Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's Only One Game

More than a little anticlimactic, eh?

The Roy Oswalt era began last night, inauspiciously to say the least. Oswalt's first pitch as a Phillie went for a triple. Things went downhill from there as he took the loss.

It's only one night and one start. Heck, Cliff Lee got roughed up in his first start in Texas, giving up nine hits, six earned runs and three home runs to Baltimore of all teams. Keep that in mind, sports fans!

Friday, July 30, 2010


Ruben Amaro and the rest of the Phillies alleged brain trust have decided this club really is built to win now. To that end they went out and secured the services of Houston's Roy Oswalt. The cost was a middling, back of the rotation starter and two toolsie kids who may or may not be stars one day.

The trade raised the question of what made the front office think their team of late July was any more built to win now than the one scheduled to take the field in April. The subtext, of course, is why trade Cliff Lee if the future is now? The subtext to that question is why argue you need to restock your farm system if you are going to move two of its potentially bright stars?

Left unsolved in all this maneuvering is the unreliable bullpen, on view again last night, and the absence of a lot of starters due to injuries, something no team can really plan for.

In the meantime, the patchwork Phillies, behind supersub Wilson Valdez, won their eighth straight game and third series sweep in a row at home, beating Arizona 3-2 in extra innings.

Raul Ibanez, pilloried in this space numerous times, continued his "comeback" by contributing a solo home run that gave the Phillies a lead in regulation time. Ryan Madson, whose role may be setup man, emergency closer and chief furniture arranger, continued to make manager Charlie Manuel's job harder by surrendering a leadoff double in the top of the ninth that eventually scored the tying run. Madson pitched the eight and Manuel tempted fate by letting him start the ninth. Never tempt the fates with Madson as your instrument, Charlie. NEVER.

The heart of the Phillies lineup was utterly futile all night with Ryan Howard striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth. The bottom of the order was potent all night with Carlos Ruiz and Valdez provided the most production.

To think the Phillies were a mere two games over .500 a week ago and seven games behind front-running Atlanta. If that doesn't give heart to the glass half empty crowd (yes, I am a charter member) I don't know what will. Accomplishing all this without Utley completely and Rollins and Victorino periodically is astonishing. But before I burn my membership card, let me remind you the current bullpen is not championship caliber by a long shot.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Jayson Werth is batting the ugliest .294 in the history of the game. The guy has come to life lately, but it wasn't long ago he looked utterly lost and over matched for weeks on end. "Streaky" doesn't begin to describe this guy.

Dominic Brown clearly has a flair for the dramatic. His major league debut matched the hype. Now, if he can do that for, say, the next ten to fifteen years, we'll all be quite happy.

Carlos Ruiz doesn't produce a lot of runs but his presence in the regular lineup is crucial to the Phillies fortunes.

Many teams suffer a rash of injuries but this year's installment of the Phillies have endured more than their share. It is astonishing they remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, perhaps even a division crown.

If the Phils are going to capture the NL East again, they have to beat the Mets and Braves. It's fine to beat up on a collapsing Colorado team and a Diamondbacks squad that never inflated in the first place, but head-to-head battles with their division rivals will settle this thing in the end.

Shane Victorino may really have injured himself when dancing around second base after a steal. He and Werth are the fastest bonehead running tandem I've ever seen.

Wilson Valdez has hit into an enormous number of double plays for a relatively speedy guy but he's also hit in some hard luck, stinging the ball but right at guys.

Roy Oswalt in a Phillies uniform? Well, it would give the Phils quite a trio at the top of the rotation but had they kept Cliff Lee they would be much better off. Amaro never gets a pass on that one. Period.

When Chase Utley finally returns, let's hope he brings his early season bat with him. Utley usually gets off to quite the torrid start before tailing off as the season wears on.

Ryan Howard is getting the usual heat for his inability to make the throw to second base. At this point it's a real mental block. He also got some heat for missing a pop fly recently although the wind played lots of tricks with that ball. But has he received kudos for his glove work on scoops? Not that I've read. He has improved in that department 1000 percent!

The Phils bench is the best it's been in a few years. Cody Ransom doesn't hit for average but there ain't nothing wrong with his timing for clutch hits. Valdez has been remarkably versatile and steady in the field. Ross Gload has had a good campaign. Ben Francisco simply doesn't get sufficient playing time to settle into a good groove, but he provides occasional lift. Greg Dobbs has struggled but remains resilient. Brian Schneider has done a credible job.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Our Hearts Skipped Many Beats

Brad Lidge tried, oh how he tried, but in the end he failed to blow the game and the Phillies hung on for a 5-4 victory and four-game sweep of fading Colorado.

Lidge never saw an empty base he couldn't try and fill and yesterday was no exception. He was summoned for a non-save situation in the ninth inning and first turned it into a save situation, then nearly a blown save situation, then nearly an outright loss before inducing the final Rockies batter to bounce out meekly with the bases loaded. Had the Rockies managed one more hit Lidge could have headed straight for the parking lot without passing the showers en route to a new zip code.

The Phils put quite an interesting assortment of players on the field for yesterday's game and in the end used a substantial part of their bench in clinching the victory. Jayson Werth got the day off prompting all sorts of rumors he'd been traded. Placido Polanco started his third straight game at second base, his natural and preferred position. Greg Dobbs started at third and produced two hits. Brian Schneider was the catcher and produced a two-run triple to give the Phils the lead. If you've ever seen Schneider run you'd know something unusual had to happen on that hit to get him to third base and it did. The outfielders converged, merged and failed to retrieve the ball before what seemed like half a hour passed. Not to take anything away from Schneider; the ball clearly found the gap.

Joe Blanton pitched well and was lifted before he went into his normal late inning fog. Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero pitched an inning each of effective relief. Then Lidge came in and produced his usual quota of atrial fibrillations among the gathered before getting the final out.

With the victory the Phils climbed to within 4.5 games of first place Atlanta, which is precisely where they started the second half of the season before the disastrous road trip through the Midwest.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back From The Dead

I go to Boston for four days and look what happens! If I didn't know better, I'd take this winning- while-Goodman's-out-of-town personally.

The four game winning streak is due to some superb starting pitching and enough timely hitting, two things that haven't always occurred simultaneously of late. Roy Halladay rebounded from one of his worst outings. Cole Hamels pitched magnificently, limiting St. Louis to a single hit over eight innings but once again did not get the win as the Phils waited early and often to score a run. Hamels is maturing before our eyes and together with Halladay provide the one-two punch at the top of the rotation everyone hoped for.

Ryan Howard continues to hit for average and power. Does anyone doubt he's been the Phils most valuable player thus far this season? I'm sure the answer is a resounding YES in some quarters! Placido Polanco returned from the DL to provide the winning margin in the finale against St. Louis. Polanco's absence was keenly felt.

Jimmy Rollins struggled mightily until the weekend series against Colorado. Dare we say for the umpteenth time, "as goes Jimmy....."? Why not.

Remarkably, the Phils are "only" five games behind Atlanta. If they can win against the Braves and Mets going forward, that isn't too much ground to make up.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Total Effort

If the Phillies were built to win now the $64K question of the day for their GM is "What's next, Rube?"

A hint as to Rube's state of mind came yesterday at a news conference when he cut off a questioner who appeared to be on the verge of asking the CL question. But inquiring minds still need to know this: if the rumors of a trade for Roy Oswalt are true and if he built the Phils to win now, how does he trade Jayson Werth before the end of the season to acquire Oswalt? Seems like quite the quandary, no?

You see, Rube has painted himself into a corner and there is no getting out without a mess.

As for the games themselves, the Phils dropped another one last night on merit but with a huge assist from manager Charlie Manuel who accomplished a trifecta in the seventh inning when he let pitcher Joe Blanton bat with the bases loaded and two outs. Blanton went down swinging on three straight pitches and the Phils failed to score.

The three parts?

1. Blanton batted instead of using a pinch hitter, ANY pinch hitter. (One right-handed one was available.)
2. Manuel has completely lost faith in his entire bullpen.
3. Blanton, who has run out of gas nearly every game he's pitched this year, was true to form as he gave up a home run to the first batter in the bottom of the inning on the way to surrendering four runs on the night, more than enough to seal the deal.

How does all of this add up? Every single phase of the organization from the alleged brain trust, to the field general to the players is collapsing simultaneously.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do As We Say

The Phillies sent a muddled message to Kyle Kendrick before last night's game: throw a lot of home run balls and you're going to be an Iron Pig. That's what you get for leaving the ball over the middle of the plate, kiddo! And just to underscore their displeasure, the Phils brought up 25-year old Andrew Carpenter, who was rushed into service after Jamie Moyer strained an elbow after one inning of work. So, Carpenter comes in and serves up a two run homer in his second inning of work. Do as we say, Kyle, not as we do.

These Phillies are a mess. Danys Baez, one of the Phils' worst signings in a while, also got into the act, serving up a three run homer after walking the first two batters he faced. Baez has a two year contract, not one more day of which should hold the Phillies alleged brain trust back from releasing him. He is a fireman who likes to start conflagrations. He'll stick, of course, because everyone else out there is equally unreliable these days.

After last night's 7-1 loss to St. Louis, the Phils fifth defeat in six games following the All Star break, it's safe to say one thing at the very least: as goes Jimmy so go the Phillies. Rollins is now batting .225 overall and since his return from the DL much worse than that. He's led off. He's batted third. He's hit left-handed. He's hit right-handed. Nothing is working.

Just to show how messed up the Phillies are, pitching coach Rich Dubee had the temerity to say Kendrick needs to work on his location back in the minors. Rich, you'll pardon me if I suggest Kyle can work on his location in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Allentown or Cooperstown. Nothing is going to help. He's a mediocre pitcher at best, generally over his head when matched against major league hitters.

And while we're on the subject of alleged brain trusts, a commenter over at Beerleaguer had a keen insight to how these guys "think" when he pointed out the machinations the Phils have gone through to retain David Herndon's services. The Rule 5 player would have to returned to the Angels if he doesn't stick with the 25 man roster of the Phillies the entire season. So, as the commenter pointed out, the alleged brain trust has jumped through all sorts of hoops, sent people down, released others, put others or waivers, and generally done a lot of juggling to retain this guy's services. Has it been worth it? Hardly.

As long as we are focused on the negatives, Jayson Werth got picked off first base again Monday night. Werth is one of those athletes who occasionally succeeds despite not having two brain cells working at the same time. Frankly, if the alleged brain trust decides to make a move before the trade deadline, I'd like to see them move Werth. As mixed a "talent" as he is, he'll draw a lot of interest from clubs looking for another bat. Let's hope the fact that his overrated glove, arm, feet and head come with the package will not be a detriment.

Moyer's injury presents the Phils with a lot of problems. Who's gonna' take his spot in the rotation if the injury requires a trip to the DL? Frankly, if the Phils thought they needed pitching help before Moyer went down, they're even more desperate now. The bigger question remains, however: namely, should the Phils make a desperate move to acquire a middling starter or should they recognize they're hopelessly flawed and have little chance of making the post-season? Bigger deficits (they are in third and trial first place Atlanta by seven games) have been made up in baseball history, but not when a team is as dysfunctional as this one.

Rumors abound the Phils are looking at Roy Oswalt to save the day, but he isn't going to get any more run support than the rest of the starters have received. That's the bigger issue on this club right now, not the erratic pitching. The pre-season take on the Phillies was that they would outscore the opposition and compensate for mediocre pitching after Halladay and Hamels. Even when they do get decent pitching, they don't hit. Neither Walter Johnson nor Sandy Koufax could win when their teammates aren't scoring runs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Night

There is precious little about this installment of the Phillies that is consistent or predictable save one thing: they are are predictably inconsistent.

Rarely does the offense, defense and pitching come together for a single game and last night's loss before a national television audience was another prime example. One hopes viewers had the good sense to tune out early and get a good night's sleep .

The Phils sent ace Roy Halladay to the mound and it was clear from the opening frame he didn't have his best stuff. Of course a nightmare second inning replete with a two-run homer, poor defense, a hit by the opposing pitcher and, insult added to injury, great base-running by that same pitcher in scoring from second base on a single to right, spelled doom for the night. The final run the Cubs scored in that fatal inning came with men or first and third and two outs. When the runner broke for second, Carlos Ruiz threw to second but the ball bounced away from Jimmy Rollins and the runner on third scored.

In one of those rare moments when I had the volume on for Jon Miller, Joe Morgan and Orel Hersheiser, they all agreed between their usual inane twitter that the Phillies of 2010 showed none of the polish or confidence of the 2008 or 2009 teams. I had to agree and not only turned off the sound but the channel, too, shortly thereafter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Whatever It Takes

Good morning, sports fans, and welcome to the "it's-better-to-be-lucky-than-good" post. And while we're at it, a heartfelt thanks to Lou Pinella for sticking with reliever Carlos Marmol; it meant a lot.

The Phillies nearly wasted another fine outing from Cole Hamels as they blundered their way to the top of the ninth inning yesterday at the Friendly Confines. Trailing 1-0 and down to their final out, the Phils rallied for 4 gift runs to top the Cubs 4-1.

It's not as if they Phils didn't try to lose this one. The usual culprits were to blame as they entered that final frame: lack of hitting, incredibly poor base-running, lack of fire in the collective belly. This was sleepwalking at its 2010 best!

Raul Ibanez, no speedster by any stretch, got thrown out at third base, not for attempting to steal, heaven forbid, but for leaving too early and essentially getting picked off (the pitcher did throw home and the catcher threw Ibanez out, meaning that even with the early jump there was time to nail the Phillies left fielder). Later, Shane Victorino, currently running (pardon the pun) neck-and-neck with Jayson Werth for worst base runner on the team, got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. It's fine to take chances and be aggressive...unless your name is Victorino and your history shows the effort is rarely rewarded.

But the Phils benefited when catcher Geovany Soto dropped ball at a play at the plate to knot the score at one apiece and later were the recipients of some free passes that pushed them ahead to stay. The key hit was delivered by Placido Polanco, just off the Disabled List. Welcome back, Polly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Next Case!

Four hits. Another blown save.

When they get decent starting pitching, from Joe Blanton no less, the bullpen blows the game. Ryan Madson proved once again he isn't a closer. The Phillies no longer have a closer. Everyone who's tried out for the role has failed.

Before giving Blanton too much sympathy or credit let it be shown he also blew a couple of leads that were handed to him, something he has been guilty of nearly every time out. Indeed, a number of Phillies pitchers seem unable to hold leads.

The other story line of this game was strikeouts. The Phils went down on strikes 14 of 27 outs including eight looking. After the game a number of players complained about the strike zone but manager Charlie Manuel refused to join in or support them. "Swing," was his one word answer to what to do about all those strikeouts looking. He's right, of course. By mid game at least the players knew the strike zone was floating and expanded. Adjust! Swing! Whatever! This is an area in which these 2010 Phillies seem incapable of making the necessary adjustments and it cost them.

Of course, if the bullpen could actually hold or close a game it might help, but no team is going to win often when the hits total 4 and the K's total 14.

Next case!


First game after the All Star break and most of the Phillies' ills were on full display. The starter, Jamie Moyer, is looking more and more like the old man he is. Home runs continue to fly out of his hand adding to his major league record. The back end of the bullpen didn't fare well either, especially Jose Contreras and Danys Baez, both of whom looked exactly like pitchers other teams have given up on.

Ryan Howard produced the few bright spots, homering twice and accounting for 2/3 of the runs scored by the visitors. The Phils were 3-7 with runners in scoring position, netting six runs total, usually enough to win provided, of course, the pitching staff can keep it close. That's a proviso the Phillies cannot guarantee.

Meanwhile, Atlanta continued to win and in the process pushed the Phils further back in the standings. The Braves improved themselves this week with the acquisition of Alex Gonzalez and the return of rookie standout Jason Heyward. With Billy Wagner pitching like the closer of old and a tough starting rotation, the Braves are for real.

A few more 12-6 losses to teams ten games under .500 will finish the Phils off for real as well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Second Half Already Under Way

Baseball may officially maintain the second half of the season begins immediately after the All Star game but in Philadelphia we prefer to think it began with the four-game sweep of Cincinnati coming just prior to the "mid summer classic." After all, that highly entertaining series provided desperately needed life for the defending NL champs, who were on the verge of falling hopelessly behind the Braves.

The Phils will still be running out a makeshift lineup when they take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field Thursday. Placido Polanco should be on the verge of returning very soon and Chad Durbin may not be far behind, but Chase Utley is by most estimations at least six weeks from coming off the DL.

The biggest question facing the Phils at this juncture is whether or not they will play the hand they were dealt or make an attempt to land either a starting pitcher, closer or another bat for the bench who can also play some infield. The guess here is they stand pat. The starting rotation with the exception of Joe Blanton has pitched effectively of late. Blanton is a notorious second-half guy and the brass are probably counting on his reversion to the mean. It's hard to imagine a quality closer is out there and even more difficult to imagine whom the Phils might dangle to acquire one. As for another bat off the bench, most of the journeymen out there don't excite and the few good players who might be available would probably come at too high a price.

The Phils are not going to part with their top prospects Dominic Brown or Jarre Cosart. They are also unlikely to give up on Scott Mathieson, who is just returning to form after two Tommy John surgeries. The only farm hand who might be available is Anthony Gose, and management still likes his future.

If the Phils do engineer a deal, it might include Jayson Werth, who seems destined to depart when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The Phils are really a team that was built to win now, but Ruben Amaro forgot that when he traded Cliff Lee. If he trades Werth, he might fill one of his big needs, but in all likelihood the GM is not going to make the same mistake twice in one season. Werth probably stays and the Phils get draft picks when he signs elsewhere.

One thing seems certain: no savior like Cliff Lee in 2009 is out there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Derby Dud

How lame is the Home Run Derby contest? Most of the big sluggers in the game studiously avoid it these days convinced the event ruins their swings. The guy who won this year's contest is hardly an All Star. Why, a month or two ago everyone was wondering if he would be dropped from his team's lineup. Frankly, I liked the old B&W versions of the Derby. Two guys. Bonafide sluggers. One on one. All the production value of a Honeymooners set.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ain't The Beer Cold!!

If I were a Cincinnati Reds fan at the end of yesterday's heart breaker du jour, I would have immediately removed all sharp objects from my house.

Whew! That was the most exciting four game series the Phils have played since, well, since...forever??!!

They pitched. They didn't pitch. They hit. They didn't hit. They ran the bases. They got picked off. The blew saves. They saved games. They came back from the dead. Their bats looked dead. Most important, they stopped playing such boring baseball. Man, did they stop playing boring baseball.

In the process of sweeping the Reds they may have saved their season...for now. Going into the
All Star game they are only 4.5 games behind division-leading Atlanta. It's been a few years since we said that about a team from Georgia. The Phils are still fourth in the Wild Card race and the teams in front of them figure to stay in the hunt for the remainder of the season so it behooves the locals to take the NL East outright to insure themselves a fourth straight post-season appearance.

The Phils still have plenty of problems. Joe Blanton is getting rocked each time out. Jamie Moyer is still pitching on borrowed time. Chase Utley is still disabled. Brad Lidge is still unreliable. And so on and so on. Yet despite all these problems, the Phils swept four games, at least three of which they had no right taking, and they are still in the chase.

It was a helluva lot of fun to watch.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Improbable & Irrepressible

All of a sudden the Phillies have gone from a dysfunctional team that was no fun to watch to a bunch of magicians whom we can't take our eyes off. Three straight walk-off victories will do that!

Last night's improbable victory outdid the heroics of the night before when the Phils rallied from a 7-1 deficit to begin the ninth only to win in extra innings. Going into the bottom of the ninth last night not a single guy in red pinstripes had managed a hit, walk or HBP against Cincinnati rookie Travis Wood, making his third major league start. The only thing standing between themselves and ignominy was the Phils' own Roy Halladay, who also pitched superbly in shutting out the Reds on five hits. Poor Halladay; the Phils just refuse to support him with runs.

Carlos Ruiz opened the ninth with a double, the Phils' first and only base runner up til then. How much have the Phils missed Chooch? Well, before you answer that, consider he followed up that first hit with a one-out double off the wall in left in the eleventh inning. OK, now you can say it: a hell of a lot! Chooch handles this staff better than anyone. The hits are gravy...and occasionally face- and game-saving.

After an intentional walk to Wilson Valdez and a fly out by Ross Gload, up strode Jimmy Rollins, who'd been held hitless until then. Who hadn't...other than Ruiz? Jimmy hit a single to right, Ruiz scored, and the Phils had perhaps their most improbable victory of the season.

So, go ahead, ask yourself this: how much did the Phils miss Jimmy Rollins during his two stints on the DL this season? Since returning, the irrepressible one has had two walk-off victory base hits. There isn't a way to measure Jimmy's value to this team. He puts on his uniform and the Phils are better for it.

These three straight victories over a very good Reds team are the first consistent signs of life in the Phillies in a long time and fit their pattern over the last few seasons of playing inspired ball after July 4th. They should be getting Placido Polanco back in a week or so and may still be searching for another starter via a trade.

There's life in these guys yet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

That Old Magic

Two straight nights of vintage comeback magic may just have awakened the Phillies from their slumber and served notice they may be wounded but are still very dangerous.

Two straight nights during which most of the heroes came from the ranks of the forgotten. Brian Schneider was the man of the hour Thursday evening. Schneider was picked up by the Phils last off-season when no one else made him an offer. Last night Greg Dobbs delivered a key home run for the second time in a week. A few weeks ago Dobbs cleared waivers, baseball's equivalent of passing through the Gulag. The only reason Dobbs is here are injuries to key infielders. Cody Ransom is another forgotten man, playing for his fourth team in nine seasons and appearing in only his 201st game overall. Ransom's two run blast in the bottom of the ninth with two outs completed the Phils miraculous comeback from a 7-1 deficit to start the frame. He is here for the same reason Dobbs was brought back.

Then, of course, one of the heroes we expect to deliver, Ryan Howard, followed Raul Ibanez' double in the bottom of the tenth with a walk-off two run homer off of heretofore untouchable Arthur Rhodes. Howard, like Schneider the night before, could only manage a tame arrival at home plate into the waiting arms of his gleeful teammates. No matter. The Phils had come back against a tough opponent for the second straight evening after showing precious little most of the game.

Good teams do that. Good teams find a way to win. Good thing they did because starter Joe Blanton stunk up the joint. Ryan Madson pitched a perfect tenth and will probably get the call again instead of Brad Lidge until he shows he cannot do the job.

* * * * * * * *

Cliff Lee may be the best pitcher ever to be traded three times in a year. As far as I'm concerned, he is the poster boy for the impact of free agency on player movement.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Win Despite Themselves

Brian Schneider isn't known for his offense but he was the hero last night as the Phils overcame another poor outing by Brad Lidge and the continuing bonehead base-running of Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth to beat Cincinnati 4-3 in twelve innings.

Schneider stroked a walk-off home for the winner and then produced one of the most restrained arrivals at home plate ever seen in these parts. His forgathered teammates pounded him anyway but someone should quietly take him aside and instruct him on the art of the helmet toss or emphatic leap. Jeez, Brian, get with the program!

Victorino made two baserunning mistakes including taking an ill-advised turn that miraculously resulted in a series of drops, misses and late throws resulting in Jimmy Rollins scoring from first for a one run lead. Victorino was then picked off first base. Werth, one of the least bright bulbs in the Phillies firmament, was tagged off first base after stepping on it and then moving off it long enough for Joey Votto to apply the tag and end the inning. Werth rarely seems to have his head in the game for all nine innings.

Ryan Madson returned from the disabled list and struck out the side but still screwed up by failing to cover home plate, resulting in the tying run scoring for Cincinnati in the eighth inning. The Phils retook the lead in the bottom of the frame setting the stage for Brad Lidge to close out the game. Lidge usual.

Lidge's saga is a sad one at this point. He has allegedly come back from an assortment of injuries so many times I've lost count. Unlike a few of his teammates, he might have his head in the game but his arm has gone south and only occasionally has been sighted for nearly 1.5 seasons. It is now commonplace for Lidge to enter the ninth inning of a game and surrender the lead, sometimes permanently. Last night was no exception. Brian Schneider saved the day but Charlie Manuel has to be trying to think of an alternative to giving Lidge the ball going forward.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Last Night

They had to take at least two out of three from Atlanta and they didn't. Now the Phils are six games back and wondering aloud what happened to the team's moxie. It is difficult to repeat once let alone twice especially when the lineup keeps changing due to injuries.

Last night the old Jamie Moyer showed up, especially the one who holds the MLB record for home runs allowed.

Last night Dane Sardinha proved why he is the fourth string catcher. It took major league pitching coaches about four games to figure out how to handle him.

Last night Ryan Howard proved why he has been the Phillies' most consistent player this season except for Placido Polanco, the big difference being Howard never misses a game.

Last night proved again why Raul Ibanez deserves to sit and Ben Francisco deserves to play.

Last night showed us why Juan Castro is a career .229 "hitter".

It doesn't get any easier as the hot Cincinnati Reds arrive along with super snubbed Joey Votto. Think he's got something to prove to Charlie Manuel?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Don't Blame Ryan

The Inquirer ran an interesting table today comparing this year's team at the half-way point with the teams from 2008 and 2009. Three things jumped out.

One. All three teams had identical records at this juncture of the season.

Two. Ryan Howard is having a terrific season. More on that in a moment.

Three. Chase Utley is having a poor season. Everything in his production has been down: hits, runs, home runs, rbi's, on base percentage. He has also made more errors.

The popular perspective on Howard is that his power numbers are way down from previous years. At least one commentator on ESPN said he was having a "terrible year". The truth is he is having a terrific season comparisons notwithstanding and an astonishing year given how many fewer players ahead of him are getting on base.

Howard has improved his defense, put many more balls into play, is hitting home runs at a pace to give him at least 30 for the season and driving in runs at a pace to give him nearly 120 at year's end. All this with the three guys ahead of him underperforming dramatically in comparison to previous years. The exception to those three guys has been Placido Polanco, but he has missed 20 games. When Polly has been out his substitute isn't getting on base regularly.

So, whatever else one says, get off Howard's case.

* * * * * * * *

Last night was a microcosm of what I just said. The Phillies did not hit. Other than Ibanez' two-run shot in the first inning, the Phils didn't manage another run until Howard tripled in the seventh inning with a man on and no outs to knot the score at 3 apiece.. The rest of the team failed to get him home and the Phils ended up losing in eleven innings, 6-3. Forget what the pitching staff did or didn't do. The Phils got three hits on the night and that was the story line.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Here Goes

The Phils are going to offer Jayson Werth for Cliff Lee with the deal dependent on the Mariners' being able to sign Werth to a deal of at least three years. The Phils will then bring up Dominic Brown.

They're Up, They're.....

You want a poster boy for this up and down season? Try one Greg Dobbs.

A mere two weeks after clearing waivers and going down to AAA, the veteran pinch-hitter and less than stellar infielder stroked a two-run homer of Atlanta's tough Derek Lowe to power the Phils to a 3-1 victory. There you have it. A guy no one wanted saved the day. Well, actually, he helped save the day. Roy Halladay, a guy everyone wanted, pitched another complete game marvel in his own up and down season (mostly up) to give the Phillies a much needed victory in the opener of a three game set with the Braves. Had they lost, the Phils would have fallen six games behind first place Atlanta.

Halladay surrendered a first inning home run to Chipper Jones and a base hit to Brian McCann before settling down to throw a masterpiece. We've gotten used to Halladay going the distance, but on a night when the temperatures were in the upper 90's, it was quite an effort. The guy simply does not like to hand the ball to his manager. We've also gotten used to seeing little run support for Halladay, who could easily have several more wins. This night, he got enough and made it stand.

The Phils ran out another makeshift lineup featuring a lot of bit players among the veterans and once again those guys came through, especially supersub Wilson Valdez, who started a critical double play in the seventh inning. Valdez has been the most pleasant surprise of the campagin. And fourth string catcher Dane Sardinha threw out Gregor Blanco in the eighth, preserving the Phils slim 2-1 margin. When guys like Valdez and Sardinha are making big plays, you have to believe the Phils might just hold on until the regulars return. Might. Tonight is another game and if recent history is any guide, we are in for a long one. Temperatures in Philadelphia are expected to reach 101 degrees today so look for checked swing home runs at the Bank this evening.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Four Games Over Five Hundred And Falling

The most maddening thing about the Phillies is their awful inconsistency. In the final analysis their topsy turvy season will end in failure because they cannot put together a string of good games in which all cylinders are firing. Losing 3 of 4 to the lowly Pirates marks the nadir of their season and even a highly unlikely sweep of Atlanta at home these next three nights will not right their ship because a series win against the Braves would no doubt be followed by a series collapse against Cincinnati.

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Speaking of Cincinnati, Phils' skipper Charlie Manuel did a great injustice to first baseman Joey Votto by selecting Ryan Howard instead to the All Star Team. Votto deserved the nod but Manuel got the vote which just goes to show the players and managers are no better at choosing participants than the fans.

The howling over this and other selections has only begun. I hate to admit it, but MLB knew what it was doing when it allowed fans and managers to pick teams. The pregame controversy sparks far more interest than the game itself.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

In No Particular Order

You want evidence pitching is ascendant this season? Try this:

Bruce Chen, yes, that Bruce Chen, retired the first 18 batters he faced yesterday as the Royals beat the Angels 4-2. Chen, pitching for his tenth major league team, carries a career mark of 41-45 in thirteen seasons.

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Look for Ben Francisco to get more starts going forward. His manager may have a blind spot for veterans such as Raul Ibanez, but Charlie has an even blinder spot for home runs. Francisco popped a big one in yesterday's 12-4 win over the Pirates, who prior to taking the first two games in this series were better known as the lowly Pirates. Francisco needs regular playing time to show once and for all if he can handle the position.

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One of Manuel's favorite proteges, Jim Thome, smacked a home run yesterday and reached 10th place on the all time home run list. It isn't really fair to protest he's played 19 years and consequently should be expected to climb on the list. The point is he's still hitting them out including ten dingers this season.

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The annual travesty called fan All Star voting is about to result in electing a number of players who do not deserve to be starters including our own Chase Utley. Martin Prado has had a better season in every respect and should get the nod. He will because Utley is injured, but he should have won on merit. Bud Selig would never take the vote away from the fans because, well, because when presented with a clear choice of what he should do Selig always makes the wrong one.

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You may have noticed the Boston Red Sox have seen a lot of front line players go down with injuries or terrible starts but some how they have managed to creep back into the race in baseball's toughest division. The real reason is they have excellent pitching even without Josh Beckett.

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Speaking of excellent pitching, the Phillies really have no alternative to Brad Lidge as closer but it is quite clear he isn't fooling let alone intimidating the opposition.

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Speaking of "fooling and intimidating", rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg has lost his last two starts. There really were more than a few observers out there who never expected him to lose a game.

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Meanwhile, Pat Burrell has found life in a city by the Bay, just not the one in Florida. Ever since being released by Tampa Bay, Burrell has found his home run stroke in San Francisco, belting five of them in a more or less full time role. In Tampa he was strictly a DH, giving some credence to those players who argue they have to play defense to feel involved.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Men Overboard

So this is what rock bottom looks like.

The Phils may still be four games over .500 but it won't be long before they disappear beneath the waves. Two losses to two pitchers who previously last won when they were in middle school were ignominious enough but to make matters worse the Phils wasted two good starts in the process, one by ageless ace Jamie Moyer, who could be forgiven for thinking that he might get a win when he holds the opposition to two runs. Not when your mates forget to score any of their own, Mr. Moyer. Oh, and the losses came against the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the certifiably worst teams in baseball.

What's the point of moaning and groaning about absent players? Even when Utley and Polanco were available the Phils could barely muster any offense. If the team is waiting for guys like Werth and Ibanez to step up someone hasn't been paying attention. Werth is an interesting case. He's playing for a contract and shot out of the gate on a pace no one, not even he, thought would continue. He's always been a streaky hitter and fielder, his powerful arm as likely to nail someone in the first row behind the dugout as at the plate. But in this era a guy who can hit them out, field above average and run with speed albeit little intelligence, is going to get a big fat contract. He might have wanted to re-sign with the Phils but at this he's probably thinking the ship is listing heavily to starboard, is likely to keep taking on water, and this may be the time to jump.

Many people including this blogger thought the return of Jimmy Rollins would spark this somnolent team but J Roll's return has largely been a non-factor save his walk off home run a few weeks ago. Jimmy hasn't found his sea legs (continuing with the nautical theme of the post) nor his batting stroke.

While is may still be somewhat amazing the Phils are "only" five games out of first place, the truth is they've been hanging on with Utley and Polanco available. The grip is slipping now.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Not Magicians

Asked if the Phils could still contend after the latest round of disablements, Jimmy Rollins said absolutely. He then sauntered off to whistle past the graveyard.

It ain't gonna' happen, sports fans, and last night's loss to the lowly Bucs was just a taste of things to come.

Remember, not only are the starting 3rd and 2nd basemen out for long stretches, so is the starting catcher, and the key middle reliever. Throw in a tentative Rollins, still rounding into shape after two trips to the DL, the always exciting Brad Lidge, as likely to serve up a game losing home run as a strike out, a veteran third baseman [sic] who just cleared waivers and accepted reassignment to the minor leagues, a left fielder whose glove is the only thing slower than his bat, a right fielder who may or may not have his head in the game on any given night, a pitching staff whose current ace is a mere 47 years old and you have the makings of a third place team, which is where the Phillies currently find themselves.

Over the last two or three seasons the Phillies remained remarkably healthy. The law of averages caught up with them big time.

Before the season began most observers saw a potent offense that would compensate for a mediocre rotation. Even when most of the offense was healthy they were far from potent from late May on. Now they are a mere shadow of themselves and the pitching is still erratic. They get credit for hanging tough, but they aren't magicians.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Alamo

I've been away off and on for a few weeks and only posting intermittently. In the meantime, the Phillies' collective health has deteriorated dramatically. What amazes me is how resilient this team has become, a testament to the chemistry in the clubhouse and in the manager's office. To have endured so much adversity between slumps, injuries and inconsistencies and still be only 3.5 games behind is nothing short of astonishing, especially when one considers the Braves and Mets have been winning more than losing.

Regrettably, the Phils can't hold the Alamo forever. As the dog days approach, it's only natural to assume the remaining troops are going to wear down and that reinforcements are too far off to help. It's too bad, really, because the Phils have given quite a heroic performance to date.

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So, who would YOU rather have at this point, Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee?