Monday, December 15, 2008

Farewell, Pat

Don't blame Pat Burrell's departure on the baseball gods. Fate had nothing to do with his departure so hold those supplications and libations, please. The longest-serving Phillie no longer fits the team's plans. The only remaining question is whether or not he fits anyone else's!

Unlike many veterans who simply fade away, Burrell went out on top. His key hits in the playoffs and World Series will long be remembered by fans of this era, especially if the Phils take another 28 years to return to the top. His place of honor at the head of the parade down Broad Street, a reward and send-off, will also remain vivid to those fans and Burrell himself.

His was an odd tenure in Philadelphia, in large measure because the fans never really knew him. He kept his own counsel, at least where public utterances were concerned. The image that will endure is of Burrell taking a called third strike, staring blankly straight across the plate, gripping the end of his bat tightly and walking grim-faced back to the dugout without so much as a glance back at the umpire let alone a few chosen words. Another snapshot in this modest album shows Burrell with his arms extended, right knee dropping nearly to the ground as he lets loose that slight uppercut swing in lining a key home run to left field. A final sequence, one we got to see rather more often in what he, too, probably knew was his last season with this group of guys was of Burrell, arms and elbows hanging over the dugout railing, reacting to a key hit, stepping back, clapping his hands, grinning widely and moving down the rail to greet his triumphant teammate.

In those final months it appeared Burrell was content. The years of ups and downs and, of course, the boos and cheers, had surely taken some toll on him but if they did it was hard to tell. Throughout it all, he remained a guarded, private man. On those few occasions when he spoke to the media he seemed earger to end the conversation quickly. To his credit, he didn't complain and he certainly didn't air his grievances, if any, in public. When Charlie would remove him late in the game for defensive purposes, he stayed at the dugout railing, cheering on his teammates. He didn't like to come out of the games, and he disliked his occasional forced days off even more.

He was subject to awful slumps that lasted weeks if not months. He would begin the season on a torrid pace only to cool off as the temperatures climbed. Somehow he'd find his stroke, if only for a few key games, as the season would wind down.

In the end, he said he wanted to stay here but understood that probably would not happen. In all likelihood, he will land a job somewhere else and, should he come back to Philadelphia and hang over the railing in the visitor's dugout, it will take some getting used to him in some other uniform. But he made a lasting impression in this town and whatever else one might say, that takes some doing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Apparently The Yankees Don't Feel The Pinch But They Sure Know How to Put On The Bite

Last year Alex Rodriguez signed a ten-year $275 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Earlier this week, CC Sebathia signed a seven year $161 million contract with the Yanks.

This afternoon, the Yankees reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with A.J. Burnett calling for a five year $82.5 million contract.

So, tell me again, why do the Yankees need over $200 million in public money to build their new $1.3 billion stadium?

Raul Ibanez, Come On Down

Those who were wondering whether or not new GM Ruben Amaro is his own man are going to have to wait a little longer. Regrettably, his first major move didn't surprise anyone, bearing all the earmarks of his mentor and senior adviser, former GM Pat Gillick. The Phillies announced they have come to terms with free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez on a three-year $30 million contract pending the usual physical. Maybe the Phillies medical staff can find a hangnail.

Ibanez previously plied his trade for the Seattle Mariners making him another in a long line of refugees from the Pacific Northwest who made their way to the Delaware Valley during Gillick's tenure. And make no mistake about it, that connection played a big part in the decision to offer Ibanez a three year deal. Ibanez will take Pat Burrell's place in left field and, presumably, behind Ryan Howard in the batting order. That he will be 37-years old in June and bats left-handed were apparently not obstacles in the minds of the Phillies new brain trust. If he played for the Mariners he must be good.

There is no truth to the rumor that the signing prompted the Mets, Braves and Marlins to scrap any plans they might have had and go with all-lefty bullpens next season. That's fifty-four divisional games where a right-handed reliever would be completely unnecessary. There might be some truth to the rumor (which I am starting here) that Jayson Werth, the only right-handed power in the entire lineup, is going to up his arbitration demands given the extra load the Ibanez signing just placed on him. "Heck, if I have to be myself AND Pat Burrell, I want more money," Werth should say.

Look for Ibanez to start being replaced in late innings some time in June of 2009 with the frequency of his shortened appearances probably increasing in the second and third years of his contract.

Most reports describe Ibanez as a clutch hitter. As for his defense, word is he is a good clutch hitter. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers are already working on their head-shaking moves for any plays Ibanez botches in the field. Jamie Moyer, should he re-sign with the Phils, is working on his windsprints to back up home plate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Proof Is In The Trophy

The temperature has risen dramatically in the Hot Stove League with the rumors that CC Sebathia is about to sign the richest free agent contract ever awarded a pitcher. The reported figure the Yankees have put on the table is $160 million.

Elsewhere, several teams are rumored to be preparing $100 plus million offers to Mark Teixeira, the premier free agent position player is this year's pool.

The Phillies were never suitors for either player's services. All of this hullabaloo must sometimes make us Phillies' fans feel a bit like our collective noses are pressed to the glass on the outside looking in. Not since they signed Jim Thome have the Phils made a big splash in the free agent market.

Not to worry. Free agent signings rarely seem to work out. Or think of it this way: who won the World Series last Fall?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Moving On

If it wasn't clear before it is now: Jamie Moyer is no sentimentalist and neither is Ruben Amaro. When the season ended most observers assumed Moyer would re-sign with the Phils and negotiating the details would be relatively easy. Not so. Apparently Moyer wants a guaranteed two-year deal at $10 million per and the Phils are only willing to commit to one year with an option for a second.

Count me among the non-sentimentalists. I referred to Moyer throughout the championship season as "Jamie Moyer, aka 46 year old Jamie Moyer" in part in tribute to his amazing endurance. And for most of the season he was remarkable, coming up big start after start, leading the team in wins and playing a huge role in advising the youngsters on the staff.

He faltered a little in the final stretch but he found that fountain of youth again in the post-season. Nevertheless, Moyer's magic carpet will begin to fray and unravel in increasing degrees over the next year and a team already stretched by the arbitration eligibility of so many key players can ill afford to commit another year and $10 million to him.

Moyer doesn't owe the Phils any sort of "home town discount" and the Phils in turn don't owe him an extra year. Both sides benefited enormously from his tenure here and besides, when Moyer dug up the pitching rubber at the conclusion of the Series and walked off the field clutching it he already staked his claim to a real piece of this town.

Jamie Moyer will move on. We wish him well.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do The Right Thing

Major League Baseball announced yesterday that a winning share from the 2008 World Series was worth $351,504. The Phillies awarded 45 full shares, 7.039 partial shares and 15 cash awards.

Here's what they should have done: awarded full shares to all the city pools and recreation centers Mayor Nutter announced will close due to the current financial crisis. There is still time to do the right thing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No Ordinary Guy

Repeating just got a whole lot harder with the announcement Chase Utley would undergo some sort of hip surgery next week. The team's most valuable player could be sidelined anywhere from mid-April to June according to various reports. Suffice it to say his absence for more than a day is not good news.

Of course, every non-licensed MD in the Delaware Valley knew something was wrong with Utley when his batting average plummeted after a torrid start and his swing began to resemble John Kruk's AB's versus Randy Johnson. Still, you'd never had known a thing was wrong as Utley dived after this batted ball and that, lunged at the bag, crashed into catchers and otherwise threw his body about with no regard to personal safety.

The Phils won the World Series in no small part precisely because the ailing Utley declined to sit. Heck, he declined to complain even a little.

If there's any solace in the news, and really, there isn't much, it's that he continued to play his brand of all-out baseball, with the hip already ailing and still managed to help carry his club all the way to the top.

A guy like that has got to heal faster than mere mortals, doesn't he?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

World F _ _ _ _ _ _ Champions.

OK, I'll admit that for a man of few words, Chase Utley might have chosen them more wisely in his "speech" before the adoring throngs at Citizens Bank Park last Friday afternoon, but there is another way to look at it.

The poet Robert Graves once observed, in the British army the word "fucking" was used so often in so many ways that it ceased to have any meaning except to herald the approach of a noun.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Home Is Where The Heart Is

So much good feeling...from all directions. For a few days all was right with the world.

Two million fans lined up to adore their boys of summer and those boys gave it right back in spades. With that, Philadelphia finally got its parade of champions down Broad Street. Ever since Brad Lidge sank to his knees Wednesday evening, no one in this town seemed to want it all to end. For the next forty-eight hours more thanks were giving than in all the preceding Thanksgivings in recorded history. You could mix in a healthy does of relief as well. During those two days players, coaches, managers, beat writers, national media types, suite attendants, equipment managers, broadcasters, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and members of the Grange could not stop thanking each other, clapping each other on the back and declaring, "finally, we did it".

Normally, this "we did it" thing is a bit odd since, in fact, it's always really "they" who did it. But one got the feeling over and over that the players to a man believed the crowds and their support had truly made a difference during their championship run. No greater tribute was offered than by Pat Burrell, whom management chose to be the parade's Grand Marshall. Sitting atop a horse-drawn wagon, accompanied by his wife and dog Elvis, Burrell, the most senior Phillie, soaked in the adulation and gave heartfelt thanks and praise to the fans. Burrell's tumultuous nine year tenure in Philadelphia is probably over, but neither he nor the faithful will soon forget how in the end all was forgiven and only the good memories remained. Burrell did not fail to mention how tough this town was on its sporting heroes, but in the same breath he also mentioned how he wouldn't wanted to have reached this final goal anywhere else.

So now the players will depart for all points in the Western hemisphere. A large contingent will head off to California. Another group will head for Central and South America and the Caribbean. A few will be heading for the Midwest. Few if any of the 25-man roster make their permanent homes in the Philadelphia area, but after this past week we can be sure they'll always have a home here if they want one.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oh, What A Season

If you are looking for coherence this morning, you should probably move on. Too many thoughts and feelings are trying to get out at the same time.

As the Phillies began assembling the core of what would become a World Series championship team - Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Brett Myers - many of us hoped they would remain together long enough to reach their goal. When they added the missing pieces - Brad Lidge, Greg Dobbs, JC Romero, Pedro Feliz, Chad Durbin - many of us allowed ourselves to believe they had arrived at the moment when they could indeed contend. (For the record, I picked them to finish third in their division!!)

Now that they have won the World Series changes are inevitable, but for themselves and their fans they will always be the 2008 team, veterans and youngsters, stars and journeymen, numbers 26, 6, 8, 5, 11 etc., frozen in time, wearing red pinstripes, piling on each other in front of the mound, spraying champagne, to a man reveling in their personal triumph and in the collective triumph of the city in which they play.

One refrain we heard in every post-game interview throughout the playoffs and Series was how good the chemistry was on this team. There were no cliques or controversies. These guys more than got along; they delighted in their comraderie. Veterans like Rudy Seanez, who wasn't even on the post-season roster, expressed the feeling this was the most cohesive clubhouse they'd ever known.

More than once throughout the post-game celebration, commentators recalled the immortal lines of Flyers' coach Fred Shero: "win tonight and we walk together forever".

* * * * * * * *

As long as we are looking back and forward, we should again remind ourselves again how lucky we are to be watching Chase Utley play the game every day. Utley's home run in game one was the key blow. He would hit another key home run in their 5-4 victory in game three. For the rest of the series he struggled at the plate, but he more than made up for it with his superb defense. His backhand grab up the middle, deke to first base and off-balance throw to the plate to nail Jason Bartlett at the plate in the top of the seventh with the potential go-ahead run was the key defensive play of the game if not the series.

He just does everything right. There can be no greater tribute to a player.

* * * * * * * *

We may have seen Pat Burrell play his last game in a Phillies uniform. For most of his career Burrell was a man of few words. During this post-season run he has opened up more, expressing his hopes for the team and its legions of fans, who haven't always been kind to him. When a teammate came through with a clutch hit, Burrell was usually the first guy to greet him at the top of the dugout steps, a wide grin and clap on the back at the ready. Mired in a oh-for-the-series slump prior to his last at bat, Burrell chose his final moment to deliver the hit that eventually led to the winning run. It was no small measure of satisfaction for a guy who more than any other Phillie emblemizes the vicissitudes of a big leaguer's life in Philadelphia.

* * * * * * * *

Pedro Feliz was signed in the off-season to provide great defense and a decent bat at third base, which had been a trouble spot ever since a fellow named Schmidt retired. Feliz delivered exactly what was expected. He grabbed everything hit his way and threw the ball with unbelievable authority. And once every four times at the plate he would come through, especially last night as he drove in the game-winning, Series-clinching run.

* * * * * * * *

Carlos Ruiz had a tough year at the plate but he picked things up in the playoffs. Where he stood out was behind the plate. He started the year sharing the catching duties with Chris Coste. There were even a few pitchers who appeared reluctant to see him behind the plate. By the end of the season and throughout the playoffs Coste had completely disappeared and Ruiz had emerged as the team's field general. To a man the pitching staff likes throwing to him and it shows when they congratulate each other after a victory.

* * * * * * * *

A quick glance at the totals in the box score from last night's game reveals that none of the Phillies hit very well throughout the five-game series. They won because of their pitching, plain and simple, and because of the superb advance scouting that enabled the Phillies pitchers to stop a potent Rays' offense in their tracks. Both starters and relievers delivered as they'd done all year. Prior to the beginning of the season the offense was seen as this team's strength and, in fact, they did score more runs than any other team except the Cubs. But they would go through long stretches of poor hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and when they did score it was in bunches and usually via the long ball. The one constant throughout the season was their bullpen, led by Brad Lidge, who converted every save opportunity with which he was presented. The biggest surprise throughout the season was the performance of Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, who led the staff with sixteen victories but faltered for the first time all year in his first two playoff appearances. Fortunately, he rallied in his onlyi World Series start to pitch a fine game. Will Moyer be back next year? Hard to say. With the emergence of Cole Hamels as the true staff ace, the apparent resurgence of Brett Myers, and the solid pitching by Joe Blanton, who really picked it up in the post-season, the Phillies starting rotation should be solid again next season.

* * * * * * * *

Last night's game ended at 9:58PM EDT, the earliest finish in the entire series. The early time meant in all likelihood a lot of school-age kids got to watch the final game of the Series as well as all the celebrating. Few things are more apt to make fans out of kids than the excitement and jubilation they witnessed in real time.

* * * * * * * *

Finally, my hats of to the Phillies bloggers who have made this such a wonderful season. Jason Weitzel (Beerleaguer), Erik Grissom (Philliesflow), Tom Goyne (Balls, Sticks and Stuff), and Tom Durso (Poor Richard's Scorecard) are my regular stops but there are many other worthy chroniclers and pundits. Congratulations to all of you, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nearly Everyone In Philadelphia Reads Swing

If you are sitting in the Rays' clubhouse reading this (what?!, the Rays don't read Swing?) you're telling yourself you're still in this thing.

If you are sitting in the Phils' clubhouse reading this (we know Chase, Ryan, Brad and Shane can't begin their day without finding out what Swing has to say!), you're telling yourself, hey, we're up 3-1, Game 5 is tonight and we get an extra at bat!!!

See you at the parade. Friday?

Monday, October 20, 2008

What We Hope

Finally, an opponent, and a worthy one at that. Experts, so-called experts, self-anointed experts and the rest of us will offer our predictions. I won't simply because I haven't a clue who will win. I will allow I am delighted the Red Sox were eliminated. Their "nation" and the drumbeat for it in the media are nauseating at this point.

The best expression of our collective local hopes here in the Delaware Valley can be found hanging from one of the bridge overpasses on the Vine Street Expressway. The hand-lettered sheet says it all:


Friday, October 17, 2008

Still Ticking

Anyone out there who still believes experience doesn't count should check out this morning's results of the Tampa Bay-Boston game. Down 7-0 in the seventh, the Red Sox roared back to win 8-7.

The Red Sox may be harder to kill off than virtually any other hydra-headed team in sport...but Tampa Bay is going to regroup and do it...unless, of course, the old Josh Beckett shows up.


Everyone outside the Delaware Valley was rooting for a LA-Boston series for many reasons other than Manny Being Vengeful. The two cities certainly have their historic rivalry, at least in terms of basketball. But the Philadelphia-Boston rivalry isn't exactly chopped liver when it comes to the hardwood and when it comes to Digby Baltzell's Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, we have it all over those nouveaux antagonistes from Southern California.

Who's the better opponent for the Phils? Tampa Bay is loaded with young talent, but those Red Sox are always dangerous even when you cut off four or five of their heads.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ain't The Beer Cold?!!

By the sixth inning I already knew my headline for today's post, a tribute to longtime Orioles' announcer Chuck Thompson.

The Phils weren't my pre-season pick to win the division let alone the NL championship. They were good, I thought then, but they didn't have the pitching to go deep into October. Their offense wasn't a concern, but the bullpen and starting rotation looked pretty thin.

Shows what I know.

The axiom was and will always remain good pitching beats good hitting but that didn't mean the Phils were sufficiently endowed to prove it. Let the record show, however, that good pitching and enough hitting were indeed the order of the season as the Phils motored through the NLDS and NLCS, winning seven of nine games they played.

Cole Hamels established himself not only as the team's ace; he settled any lingering questions as to his status as a big game pitcher by convincingly winning his three starts, one against Milwaukee and two against the Dodgers. For his efforts he was rewarded with the MVP of the NLCS.

Naturally, as is nearly always the case, Jimmy Rollins, who struggled much of the series against LA, set the tone just as he did in the clincher versus the Brewers when he led off this game with a home run. It always bears repeating: as goes Jimmy, so go the Phillies.

Yes, there were many other heroes in this series, not least of all was Shane Victorino both with the glove and the bat. Chase Utley hit well, throwing that monkey off his bat, and fielded even better. When the Phils pulled off a double play in the bottom of the sixth, forever squashing the Dodgers' hopes in this game and series, he allowed himself a rare display of public emotion, a fist pump.

Ryan Howard, who nearly every fan was on for failing to adjust to the breaking stuff away every team was feeding him, had three hits last night to follow up his two the night before. Some self-anointed pundits posting comments elsewhere suggested he be benched for defense in late innings. A few geniuses even suggested Howard be traded, though they would have the decency to wait for the off-season!

Then there were Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, who down the stretch have been as effective a one-two punch as any in baseball. Madson was absolutely flawless. Lidge provided more than a few anxious moments, but always clamped down in the end.

And finally, there was Charlie Manuel. A few years ago nearly everyone was ready to run him out of town for his accent to say nothting of his difficulties with the double-switch. But the players love him and playing for a guy you feel strongly about makes a big difference, especially when there are 25 egos to salve. If nothing else, Manuel succeeded in making every player on this roster believe he would get a chance to contribute. And guess what? They did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boorish In LA

I was wondering how many of the national media outlets, especially ESPN, FOX and TBS, would pick up the following story about fan behavior in LA during the NLCS? The pundits are always quick to point out the deficiencies of Philadelphia fans, but they never quite seem to run with the story when the location changes.

Lesser Lights Shine Brightly

Matt Stairs' majestic home run underscores what I wrote below ("Superb Coverage") regarding the best observation this post-season by a television commenter.

I cannot recall if it was [John] Smoltz or [Joe] Simpson (I believe it was the former), but one of them made an incredibly astute observation regarding why in short, post-season series lesser known players frequently succeed. Simply because the opposition identifies which players are most likely to beat them and concentrates a lot of energy trying to prevent that from happening. This emphasis allows the more lightly taken threats to sneak through. The playoffs and World Series have seen a lot of these lesser threats take center stage.

Stairs takes his rightful place at center stage not only in Phillies lore but in the annals of post-season baseball. His shot deep into the Southern California night was a thing of beauty in form to say nothing of function. Not bad for a guy who can go two or three games without making an appearance and then is "merely" summoned to face the other team's best reliever usually in a pressure-packed situation with the game on the line. The thing is, with Stairs it does not appear the pressure part plays much if any role in his approach. He's been doing this for fifteen years, knows what to expect and what he expects of himself, and just does it.

A lot of role players have come and gone in Phillies history, many of them more athletic looking and, frankly, a little more shall we say colorful. Their names and numbers merge in some vague collective recollection. Indeed, in some cases their nicknames may be easier to recall than their exploits. But years from now Phillies fans will be able to ask one another, "were you watching the night Matt Stairs hit that home run?" and everyone will instantly nod knowingly and will close their eyes and see that perfect swing and hear the crack of the bat.

Stairs may be just passing through town on his way to a comfortable retirement in the not so distant future, but should he decide to pay the occasional visit to Philadelphia in subsequent years he is advised to leave his wallet behind.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Make That One More, Please

Yes, we know revenge is a dish best served cold but Shane Victorino never got the memo.

One night after taking one for the club and being none too happy about the location of his largess, the Flyin' Hawaiian drilled a game-tying two run homer in the eight inning to set the stage for Matt Stairs dramatic two-run pinch hit homer a few batters later. With one swing of the bat Victorino silenced the smug LA crowd and exacted a large measure of sweet revenge. He has driven in eleven runs in the post season. With his one swing of the bat Stairs put the Phils within one victory of their first appearance in the World Series in fifteen years.

There were other heroes last night as well. Chase Utley drove in three runs and started and ended a crucial double play when he dived to the bag at second just ahead of Rafael Furcal, killing a potential game-changing rally by the Dodgers. Utley's bat has come alive at just the right moment. Ryan Howard is starting to swing the bat better, too.

The bullpen, save Chad Durbin's rough outing, was again superb. The same could not be said for the Dodgers' pen. Their closer, Jonathan Braxton, hadn't had an opportunity to strut his stuff so far this series. The Dodgers wish his debut had been delayed at least one more night as Stairs launched a 3-1 home run deep to right and in the process forever etched his name in the hearts of Phillies fans young and old.

While everyone loves a dramatic home run or two, let it be said the Phils won this game with a more balanced approach than they've shown in earlier post-season games. First, they scored two runs in the opening frame using a more station-to-station approach. They scored a lone run in sixth when Ryan Howard scored from third on a wild pitch and, then, they scored the four runs in the eighth on the pair of home runs. They wasted plenty of opportunities along the way, but they took the lead, surrendered it, and took it back for good with the combination that has served them so well all season: solid relief pitching and hitting home runs.

Today is an off day. When play resumes tomorrow the Phils will be sending Cole Hamels to the mound needing one victory to keep playing baseball late into Autumn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Series Thoughts

Random thoughts on the NLCS....

The Phillies' offense has been missing in action the entire post-season with almost all of their scoring coming in bunches in just a few innings. This is not news to those of us who followed them throughout the season, but it is rotten timing. Jimmy Rollins has been having a particularly miserable time against the Dodgers, striking out four times in Game Two, something he had never done before including little league.

* * * * * * * *

The head-hunting and alleged head-hunting in Game Three is a reminder that these are not men playing a boy's game but boys who never grew up playing a boy's game. You can count on Manny Ramirez to have to be restrained from going after the entire Phillies squad as long as their are twenty-four other Dodgers and assorted coaches and trainers on the field to "restrain" him.

Myers' pitch behind Ramirez in Game Two was clearly a slip. No one, not even Brett Myers, is that stupid. Clay Condrey's buzzing of Russell Martin was an attempt to pitch inside, not high and tight. Hiroki Kuroda's pitch at Shane Victorino's head was deliberate and cheap.

* * * * * * * *

Listening to anyone hired by Fox Network is painful and unnecessary punishment. The pre-game trio that includes Mark Grace were openly rooting for the Dodgers, with Grace getting the best dig in when he said the Dodgers' players were glad to be home where no one would be yelling or throwing things at them. Way to go, Gracie. So far you get the cliche of the post-season award.

It's no secret the networks are rooting for LA to make the series.

* * * * * * * *

Watching Chase Utley last night it finally dawned on me why he is so beaten up by half way through the regular season. He dived for at least four balls that I can remember, landing hard on his body each time. That's a part of the game we tend to overlook when trying to assess how much of a beating his body is taking. We all admire how he plays the game; it's too bad the way he plays will probably shorten his career. He doesn't know about half speed.

* * * * * * * *

Other than Ramirez, no one in the Dodgers' lineup is scary. This is a team that can and should be beaten, but it's going to take a wake up call to the top half of the Phillies lineup.

* * * * * * * *

The Jamie Moyer saga is a wonderful storyline, but increasingly it looks as though the last chapter is being written right before our eyes. Moyer hasn't been fooling anyone at the plate lately. Interestingly, the theory about facing Moyer has always been to be patient, but last night the Dodgers were swinging at and connecting with first pitches.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dare We Dream?

Dare we dream?

One day after writing the Phillies live and die by the long ball, they scored eight runs on a succession of singles and doubles in beating the Dodgers 8-5 to take a two games to none lead in the NLCS.

A look beneath the totals reveals a team that still can hardly be called proponents of small ball, especially with Might Brett Myers at the bat. Myers collected three singles in the game, ran the bases like a runaway Mack Truck and was caught on camera several times mocking his own achievements. Dodgers' starter Chad Billingsley was the goat, failing not once but three times to put away his opposite number who describes himself as one of the worst hitters in baseball. Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz contributed big hits as well, but Myers was really the difference maker. Combined with his now legendary AB against CC Sebathia, don't be surprised if Cooperstown calls the big righthander for his bat.

It's a good thing Myers brought his bat with him yesterday because he sure didn't bring much of an arm. He barely made it through the five innings required to get the win, walking four, giving up six hits and five earned runs. His outing featured a pitch two feet to the right of Manny Ramirez and another right down Broadway that the Dodgers' leftfielder smoked for a three-run homer making the game 8-5.

After Myers departed a succession of Phils' relievers were brilliant. They were helped by a superb leaping catch by Victorino in deep left centerfield off the bat of Casey Blake. The Dodgers carped plenty following Thursday's home runs by Chase Utley and Pat Burrell but it is clear they still haven't figured out how to pull the ball at the Bank.

The series moves to LA for game three with Jamie Moyers, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, getting the start. It would be sweet to see the ancient one stifle the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.

Dare we dream?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Long And Longer Of It

All season the Phillies have lived and died by the long ball. The post-season has been no different. Trailing 2-0 in the sixth inning of the NLCS opener, the Phils capitalized on a throwing error by Rafael Furcal to put Shane Victorino on second base with no outs. Chase Utley followed with a two-run shot to right centerfield and two batters later Pat Burell hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run to left.

The Phiilies continue to score their post-season runs in single innings, but the score-keepers only care about the final totals, not how they got there. Who's to say it would be preferable to score runs by other means when the Phils pushed this year's post-season record to 4-1? As Cole Hamels put it, the game of baseball is about home runs these days.

Utley had seen his share of post-season struggles prior to last night's game, but one sensed a new urgency when he singled to centerfield in the first inning. Utley may betray few outward emotions, but there can be little doubt he deeply understood how momentus the occasion was for him, playing for the NL championship against the team he rooted for as a boy, the team that also tried to sign him out of high school. So, when he came up in the sixth with Victorino on second he was looking to move the runner over to third. Utley rarely swings at the first pitch, but he jumped on a flat sinker from Derek Lowe and moved the runner right past third to go. While he was at it, he came along for the ride. Much is always expected of Utley. More often than not, he delivers.

Burrell, who struggled mightily down the stretch of the regular season and in the first three games of the playoffs versus Milwaukee has now hit three home runs in his last two games, two of them game winners. His turn-around could not have come at a more crucial moment for him or his team. If these playoff games are to be his last in a Phillies uniform, Burrell seems intent on creating positive lasting memories for all parties.

The game began on a shaky note for Phils' starter Cole Hamels, who surrendered a first inning run on a booming double by Manny Ramirez that hit the most distant part of fair territory in the Bank without clearing the fence. His double high off the centerfield wall was hit much further than either Utley's or Burrell's home runs, but those are the breaks. Hamels would surrender one more run in the fourth inning in going seven strong innings. Ryan Madson pitched the ninth and Brad Lidge closed the game out. Both relief pitchers gave up some hard or long outs, but they got the job done.

* * * * * * * *

The Fox team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver is truly awful. I tried turning off the sound and putting on 1210 radio, but there was a significant delay between the video on the television and the audio on the radio so I gave up and largely left the sound off. When I did occasionally lift the MUTE restriction, I was treated to things like McCarver saying Utley came up in the sixth guessing first-pitch fastball (it was a sinker by all accounts including, significantly, the guy who threw it) and in the eight inning his announcement that Ryan Madson had "the best changeup on the team" after a fellow named Hamels had just thrown seven innings filled with pretty fair ones himself.

Buck, meanwhile, makes a home run sound just slightly more exciting than draining pasta.

Their routine makes me long for the TBS team that called the NLDS against Milwaukeee. (See post below.)

* * * * * * * *

We are going to here a lot of complaints about Citizens Bank Park this series and beyond, no doubt many emanating from the West Coast in the next few days. It is worth remembering that the visiting team is entitled to a minimum of 27 outs in all games played there and it's up to them to avoid hitting as many of them to centerfield as they can. In the first inning, as noted above, a ball was hit to the deepest part of the field while in the final inning, at least two balls were hit more or less to the deepest parts of the park. Mssrs. Utley and Burrell had the presence of mind to pull the ball in their opportunities.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Superb Coverage

The trio of Brian Anderson, John Smoltz and Joe Simpson were superb in covering the Phillies and Brewers in the first round of the playoffs on TBS. We can only hope they will assigned to the next series.

Smoltz was brilliant in providing viewers with a good feel for what a pitcher is thinking. Anderson called a fine game while giving Smoltz and Simpson plenty of room to comment. And Simpson was marvelous at being well-prepared and accurate in discussing teams and players he does not normally get a chance to follow. Most national commentators don't even get the big picture right let alone the details but Simpson knew which players had struggled or succeeded, when and why.

I cannot recall if it was Smoltz or Simpson (I believe it was the former), but one of them made an incredibly astute observation on why in short, post-season series lesser known players frequently succeed. Simply because the opposition identifies which players are most likely to beat them and concentrates a lot of energy trying to prevent that from happening. This emphasis allows the more lightly taken threats to sneak through. The playoffs and World Series have seen a lot of these lesser threats take center stage.

Fox and TBS are going to split duties on the remaining playoffs so I don't know at this time who will be assigned to the Phillies and Dodgers. If we are lucky, we will get to hear the above-mentioned trio; if not, we get the insufferable Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. That will send this viewer to the radio for audio.

Pat The Bat

For Pat Burrell, the longest-tenured Phillie, October usually found him and his mates standing on the outside looking in, so it wasn't surprising to see him leading the charge out of the dugout last October when the Phils clinched the division title and finally made it to the post-season for the first time in 14 years.

This season Burrell was again in the thick of the celebration when the Phils made it two division titles in a row, but he could be forgiven for feeling frustrated and disappointed at his meager contributions down the stretch.

Yesterday, all shortcomings were forgiven and all failures forgotten as Burrell blasted two home runs to power the Phillies to a 6-2 victory over Milwaukee clinching the division series and propelling them into the National League Championship series against the Dodgers. After the game, Burrell expressed gratitude to his manager for sticking with him through mostly thick. Personal redemption was sweet but collective success was sweeter as Burrell also praised his teammates.

As the senior member of the nucleus of home-grown stars about whom so much has been expected and, heretofore, by whom so little had been achieved, Burrell is in the delicate situation of perhaps playing his last games in a Phillies uniform. But those decisions will come later; for now, he is relishing the moment and preparing for the next challenge. And make no mistake about it, the Dodgers present a challenge with their strong pitching and own nucleus of young stars and seasoned veterans.

The most surprising development on the Phillies this season was the overall pitching. Everyone expected them to hit, but despite leading the league in home runs, the offense was otherwise erratic. No regular hit .300. Many went through protracted slumps. Without the long ball runs were hard to come by. Perhaps no one personified these struggles better than Jayson Werth, who slumped badly through September, looked absolutely awful at the plate at times in this series, but still managed to collect several extra base hits including a home run yesterday.

Pitching, on the other hand, began the season with a lot of question marks but came on very strongly by mid-season, especially the bullpen. By the end of the season, the starters and bullpen were the team's strength...apart from Ryan Howard.

The series just concluded exemplified this new order of things. The Phils received virtually no production from the middle of their lineup save Burrell's outburst on Sunday. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were nearly invisible. The starters, on the other hand, were dominant save Jamie Moyer's somewhat shaky start on Saturday. Cole Hamels was magnificent. Brett Myers recovered from a poor opening inning to pitch very well. What can we say about Joe Blanton's performance on Sunday? Outwardly if not inwardly, Blanton is the least emotional of all four starters. He works quickly and efficiently, expending little apparent energy. He didn't try anything fancy versus a slumping but dangerous Brewers' lineup; instead, he went right at them and said, here it is, hit it. When they weren't flailing away some of the Brewers did indeed hit the ball hard, but right at people.

Blanton started the game with a one run lead thanks to, who else?, Jimmy Rollins' leadoff home run. That was all the big righthander needed as he mixed three or four pitches effectively to keep the Brewers and their noisy fans largely silent. Until Burrell launched a Jeff Supan pitch deep into left field, the Phillies clung to their one run lead. Werth followed with a home run to centerfield and suddenly the Phils were up 5-0 and this fan was probably one of thousands counting the number of outs the Brewers had remaining. Burrell, however, wasn't quite done for the day. Normally, he might have been lifted for defensive purposes by the eighth inning with the Phils leading, but he was still in the lineup long enough for one more long ball.

Redemption was indeed sweet, not only for the "old man" on the club but for all of us who suffered with him through the many disappointments and frustrations. A tip of the hat to Pat the Bat.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Best Forgotten

This one wasn't ugly, it was worse: boring. The Phillies sleep walked through game three of the playoffs and the Brewers, backs to the wall, did just enough things right to win one for the Wallbangers.

Let's just assume the heretofore free-swinging Brewers watched and listened to all of the pre-game hoopla about Jamie Moyer nibbling, changing speeds and driving batters nuts with his slow, slower, and slowest deliveries because they sure were patient right out of the gate. The first two batters of the game walked and scored. By the end of the second inning Moyer had thrown roughly sixty pitches and Milwaukee had enough runs to post the win.

Meanwhile, the Phillies managed to get men on base but they stranded them nearly every time. They even loaded the bases with none out in the ninth only to watch as Pedro Feliz, obviously guessing first-pitch fastball, ground into a double play. Carlos Ruiz grounded out to end the game. The Phillies never seemed to be in this one; by the middle of the game one had the feeling they were already thinking about game four.

There's hardly any reason to panic, even with the colossal figure of CC Sebathia looming in the background. Joe Blanton gets the ball today for the Phils. Win and he's remembered for a long time in this town. Lose and the Phils return to Citizens Bank Park where Cole Hamels will face Sebathia in a deciding game.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Five Faces Of Brett

If you were waiting to see which Brett Myers would show up last night I'd be willing to bet none of you were expecting his Eddie Yost impersonation!

Actually, five different Myers showed up. The first one did a reasonably good impression in the first inning of the pitcher who was sent down to AAA in mid-season to work on his mechanics and his confidence. He walked three, one intentionally and one with the bases loaded, and surrendered a double as Milwaukee threatened to blow the game wide open before CC Sabathia even took the mound.

The second one settled down by the end of that very same inning to nimbly start a 1-2-3 double play that stopped the Brewers' rally cold.

By the top of the second inning the third one resembled the pitcher who came up from AAA after the All-Star break.

The fourth Myers, the most improbable one of the evening, worked a walk off Sabathia after starting the AB in an 0-2 hole and fouling off several pitches. In all Sabathia threw nine pitches to Myers, one of the most inept looking hitters in all of baseball. On the first pitch, Myers was clearly looking fastball and he swung so hard he landed in the other batter's box, you know, the one used by left-handed hitters!! But Myers kept fouling off and taking pitches and worked a walk to keep alive a rally long enough for Shane Victorino to follow two batters later with a grand slam home run off the previously invincible Sabathia. (Myers would later have a ten-pitch AB against Sabathia and a single off reliever Seth McGlung. No word on whether or not Cooperstown has requested the bat he used last night.)

The fifth Myers then pitched well enough to hold the Brewers to one more run over seven full innings. Ryan Madson, JC Romero and Brad Lidge closed out the game as the Phils took a 2-0 lead in the NLDS.

Prior to the start of last night's game nearly everyone in the universe expected Sabathia to dominate the Phillies as he had done to the rest of the league since coming over in a mid-season trade. But let the record show the Phillies were familiar with Sabathia from interleague play and had more than held their own against him, splitting two decisions. Sabathia did make mince meat out of the left-handers in the Phils lineup, but the righties including Myers, beat him up.

The other hero of the evening was Victorino, whose play this season has clearly elevated his stature to co-catalyst along with Jimmy Rollins. The Flyin' Hawaiian generates so much energy and enthusiasm it drives the opposition nuts and his teammates wild.

Today is a travel day. The series resumes tomorrow night in Milwaukee where Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, takes the hill. Collectively, the Milwaukee lineup has never been particularly patient and with their backs to the wall it seems unlikely they will start now. Moyer will exploit their anxiety.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ace High

Who said Cole Hamels doesn't step up in big games? I did? Well, serves you right for paying any attention to me.

Pitching in the biggest game of his short career before a national television audience not to mention a packed and long-suffering house, Hamels was absolutely masterful in pitching eight strong innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. Hamels limited a powerful lineup to two hits while walking one and striking out nine. He was never in serious trouble. The same cannot be said for the Brewers who looked fairly helpless as Hamels had all three of his pitches working. No batters could sit on the change-up or fastball yesterday; those that did, got a big hook for their reward.

The Phillies offense wasn't exactly potent either, but they combined a bunch of walks, a few hits and some shaky defense by Milwaukee to score three runs, which was enough as they hung on in the ninth to win 3-1.

In that ninth inning, Hamels was lifted for Brad Lidge, a decision I audibly objected to when first announced. Hamels was in complete control; Lidge had been less than impressive in his last two or three outings though he got the job done. After the game, Hamels admitted he was tired, adding that the fatigue worked to his advantage when throwing the change-up. Lidge had not worked since the division-clinching drama of Saturday afternoon and after the game he acknowleged that he needs to work more often to stay sharp.

I'll tell you what, though: if the Phillies go deep into the post-season, I don't know if this old man can endure many more ninth inning adventures from Lidge. He is giving up hits, walks and runs to make things far too close for comfort. Still, he gets the job done, preserves his continuous streak of saves and seems supremely confident of his abilities.

Now, if the Phillies' bats can wake up, we might relax a little. On second thought, facing C.C. Sabathia this afternoon hardly affords much possibility of that.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Phils Face Little-Known Righthander

I know what some of you are thinking. The Brewers are sending out Yovani Gallardo, a kid with 24 big league starts on his resume, for the opener of the NLDS against the Phils. One of those starts was a 2-1 victory over the Phightin's in August of 2007. Since then the youngster has had his share of injuries, but he's apparently healthy now.

So, the faithful are probably thinking this kid has the advantage. The Phils don't know much about him other than the fact that they only managed four hits off of him in 6.1 innings in that one appearance.

Well, forget about it. He's a righthander and he's going to face a lineup filled with lefthanders who are on a roll. Look for Greg Dobbs to get the start at third base. Otherwise, the Phils lineup should be the same one that clinched the division title. I'd say the advantage lies with the home team.

* * * * * * * *

Gavin Floyd bested Freddy Garcia yesterday in a battle of delicious ironies and ex-Phillies. Garcia, making his third start for the Tigers in a game in which the White Sox had everything to lose, pitched well until leaving with shoulder stiffness in his surgically repaired arm. It remains to be seen whether or not Freddy will come back from this latest setback. Before the game he was quoted as saying he felt better than he had in a few years, one of which included his brief, unlamented stint in Philadelphia. It's too bad the statute of limitations ran out long ago on the Phils if they had ever considered filing a grievance against the Sox and GM Kenny Williams for peddling damaged goods. On the other hand, the Phillies medical staff never did their home work. Floyd, meanwhile, led the White Sox in wins this season. The Sox now play Minnesota in a single game that will decide the AL Central Division championship. Half of the Windy City is pulling for their home town boys to face the darlings of the other half of the local populace while most of the country, or at least that portion that cares or can tear itself away from the stock ticker, is probably rooting for the underdog Twins, who lost many of their stars in the off-season and still played 163 games for a chance to go to the post-season. Me? I'm rooting for the Twins because a post-season of Ozzie Guillen is more than the country can handle right now.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In And Out

We don't gloat in this space but our memories are long.

The Mets' second collapse in successive seasons while not nearly as historic as the first one nevertheless provides some small measure of satisfaction for this former Orioles' diehard who will never forget 1969. I tuned into the final inning of the Mets' 4-2 loss and when the cameras lingered for a Shea send-off I knew what would be coming and tuned out. Better to remember the forlorn looks in the 2008 dugout than the celebrations at mid-diamond by the 1969 edition. It bears repeating that while the Mets got excellent pitching in that series long ago, unbelievable catches by the likes of Ron Swoboda were more instrumental than anything else that occurred that October.

One can feel sorry for David Wright, who gives his all and whose face reflected the torment of having come so close again only to fail, but he is still young and has time despite the adages about taking advantage of situations that may never come again. With all of their money and a nucleus of good players, the Mets will fix their bullpen problems and be in the thick of things next season. Just as they did last off-season with their determination to land the biggest free agent starting pitcher available, Johann Santana, look for them to make a serious run at the best relief pitcher on the market this coming off-season, the Angels' K-Rod.

Back in Philadelphia the regulars got Sunday off to relax and savor their division-clinching victory of a day before. Only Ryan Howard put in an appearance and he did so only to extend his consecutive game streak. Howard dribbled a pinch hit single down the third base line against a shift that had the entire Nationals team listing heavily to starboard. Everyone had been looking for Howard to hit the ball the other way against the shift and he waited until the final day of the season to oblige. That's what being relaxed can do for a hitter!!

The Phils will face Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs and can expect a greater challenge than when they swept the Brewers here less than a month ago. Though Ben Sheets appears to be done for the season, C.C. Sebathia isn't. The Brewers have a dangerous lineup that is similar to the Phils inasmuch as they depend on the long ball for much of their scoring. Milwaukee's starting rotation is not as solid as the Phililes' but the real difference between the two clubs can be found in the bullpen.

This series marks the first post-season play for Milwaukee since 1982. Will they be just happy to have made it or are they more hungry than that? For their part the Phillies have done with the just-happy-to-be-there thing. To a man and manager they are promising better results than last year's three and out collapse versus Colorado.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

MVP's. MVP's!!

Once again, as goes Jimmy so go the Phillies.

The Phils All-Star, MVP shortstop had said all along the road to the post-season would be traveled "the Philly way." Translation: Philly teams never take the easy route but we're going to reach our destination. And sure enough, thanks to a brilliant diving stop and toss to Chase Utley who then relayed the ball to Ryan Howard for a game-ending double play, the Phillies are the 2008 NL East division champions.

It wasn't easy, not by a long stretch. First, the Phils knew the Mets had won their game already. Second, the Phils took the lead over Washington early in the game but always seemed one batter and one batted ball from surrendering that lead. When Pedro Feliz knocked in an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning, few knew at the time just how crucial that policy would be in the next half inning. Brad Lidge, whose arrival and success had been the biggest difference in this year's bullpen compared to the 2007 installment, had converted 40 straight save opportunities but the last two or three had been adventures. As it turned out, those were walks in the park compared with yesterday's ninth inning.

The Nationals scored a run to make it 4-3 and had two men on and one man out when the dangerous Ryan Zimmerman, who is among the league leaders in grounding into double plays, hit a ground ball up the middle. J-Roll dived to his left, flipped the ball to Utley while still on the ground and Chase converted the game-ending relay to Howard. With that, the celebration began as players rushed Lidge in jubilation. It was a great play, perhaps one of the greatest in Philadelphia's long, often tortured history, but it wasn't a surprising play. Nothing surprises us where Jimmy is involved. No one rises to the occasion better than the Phils great shortstop.

It is customary for the voters for season-ending awards to cast their ballots prior to the start of post-season play. With that in mind, here is my choice for Phillies MVP for 2008: the 25-man roster. Who could argue that, say, Howard deserves the nod over, say, Greg Dobbs? Yes, he had a monster month of September and leads all of baseball in power numbers, but Dobbs is the best pinch-hitter in baseball and fills in more than adequately when needed in the field. What about Jayson Werth, who came out of nowhere to secure a starting job in late season and blast more than a few crucial home runs? Where would the Phillies be without his breakthrough? Should we ignore Shane Victorino, who took over the centerfield job, handled it brilliantly, and led all regulars in batting average? As great as Brad Lidge was all season, could the Phils have taken the crown if Chad Durbin, J C Romero and the rest of their bullpen mates had not been so superb?

Utley may have been the odds-on choice in the preseason to be the Phillies third straight NL MVP winner, but after a monster first half, in which he carried the team as Howard struggled, the Phils stoic second baseman tailed off quite a bit at the plate though never in the field. Fortunately, he found his stroke again in the month of September, to end the year with a career high in home runs while knocking in and scoring over 100 runs for the second straight year.

Pat Burrell rode quite a rollercoaster this season, starting off hot, then cooling off dramatically. But in the end he produced more than his share of big hits. Pedro Feliz provided plenty of defense and just enough offense to shed a little light on the perennial black hole that has been third base. Among the starters, Carlos Ruiz struggled at the plate (though he came on the final few months), but he was rock solid as a defender and more significantly, became a strong batterymate for the starting rotation. One need only look at the game-ending rituals in which the starting pitchers greeted him affectionately to know how much those guys trust and respect him. Brad Lidge acknowleged after yesterday's dramatic win that he had always thought Brad Ausmus was the best cather he'd ever thrown to but that Ruiz, who blocks balls with remarkable consistency and abandon, was as good as the Astros' catcher in that regard.

And what about Jimmy? His numbers fell considerably short of last year's MVP totals, but everyone in baseball agrees that the only way the Phillies contend is when Jimmy is setting the table or making the plays. They simply cannot succeed without him. His "front runners" gaffe, which wasn't what he really meant in the first place, is long forgotten, by him and everyone else.

Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, was first among equals in the starting rotation. People continue to cite Cole Hamels as the staff ace, but for big game heroics and a steady positive influence no one topped Moyer. Where Utley leads by example among the position players, Moyer assumes the same role in the starting rotation. Brett Myers had a Jeckyl and Hyde season, but for a stretch of six or seven starts after the All Star game he was magnificent.

The 25-man roster is this year's MVP.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just Do It....Today!!!

C'mon guys, why drag it out any longer??? I'm getting too old for these last-day-of-the-regular-season finishes.

With their 8-4 win over Washington last night and the Mets loss to Florida, the Phillies clinched at least a tie for the division title. They can claim the title outright today with either a win over the Nats or another Mets' loss. The Mets' game begins nearly three hours earlier than the Phillies' match, so we may have an decision before Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, throws his first pitch.

Last night's victory came courtesy of the usual suspects, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Howard smoked a tremendous three-run homer into the Phillies bullpen in the first inning and a run-producing double one at bat later to give him 48 home runs for the year, 11 in September, and 146 rbi's. The four rbi's gives him 32 for September alone, a franchise record. Howard's other-worldly September projects him right into the thick of the MVP race despite his .250 batting average, which a month ago was thirteen points lower. No MVP in history has ever carried such a low batting average and won the award; then again, no MVP candidate has ever produced such a low batting average while leading the majors in home runs and rbi's and carrying his team to a division title.

But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. There is still the matter of today's games.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Three For The Playoffs

The schedule-maker. weatherman and scoreboard operators have joined forces in what promises to be an exiting last weekend in September as the Phillies, Mets and Brewers battle it out, though not against each other, for the NL East Division title and Wild Card berth.

Only two of the three will make it to the post-season but as of Friday afternoon all have a decent chance. On paper the Phils, with their one game lead on the Mets in the divisional race, have the best odds of making it but they face a pesky Washington club that gives them fits. The Mets face the Marlins, who are far more dangerous than the Nats and relish their role as spoilers. The Brewers face the Cubs, who have already clinched their division and have begun resting some regulars in anticipation of the playoffs. Of course the Cubs rested some regulars last night in New York and gave the Mets all they could handle.

According to some reports, the Cubs fear the Phillies most of the the three remaining contenders, having lost 3 of 5 games to the Phils during the regular season. The Mets will face two opponents in their final series: the Marlins and the ghost of last year's historic collapse. David Wright, for one, wants to vanquish both foes equally. The Brewers face two contenders, too; the Cubbies and history. Milwaukee has not been to the post-season in 26 years.

The Brew Crew, which took the unprecedented action of firing its manager with two weeks remaining in the season and a Wild Card berth still very much alive, has rebounded lately from a disastrous stretch during which the lost a ton of games. Last night they came back to win on a dramatic grand slam home run by Ryan Braun.

The Phils made things tighter the last few days by dropping two of three to the Braves at home. As if the losses weren't bad enough, the fact that their two alleged aces pitched in both of them made things worse. Down-to-the-wire races are a "Philly thing" according one Jimmy Rollins, who has personally participated in a few of them.

The schedule maker has already left all three buildings. The scoreboard operators are standing by. Now, if the weatherman cooperates, we have a lot of baseball to watch and listen to in the next 72 hours.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fool Me Once....

So once again it all comes down to the final weekend of the season. Would the Phillies have it any other way? Put another way, thank goodness the Mets are in another accommodating mood, losing four of their last five including last night in overtime to Chicago after taking a 5-1 lead earlier.

What it all boils down to is the Phils magic number for both the Divisional title and Wild Card is 3, which neatly matches the number of games remaining. Of course magic numbers are combination deals: wins by your team coupled with losses by the other guys. Still, the Phillies could have avoided the mathematics altogether by beating Atlanta the last two nights, but the Braves had other ideas.

Brett Myers was awful again last night, the second straight outing in which he had neither command nor his fastball. The guy sure knows how to ruin a feel-good story, but, then, Myers has never really been a warm and fuzzy sort of fellow. So, Brett, fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice.....

Myers wasn't helped by Jayson Werth's misplay of a line drive to right center; nor was he helped by Ryan Howard's 18th error of the season, another throwing error on the front end of a potential double play ball. A half inning earlier Howard had pulled the Phils into a 3-3 tie with his 47th home run of the season. Ah, yes, the big guy gaveth and the big guy tooketh away. Some day we may see a more complete player but it won't be any time soon.

Despite the miscues, the night was really a lost cause right out of the gate as Myers pitched batting practice to a lineup missing Chipper Jones...that is until he hit a pinch-hit three-run homer later in the game. The Braves scored two runs in the first inning, another in the third and six in the fifth inning. The Phils played catch up until that fifth inning rout; then they played out the string.

Pity poor Charlie Manuel. He certainly expected Myers to go deeper into the game (he lasted 4.1 innings) and he desperately wanted to rest his tired bullpen, but Myers did his best imitation of the guy who was sent down to the minors prior to the All Star break rather than the guy who looked a lot more like a big time big league pitcher until he imploded in Florida last week and Philadelphia last night. Manuel clearly wanted to give Myers a chance to find his groove but all the right hander could do was groove one pitch after another to the Braves. He who hesitates to go to the bullpen sooner than later loses the game.

In successive nights the Phillies two putative aces, Cole Hamels and Myers, lost to a depleted but not deflated Braves team whom they swept in Atlanta a week ago. It remains for the real ace of this year's staff, Jamie Moyer to show them the way.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time To Go

Remember Todd Jones? He spent part of a season here a few years back, blew virtually every game he entered and was booed accordingly (including while warming up, apparently). When he departed town for Detroit, Jones blasted Phillies' fans as the worst in all of baseball, guilty of heinous crimes of the tongue.

Well, according to ESPN Jones is about to announce his retirement and judging from what he wrote the other day, it appears his problems in Philadelphia may have been due, let us say, to a rather thin skin and fragile ego:

"So this is it," Jones wrote ..... "If you're a Tigers fan, I'll never stress you out again. If you're not a Tigers fan, you'll never have me as your ace in the hole, convinced I'll blow a lead against your team."

No doubt about it, Todd. Time to go.

Odds Still Look Good

Pressure didn't get to the Phils last night, it was history.

In his brief career Cole Hamels has rarely come up big when the game mattered most. He has never shown he can avoid the one or two costly mistakes that separate the true ace from the aspiring one. Last night his throwing error on a pickoff and first pitch hanging curve to Casey Kotchman were the differences in a 3-2 loss to Atlanta. Still, the Phils were coming back against Mike Hampton until Pat Burrell, Monday night's hero, killed the rally with a bad base running mistake.

Both players have a history of making these kinds of mistakes.

Coupled with the Mets 6-2 win over the Cubs, the Phils lead was sliced to 1.5 games with four games remaining. There is no sense of panic in the locker room; after all, they can't win every game. Still, to a man the Phils know the Division title and Wild Card are still up for grabs.

With one game remaining against Atlanta and three against the Nationals the Phillies' destiny remains in their hands. I still like their odds.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dash & Surge

This business of a different guy stepping up every night never gets old!

Pat Burrell, struggling as mightily as he ever has in his long topsy turvy tenure in Philadelphia, blasted a three run homer in the eight inning last night padding the Phillies thin 3-2 margin at the time. Always something of an enigma, the stoic Burrell has said little about his slump, 3 for his last 24 prior to the homer, but one thing was clear: he wanted to contribute and he wanted to win.

Burrell's blast became all the more important when Ryan Madson, closing in place of an exhausted Brad Lidge, nearly gave up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to pinch-hitter Brian McCann but survived to shut down the Braves and clinch the Phils victory. With the win the Phillies opened up a 2.5 game lead on the Mets, who lost to the Cubs in New York. For those who doubted the Cubs would give their all in these final games against the Mets having already clinched the Central Division title, last night's effort should put an end to such thinking. Right now the Cubbies are playing for home field advantage if not pride.

The Phillies win was marked by a number of stellar plays highlighted by pinch-runner Greg Golson's dash to third base on an errant pick-off attempt and later his scoring from third on a ground out by Jayson Werth. Replays showed Golson just got in under the tag. Along the way Jimmy Rollins threw a runner out at the plate and Pedro Feliz dived to his left and threw a runner out at first while on his knees.

J.A. Happ, facing the Braves for the second time in a week (more than a few observers felt the rookie lefty should have been held back for Washington given this would be the Braves second look at him), held them to 2 earned runs in 6.2 innings. Happ betrays little emotion on the mound, going about his business in methodical silence. His two victories, however, speak volumes coming late in the season under intense pressure.

With five games remaining the Phillies are in excellent position to make it to the post-season. The best part is they don't have to wait for someone else to help them; they hold their destiny in their own hands. For a club with a history of late season surges that's just the way they like it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saying Goodbye

I was among the millions who watched the ceremonies last night marking the final game at Yankee Stadium.

Like so many traditions in baseball, the practice of bringing back Old Timers for one more curtain call was established by the Yankees. However, the tradition of closing a stadium and moving to a new one began with the Orioles in 1992 when they closed Memorial Stadium and moved to Camden Yards. That ceremony brought back many veteran Orioles who one by one ran out to their old positions in the field.

Of course the Yankees were closing the most hallowed venue in baseball history, the biggest stage in a city filled with them from Broadway to the Bronx. They could also bring back or evoke the memories of some of the game's most legendary names.

Watching the survivors among those ancient diamond heroes, one could not help noticing the uniforms of Yogi Berra, Bobby Richardson, Don Larsen, Whitey Ford et al were tinged with yellow compared to the cool white of the contemporary players. Though bent with age and wrinkled from the many day games common to their era, these septuagenarians and octogenarians ambled out to their positions unassisted. Don Larsen, a journeyman player whose one moment of glory remains among the Stadium's and sport's most revered games, bent over on the mound to scoop up and pocket a fistful of dirt. No one had to tell him where history, his and every baseball fan's, was made.

For this charter member of the Yankee-haters club, baby-boomer division, the highlight of the evening occured when Berra and Ford joined Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in the broadcast booth. The quartet clearly enjoyed themselves. Ford even recalled facing Morgan in an exhibition game in Houston when the latter was just coming up. Morgan, still awed by these Yankee great, could not recall whether or not he got a hit. The two batterymates have always been known for enjoying themselves, some times at each other's expense, and last night was no exception as they told stories about each other, the team in general and the personalities they met along the way. One always hears players and managers say they "just want to go out there and have fun." Ford and Berra lived that maxim.

Making Their Own Good Fortune

Whatever transpires during the final week of the regular season this much we can hold as self-evident: having won nine of their last ten games the Phillies have dramatically improved their chances of extending their season beyond next Sunday.

Anyone looking for signs of the Phillies resillience need look no further than their blowout loss the other night in the opener of a three-game series in Miami against the Marlins. Each team came into the contest riding a substantial winning streak. Each team had a chance to go to the post-season. The Marlins had taken two of three from the Phils at Citizens Bank Park ten days earlier. After that series Dan Uggla minced few words in expressing his delight at playing the role of spoilers if his team didn't make the post-season.

The Phils sent red hot Brett Myers to the mound in the opening game. Along with C.C. Sabathia, Myers arguably had been the best pitcher in the league since the All Star break. He was awful, giving up ten earned runs all by his lonesome. By the end of that night the Marlins had abruptly halted the Phils' seven-game winning streak with a few exclamation points!!! The Phils put that game behind them, however, went out the next night and won a tight, dramatic game 3-2. The next afternoon they added their own exclamation points to a 5-1 road trip through the South by winning 5-2.

The Phils were the beneficiaries of some extraordinary good fortune in those victories, especially Sunday afternoon when Greg Dobbs went down with spasms after making a diving stop that saved a run and was replaced by Pedro Feliz, who made a very good play to stop a Marlins' rally and followed with a two run homer the next inning that provided the Phils with all the cushion they needed.

The truth is, good teams make their own good fortune and Feliz' home run came on a series of good instincts and better decisions. The first was Charlie Manuel's decision, faced with a double switch, to insert Feliz in Dobbs spot in the order rather than in the pitcher's spot. Maneul explained later he had several pinch hitters available on the bench and didn't need to use Feliz in the ninth spot in the order. With the Phils clinging to a 3-2 lead, Shane Victorino led off the top of the eighth with a single. Feliz followed and showed bunt on the first pitch. With the Marlins expecting him to try again to move the runner to second, Manuel took the bunt sign off. When the next pitch was the anticipated fastball down the middle, Feliz got all of it.

Sunday's game also added another chapter to Jamie Moyer's extraordinary season. Not only did Moyer win his fifteenth game of the season and 245th of his career, he ran all over the field doing what doesn't come naturally to guys half his age. Of all the extraordinary moments in yesterday's game none was bigger than when Ryan Howard dropped a hard line drive behind first base. The ball caromed off his glove and hit him in the face. When he recovered, who was at first base covering? Jamie Moyer. Most pitchers wouldn't have run to cover on a hard line drive. Fortunately, Moyer isn't most pitchers. But there we go again. That play wasn't good fortune; it was Moyer playing the game the way it is supposed to be played.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wedding Bells & Penant Races

Apparently, last night was a good time to be a Phillies blogger attending a wedding. While Beerleaguer's Jason Weitzel was at the Littman/Mintz wedding in Radnor, yours truly was celebrating the Sigman/Benjamin nuptials in Princeton. Blackberries were the order of the day at both festivities and so were the cheers when the final score was posted.

Coupled with another Milwaukee loss, it appears more and more likely the Phils and Mets will clinch playoff spots. Of course, the Phils can take care of business by simply winning their own games and not worrying about the other guys.

Are any readers out there contemplating a quick wedding this afternoon? I'm sure a few bloggers could be persuaded to put in an appearance.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Picture Postcard???

Forget all those pictures of sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets and umbrellas in drinks; when the Phillies look at Miami they see barbed wire, trenches and mine fields.

The road to the playoffs goes straight through South Florida and the Phillies are hoping to emerge on the other side with at least one victory after getting the stuffing knocked out of them last night, 14-8. Coming into the game the Phils had won seven straight, but the Fish were riding an even better streak of eight wins in a row. Make that nine, a franchise record, after they pasted Brett Myers and four so-called relief pitchers.

Myers had been sensational going into this game but he looked more like the pitcher who was sent down to the minors in mid-summer than the co-ace of this staff. He had no zippidy do dah on his fast ball, relying instead on his curve. Neither helped. In the most telling moment of the game, Myers started the bottom of the fifth inning with a 6-5 lead thanks to Ryan Howard's two-run homer in the top of the frame. Myers got ahead of the Marlins' first batter, rookie Cameron Maybin, 0-2 who looked completely overmatched as commentator Gary Matthews pointed out thanks to a series of breaking balls. Then, inexplicably, Myers threw a fastball that Maybin laced into right field for a single. That opened the flood gates. Matthews (who has become a superb commentator) could not understand why Myers threw him a fastball but I knew right away. Intelligence has never been Myers' strong suit. (Matthews continued to wonder about that decision long after the game was spiralling out of reach.)

From that point on the Marlins took batting practice against Myers, Rudy Seanez and three other hapless hurlers. It's worth noting that Charlie Manuel made a number of questionable decisions last night. First, he should not be starting Chris Coste at catcher. Carlos Ruiz is his superior in every respect including hitting at this point. Coste is a mediocre receiver, does not call a good game, cannot throw and is spent as a hitter. Why Manuel decided to bring in a very rested but rusty Rudy Seanez is also hard to figure. All Seanez did was give up a three run homer to a guy who had two all season prior to last night, and it wasn't a cheap one either. Greg Dobbs had two hits in the game up to the sixth inning, but Manuel pinch-hit Mike Cervenak for him. The Phillies still had 12 outs left at that point and Dobbs hadn't made any of the prior 15!!

With the loss and the Mets' win the Phils dropped into second place by half a game. Milwaukee lost again last night so the Phils lead in the Wild Card is now two. Meanwhile, the Marlins remain very much in the hunt. and play the Phillies and Mets in five of their last eight games. This three-way race is far from concluded.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It Bears Repeating

"Every night a different guy steps up."

There's a perfectly good explanation why the above has been said a thousand times before and will be said a thousand times more going forward: it happens.

Last night Pat Burrell, all but given up for dead lo these last several weeks, slammed what turned out to be a game-winning two-run homer two evenings after striking out five times in a row. Nearly everyone had been calling for his benching in favor of, well, just about anyone on the roster with a pulse. Not only was Burrell mired in a tremendous slump, his defense, never a strong suit, had been very erratic as well. Fortunately, the only guy with the authority to sit him, Charlie Manuel, stuck by his left-fielder. Call it loyalty to a veteran, something Manuel is inclined to do, or playing a hunch, something the manager is very prone to follow, or his undying faith in the healing powers of the long ball, a prescription Charlie lives and dies by, it turned out to be the right decision. On a night when the rest of the Philliels' offense slumbered a bit, Burrell stepped up.

The victory was their seventh straight and ninth in a row this season at Turner Field, the latter an almost unheard of record. The 4-3 win also kept them a half game up on the Mets. Coupled with another loss by the Brewers, it appears increasingly likely the NL East will be represented by two teams in the playoffs. "Increasingly likely" but hardly settled as the Phils make their next stop in south Florida for three games with the Marlins. The Fish have given the Phillies fits this entire year, most recently taking two of three at Citizens Bank Park. The young, upstart Marlins still have a shot at the playoffs and thus everything to play for. No one has told them they were supposed to fade away months ago. Yes, yes, every game is crucial now but the suspicion here is these three games in Miami hold the key to the rest of the season.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The Phillies are amply covered elsewhere, so let's take a look at some other developments in the game.

Ichiro. When someone is known by his or her first name alone you know the individual revolves in a special orbit. Julia in cooking. Tiger in golf. Kobe in basketball. Ichiro in baseball. Wait a minute. How often does his name come up in conversations about baseball? Hardly ever. Last night, Ichiro reached 200 hits in a season for the eighth straight year, tying the record set by Wee Wiillie ("Hit 'em where they ain't") Keeler one hundred years ago. That's right, folks, one full century ago.

Playing in the Pacific Northwest for a team going nowhere most of the time, Ichiro has labored in relative obscurity. Not only is he a clean hit machine, unlike Pete Rose, he is a superb base runner and Gold Glove outfielder. Between his tenure in the big leagues here and his years in Japan, Ichiro has accumulated more than 3000 hits. Unless he ends up playing for a bigger market team some day, however, Ichiro will continue his march to Cooperstown well under the radar. More's the pity.

* * * * * * * *

Tampa Bay beat Boston for the second straight night to win its 90th game of the season and increase its lead in the AL East to two full games. They are unquestionably this year's Cinderella team and if they can win two out of four against Minnesota, a team fighting for a playoff spot itself, they will clinch at least the Wild Card. Americans love an underdog and right now the Rays are getting lots of love.

* * * * * * * *

Those who predicted instant replay would damage the game might take note how few times the review system has been called on since it first appeared a few weeks ago. On the other hand, disputed home run balls, the only instance in which reviews can be made, are relatively few whereas safe or out calls are common. If baseball extends the review to all disputed calls, the impact will be enormous.

* * * * * * * *

Don't look now but the Florida Marlins refuse to go away. This collection of free-swinging, strong-armed, low-salaried youngsters continues to make the race interesting. If the Marlins' young pitching staff can stay healthy for an entire season they are going to be in the thick of things for a long time to come. It's a shame only 17 people in Miami will regularly see them play, but the rest of the country will know their names.

* * * * * * * *

Milwaukee's Ben Sheets left the game last night after two innings with another arm ailment of unknown origin. Sheets will be a coveted free agent after the season ends, but any team looking at a long-term commitment should be extremely cautious given his medical history.

Meanwhile, look who started for Detroit last night: Freddy Garcia. The Phillies' former $10 million per victory hurler pitched well, too, going five innings, yielding two hits, one run, a walk and three strikeouts.

What Is & What Might Have Been

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've got to stop taking Derek Jeter for granted.

Last night the great Yankee shortstop broke Lou Gehrig's record for most hits (1270) at Yankee Stadium. Playing in nearly 2000 major league games, the 34-year old Jeter has amassed 2532 career hits and a .316 batting average all while quietly enduring the George Steinbrenner et fils era, perhaps his greatest achievement. If he remains healthy Jeter seems certain to reach 3000 hits before he calls it a career.

Oh, and by the way, his hit came off of Chicago's Gavin Floyd in a losing cause. Floyd is 16-7 for the year.

Going For The Gold

Ever since Sherman the march to victory has gone through Atlanta. Fortunately, Ryan Howard and the Phillies were up on their history.

On a night when Jamie Moyer struggled, Howard and the resurgent Phillies offense picked up the slack in coming back against the Braves for a dramatic 8-7 victory propelling them into first place in the NL East. Howard's two-run blast capped the Phils rally from a 7-4 deficit leading them to their fifth straight win. Coupled with the Mets 1-0 loss to Washington, the Phillies took a half game lead over the New Yorkers. Let the Mets and their legions talk Wild Card; the Phils are going for the gold, not the silver.

Howard has been other-worldly in the month of September but he hasn't been alone. Jimmy Rollins found the on-switch, Jayson Werth has solidified his place in the starting lineup, Shane Victorino has made believers out of nearly everyone and Ryan Madson continued his solid performances as the Phillies evoked memories of last season's late September run and the Mets collapse.

Eleven games remain in the regular season and all of them will be against teams aching to spoil the Phillies chances. It appears Howard & Co. wouldn't want it any other way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Waiting for the next meaningful game....

The Mets are already whistling by the graveyard following their third loss in four games. Brave faces are the order of the day among the Metropolitans, but in the not so distant reaches of their collective minds they must be wondering if it's deja-vu-all-over-again time as their lead, 3.5 games a week ago, has shrunk to a half game over the Phils.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley's power outtage has lasted nearly four months now with a brief interlude and it's time to lay the blame squarely where it belongs...participating in the All Star Home Run Derby. First Bobby Abreu, then Ryan Howard for a stretch and now Utley have all participated in the Derby and with the exception of Howard all came out of it worse off. Henceforth, a reverse incentive clause should be written into all Phillies' contracts stating that participation in the event will mean an automatic deduction of $100,000 from their salaries. Furthermore, Ramon Henderson should be prohibited from attending the All Star game at all.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of Howard, his late season surge has been marked by more than a passle of home runs and rbi's. He has also cut down significantly in his number of strike outs, the best argument yet that putting the ball in play is always better than fanning. While we are on the subject of the big man, his defense has shown marked improvement lately. Yes, he still makes the occasional bad throw or decision, but he's been scooping with the best and catching every pop fly in his zip code.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of late season surges, Ryan Madson, who in the past has faded in the late season more often than not, has been far more steady when called upon of late. The same cannot be said for his bullpen mate Chad Durbin, who appears to have either lost something on his fastball or his command.

* * * * * * * *

How many teams have ever fired a manager who is tied for the Wild Card with two weeks left in the season? If you said none, go to the head of the class. It seems to me Ned Yost's firing had less to do with the slump his team is enduring than with the bizzarre strategic moves he made Sunday in both ends of the day-night doubleheader. If I were the Brewers' GM, I would also have been worried about the last two weeks of the season with Yost at the helm. After all, the Brewers haven't exactly been eliminated from post-season contention.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays need to win the next two games from the Red Sox to take back the momentum they had a mere week ago when the took two from Boston at Fenway. Now in a virtual tie for first, a loss tonight would be demoralizing to Tampa Bay to say the least. They've managed to hang in there despite losing top players to the DL and now, with Longoria back, they have to seize the moment of what has already been a magical carpet ride.

* * * * * * * *

Maybe every pitcher should take a start or two off in the late season like Carlos Zembrano did if the results would be the same. I guess one could say he has recovered, no? It's s real shame the game had to take place in Milwaukee, but if MLB hadn't moved the site for that series the post-season might have been pushed back even further and that would be worse for all fans.

* * * * * * * *

The Florida Marlins' young studs will have a lot to say about who wins the NL East and Wild Card as they face the Phillies and Mets in the final two weeks of the season. The Phils head to Florida this coming weekend and the Mets end their regular season in Miami a week later. The Marlins left Philadelphia last week after having taken two of three from the Phils and made no bones about their delight in messing with the home team's post-season plans. When the Phils do face the free-swinging Fish they'd better take a page from Jamie Moyer's game plan and throw lots of off-speed stuff because Florida has made it clear all season they are going to hit the fastball.

* * * * * * * *

Are there many teams which are more dysfunctional than the once-proud Baltimore Orioles? As the O's struggle toward the finish line in another losing season (I've lost track of the last time they had a winning one) they will, no doubt, take stock of themselves again this off-season. Regrettably, the one decision they really need to make is to fire the owner. That should happen when pigs, with or without lipstick, fly!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plenty of Heroes

As recently as 7:04PM last Thursday night the consensus seemed to be the Phils would need to win the division to make the playoffs again. By 10PM Sunday night the consensus had changed as the Phils wrapped up a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers to tie them for the Wild Card lead and move to within a game of the division-leading Mets. Two chances are always better than one!

Going into the series with the Brewers most observers felt the Phils had to win three of four to improve their post-season prospects but that a split seemed more likely. So much for that consensus! The four straight victories over a fading Brewers club clearly evoked memories of last season's September surge and energized a team that only a few days earlier had dropped two of three to the visiting Florida Marlins.

There were plenty of heroes to go around but the best of show goes to a starting rotation that had Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers each pitching on three days rest and winning, Cole Hamels dominating on Saturday and Joe Blanton finally coming through in the clutch in Sunday's first game. Of them all, Myers' 2-hit shutout Sunday night was the gem. There is no denying Myers' sojourn in the minors was more than just beneficial to his career; it was a turning point. Ever since his return he has made the case for being the staff ace or at least co-ace with Hamels. To point it bluntly, Myers appears to have finally grown up and stepped up. He even provided a crucial rbi single to right followed shortly thereafter by a deisel-like churn around third base culminating in a perfect slide a home plate. We don't know if he also sold tickets and hot dogs during the evening.

The top of the Phillies order, especially J-Roll, Utley and Howard, provided most of the punch throughout the four-game set with Milwaukee though there were plenty of other contributors including Shane Victorino, who had five hits on Sunday. Until his 0-for on Sunday evening, Ryan Howard was one of the hottest hitters on the planet, increasing his major league-leading home run and rbi totals.

Now that Big Mo' is on their bandwagon, the Phils have to keep it there. If they do, there is no stopping their march to October.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Short Fuses & Short Rest

Cole Hamels was his usual self yesterday -- in command and in character -- as the Phillies took their second straight game from Milwaukee to move to within 2.5 of division-leading New York and two of the Wild Card leading Brewers.

Hamels was staked two a five run lead and was in command until Pat Burrell misjudged a fly ball allowing Milwaukee to score two runs. Hamels retreated to cover behind home plate and clearly waved his glove in disgust at Burrell's miscue. Fox TV analyst Alex Karros also noted Hamels' displeasure and he didn't like it either. That's all part of the Hamels' picture, however. If you want that great changeup you're going to have to take the attitude, too. Right now his teammates appear willing to deal with it, but it won't necessarily always be that way. It isn't as though Hamels doesn't make mistakes; his last start in New York is a good case in point.

Meanwhile, back at the game, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard were the hitting stars again and Chase Utley chipped in two hits as the top half of the order provided most of the fire power. Rollins and Howard sure seem to know what to do when the top of the calendar page says "September."

Milwaukee, on the other hand, has looked remarkably tame this first two games given how much fire power they possess. A look at the schedule in mid summer revealed this four-game series looming in the final few weeks of the season and, frankly, it seemed unfortunate to have to go toe-to-toe with a formidable club at that juncture. As it turns out, Milwaukee has been slumping badly at the worst time for them and best moment for the Phillies. Two games remain in the series, however, and those big Brewer bats could still come alive. Joe Blanton pitches in the day game and Brett Myers, going on short rest, pitches the night cap. This second day-night doubleheader in one week reminded me of the famous saying "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain", the difference being that the abundance of moisture these past days has forced the Phillies (and a lot of other clubs) to use several starters on short rest rather than gain a reprieve from rainouts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

MVP Candidates

I suppose if Ryan Howard hits over .400 for the remainder of the season with an additional ten home runs and 20 rbi's he might be given consideration for MVP, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on any of the above happening. It's been quite a strange year for the big guy.

For huge portions of the season to date Howard has looked awful at the plate, flailing at balls out of the strike zone, taking inordinate numbers of called third strikes, whiffing at a prodigious rate...even for him... and struggling to get his batting average above his weight. Still, he leads the major league in both home runs and rbi's, two categories that always impress the voters. How many of those home runs and rbi's were soft? Plenty. How many times did he fail to deliver in a crunch? More than we care to remember. Come September, however, he's heated up just as he's done in the past, just when his team needed him most. And that, of course, brings up the age-old debate about the MVP: most valuable to whom? The team? The league? Himself? Does a player whose team doesn't reach the post-season have much of a chance? It's happened several times (including Howard in 2006) though the majority of winners played for winning teams. Howard is a very long shot in my opinion, his odds slightly less than those of the Phillies.

Carlos Delgado is in a somewhat similar boat to Howard. Booed mercilessly by the New York faithful for most of the first half of the season during which he struggled with the bat and glove, Delgado has caught fire since the All Star break and carried his team to the division lead. His home run and rbi totals are impressive though substantially shy of Howard's while his batting average has climbed toward but not above respectability. There is no doubt about one thing: his reawakening has been the key to the Mets' surge. Still, his odds seem long.

Delgado's teammate, David Wright, is going to get serious consideration. He, too, has played a key role in the Mets run to the top, hitting for average and power while fielding his position impressively. Unlike Delgado, Wright has been steady offensively throughout most of the season and is a tremendous asset in the field. He is also a throw-back type of player who gives his all. The voters will like that, too.

Albert Pujols is always going to get serious consideration because he remains perhaps the most feared hitter in the game. His Cardinals remain in the Wild Card hunt and King Albert has once again put together impressive power numbers to go with his robust batting average. Always a serious contender (he narrowly lost out to Howard in 2006), Pujols is a perennial favorite.

Lance Berkman of the Astros is considered by many to be one of the purest hitters in all of baseball. Earlier in the year he flirted with .400 though his average has come down since then to "mere" superiority. The Astros, given up for dead, have also come on strong lately and remain in the hunt for the Wild Card. If they get to the post-season, Berkman will be a big reason and will be given serious MVP consideration.

Among the also-rans, Chipper Jones has had a tremendous year offensively for a mediocre Atlanta team. His team's poor showing and his occasional trips to the DL will prevent Jones from winning the title. Chase Utley began the season like an MVP, but he has fallen off in every category since the All-Star break and is no longer a legitimate candidate.