Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This And That

Anyone unfortunate enough to watch the Phillies the last two evenings has to face facts: this is a .500 club. For all of their vaunted offense, the Phils hit and score in bunches. In between, they strand runners in scoring position or fail to hit altogether. The twenty-three runs accumulated in the first two games against St Louis were followed by two and three runs each on succeeding nights. Meanwhile, the pitching staff was yielding twenty runs in the finale against the Cards and opener versus LA. If that isn't a picture of a mediocre team, I don't know what is.

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An article in the NY Times Monday noted that the Yankees played before sell-out crowds in Tampa Bay over the weekend marking the first time the Devil Rays played before such large audiences at home this year. In fact, the weekend series drew nearly 1/6 of the Tampa Bay's total home attendance to date this season. Earlier in the week the Devil Rays played before a crowd of less than 6,000.

When is MLB going to admit Florida is the worst state in the Union for regular season baseball? The Marlins also play before paltry crowds, each sound echoing throughout the mostly empty stadium in a manner reminiscent of the lonely bleating horns that used to fill Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The difference between Miami and TB, of course, is that the Marlins have actually won two world championships in their brief history. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is still years from competing for a playoff spot let alone a title.

Spring Training is one thing. Many fans from the Northeast and Rust Belt fantasize about a trip to Florida in early March and hundreds and thousands of snowbirds are already in residence in Florida when the Grapefruit League gets underway. By early summer, however, no one in his right mind wants to go to Florida and a huge percentage of the snowbirds have departed for northern climes.

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The Phils visit to LA reunites them with two popular ex-teammates, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf. Lieberthal has been reduced to a very part-time role in his boyhood hometown, in large part because the Dodgers have Russell Martin, an All Star catcher, ahead of Mike on the depth chart.

According to a fine piece by Jim Salisbury yesterday, Lieberthal keeps close tabs on his former team, so much so that he is kidded by some of his Dodger mates. It's a shame the Phillies were unable to show Lieberthal similar appreciation in his final days in Philadelphia. He was booed by some fans in his final appearance here and then unceremoniously shown the door by management. Though he holds virtually every record for catchers in franchise history, Lieberthal was always viewed as a disappointment. Watching Carlos Ruiz cleanly field throws to home reminds me how often Lieby bobbled similar plays. His handling of pitchers was also the subject of much speculation and his laid back approach was found lacking especially on a team of laid back players.

Fans and management alike never seemed to forgive Lieberthal for not fulfilling their expectations. Longevity simply wasn't enough.

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Rich Hofmann has an excellent piece in today's Daily News on the launching pad that is Citizens Bank Park. The salient points are these: In 45 road games this season, Phillies pitchers have allowed 45 home runs. In 46 home games this season, Phillies pitchers have allowed 81 home runs.

No single statistic augurs worse for acquiring desperately needed pitching through free agency than the one Hofmann cites for home games. The deteriorating rate at which balls served up by Phillies pitchers are departing the premises comes despite having moved back the left field fences a smidgen.


David said...

Reading your comments about Florida made me think, that's a mistake which can't be undone. Seconds later, the same thing entered my head when you mentioned the Phillies' ballpark. As if this franchise didn't have enough problems, the bumbling owners created yet another stigma with this latter-day Wrigley Field. Years from now it, and they, will live in infamy.

Tom Goodman said...

Yeah, the Phillies' owners wanted an intimate ballpark where fans felt part of the game and they got one. More fans in Philadelphia are called on to catch fair balls than anywhere else in the National League!!