Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's Never Too Early To Start

Is it too early for a good talking to? Not in the opinion of Charlie Manuel, who is quoted in today's Inquirer as saying too many players are too loose too early and he isn't happy about it. Charlie knows this team's sorry April history during his tenure at the helm and he appears determined to avoid another slow start. So, he's going to have a talk with a number of players with two weeks of practice remaining and let them know he isn't happy. Maybe he should take a page from the great Earl Weaver's book.

In the late 60's and early '70's Mike Cuellar, a crafty Cuban lefty with a mean screwball, arrived in Baltimore via a trade with Houston and became one of the stalwarts of the great Orioles' starting rotations of that era that included Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. Cuellar, being used to more tropical climes, had trouble adjusting to the cool temperatures of the Mid-Atlantic in late March and all of April. (By August, Baltimore does a pretty good imitation of the tropics.) Heck, if truth be told, Cuellar had trouble getting loose even in mid-Summer. He would struggle in the first inning or so of work before settling down nicely. As a consequence, Weaver and his pitching coach George Bamberger decided to have Cuellar warm up earlier and longer than usual, hoping he would leave his first bad inning in the bullpen instead of on the mound where it counted. It seemed to work.

The moral to our tale? Maybe the Phils' pitchers and catchers should report in January and the rest of the squad in early February. That way they can leave their rotten Aprils in March.


Anonymous said...

I think what Manuel ought to be most concerned about is that all available pitching options beyond the obvious entrenchments (Myers, Hamels, Madson, Romero, Moyer) have been absolutely horrible this spring. Once again, Pat Gillick's strategy, rather than acquiring established middle relievers, was to amass a host of cheap afterthoughts and cast-offs and hope a couple emerged from the mix in Clearwater. It ain't happening. We also heard all winter that the most 'major-league ready' arm from the farm system was Josh Outman. He sure doesn't look ready to me. Once again, the lack of organizational depth has been harrowingly exposed for all to see.

The Phillies never seem to have good spring trainings, but what's gone on this time around has been particularly alarming. They aren't just losing, they're getting blown out in virtually every game. Geoff Jenkins, for one, looks like he's weeks away from establishing a semblance of timing, and how will he react to the impatient fans if he starts slowly?

Two keys for this team in the last two weeks of the spring will be the showings of Kyle Kendrick and Brad Lidge. If those two can get on track for the opening week, I'll feel a little better about things. I'm not even as concerned about the fifth starters' slot, as the Phillies can probably get by for a month with either Eaton or Chad Durbin until Kris Benson is ready to go. But having an effective no. 4 starter and closer is essential to this team's success.

The Phillies are probably going to be right about what they were last season, and I think 90 wins would be the ceiling. There's no way this can be a dominant, 100-win type of team, despite Jimmy Rollins' latest bold proclamation. Whether the 85-90 wins can get them into the playoffs this time around will depend entirely on the seasons New York and Atlanta have. For my money, I'm picking the Braves to win for the second year in a row. They're just too good an organization to continue taking a back seat to the Phillies and Mets.


Tom Goodman said...

I am with you 100% on Gillick's failure to improve the pitching staff at either the major or minor league levels and said so yesterday. He and the rest of the Phillies baseball operation have shown they know precious little about judging pitching.

As for their stupor this Spring, a lot of players seem to believe they can suddenly throw themselves into gear once the season begins. The last few Aprils clearly indicate they cannot, but that doesn't seem to change their approach to the training season.