, but what I'm getting at is that the one pitch doesn't indicate he's still the same old macho pitcher who gets mad when things don't go his way.

Tom Goodman said...

Jason: Your second point is really the heart of it. Right on the money. I still think Myers just decided he'd blow one by Renteria, but after 100 plus pitches I would bet the ranch that is exactly what Renteria thought, too! Just not a smart move. A curve in that place would have been the unexpected move...unless Myers was pitching.

Yes, I'd take that outing every time, too, but in the end it was a no decision that should have been a win.

RickSchuBlues said...

"Utley is as pure a number three hitter as there is in all of baseball and they don't make cleanup hitters any better than Howard. What did Manuel prove with this move? Hard to imagine."

This is a typical Phillies solution; don't address a problem head-on, but instead have existing personnel try to solve a problem by taking them out of customary (read: more sensible) roles in order to patch and fill the team's needs. Only thing is, it doesn't begin to solve the problem, and will create new ones in the process. Obviously, Utley's the one who will suffer from this move. It's going to be one or the other of them.

Ryan Howard's buggest obstacle from here on in is going to be demonstrating an ability to zone in and not be a guy pitchers feel they can *pitch to* - i.e. exploit his anxiousness. He's clearly trying to do too much at the plate, and he has to develop a stronger immunity to this approach or the Phillies are going to be buried by bullpens in close games as they were yesterday.