Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dancin' With The Girls What Brung 'Em

The trade deadline, replete with a ticking down clock at, has passed and the Phils stood pat other than their acquisition a few weeks ago of Joe Blanton.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, acquired Many Ramirez, who can be expected to just be Manny when he arrives. The Phils now have the misfortune of facing a guy with something to prove seven times in the next month.

On the other end of the state, Jayson Bay died and went to baseball heaven, or at least that is what the formerly long-suffering and still insufferable Red Sox Nation considers Fenway Park. Bay must be pinching himself to have escaped one of the worst baseball towns of recent past for one of the they will tell you in Boston.

Ken Griffey Jr. waived his no-trade clause for a chance to play in the World Series with the Central Division leading White Sox. It says here Griffey is still going to be looking for that first World Series appearance come next November. The Sox don't have the horses to overtake the Angels who got even better with their acquisition of Mark Texeira. The post season aside, a quick look at Chicago's lineup makes one wonder what Griffey is expecting with regards to playing time during the remainder of the regular season.

And finally, the Florida Marlins acquired Arthur Rhodes, thus saving all the commenters of the Delaware Valley blogosphere from loading up the venom had the Phillies re-signed him as some rumors suggested. Rhodes has had a decent season for the Mariners and will get the call to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard the first time the Marlins face the Phils. The local fan base is hoping he simply reprises his last appearances in Citizen Bank Park...nothing more...nothing less

The Best Hitter Nobody Sees

Ichiro Suzuki accumulated his 3000th hit the other night but hardly anyone seemed to notice. That's too bad because Ichiro remains one of the game's most exciting all around players but because he plays on the West Coast and for a team going nowhere he isn't getting much air time.

There are those who will say Ichiro's success is "tainted" by the number of hits (1278) accumulated against Japanese League pitching. Since joining the Mariners in 2001 he has 1723 hits and counting. That works out to over 200 hits a season against ML pitching. How many other players in the "superior" league can say that?

Congratulations to a fine player.

Hitting Again

Why are the Phillies in first place again?

They are finally hitting. Thirty-two runs in their last four games.

Led by Shane Victorino and Chase Utley, the top of the order is providing the spark and the punch as the Phillies have won four straight. We can assume Victorino's latest spurt has finally put to rest the rumors if not the facts that the Phils have considered trading the Flyin' Hawaiian. He is hitting, hitting for some power even (two home runs in his last seven games is an outburst for Victorino), stealing bases and playing his usual superb defense. Give the package-Victorino-for-some-pitching rumors a rest, guys! Even were he to hit .250, his defense is sorely needed in an outfield that includes the always-game Pat Burrell, the decidedly average Geoff Jenkins and the highly overrated (how many times does he start in on balls over his head) Jayson Werth.

As for Utley, even his wife had to weigh in on his supposed hip injury, assuring everyone that her husband is not hurting. Utley weighed in, too, in the only way he knows how: two straight games with two-run homers, the first providing the winning margin.

As for pitching, the Phils certainly didn't get that in the two wins over the Braves last weekend, but in Washington against a much less potent offense Brett Myers found his groove if for one night and Jamie Moyer survived a bad first inning to baffle the Nationals the rest of the way en route to his 10th win of the the season.

Everyone pronounced himself pleased with Myers performance Tuesday night, especially with his command and his mechanics. A picture in the newspaper the next day showed this observer Myers still looking at the first base dugout as he released the ball, but what they heck, results are results. I'll need a few more solid outings before I jump on the bandwagon, however.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unhappy Endings

Take away Tuesday night's ninth inning and the Phillies scored six runs in 26 innings against the Mets.

Take away the implosion of a makeshift bullpen Tuesday night and the Mets out pitched, out hit and out hustled the Phillies in taking this series and the lead in the NL East.

Frankly, Charlie Manuel chose a lousy time to discipline Jimmy Rollins. That's right, a lousy time. If he or anyone else thinks benching Rollins will wake up this team, they're all dreaming. Rollins doesn't need that kind of reminder; after all, he was in the middle of their one good inning in the series and made a number of superb defensive plays. There are rules of reason and rules of administration, Charlie. Learn the difference. This whole matter should have been kept in house.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley's average is off 30 points from its high. He is going through his second serious slump of the season. Ryan Howard went from hot to cold in this series, something he's been prone to do all season. Pat Burrell, noted Mets' killer, had a bad series. No one is hitting, especially in the clutch. Tuesday night was an aberration; this team doesn't hit with men in scoring position.

Take away those two 20-run games from what seems like the last millennium and you have a vaunted offense that hasn't lived up to its own press clippings. End of story. End of season?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

That Was Soooo Myers!

Brett Myers made his much-anticipated return to a major league city near you last night and he looked remarkably like the same Brett Myers who took a forced vacation near Allentown, Reading and points south a few weeks ago.

Most interested parties -- his manager and pitching coach principal among them -- said they needed more of a sample before coming to any conclusions about his rehabilitation, but we are under no such constraints and are free to rush to judgment.

He looked pretty bad.

The picture above is from the front page of the Inquirer Sports Section. Note Myers is about to release the ball but is either looking at the dugout along the first base line or the on deck circle but he sure isn't looking at home plate.

Myers said he felt "ten times better" than his last major league outing, against Texas, when he was batted about pretty hard. Last night he wasn't hit as hard primarily because he couldn't hit his target. Myers walked four straight batters in the first inning, five overall in five innings and hit a batter. Apart from his near total lack of command out of the chute, some of which was no doubt nerves, his fastball looked absolutely limp.

It's the fastball as much as his command that should have him and the Phillies' alleged brain trust worried. It's been missing in action since he went down with a shoulder injury last season. It's hard to believe he isn't still suffering some effects from that injury either as pain or hesitation to let it all hang out, but one thing is certain: without his fastball Myers is a mediocre pitcher. The numbers don't lie.

He'll be given more opportunities to start and work out his problems, but the Phillies don't have the luxury of many more on-the-job therapy sessions. J.A. Happ is waiting in the wings, pitching very well at AAA. A few more outings like last night by Myers and Happ will surely get the call and the ball every fifth day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

That Was Soooo Taguchi!!

It was redemption night at Shea Stadium Tuesday evening.

Without further ado:

So Taguchi, c'mon down.

Perhaps no one has been more savaged in the blogosphere than Taguchi, signed this past off-season to be primarily a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter. Until last night Taguchi had, charitably speaking, been neither. He was zero for sixteen as a pinch-hitter and had botched more than a few balls in the field.

Last night he came up in the top of the ninth with the Phils trailing 5-3, the bases loaded and no outs and was quickly in a 0-2 hole. Uh oh, So. But this stoic veteran hung in there like the professional he is, fouling off pitches, even throwing his bat at one pitch to barely stay alive and, then all of sudden, he drives a ball over the head of rightfielder Endy Chavez and look, two men are scoring, the game is tied, there are still no outs! Can it be, as Harry would have said had he been there? The past is suddenly forgotten, especially when the Phils go on to score three more runs to cap an improbable (to say the very least) comeback and victory over the stunned New Yorkers. So, you are officially forgiven.

Carlos Ruiz, c'mon down.

If Soguchi isn't the most savaged player in the blogosphere, Carlos Ruiz is. The Panamanian catcher was expected to handle most of the starting assignments this year and continue his improvement at the plate. Instead, he is splitting time with Chris Coste and struggling to remain above the Mendoza line. But not this night. Ruiz gathered two hits off a very tough Johann Santana and drove in one run in that miraculous ninth on a fielder's choice. He even smiled a few times like he was enjoying himself for a change.

Jimmy Rollins, c'mon down.

J-Roll needs no redemption in this observer's opinion, but apparently he does throughout the airwaves, pixels and printed pages of the Delaware Valley. It's been an up-and-down season for the reigning NL MVP. Most of the barbs have been aimed at Jimmy's effort, perceived lack of hustle at times, and lack of patience at the plate. Still, he's the guy who makes the Phillies go...or not...and he is one of those players who rises to the occasion when the stage is biggest. They hate him in New York ("Hate" is probably too strong a word for a guy who is very appealing: they just love to razz him) which is fine with Jimmy because he loves playing in the Big Apple and makes no bones about it. That 100 megawatt smile needs lots of spotlights trained on it and he is always obliging. The New York press eagerly anticipated Jimmy's arrival for this big series and he, as always, obliged them with good copy. His two run double last night gave the Phils the lead for good.

Shane Victorino, c'mon down.

If anyone tends to drive fans to distraction nearly as much as Jimmy it is Shane Victorino, who has the tools, energy and personality to succeed but is forever failing to do the little things like hit the ball the other way or work the count or just hit a fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs. When he fails to deliver the faithful just shake their heads and dream about the departed Aaron Rowand. But people forget this is only his fourth season and his first as a full time starter and good things lie ahead for him. He is a superb fielder, has a great arm, can run the bases, and hits for average. He isn't the power hitter most people associate with centerfield, but on a team with lots of power that part of his game isn't missed. When he and Jimmy are clicking on all cylinders the Phillies' engine purrs.

Last night he homered off of Johann Santana and later got a key hit in that rally in the ninth. More significantly, he busted his butt to second on a grounder to short where he could have been an easy out had Jose Reyes not botched the play and simply missed stepping on the bag for the force. Watching Victorino storm into second waving his arms frantically in the safe sign several times tells you all you need to know about this guy. He hustles. He claps his hands in excitement. He comes to play.

Pat Burrell, the Fielder, c'mon down.

How about that throw by Pat Burrell to cut down Endy Chavez? Everyone knows they can't run on Pat, even Charlie Manuel. Is Pat Burrell a great outfielder? Hardly. Does he catch most things he can get to? Definitely. Does he have a gun for an arm? You'd better believe it. Endy does. Manuel insists he's still going to replace Burrell in the field when appropriate but I'd be willing to bet the definition of "appropriate" has been stretched in the last few games.

The Phillies offense, c'mon down.

Offense was supposed to be the Phillies' strength, but over the last 30 games they have been missing in action, scoring fewer runs on average than at any time in the last two years. (Two 20-run games during the stretch skew their average substantially. The numbers are even worse without those two blowouts.) The biggest problem has been getting hits with runners in scoring position.

Not last night, however. The hits just kept on coming in the ninth inning. Next to watching the players on the bases and in the dugout clapping, jumping for joy and smiling ear-to-ear, the greatest delight was watching as the cameras continually panned the stunned New York crowd, the furrows in their collective brows deepening with each AB.

One final note.

It may have been Redemption Night at Shea, but as the cameras panned the outfield walls picking up the various emblems of the Mets' successful past (World Series victories, NL Division Titles, etc.) the one that kept catching my eye was "1969 WS Champions". There will never be any redemption on that front as far as this longtime Orioles fan is concerned.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Big Mo: Who's Got It And Who's Lost It

Everyone connected to sports likes to talk about momentum and the role it plays in success. If it does, the Phils are in trouble the next three nights because they lost theirs long ago while the Mets have rediscovered theirs.

Right now the Phillies look like a team that expects to lose. There is little fire and even less plain common sense. Batters are not working the counts. Hitters cannot hit the other way. Base running is erratic. The Black Hole at the bottom of the lineup has resurfaced with a vengeance. Though the pitching remains generally strong, it cannot make up for the offensive deficiencies.

Last, but not least, the manager continues to make his share of mistakes not the least of which involve the lineup card he fills out every night. The drumbeat for removing Carlos Ruiz from the lineup if not the roster grows louder with each passing game. His substitute, Chris Coste, is also in a big funk.

The Mets just came off a tight series in Cincinnati where they split four games after winning ten straight. They, too, have had their problems, especially with injuries, but they have the look of a confident club particularly when going head-to-head with the Phillies. In the last meeting between the two the New Yorkers took three out of four from the Phils at Citizens Bank Park.

Tonight the Phils may get an edge when Joe Blanton, new to the league and to some of the Mets (he's faced the team twice in his career), gets the start. That edge is substantially dulled by his mound opponent, Johann Santana. Tomorrow night Brett Myers seeks redemption. I wouldn't bet on it. On Thursday night Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, gets the nod. Will the magic continue for him? The last time out he pitched a decent game against the Mets but was let down in part by his defense.

Two out of three would be sweet. One out of three would be realistic. None out of three would be bad.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Signs Of The Times

How bad are things when your home team is tied for first but is listed second in one of the city's major daily newspapers:

(From the Inquirer)

NY Mets5346.535--
Atlanta4652.4696 1/2

* * * * * * * *

More on Cole Hamels.

It seems Hamels was pissed off at management for giving him too much time off between starts following the All-Star break. Their reasoning was that he has a history of breaking down in the second half and has thrown more innings than ever before up to that point. The club gave him extra time off, a prudent move most pitchers would have probably welcomed. So how does Hamels respond: he goes eight innings allowing four hits and two earned runs. After the game, a loss charged to the bullpen, he complained that he had too much time off and had he pushed himself he probably would have ended up on the DL. He probably wouldn't have said anything had he won the game, something within his control given he'd been handed a lead and could not hold it.
In another quote that got less air time after the game Hamels whined about the continuing disappointment of pitching well and having nothing to show for it.
This is one selfish player.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Just The Rants, Thanks

No theme today....just rants.

People can bitch and moan all they want about the lack of run support for Cole Hamels but two things should be noted regarding today's loss:

1. He was given a two-run lead and could not hold it; and,
2. The long ball was his downfall yet again.

Hamels, the announcers kept reminding us, came into this game with a plan, to throw his curve more and keep the free-swinging, fastball-feating young Marlins off balance. He stuck to his plan with great success, except for those two home run balls, so let's not start carping about run support. True, the Phils blew many opportunities for the umpteenth time beginning with the first inning, but if you give your ace a two run lead he's got to hold up his end of the deal. Yes, holding the opposition to four hits and two runs in eight innings is great pitching, but it wasn't enough because of two mistakes he made.

* * * * * * * *

Jayson Werth has some of the worst damn AB's on a team where there are several candidates for worst AB's. Heck, Pedro Feliz had a whole series of them this past weekend. Still, it's pathetic to watch Werth lunging for balls low and away or just plain low. Yeah, yeah, he can hit lefthanders fairly well but he's miserable against righties and just plain awful to watch at times. Very overrated player. All the trade talk about packaging Victorino with others for Holliday or a pitcher would leave the Phils with a truly horrible outfield. Absolutely awful. One final thing on Werth: his defense hasn't exactly been of Gold Glove caliber, even if the local standard for Gold Gloves in the outfield is Bobby Abreu

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of outfielders, I am sick and tired of watching Manuel pull Burrell for defensive purposes and losing his key at bats at the end of the game, which is precisely what happened today AGAIN! Does Charlie really want Bruntlett instead of Burrell at bat in a key spot? Apparently so. Memo to Charlie: Burrell made a damn nice catch early in the game. I'll take my chances with him in the field. So would the entire pitching staff if anyone conducted a secret ballot.

* * * * * * * *

Charlie Manuel is a nice guy. We can all agree upon that. The players like him; the coaches like him; management likes him. Even Bill Conlin likes him now. That said, he remains a terrible manager and anyone who thinks a manager doesn't make a difference in the won-loss column wasn't watching these two straight losses to the Marlins. Charlie's mania for having runners on third with less than two outs breaking on contact is killing the Phils and his other mania, for lifting Pat Burrell for defensive purposes, is putting the final nail in the coffin. How many times have Burrell's defensive replacements made a difference? How man AB's in key, late inning situations, has Burrell missed when reduced to cheer leading?

Monday Postscript: In today's Inquirer Burrell made it absolutely clear he doesn't like being removed either, especially in a tight game when it appears he will get another AB. Burrell, who as far as I can recall has never spoken up like this in his entire career, said he's discussed the matter with his manager and remains upset about the situation.

Monday Post Postscript: Charlie let loose with his own rant yesterday after the Phils lost but as long as he's asking guys to look in the mirror let's hope he is standing in line for a glance at himself, too. Right now I'd say Charlie is costing this team a pennant. I would not be surprised to see him replaced before too long.

* * * * * * * *

Chris Coste has looked cooked at the plate lately. Lost in the excitement over the mid-30's rookie finally living his dream is the fact that at 35 years of age he isn't really prepared to be an every-other-day player, especially a catcher. Yet that's what the Phils are asking of him with Carlos Ruiz flirting with the Mendoza line and some pitchers on the staff clearly less than enamored of Coste's defense and arm. Sadly, nearly everything thing Chris hits is to the opposite field, i.e., he's swinging late.

* * * * * * * *

What's wrong with Jimmy? Well, for one thing he's swinging at a lot of balls out of the strike zone. More than a few observers think he isn't patient enough to be a lead-off batter but it's his selectivity that's killing him lately. For the first time since he returned from his ankle injury the announcers were speculating something else was bothering him and Chris Wheeler mentioned his knee was swollen. That's the first time I've heard of it (though my finger is hardly on the pulse), but one thing has been certain lately: Jimmy's been running and stealing a lot of bases, something a guy with a bum knee refrains from doing. That said, one thing that has been noteworthy of late is that Jimmy is not running the bases well otherwise. He has failed to pick up balls hit to the outfield on more than one occasion and ended up not advancing an extra base on several others where the announcers speculated he could have and should have done so. It seems that what's ailing Jimmy is his whole feel for the game right now. He's just off kilter for some reason.

Monday Postscript: Jimmy was quoted as saying the team "doesn't get worried until late" when asked if he and his teammates felt any urgency at the moment. Trust us, Jimmy, it's late. The remarkable thing about Rollins is how far he's fallen off not only in terms of his MVP production of last year but in the hearts and minds of the fans who mostly have adored him. They think he isn't hustling enough this year. Comments like yesterday's only add fuel to their ire.

Get The Lead Out Or Don't Go!

Terrible base running killed the Phillies yesterday, that and another shaky outing by Kyle Kendrick.

It's OK that after the first three guys at the top of the order team foot speed tails off dramatically for the Phils, but that doesn't mean the slow, slower and slowest of the rest have to be so damn stupid!

Men on second and third with no outs and Ryan Howard, RYAN HOWARD for god's sakes, goes on contact. Brilliant move. He is nailed at the plate of course. Men now on first and third and one out. Pedro Feliz grounds to third. Pat Burrell, PAT BURRELL for god's sakes, goes on contact. Will it never end? Burrell scores but only because the Marlins' Jorge Cantu bobbled the ball. Replays show Burrell starting, hesitating and looking back and then going. Cantu then throws the ball away and the Phils again have men on second and third. Had Cantu fielded the ball cleanly Marlins' catcher John Baker could have done the Sunday crossword puzzle waiting for Burrell to arrive. Chris Coste then grounds the ball to Cantu and, you guessed it, Jayson Werth, who can actually move at a decent clip, is nailed at the plate. The inning eventually ends with the Phils scoring one run while having two men thrown out at home.

Afterwards, manager Charlie Manuel says Howard's out was a "mistake". How about the rest of those runners, Charlie? What is the mania for going on contact? It's almost Pavlovian with this manager and the results have been terrible over the last month or so with almost every one of those plays ending in an easy out at home plate. In fact, the plays are so rarely close most of them end with the runners avoiding a collision and embracing the catcher in a show of good fellowship and sportsmanship because the know they're dead in the water.

Despite themselves, the offense did rally a few times in this game, coming back from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits each time to knot the score, but Kyle Kendrick kept handing the lead right back to the Marlins.

Kendrick needs at least one more pitch if he's going to make it at this level and he'd better not wait much longer to try them out in a game situation because his sinker ain't sinking lately and his fastball is starting to do an excellent imitation of Adam Eaton's fastball, and we all know where that got Eaton let alone the team. The announcers keep saying Kendrick is working on a change. Well, Kyle, give it try in a game situation because those big leaguers in the other dugout are sitting on your fastball and the proof is in the pudding.

Even with all those blunders the Phils had a chance to tie the game in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out and Howard at the plate and Burrell, who'd already hit two home runs and thus had not been removed for a defensive replacement for a change, on deck. It was not to be as Howard fanned on three pitches and Burrell grounded into a force play to end the game.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Tale Of Two Pitchers

Never has junk looked so valuable as when Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, takes the mound for the Phillies.

Neither rain nor humidity nor osteoporosis stems this ageless wonder from his appointed rounds, especially when the Florida Marlins are providing the opposition. Moyer won his tenth straight start against the free-swingers from south Florida without a loss. As one Florida youngster put it, Moyer's 80 mph fastball looks real good coming in but it never seems to be down the middle where the hitters like it.

With the win, his ninth of the season, Moyer improved to 239-184 lifetime with a 4.20 ERA. Is this guy HOF material? Not really unless than open a wing devoted to players to never say die. Still, he's been a gift from the gods for the Phils.

On the opposite end of the spectrum a banished Brett Myers had another less than impressive outing last night when you consider the opposition was single A. In 6.2 innings of work he allowed 7 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), fanned 6 and walked 1. Big league hitters should prove much tougher. If one of the major purposes of sending Myers down was to give him a brief change of scenery, it's hard to imagine what good has come of it particularly since he's going to be the same guy in the same clubhouse with the same teammates playing in front of the same fan base as when he left less than three weeks ago. I think the real purpose for sending him down was to let the rest of baseball know that if the Phils could send down their opening day starter, he was available.

[TV Note: Today's game is on Fox at 3:55PM. The Phillies have been nothing short of horrendous for the last few seasons when playing before a national TV audience. It's time to break that habit. Also, make sure your mute button is in good working order no matter who gets the nod to call this one unless you were planning to take an afternoon nap anyway.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

We Asked; They Answered

We asked and the Phils obliged by picking up pitcher Joe Blanton from the A's for three prospects only one of which -- Adrian Cardenas -- looks like a decent bet to make it in the big leagues.

Blanton is known as an "innings eater", at least the third the Phils have acquired in mid-season over the last few years, the others being Cory Lidle and Kyle Lohse. (Judging from his girth he's no stranger at another trough either.) There's no inherent problem with innings eaters unless they have a few too many innings on their arms already. Blanton may fall into that category. He's also reported to be in need of a change of scenery, another favorite characteristic frequently associated with mid-season trades.

Blanton will step right into the rotation, taking Adam Eaton's place. With the imminent return of Brett Myers to the rotation and with Flash Gordon on the DL, the question of what to do with Eaton remains. Eaton hardly resembles the sort of pitcher who can be a setup guy given his miserable stats for his first inning of work each time out. On the other hand, if he simply pretends he'd been in the game for six or seven innings already when he gets the call then maybe Eaton can work late in the ballgame...but I doubt it. Myers may be the joker in the starting deck. If he returns and cannot recapture his former "glory" he may get his wish to pitch in relief, but not as the closer. Setup men may not be the rock stars Myers dreams about, but they can play base guitar.

Meanwhile, back at the standings, the Mets won for the tenth straight time last night (a streak that started at Citizens Bank Park with three straight victories) and tied the Phils for first place. In the NY papers they will of course be listed at the top; in Philadelphia they are still listed second. It's really remarkable the Phils are still tied for the division lead at all as poorly as they've played over the last several weeks, but despite their mediocrity it took a ten-game winning streak by the New Yorkers to tie them. That alone should give rise to some optimism, but that can quickly turn to gloom if the Phils don't get their bats going. Now that Ryan Howard is on a tear, it would be nice to see Jimmy string together a few weeks of consistency and for Chase to get his groove back, too.

So, Joe, go eat...on the mound that is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Send Pitching, No Matter What!

Did they just play an All-Star game? Darn, I missed it again. I sure would have loved to hear Boomer and Joe gush about the home run derby but I forgot they were on. Jeez, it would have been swell to listen to the soporific voice of Joe Buck and the pedantic platitudes of Tim McCarver but I guess I'll have to wait until next year. Whatever.

There are more important fish to fry, especially in Miami this coming weekend. In the meantime, just remember, you don't have to be a model citizen or especially forthcoming about your health to pitch for a major league baseball team.

Otherwise, how could the Phils still be interested in Erik Bedard, who apparently rubs his teammates and management the wrong way wherever he goes? On top of that, he's always hurt these days. Erik is currently on the DL again. What a great pickup he'd make! The Phillies do seem to attract their share of head cases, don't they?!

And how do you explain the Phillies' alleged interest in Freddy Garcia of all people, the very same guy who took them to the cleaners last year and departed with about as much good will toward the City of Brotherly Love as, say, Todd Jones did. The Phils certainly didn't benefit from his brief tenure in red pinstripes; for his part, Garcia left making it quite clear the feeling was mutual. Now he's "recovering" from major arm surgery. Would the alleged brain trust deep within Citizens Bank Park really consider Garcia now that rumors he was damaged goods when they last acquired him have proven to be true? More to the point, would he seriously consider them? The guess here: he's more likely to answer yes if the Phils are the only club to make him an offer, but in this era, even pitchers who haven't thrown a ball for more than a year are highly prized. Freddy ain't coming back to Philly 'cause he's gonna get other offers he likes better. Whew, that was close.

And how can you explain the Phils' desperate ongoing efforts to reclaim the former unfilled promises of Brett Myers, whose work habits not to mention personal ones are a perennial problem? Well, for one thing the Phillies remain convinced Myers' "stuff" will help him overcome all of his limitations. In addition, he's always been just enough of a second-half kind of guy to keep the brain trust guessing. But when you send your opening day starter (a choice that many including this observer thought was a thinly-veiled message to let him know he was no longer a closer) down to AAA in this his sixth big league season, you have reached the point of desperation. Work it out, they told him, but not on our time. Frankly, if they can just get him back to throwing 90 mph they'll probably try to move him in the off-season for a guy with less baggage.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


When the headline says "Eaton Takes An Awful Beating" but the text says the pitcher "hasn't been as bad as the numbers might suggest" you have what we call in the modern world a "disconnect". Fill-in beat writer Sam Carchidi suggests we take away Eaton's four worst starts and his numbers are respectable, even better than the league average. As far as I know, however, you can't take a mulligan in baseball, especially for an entire outing.

What we all know is this: Eaton has a nasty habit of having at least one bad inning (yesterday he spread the effect over a few of them) and invariably it is the opening one. He cannot avoid putting his team in an immediate hole or, as he showed us yesterday, giving up two runs out of the gate, watching his mates even the score and then [presumably] saying to himself, "Well, we can't have this" and immediately surrendering six more capped by a two run double by that feared slugger Randy Johnson.

So the debate resumes (did it ever leave off?): do the Phillies drop him from the rotation? Carchidi advises we resist the call to summon J.A. Happ back from the Lehigh Valley and consider Eaton's overall performance. I'd bet if the other 24 guys on the roster were polled in a secret ballot there would be strong sentiment for picking up that phone.

For his own part Eaton believes he can sort things out. One thing I have to admire about Eaton is that he doesn't attempt to sugarcoat his failures. How could he when they come with such certainty and frequency? He knows when he stinks and he believes he can sort things out up here, in the big leagues, and not down on the farm where another member of the Phillies' opening day rotation, Brett Myers, is attempting to recover his confidence. Speaking of Myers, he's hardly been scintillating at AAA, giving up a home run to the first batter he faced yesterday but settling down to pitch well after that. Still, when he says he isn't worried about where the ball goes after it leaves the bat, only where it goes after it leaves his hand, you have to wonder whether this "disconnect" problem is contagious.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Strange Indeed

Has anyone ever had a more bizarre first half in baseball than Ryan Howard?

It all started in February when the big guy was awarded a huge $10 million one-year deal, a record in baseball's arbitration era I think and $3 million more than the Phillies were offering. The arbitrators decided his version of what he was worth was more believable than the official club version. Score one big one for the big guy and, incidentally, one for all of those (which includes his manager) who believe production of runs, not batting average or balls put in play is what counts the most.

Next he stumbled out of the gate and by June was still flirting with the Mendoza line. Score one for the big guy's critics, who clearly believe all of those K's and feeble AB's were killing the team.

As he stumbled with the bat, Howard did nothing to improve his standing with the range-factor stat heads or numerous other critics of his defense. Heck, I got to see him throw a perfectly good pick-off by Jamie Moyer clear into left field live and in person only last Saturday night, one evening after he made not one but two errors on one play. Score another one for the big guy's critics, who grew more vocal by the day.

Even though he wasn't hitting his own weight, and even though he was on a pace to break his own single-season strikeout record, Howard continued to drive in runs. Some were softies, coming in losses or garbage time, but many others were crucial. Only yesterday his two home runs provided the margin of victory. By day's end Howard was leading the majors in home runs, leading the NL in rbi's and had set a franchise record for most rbi's before the All Star break. Not bad for a guy who still isn't hitting his own weight.

Howard has heard the boos and doesn't like them. Who does? The fans want to love him but they also want, as fans are wont to do, their money's worth. (Of course it ain't their money, but the way fans everywhere see players' salaries is this: you're getting paid all of that money, often more in a year than we'd be paid in a lifetime, and you'd better damn site earn it.)

Lately, Howard's comments in the press seem clipped compared with his relative loquaciousness in his first two seasons. There is even a hint of disdain at times, resignation at others. Resigned to what, you might reasonably ask? The time-worn myth that fans in Philadelphia are tougher than anywhere else? Try playing in New York or Boston. Indeed, try playing anywhere but Miami and Tampa Bay where all seventeen fans keep their own counsel.

Howard's contract negotiations have been characterized by bitterness. His $900,000 salary last year was seen by him and his family as a slap in the face. A mere 100 grand more and he would have set another record for salary for a player with his short tenure in the big leagues and, moreover, one who was not eligible for salary arbitration. The arbitration panel might have had that in the back of their so-called neutral minds when they more than made up the difference this time around. After that "slap" in the face Howard seemed bitter. His family seemed even more bent out of shape. And even though the Phillies offer this year was $3 million less than he was asking and even though he was awarded the extra dough, he thought it necessary to point out he wasn't bitter or angry about the process. Meanwhile, bloggers and commentators everywhere were either speculating how long it would take him to file for free agency when he became eligible or were wondering whether or not the Phillies could or should offer a player of his size and age and proclivities (read: K's and E's) a huge long-term deal that might break the bank.

Howard remains mum on the whole matter. All he does is go out there, swat the ball over the fence, drive in his mates, boot a ground ball or throw here and there and swing and miss with prodigious frequency. In other words, all he does is continue to have a very strange year.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Support Your Local Ace

I'll bet right about now Cole Hamels wishes he pitched for a team with a good offense. Hey, wait a minute, he supposedly already does!

The Phils vaunted offense disappeared again last night and wasted another good performance by Hamels in which he yielded only three hits -- two for home runs -- and fanned eight while walking no one over seven innings. The young lefty is always going to give up his share of home runs, especially in this ballpark, but he rightly should expect that if he limits the opposing side to a mere two runs in seven innings he stands a good chance of winning.

But noooooooo, at least not with the Jekyll and Hyde offense the Phillies currently trot out every night. No one is consistent any longer. Not Chase. Certainly not Howard. Even Chris Coste has caught the futility bug.

This team still needs pitching but more and more it looks like they could use some help hitting the ball, too. For much of this season everyone has consoled himself with the notion that the Phils can survive a mediocre NL East, but lately there are signs at least one team, the Mets, is starting to pull themselves together, while another, the Marlins, refuses to go away. The only remaining consolation is that the Phils have dropped seven of eight series and still cling to first place by a thread, but another loss here or there coupled with a win by the two teams trailing them and the order of things will reverse.

Meanwhile, howsabout the Phils live up to their notices and at least start hitting when Hamels is pitching? I know he'd like that.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Send Pitching

There is still a lot of baseball left in this season but the likelihood the Phils will be playing after Sunday, September 28, looks more and more remote unless they land a starting pitcher. They cannot keep running Adam Eaton out there every fifth day and expect to compete.

When the alleged brain trust sits down to assess the situation the facts are these:

1. Cole Hamels is the only quality starting pitcher on the 40-man roster.
2. Kyle Kendrick remains a work in progress.
3. Jamie Moyer, whose real name is 45-year old Jamie Moyer, can expect to wear down as the dog days are upon them.
4. J.A. Happ has two major league starts under his belt.
5. Adam Eaton can be counted on for one thing only, to give up runs right out of chute and put his mates in a hole.
6. Brett Myers threw his first decent game in months last night, alas, against AAA competition.

That rotation has in general managed to perform fairly well over the last few months as the offense sputtered through fits and starts, but this sextet isn't going to dominate anyone.

Even were the Phils to pick up an arm that could help, the offense cannot continue to drift in and out of consciousness as it has done the last several weeks. Few are the games they've played in which the Phils jumped out to a lead. They are always playing catchup, and though they excelled at that sort of high wire act last season, this is a different year.

They've now lost seven of their last eight series and seen their lead over Florida cut to 1.5 games and 2.5 over NY. A few weeks ago they led NY by seven games.

The Mets, on the other hand, look like they have settled down. In taking 3 of 4 from the Phillies this past weekend, the New Yorkers got good pitching, timely and frequent hitting and good defense. Moreover, they built up their confidence in going head to head with the Phillies. The NL East looks to be a three-team race, with Florida being the other contender. Most folks think the young Marlins will fade down the stretch, and they might; but they can hit a ton, which should always keep them in the ballgame, especially against the kind of pitching one of their chief rivals keeps trotting out nearly every night.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Pepper Allowed

Raise your hand if you'd rather see Pat Burrell come to bat two more times in an extra inning game than watch the guy who pinch-ran for him flail away? If Charlie can live with his defense and slow foot speed for the first seven innings he sure as hell can live with those qualities for the remaining five!

I'd bet anything his teammates would rather see Pat coming to bat.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of pinch-runners, Eric Bruntlett continues to unimpress.. Saturday night he pinch-ran for Burrell and instead of tagging at second base on a deep fly to left center he played it half-way, which was a bonehead mistake. At worse the ball is caught at the fence; at best it bounces off the wall. He never advanced nor scored. This is not the first time Bruntlett has failed to run the bases well.

* * * * * * * *

Five of us attended Saturday night's game, my first live view of a Phillies-Mets game. My niece's husband, a native New Yorker and die-hard Mets fan, largely restrained himself throughout the proceedings though he had far more to cheer about. Overall, the crowd was civilized...even the other Mets fans, though one of those loud, look-at-me types was seated in front of us and jumped up every few minutes and played mostly to the crowd behind him. Still, the evening was pleasant except for the outcome. BTW, the "Let's go Mets" chants far outnumbered the "Let's Go Phillies" chants in number and volume.

* * * * * * * *

Ryan Howard's three-run homer Saturday may have tied the game but it was not sufficiently redemptive IMO following his latest errant throw, this time on a pick-off of Carlos Beltran by Jamie Moyer. The runs he cost his team still counted and in case you hadn't noticed, the Phils did lose.

* * * * * * * *

The Phillies bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular all season so it was painful to watch them blow two games this weekend. Tom Gordon was the most serious casualty of the group, going on the 15-day DL after Saturday night's struggle. Why is it that Gordon almost always goes on the DL after a rough outing?

* * * * * * * *

Burrell is one of five players who is in the running (pardon the pun) for last man to be named by the fans to the All Star game. Since the Mets David Wright is also on the ballot, population figures strongly suggest Burrell doesn't have much of a chance of be elected. Teammate and biggest NL vote-getter Chase Utley is pulling for Pat. Utley said he and all his friends were going to vote for Burrell. Thanks to MLB, they can do it 25 times each.

Burrell is deserving of a spot on merit this season, but he is also deserving if there is room in the vote for some sentiment. He has made a dramatic recovery over the last few seasons from the mierable years of the early 2000's. Yesterday's last AB in the game was a perfect example. Down in the count and facing a pitcher with a nasty slider, Burrell worked a walk. The old Burrell would have flailed away at the low and away pitches he took.

Friday, July 04, 2008

You Say J.A. And I Say A.J.

Isn't it nice when a player lives up to expectations? Cole Hamels has done that and then some. He's clearly the staff ace, a sure thing to produce a quality start (in the old sense of the term) nearly every time out.

Last night he came within an out of throwing his league-leading third shutout of the season, settling for a 4-1 win as Flash Gordon finished up for the save. With the victory the Phillies scored their second consecutive sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. I doubt many teams have ever done that to the Braves on their home field.

As Tom McCarthy noted during the telecast, Hamels was talking to himself quite a bit last night, on the mound and even at the plate. The young lefty expects much of himself and doesn't mind berating himself in public. A poor pitch or swing is often the occasion for a little self-criticism and show of disgust. Fortunately, there are few poor pitches to complain about but, then, Hamels is such a perfectionist he thinks every pitch should land precisely where he intended every time. Hamels also entered the game batting .300. He clearly expects to drive the ball every time he steps into the batter's box. Somewhere, perhaps, Rick Ankiel is smiling.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of the telecast, I have become quite impressed by Chris Wheeler's commentary. Yes, he does use the term "middle in" more than I'd like, but his feel for the game and its situations and his knowledge of the players and obvious fondness for them make him very enjoyable to listen to. He's also become a very good cover guy for Harry's occasional miscues, correcting a count or a substitution deftly and gently. Wheeler has been the brunt of much criticism in the blogosphere but I don't subscribe to it.

On the other hand, McCarthy is generally hard to take but not in the offensive automaton way that, say, a Joe Buck is. He's a master of the obvious a little too often for my tastes and something of a Pollyanna. Normally, he is paired with Garry Matthews, who is very hard to take. If they made a mute button that could effectively eliminate part of a broadcast, I'd take out Sarge every time.

* * * * * * * *

J.A. Happ has been recalled from AAA to take Brett Myers spot in the rotation and he isn't going to get much time to ease into things. Tonight he makes his second major league start against no other than Johann Santana and the Mets. All the talk of just going out there and remembering he's pitching aginst the lineup not Santana and that it's just another game may make for good psychology if perchance Happ is reading the newspapers, but we shouldn't be surprised if the tall lefthander is very nervous at the start.

By the way, Happ should consider legally changing his name to A.J. Happ; that rolls off the tongue a whole lot easier than J.A..

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Back In The NL

Back in the good ole NL the Phils have resumed their winning ways. The schedule makers may have thrown them a nasty slider by pitting them against several of the best teams in the AL, but those same schedule makers must have taken pity on our boys by making sure they eased back into the lesser competition of the NL by starting the Phils off with a three game set at Turner Field, where they've been perfect thus far this season.

With their win last night the Phillies assured themselves their first series victory in seven tries. Their last one? Against these same Atlanta Braves.

Many of the previously slumping Phils batters contributed to the first two wins, but it's safe to say once again that as goes Jimmy Rollins so go the Phillies. The reigning NL MVP had been in a serious funk until the last two nights, but his hitting and fielding were in top form in these two victories. Moreover, Jimmy again looks like his old self, smiling and jabbering with the opposition. Rollins has taken a lot of heat in the blogosphere for his lack of patience at the plate, but he's been hitting in a lot of tough luck, too. Now those hits are falling in and all is well again.

* * * * * * * *

If most commentators are to be believed, one of the principal reasons Brett Myers was sent down to AAA was to help him gain back his confidence. If that's the case, it's hard to imagine how losing his first start as an Iron Pig is going to help on that front.

* * * * * * * *

This weekend I am preparing to experience by first Phillies-Mets game live. Normally I would content myself to observe this rivalry from afar but my younger niece and her husband are coming in for the holiday and he is a serious baseball fan...from New York. Anyone want to guess which team he'll be rooting for? Five of us are going to the game: three Phillies fans, the aforementioned interloper and his wife, who could best be described as neutral on the entire subject except that I am sure she wants to preserve domestic tranquility and harmony.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pig Out

Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures but no one saw anything this drastic coming. Brett Myers, a seven year veteran who was the Phillies Opening Day starter this season, was optioned to AAA yesterday. As a player with five years or more service Myers could have refused to report but in another stunning development he reacted maturely for a change and accepted the demotion.

Myers will only stay in the minors for 20 days, the maximum amount of time a big-leaguer can serve, er, I mean remain, in the minors without affecting his major league service time.

Myers was sent down to work on his mechanics, give himself a chance to reflect on his struggles away from the glare of the media and fans and, last but not least, provide him a respite from the bats of major league hitters.

How precisely a seven year veteran messes up his mechanics is something this observer has struggled with himself. I maintain Myers never has recovered from his shoulder "strain" of last season and his "messed up mechanics" are in fact compensation for that lingering problem. If this is the case, he can remain an Iron Pig until, well, Pigs -- Iron or Otherwise -- fly, and it won't help if there is something structurally impaired.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lighten Up

I'd like a nickel every time a ballplayer says he "just wants to have fun."

No one said ballplayers have to be miserable, you understand, but the notion that having fun is a priority has always struck me as odd. Baseball may be a game, but as ballplayers who've been traded, demoted, released, waived or signed to a figure below what they expected will always tell you, it's a business and they understand that.

All of that said, however, nowhere is it written that ballplayers have to be grim and miserable either. Unfortunately, the Phillies to a man seem depressed these days. Even J-Roll, always smiling and chirping away with opposing players whenever he gets on base, looks subdued those few times he's managed to get some quality time with the opposition of late. Shane Victorino, Jimmy's partner-in-mirth, looks beaten down.

Ryan Howard no longer glares at the home plate umpire when he strikes out looking. He just grabs the bat in despair and heads for the dugout. Meanwhile, Chase Utley, never one to smile in public, looks more than a little pained and bewildered. Perhaps only the always-stoic Pat Burrell remains much as he's always been.

Brett Myers is so lost he's stopped talking. From all appearances, Pedro Feliz never started talking. We can be sure he won't under current circumstances. Carlos Ruiz has never given any indication he can communicate easily to begin with. Geoff Jenkins, who struck me as a hail-fellow well-met sort, has retreated into a shell, a shocked one at that. Jayson Werth has never been much of a talker from all appearances. Chris Coste snapped at the umpire the other day. That's certainly out of character for a fellow who has always come off as just tickled to be here.

What a morose bunch. It's hard to say what should come first, lightening up so they can win a few games or winning a few games so they can lighten up.