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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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 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!