Friday, December 18, 2009

I Digress....

...and why not given how infrequently I post anything these days?!

Is this finally the Winter of our discontent?

Well, not for those boys of Fall and Summer, but, oh, those Winter wonderkinds.

The Eagles somehow manage to win all but the biggest games when they have to and lose some gimmes when, by definition, they aren't supposed to. They are currently putting on one of those Winter spurts for which they are famous. They aren't really a Super Bowl team but we've had plenty of evidence over the years that the best teams don't always win. Wait. They nearly always do in football!

The Phillies just signed one of the best pitchers in baseball while trading away the best pitcher on their staff from a year ago before his value diminished and he walked away a free agent. In the process they subtracted a few top prospects while acquiring a few top prospects from another team. Were all these transactions a net plus? Who knows?! One thing is certain: they weren't a minus when Roy Halladay is still standing and wearing red pinstripes.

As a side note, it's interesting to watch baseball players clamor to come to Philadelphia and, in Lee's case, express deep regret over leaving, when only a few short years ago ball players, especially the ones who throw for a living, made it clear on the whole they'd rather not make their livings here. Winning does that. So does a good clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the Flyers fired the only eligible victim available at the time and proceeded to play just as poorly under the new guy as they did under the old one, proving yet again that when things go bad management nearly always fires the wrong albeit only person they can. John Stevens deserved better, of course, but he joins a long list of stewards who deserved better and didn't get it.

The Sixers are even more pitiful than the Flyers, losing twelve of thirteen while signing an over-the-hill veteran no one else wanted. So what happens when AI returns to the scene of his past glories? Five games later he is sidelined with arthritis, the sort of disease one finds in, well, over-the-hill veterans no one else wants. I never thought I'd say this, but Ed Stefanski makes one think wistfully about Billy King.

Out on the links, the only golfer other than Arnold Palmer who ever remotely tempted me to watch a match on TV has had a bad couple of weeks, most if not all apparently of his own doing. Ever since Muhammad Ali retired, Woods has been the most dominant figure in sports of his time. The first chinks in his armor appeared recently in some stories noting his foul mouth and temper, but these peccadilloes pale when viewed against the current backdrop.

Have a nice holiday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cold Comfort

Brad Lidge has put together back-to-back memorable seasons over the last two years but we're sure he'd like to forget the most recent one.

2008 was perfection;2009 isn't!. For his major league leading eleventh time, Brad Lidge blew a save last night, turning a certain Phillies victory into another crushing defeat as the Marlins scored two runs in the ninth inning to take two of three games in the series. With the loss and blown save Lidge has now directly contributed to or been solely responsible for nearly 20% of the team's losses this season.

We've all heard Lidge, his pitching coach or his manager speak optimistically every time the Phils closer seems to have regained his 2008 form only to watch a debacle like last night throw cold water on the situation. The truth is, sports fans, he's lost "it". Whatever precisely "it" is that closers possess, and surely one thing is the ability to stop the opposition in its tracks, Lidge no longer has it in sufficient quantity. The harsher truth is, there isn't anyone else the Phillies can turn to. As if we needed further reminder that Ryan Madson isn't the answer, Madson gave up a run in the eighth inning preceding Lidge's meltdown. Madson opened the door; Lidge invited the Marlins to stay.

At this point no one, especially the other eight guys on the field at the time, wants to see Charlie Manuel hand the ball to Lidge. Frankly, I'd bring in Clay Condrey or Sergio Escalona. What, you ask? To which I'd reply, "What, they are going to do worse than Lidge?" Just tell them it's the seventh inning. After all, that's about as far as the bullpen fears to tread anyway.

Talk about squaring into shape as the season winds down.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Forget Who's On First! Who's In The Rotation?

Normally at this juncture of the season starting rotations and bullpens are set barring injury. Roles have been defined and routines have been established.

Not in Philadelphia.

Kyle Kendrick thew something of a monkey wrench into an already unsettled situation and Pedro Martinez continued to mess with the order of things as the Phils swept the Mets in a day-night doubleheader yesterday.

Kendrick pitched very well in the day game; Martinez pitched even better under the lights. Oh, and Brad Lidge pitched poorly again while Brett Myers flashed some of the form that had him leading the majors in home runs allowed. Meanwhile, newly crowned closer Ryan Madson got crowned but good in blowing a save Saturday afternoon.

Kendrick joined six other pretenders for the starting rotation (Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Martinez, Moyer) by mixing his pitches just like the Phillies hoped he'd learn to do when they sent him down to AAA for the year. All thatPedro did was win his fifth straight game without a loss.

At this point in September teams in playoff contention are beginning to think about setting up their rotations in anticipation of the initial round. Around these parts the question looming largest is who is going to be in that rotation in the first place?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Who's next?

New setup man Brett Myers gave his best imitation of his home-run derby delivery yesterday and new closer Ryan Madson blew his sixth save of the season, no small feat given he isn't the regular closer, as the Phils dropped an ugly game to the New York Mets, 10-9.

Rather than solving their problems at the back end of the bullpen, the Phillies wake up Sunday morning with bigger ones than ever. If last season saw them peaking as the regular season drew to a close, this season finds them scrambling around, their starting pitching erratic, the bullpen an utter mess and their offense sputtering.

The only outcome likely to come from yesterday's debacle is that Brad Lidge is going to get another chance to close a game...real in probably today with a day-night doubleheader looming.

Myers and Madson surely knew the twin bill was scheduled for today, but that didn't help them limit the exposure of the bullpen in yesterday's come-from-behind loss. After sporting the Mets a big lead, the Phils roared back to take a big lead themselves only to watch David Wright launch not one but two home runs, the final one the killer. Meanwhile, Florida won to move to within five games of the Phils. With a tough schedule looming including six games against the Marlins, this thing is far from over.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wall Of Worry

The Phillies return to soggy Citizens Bank Park Friday night sporting a 2 - 5 record from the roadtrip through Houston and Washington and, worse, all sorts of problems and inconsistencies.

The finale of the trip saw previously reliable Joe Blanton get rocked while the nearly always slumbering offense waited until the ninth inning to show some life before Ryan Howard grounded into a game-ending double play that halted the rally a run short. They didn't deserve to win this one, though just desserts are never the point.

So, where do we stand with the lead over those pitching-loaded pesky Marlins at five games and dwindling?

Right now Pedro Martinez looks like the sharpest starter and that's not something to be happy about. Blanton, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all showed signs of inconsistency on the trip. J.A. Happ is out with an oblique strain, which depending on the source you read is one of the most difficult injuries to recover from quickly or, in his case, is mild enough not to cause too much concern. Given the Phillies poor history on the forthcoming-about-injuries front, we'll just say there are better than even odds he is going to take some time to come back.

Lee's problems may simply be too much pitching. In his first five starts for the Phillies he threw two complete games and pitched deeply in the others. Now, he is getting rocked early, a clear sign he is fatigued. Hamels has been inconsistent and immature all season. If he doesn't get a grip on his emotions soon, he is always going to be one blown call or play away from self-destructing. It's never a good sign when, after the game, your pitching coach talks about "body language", as in, well, his body language wasn't too bad. To whom is his language speaking, Rich?

The struggles on offense remain the chief concern because, frankly, the Phils were always expected to overcome pitching deficiencies with their bats. Jimmy Rollins remains stuck in the .24o's, going after first pitches and swinging up too often, always looking for lift. Those 18 home runs he's hit don't do anyone any good. Chase Utley continues to wear down at the end of every season, his admirably intense approach to everything about the game a virtue to all who watch him and a liability to his own body. Shane Victorino has also been slumping, perhaps due to his nagging knee injury or just because he, too, goes all out all the time. The rest of the offense is muddling along with Raul Ibanez showing some signs of life but still vulnerable to too many pitches.

It's to worry about.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Getting Closer To A Closer?

It's too early to say the Brett Myers or Ryan Madson era has begun but it's late to be saying Brad Lidge can no longer be counted on to close games.

The Phillies beat Washington last night on the strength of Pedro Martinez' good outing and solo home runs from Raul Ibanez (2), Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley. The homers gave the Phils four players (including Ryan Howard) with 30 or more home runs.

Still, that achievement nearly came to naught as Lidge loaded the bases with Nats in the bottom of the ninth before Madson came in to get the final two outs. Lidge was his usual 2009 self, that is to say, wild and unreliable. He gave up a hit, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and walked a batter. For once, Charlie Manuel saw enough just in the nick of time and summoned Madson before victory became defeat. Madson struck out the dangerous Ryan Zimmerman and induced the equally dangerous Adam Dunn to ground out. The thought of Lidge facing either batter was literally frightening to his manager.

The five home runs by the Phils came in bunches and, as usual, accounted for all but one of their runs. The solo shots were the 13th in their last 14 round-trippers, as clear an indication as one could want that people are not getting on base.

Instead of rounding into playoff shape, a lot remains unsettled with this club. Several pitchers remain sidelined with injuries and some of the starting position players are walking wounded. Chief among their concerns remains the matter of who closes, not going forward but tonight if needed!!!

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Second Time Wasn't Charming

I had to correct the post below ("So Many Holes...") after originally having mistakenly written the Phillies had been swept by the Astros Sunday afternoon when I realized a Monday game remained. Now I can write it.

The Phillies were swept by the Houston Astros Monday.

The scenario was so familiar I should have just said see the post dated such-and-such. The Phils got a good starting pitching effort but wasted it as the bullpen failed to hold a lead. They didn't score often and when they did most of their runs came via the long ball. They failed to capitalize on critical scoring chances. Blah blah blah.

Next up are the Washington Nationals, normally the panacea for all that ails the Phillies. Right now, however, it's hard to feel confident let alone cocky about their chances against anyone. They look terrible.

So Many Holes Have Opened

Nearly all the signs coming out of the Phillies dugout these days are lousy. They aren't hitting much. They aren't scoring many runs and when they do it is only via the long ball. They aren't getting consistent pitching from their starters. They can't finish off games consistently.

After taking two out of three at home from the Giants by the slimmest of margins, the Phils went to Texas where they have promptly dropped three straight to the Astros. Cliff Lee was bombed. Brad Lidge blew another save. Cole Hamels followed two fine starts with a bad outing. The Hamels performance was particularly galling because once again he lost his composure, something, frankly, he rarely did when he had his command. For a guy with his major league experience to have to walk behind the mound to take a big, public moment to calm down is disturbing. In today's finale they will depend on J.A.Happ, who has lost two straight, to salvage a game.

At a time of year when the Phillies should be putting the finishing touches on their edifice, they are faced with cracks and fissures everywhere one looks. While they are still capable of the odd offensive explosion here and there, for the most part they are fizzling. Whereas two weeks ago the starting rotation looked to be rounding into perfect form, this morning there are more questions than answers. If they playoffs were to begin tomorrow, I wouldn't like their chances.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Time For A Change

Any moment now we should find out if Brad Lidge still believes Charlie Manuel is "the most supportive" manager for whom he's ever played because the skipper has no choice but to replace Lidge with Brett Myers in the closer's role. What does Manuel have to lose? Another game!

Lidge blew his tenth save of the season last night ruining a good effort by Joe Blanton and Brett Myers to say nothing of a struggling offense. The walk-off loss to his former teammates was ugly but, then, all blown saves and resultant losses are ugly by definition.

No matter what the explanation for his ineffectiveness this season, Lidge has been given more chances than he probably deserved. The final month of the regular season is hardly the time to be auditioning Myers, just off the forever Disabled List following him surgery, but Lidge has left the Phillies with no other choice. Manuel isn't considered a players' manager for nothing; he is extremely loyal, especially to veterans. But he doesn't like losing, either, and every time he summons Lidge the chances of such an outcome increase. No one can be loyal to losing.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, the injury bug has bitten two of the Phils key players, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino. Thus far the Phils have largely been immune from the bug with the notable exception of Myers and some of the relief corps. Utley fouled a ball off the same foot hit by a pitch earlier in the season. Victorino is favoring the same knee he landed hard on more than a month ago. Now is the time to sit these guys. Utley already has; it appears Victorino is about to.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cause For Concern

Uh, oh.

For the second straight outing Cliff Lee looked more than a wee bit mortal as the Phils continued to not knock the cover off the ball in losing to the Astros 7-0. This was the second time in their last four games the vaunted offense was shut out.

Lee gave up six runs in three innings and though the Astros were not teeing off on him quite as lustily as the Braves did last week, they did slice and dice him pretty good. Now, suddenly, the picture at the top of the rotation has gotten a little bit more confusing. Cole Hamels, putative ace until the acquisition of Lee, has pitched two straight strong games while Lee has been raked hard. Charlie Manuel would probably settle for something more in the middle from his top two guys. Compounding the concerns, J.A. Happ has lost two straight starts though in his case both loses came suddenly, in a single inning, when he grooved a few pitches that left the yard.

Of far greater concern is the collapse of the offense. No one is hitting consistently and many are not hitting period. The Phils have roughly 30 games to turn it around before the post-season and they'd better start soon.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Digress

I might as well make myself perfectly clear from the get-go: Roger Goodell is a jerk. The guy who essentially absolved league darling Bill Belichek for spying on opposing teams and allowed the evidence against him to be destroyed has handed down a decision regarding Michael Vick that can be charitably described as vindictive.

The matter of Vick's reinstatement and redemption is not my concern here; rather, I am addressing the commissioner's handling of the case post facto, i.e., after Vick had served his sentence, been released from prison and signed by the Eagles. It is appalling that Goodell would first allow Vick to resume his NFL career, endorse the Eagles' signing of him, then dilly-dally about how long his banishment from full reinstatement would last and finally rule he had to sit out the first two weeks of the regular season after playing in the preseason. What are those two weeks going to prove to anyone, least of all Goodell? Will Vick be a better man for those additional 14 days of NFL probation? Goodell is a classic holier-than-thou type who professes charity as long as he isn't required to practice it.

* * * * * * * *

An Oregon running back participated in a pre-game handshake at midfield with his opponents from Boise State, played on the losing side and proceeded to sucker punch an opposing player who at worst tapped him on the shoulder and said something less than sportsmanlike (unsubstantiated) to him afterwards. What should the punishment be? Ban him for the season. Send a real message for a change. Now, let's see just how sportsmanlike team and league officials really are.

* * * * * * * *

Much has been said about the relative lack of buzz about the U.S. Open if not professional tennis in general these days and most seasoned observers think it is not so much a lack of quality among the top players as a lack of charisma among them, especially of the controversial kind. It's hard to argue with those who say tennis misses the petulance of a John McEnroe or the fiery demeanor of a Jimmy Connors. I never cared for McEnroe's antics but I'm sure those people who like car wrecks and fights at hockey games paid the price of admission just to wait for an outburst. For my inexperienced and inexpert part, I don't much care for booming serves playing a much greater role in the outcome of matches on both the mens' and womens' sides.

* * * * * * * *

Tiger Woods is showing his mortal side lately, blowing a final round lead in the PGA Championship then missing a putt that would have tied him for the lead in regulation in a recent tourney. On top of that, a piece on NPR was far from flattering about his demeanor and language on the course, away from the TV cameras for the most part. The lords of the networks are hardly going to show the Golden Goose acting more like an Ass, but that's how he came across in the article. How disillusioning!!

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino is remembered by a lot of fans around the nation for pointing to his ribs not his noggin' after nearly being deliberately beaned last season in the playoffs against LA, so it isn't surprising he was the first Phillie to try the new batting helmet. Player response to the far more protective device has been extremely negative when it hasn't been outright derisive. The Mets David Wright, who was beaned recently and suffered a serious concussion, tried the helmet, too, but gave up on it after a few days because he didn't like being the brunt of his teammates' jokes and barbs. If anyone should be literally interested in a tougher skin it is Wright. Bad move, David.

Message Delivered

As I settled in to watch Pedro Martinez face Tim Lincecum last night I said to myself, "Pedro's going to throw a fastball to begin the proceedings and if I am the first guy up I am swinging away."

That was the last time I was right all night as Martinez and the rest of the Phillies fooled me in delivering quite a message to San Francisco and the rest of the National League, to wit: talk all you want about our sluggers, we can pitch with anyone!

The Phils only managed four hits against Tim Lincecum and the bullpen but they made everyone count when you also throw in a HIT batsman. Jayson Werth rocked Lincecum in the second inning for a mammoth home run and Chase Utley, the aforementioned hit batsman, scored from first on a double by The Piece himself.

Meanwhile, Martinez didn't let his first pitch faux pas ruin his evening as he settled down to deliver a game that should ease the minds of Phillies fans going forward and put to rest for the foreseeable future any question of where Jamie Moyer fits in the rotation, doubleheaders excepted.

If the night belonged to Pedro, he must share the spotlight withWerth, one of my favorite whipping boys. Werth has had a season to remember and it ain't over. Finally given a chance to see his name in the lineup every day, collars the night before notwithstanding, Werth has delivered career highs in every offensive category while fielding his position well, at times very well. He may make the occasional bonehead mistake on the base paths, his powerful arm can be erratic and he still seems to have some problems going back to the wall, but Werth provides the Phils with a potent bat behind Ryan Howard, something the Phils desperately need as Raul Ibanez sinks further.

What makes the Phillies triumph in two out of three games against San Francisco's stellar staffall the more astonishing is that they scored all of three runs in winning those two games. Talk about making the most of opportunities!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dirty Socks Just Wanna' Have Fun

ESPN reports Curt Schilling is "interested" in filling the Senate seat of Ted Kennedy.

One reason he would: The Republicans are desperate.

Two reasons he would not:

1. He has no qualifications; and,
2. Massachusetts voters may hold Schilling in high regard as a pitcher with a bloody sock but they are historically the most liberal electorate in the United States and aren't about to elect someone of his persuasion.

Schilling is also quoted as saying "'[Running] would be fun'" Great, Schill. Just the kind of comment I'd expect from a ballplayer. How many times have we heard "we go out there and just try and have fun."?

Having fun is not normally listed by U.S. Senators as one of the reasons they run for elected office and even in this declining Republic, it isn't normally listed among the reasons people vote for one candidate over another.

Tell you what, Curt. Stay home. Write your blog. Collect your pension. Chime in with your usual opinions straight from the hip. But stay away from public office. The country is already in enough trouble without your helping things along.

Wither Runners In Scoring Position?

The increasingly ugly truth is the Phillies have stopped hitting. Going back a few weeks now they've been mired in a collective slump save the occasional long-ball assault led largely by Ryan Howard.

Chief among the fallen is Raul Ibanez, who looks terrible at the plate. Since returning from the DL in the Summer, his average has dropped more than fifty points and is now in real danger of falling below .270. How much longer can Charlie Manuel run him out there instead of the far better fielder and certainly no lighter hitter than Ben Fancisco?

J.A. Happ took last night's loss, his second straight in which he pitched well until suddenly self-destructing and serving up long balls. No doubt it would help to know he was getting some support, but he has only himself to blame for serving up fat pitches. Commentary by Gary Matthews correctly suggests part of the problem is pitch selection. When he had Juan Uribe down 1-2 in the count it was no time to throw him a fastball up in the zone. Aaron Rowand followed with a home run off a pitch that could be charitably called right down Broadway with nothing on it.

Everyone is regressing to their personal mean at the same time. Pedro Feliz has stopped producing. Shane Victorino is slumping. Jimmy Rollins' march to respectability has hit a speed bump. The aforementioned Ibanez is falling below his career average. Jayson Werth remains streaky. Chase Utley is hitting but hovering around the .300 mark, too. Up one day a point or two, down the next. Howard is the only one who is hitting including singles and doubles, but, alas, there's no one on base ahead of him.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Welcome Back, Cole

Let's face it, Cole Hamels is a big game pitcher, especially when it's a really big game. The young left-hander's march through the playoffs and World Series last year earned him an MVP trophy, a big new contract and the adoration of fans throughout the Delaware Valley.

Most of his performances since then have earned him a barrage of questions, only some of which he has chosen to directly address.

In his last two outings he has been superb, particularly last night in one of those really big games. Why was it so big? Let us count the ways:

1. He was facing a potential playoff opponent.
2. He needed to show the last outing against a lesser opponent was not a fluke.
3. He was opposed by a young stud who'd thrown a no-hitter this season.
4. He had to convince his teammates he was back on track.
5. He had to convince the Giants he and the Phillies knew a thing or two about pitching, too.
6. He had to prove he could win without much run support.
7. He had to establish his command, which had been shaky most of the season.
8. He had to throw a third pitch every now and then.

He did all of those things, though he still relied mainly on the fastball and change. The result was a two-hit shutout of the Giants. Coming two days in advance of facing arguably the best pitcher in the NL, Tim Lincecum, Hamel's stellar performance re-established him as a top of the rotation pitcher, which, frankly, he hadn't been since, well, last October. You can be sure the Giants noticed.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


There is still plenty of baseball left in the regular season and plenty to play for besides personal glory.

A piece in today's Inquirer outlines the tight race for home field advantage between the Phils, Dodgers and Cardinals. Finishing with the best record carries much more than bragging rights; the top team gets home field advantage. In point of fact the Phils, among the three teams, have by far the best road record, so playing at home isn't necessarily an advantage for them. Still, if you were to ask anyone in the organization, he'd rather have 45,000 fans screaming for rather than against him.

* * * * * * * *

Untouchable Kyle Drabek has been shut down completely for the season after everyone in the organization determined he'd pitched enough innings, especially for a guy recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Phillies brain trust insisted they'd shut him down strictly for precautionary reasons and that he was in fine health, but some observers noted he'd not pitched well of late and seemed to have lost a lot on his fastball.

Given their track record on health issues and the truth therein, it's difficult to take the Phillies at their word.

* * * * * * * *

Old friend Jim Thome is on the move again. The White Sox traded him to the Dodgers yesterday, one of several moves the Chisox made in capitulating for this season. It's hard to figure out where Thome fits on a National League roster, but the Dodgers obviously feel he can come off the bench for an occasional Matt Stairs imitation, 2008 edition that is!

For their part, the Phils did absolutely nothing at the deadline, no doubt because they saw no one available who would improve them. Hard to argue with that strategy. Of course for every five Brad Pennys available there is one John Smoltz. Go figure. The same organization gave up on both of them despite needing starting pitching and who could blame them given how each performed. So Smoltz goes to St. Louis and is dominant in winning his first two starts while Penny lands in San Francisco and will start against the Phils tomorrow night. He'll probably shut them down.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

If You Cut Him He Will Bleed

Cliff Lee bled last night for the first time as a Phillie. He absorbed quite a pounding at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, giving up six runs and three homers in five labored innings of work. Apart from his rare meltdown, what struck this observer was not so much the Braves dictating the pace for the normally quick-working Lee, but the other way around. He seemed to take off his cap, mop his brow and take longer to deliver the next pitch than in any other start since joining the Phils. He looked hot and a bit tired as though he were pacing himself in the sultry atmospheric conditions of semi-tropical Citizens Bank Park.

Ok, so he's human, but the big concern all along from my perspective has been the number of innings Lee has thrown to date, completing two of his five previous starts and going deep in the others. Frankly, if he was going to get roughed up, an early exit isn't so bad.

Meanwhile, the Braves, whose players and manager had been whining the night before about the bandbox the Phils call home, didn't utter a single peep last night after they'd hit a few over the walls. What's sauce for the goose apparently is not sauce for the gander.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One For The Offense. One For The Staff

Over the last fifteen games the Phillies overall record is 11 - 4. Looking a little more deeply into those numbers they are 7 - 4 - 4, that is, seven wins courtesy of 24 players, 4 outright wins courtesy of Ryan Howard, and four losses.

The usual death and taxes comparisons have been invoked when speaking about Ryan Howard's customary late-season surge at the plate. The only thing out of the ordinary this season is that Howard began his run earlier than in previous years. The Big Piece, as his manager calls him, has been the difference between a mediocre August and one in which the Phils have opened an eight game lead over their two chief division rivals this season, Florida and Atlanta. If the BP is just getting warmed up, September promises to be a month to remember.

Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer may have griped publicly about his "demotion" to the bullpen when Pedro Martinez joined the club but he cannot be unhappy with his two appearances since then, both ironically in relief of Martinez and both impressive performances and wins for the ancient one.

Ruben Amaro and the Phillies brain trust deserve a lot of kudos for the Martinez signing and decision to move Moyer to the pen. Going into the stretch run and likely playoff appearance, the Phils have an abundance of pitching, which as everyone knows can never be too much. Moyer not only provides an additional starter should doubleheaders be necessary, he has also spelled relief for the middle of the bullpen. He may not be happy but he certainly hasn't allowed his displeasure to affect his work.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Running Out Of Steam

Peaking too soon? Hardly. They haven't peaked yet.

The Phillies dropped two of three to one of the worst teams in baseball, doing so in the same fashion that has plagued them periodically throughout the season, namely a lack of hitting overall and especially of the timely variety.

Last night they wasted an excellent effort by J.A. Happ, who surrendered a two-run homer in the eighth inning to take the tough loss. After the game, Happ appeared disconsolate, struggling by his own admission to find words for the late inning breakdown he suffered. Frankly, for a guy who is seen as cool under fire, it was impressive to see how deeply he cares. Other pitchers on this staff either stop talking to reporters or fade into the night.

Apart from Ryan Howard's tenth inning heroics the night before, the Phils looked pretty lame in Pittsburgh. They got excellent starting pitching overall but their bats must not have made the trip from Citi Field.

Tonight, weather permitting, they get to face one of the hottest young pitchers in baseball. Watch, the reverse curse has just been invoked.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cue The Bugle, Boys!

What else can one say? Thank goodness Ryan Howard's on our side! I know Ryan Madson was saying that a little more than 11 hours ago.

Speaking of Madson, he did absolutely nothing to alleviate concerns about the closer role on an otherwise set team. Madson ruined Cole Hamels' chance for a win by surrendering a game-tying home run in the ninth inning to a pinch-hitter who entered the game with a grand total of five round trippers up to that point. Madson also ruined his chances of taking over the role Brad Lidge has failed to fill adequately.

Some time back in December or January I declared this was a team that would have to outslug its opponents to take the division title and advance in the playoffs. At that point the starting rotation looked unimpressive but the bullpen did not. Eight months later the starters have been very solid, especially with the addition of Cliff Lee, and the back end of the bullpen has been a disaster.

Maybe Howard, Jayson Werth and Chase Utley can overcome any late inning woes by the pen, but it is a dangerous way to live, one which, incidentally, no World Series team has ever done successfully.

The saga continues with the latest chapter, the Seventh Cavalry's own Brett Myers, waiting in the wings just off camera.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who Ya' Gonna' Call?

Over at Beerleaguer Jason Weitzel asked readers the other day whether or not they thought the Phils were peaking too soon, a fair question given the tear they'd been on before last night's ninth inning collapse in Pittsburgh and the lead they've opened over their closer pursuers.

Still, my answer would be no and my reasons would be three, as in three straight losses to Florida at home a mere two weeks ago. Only two weekends ago they looked really miserable.

Another reason they haven't peaked too soon would be Brad Lidge. No one with a closer like Lidge can be said to have peaked period. He's certainly capable of losing a lot more games going forward given what he's done looking back.

I certainly have no idea if he's hurt or has completely lost his confidence. We've been told ad nauseum that neither is the case. What I do know is batters are laying off his slider, which is normally about a 58 foot pitch with Lidge, and are sitting on his fastball, which isn't one of those intimidating heaters and lately has a pronounced proclivity to arrive right smack dab in the middle of the plate where is resides briefly before beginning its return journey over some outfield wall.

Now, everyone except Charlie Manuel, at least publicly, is awaiting the second coming of Brett Myers as a relief pitcher. Before injuring his hip and electing to have it surgically repaired in mid-season, Myers had been giving up home runs at a prodigious rate before he went down. He'd also lost something on his fastball, going back more than a season. Blame it on his hip? Well, why not, everyone else seems to feel that explains his awful record prior to the surgery?!

Somehow, I am not comforted by the prospect of the always-erratic Myers riding to the rescue. The trouble is, as everyone has observed, there aren't any real alternatives at hand. Ryan Madson is not a closer and has proven so whenever presented with the opportunity to step into that role. [This post was written before he gave up a game-tying home run to Pittsburgh in the ninth inning tonight, costing Cole Hamels a well-earned victory.] No one else on the current staff qualifies either. At this time of year there aren't a lot of closers sitting at home, domestically or in the Dominican Republic, waiting for a call from Ruben Amaro. The only legitimate closer out there was Billy Wagner, coming off Tommy John surgery, pitching for a hated division rival, and a serious malcontent when he called Philadelphia home a few years ago. That shouldn't have happened and didn't!!

The trouble is Lidge has been horrible, as likely to pour gasoline as water on any fire he encounters. Giving him the ball in a tight game is very risky and everyone, his manager included, knows it. Right now, though, he's all the Phillies have until Brett Myers comes trotting in from right center field, protests of "not wanting to take anyone's job" notwithstanding. I can't wait. On second thought, I can.

Monday, August 24, 2009

You Think?

You say baseball is a crazy game? Yeah, right.

Eric Bruntlett, without doubt the most forgotten and forgettable Phillie this season, ended the game yesterday with an unassisted triple play -- only the second time this has ever happened in major league history -- and in the process produced what will be one of the most if not the most memorable plays of 2009. Oh, and he did this after booting two balls earlier in the inning. One more thing: the seldom used utility player had three hits in the game and still ended the day hitting .154 for the year.

John Smoltz, released by the Red Sox after his latest comeback went seriously off the tracks, landed on his feet in St. Louis where he won his first start and in the process struck out nine including a career-best seven straight at one point. Those of you who maintain the AL is the tougher league should chime in here.

The New York Yankees crushed Boston Friday night 20 - 11 and roared right back the next day to score one run in losing 14 - 1.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Schmidt On Rose

In a lengthy piece in the Inquirer, Mike Schmidt makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Pete Rose for lifting his lifetime ban from baseball and allowing him to be considered for the Hall of Fame. Among the key arguments Schmidt makes on behalf of his former teammate are these:

Pete bet on the Reds to win, never to lose. He never managed with the intention of not winning. Do you believe for one second the gambling underworld was tuned into Pete's betting habits? Pete never bet big or long enough to sway the gambling line. This has all been dressing to make it clear where gambling can lead. I'm not trying to say it's not serious , it is , but I'm asking you to compare its impact on the game to steroid use.

Steroid players knowingly ingested chemicals that gave them an unfair advantage over clean players. Not only were they compromising the game's integrity, they were jeopardizing the long term for short-term financial gain, confusing baseball history. And, oh yes, some might've broken the law.

Pete bet on his team to win and has been banished from baseball for life. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez et al, bet that they would get bigger, stronger and have a distinct advantage over everyone and that they wouldn't get caught. Which is worse? Does the penalty fit the crime?

Elsewhere in the piece Schmidt acknowledges Rose "was living a lie" not only regarding the evidence of his gambling but for nearly twenty years his admission of his activities but is willing to accept at face value he didn't bet on the Reds to lose nor managed in any way that would affect the outcome of a game involving Cincinnati. That's a bet I wouldn't take given Rose's hubris.

Ever since the Black Sox scandal the lords of baseball have recognized how gambling, especially by the participants of the game, could completely undermine baseball's integrity. Pete Rose knew this, not only because the Commissioner sent his emissaries to every club every spring to remind them of this rule among others, but also because Rose knew baseball history. Still, he decided he was above the law.

Schmidt argues steroid users were in greater violation of the rules with far more dire consequences for the game than was Rose, but the whole matter of comparing two crimes (as defined by baseball) is hardly sufficient justification for forgiving either one.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hamels' Woes Continue

Let the hand-wringing continue as Cole Hamels endured another rough outing last night.

Last year's playoff and World Series hero saw his record fall below .500 for the first time in his big league career as the Mets knocked him around for ten hits and four earned runs in five innings of genuine labor. Hamels has struggled all season with his command and last night was no different. Though they may be a mere shadow of their expected selves, the depleted New Yorkers had no trouble recognizing fat pitches when they saw them. The centerfield camera didn't lie this night; too often when Hamels needed a strike he painted the center line right down Broadway.

Though I did not see every pitch he threw, I do not recall Hamels throwing a single breaking ball all evening. He remains overwhelmingly a two-pitch hurler, a decent fastball but with little apparent movement and his bread-and-butter pitch, the change, which is only effective when it changes off something. Hamels must not trust his breaking stuff at all.

It's hard to know what the answer is in this case. Hamels claims he is healthy and the Phils will have to take him at his word. Allowing him to work through his difficulties may be the only real option.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lee And Other Things

Unless Cliff Lee suddenly becomes Steve Blass the acquisition of the reigning AL Cy Young winner has been perhaps the most important mid-season, off-season and any season in between trade the Phils have made in a very long time. Only the acquisition of another pretty fair left-hander over thirty years ago comes close.

Not only has Lee pitched brilliantly, he pitches deep into the night: two complete games and one each of seven and eight innings. Alleged innings eaters have come and gone in these parts, but this guy is the real deal. The glass-half-empty in me worries about tiring him out, especially when he goes the distance on a night when the temperature is still 85 degrees at game's end!

If anyone is worried about running him down, however, Lee is not among them. To add to his growing aura, he also hits and likes to do it. He sure doesn't look like a guy whose entire career heretofore has been in the DH league. Indeed, he's collected nearly as many hits in his four starts as he's surrendered. He looks like he knows what he's doing with a bat and, judging from last night, knows what he's doing on the bases. I loved how he went half-way on a fly ball after singling. I wish Jayson Werth could do that as well.

What's not to like??!!!

* * * * * * * * *

Well, as a matter of fact, here is something not to like in another arena altogether. With apologies to Sports Illustrated, a real sign the apocalypse is upon us was this paragraph from today's Inquirer on the subject of Michael Vick jerseys:

There is no Vick at Dick's.

A spokesman for Dick's Sporting Goods said yesterday that the chain will not stock Michael Vick's Eagles jersey until company officials "evaluate the reaction of Eagles fans."

Translation: We don't concern ourselves with questions of justice, redemption or forgiveness. We just ask ourselves whether or not we can make a buck.

* * * * * * * *

Sticking to football for another moment, the Brett Farve "circus" as former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton labeled it, reminds me of a prize fighter who just keeps coming back for more after it has become clear that all other considerations aside, his skills have eroded and his body cannot take the punishment. This Favre thing isn't going to end well or on his own recognizance. It's probably going to take an injury to put an end to it.

* * * * * * * *

Still on football, the Eagles certainly have had their share of training camp injuries, real and imagined. How do their casualties compare to other teams? Inquiring minds would love to know. Is Camp Reid too hard? Are players showing up in good shape? Is this "just" football?

* * * * * * * *

Back to the game we love....

Many observers think the Giants would represent the most difficult team to face in the first round of the NL playoffs because of their pitching. Others think the Rockies represent a greater challenge because they are better balanced over all. I'm sticking with the Marlins, who offer perhaps the greatest challenge of them all: unpredictability. They can hit. They can pitch. They cannot field. They also don't have a closer. But when they have the first two going at the same time they are trouble.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nice Work When You Can Get It

Imagine for a moment you are Jamie Moyer. The manager hands you the ball and tells you he'd like some quality innings. Give me that, Charlie continues, and we'll probably get a W. Being the sort of team player you've been most of your career, you nod and say you'll give it your best.

Not once during this brief conversation did anyone say anything about starting or relieving. The only things that matter are those quality innings and a W. Do you really care if those innings come at the beginning or middle of the game? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. If you're still in character, you've made your feelings on that subject abundantly clear: give me the ball at 7:05 PM.

OK. Snap out of it. If you are reading this blog you aren't Jamie Moyer and never will be. You're just an average fan who wants the same thing Charlie wants, that W. Actually, that's all the other 24 guys on the roster want. Heck, that's really what Jamie wants, too.

What difference does it make, especially at this point in his career, if Moyer starts or not? He's done just about everything else a pitcher can do, in two leagues, for clubs too numerous to list, for more than two decades. He's won a lot of game and lost a lot of games. He's been to a World Series and come out on the winning end. He's playing for the team he grew up rooting for. And his current team is leading its division. While you're at it, throw in how often people marvel at his ability to keep on keepin' on at his advanced age. You could look it up. If a player cannot put team before self after all that it's a sad commentary, one which many pundits and fans have noted.

All Jamie did last night against Arizona was pitch nearly perfect ball for six innings of relief after a long rain delay sidelined starter Pedro Martinez. Yes, fans, the script was that good. Replace the guy who replaced you in the rotation and throw nearly perfect, not just quality, ball for six innings.

Get back in character for a moment, please. OK, you lead the team in wins. You said you aren't suited for the bullpen and in your first outing you pitch the best relief the team has seen all year. Now, don't you feel just a little bit good how things turned out?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Some Things We've Learned; Others We Knew

J.A. Happ is one cool least by all appearances. Happ flirted with danger a few times last night including the first inning, struggled with his command at others but put the clamps on the Braves when it counted. After the game he admitted to being worried a few times, but you'd never know it just looking at him. Neither would the opposition, fortunately.

Truth is, every time Happ goes out there he pitches a solid game and gives his team a chance to win. We could name a few veterans who cannot do the same.

* * * * * * * *

Ryan Howard is locked in right now. Sure, you say, it's August, it's hot and he's playing in Atlanta. Well, yes, all of those things are true. Throughout his career, the big guy has hit well under all three circumstances. You can throw in batting in his home town of St. Louis while you're at it. He loves to put on a show there.

Howard says he's seeing the ball well right now. His manger says he's staying back on the ball better. Opposing pitchers talk about his strength. Everyone is right. Howard is entering that zone during which he can carry his team on his broad shoulders. Can and has.

* * * * * * * *

Who knows what the truth is whenever Brett Myers is involved? Was he injured in a bar fight? Did he bang his head on a car just slightly smaller than the Forrestal? Was it an injury suffered playing catch with his child? You expected a straight answer from Myers? Shame on you. The only truth be told is this: whenever he is faced with a decision to speak honestly, Myers always chooses option number two first.

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino put on quite a display in centerfield Friday night in Atlanta. While everyone assumes the Phillies will only go as far as Jimmy, Chase and Ryan can carry them, Victorino is every bit as key an element in their success. He is one of the elite centerfielders in the league right now despite lacking the power normally associated and required of his position. Shane will occasionally get picked off first, too, but his game is finely honed. Moreover, he is a lot of fun to watch...even when he's getting tossed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bats Come Back To Support Comeback

Yes, yes, Pedro's start got all the headlines last night but the bigger news was the awakening of the offense. At least that's what Cliff Lee must have thought.

The Phillies offense depends heavily on the long ball, too heavily some might say, and every one of the sluggers in the lineup had been suffering through a serious power outage since the end of July. Last night the Phils banged out fourteen hits, scoring a bunch of their runs on homers by Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino in thumping the Cubbies 12-5.

Now to Pedro. The overall impression he made was certainly positive. At times he looked quite good; at other times he didn't. He hit 93 on the local radar gun and was consistently throwing in the high 80's and low 90's with his fastball. He threw a wide assortment of pitches. He gave the Phils five innings, which might have been a little shorter than they hoped for but was to be expected given the circuitous route he took back to a big league mound. By the end of his stint he looked tired according to some reporters who were there. In that fifth inning he was leaving the ball over the middle of the plate too much and he paid for it, but he also worked out of any more damage like the great veteran he is.

The Phils staked him to a three run lead that turned into a huge lead when they scored eight runs in the fourth inning. Many pitchers struggle when given such a lead but Pedro remained focused. If he builds stamina and confidence, he will be a good addition to the rotation.

The other good news on the pitching front was the continued resurgence of Chan Ho Park. Apart from a shaky outing against Florida last Sunday, Park has been brilliant lately. Not so for Chad Durbin, who followed up his good showing Monday night with a poor one last night.

* * * * * * * *

By the way....

A cretin in the bleachers threw a cup of beer on Shane Victorino just as he was making a catch near the wall. Security managed to eject the wrong guy but apparently the Cubs are making an effort to identify the real culprit. If this had happened in Philadelphia the national press would be all over it for days and the tired stories of how unruly and demented Philadelphia fans are would start all over again. It won't happen in this case.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pedro Gets The Start

We are hours away from Pedro Martinez' first start as a Phillie and first start in nearly a year as a big league pitcher. All past is prologue.

Posters throughout the local blogosphere can't wait for Pedro's first pitch and few would admit to expecting anything less than vintage form, age and recent history be damned.

I call on no greater authority on the subject of wishful thinking than Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil's Dictionary contained two entries appropriate to the occasion:

The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof -- an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.
A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.

A pessimist applied to God for relief.

"Ah, you wish me to restore your hope and cheerfulness," said God. "No," replied the petitioner, "I wish you to create something that would justify them."

"The world is all created," said God, "but you have overlooked something -- the mortality of the optimist."

Pitching Is Still The Name Of The Blame Game

Great trade, Ruben.

Those former Cleveland Indians continue to account for nearly all the Phillies wins since the trade deadline. Subtract Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco and the Phils might be tied with the Marlins for first place in the division by now.

* * * * * * * *

Brad Lidge should be in danger of losing his job. You can be sure Ruben Amaro is scouring the waiver wire for help but closers are especially difficult to sneak through unclaimed since nearly everyone else needs one, too. One possibility, depending on how he pitches tonight, could be Pedro Martinez, but that remains a remote likelihood given he has never worked out of the pen. Ryan Madson auditioned for the role earlier this season when Lidge was on the DL and performed miserably; nevertheless, he remains the most likely option currently on the roster. Chad Durbin "closed" last night's victory but only because the game was in the 12th inning and all the legitimate candidates had appeared earlier including Lidge, who blew another save.

While everyone in baseball decided the Phils had improved their rotation significantly at the trade deadline, others were wondering how far a team could go in the post-season with a completely unreliable closer. Not even Francisco's game-winning home run kept the skeptics from howling this night.

* * * * * * * *

Jamie Moyer mouthed the usual pablum about doing what is best for the team and that he is only one of 25 players but only after telling reporters he felt misled by the team after his demotion to the bullpen. His complaints hardly jibe with the class act label many in the blogosphere are so quick to hang on the veteran left-hander. Signing him to a two-year deal was hardly Amaro's finest decision. Now we have Moyer telling all he had an "understanding" with the GM and principal owner Dave Montgomery.

It's natural for a competitor like him to be disappointed, but he should have left it at that.

* * * * * * * *

Lost in all the Martinez-Moyer hoopla and Francisco's heroics was another fine start by J.A. Happ, who held the Cubs to two runs in six innings, both of them coming in the bottom of the third inning. Happ more than keeps his team in the game nearly every game out.

* * * * * * * *

Cliff Lee must be wondering about the Phillies vaunted comraderie. The Phillies clubhouse has been considered one of the best in the game for a number of years and nothing specific coming out of it lately suggests otherwise. Still, Moyer's less than heartfelt there's-no-I-in-team statement, the alleged over-indulgence and subsequent poor play by Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino's histrionics on Sunday, Charlie Manuel's meeting with the players, and a general frustration at their overall offensive ineptitude must be taking a toll.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Martinez In. Moyer Out. Lee Still Wondering

The worst kept secret in baseball is out: Pedro Martinez will be making his first start of the season Wednesday in Chicago. What? You thought he'd been signed to work out of the pen?

The second worst kept secret is also out: Jamie Moyer has lost his spot in the Phillies least for now. This may be the first time in history a guy leading his team in wins has been demoted, but, then, this all just goes to show the numbers can and will lie. Moyer also has the second highest ERA among regular starters in the NL and the Phils can no longer afford to send him out there every fifth day, especially with the entire offense mired in a serious slump. Normally the beneficiary of substantial run support, neither Moyer nor the Phils can count on that at the moment.

So, Pedro gets the nod and a chance at redemption. Naturally, all concerned would love to see him go out there and give the Phils a quality start, especially with the bullpen a mess, too. We won't have long to wait to see just how much the 37-year old has left.

Speaking of the bullpen, one need look no further than the Disabled List to know just how concerned the Phillies are about the back end of their pen. Brett Myers' name keeps coming up as if he were going to ride in on his reconstructed hip a la Chase Utley, and save the day. All that's missing from this scenario is a bugle and the flag of the Seventh Cavalry.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee is still wondering what happened to the high-powered offense he'd heard so much about.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Bad, Badder And Baddest

Ugly loss. Ugly weekend.

You gotta' love the way headlined Sunday's debacle: Moyer, Phils unable to salvage Marlins finale. "Unable to salvage...."???!!!! They got stomped. Had their hats handed to them. Whupped. Embarrassed. Thrashed. Worst beating of the season. Masters of the understatement? Check

As the Marlins arrived in town, former Phillie Wes Helms was reported to have said they had to sweep the Phillies this weekend. Check.

The Phils, in the meantime, were looking to sort out their entire pitching staff, not just the starting rotation. Uncheck.

The home team was also trying to find where they'd left their bats. Uncheck.

The Marlins started the season on fire, cooled off dramatically and then bounced back-and-forth, but they haven't had much trouble with the Phillies, especially at Citizens Bank Park. The Fish took two of three from the Phils in May and just swept them here today.

Meanwhile, the Phillies did learn a few things about their pitching staff. Rodrigo Lopez, who effectively pitched himself off the roster last week only to be granted a reprieve while the brass tried to figure out what to do with him and assorted other hurlers, most assuredly pitched himself off it again for good today giving up six earned runs in so-called relief. Lopez had pitched more than adequately as a starter, but his two relief stints have been disastrous. With everyone obsessed over the Pedro-Jamie decision, it isn't as though Lopez has much of a chance of sticking, but he erased any doubt with his latest performance.

Brad Lidge also failed to, ah, distinguish himself, giving up three earned runs including a homer while presumably just getting in some work. Lidge's role was already officially a trouble spot; nothing he did today relieved any anxiety. Indeed, it is fair to say the Phillies need a closer. Indeed, I said that last week.

As for Jamie Moyer, he "only" gave up two earned runs in five innings of work but yielded eleven hits. For those sabremetricians out there, that's more than two hits an inning, a rate that exceeds what teams expect even from their fifth starter.

Oh, and Shane Victorino was thrown out of the game for protesting balls and strikes...from centerfield. That's a first. I've heard of umpires reading lips, but not from 3oo feet away. Victorino never does anything conventionally.

No doubt Cliff Lee is beginning to wonder if he wouldn't have been better off had the Phils traded for Roy Halladay.

You Can Never Have Enough Pitching Especially When The Starters You Rely On Stumble

There's precious little reassurance in the realization the Phils care counting on Jamie Moyer to prevent a sweep at home even if the fading veteran lefty has owned the Marlins in the past. To make matters worse, the offense continues to be missing in action as it has been for much of the past two weeks, stranding runners in scoring position at an alarming rate.

Last night Cole Hamels answered none of the lingering questions and concerns about his erratic performances this season. He put his mates in an immediate hole surrendering a lead-off home run and when the Phils clawed back to take the lead in the bottom of the second he promptly surrendered that advantage, too. A half inning later the Phils clawed back yet again but in the sixth inning a struggling Hamels surrendered the lead for good by serving up a 2-run home run to Phillies-killer Cody Ross.

Observers in the blogosphere have been fond of pointing out the Phils don't have such an impressive record against their NL East opponent if one excludes Washington from the mix. Well, don't look now but the woeful Nats have won seven straight while the Phils have sputtered. It's a good thing they won't be seeing those guys soon.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee is still wondering what all the hoopla about the Phils so-called vaunted offense was about.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Mediocre Through And Through

It has become painfully clear Ryan Howard is a .250 hitter. Over the last two seasons pitchers have made their adjustments while Howard has not. He began this season on a hopeful note, laying off the kind of pitches that leave him flailing and dismayed, but by early Summer he'd reverted to his mean and the strikeouts started piling up again.

Last night he doubled in his first plate appearance and then struck out three successive times including in the eighth inning with two men on and one out when the Phils were trailing the Marlins by a run. Needless to say, he didn't look good doing it.

Howard hasn't hit a home run since July 27th. Truth be told, he hasn't been hitting anything much since then. Pitchers are making fewer mistakes to Howard largely because they can exploit more holes than ever.

* * * * * * * *

Over the last week or so those Phillies who began life as Cleveland Indians have accounted for a fair amount of the team's success. Cliff Lee has produced two of their three wins and Ben Francisco threw out a runner at home plate and hit a two-run homer last night, accounting for the Phils only runs.

Good thing they didn't go for Roy Halladay.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Six's A Crowd

Ruben Amaro confirmed what everyone has been saying the last week. J.A. Happ stays in the rotation...on merit.

The Phils GM also hinted a six-man rotation is under consideration. That would be a very bad idea, as anyone with common sense has also been saying. Ricky Bottalico put it best the other night, pointing out that pitching every sixth day would mean too long a wait between starts for everyone. It would be like playing five-handed scrabble. Who can concentrate that long betweeen turns? What kind of rhythm can a pitcher establish when he's handed the ball every sixth day? How many teams are using a six-man rotation in MLB? There's a reason.

The Phils signed Pedro Martinez but that doesn't mean they are obligated to make him a starter. Indeed, if his stamina is still a question, coming out of the pen might be just what the doctor ordered. They re-signed Jamie Moyer to a two-year contract -- some might say they felt forced to offer him that second year -- but that doesn't mean they have to hand him the ball regularly, especially as his struggles increase. One of them is going to start; the other isn't.

Right now Lee, Blanton, Hamels, and Happ are set. Ruben & Co. are going to have to pick one more. but they know that. If nothing else, Amaro has shown himself to be pretty shrewd.

You're On The Clock, Charlie

Charlie & Co. don't need any help from the peanut gallery when it comes to making a decision about J.A. Happ's spot in the they? I mean, c'mon guys, you wouldn't seriously consider removing perhaps the most consistent guy you've sent out there over the last few months just to protect the egos of a fading hurler and another one who's trying to come back...would you?

For his part, Happ's done all he can do. Last night he stopped one of the hottest team's in baseball, throwing his second shutout of the season (and his career) in beating Colorado 7-0. Those weren't the Washington Nationals he shut down either; they bring the lumber. Oh, and he stopped a mini free-fall by the Phillies in the process. Can Jamie Moyer or Pedro Martinez say that?

On the postgame show, commentator Ricky Bottalico, who incidentally has grown into the job quite nicely, pointed out why a six-man rotation would be unacceptable. To summarize his points, would you want to wait six days to send Cliff Lee or Joe Blanton out to the mound with the way they've been pitching?

So, Charlie, do the right thing. Heck, Charlie, to the obvious thing. Pedro, whose stamina is a concern, goes to the pen and Moyer, whose velocity and command are concerns, goes there, too, or out to pasture. It's a tough decision, Charlie, but that's why they pay you the big bucks.

Oh, and by the way, Cliff Lee finally got a glimpse of that vaunted Phillies offense he'd heard so much about. He gets his second start as a Phillie today and, no doubt, would like to see it again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Short Tale of Two Pitchers

Two Phillies pitchers had a rough time of it last night but only one of them is likely to suffer the consequences.

Newly minted reliever Rodrigo Lopez probably pitched himself off the roster last night as the moribund Phils were thumped by an energized Colorado squad 8-3. Lopez was rocked hard as he worked the middle of the plate over and over again. Apart from tiring out those Rockies by having them run wild on the bases, he exhausted Shane Victorino, making his first start after injuring his knee, who had to chase a lot of balls hit over his head. Victorino seemed to come up limping after the last adventure.

Lopez had come on after starter Jamie Moyer hadn't fared any better, giving up plenty of hits and four walks, including one with the bases loaded, and looking every bit his age. He probably won't suffer the consequences because his manager is partial to veterans....but he should. Moyer is nearing the end of the line, his won-loss record notwithstanding.

In the process, the Phils dropped their fifth game in six outings, all against the two NL West clubs one of whom could very well be their first round playoff opponents unless the unthinkable happens in the NL East.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee must still be wondering what happened to the vaunted Phillies offense he'd heard about. Hint: they left their bats in the Arizona desert.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Wake Up, Cliff, It Just Seems You're In Cleveland

After watching his new teammates sleep walk through the city by the Bay, Cliff Lee could be forgiven if he thought he'd been traded to the Phillies for one night only. Surely, he must have thought as he turned black and blue from pinching himself, this can't be the high-powered offense I'd heard so much about. These guys look an awful lot like the Cleveland Indians when it comes to run support.

Ah, but as they say in baseball, give the other guys some credit. The Phillies ran into some damn good pitching and as they also say in baseball, good know the rest.

In a series billed as a potential preview of a post-season matchup, the Phillies batters blinked not once, not twice but three times, wasting at least one excellent start by Joe Blanton in the process. It is safe to say now that Blanton and Lee are the Phils' one-two punch, not Hamels and Lee. Oh, sure, Hamels pitched decently but not that decently. Any time the pitcher, his manager and pitching coach all say the line score looked worse than the actual performance you know they are collectively in back-track mode. There was the usual Ryan Howard flub at first base, the dink hit here and there and that lack of support we mentioned above, but Hamels was only sharp for a few innings in yesterday's outing.

The three losses in San Francisco also underscored how much the Phillies success thus far can be laid at the feet of the rest of the NL East, except for their most recent march through Georgia. When it comes to playing the AL East or portions of the NL West in the two principal cities in the Golden State, the Phils have been pretty lame.

Now they get a day off to lick their wounds and prepare for the Colorado Rockies at home. This should be another test of just how well these Phillies can play against good opposition.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Call Central Casting. Get A Closer

Pardon me for raining on the parade many have scheduled but the Phils still have a big problem and they need to solve it now. They do not have a reliable closer.

No team is going to win two rounds in the playoffs let alone advance to the World Series without an outstanding closer and right now the Phils don't have one they can count on. Brad Lidge gave his best shell-shocked look two nights ago after serving up a two-run homer in the ninth inning to suddenly make a 4-1 lead a one-run game. Indeed, not since Albert Pujols nearly ruined his career for good in the NL playoffs a few years ago had Lidge looked more deflated.

Lidge clearly bounced back last year in his glorious first season with the Phillies but 2009 has been an altogether different and alarming story. We have variously heard he is hurt, had mechanical problems, needed more work, etc., but the bottom line is that Lidge has blown too many saves and made perilous adventures out of many more.

Now that they have acquired a fine starting pitcher without surrendering the proverbial or literal farm, they need to dig a little deeper into the remaining trading chips and find a closer who can...well...close. And don't talk to me about Brett Myers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rumored Arrival Enough To Spur Hamels

There's nothing quite like competition to bring out the best in most professional athletes and for confirmation one need look no further than Cole Hamels. Don't think for one minute Hamels hasn't watched with keen interest as the Phillies pursue Roy Halladay. And don't think for one minute Hamels hasn't heard everyone and his grandmother say Halladay and Hamels would make a great one-two that order!

With decision time on a trade for Halladay a mere day or two away, Hamels pitched one of his best games of the season in limiting the Arizona D'backs to one run in eight innings. Only another nearly disastrous appearance by Brad Lidge made the final 4-3 score close.

Hamels has been the staff ace almost since his arrival two seasons ago. His triumphant run through the playoffs and World Series last year cemented his status as one of the game's bright young stars. For much of this season, however, he has lacked consistency, pitching well one outing and following many of those with equally bad starts. Observers worried he'd thrown too many innings last year. He worried he'd prepared for this season poorly, enjoying the trappings of his new fame too much. Nearly everyone worried he'd lost a little on his fastball and that batters were sitting on his change. He was basically a two-pitch hurler who resorted to his third pitch, the curve, rarely and often ineffectively.

Guys who want the ball with the game on the line don't like to hear all of those concerns openly expressed. They particularly don't like to hear the club is going to go out and get another pitcher who will take over the number one spot. Right now the best mid-season pickup may just be the rumor of Halladay's arrival. If rumor becomes reality, look for Hamels to step his game up another notch.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Did He or Didn't He?

Henry Aaron used the occasion of the Hall of Fame ceremonies this past week to lobby again for two issues clearly important to him: 1. the eligibility of Pete Rose and, 2. placing an asterisk on the placques of any players elected who were found to have used PED's.

Not every member of the Hall agrees with Aaron's position on either issue but it is safe to say that when someone as clean as the home run king, non-asterisk division, feels cheaters should be eligible, the door has opened albeit with conditions. According to some reports, Bud Selig is reconsidering the ban imposed on Pete Rose, who definitely cheated but outside the lines. No asterisk for him should he get in. All Pete did was bet on baseball games...including ones he managed.

This whole business of cheating now permeates sport. It is impossible for anyone to win these days without questions being raised. No sooner had Alberto Contador of Spain won this year's Tour de France than allegations surfaced of something suspicious in his prodigious ride on one of the stages in the Alps. In an article in the NY Times, former champion Greg LeMond was quoted as writing: “It is like a Mercedes sedan winning on a Formula One circuit. There is something wrong. It would be interesting to know what’s under the hood.”

Tour organizers were thrilled no one was disqualified this year for using PED's. Lance Armstrong came in third in his first race since coming out of retirement and gained much sympathy and respect not only for appearing to be more approachable but for having failed to win while clearly riding under intense scrutiny for any possible drug abuses.

Closer to home, Raul Ibanez went on an unprecdented power tear in the first half of the season and rumors began appearing in the blogosphere he must be using.

Do well and you're going to be the subject of innuendo or worse. Do badly and, well, you get the sympathy vote. Congratulations, Lance, you won over those tough Frenchmen for what you didn't do...allegedly!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The Phils need Roy Halladay but not at any cost. Rumors that the Blue Jays want J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabeck and Dominic Brown surprised me only insofar as they didn't ask for every other player's first born as well. A deal with these particulars is not happening.

Of course Ruben Amaro need only look across the field at the team currently occupying the visitor's dugout to realize some teams are willing to go all in now. The Cardinals believe Matt Holiday and Mark DeRosa will put them over the top so they might be willing to rent them for the short hall, but they price they paid is not as steep as the one the Blue Jays are demanding of the Phillies.

* * * * * * * *

Lost in the euphoria of the sixth inning explosion by the Phillies yesterday afternoon was yet another bonehead play by Jayson Werth, who failed to advance on a clear sacrifice fly ball when he didn't get back to second base soon enough to take off. The Cards led at that point 4-3 and there was one out. Had Werth made it to third, which he could have easily done had he gone back to the bag as soon as the ball was hit, he would have been in a position to score on a ball in the dirt let alone a base hit. Jimmy Rollins may have made the point moot, but it was still lousy baseball on Werth's part. He may hit home runs in bunches and track down the occasional ball in the alley to his right, but he makes enough poor decisions to neutralize some of his assets. In the end Werth is plain dumb.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of Jimmy, he's officially back. Meanwhile, quietly and steadily the Peoples' choice, Shane Victorino, is having another stellar year. Victorino's 4-4 day against the Cardinals raised his average to .316. Last year, you may recall, he led all Phillies regulars in batting average. Thankfully, there are always a few Rule 5 phenomenons to keep baseball insiders honest.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why The Phillies Need Roy Halladay

The short answer is simple: they don't have a true number one pitcher. The long answer only gets worse.

Cole Hamels will never be a number one in the mold of, say, a Steve Carlton. Opposing batters don't start worrying about facing him at 2PM the day of a game. Last season's over-exertions may be part of the explanation for Hamels' mediocre performances this year but the larger issue may be he is a two-pitch pitcher and only one of those pitches, his change-up, is outstanding.

The rest of the Phillies staff is hardly the stuff of we've all said ad nauseum. Some day, and it will come soon, Jamie Moyer is going to consistently show his age. Joe Blanton is a middle of the rotation guy. J.A. Happ looks to have a good future but he's a finesse pitcher at a relatively tender age and those types of guys are never the ones who lead a staff.

Roy Halladay is a number one pitcher by all accounts. If they can get him, the Phillies must act.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Get Your Wrap Ups Elsewhere

No game wrap here. Instead....

The Twins blew a ten run lead in losing to Oakland. ESPN noted [former Phillie prospect] Gio Gonzalez allowed 11 ER in 2 2/3 IP. Since the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, he's the third A's pitcher to allow 11 ER in a start. However, he's the first pitcher in the major leagues since Zack Greinke in June 2005 to give up 11 ER and get a no-decision. Ouch.

* * * * * * * * *

Jimmy may be back but he isn't talking to the press about it. Hard to imagine how one of the most talkative guys in MLB can stop talking to anyone, but Jimmy must be harboring some resentment to have cut off the press.

* * * * * * * *

I wouldn't be so fast to drop Rodrigo Lopez from the rotation, Pedro Martinez notwithstanding. Lopez has done a very credible job in his three starts with the Phils. If they try to send him down he is going to have to clear waivers first and that simply ain't gonna' happen.

* * * * * * * *

Bill Conlin wrote a column on Pete Rose yesterday suggesting that the Commissioner should allow his name to appear on the HOF ballot this coming year in order to allow writers to snub him. Disengenuous of One Chair to say the least. Once Rose's ban is lifted anything can happen including induction to the Hall. I don't trust the writers to do the right thing. Sure, the Hall is filled with all sorts of outside-the-lines riff-raff and worse, but Rose committed one of THE cardinal sins and then spent years lying about it. He should never appear on the ballot.

* * * * * * * *

Much has been written about the rising Baltimore Orioles, who in their most recent local appearance swept the home team. The O's have a lot of young promising position players to go along with some productive veterans. Up until now the big problem has been pitching and now that, too, looks more hopeful. But if they run the bases like they did last night, having two consecutive batters thrown out at home plate in a 1-1 game with the Yankees, their rise is going to be shortcircuited. Frankly, I blame the coaching staff for the poor base-running.

* * * * * * * *

To trade or not to trade for Matt Halladay, that is the burning question locally and around MLB. In the end, if the Phils package the kind of prospects and current major league players the Blue Jays want, the trade is going to happen because Halladay wants to pitch for a real contender and the Phils, already a contender without him, will be a serious threat to go deep into the playoffs if the big righthander comes here. The other big factor that will motivate the Phillies is the conviction that winning now will always trump hoping for the future.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Who's Washed Up?

I made a pre-season bet with a wine and beer enthusiast I know. The bet was this: Jamie Moyer doesn't win eight games this season. If I lost, he gets a six pack of his choosing. To tell the truth, I cannot recall what I would have won had Moyer failed to win eight games, but as all the world now knows it no longer matters.

Moyer just won't go away...fortunately...especially against the Florida Marlins. Much has been written about how he is particularly successful against free-swingers and the Marlins are nothing if not that, but you'd think they would have become more patient after so much futility against the Ancient One. Moyer is now 8-0 vs. Florida with a 1.38 ERA. Marlins' shortstop Hanley Ramirez thinks much of Moyer's latest success against them was due to the number of calls the lefthander was getting. Ah, yes, Hanley, but if he is getting those calls you have to adjust. It isn't as though he just started getting them. If Carlos Ruiz is setting up outside and Moyer is hitting the target the umps are going to give him that pitch all night.

Moyer now leads the staff with 9-6 record. Not bad for a guy this blogger called washed up. Shows what I know.

Moyer and the bullpen held the Marlins to a lone single last night in winning 4-0. With the victory the Phils topsy-turvy season against the Fish continues. Each team has dominated the other on the road. Don't stop now, guys.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pedro The Disabled

The signing of Pedro Martinez isn't exactly a pig-in-a-poke; after all, the Phils watched two auditions by the former Cy Young winner. Still, one has to ask, are the Phillies the only team which needs pitching? If not, the line at Martinez' door didn't seem all that long.

Then there is the matter of signing Martinez and immediately putting him on the 15-day DL. That move was probably done to give the Phillies time to figure out some roster moves and to allow Martinez to make a couple of rehab starts in the minors. There is probably something in his contract as well that allows the Phillies an out. Strange albeit legal use of the DL.

Finally, Martinez came to Philadelphia and underwent some sort of medical exam by the Phillies' doctor(s). Such a precondition to signing him hardly inspires confidence.

In conclusion, the Phillies are willing to risk a few dollars in an era in which some players make over $2000 an at-bat. Pedro might make ten starts if all goes well. That's $100 K per.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


There are plenty of characteristics that define the true baseball fan and as the mid-summer classic approaches one of them is surely this:

Within a week or so of the game itself, the true fan closely studies the batting average of his favorite player(s) who made the roster calculating as these regular season games dwindle before the break the likelihood that his star(s) will maintain a batting average of .300 or better.

It's always looks so nice during the player introductions to see that magic threshold surpassed, no matter how many home runs and rbi's an individual has. After all, the power numbers at mid-season are not the ones we remember. Sixty, then sixty-one, then seventy and finally seventy-three are the only totals that count. Who knows where 26 home runs at the All Star break break stand in the scheme of things, but a .300 average, no matter the time of year, remains a clear demarcation between good and very good?

At the break this year the Phils will send five players to the All Star game and three of them, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino, will all sport better than .300 averages. That's very good indeed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Stars Come Out

Watching Chase Utley lately I reminded myself for the umpteenth time to never take him for granted. I don't want to look back ten years from now and not have a clear image of him doing what he does better than virtually any other player of his generation -- play the game in every facet with astonishing determination, concentration, commitment and achievement.

They say the great players never take an at-bat off. I recall this notion every time he comes to the plate.

Utley arrived in the big leagues with an excellent reputation for his bat but a lot of question marks about his fielding. No one knew this better than he did so, naturally, he set out to make himself a fine fielder. While he may never be the most graceful or acrobatic fielder, he will always be a smart one who makes every play.

We are very lucky to see him play every day.

* * * * * * * *

Before the rest of the baseball world draws itself up in collective indignation over Charlie Manuel's naming Jayson Werth to the NL All Star roster, just remember many of those carping the loudest probably took advantage of MLB's offer to vote early and often. End of story.

* * * * * * * *

I know absolutely nothing about the strategies and intricacies of professional bike racing...nor do I want to. How can one ever hope to understand an event such as the Tour de France, which takes over two weeks to complete and covers several thousand miles, when a contender begins the day a split second behind the leader then "loses ground" according to all newspaper reports when he falls eight seconds behind the leader. EIGHT seconds, two weeks, thousands of miles. Why doesn't that seem to compute to losing a lot of ground in my untutored estimation??? [Please, no emails from those of you who know. It was a rhetorical question and I don't really want an answer.]

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Returning To Earth

So much for Monday night's 22-1 rout in which the Phils capitalized on every opportunity presented. Last night, reality returned as the Phils jumped to a 3-0 lead only to squander numerous golden opportunities -- bases loaded and none out and a leadoff triple -- and lost late. The defeat raised once again the specter of an inconsistent and eminently beatable Brad Lidge, who took the loss. Those two saves versus the Norfolk Mets didn't really impress this observer.

J.A. Happ produced a quality start, surrendering three runs on two home runs by Brandon Philips. Other than the Reds' second baseman, Happ stymied Cincinnati and pitched well. Had his teammates produced one long fly ball to the outfield on two separate occasions, Happ would have departed with a lead.

Ah, well, that's baseball. Twenty-two seemlingly effortless runs one night and three runs bunched together the next.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Home Sweet Home?

In this topsy turvy season three straight victories at home trumps a weekend sweep of a team impersonating the New York Mets every time.

As Chris Wheeler (and thousands others) pointed out in his wrap-up, the team the Phillies knocked off hardly resembles the one at the start of the season but the whole point is to beat up on teams who are down because injured players do come back.

The home team got excellent starting pitching for the entire series especially when such charter members of the Phillies-killers society as Carlos Delgado remained on the shelf. Still, the Mets were able to trot out a few other members of that far-from-exclusive club including Fernando Tatis and Luis Castillo. The Mets scored three runs all weekend.

Meanwhile, back at the suddenly friendly environs of Citizens Bank Park, one James Rollins continued to show signs of finding his stroke as produced key hits throughout the series, not the least of which was a home run on Johann Santana's second pitch of the finale. Chase Utley added a solo shot to account for two of the team's three hits, but Joe Blanton and the bullpen were stingier.

We'll see how friendly the confines remain when the Cincinnati Reds arrive for four games. Cole Hamels, who has struggled mightily his last three times out, gets the ball. A quality start from him just might make this new-found success at home something more than an anomaly.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Watch Out Below

The Phils limped home last night following a third straight loss to the Braves at Turner Field and for the first time in more than a month find they are no longer in sole possession of first place. While still atop the standings in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, they are no doubt listed second in the Miami Herald.

That's OK; they weren't in first place at this juncture of the 2008 season either. What's not OK is the way they are playing. As Charlie Manuel pointed out yesterday, they are consistently losing late, something they avoided in the first part of the season when, truth be told, they needed more than a few Houdini routines to win some games late. Back then I wrote they couldn't keep up their high wire act. It didn't take a genius to come to that conclusion!

J.A. Happ pitched well enough to keep his mates in the game, but what little is left of Ryan Madson's ego melted down even further when he surrendered three runs to the Braves in the bottom of the eighth inning. That was all she wrote.

Manuel can be excused if he tries to avoid handing the ball to Madson or Lidge henceforth, but what is he going to do? J.C. Romero is hardly a closer and no one else on this roster is either.

The only good news last night is that Jimmy Rollins stroked two base hits to break an o for 28 slump, the worst of his career. Jimmy didn't ask for the ball on his first hit, a soft ground ball in the hole between first and second.; however, the camera showed him chatting up Braves first baseman Casey Kotchman in classic J-Roll fashion. Glad to see someone was happy.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Cooked By The 4th Of July

You've heard it before, including in this very space.... The Phillies may be crashing and burning but fortunately they play in the weak NL East division where everyone else is muddling along. Don't tell the Florida Marlins. That's right, those pesky Marlins are baaaccck...again. Sure, they play in the worst stadium in America in front of more vendors than fans. Yes, the weather is horrible. OK, they're grossly underpaid by today's standards and their miserly owners sell off players whenever any of them are about to cash in. But, they're always tough. They must have the best scouting department in all of baseball because they trade wisely and develop talent within their system at an astonishing rate, especially pitching. For good measure they've won two World Series titles in their relatively short existence.

Meanwhile, the Phillies look cooked. They cannot pitch and now they cannot hit except for the occasional breakout game sandwiched between futile flailing. Last night they made a good but hardly great Atanta starter, Jair Jurrgens, look like another Cy Young candidate, failing to get a single base hit until the seventh inning when reserve catcher Paul Bako, making his first start of the season, singled.

No one looks good at the plate. Jimmy Rollins hasn't had a base hit in 27 at bats. His four day respite from the rigors of playing baseball didn't do him any good. Ryan Howard is back to his old ways, reaching for balls low and away and doing his best pained expression after the third strike. Even Chase Utley is looking back at the umpire these days.

When J.A. Happ may be your most reliable starter the end is nigh. Don't get me wrong, Happ looks like a solid middle to back of the rotation guy who should be productive for a long time with his easy delivery, but there are a few other guys who, frankly, were being counted on more than he. The biggest mystery is Cole Hamels. Hamels' changeup has always been his bread and butter pitch, but without that good fastball to keep hitters honest and the occasional breaking ball, the change doesn't represent...well...change! Hamels' velocity is apparently down. He rarely throws the hook. He is throwing more pitches up in the zone. And he's always been vulnerable to the long ball. Who would have guessed he'd have a losing record by July and only four wins or that opposing batters were hitting a lofty .312 against him?

Not I.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Shattered Confidence

A month or so ago Ryan Madson was on top of the world. The lanky righthander had signed a big off-season contract. His fastball was in the mid-nineties and his change-up was much improved. Most important, he was getting guys out.

Today his confidence has been shaken to its roots if not shattered altogether as he blew a lead last night a half inning after the Phils moved ahead of Atlanta on back-to-back home runs. C0upled with two blown saves recently as he temporarily stepped into the closer's job while Brad Lidge was on the shelf, Madson must be wondering how did everything go south so fast.

Lidge has blown numerous saves himself this season and despite protestations that he's healthy again, one has to wonder about his self-confidence. Even when he manages to hold a lead or save a game, Lidge invariably makes each appearance an adventure. As for his tender knee, it's hard to take anyone's word on this club when it comes to health matters.

The starting pitching may remain woefully inconsistent, but relief pitching has been the biggest culprit in many of the recent losses.

* * * * * * * *

Somebody should tell Jayson Werth to stay on his feet when chasing balls hit to the wall. He's been going into a slide especially on balls hit to his left, trying to smother rebounds like a hockey goalie. It ain't working. Indeed, Werth doesn't go back on balls over his head to either side particularly well. When is the last time the Phillies had a rightfielder who could go back on a ball?

* * * * * * * *

Raul Ibanez will test his injured groin in some rehab games at Reading. Is it really all that surprising that a 37-year old guy is suffering injuries to muscles and tendons? Before the groin injury he was limping around with an Achilles heel problem.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of confidence, Carlos Ruiz' may not have lost his at the plate but he's reverted to his old habits and is the closest thing to a sure out in the lineup other than the current version of Jimmy Rollins. Ruiz will remain the starter for his glove, handling of pitchers and extraordinary ability to block balls in the plate, none of which Chris Coste does well. And after all, it isn't as though Coste represents such a big offensive upgrade.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Straigthening Out Themselves & Their Engine

The Phils took two out of three from the Blue Jays in Toronto over the weekend, no mean feat given their futility against AL Eastern division clubs and their sad history in the Dominion over the years. One of the wins was a laugher but the other was of the skin-of-their-teeth variety. No matter, they both count equally.

Coming after losing three straight series and a closed-door meeting, the two wins provided a little breathing room between themselves and the fumbling Mets, hot-and-cold Marlins and Braves. In other words, only the nearly-equal ineptitude of their division rivals has prevented the Phillies dismal journey through interleague play from being a total as opposed to nearly complete disaster. When you lose nine of twelve and only drop 1.5 games in the standings your competition leaves something to be desired.

Luck played a role in yesterday's win. So, too, did the absence of Roy Halladay from the Jays' rotation. You take what they give....

Jimmy Rollins, the engine that hasn't all season, sat for a fourth straight game yesterday marking his longest tenure on the bench as a healthy major leaguer since he took over the starting position. The thinking goes that a guy who is struggling badly needs a few days off to clear his head. The always talkative and approachable Rollins decided to stop speaking to the press during his mini sojourn in the wilderness, which can be interpreted as taking a complete break or merely pouting. Whatever is going on with Jimmy's psyche, his batting average and on-base percentage have been dismal all year and his always sure glove and hands haven't been consistent either. This may be the last chance for him to salvage his personal season. If he continues to struggle the Phillies are going to have to permanently drop him in the order and look to someone like Shane Victorino for a spark. One thing seems certain: the Phils won't be able to wait for the "real" JRoll to show up forever.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Things Are Looking Down

So, this is what rock bottom looks like.

The Phils dropped their third straight interleague series and eightth of their last nine games last night and now move on to Toronto where they've never had success. In the process, they surrendered their four game lead over the Mets and fell into a tie for first place in the increasingly inept NL East. The Marlins are only a game back. If the trend continues, the Phils could be in third place by the end of the weekend.

The relentless losing is bad enough but the way the Phillies are losing is particularly depressing and, frankly, galling. Runners are getting inexcuably doubled off, ending rallies. Usually reliable fielders are making bonehead plays. Veteran hitters aren't. Relief pitching isn't. For the last month or so the Phillies haven't been fun to watch; in the last ten days they have been painful to watch.

The press keeps waiting for Charlie Manuel to throw a fit. Lot of good that'll do! As the saying goes, he can't pitch or hit for them, especially when they can't hit or pitch for themselves. The few good starts the staff put together over the last week, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton come to mind, were wasted.

The injury bug has certainly hurt. Any time you take your leading hitter in every offensive category out of the lineup the results are going to suffer. Still, the loss of Raul Ibanez is hardly the whole story. The Phils bullpen just can't get anybody out any more and the alleged brain trust is unable to come up with a solution. Sergio Escalona is the poster child for all that ails them. He's been up and down to AAA Lehigh so many times already he's probably used up half his remaining options.

If they bring Kyle Kendrick back we'll know the white flag is next.