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.