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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Old Pros And Younger Stars

You can be sure the lessons aren't lost on the younger members of this team every time the ageless one goes to the mound, which is to say, on all 24 members of the regular roster not to mention the hordes of September call-ups.

Asked to pitch on 3 days rest, Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, gave the Phils the best innings of his life, 5.2 in all, as the Phils took the opener of a four-game set with the Brewers, 6-3. Moyer didn't appear to have his best stuff, but he had sufficient guile to keep the free-swinging Brewers off balance. He did surrender two long home runs, but he also had enough to send the guys in blue back to the bench muttering to themselves about how they couldn't believe they couldn't crush this old man's junk every time they walked to the plate.

Watching Moyer pitch is always an education and last night's lesson added a new wrinkle [pun intended] to this observer's lasting impression of the old pro. Watch when a ball is hit foul. Moyer dashes off the mound either in pursuit or to give guidance to a teammate in pursuit, even when the ball ends up out of play. Watch him on a base hit to any outfield spot. There he is running to cover or backup the base where he expects the relay to come. He doesn't just go out there, throw the ball and stand back and admire his handiwork. He is busting his tail all the time, often with more energy than some twenty or thirty- somethings playing behind him.

The other story line last night was Ryan Howard, who has chosen the most opportune time this season to get hot. Howard stroked a majestic home run to dead center field in the opening frame to give Moyer and the Phils a 2-0 lead they never surrendered. Howard has been hot as a firecracker in the month of September and it should be noted that in addition to his six home runs and 15 rbi's this month, he hasn't been striking out. That not only means he is more comfortable at the plate; it should put to rest the notion that strikeouts in whatever quantity, are not important in the long run. Putting the ball in play still matters. Just ask Moyer and Howard.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One's On Charlie; The Other's On Everyone

I did not see Wednesday's loss to the Marlins and am in no position to comment on the details. I can, of course, lament the outcome and despair of the Phillies' chances. The night before was a different matter altogether. That loss is on Charlie Manuel, not because he went with Kyle Kendrick in the first place but because he stayed with the kid far too long. It was clear right out of the gate Kendrick didn't have it but Manuel waited to replace him until he'd given up far too many runs to overcome. The Phils did eventually manage to score eight runs, but the seven-run hole courtesy of Manuel and Kendrick was too deep too soon.

Manuel's decision to use Kendrick can certainly be defended: the young right-hander had struggled before only to right his ship and the alternatives were not very reassuring. That said, the Marlins teed off as if they were facing Ramon Henderson, which in terms of the results wasn't far from the truth. Kendrick gave up six hits, seven earned runs and walked two in a 1.1 innings. His replacement, J.A. Happ, who some thought might have been given the start in the first place, didn't fare that much better, yielding three runs in 3.1 innings of work.

Wednesday's loss continued an all-too-familiar pattern: decent starting pitching, a lack of hitting and more recently a tired, ineffective bullpen.

Seventeen games remain and at this juncture a few things are clear: the Mets show no signs of collapsing and the Brewers maintain a healthy lead in the Wild Card. The Phillies control their own destiny in the latter instance with a four-game set beginning tonight versus Milwaukee. The Phadins' did catch one break already: C.C.Sebathia pitched last night and will not start against them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Winning Despite Blanton

Joe Blanton arrived here at the trade deadline with two tags hung around his ample neck: "innings eater" and "throws strikes." He's done neither.

Blanton barely survived his five innings of work last night, coughing up two leads as he struggled again to give the Phils beleaguered bullpen a respite. Blanton walked three Marlins all of whom eventually scored. After the game, he was quoted as saying "I felt good [in the first inning]. Then, I tried to do too much." If by "too much" he meant nibbling that would be subject to interpretation. From my couch it looked like Blanton just didn't have command of his pitches. It's worth noting that his ample girth makes following through on his pitching motion a tad more difficult. Some portly pitchers have succeeded in the past despite their avoirdupoids, but Blanton does not appear to be one of them.

Fortunately, the offense showed up last night in the persons of Jimmy Rollins (three hits and three stolen bases), Ryan Howard (two hits and two rbi's) and particularly Jayson Werth (a game-winning three run homer).

Florida made it tough as usual, compensating for their free-swinging ways with a couple of home runs, one each off Blanton and JC Romero, but the Phils had answers for each blow as they moved to within a game and a half of idle New York.

Tonight Kyle Kendrick returns to the rotation after a forced one-start hiatus allowing him to contemplate two straight poor outings. The Marlins are the type of team that will jump all over a mistake and Kendrick lacks the assortment of pitches to keep them off balance. He's got to keep his sinker down or the bleacher bums will be tossing a lot of balls back onto the turf.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Still Not Ready For Prime Time

[From the post below] Next up is Cole Hamels, the guy everyone expects to do well. He's got two tough acts to follow.

Unfortunately, Hamels wasn't up to the task, yielding five runs in five innings as the Phils had to settle for a split of the day-night doubleheader with the Mets. Though the Phils won two of three this weekend, they left town two games out with nineteen games remaining to be played, hardly an insurmountable lead as Mets fans can but won't tell you, but not what they hoped for.

Hamels never took command in a game that saw its share of odd plays, bad plays and blown calls, but in the end it was three straight base hits in the first inning and two monstrous home runs by Carlos Delgado that spelled doom. There were endless debates on the blogosphere about whether or not to start Hamels in the day or night portion of the twin bill, but in the end the position of the sun or its absence didn't matter. Generally speaking, Hamels has never fared particularly well in front of a national television audience or in a really big game and last night's poor outing was no different. He has the ambition but not the sang froid. He does, however, have the pained expression down pat. On Delgado's first blast he never turned around. This observer is still waiting for Hamels to mature.

[BTW: replays of the catcher's interference on Chris Coste with David Wright at the plate clearly show Coste wincing when the bat hit his glove. The umpire got that one right.]

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Control And Command

I tip my hat to Jamie Moyer following his fine performance today against the Mets.

In both the pre-season and once play was underway few if any were more skeptical of the likely contributions from a 45-year old hurler than this observer, but the ageless one proved it isn't how hard you throw, or don't, but how you mix those pitches up and where you throw them that counts.

Moyer put on a clinic this afternoon in winning his 13th game of the season. Indeed, watching him speak several times in the first inning to home plate umpire Bill Miller showed just how far a wily veteran pitcher can go in controlling his own destiny. The telecast clearly showed Moyer speaking more than once to the home plate umpire. Commentator Tom McCarthy informed viewers after the first inning that Moyer had not only spoken about the location of pitches called balls but about being informed more often and visibly by Miller what the count was. Apparently, Moyer didn't argue balls and strikes (an automatic ejection for a batter or manager but for a pitcher????), but he did "discuss" where the pitches he didn't get were. That's authority and savvy. The business of getting the count saves having to turn around and look at the scoreboard, an obvious distraction for any pitcher. If Jamie is getting squeezed by the ump he's usually in big trouble since he lives on the edges, but clearly he took command early, of both the Mets and the umpire. He threw seven innings of no run ,two hit ball, allowing three walks while striking out one.

This was the second straight outstanding performance by a Phillies starter. Next up is Cole Hamels, the guy everyone expects to do well. He's got two tough acts to follow.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Plain and Simply Outstanding

Brett Myers was superb last night in New York, plain and simple. He threw first pitch strikes. He used a devastating curve to great effect. He worked out of jams. He even ran the bases hard. He stepped up when his mates needed him most. Oh, and by the way, his victory gave him the second best record among starting pitchers since the All Star game. He is 6-1 in nine appearances since he returned from his forced sojourn in the minor leagues. Over his last four starts Myers sports an 0.58 ERA. Only C.C. Sabathia has out pitched Myers during that period and the former needed an other worldly string of outings to do so.

Joe Blanton was allegedly the Phils' major pickup before the July trading deadline but everyone now knows Myers, who returned to the big leagues on July 20, was really the most important acquisition. The Myers who went down to the minors 20 days earlier, demoralized and discombobulated, couldn't have fetched anything of value except, as it turned out, himself!!

With Hamels and Myers at the top of the rotation, the Phils finally have a one-two punch to throw at the opposition. If the generally punchless offense can get its act together the Phils might have a chance in the off-season. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Even last night's 3-0 victory over the Mets featured a mere four hits, one of which (Greg Dobbs two-run homer) glanced off the glove of rightfielder Ryan Church. Still, they didn't need more offense than that with Myers on the hill.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Welcome Back, Tadahito

In one of Pat Gillick's final, inexplicable acts (unless he secretly hates his own team) the Phillies re-signed second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi would be ineligible for the post-season, a moot point if ever there were one.

Gillick, like Bob Clarke of the Flyers, has shown a strong tendency to re-sign players from his past, a sure sign he didn't know what he was doing when he let them go or failed to re-sign them in the first place. Iguchi has had a terrible season for the Padres, including spending a long period on the Disabled List. If asked about that, Gillick no doubt would reject the notion, claiming "He wasn't injured when we had him!"

According to Yahoo Sports Iguchi, who is hitting a robust .231, "was serviceable during the first part of the season, but missed 47 games with a separated right shoulder and hit just .125 since his return from the disabled list."

I'm trying to imagine exactly where Tadahito is going to play. Utley isn't injured as far as I know, so I guess he won't be subbing for him. Jimmy seems to be healthy, too. Howard is...oh forget it...Tadahito isn't going to play first base. Third? It's well-known the Phils tried to persuade the Japanese infielder to take a turn at third when he was last under contract but Iguchi rejected the idea and signed with San Diego. I give up. Heck, he backs right handed so he isn't even a left-handed batter off the bench. Oh, wait, we signed Matt Stairs to do that, didn't we? I just dunno. Maybe Iguchi is going to be a defensive replacement for So Taguchi who is going to be a defensive replacement for Pat Burrell.

Wherever they play him this is hardly the kind of signing that is likely to put the Phillies over the top. But let's not get negative here; at least we won't have to suffer too many more appearances from super-sub Eric Bruntlett with old Tadahito back in town.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


One of the most popular clinches we can expect to hear from under performing clubs late in the season is the self-deluding one that urges listeners to embrace the mistaken belief that there is "a lot of baseball left". Another popular one uttered by teams in second place is how "this club never gives up". Somewhere along about September, someone on a team playing catch up will acknowledge "these games really count"...as if the first 140 or so were all just preamble. Finally, there is the old standby that reminds fans "we've been in this position before and we know what we have to do".

No matter how much spin they put on the series they just lost in Washington, the Phillies are not only running out of time under normal circumstances, that is, unless we see another historic collapse by the Mets, but more troubling are showing no signs of consistency let alone urgency. While it's true Washington was on something of a tear prior to the start of this series, we are not talking about a starting rotation or lineup that strikes fear in the opposition. With their two wins over the Phadins, the Nats record stands at 54-86, 25 games behind the division-leading Mets. These guys aren't exactly the 2007 Phillies let alone the '27 Yankees.

Quite simply, the Phadins blew it, and frankly cracks are beginning to open up in the once-reliable bullpen that has been blowing leads left and right at the worst possible time. They blew two of two of them last night alone, wasting a two home-run evening by Ryan Howard. What makes all this hard to stomach is that the Phadins big hitters seem to be coming around (with the exception of Pat Burrell) of late. What makes it even harder to digest is that the Mets bullpen was the one that was supposed to be in shambles.

How quickly the euphoria of taking the final two games against the Cubs in Wrigley has faded. While the Phillies were stumbling in the nation's capital, the Mets were sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee to open a three game. Lest anyone think the Wild Card may be the road to the post season, a look at those standings shows the Phadins now trail Milwaukee by 4.5 games in that race. The Phadins host the Brew Crew next week for four games and you can be sure if the home team doesn't have much incentive to get up for that series the Brewers sure do. Before that series gets underway, however, the Phadins face the Mets in New York this weekend for three games. By Sunday night we should know a lot more about what cliches we can expect to hear next.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Way The Game Is Played

Cole Hamels was on his game last night and the offense gave him enough support for the win as the Phils stopped the Nationals' seven game winning streak.

Hamels pitched into the eighth inning and was pulled probably as much to rest him in anticipation of his next start, against the Mets, as to hand the game over to J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin and Brad Lidge. Unlike the day before, when most of the Phillies looked as though they'd overslept, this game featured an attempted steal -- unsuccessful -- of home by Chase Utley and some timely hitting by Jimmy Rollins.

Utley's bold dash home and violent collision with catcher Jesus Flores was just the kind of clean, hard-nosed, heads-up play we've come to expect from him. He saw an opportunity to increase the Phils' lead and wake up his mates and he took it without regard for his body. That he was unsuccessful in scoring was the least of it -- he got an A for effort. Flores was injured on the play and had to leave the game but nothing was broken, just sprained, for which Utley was glad. Naturally, the fans in Washington booed him for the remainder of the game. Let's chalk that one up to being inexperienced at watching how the game should be played.

Speaking of how the game should be played on defense, if there is a better fielding third baseman right now than Ryan Zimmerman I'd like to meet him. Zimmerman has the reflexes of a Brooks Robinson but with a better arm. In the top of the eighth he was playing in anticipating a bunt from Cole Hamels when the Phils' lefthander pulled the bat back and hit a sharp ground ball toward third. Zimmerman fielded it as the ball was passing him and threw Hamels out from his knees. His fielding is worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day Off

There was a time when everything shut down during Labor Day. It was difficult to find an open gas station let alone a clothing store, restaurant or mall. The only "working stiffs" expected to show up were ballplayers. Apparently, the Phillies didn't get that memo.

How can the same team that played inspired ball the second half of the series in Chicago sleep walk through a Labor Day game against the Nationals? Easily if you are the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies; just play in character. If there were a relatively new wrinkle to yesterday's woeful performance it was that both the starting pitching and the hitting took the holiday at the same time.

Kyle Kendrick had no command; absolutely none. In this morning's Inquirer Rich Dubee said Kendrick was pitching scared. He sure didn't look like he was pitching to contact, which is what a guy with only average stuff has to do to win. Over his last five starts he has a 9.14 ERA. The Phillies are openly saying they will skip over him for his next start, which would have been against the Mets. What they haven't said openly yet is that they might skip over him for a spot on the post-season roster, if there is a post-season for the team itself. That, of course, would do wonders for his already shaky confidence, but, then, the Phillies have always been poor handlers of players' egos. In this case, however, a bruised ego would be worth the risk if playing in October is at stake.

It didn't help matters that whenever the Phillies face Tim Redding, yesterday's Washington starter, they make him look like Cy Young. Redding had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. The Nationals are 4-1 against Philadelphia when Redding starts. The Phils could have gotten to him right out of the gate, but they stranded two runners in the first inning and managed only four hits for the entire game.

They hardly wasted a good effort by their starting pitcher, but they did waste the good feelings that prevailed after the two straight wins in Chicago. More than one Phillie left the Windy City saying out loud they could play with any team. Washington?