Thursday, April 30, 2009

Out Of Control

If anyone is still waiting for Brett Myers to fulfill his early promise here's a bit of advice: don't hold your breath.

Myers took the mound last night against the Nationals and labored for six innings. Optimists will note he didn't surrender a home run for the first time this year though he came close at least once. Pessimists will note that he threw a lot of pitches, too many of them balls or over the heart of the plate. Watching Myers pitch isn't particularly pleasant. He tugs constantly at the front of his uniform, appearing to readjust the position of the heavy gold necklace he wears. After each pitch he moves to the front of the mound to receive the catcher's throw, making sure he is on the grass in front of the mound as he goes to his mouth. Lots of nervous energy. Lots of pacing. If it can be said he works quickly, and he does more or less, the speed often comes at the expense of a plan. Myers just throws. Sure, he mixes his pitches, fastballs, curves mostly, but he seems to be just this side of complete chaos.

He doesn't seem to fool many batters, the majority of whom get in pretty good hacks against him. He doesn't establish a pitch so much as abandon one that isn't working. Compare him to last night's opponent, Scott Olsen, who went to his slider whenever he needed an out pitch. Oh, sure, Olsen entered the game 0-3 with an ERA north of seven runs, but he pitches for the Nationals not the Phillies. Apart from a first inning mistake to Shane Victorino, Olsen was in control. Myers, on the other hand, seems constantly out of control. The career numbers don't lie.

[Postscript: The Olsen comparison is a good one. He, too, is a fiery sort of guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve. That said, he seems to pitch with control, something Myers has never done consistently.]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This sure is a hard town on professional athletes, eh Raul? I mean these folks can be Tough with a capital T. What has it taken you to win them over, ten games? Fifteen? Nineteen?

* * * * * * * *

Back in February nearly everyone was concerned about Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz, both of whom had off-season surgery and both of whom were not expected to begin the season in the starting lineup. So, naturally, they both have played steadily from day one and both have been having marvelous seasons to date. The Phillies cannot get anything related to health matters right even when the news is good!

* * * * * * * *

Cole Hamels looked like his old self last night until he twisted an ankle fielding a bunt in the fifth inning and had to withdraw. This has been something of a snake-bitten season thus far for the Phils ace, what with too much throwing last year and too much celebrating this off-season. Last night, however, he was in mid-season form in terms of velocity and command. If he can stay healthy he is about to revert to his performance of the second half of last season. If he can stay healthy.

* * * * * * * *

Catching has been a real problem this season. Numero uno, Carlos Ruiz, has been hurt, beginning with his play for Panama in the WBC. Lou Marson looks a bit overmatched behind not necessarily at the plate though his hitting has hardly been stellar. Chris Coste just looks cooked.

* * * * * * * *

Jimmy Rollins has gotten off to an awful start. It took him nineteen games to steal his first base of the season and he is still hitting under the Mendoza line. Charlie Manuel has already given him two days off, something unheard of this early in the season. Jimmy doesn't look too comfortable from the right side of the plate; from the left side he looks like his is reaching for pitches, which means he is poppin them up or slicing them to the opposite field. He hits best when he is getting around on the ball quickly, which is why the book used to be to pound him inside to prevent him from getting his arms extended. His line drive single last night was classic J-Roll. If he can bottle that swing he will come out of his slump.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Playing From Behind

These Phillies seem intent on outslugging the opposition...that is when they actually hit the ball. Therein lies the rub. When they're on, the Phils offense is lethal; when they aren't, they need good starting pitching which has been in very short supply since day one.

No matter how many runs they score, the Phillies aren't going deep into the post-season (assuming they get there in the first place) unless the starting rotation sorts itself out and fast. They are giving up home runs at a prodigious rate. Worse, the starters are normally putting the team in an early hole and while nearly every victory this season has been of the come-from-behind variety, crowd pleasers to be sure, this trend will be awfully hard to maintain over 162 games.

The bullpen, last year's biggest collective surprise and arguably the key to its championship, has also been erratic. Where last year a different guy stepped up every night, this year it seems as if a different guy implodes every night. Now comes news Brad Lidge has been nursing a sore knee, the same one on which he has had surgery twice. All of us would like a nickel for every time the Phillies front office has been less than forthcoming about injuries. A week ago we were informed Lidge had watched film of his delivery and discovered a flaw that probably explained his erratic, un-Lidge-like performances this season. Saturday night's adventure in Miami pretty much undermined that notion.

If Lidge has to be shut down for any length of time the Phillies pitching woes will only worsen. Playing from behind like they do isn't going to make up the difference in the long run.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Putting It All Together?

Death, taxes and Jamie Moyer over the Marlins.

If you are sitting in the Marlins' dugout when Moyer takes the mound for the Phils you know doubt hear it from all the old hands on board: be patient; wait for your pitch; make him throw strikes. And then you go out there and take the first pitch just off the plate for a called strike and you tell yourself, self, if they're gonna' give him that one I'm swinging away. And then he's got you. It's really just that simple: age taking advantage of impetuous youth. Happens every time.

What also seems to happen virtually every time Moyer faces the Fish is that his mates score a lot of runs on his behalf. Yesterday was the first laugher of the season. The Phils jumped out early and just kept piling it on. By the end of the game the Marlins were using a position player to pitch in relief. Naturally, he acquitted himself well, which is why position players invariably get mop up duty in blowouts.

While the Phils were winning, the upstart Marlins, who a week ago were the talk of the division if not the league, lost for the sixth straight time to fall back to earth with a thud! The Braves and the Mets weren't faring a whole lot better as the Phils moved above .500 and into sole possession of second place. Not bad for a team whose starting pitching has been pretty awful most of the season; whose sparkplug has been misfiring so badly he sat out his second game of the season, seventeen games into it; whose closer is all over the place; and whose batters have been very erratic overall.

If they get the act together, especially the starting rotation, the Phils could begin to put some distance between themselves and their closer rivals. One good sign from yesterday's victory was that for the first time all season, the Phillies did not surrender a home run to the opposition.

A week from now we should get some idea of just how much of a killer instinct they have when the Mets come to town. In the meantime, the Phils have three games against the Nationals, whom they should handle easily. Somehow, they never do.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Trying To Break Break-Even

Starting pitching continues to put the Phillies behind the eight-ball and late game heroics continue to bank one off the side railing at an astonishing rate.

The Phillies high-wire act cannot be good for the digestive system, especially their skipper's ample gut, but, then, this is April when the Phillies torment their faithful and themselves. If they can get the starters sorted out, and their are small signs and hints of progress, and if they can get Brad Lidge sorted out, here the signs are less reassuring, the Phils should be all right.

It's difficult to imagine how after sixteen games the Phils are right back where they started, even at eight wins and eight losses, but fortunately the rest of their division is equally average with the exception of the Marlins, who are coming back to the rest of the pack in a hurry, and the Nationals, who are already out of the chase.

After starting the season on an unbelievable tear, the Marlins have lost five straight including two heartbreakers to the Phils. In their case, the Marlins are getting very good starting pitching only to see their bullpen falter. The Phillies rotation seems to be getting better with each outing, but their propensity to serve up home run balls continues at a league high rate. Lidge's problems, which he claimed to have solved only this week when looking at film of his delivery, are harder to figure out. He has plenty of zip on his fastball, but he's having trouble with command. He seems to be using his slider less often, again with command and as previously noted here, the abscence of his favorite receiver, Carlos Ruiz. Lidge hasn't had many smooth outings this season and last nights, when he managed to load the bases and strike out the side for the save, has been more the rule than the exception.

The offense, while hardly overpowering, has come up with the clutch hits when they needed them. Winning in Miami is always tough, what with the obvious crowd noise [sic] to overcome, but the Phils have taken games one and two of this three-game set and go for the sweep this afternoon. The win would put them one-game over .500 for the year, rarified atmostphere indeed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Round One To The Guys From Up North

THAT was a statement game!

The Phils, stymied and moribund through eight innings, rallied dramatically in the ninth inning with two outs to stun the Florida Marlins in their first meeting of the season and send a message to the young Fish just exactly who the veteran, defending World Championship team is.

With another Phillies starter struggling and the bats on extended holiday, the Phils looked dead in the water, especially against Josh Johnson, one of the best young starters in the game. Johnson played his part perfectly and handed the Marlins' pen a 3-0 lead. I had just tuned into the game in the top of the eighth, looked at the score and stats and had chalked this one up in the loss column. The only reason I continued to "watch" was I was doing something else on the computer and left the game running on the television in the background. I wasn't paying close attention to say the least.

By the time the game resumed in my fading consciousness, the Phils had scored one run, had the bases loaded and two outs. J-Roll was at the plate. He took a few pitches for balls and seemed to be patiently waiting, but then he leaned over the plate a little, chased a ball high and away and popped it high to the left side, just as he has been wont to do for much of this young season. The game's outcome drifted with the ball as it reached the seats. Granted a reprieve, especially from the blogosphere, Jimmy worked a walk to force in a run and draw to within one run. Then came Shane Victorino's dramatic grand slam, followed by a solo shot from Chase Utley. Suddenly, the Phils were up 7-3, which turned out to be the final score.

The victim of all this drama was Matt Lindstron, who looked as stunned and distraught as I have ever seen a pitcher, sitting on the bench after the flood rubbing his head, staring blankly ahead. Frankly, he looked like a guy who might never recover.

I started to feel for him but quickly realized I was happy. No time for pitying the Fish. The Phils had delivered a stunning knock-out punch in the first encounter.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Go Fish!

Your 2009 Philadelphia Phillies limped out of town this afternoon after having been nearly no-hit by a no-body.

That makes two straight losses to the Brewers in which the mighty Phils scoreda grand total of two runs, both on solo homers. That's right, sports fans, two swings of the bat were all the Phils could muster against the Brewers' Braden Looper and Dave Bush, hardly the second coming get the point. To make matters worse, those two swings came in the ninth inning Wednesday night and the eighth inning this afternoon respectively, just before time and team expired.

After fourteen games it's clear once again April is the cruelest month for ballplayers in Red pinstripes. They cannot hit with any consistency and they cannot pitch with much either. The starting rotation is filled with veterans with the exception of Cole Hamels yet none of them is a stabilizing presence. Overall, the bullpen has been inconsistent, too.

So, it's off to Florida for the weekend, where the Marlins always play the Phillies tough. The only consolation to be found, and like most consolations this one hardly suffices, is that with the exception of the Marlins, whom the Pirates just cooled off after the Fish began the season 11-1, the entire NL East is under .500 as of this posting. Who would have predicted that????!!!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Degrees Of Difficulty

Raul Ibanez has got to work on his walk-off home run styling on his final approach to home plate. Did you watch the guy? He never broke stride as he rounded third base, cruising along at the same steady pace he uses for his run-of-the-mill round trippers. No helmet toss. No defensive crouch or hands covering his face. No feint to one side. No leap onto the plate. And certainly no slide at the last moment. Just your garden variety home run trot. Positively boring. No wonder the East German judge gave him a four!

In his defense, he did give a little fist pump rounding first and he wound up pretty good for that handslap with first base coach Davey Lopes. Still, the judges look at that last ninety feet when they score a walk-off dinger and right now Ibanez needs to really nail the next one if he hopes to get back in this thing.

Meanwhile, Ryan Howard is doing his best to confound the judges, too. First of all, he isn't striking out nearly as much as we expect of him. Second, what's with the leather he's throwing out there!!?? Is he angling for some kind of Gold Glove? Diving into the hole. Over the shoulder basket catches. And third, since when does he go with the pitch, putting the ball in play like he did on that clutch single in the bottom of the ninth, just before Ibanez' ho-hum home run trot? Next thing you know, Howard is going to try and steal a base or lay down a sacrifice bunt. What's up, big fella?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Pen Is Crucial

It' easy to say after watching his save streak end at 47 that Brad Lidge isn't the same pitcher in 2009 that he was in 2008, but the evidence was plain to see in all of his appearances this season leading up to tonight's debacle. Lidge hasn't been relying on his biting slider into the dirt nearly as much this year and the reason is the absence of Carlos Ruiz, the only catcher Lidge felt could dependably handle that pitch. Instead, Lidge has relied heavily on a fastball without much movement and major league hitters are turning it around at a rate the Phillies' closer never saw during the championship run.

It's also easy to say in early retrospect that the bullpen, superb throughout 2008, couldn't be expected to duplicate their overall performance two years running but, again, there were plenty of signs. JC Romero is still serving his suspension and Chad Durbin was hit around pretty well in the second half of last year. Jack Taschner hasn't impressed. Ryan Madson was perfect until last night. Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey have pitched solidly while J.A. Happ has hardly pitched at all. But Lidge has been the biggest disappointment by far, looking bad even when he has gotten the save. Things will pick up for him when Ruiz comes off the DL, provided, of course, his confidence isn't completely shaken like it was several years ago after King Albert's home run.

All of this hand wringing over the bullpen might be moot if the starting rotation were doing its job, but they have looked terrible without much exception and anyway, the way modern baseball is played, starting rotations cannot be expected to pitch more than 5 plus innings any time out. Bullpens are the difference makers (just ask the Mets) and the Phils' bullpen was key last year. Without a semblance of return to form, it is going to be a long season no matter when and if the shaky starters come around.

Beauty May Only Be Skin Deep But Ugly Cuts Clear To The Bone

Ugly, ugly loss and what's worse, the heretofore reliable parts of the bullpen collapsed.

Cole Hamels continues to unimpress but Ryan Madson chose a terrible time to surrender his first hits let alone runs of the young (but feeling old by the minute) season. In the process, the Phils blew leads of 5 - 1 and 7 - 1 as the Padres roared back to win 8-7. Early or not, this is the kind of loss that comes back to haunt teams. It also comes on the heels of big loss to Washington, that team's only victory of the season.

One of the few pluses on the evening was the continued clutch hitting and fielding of Raul Ibanez, who has already won me over for his steady, unspectacular, professional approach to the game. Let's hope it rubs off on his new teammates, who barely ressemble world champions.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's Never Enough Pitching

Just in the nick of time the Phillies found their bats, stashed in the rear of the equipment truck underneath the leftover World Series bunting and over-sized ring boxes. They sure haven't found their starting arms, however, which must still be lost somewhere in transit from Florida. The only question is, does any of this surprise you?

No one ever doubted the Phils could hit. Furthermore, despite the absence of another left-handed arm in the bullpen, the Phils can throw some serious relief pitching at opponents going back through all of last season. That leaves the starting five, who thus far sport a collective ERA north of six runs a game and who have yet to produce a "quality start", even as defined by the current low standards.

The problem with relying on the hitters is that this is streaky at the plate. They have good power but not a lot of players who hit for average. The addition of Raul Ibanez, thus far as pleasant a surprise in the field as at the plate, was supposed to address the need for more contact hitters and may yet rub off on some of the holdovers., but their are a lot of guys in this batting order to whiff a lot.

Starting pitching was supposed to be much healthier this year than last. Spring Training even featured a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. To date, everyone has been hit around hard, some more than once.

Who said the pitchers are ahead of the hitters in April? Not Rich Dubee!

Monday, April 13, 2009


He loved what he did for a living. He reached the pinnacle of his profession. He was liked by everyone and loved by many. His was a life we'd all like to live.

P.S. Just try and get the tune "High Hopes" out of your head over the next few days.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

And They're Off????

The news of Cole Hamels' disastrous outing in Colorado reached me without benefit of seeing the game or any of its lowlights as I spend the weekend in Boston. Suffice it to say three hundred miles are hardly a sufficient barrier to prevent the collective pain and anxiety from spreading northeast.

Hamels' protests of the last few weeks aside, that he isn't a "spring training pitcher" and that his velocity and command will come around, can no longer be taken a face value when the real games have started. Throwing batting practice in a major league park is not an option, but that is essentially what he did yesterday, stopping cold whatever momentum accrued on Wednesday afternoon when his mates staged a remarkable comeback against the Braves.

Everyone is worried, none more than Charlie Manuel and, presumably, Hamels himself. The huge increase in the number of innings he threw last season and accompanying charts on DNL and elsewhere tracking the impact such increases in other pitchers had on their performance is hardly reassuring. Couple those statistics with the Phillies' history of being less than forthcoming about the extent of injuries to its players and you have all the ingredients for rampant speculation about their ace pitcher's immediate if not long-term fortunes and, of course, those of his team.

Without Hamels the Phillies would be the only contender unable to run a true number one pitcher out to the mound every fifth day. The worries about the four guys immediately behind him on the depth chart harly inspires confidence.

Meanwhile, the Phils are off to their usual slow start at the plate. Except for that eight-run inning against the Braves, they aren't scoring runs, not in their own bandbox or in the friendly confines of Coors Field.

The pictures isn't pretty.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Get Me Rewrite!!

If you're like me, you'd undoubtedly written off the Phils yesterday afternoon by the end of the sixth inning...if not sooner. For my part I'd already drafted their obituary, nay their denunciation, for the opening series of the season, waiting only for the final gory details before posting it.

Say all you want, and no doubt much is being said around town, most of it unprintable, the defending World Series Champs were swept at home to begin their title defense. Talk about taking the shine off those gaudy rings that were handed out earlier in the day.

The Phils didn't hit a lick during the three game debacle versus Atlanta but, then, they sure didn't pitch much either. It wasn't as if they were facing the '27 Yankees or the reincarnation of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Nevertheless, the champs were chumps. Baseballs flew out of the Bank and most of them made the obligatory return trip to the outfield grass. Meanwhile, the big boppers in red pinstripes laid a big egg.

There's a lot of baseball left. Let's hope it improves.

That's why it ain't over 'til it's over or in blogging terms why you hit "Save Now" instead of "Publish Post".

What a comeback. Oh, sure, you can say the Braves completely imploded, but during that eight run inning in which they took the lead the Phils showed a kind of patience at the plate that is absolutely uncharacteristic of them, drawing four bases-loaded walks in the process. They made the Braves throw strikes and Atlanta obliged by throwing balls. Meanwhile, the Phils' own pen had an adventurous afternoon with J.A. Happ and Chad Durbin failing to impress, Clay Condrey and Ryan Madson pitching very well and Brad Lidge scared the hell out of everyone by surrendering a ninth inning home run before getting the final out.

The obituary hung in the balance but reports of the Phillies demise were premature to say the least.

Blue Screen Of Death?

Let's not beat around the bush, Jamie Moyer is on hard drive time. You know, the old hard drive keeps humming along, saving this, storing that, bringing up whatever. From time to time you wonder how it keeps on keepin' on but you just boot the baby up and don't ask questions. Then, one day, it just ups and dies. No warning. No flashing signal. No hard drive.

As I settled onto the couch last night to watch the frigid proceedings at Citizens Bank Park, I listened as Harry, Chris and Tom discussed, among other things, Moyer's amazing career and less than stellar Spring. Earlier in the evening on DNL, an emailer wondered if the wind was blowing out toward centerfield by game time, would Moyer's pitches even reach home plate. LOL.

When Moyer took the throw from third baseman Pedro Feliz at the end of his warmups and the traditional throw down to second and around the horn, I wondered how he would start off the first batter. Can't throw the change, I said to myself; nothing to change up from when it's the first pitch of the game. He's probably going to try and sneak a "fastball" by the first batter. KABOOM! Looked like the Braves' Kelly Johnson was thinking the same thing.

From the point on things deteriorated. Moyer didn't have it and the Braves scored four quick runs. It didn't help matters that the Phils bats were still in storage as they were shutout, but that 4-0 hole was a deep one to climb out of.

I know, Phillies fans are quick to find fault. Two games, for crissakes! They've still got 160 to go and we're already complaining. Well, here are the problems:

1. Their opening day pitcher is erratic in the best of times.
2. Their number two pitcher of the season, actually their number 3 or 4 starter in a perfect progression, is on hard drive time.
3. Their number one pitcher isn't on the shelf, but he is being watched closely for signs his remarkable sophomore year and post-season will have proved costly.
4. Their number 3 or 4 pitcher, depending on how item number 2 settles out, may have to be the backbone of the rotation; and,
5. Their number five starter is really a reclamation project.

Welcome to 2009.

Monday, April 06, 2009

What Have You Done For Us Lately?

OK, so the afterglow of the championship still burns albeit a bit less brightly. None other than the players themselves kept reminding us throughout the endless replays of last Fall's championship run that was last year, time to turn the page.

Slow starts are the norm in these parts. And lousy starts by Brett Myers are not uncommon either. Myers showed a national television audience that stuck around long enough just why he isn't exactly the thinking man's pitcher. With his fastball less than impressive, he went to the change far too often according to Steve Philips and Joe Morgan. And when he threw the fastball, it had nothing much on it. The Phillies never tire of telling us what great stuff Myers has; the problems heretofore have been how and when he uses it. Well, his stuff can be electric, but not consistently and not often enough. The only consolation is that when Myers doesn't have it, we know right out of the chute. The bad news? So do the opposing batters.

Meanwhile, the Phillies offense, and we use that word loosely here, remains missing in action. Charlie Manuel warned everyone too many batters go too few AB's in Spring Training and looked it and sure enough, the Phils couldn't muster anything against Derek Lowe and Mike Gonzalez. Leading up to Opening Night I wondered more than once how exactly a team has six weeks or more of Spring Training and can't manage to get its players enough AB's. The WBC certainly hindered Shane Victorino, who didn't play every day for the American Team. And Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz were brought along slowly as they recoverd from off-season surgery. Still, you have to wonder how professional baseball players can fail to get ready for their regular season. The fact that Myers surrendered three home runs and four runs overall in the first two innings certainly put his mates in a big hole, but when they cannot hit the ball, one or two runs suffice to chalk up a loss.

By the way, the game ended with the Phils' feeble rally cut short as Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, both lefties, struck out against the southpaw Gonzalez. Now that is one prediction that came true.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Defending Champs

This town is in love with its boys of summer and why not? Championships were extremely hard to come by in this sports-crazed metropolis until the Phillies reigned [sic] all over the drought. They didn't exactly walk away with the division title in 2008, but they nearly ran the table in the post-season, clinched the big prize in an historic rain-delayed-resumed game on a cool autumn evening and capped off the celebration on a sun-splashed day with a parade down Broad Street that was notable for its huge crowd of well-behaved, cheerful faithful.

This year's edition should contend for another post-season berth because much of the cast from that winning team returns. Have their division rivals improved at the same time? Yes, especially the Mets. The Braves don't appear ready to resume their dominant ways of the past fifteen years or so but the Marlins will be trouble as usual and the Nationals will be tough if they can get some pitching.

Over on Beerleaguer I predicted the Phils would capture the Wild Card berth but be out of the playoffs by the second round. Here I will qualify that prediction by stating simply that their entire season will depend far more on pitching than hitting. Cole Hamels' health, Jamie Moyer's age-defying act, Brett Myers' on-again, off-again noggin, and a bullpen that more or less approaches last season's astonishing overall performance hold the keys. If any of those pitchers falters badly, or, worse, if a few do, it will be a long season.

But for now our boys can do no wrong. They are the reigning champs and no one can take that away from them...or us!