Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Digress...Again

The most remarkable aspect of UConn's 89-game win streak is that every team playing the Huskies since the streak approached record territory has looked at the schedule and circled the date as it's championship game.

* * * * * * * *

The Eagles astonishing comeback last Sunday vs. the Giants was probably watched at home by far fewer fans than are willing to acknowledge it now. As the game wound down to its final eight minutes I'll bet a lot of people reached for the remote and said, "OK, I'd better do that last minute shopping or finally hang the lights outside or clean up the garage or walk the dog or...." Thanks to replays ad nauseum, however, everyone can claim they saw it all live.

* * * * * * * *

As much of the baseball world and all of the Delaware Valley proclaimed the Phillies' starting rotation among the best ever and started planning for the post-season parade it is worth noting the Phillies lost last year because of hitting not pitching. Nothing they have done this off-season has improved their offense; indeed, it is weaker with Jayson Werth's departure. So, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, especially since the Phillies are counting on Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and, yes, Chase Utley all to rebound from last year's performances. And, of course, there are the matters of Ryan Howard's power drop off and the hope that Domonic Brown is the real deal.

* * * * * * * *

Just when everyone is ready to pronounce the Sixers a vastly improved, playoff-bound team, they play a game like last night in Chicago in which they were, charitably putting it, slaughtered.

* * * * * * * *

And just when the Flyers were celebrating their number one power ranking on ESPN, they go out and lay one big fat egg vs. the lowly Florida Panthers, getting shut out at home 5-0.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Among Other Things....

The Cliff Lee signing completes the transformation of the perception of Philadelphia's by major league baseball players. It wasn't that long ago, prior to December, 2002, to be exact, when free agents shuddered at the prospect of playing in Philadelphia.

Bad stadium (the Vet), tough fans and, oh yes, a tradition of losing. Not an attractive picture.

Just prior to the start of the 2003 season, Jim Thome signed a six-year deal with the Phillies, who were about to move into a new stadium one year later. Thome's arrival broke the ice, at least among top-rated position players, who soon discovered what a hitters' park Citizens Bank Park was. Starting pitchers, on the other hand, deplored the short fences of the Bank and continued to avoid Philadelphia like the plague.

Following Thome's signing, the Phillies' home grown nucleus of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels combined with the shrewd talent evaluation of Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth and the acquisitions of Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee (albeit briefly) and Placido Polanco produced winning baseball on an annual basis.

The Roy Halladay signing a year ago finally broke the boycott by front line starting pitchers. His arrival was followed in mid-season by Roy Oswalt, who waived his no-trade clause to come to Philadelphia, further banishing the old stereotypes about Citizens Bank Park and the City Of Brotherly Love. Today, Cliff Lee buried these issues for good.

Not only did Lee want to return to Philadelphia, a city both he and his wife liked, he signed for less money than the two other suitors were offering. The chance to win surely influenced his decision. So, too, did the memories of playing here before.

While We Were Asleep

Say what you will, when Ruben Amaro seeks redemption, he doesn't hold back!

The Phillies stunned everyone in baseball, especially the pundits, by snatching Cliff Lee, the prized free agent pitcher of the season, from the richer claws of the NY Yankees and the favored grasp of the Texas Rangers. In doing so, they reacquired a player who expressed deep disappointment and surprise at his original departure a year earlier.

Bloggers and posters throughout the Delaware Valley had had a field day with Amaro's poor decision last off-season to trade the popular and successful Lee for three prospects whose prospects aren't very bright. Now, they're going to have to start singing Amaro's praises all over again.

The Phillies already had the second highest overall team salary prior to the signing of Lee which only goes to show that 123 straight sellouts has produced sufficient cash flow.

Lee reportedly turned down bigger money and longer terms to come back to Philadelphia, where he clearly enjoyed his half season stay. Already, the Phils' starting rotation is being called the best and/or compared to the great starting rotations of the past. It certainly does look formidable. Here's a comparison to one great rotation that lasted two seasons (1971 and '72). (Three of the four Orioles pitchers were together in Baltimore for many years)

Cliff Lee 102-61
Cole Hamels 60-45
Roy Halladay 169-86
Roy Oswalt 150-83

Jim Palmer 268-152
Dave McNally 184-119
Mike Cuellar 185-130
Pat Dobson 122-129

Readers of this space know me for the glass half-empty guy I am, so here is my take on the signing:

The Phils indeed possess the most formidable starting rotation in the baseball with this signing. What they do NOT possess is a reliable bullpen, sufficient right-handed hitting nor a stable outfield. Good pitching beats good hitting (or at least in last season's post-season, hitting that has stopped hitting altogether), but it cannot overcome all deficiencies. The other jokers in the deck for the Phillies are the rebound of Jimmy Rollins, the elbow of Placido Polanco, the full recovery of his batting eye by Chase Utley and the emegence of Domonic Brown. This is not a team without question marks.

Oh, and one more thing about this signing: I wouldn't put it past Amaro to be thinking about trading a starter not named Blanton for a hitter.

All that said, welcome back Cliff!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Predictable

I just finished reading in the Inky where Jayson Werth was quoted as saying he was "unwanted" in Philadelphia and now has "found a home" in Washington. Readers of this space know I've never held Werth in high intellectual regard. Indeed, let's hope his new contract in Washington calls for him to be watered regularly.

I guess having been reclaimed from the scrap heap, having been brought along patiently, then been handed the starting job and finally been offered $15 million a year for three or four years all added up to the Phillies not wanting Jayson. Well, here's hoping the 19 Nationals fans, 211 ushers and 153 vendors who regularly show up for games in DC make Werth feel right at home. If they cannot, the Phillies fans who regularly outnumber locals by two or three to one at Nationals home games can always make him feel "unwanted".

Meanwhile, where can I sign up to feel as "unwanted" as Werth?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Not Werth It

OK, I'll admit the headline is a bit cheesy, but I couldn't resist.

Readers of this space (the five of you know who you are) are well aware I have mixed feelings about Jayson Werth. He is a streaky hitter who can be productive but rarely in the clutch, a very good outfielder who can be erratic (especially his arm) and a fast base runner who can be caught napping (too often). Werth will never make Phi Beta Kappa, but, then, MLB isn't interested in college board scores.

Werth's so-far irreplaceable value to the Phils had to do as much with his handedness as anything else. Simply put, he was the only productive position player with power who batted from the right side. Will his bat and glove be missed? Depends entirely on who replaces him. For now, the bigger question is whether or not he is worth the seven-year $126 million contract he just signed with the Washington Nationals.

Of course, the answer remains to be seen but there is no time limit or restriction on speculating about the deal. Most observers who have one if not two feet planted in reality were stunned by the deal on every conceivable front. The Nationals don't appear to be the sort of team that can afford such a contract, but having offered it to Werth the only conclusions to draw are: 1)like most baseball teams, they have more money than they let on; or, 2)they are gambling.

For those who thought Werth would sign with the Red Sox or some other front runner, the clear message is he doesn't need another World Series ring. Good thing, too, because he isn't likely to get one in DC.

Seven years for a fellow who turns 32 at the beginning of next season seems like a long time but we have to remember salary and number-of-years inflation is the rule in most big league contracts today for type A as well as B players.

Washington is generally thought of as a team destined to continue losing, especially since they just lost their biggest power threat, Adam Dunn. Nevertheless, they do have some a pesky lineup. Where they seem most vulnerable is on the mound, especially with phenom Stephen Strasburg lost for all of next year recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Nats aren't as bad as some say nor as good as their ownership appears to believe...at least not now. They may be on the rise and the people who write the checks hope Werth will nudge them forward in that direction a little faster.

Is Jayson Werth the missing piece for the Nationals? Almost certainly not. He's going from the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park to a stadium where home runs are harder to come by. He isn't going to be surrounded by comparably talented players and isn't likely to have as many people on base in front of him, either.

But if Washington thinks he's worth all that money, Jayson isn't about to contradict them. You don't need a Phi Betta Kappa key to know that!

Monday, November 29, 2010

HOF Time

One non-voter's HOF ballot:

Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Smith.


The complete ballot: Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Barry Larkin, Al Leiter, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Raul Mondesi, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago, Lee Smith, B.J. Surhoff, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Go Rangers!

So much for a long hiatus. One last post:

I am picking Texas to win in five games. Unlike the Phillies, they have a lot of hitters who aren't timid about swinging. San Francisco won't find such an accommodating opponent in this round.

This is a tough choice for me because I loathe all things Texas having "done" two years time there. I've always said if one spent two years out of a given life in Texas and all he remembered fondly was the grapefruit, it wasn't a good sign. Still, the Giants are a team that is very easy to dislike and I am always obliging.

Losing In Character

A fitting end to an unsatisfactory season: Ryan Howard taking a third strike, turning in obvious and all-too familiar disgust as the SF Giants begin their celebration on the Phillies home turf.

The Inquirer's Matt Gelb had the audacity to invoke Joe Carter's stake-in-the-heart home run of 17 years ago to the date in describing Juan Uribe's game-winner off the Phils Ryan Madson.  Well, Ryan, I forgive you.  Indeed, you are not to blame.  The Phillies lost for the same reason they stumbled all season:  they did not hit in general and virtually never with runners in scoring position.

The Phillies received adequate starting pitching in this NLCS series but they never supported it with competent fielding or sufficient hitting. Indeed, Howard's punch out was typical of Phillies batters throughout the series. They never were aggressive at the plate, taking more hittable pitches than I've ever seen any team do.

The only area in which the Phillies exceeded expectations was in getting hit by pitches. That is why they are going home and San Francisco, hardly a great team by any measure, is going to the Series.

With this post I am taking a long hiatus. I'll require at least that much to get over the disappointment, not in the losing but in the how of losing.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Elimination Game: Take Two

If the Phillies are to stave off a second straight elimination game this evening, a few fellows counted on to provide some pop had better show up right from the top of the show.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have provided mediocre offense and virtually no offense in the games to date and cannot continue their funk if the Phils hope to stave off elimination and set up a Game Seven.

It would help if Utley would attack the ball more and if Howard would make contact. The Giants' staff hasn't looked particularly overpowering; rather, it is fair to say the Phillies have been getting themselves out just as much if not more than Giant pitchers have.

As has been the case all season, the pitching has held up its end of the bargain; now the Phils' entire future is in the hands of the offense.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Still Alive

What a strange series this has been! Hardly a classic. Sloppiness punctuated by luck punctuated by a wandering strike zone punctuated by lousy hitting punctuated by good pitching masquerading as better pitching.

Throughout the first five games the Phillies offense has been, well, the Phillies offense, that is to say, erratic at best. Last night was typical. They didn't get many hits but with the help of a few and a timely error by Aubrey Huff, the Phils took a 3-1 lead and held on to beat the Giants 4-2.

Roy Halladay wasn't sharp. Tim Lincecum looked more hittable than the Phillies let him be. Jayson Werth threw out Cody Ross trying to tag from second to third and then hit an insurance home run.

Foul balls were called fair. Pat Burrell showed us just what sort of jerk he always has been. Ryan Madson, indeed the entire pen, pitched superbly. And, voila!, game six is in Philadelphia tomorrow night on what should be a balmy late October evening.

The Phils still have life and the Giants, overachieving if one can call their modest offense overachivers, still hold the lead in the series. The Phillies are perfectly capable of catching fire and running off three straight wins. They might start tomorrow night by taking fewer pitches. Putting the bat on the ball still matters.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Panic

Charlie panicked. No two ways about it. In a game that wasn't an elimination game Charlie brought in Roy Oswalt, a starter who'd never relieved, and asked him to hold off the San Francisco Giants at home in the ninth inning of a seesaw game that was tied at 5 all. Oswalt failed and now it's pick one from back's to the wall, all over but the shouting, between a rock and a hard place, etc..

The Phils began the night by sending Joe Blanton to the mound. Blanton had not pitched in a live game in several weeks but was being asked to even the series at two games apiece. It was a tall order for the erratic Blanton, but he pitched decently into the sixth, when Charlie lifted him as the Giants were crawling back from a 4-2 deficit. Only a half inning before the Phils had taken their first lead since the games moved to Northern California. The lead proved short lived.

This has been a strange series. Billed as the match up between two excellent pitching staffs, the Phils were thought to have the edge offensively against a Giants roster cobbled together from waiver claims and judicious trades. The Giants have out hit the Phils in three of the four games thus far. Indeed, the Phils offense has largely disappeared save about two or three innings overall. Leading the disappearance is Chase Utley, who would be more visible if he'd simply entered the Witness Protection Program. Utley has had a terrible post-season of errors and less than sure-handed fielding to virtually no offensive production. He isn't alone. Raul Ibanez is throwing away at bats against the Giants. One writer said he was given a rest last night with Ben Francisco starting in his stead. Forget it! Ibanez was benched.

Jimmy Rollins may have delivered two nights ago, but for the most part he is popping the ball up and stranding base runners by the boatload. Shane Victorino is somewhere with Utley. Only Ryan Howard is hitting for average and only Jayson Werth driving in runs more than once a week. The games have been ugly from the Phils' standpoint with the offense failing to back up mostly decent starting pitching.

The series could end tonight and if it does, no amount of crying about the better team having lost will suffice...or be true. On paper the Phils are a better overall team, but they have never shown any offensive consistency this season.

BTW: Where was Brad Lidge last night?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mug Is Up!

A late post, minutes before Game 4.

The Phils aren't hitting. It's a season long story being revisited at the worst possible time. Cole Hamels deserved better but winning isn't about just desserts.

Now, ironically, the season seems to hinge on the forgotten man, Joe Blanton. The script writers must have worked overtime to come up with this one.

Anyway, in desperation I am trying a Reverse Curse for Game 4 having dragged out my Beerleaguer mug for breakfast this AM, the first time it has seen the light of day since I convinced myself using it was holding up their stretch drive in August.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Serving Notice

Break up Roy Oswalt!

The taciturn Mississippian pitched, hit and ran his way to a 6-1 victory over San Francisco last night, evening the NLCS at a game apiece.

Sharing the spotlight with Oswalt was Jimmy Rollins, mired in a terrible slump and looking like a player in steep decline, who cleared the bases with a double to provide the Phils with plenty of padding for the victory.

The game also marked notice served on the upstart Giants that the Phils are the defending NL champs. All week plenty of people have noted how well the Giants' staff matches up with or exceeds the Phils' rotation. Jonathan Sanchez, who blows his nose on the mound without benefit of a handkerchief more than any pitcher in ML history, was supposed to give the Giants their greatest edge in his match up. He was hardly dominating. The night before, Tim Lincecum didn't out pitch Roy Halladay; he just got better defense and support.

The series moves to SF tomorrow where Cole Hamels can accomplish two things: continue his amazing streak of pitching lights out and serve final notice on the Giants that the Phillies are not going to let go of their title so easily.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sick Bay

The Doctor was under the weather last night and so, too, were most of the interns and residents as the Phillies dropped a winnable game to San Francisco in the opener of the NLCS.

From the first inning it was clear Roy Halladay did not have his good stuff. He was constantly struggling with command and was up in the zone. Several times, Carlos Ruiz set up low and away only to reach over the heart of the plate or inside to catch a pitch. The omens were there from the get-go.

Still, the Phils might have won had they capitalized on early opportunities against an equally unimpressive Tim Lincecum. (So much for their hyped duel.) Ryan Howard led off the second inning with a double and was stranded there. Numerous other times with runners in scoring position the Phils failed to capitalize save for Jason Werth's two run homer.Ruiz got things rolling earlier with a solo shot to tie the game after Cody Ross gave SF an early lead with the first of his two home runs off Halladay. Cody Ross always gives the Phils phits!

The Phillies haven't hit during the entire playoffs and even prior to that. A team cannot collect six hits a night and win consistently. Jimmy Rollins is one of the poster boys for the futility. His very public decline continued as he failed to deliver with men on base. Worse, where Rollins was always ready to swing in the past, he appears tentative and confused now. If I were the manager, I wouldn't hesitate to put Wilson Valdez in for game two.

The game was officially lost in the sixth inning when Pat Burrell lifted a two out "double" to the wall in left center field. Raul Ibanez ran back and leaped awkwardly as the ball glanced off his glove. Two runs would score that inning, cementing the victory for the visitors.

Ibanez isn't a good fielder. We knew that. What galls me is the realization the Phillies have never had a good left-fielder in the 31 years I've lived here and watched them. A succession of lumbering, awkward, stoned-glove players have patrolled that territory these three decades. Last night, for the umpteenth time, a lack of ability with the glove cost the Phils a victory. The difference this time, of course, was the stage on which the foul was committed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phils Vs. Giants

The Giants are to fear with their three frontline pitchers, but the Phils have the edge offensively when the hitters show up. Sorry, Pat, you've ridden in your first and last parade. Phillies in six.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts On The NLDS

Cole Hamels' elevation is complete. No matter what transpires going forward, Hamels established himself last night as one of the game's premier starters, shutting down the Reds on five hits in hurling a 2-0 shutout. Perhaps it wasn't the culmination of his phenomenal second half of 2010, after all there are more games to play, but coming in a very big game, it was the highlight of a string of highlights.

* * * * * * * *

The win propelled the Phils into the NLCS and marked the first time they ever swept a post-season series.

* * * * * * * *

After the game, Reds manager Dusty Baker likened the trio of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt to the great Orioles pitchers Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, who won 268, 185 and 184 games respectively. The Phils trio have won 169, 60 and 150 games respectively. I saw most of those Orioles wins and watched them go to three straight World Series in 1969-71. When you consider how tremendous Halladay has been most of his career and realize how far he remains from Palmer's totals, you get some idea of how great that Orioles trio was.

* * * * * * * *

The Reds stumbled through their first post-season appearance in 15 years, failing to hit or field anything like they did in the regular season. Nevertheless, they forcibly reminded me of the 2007 Phillies in their first post-season appearance in more than a decade and, like those Phillies, should be back next year even stronger. If they get good starting pitching, they will be a real force next season.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley certainly has had an odd year. The thumb injury sidelined him for a couple of months affecting his overall numbers, particularly in the power department. His fielding was erratic. His "tic" of tapping his glove with the ball before throwing to first seemed more pronounced. His batting average was the lowest it has been since he became a regular. Yet he remains the backbone of this team. One is tempted at times to say his intensity has worn him down before his time, but just when one suspects this may be the case, he rises to the occasion. Although he didn't have many hits in this series, he was in the middle of most of the important developments and he did sting the ball often. He certainly is public enemy number one in Cincinnati at the moment, but he'll never match the level of enmity directed by Phillies fans toward Scott Rolen.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of Rolen, he looked like an old, depleted man in this series, making errors or awkward plays, hardly able to bend over to field the ball. He was also pathetic at the plate. It wouldn't surprise me if he suddenly said he'd had enough.

* * * * * * * *

For those of you who wanted to watch the broadcasts in HD, turn off the sound and listen to Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen on WPHT, the problem was a significant delay between the visuals and the audio despite advertisements by the station that this combination would work. The reason is the HD signal, which is not delivered in sync with real time. If you want to try this combination viewing the games in regular definition, it works fine if you can accept the narrow, lower res picture. Frankly, for this viewer it was hard to keep me down on the regular def farm after I'd seen HD!! I went for the mute button and HD most of the way for the dull TBS crew and you can bet the ranch I will be muting anything announced by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver in the next round.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It Isn't Nice To Shake Off Carlos

I thought I would wait a few days for all of the "better lucky than good" comments to air before plunging in.

Game Two was a sloppy affair but who will care a week or month from now? Only the Reds, especially if Cole Hamels closes them out in Game Three this evening.

The outstanding moment of Game Two? There were many, all involving the same two players, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Ruiz. Oswalt didn't have it right out of the chute and the blame rests squarely on him for committing the cardinal sin of men in red pinstripes, namely, he shook off his catcher far too much. Heretofore, Oswalt allowed Ruiz to do his job, which is to call the game. Friday night, however, Oswalt believed he had a better idea, early and often, and in the end, he didn't!!

Despite his mediocre outing, the Phils managed to win because the Reds made more mistakes and the Phils capitalized on nearly every one of them. Cue the cliche: that's what great teams do.

History suggests the Reds will win tonight, but Cole Hamels has been rewriting his own history lately and that may not be his take on the proceedings.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

We

Take all of the success over 13 seasons. Mix in a perfect game. Add in substantial wealth. Throw in the high regard of teammates and opponents. Add 21 wins in his first season in the National League. So, what could possibly be missing here? A veteran hurler who before last night had never pitched beyond the regular season.

That was the picture of Roy Halladay before last night. Now, add in the first no-hitter in the post-season since Don Larsen's perfect game half a century ago. The image is nearly complete.

Here is the final brush stroke. After his magnificent performance, after he was embraced by his catcher Carlos Ruiz and mobbed by teammates, microphones were thrust into Halladay's face from every point on the compass. And what was the first word out of his mouth? "WE wanted to be aggressive."

The portrait is complete. Halladay's first impulse is to talk about his teammates, specifically Ruiz. The guy is covered in personal glory and adulation and still sees himself as one of 25 guys trying to make it all the way to the top...together!

That's the kind of guy the hard-bitten Philadelphia fans of legend embrace as one of their own. Indeed, that's the kind of guy fans everywhere want to call one of their own.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Stuff Happens

Nearly everyone in Philadelphia allegedly read the Bulletin...and it still went out of business.

Now nearly everyone is picking the Phillies to go to their third straight World Series...and win it.

Yikes, that kind of consensus is a little scary. Remember, your faithful correspondent was feeling pretty good about his beloved Baltimore Orioles, a juggernaut in the making, in 1969.

Stuff happens. Let's hope it's good stuff for the Phils.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Front & Center...Sort Of

Arguably the best team the Philadelphia Phillies have ever assembled will begin post-season play this Wednesday when they host Central Division champion Cincinnati. You can bet the ranch, however, most of the talk around this town in the next several days, obsessive hand-wringing really, will continue to be about the Eagles' debacle Sunday afternoon when a less-than impressive Donovan McNabb returned and departed victorious.

Most years the Phillies couldn't buy a headline once football season got underway though their championship run in 2008 was hard even for Eagles fans to ignore. This summer the Phillies withstood the worst series of injuries and trips to the Disabled List they had ever endured to post the most wins by any major league team, but the talk around these parts has been all Kolb-Vick-Kolb all the time ever since early September. The ironies of Sunday's Eagles' quarterbacking controversy insured they would be the lead on Daily News Live and WIP at the very least. Fine, leave the Eagles to them!

The Phils have set up their rotation for the entire post-season as perfectly as could have been managed. Any time Cole Hamels is your game three starter you are well positioned. Although the Phils scored a lot of runs in their final weekend of the season, the offense only contributed a portion of them; Atlanta's shoddy defense helped out. So, going into the playoffs one has to wonder which offense will show up for the Phils. To make matters a little more worrisome, leading hitter Carlos Ruiz was plunked on the elbow by Tim Hudson and second leading hitter Placido Polanco is still nursing elbow woes thanks to the same hurler. One hopes Phillies' pitchers have a long memory, one that reaches into next season.

Ryan Howard may have started September like a house of fire, but he cooled off significantly. Chase Utley returned from his long stint on the DL batting in the .270's and was never able to raise his average, finishing at a career low for a full season at .275. Jayson Werth hovered around the mid .290's all year and Raul Ibanez rose from the dead following the All-Star break.

The Reds will be tough. Much has been made of their overall lack of players with post-season experience, a factor that is highly overrated and normally ceases to matter by the second AB for each player. The Reds can hit and have a decent pitching staff, anchored on the front end by Bronson Arroyo and toward the back end by phenom Aroldis Chapman. The Phils swept the Reds in Philadelphia just prior to the AS break, winning three games in extra innings. All of them could have gone either way.

So will this series.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Not Ready To Party Just Yet

While nearly everyone in Philadelphia has made reservations for a parade, this observer, a charter member of the Glass Half Empty Society, Eastern Division, isn't quite ready to set up a lawn chair at Broad and Lombard.  The Phils have three great starters.  They have a potent offense.  They have one of the better set up guys.  Their closer looks rejuvenated.  That said, the Giants have a formidable starting trio themselves.  They have a very good bullpen.  Their hitting may not be as robust but they can hit a lot better than they could a few months ago with the emergence of Buster Posey and the phenomenal rejuvenation of Pat Burrell. Still, on paper the Phils look like the better team.  The half empty portion if you will is that the Phillies offense can go into hiding suddenly and for prolonged periods of time.  If that happens at the wrong time, they are in trouble.  If not, they should make a third straight appearance in the Series.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Audition Time

The Phils are preparing for the playoffs by giving their starters just enough work to stay sharp while running out the rest of the crowded dugout and bullpen to see who is fit for post-season play and who isn't.

That means the Greg Dobbses, Domonic Browns and David Herndons on the roster should see plenty of playing time in the next several days.  It also means Jimmy Rollins will have an opportunity to show he is fit enough to supplant supersub Wilson Valdez.  Frankly, Jimmy's performance last night and comments after the game were hardly reassuring, especially the statement he should be 100% some time around February.  I'd rather see a 100% Valdez at short than a 75% or less Rollins.  It isn't as though Rollins had been tearing up things prior to this latest injury.  Two things are working in Rollins' favor, neither of which persuade me:  one, his manager is loyal to veterans, especially starters, to a fault; and, two, he still believes as goes Jimmy so go the Phillies.  In the second case, their 94 wins, achieved largely without Rollins, should dispel that notion.

As for Dobbs, he hasn't earned a spot on the post-season roster but because he can allegedly play the infield, he will make it while Domonic Brown probably will not.  Dobbs should get plenty of opportunities to find his stroke in the final four games of the regular season because Placido Polanco is going to get plenty of rest for his ailing elbow and forearm.  I wouldn't bet Dobbs is up to the challenge.

Meanwhile, Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee have expressed some concern about resting Roy Halladay given he's thrown 250 innings this season, but they let him go a full nine the other night with the game clearly in hand.  I guess they didn't want to deprive him of a shutout nor savoring the division-clinching final moment.  Neither makes sense when you are trying to curtail his innings, but where emotions are involved little normally "makes sense".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rowdy Cows

The morning routine in our house never varies. Alarm set for 6AM week days. Tuned to KYW. When we awaken my wife and I want to know what's the temperature; what exit ramp is blocked; who shot whom; and who won?

When we get out of bed we tune to NPR for, let us say, a little more depth and breadth, but for our first moments of consciousness we want the facts.

This AM we awakened to the news the Phillies had won their fourth straight NL East title. (We already knew this before retiring the night before but I'm trying to tell a good story here so why let a few details get in the way?)

The announcer further informed us Phillies' memorabilia would be available at the stadium store and that in anticipation of overwhelming demand they planned to open early this morning, at 7AM. Furthermore, the store "would be giving away free rally towels to each customer".

"Rowdy cows!?", my sleepy spouse asked. "Did she say 'rowdy cows'?"

"No, dear, that's 'rally towels'. R A L L Y     T O W E L S! Fans wave them to stoke a rally."

[Laughter]

"OK," my wife continued. "So, who won first place for fourth place?"

That's her unique and, frankly, pretty good description of the Wild Card race.

"That still remains to be seen," I replied.

"Time to get up."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stay Tuned

It would have been nice to soak their own clubhouse rather than ruin the carpet in Washington, but the Phils dropped two straight to the New York Mets and were denied the pleasure. Still, they look like pretty good bets to waste a lot of bubbly in one of the next few nights as they finish the season with six straight road games. Atlanta did its part in the magic number department, dropping their Sunday afternoon game to the Nats. The Phils have to win one of the next six games or Atanta has to drop one for the division title to remain in the City of Brotherly Love.

Cole Hamels was due a stinker and he delivered, giving up five runs in four innings but the Phils seemed poised to come back when Chase Utley stroked a three-run shot to close the gap. But Ryan Madson, also due a stinker, surrendered a two-run homer to Carlos Beltran as the Mets put the game out of reach. The Phils stranded something on the order of two hundred runners in scoring position during an afternoon of missed opportunities.

So, it's all aboard Amtrak as the Phils make their way South to DC and Atlanta. It would have been nice to rest Roy Halladay, but if the Phils can stake him to a big enough lead tomorrow night, he might be able to get by with five innings of work.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pepper

Peaking too soon? Let's not even go there.

The Phils winning streak reached eleven straight with last night's 3-2 win over the Mets. Coupled with another Atlanta loss, the Phils magic number stands at two. They could clinch the division as early as this evening if their streak reaches twelve and the Braves continued to stumble.

Charlie Manuel is looking for the clincher to give his pitching staff some rest in the next ten days, but he also wants home field advantage throughout the playoffs and that only comes with the best overall record. What to do? Some rest, but not too much!

* * * * * * * *

Apparently, the Mets are pissed off about the hard takeout slide by Chase Utley last night. David Wright was quoted as saying the Mets would have to reevaluate how they slide into second base after Utley's slide.

A few things need to be said:

1. There is no cleaner player around the Utley.
2. His slide was hard but perfectly legitimate.
3. The Mets second baseman ought to reevaluate how to get out of the way on a double play. Try leaping next time...just like any other second baseman would do.
4. The Mets can reevaluate sliding into second base all they want, but first they should reevaluate how the hit in order to even reach second base.

Next.

* * * * * * * *

The Yankees and Rays are locked into a tight race in the AL East and this fan is rooting hard for Tampa Bay to knock off the overpaid New Yorkers. While on the subject of the Yankees, they unveiled a huge monument in their centerfield sculpture garden to George Steinbrenner, who died recently, and, naturally, the eulogies poured forth again about what a wonderful man and owner he was.

The truth is somewhat closer to this: Steinbrenner was a blustery bully who liked nothing more than to attack players, managers, coaches and anyone else who incurred his displeasure as publicly as possible. His first inclination was normally to humiliate someone who crossed him even when that could mean failing to lay down a successful sacrifice bunt!

Was he a success? By any measures the answer would be yes. He took a struggling great franchise and returned it to glory. Of course he did this in large measure by outspending the rest of MLB in the free agent market and because his club, baseball's most illustrious and richest, could afford to buy championships.

Given the Yankees' resources, the Kansas City Royals would have probably been as successful and with a great deal more peace and tranquility.

* * * * * * * *

The greatest player no one, including this fan, gets to watch did it again. Ichiro Suzuki garnered 200 or more hits for the tenth straight season, matching Pete Rose's record but doing so in consecutive seasons. Ichiro plays on the West Coast, so we here in the East rarely get to see him under the best of circumstances. He also plays on a pretty lousy team and nearly always has, so he isn't likely to appear on some nationally televised game. It's too bad because one gets the feeling watching him would be akin to watching Utley or Polanco day in and day out. A consummate pro playing his trade without too much fanfare.

Hats off to you, Ichiro.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Not Your Grandfathers' Phillies

Pitching?

Did we say pitching was going to be the problem this season? Gee, I don't remember. Are you sure it was the royal "us"?

The Phillies served notice on the pitching-rich National League that they play second fiddle to no one. In the sweep over Atlanta Cole Hamels set the tone; Roy Halladay maintained the lead around the second turn; Roy Oswalt cleanly took the hand-off on the third leg; and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge closed the deal crossing the finish line way out in front.

True, the Phils were facing a befuddled and foundering Atlanta Braves team that has lost more than it has won lately, but, then, apart from Cincinnati and Colorado, the rest of the potential opponents in the National League aren't likely to make anyone forget the '27 Yankees and, frankly, neither are the Reds or Rockies. There is a lot of good pitching out there but none stack up better than the Phillies' staff at this juncture.

Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee deserve a lot of credit for setting the rotation up to have the three Aces face the Braves; and, conversely, Bobby Cox deserves some of the blame for failing to have his two veteran aces make a single appearance in the series. Cox may have been assuming the Phils would take two of three and thus only gain a full game on the Braves. He may also have been thinking he'd rather set them up for the final weekend of the season. But the Phils took all three games to open a 6-game lead and no matter what anyone thinks, these are not your '64 Phillies by a long stretch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

20 Wins

They say the true mark of a great pitcher is to win without his best stuff. Roy Halladay is a great pitcher.

Pitching "when it counts" late in the season and going for his 20th win of the season, Halladay struggled with his command much of the night but held the Braves to three earned runs in seven innings as the Phils won for the second straight night (and ninth straight time overall) to widen their lead over Atlanta to five full games.

Halladay has struggled in his last few outings, yielding more home runs and walks than are his norm and uncharacteristically missing on the outside of the plate, too. (The home plate ump didn't help last night, blowing a few very obvious calls.) Halladay is a dogged competitor, however, and doesn't give in even when obviously struggling. The results were another win for him and his adopted team. The 20 wins are the most by a Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1982.

Jayson Werth provided another big hit with a tremendous 3-run homer in the third inning. Werth has been on a tear lately and will be sorely missed next year, but not by this blogger. Still cannot stand the guy. Who said one has to be rational about these things?

The Phils go for the sweep tonight with Roy Oswalt on the mound. Oswalt will be seeking his eighth straight win in a Phillies uniform.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ace Of Aces

Cole Hamels established himself last night as the ace among aces on the Phillies staff and the best left-hander in the National League. Facing Atlanta in the opening match of a crucial three-game set, Hamels threw eight innings, scattering six hits, walking one and striking out six. He did all of this while getting squeezed by a home plate umpire who was all over the lot. In the process Hamels also lowered his ERA to 2.93. He's given up two earned runs in roughly his last forty innings of work.

Hamels was aided immeasurably by terrific defense behind him including the turning of three double plays, the first of which found Placido Polanco starting an around-the-horn job by first bobbling a hot smash then throwing quickly to Chase Utley who leaped over the runner coming in hard at second and completed the DP. It was a thing of beauty.

The box score will also show Atlanta fill-in Brandon Beachy, making his first major league start as an emergency replacement, threw a decent game, but the truth is the Phils hit a lot of balls very hard either right at people or just foul.

Tonight, Roy Halladay, who hasn't been particularly scintillating of late, gets the ball as he goes for his 20th win. This game marks the kind of late-season, pennant-chasing contest which prompted Halladay to want to come to Philadelphia. He will be up for the game, make no mistake about that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In The Zone

Man, oh, man, this team is in the charmed zone. Down 6-3 in the ninth inning to Washington and looking like they had about as much chance of pulling this one out as Christine O'Donnell does of renouncing her membership in the Halloween Party, the Phils mounted a furious comeback in which four players came to the plate and all four scored, the last one Jayson Werth on the tail end of his walk-off, two run blast.

With the win the Phils swept the Nationals in a weekend series to maintain their three-game lead over Atlanta and set the stage for what should be a dramatic series with the Bravos beginning tomorrow night at the Bank.

Joe Blanton was cruising along with a 3-1 lead until the Nationals scored three in the top of the sixth to take the lead. The Phils then went into a mini meltdown including watching Shane Victorino get tossed by Angel Hernandez on a questionable appeal on a check swing. Hernandez has always had a rocky relationship with the Phillies and looks like a guy itching for a chance to hoist his thumb whenever the two get together.

But Destiny with a Capital D is clearly smiling on these Phillies right now and by the end of the day Werth's home run to the deepest part of the yard was all they needed to clinch the victory and set up the series with Atlanta.

Speaking of setting up the series, the Phils worked their rotation over the last seven days to set up their big three -- Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt -- to face the Braves. It doesn't get any better than this. Wait, yes it does; they win the series.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moral Indignation

Conversations not heard.

"Take first base, Mr. Jeter."

"Thanks, but it didn't hit me."

"That's mighty honest of you, Mr. Jeter."

"Just doing the right thing."

If the player in question had been some nobody on the Kansas City Royals, would there be so much discussion of this incident? Hardly. But the bigger the players in this drama the more sanctimonious the outrage. I'd like a nickel for every one one of these commentators who'd like to lump Jeter in with PED abusers. Talk about holier than thou. And talk about Yankee-baiting.

* * * * * * * *

Pete Rose was honored by the Cincinnati Reds the other day and, naturally, the subject of his candidacy for the Hall of Fame was the real topic. Former teammates such as Mike Schmidt continue to agitate for his eligibility, which would be tantamount to his election. As long as Bud Selig remains Commissioner, which by some accounts won't be that much longer, Rose will not be eligible. Who knows what a new Commissioner might do?

I've been on record (who knows which one or who, other than myself, is keeping it) for a long time as opposing his eligibility. Not because he is a jerk. Heaven knows there are plenty of those among the enshrined. No, I am opposed because he broke one of the cardinal rules of baseball, was caught, and admitted it, at least to Bart Giamatti. Period. Lately, some have put forth the argument he bet on baseball as a manager, not as a player. This argument simply does not hold water. He bet on baseball games in which he was directly involved as a member of a team, albeit as management. His actions called into question the fundamental integrity of those games and, at the time he was caught, he agreed. His gambling probably preceded his retirement, i.e., when he was an active player, but does not change the fact that he violated the trust necessary for any public sporting event as an active participant in major league baseball games.

I take solace in the notion that Rose's violations were revealed at the dawn of an era of revelations about all sorts of other cheaters. The Bonds and Clemens of the world created an atmosphere that won't help Rose achieve his election to the Hall, at least not as long as those who bore direct witness to their behavior have votes. Eventually, some veterans committee made up of Schmidt and other apologists may succeed in getting their old pal in. Let's hope not because as much as records matter in baseball, the game has gone on without Rose and will continue to. Fans can identify who hold the all-time hits record whether or not he is in the Hall. He's still listed in any encyclopedias of baseball. That will have to suffice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Three Up

Roy Halladay again was not at his best last night but he had more than enough for the surrendering Marlins as the Phils jumped all over a succession of bullpen types for a 10-5 win.

Some members of the Phils bullpen, especially Brad Lidge, did little to erase the anxiety that persists about their readiness for the post-season, but, then, I get ahead of myself. Still, one can begin to think in those terms as the Atlanta Braves continue to fade and the Phils have opened a three-game lead in little over a week.

Halladay did achieve a career high in total strikeouts last night and finally laid down a very nice sacrifice bunt, but he wasn't his dominating self otherwise. Staked to a three run lead, however, he had more than enough to win his 19th game of the season. Chase Utley hit another home run last night and super sub Wilson Valdez had three hits. Jimmy's gonna' have a tough time getting his job back. No, seriously!

The game was played before the usual throngs seen around these parts. Last night's game was attended by 33,000 loyalists masquerading as orange and blue seats, fifteen ushers (one called in sick), a vacationing group of Rotarians from Dubuque, Iowa, and the runner up to this year's Tallahassee Belle of the Ball contest. Four patrons were stopped by security and prohibited from entering when they were found to be carrying zuzuzelas. Homeland Security confiscated the devices which will be melted down and made into Dan Uggla bobblehead figures at a later date unless the Marlins' second baseman is traded in a salary dump.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All Grown Up

Like nearly everyone else, I have sung the praises the past few months of a far more mature Cole Hamels the young man and of his development into one of the league's if not game's premier pitchers. Yet, every now and then I catch myself wishing and hoping there won't be any relapses. I don't know why these doubts creep in. Perhaps they recur because his emotional transformation happened so suddenly; after all, a year is nothing when speaking about maturity.

But enough with the doubt, already! Hamels is the real deal. Last night when he got peeved when a batter took too long getting back in the box, he walked around the back of the mound, collected himself, and blew him away! Last night he threw a lot of pitches in his 6.2 innings, 127 of them in fact, but he never really labored unless, of course, one considers the humidity of lovely Miami. There were the usual astonishing number of foul balls hit off of him but there were also a ton of swinging strikes among his 13 punch outs.

The Phils offense wasn't impressive, but it scored two runs, sufficient for the victory. Coupled with the Braves further deterioration, the Phils have opened a two game lead in the Division.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where'd Everybody Go?

The Phillies crushed the Florida Marlins last night before a crowd of 16 ushers, a little league team from Bradenton, and a water wings salesman from Pensacola.

It's always a fun night in the heat and humidity of South Florida especially when the dugouts are more crowded than the stands. Really, Bud, when is baseball going to wise up and move this franchise? Oh, you say, they're going to have a new hermetically sealed stadium in place soon. Well, that should get the folks off the beaches and bar stools and into the stands.

OK, enough on what a good baseball town Miami is.

The Phils' offense continues its march through September and the starting pitching continues to shine as well. Last night's heroes included Chooch, now hitting an even .300 for the season. Wouldn't it be nice if he maintained that average through the end of the year? Is there any player on this club who goes about his business more quietly and steadily? Meanwhile, supersub Wilson Valdez added two hits and his usual steady play afield. Who is this guy? By now, of course, we all know the answer as reams of electrons (is that possible?) have been spent providing us with his background. In today's Inquirer (read it while the paper lasts) there is a fine article on Valdez and Charlie Manuel's affection and enthusiasm for him. It's safe to say that were Juan Castro still the primary fill-in the Phils would be chasing Atlanta by a wider margin.

Speaking of Atlanta, they kept pace last night as Derek Lowe and his injected wing beat Washington.

Monday, September 13, 2010

All Hail The Roy

Roy Oswalt threw a gem yesterday in shutting out the Mets 3-0 and improving to 6-1 since the Phillies acquired him and 12-13 overall. The taciturn Mississippi native was shown smiling in this Inquirer photo, and why not? His performance yesterday elicited a number of "Cliff who?" headlines and comments.

The Phils don't get much of a breather as they head to Florida for three games while Atlanta entertains Washington.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Far Below Average

For such an ordinary guy Kyle Kendrick hardly elicits a neutral response.

The young righthander has a better than .500 big league record yet legions of Phillies fans would like to see him shown the door. On the other side, slightly fewer but still substantial numbers of fans think he is a perfectly adequate back end of the rotation starter.

This fan counts himself among those who cannot wait to see him go. Yesterday's outing versus the Mets would seem to provide plenty of fodder for those who think Kendricks is adequate. After all, they no doubt would point out, he held the Mets to two runs; it was the bullpen that ultimately blew the game.

Not so fast. Kendricks has been awful the last four starts, allowing nearly an earned run an inning over 22 innings of work. So, when he started yesterday's game by putting his mates in an immediate hole surrendering a run in the bottom of the first inning they can hardly be blamed for experiencing a sinking feeling of deja vu all over again. With expectations so low to begin with, it must be hard for players to look up at the scoreboard and see they are trailing right out of the gate. Hard and demoralizing, and therein lies the rub with Kendricks.

What he does so often is deflate his teammates from the get go. It's sufficient reason to hope this is his last season in a Phillies uniform.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Hits Keep On Coming

Roy Halladay hasn't looked as sharp in his last two outings as he did in earlier but in each case the big righthander did precisely what he was brought here to do: win!

Halladay pitched 7.2 innings last night against the Mets, allowing four earned runs. The game was marked by two unusual circumstances: the light-hitting Halladay drove in two runs to help his cause and he was lifted with two outs in the eighth. Rarely does Halladay get a base hit and even more rarely does he fail to finish what he has started, especially an inning, but Charlie Manuel went out there and took the ball when he'd seen enough. The Phils are clearly monitoring Halladay more closely these days as his innings totals mount and the post-season looms.

Ryan Howard continued to cement his reputation as Mr. September, hitting his third home run in three games and his fifth of the month.

The victory marked another surge for the heretofore on-again off-again offense. There's no better time to spank the opposition when playing the bottom half of the NL East. In the next few weeks the Phils have ten more games against the lowly Mets and Nats. The latter always give them fits so it won't be easy. Nor will the six games remaining against Atlanta. Nearly everyone expects those games to decide the division winner. The loser won't necessarily be consoled with the Wild Card. San Francisco and Colorado continued to keep up the pressure for the final playoff spot.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Let's Play Two In One

The Phils played an unofficial doubleheader last night, jumping all over Florida for a 10-0 lead behind another dominating effort from Cole Hamels and then hanging on in the final innings when the Fish scored six runs before folding their tents. All six runs came off Nate Robertson, pitching for his third and likely last team in 2010 and beyond.

Charlie Manuel certainly expected to use the second and third-stringers to mop this one up, but when Florida closed to 10-6 he had to call on the cavalry for the final outs. After all, everyone knows a lead is not safe in Citizens Bank Park, especially when the free-swingers from South Florida are providing the opposition.

The game was marked by the continued offensive outburst of all the Phils especially but not only Mr. September, Ryan Howard, who drove in six runs. The game was also marked by another injury to Jimmy Rollins, who pulled up lame after hitting a double and having to pour it on at the end to reach second base. Frankly, hamstring injuries have always puzzled me. I can certainly imagine an injury for putting undue stress on the hammy, but when someone is putting on a burst of speed suddenly that hardly seems to qualify as "undue stress". Are players like Rollins failing to keep in good shape? In his case there have already been two trips to the DL this season alone, so one would think he would be particularly diligent about his condition. (After the game, Manual said Jimmy was dehydrated. That's an even easier condition to avoid.) The injury also will raise red flags going forward in Rollins' case when his contract expires after next season. The decline in his offensive numbers coupled with recurring injuries is going to give the Phillies pause. It isn't as if he's old, but the miles are piling up.

Meanwhile, Cole Hamels evened his record at 10-10, making him not only the best .500 pitcher in all of baseball but one of the best period. He extended his scoreless string to 25 innings, no mean feat under any circumstances but particularly impressive when the homer-happy Marlins are in town.

After a day off, the Phils play the dysfunctional Mets in NY this weekend. The Mets would love to knock off the Phils, who will be sending both Roys sandwiched around a starter TBD to the mound.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Back On Top

The Phils have been threatening to overtake the Braves lately and last night their 8-7 victory over Florida coupled with the Braves 5-0 loss to the Pirates did the trick. The Phils have a half-game lead over Atlanta, the first time since the end of May the two teams have traded places in the standings.

With the loss, the Braves are now in "first place for fourth place" as my wife likes to describe the Wild Card.

For the second straight night the Phils generated some offense with Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard providing most of the punch. Joe Blanton pitched decently and then watched the bullpen allow the Marlins back into the game. It's always amazing how resilient the Marlins can be given they also always seem to be a team in flux. Of course last night they were aided in their late innings effort by Jayson Werth's bonehead play of the day, throwing wildly behind the runner at third allowing him to score. Later, Charlie Manuel defended Werth while simultaneously acknowledging his decision to throw broke a cardinal rule of the game.

Meanwhile, the Braves have now lost five of six. Before their current series with Pittsburgh everyone was looking at their schedule compared to that of the Phillies and lamenting how much easier it appeared. Don't tell them that! And don't tell the Phils, who have finally managed to crawl back on top albeit by the slimmest of margins.

Monday, September 06, 2010

On Again Off Again Offense

The Phils split a day-night doubleheader with Florida yesterday to move to within a half a game of first place Atlanta.

In the opener rookie Vance Worley got the start and acquitted himself decently, yielding two earned runs in five innings of work, striking out five and walking one. Florida helped him out by stranding a boatload of runners. He must have felt like a veteran, however, as the Phils managed three measly hits, one until the seventh inning. Why should you be any different, Vance?

On the other side, Florida's Adalberto Mendez who, according to the Inquirer, "was making his major-league debut five days after being knocked out in the fourth inning of his previous start against triple-A Memphis", made the Phillies look pathetic. Their inability to put together a string of good games with the bat is no longer an aberration. It's fair to say the season's outcome will depend on their not going into a multi-game slide on offense, hardly a unlikely scenario given how many times the hitters have disappeared. Good pitching wins games but only when you score something!!

In the nightcap, Roy Oswalt wasn't his sharpest, yielding three home runs, but he held on as the Phils bats came alive en route to a 7-4 victory. The game was notable for the unusual and perhaps here-to-stay lineup featuring Shane Victorino at the top and Jimmy Rollins in the five hole. Jayson Werth got the night off so the new-look lineup will change in at least one spot when play resumes tonight. Apparently Charlie is tired of watching Werth lunge, half swing or just stand there with that blank stare of his as fastballs pour down Broadway. Dominic Brown got the start in the nightcap and clearly looks like he is still trying to adjust. Frankly, it cannot be easy for him when he gets six AB's a week.

On a positive note, Chase Utley hit the ball hard in the nightcap and looks more comfortable every day at the plate. The same cannot be said for Ryan Howard, who is flat out lost at the plate at this time.

While the Phils have been mostly winning, Atlanta has been mostly losing lately. Less than a month ago they had a five game lead. Last night the lowly Pirates helped the Phils out beating Tommy Hanson 3-1. The division has been there for the taking for a few weeks now; it remains to be seen if the offense can contribute as much as the pitching has.

Just Plain Dumb

The Phils were due for a stinker and thanks to old reliable Kyle Kendrick, they delivered, losing to Milwaukee 6-2 in a game in which the locals could be charitably described as lethargic.

In all fairness to Kendrick, his poor performance wasn't the only reason the Phils lost, but he did set the tone right out of the gate surrendering a first-pitch three run homer to Prince Fielder. Had I been Charlie Manuel I'd have gone out there and gotten Kendrick right away. Yeah, I know, can't go dipping into your bullpen that soon, but everyone in the park knew Kendrick's day would be a short one and the bullpen was going to get a work out sooner than later so why delay the inevitable? Right now I'd take my chances with one of the call-ups the next time Kendrick's turn comes around. After all, everyone knows a new guy on the block has a decent chance the first time out against a club which has never seen him. On the other hand, once you've seen Kendrick you can't wait to see him again...and again...and....

The other reason the Phils lost is that about half the team sleep-walked through the game, at bat and in the field, beginning with Jimmy Rollins and running through Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard. The Phils recent winning streak belies the old notion, advanced here and everywhere else ad nauseum, that as Jimmy goes so go the Phils. It just ain't so any more. Jimmy's average keeps plummeting as he pops up and flies out routinely, refusing to be selective about pitches.

This season marks the third straight year Rollins' average has dropped. Next year is the last on his contract and the unthinkable must be thought going forward, namely, that the Phils might not renew him.

As for Werth, he's definitely outta' here at the end of the year no matter what and despite his legions of fans he won't be missed by this one. His at bat in the eighth inning yesterday was a disgrace as he sat on and watched two consecutive fast balls whiz by and then struck out on what has become one of his patented off-balance, half-waves at the next pitch. In no uncertain terms Werth threw away the at bat. Given his attitude, one wonders why he didn't just go over to Charlie while still in the on-deck circle and say, "Skip, I know I'm taking this next AB off, so why not just send in someone else who wants to play?".

Howard also waved at a strike three during the game and just looked awful most of the time including his dropping a throw to allow the Brewers' last run of the day. Utley's mistake was to hit Howard right in the glove with that one! The scoops of the night before were therefore neutralized in one play the Big Piece TOOK OFF. (Speaking of Utley, his habit of tapping the ball in his glove before throwing is starting to make too many plays at first too close. He hasn't got a good enough arm for that tic.)

The Phils had plenty of other chances to score but never capitalized. Ben Francisco, an alleged fast ball hitter, watched a couple of good ones go by before flying out to end one threat.

What has become clear this season, more than ever, is how mentally challenged a lot of the Phillies are. Too many guys throw away at bats. Too many guys get picked off bases. Two many guys make poor defensive plays for lack of concentration. And far too many guys go up to the plate with no plan of attack.

Good pitching, which the Phillies have gotten nearly every time someone NOT named Blanton or Kendrick takes the mound, beats good hitting, but it cannot overcome stupidity!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Still No Mug

The Phillies owed Roy Halladay a win or three and last night began the repayment process by eking out a 5-4 win over Milwaukee.

Uncharacteristically, Halladay left too many balls up and the Brewers pounded four solo home runs off the big right-hander, the first time in his career he'd surrendered that many round trippers in a single outing. Fortunately, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth answered the Brewers' bashers in kind and Carlos Ruiz and Wilson Valdez scored on the same sacrifice fly and error in the seventh inning to provide the winning margin.

When the final story of this season is written, Ruiz and Valdez must receive serious consideration for sharing the MVP prize. Chooch's hitting has been a pleasant surprise all season. His defense and handling of the staff come as no surprise. Valdez, on the other hand, is the single most pleasant surprise of the year. When he was signed the second question everyone asked (number one having no doubt been "Who?") was "Is he going to outhit Eric Bruntlett?" Not only has the answer been a resounding "Yes!" but Valdez has fielded his three positions brilliantly and run the bases superbly.

No one ever expected this guy was going to start more than a handful of games, but he has appeared in 88 games thus far, mostly subbing for Polanco, Rollins and Utley as each of them went down with injuries; and when all of them returned, he resumed his spot on the bench only to receive the very occasional call. Last night was one of these and he responded in a bunt situation with men on first and second by drawing a walk. After Jimmy Rollins hit into a fielder's choice, the out being recorded a home, Valdez raced from second base behind Ruiz on a sacrifice fly when the ball got away from the catcher. It was a heads up play typical of his performance throughout the season. In this case, he scored the winning run.

More and more the Phillies are looking like a team destined for the post-season. Winning 1-0 one night while only getting four hits and scoring two on a sacrifice fly and error are the kind of outcomes reserved for team's working magic.

That, of course, and the fact that I still haven't used my Beerleaguer mug.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hamels' Arrival

While I would be hard-pressed to say everything came together in last night's taut 1-0 victory over Milwaukee -- after all, the Phillies managed a mere four hits -- nevertheless it was a very satisfying game.

Cole Hamels continued to establish himself as one of the league's premier lefties. Here is MLB.com's Todd Zolecki on Hamels' latest performance: [He] carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Brewers and allowed just three hits in seven scoreless innings. He has thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings, dating to an Aug. 24 start against the Houston Astros. He has a 2.00 ERA in his past 11 starts. His fastball is hitting 94 mph consistently. His changeup is as good as it has ever been. He is throwing his curveball and cutter splendidly.

Last night Hamels even got a rare victory given the meager run support his mates provide. Fittingly, battery mate Carlos Ruiz, whom Hamels trusts implicitly these days, drove in the only run. Jose Contreras worked the eighth and Ryan Madson faced the top of the Brewers order in the ninth, concluding with a dramatic strikeout of the always dangerous Ryan Braun. Madson thus tantalized the faithful once again who yearn for a reliable closer.

The night belonged to Hamels, however. He looked dominant early on, his fastball popping, and his changeup was better than ever when he spotted it along with his breaking stuff. He appeared to have no-no stuff going and indeed, carried one into the fifth inning. Hamels looks confident and what's more, acts it.

He has arrived.

Friday, September 03, 2010

No Mug This Time

Utley and Howard. It always comes down to these two in the end.

The Phillies won a wild one in Colorado last night, 12-11, thanks to the aforementioned duo who both hit crucial home runs. Howard's put the Phils ahead in the game for the first time; Utley's, with the bases full, ended up winning it by a hair.

Joe Blanton started and tried his damnedest to give away the game but the Phils started chipping away at a 4-0 deficit one run at a time beginning in the fourth and then appeared to have blown the game out of the water with a nine run seventh inning in which 12 batters came to the plate and Howard and Utley performed their heroics. Jayson Werth also stroked a home run in the seventh, meaning the 3-4-5 batters all produced in the same game for the first time since, when, April?

Utley and Howard also both made errors contributing to Colorado's eleven runs and the Rockies, a good club in general but especially in the very friendly confines of Coors Field, wouldn't go away. They nearly overcame the 12-7 lead the Phils built up before finally succumbing. They were probably just tired from running around the bases so much.

This win was one of those magical comebacks teams need to mount if they hope to make the post-season. In the Phils case it also concluded a very successful Western swing in which they won 6 of 7 games.

Now, they come home to face Milwaukee, which always seems to be poised to give the Phils fits at the end of the season or beginning of the post-season. What the locals don't need is a repeat of their last four games at Citizens Bank Park.

For the record, I haven't used my Beerleaguer mug since it failed me last week.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Winning Out West

Roy Oswalt continues to pay healthy dividends, winning his fourth straight start as the Phils took two of three from the Dodgers with yesterday's 5-1 rubber match.

Oswalt had an odd day in large measure due to the wandering strike zone of the home plate umpire. Oswalt did not yield a hit until the sixth inning but threw a lot of pitches including walking a career high six batters. For once, he didn't have to worry about run support as Jimmy Rollins provided him with some leading off the game with his 35th career opening batter home run. Shane Victorino hit a solo shot in the next inning to provide all the margin the Phils needed.

The other encouraging development of the day were the three doubles stroked by Chase Utley, who had been struggling mightily.

The Phils improved to 5-1 on this Western road trip that concludes this afternoon with a makeup game in Colorado. The Phils have to keep on winning because the Braves show no sign of losing and the Wild Card remains a four team race with the Phils currently on top by 1.5 games.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

One For August

Ryan Howard hit his first home run in August as the Phils beat Los Angeles 8-4 to even their series.

One home run in August, on the last day of the month. True, he missed a few weeks while recovering from an injury, but the big guy's power drought pretty much summed up the Phillies anemic offensive output for the month. Brian Schneider also hit a three run homer and Chooch, one of the only consistent hitters, stroked a two run pinch-hit single for the final runs. The hit came off Jonathan Broxton, who probably asked manager Joe Torre to give him the rest of the year and next year off if the Phillies are the opposition.

Kyle Kendrick started and last five innings (though he faced two batters in the sixth), giving up seven hits, a walk and four earned runs. That isn't effective pitching even for a back of the rotation guy, but the bullpen held LA scoreless from that point on and the Phils's six-run outburst in the early innings provided all the necessary runs.

Roy Oswalt, who has been tremendous of late, goes for the series clincher this afternoon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trouble Brewing

Don Newcombe threw a...er...wait a minute....

Oh, that wasn't Don Newcombe last night? Hiroki Kuroda? OK, let's try that again.

Hiroki Kuroda threw no-hit ball for nearly eight innings last night before Shane Victorino spoiled his effort with the Phils' lone hit of the night as the Phightins wasted another good outing from a starting pitcher in losing to the Dodgers 3-0. Combined with Atlanta's win over the Mets, the loss dropped the Phils three games behind the Braves.

There's no use crying over lack of offense; they are what they are. But, hey, I even used my Beerleaguer mug two days in a row to no avail. I can take a weak offense, but when my magic talisman doesn't help I know the Phils are in deep trouble.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hitless Wonders

It's a good thing the Phils pulled off their improbable sweep of San Diego in California because the Braves are starting to resemble one of those miracle teams, not unlike the Phillies of the past few years.

The rule of thumb is take care of business because you can't control what the other guy does and yesterday the Phillies in general and Cole Hamels in particular did just that. Hamels has suffered the fourth worst run support in the league so he went out there yet again and threw a marvelous game. It wasn't long ago this observer was lamenting Hamels' inconsistency and immaturity, but I'm here to tell you I was dead wrong. Hamels has become the pitcher we hoped he would become.

And it's a good thing because the Phillies still aren't hitting. They managed seventeen hits in 30 innings over the weekend, hardly the stuff of legends let alone pennant winners. They got all of three hits on Saturday and only five hits yesterday. Chase Utley continues to struggle as his average has dropped another 12 points since he came off the DL. I am beginning to have that sinking feeling that Utley's intensity, for which we all justifiably admire him, is taking its toll.

Tonight the Phils move into Los Angeles, where they've had success the last few seasons. If they can take two of the next four games -- 3 against LA and one a makeup in Colorado -- they will have had an excellent road trip that will help erase some but not all of the sting of losing four straight to Houston at home. That horrible series marked the low point of the season and may yet come back to haunt the Phillies.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Go Figure

What an absolutely maddening team.

Two days after being swept at home by the Houston Astros, the Phillies took their second straight game from NL West leader San Diego at PETCO Park. What's more, they won yesterday while only managing three hits, two by Shane Victorino.

So, the Phillies continue to slump badly at the bat but have taken two of the first three games on their Western road swing. As in game one, they got excellent starting pitching and efficient relief pitching without any late inning meltdowns.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard continue to produce virtually nothing. Utley's slump following his long layoff is really something of a continuation from his decline prior to the thumb injury. He still looks uncomfortable at the plate. Howard, who was batting for average if not power prior to his injury, looks as lost at the plate these days as he ever has.

Outstanding starting pitching is clearly holding the fort. Without looking at the hard offensive numbers, it's clear the Phils' runs per game average is way down. It isn't the way anyone expected this team to play, but, then, they have confounded us since the season got underway.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Excuse

Charlie Manuel has been getting a boatload of passes here and elsewhere but not this morning. His decision to lift a dominating Roy Oswalt in favor of Brad Lidge last night nearly cost the Phillies a hard-earned win.

Lidge came into the game leading 2-1 and proceeded to give up a single, intentional walk, hit batter and then to cap off the adventure a balk to let in the tying run. Only Jimmy Rollins astonishing slide in the 13th inning on a base hit by Placido Polanco saved the night.

Whatever confidence Lidge had restored in his previous outings was erased last night with his poor performance. But the real issue is that he shouldn't have been in the game in the first place. Oswalt was in full control and unless he walked into the dugout after the eighth inning and told Charlie he was cooked there is no good reason for having lifted him.

The Phils win coupled with another Braves lost cut Atlanta's lead in the division to 2 games. The win also marked another fine outing from a Phillies starter not named Kendrick.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Et Tu, Placido?

The ignominy of the Astros' four game sweep of the Phillies won't be eased any time soon.

This was the first time the Phillies had been swept in a four game series at Citizens Bank Park since they took up residence. They chose to do it against an Astros team that could best be described as mediocre through and through.

In three of the four games the Phillies received starting pitching more than adequate to have won. In the fourth game, however, their starter threw batting practice. In none of the four games did they receive adequate offense or base running. Jayson Werth continued to make a case for worst base runner among starting position players in the National League, getting picked off second base to kill a potential rally one night and making an ill-considered dash for home in the fifth inning of yesterday's game on a short fly to right. Werth was thrown out for the third out of the inning.

Kyle Kendrick, the starter and loser in yesterday's game, might have numbers that are within the norm for fifth starters around the league but the truth is he gives his team no reason to expect he can win every time out. Yes, the last part of that sentence might fly in the face of the first part, but I'd be willing to bet if you could get an honest answer out of his teammates, they'd say to a man that every time this guy takes the hill they don't hold out much hope. He's over his head against most big league hitters.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard continue to struggle since returning to the lineup. Utley, at least, stung the ball hard yesterday and may be coming out of his funk, but one game isn't an adequate sample. He does seem to be swinging over a lot of breaking balls.

Howard seems to have little or no clue of the strike zone at the this point. Earlier in the season he gave every indication he did, so I am willing to grant his weeks on the Disabled List screwed up his timing and plate discipline. That said, the Phils don't have the luxury of waiting for him to find what he lost. On the other hand, they aren't about to sit him in favor of Mike Sweeney or Ross Gload. He's famous for carrying a team in September, so he'd better get his mojo back quickly!

Shane Victorino has been in quite a funk, too. For a switch hitter he's woefully overmatched from one side. He ought to consider batting one way for a while. Jimmy Rollins is on a pace to see his offensive numbers decline for a third straight year. The site of Jimmy hitting a pop fly and looking down in disgust has become all too familiar. If anything, he's regressed in his already tenuous plate discipline. It's long past the time when Jimmy resembled a prototypical lead off man and long past the time that his free swinging habits compensated for his lack of on base percentages.

Even Placido Polanco's one day atop the leader board for batting average seems a long time ago as he, too, has struggled at the plate.

Ben Francisco got picked off third base the other day, hardly encouraging his manager to give him another start.

Domonic Brown has been buried by his manager, reduced to coming off the bench, a job that even veterans have difficulty performing well. He isn't going to learn the pitchers seeing them every third day.

Speaking of all of this offensive ineptitude, the Phillies owe a public apology to Milt Thompson, the unfortunate victim when one had to be found to pay for the team's batting woes. Greg Gross hasn't proved to have any answers either, but, then, hitting coaches rarely if ever do with the possible exception of the late, great Charlie Lau.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Swept

I'm glad I wasn't on the flight to San Diego.

Matching Losses Step For Step

Another night, another pick off. The new symbol of the Phils' futility.

I get tired of writing about the lack of hitting, especially of the clutch variety. And I get disgusted at the number of pick offs of any variety.

The Phils have dropped three straight to the heretofore lowly Houston Astros, who came in here and out pitched, out hit and out lasted the locals.

There isn't much more to analyze. Oh, sure, we could talk about all kinds of decisions made nor not made, but when the Phillies aren't hitting nothing else, especially good pitching, is going to matter. You can't win when you can't score. Doesn't take much insight to arrive at that conclusion.

The only good news is the Braves have dropped three straight to Colorado including an epic collapse yesterday when leading by a ton of runs. All that got the Phils was a chance to stand still rather than fall further behind.

Sooner or later, one of these two teams is going to win again. The good news is that this afternoon, the Phils get the first chance to be that team. The bad news is they're putting the ball in Kyle Kendrick's hands.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not A Real Contender

For every breakout game for the Phillies' offense there are five nights like last night's woeful sixteen inning debacle. Two runs in sixteen innings after scoring two runs the night before. All of us can make a big deal over finally having the expected starting eight in the lineup, but the truth is the fill-ins hit just as well...or as poorly depending upon your perspective.

Cole Hamels was the victim of the Phils offense against last night, making one mistake to Carlos Lee. Jimmy Rollins' two out ninth inning solo home run tied the score and got Hamels off the hook for this loss, which would have been the lefty's fourth straight defeat. In three of those games he yielded a total of four runs. He's going to have to pitch shutout ball going forward just to stay even.

The evening was low-lighted by the usual failure to hit with men in scoring position and by Ryan Howard's ejection in the 14th inning for arguing vociferously over a checked-swing third strike. Howard may have been right about the call, but in every other respect he was an idiot. That was not the time to get tossed, especially when the Phils had to use Roy Oswalt as both a left-fielder and final batter of the evening. Regrettably, Howard cannot put together a consistent approach at the plate. By this point in his career one would hope he would know the strike zone. He doesn't. Unless the pitcher makes a mistake, Howard will oblige by making a few of his own.

Let's not blame this one entirely on Howard, however. Utley hasn't hit since his return. Shane Victorino has become the next best thing to an automatic out from the left side of the plate. Jayson Werth gets picked off second base to kill rallies. Jimmy Rollins, home run notwithstanding, is seeing a decline in his production for three straight seasons now.

The real shame, of course, is that the starting pitching has been terrific except every other time Kyle Kendrick takes the ball.

The awful truth is this is not a playoff team. Only the inconsistency of the other contenders allows them to stay close.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pepper

Let's get something straight, sports fans, the Phillies didn't lose last night because the umpire blew the call at first base. In fact, Howard missed the tag and from replays and recitations from the rule book, it appeared Michael Bourn was safe. No, the Phillies lost for a couple of legitimate reasons:

1. Jayson Werth is a horse's ass. The guy routinely gets picked off but last night was a classic. He gets picked off on an intentional walk. They should send his brain to the Hall of Fame for that one, but you know they won't find it. He killed yet another rally though everyone knows this team can't hit in the clutch anyway. Shane Victorino killed a few rallies last night, too. I've said it before: Werth is batting the ugliest .301 I've ever seen. For every hit he gets (almost always NOT when runners are in scoring position) he offsets the plus with his colossal stupidity on the base paths. The guy is plain dumb!

2. This team cannot bunt. Their best bunter is a pitcher they just acquired. Wilson Valdez couldn't get down a bunt in the eighth inning, but that was only the latest failure. By comparison, Houston won last night because they have multiple position players who can bunt.

Enough on last night's inexcusable loss.

* * * * * * * *

Roger Clemens was indicted for lying to the Congress of the United States not for using PED's, so in no way should he be viewed as the fall guy for the entire steroid era. Instead, he's just a dumb schmuck who got caught lying to an institution that has made an art of lying to everyone else. That alone should be sufficient reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

* * * * * * * *

The news out of Pittsburgh that the Pirates made money in 2007 & 2008 despite losing badly on the field should come as no surprise; nor is it reason for concern even though they have continued to stink in 2009 and 2010, at least not for everyone exept real baseball fans in the Steel City. The Pirates' ownership determined that it could make money from a variety of sources not dependent on the standings including revenue sharing, television, dumping salaries, trading players eligible for arbitration, refusing to sign players who could help even if they cost market rates, etc.. That's the American way. Free enterprise. Screw you if you don't like how we run our business. We're happy.

Oh, and when they get ready to unload the franchise on someone else, they'll make an even bigger profit. Meanwhile, though I don't have the data available to me, I'll bet the owners didn't have to put up much of their own money to build PNC Park.

* * * * * * * *

Stephen Strasburg's second arm injury in less than a month has the coddlers vs. the old-schoolers out in droves. For every pitching coach, GM and manager who says bring him along slowly, there are those who say pitchers are too coddled these days. It's hard to imagine how Strasburg's particular miseries could reinforce either side but fear not, they will.

Still Paying Dividends

Roy Oswalt continues to pay dividends as the Phils completed a weekend series with Washington by winning 6-0. The victory gave the Phils a 3-3 record vs. the Nats in their away and home series of the past few weeks. Ain't nothin' easy when it comes to playing Washington these days.

The taciturn Mississippi native must have felt in his element in steamy Citizens Bank Park yesterday as he pitched seven shutout innings before giving way to a nearly two hour rain delay and the bullpen. The win was Oswalt's third straight in a Phillies uniform after an opening loss attributed to many things other than skill. Ruben Amaro has made a lot of deals involving pitchers since taking over in Philadelphia. On balance, his record looks pretty good though the Cliff Lee deal will always be considered very ill-advised, especially when one looks at the performances on and off the field by the three "prospects" the Phils acquired.

Since Oswalt arrived, the Phillies have won 9 of the 13 games started by their top three hurlers and two of those losses were 1-0 defeats behind hard-luck Cole Hamels. With the hitters still lacking any consistency, pitching remains the key to winning a post-season spot. The Phils hold a two game lead over San Francisco and St. Louis for the Wild Card and still trail the Braves by 2.5 games.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So Much For Reunions

The Phillies celebrated the reunion of their multi-million dollar infield last night by nearly laying a goose egg. So much for reunions!

Ryan Howard was the final holdout preventing the Phils from fielding their starting infield before he came off the disabled list earlier in the day to join Chase Utley, recently un-disabled, Jimmy Rollins, previously disabled (twice) and Placido Polanco, long-ago disabled. Frankly, all of them more or less look disabled last night against Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg and the bullpen, getting two hits among the foursome.

Strasburg was the real highlight of the evening but even here their was major disappointment and alarm as he left the game after four plus innings with a strained forearm ligament. This would be the second injury Strasburg has sustained since joining the big club in mid-season and raises all sorts of alarms for Washington. The Nats are counting on Strasburg to be the cornerstone of their pitching staff for years to come and he is already headed for the sidelines for the second time in a month and possibly the Disabled List.

While he was healthy last night Strasburg lived up to all the hype. The kid throws a 91 mph changeup for god's sake and a knee-bending curve to go along with his 95 - 100 mph fastball. There oughta' be a law. Let's hope he remains healthy because he is fun to watch...as long as you aren't standing 60 feet six inches away with a stick in your hand.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick showed again why he is strictly an emergency fill-in pitcher. I don't care how many good games he has thrown; they have all been neutralized by the stinkers he's also thrown including last night.

By losing their third game in their last five against the cellar-dwelling Nats, the Phils blew a chance to close to within 1.5 games of the Braves, who lost to the Cubs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Greatness

Winning when you don't have your best stuff is considered the true measure of a great pitcher. Last night Roy Halladay was a great pitcher. Of course he's been a great pitcher most of this season and throughout his career, but last night's victory was one to savor because he worked out of several jams, yielded plenty of hits, balked and still departed after seven innings of shutout ball.

Good thing, too, because those Bravos are starting to pull off a lot of last at-bats wins and don't appear to be going away. They remind me of the Phillies of the last few seasons though without the same offensive fire power. The Braves have pitching, though, and enough hitting to support it.

Meanwhile, the Phils closest rivals for the Wild Card are going head-to-head in St. Louis. Let's hope they beat each other up.

The Phils finally face Stephen Strasburg tonight. One of the two known Kyle Kendricks will oppose him.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Filled To Capacity And Then Some

As the Phillies played and lost last night before their 100th consecutive sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park, it occurred to me how much had changed in the ways the fans and players perceived this team.

Those of us old enough to have endured the lean years in the '80's and '90's when the Phillies called the Vet home, and there are plenty of us and plenty of those years to choose from, will recall a cavernous, rarely full stadium patrolled by largely mediocre players. Sure, there were two World Series teams sprinkled in those two decades, but for every winner there were a half dozen losers.

The Vet was one of those multipurpose stadiums built around the country in the '70's. Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh were among the most prominent. Baseball and football fields could be fit within each so naturally, they were round monstrosities possessing absolutely no charm to say nothing of distinguishing marks. No Green Monsters or short porches. Perish the thought! And last but not least, they had artificial surfaces. At the time they must have seemed like a great idea in the way that so-called "maintenance-free" products always seem like a great idea until, lo and behold, they fall apart.

Today, of course, each of these cities has a stadium dedicated to each sport replete with natural grass. The multipurpose stadium has gone the way of the dodo...thank goodness. Their relatively short time on earth a cautionary tale about being all things to all people.

It was always easy to get a ticket to at the Vet except for a World Series or All Star game. Now, of course, a Phillies ticket is the hottest one in town. Every night, for a hundred straight games, more people than the officially listed capacity, fill the seats, aisles, walkways and standup counters.

During the '80's and '90's and into the early part of this century, players didn't want to come to Philadelphia. When Citizens Bank Park opened, pitchers in particular avoided coming here because of its bandbox reputation. Now, all of that has changed. Players want to come to Philadelphia. Look at Roy Halladay. Winning improves every outlook, of course, and the Phillies have been winning the last several years. Players want to come to be a part of winning, but when a player comes to Philadelphia these days, invariably one of the first things he mentions is the atmosphere. Playing before full houses. The electricity in the air. Yes, they say, the fans are tough but only when they want you to play up to your potential. Tough but loyal. Tough but knowledgeable. The boorish fan the national media has portrayed can be found in many other ballparks including in alleged laid-back LA, but when those rowdy types are rooting for you, that's a different story!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

As Goes Jimmy....

The Phillies have spotted San Francisco an opening inning lead on two successive nights and then stormed back to win in convincing fashion. In doing so they've opened a two game margin over the Giants in the Wild Card race. The Braves continue to win as well, maintaining a 2.5 game lead over the Phils.

For the second consecutive night the groans were audible as on Tuesday Roy Oswalt and on Wednesday Joe Blanton served up long home runs in the first frame. With Blanton the sounds were accompanied by more than a few "here we go again" ( know I said it aloud a few times), but like his new teammate, Kentucky Joe settled down and pitched well.

Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Jimmy Rollins and a rehabilitated Chase Utley, happy to be combining up the middle again, led the Phils offensively. They weren't alone. Chooch, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez also played key roles. Jimmy, however, was the star, nearly hitting for the cycle, running wild and shining in the spotlight like only Jimmy can.

After the game, several players uttered the now customary "as goes Jimmy so go the Phillies" line.

Indeed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drama

If you think Pat Burrell had a sense of the dramatic last night he didn't have anything on the Phillies who mounted a comeback to smote the visiting Giants 9-3 and take a full game lead in the Wild Card race. There's still plenty of time, folks.

Burrell received a standing ovation from the home crowd on his first trip to the Bank as a visiting player and promptly smashed a long home run off of Roy Oswalt. Burrell, who departed two years ago when the Phillies didn't re-sign him, was never a favorite of this fan, his erratic hitting, mediocre defense and stand-offish persona unappealing. A lot of folks here remember him fondly, however, and greeted him accordingly. Two things always struck me about Burrell the batter. When he homered, he dropped the bat and took off on his home run trot without the styling common today. And when he struck out, he grabbed the bat, moved across the plate to the dugout without any show of emotion. That summed up Burrell, who according to many accounts was hardly the retiring type off the field.

The Phils looked like they were in for a long night against lefty Barry Zito, who had them lunging and flailing at his slow curve for the first four innings. In the fifth, however, they got to him and knotted the score. In the sixth they took the lead and chased him from the game. The Giants climbed to within a run in the seventh when newly acquired Jose Guillen homered off of Oswalt, but in the eighth the wheels fell off the Giants wagon as the Phils scored five runs to put the game away. Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless eighth inning of relief and Chad Durbin came in for the ninth to finish the game. Brad Lidge had been warming in the bottom of the eighth until the Phils put the game out of reach and precluded a save situation.

The game was also marked by the return of Chase Utley, who failed to reach base in five AB's but whose presence in the lineup was otherwise incalculable. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chooch and Placido Polanco were the batting heroes with Polly going 4-5 to raise his average to .325, best in the NL by one hundredth of a percentage point over the Reds' Joey Votto.

When Ryan Howard returns the Phils will sport an unusual look: all of their projected opening day starters back in the lineup for the same time in nearly two months. If I recall correctly, Tom McCarthy said last night the opening day lineup was only together for something like seven or eight games thus far this season.

That is drama!