Sunday, October 24, 2010

Go Rangers!

So much for a long hiatus. One last post:

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

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

Losing In Character

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Elimination Game: Take Two

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Still Alive

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

BTW: Where was Brad Lidge last night?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mug Is Up!

A late post, minutes before Game 4.

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Serving Notice

Break up Roy Oswalt!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sick Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phils Vs. Giants

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts On The NLDS

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It Isn't Nice To Shake Off Carlos

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 07, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Stuff Happens

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Front & Center...Sort Of

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

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

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

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

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

So will this series.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Not Ready To Party Just Yet

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