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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Refraining

Still haven't used my Beerleaguer mug.

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.