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.