Saturday, October 08, 2011

They Died With Their Batting Gloves On

The team built to win now didn't when it had to and for the second straight year took an early exit from the playoffs.

The elimination came in familiar fashion with Ryan Howard making the final out as he did last season. Apart from his game one heroics, Howard finished this installment of the NLDS by going 0-15. Last year, he stood at the plate and took a called strike for the final out. This year, adding literal injury to insult, he may have torn his achilles tendon trying to run out a ground ball.

The loss to St. Louis also had another familiar ring from this season: a starting pitcher held the opposition in check only to see his mates collect a total of three hits. Apparently, four Aces beat any hand but the one they hold themselves.

Years from now, or even next week, if your grandchildren work up the courage to ask what happened, tell them t'was offense killed the Phillies in this series and most of the year. Nearly everyone's average was down considerably except Hunter Pence, who wasn't here long enough to catch the disease.

With the loss, the 102 win season will fade from memory until some other collection of Phillies makes a run at that mark.

We can also expect this roster of rapidly aging veterans will probably see wholesale changes. It isn't difficult to imagine Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Madson will not be here next season for a variety of reasons. Rollins wants a longer deal than the Phils are likely to give. Ibanez' contract is up. Madson is a free agent represented by Scott Boras. Placido Polanco is signed but failing rapidly. Chase Utley had a mediocre season at the plate. His health is always a concern. Howard may be out four to six months if the injury is serious. Then there is the question of whether or not to bring Roy Oswalt back. At times he sounded like a guy who would rather be sitting on a tractor.

A season which began with huge expectations fell flat on its face in the end as the offense sputtered to a dead stop in the finale of the series. At least it can be said they died with their batting gloves on.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Not A Lock

The acquisition of Roy Oswalt at last year's trade deadline was seen as a major deal, adding a third ace to the Phillies rotation as the team sought a third straight appearance in the World Series.

The reality fell short of the expectations.

This year Oswalt was projected as the fourth starter in the Phils' Four Aces rotation. Due to injuries and perhaps some outside issues (concerns about his home and family), Oswalt was really the fifth starter, behind Vance Worley. Prior to the post-season there was serious discussion regarding which of the two of them would go to the bullpen. In the end it was decided the veteran, heretofore successful in the post-season, would get the nod.

Last night Oswalt pitched like a back of the rotation guy. He was being counted on to close out the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the NLDS and he failed to do so despite being handed a two-run lead in the first inning.

Of course the blame isn't all his. The Phils scored those two early runs and then fell asleep. Chase Utley, normally an aggressive but smart base-runner, killed a rally when he tried to go from first to third on a ground ball to short. It was a stupid play and it cost his team a chance to pull even or go ahead when trailing 3-2. But let's not blame Utley and Oswalt entirely. The Phillies simply stopped hitting...again!

When the final chapter is written for this club, chances are the what-ifs will begin with their offensive inconsistency. The simple truth is this team does not have a reliable offense. Look at the heart of their order. Can you examine it strikes fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers? And whatever bullpen issues affect them, and there certainly are several, they normally fail when they stop hitting, which is too often. In this series their runs have come in a very few bunches, punctuated by lots of 1-2-3 innings of ineptitude.

They return home for the final game of the series relying on Doc Halladay, the CBP adoring crowd and a feeble offense to get them to the next level. It isn't a lock by a long stretch.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Benny Fresh

Ben Francisco's season began with much hope and anticipation.

The journeyman outfielder had been handed the starting job in right field albeit somewhat by default as the heir-apparent, Domonic Brown, suffered an injury. Still, the thinking was Francisco only needed a guarantee of steady play to showcase his abilities and once and for all prove his worth.

Things didn't turn out well, however, at least not until last night.

Francisco began the season decently but steadily declined. He was never much of a fielder, but he was thought to be a decent hitter. Within a short time his average plummeted and he lost the starting job. Then, he lost the possibility of even platooning. Relegated to the bench he became the primary right-handed pinch-hitter. By the end of the season, he sat on the bubble wondering if he'd even make the team's post-season roster.

Last night he was called on to pinch hit and he responded with a three run homer, providing all the Phillies' scoring for the night and the winning margin as the Phils took a 2-1 lead over St. Louis in the NLDS. From all accounts after the game, Francisco's teammates were as happy for him as they were for themselves. If nothing else, Benny Fresh, as Ryan Howard called him, is very well-liked in the clubhouse. You can now extend his circle of friends to the nearly 6 million people who live in the Delaware Valley.

Cole Hamels started the game and though he wasn't dominating, he pitched tough when he had to and left the game without surrendering a run. He wiggled out of trouble a few times but he stepped up big time in a game the Phillies had to win. The fellow who batted for him was this guy named Francisco, Benny Fresh to his legion of friends.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Let's just say yesterday was not a good day to hold a lead in Philadelphia.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Built To Win Now

They were built to win now and nothing less will satisfy them not to mention their fans.

The core is aging rapidly and may be partially dismantled this off-season. This particular configuration will not get another chance to win and walk together.

Predictions? I am certifiably lousy at most of them. The starting pitching should be sufficient to go deep if not all the way. The relief pitching is less certain. The batting is even less certain.

I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if they falter. I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Records All Around

All hail the regular season champs.

The Phils recorded their franchise record 102nd win last night, a dramatic 4-3 victory in 13 innings against a desperate Atlanta club fighting for its playoff life. The victory culminated a three-game sweep of the Braves, dropping them out of the NLDS on the final day of the season and lining up the St. Louis Cardinals as the Phils opponent. The Cards recently took three of four from the Phils at Citizens Bank Park, but all agree that was when the locals were not at their best.

Let's hope so.

The victory also made Charlie Manuel the Phillies' all-team leader in wins by a manager, a fitting cap to the team's fifth straight divisional championship.

The night was marked by drama around the majors as the Rays overcame a 7 run deficit to defeat the Yankees and beat out the free-falling Red Sox, who lost out on post-season play on the last day of the season in what will go down as an historic collapse. Couldn't happen to a more smug fan base! The previously long-suffering but eternally insufferable Red Sox fans can have an entire off-season to contemplate the many ways in which their vaunted team choked.

A lot of individual Phillies ended the season with some pretty lousy offensive numbers, including Chase Utley, who failed to reach .260, Placido Polanco, who failed to reach .280 (both numbers are far below their career averages), Ryan Howard, who failed to reach .255, and so on. Shane Victorino ended the season in quite a slump. Raul Ibanez ended his as he started: erratically. Jimmy ended his season on a tear. It's hard to imagine he will play here again if he's seeking a big pay-day at the end of the post-season. Only Chooch and Hunter Pence shone.

There's no secret this club is built around pitching. There is also no secret the offense can suddenly go hide for days at a time. The key to their post-season will be strong starting pitching and a much-needed rebound by the set-up portion of their bullpen. If the offense can stay focused, the Phils should go deep into the playoffs. If not, a quick exit is not out of the question.

* * * * * * * *

Jose Reyes doesn't strike me as the kind of ballplayer who knows let alone gives a damn about baseball history so I'm sure he wasn't aware of how Ted Williams finished his quest for a .400 batting average in 1941 by playing both games of a doubleheader. Williams entered the games hitting .3996, which would have rounded off to .400. His manager offered to give him the games off to ensure his achieving the mark. Not Williams. He played, saying he didn't deserve to hit .400 if he sat out those games. He went 6 for 8 including a home run to finish at .406.

Reyes was trying to lead the league in batting entering yesterday's final game. In his first AB, he bunted for a single and then headed for the dugout, the runway, the showers and eternal contempt.

Maybe his agent should let him in on some baseball history. On second thought, his agent probably encouraged him to duck the rest of the game.

You aren't a champion in the real sense of the word, Jose.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Geting Their House In Order

The Phillies flirted with having the table run them to close the season before snapping out of an eight-game losing streak with a 9-4 win over the Mets. Thank goodness for Mike Pelfrey!

One victory in more than a week does not ease the concerns mentioned here and roughly 1000 other locations, namely a lack of hitting, a lefty out of the pen and something less tangible but no less important, momentum.

Meanwhile, at least two of their potential post-season adversaries, Milwaukee and St. Louis, have won 7 of their last ten each while the other possible rival, Arizona has won six of ten. The Phils are 2-8 over the same stretch.

At this point in the season many teams are fighting fatigue and injuries, major or nagging. Arizona's Justin Upton took a Tim Lincecum fastball off the helmet yesterday. The Phils are struggling with a lot of walking wounded, perhaps more than most teams, and a generally out-of-sorts feel. They have exactly five days to get their house in order before the playoffs begin.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Be Happy?

The middle of their lineup is hobbling.  The top of it isn't hitting.  Four out of the last five starters have been losers.  The only lefty out of the pen is cooked.

What is there to be happy about?

They're in the playoffs, buddy. Aren't you happy about that??!!

Well, if the season ended last Saturday I would be happy, but I cannot jump for joy at the sputtering machine I've been watching for the last week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Predictions may have their place but in a crowded field they don't count for much. In my case, those expressed were not far off the mark on most individual bases, but the team prediction wasn't even close.

Friday, March 25, 2011


In a matter of days, Luis Castillo will have plenty of time to make all the hotel reservations he needs...anywhere but in the Delaware Valley. His departure will deprive Mets fans of the dubious pleasure of telling Phils fans they told us so. As it turns out, Charlie Manuel told us so a few days ago when he mentioned had he been Castillo he would have showed up early for his resurrection screen test, not late!  Some are easy.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley will not play baseball in 2011.  Not even close.

* * * * * * * *

The Phils Fab Four rotation will win 60 games tops.  56 as of today

* * * * * * * *

Joe Blanton will not be a Phillie in September.  Technically incorrect.

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino will miss at least 20 games this season. Almost exactly.

* * * * * * * *

J Roll will never again approach the batting figures of his MVP season.  Sad but true.

* * * * * * * *

Ryan Howard won't see a fastball over the plate in at least half his AB's this season. He will swing anyway.  I am going to give myself this one even though the percentage was much higher.

* * * * * * * *

Brett Myers will beat the Phils on Opening Day despite Roy Halladay's fine outing.  He came close.

* * * * * * * *

The Atlanta Braves will win the NL East.  They didn't!


Dropping a double-header to the Nationals no matter how "meaningless" the games is hardly the way to get ready for the post-season. Scoring three runs in the twin-bill is even more pathetic.

In the last week every starter but Roy Oswalt has lost.

Tell me again why these games "don't matter"?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lack Of Hitting = Losing

Lost among the nobodies, never-weres and might-have-beens in the Phillies lineup for game one today was reliever Michael Stutes, who was counted on heavily this season but failed yet again in these final weeks and days leaving us to wonder just what role he might have in the post-season.

With Stutes surrendering the final run, the Phils lost to Washington in ten innings, 4-3. Apart from Raul Ibanez' pinch-hit three-run homer, they produced little offense again. Their hitting and scoring woes remind us of their early and mid-season funks.

Many observers aren't worried. Few regulars started today. The Phils have already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Well, start worrying because if they fail to hit, their pitching isn't going to save them and home field advantage won't do much for them if they are playing golf, not baseball.

The loss was their fourth in seven games on the current home stand.

Winning While Losing

No matter how one slices it, losing three of four to the Cardinals at home does not inspire great confidence.

Yes, yes, the Phils didn't have their regular lineup together, but how often have they had that luxury this season? Keep in mind the Cardinals played the entire series without one of their top players, Matt Holliday.

More telling is that two of the Phils' top three starters were beaten, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Backing into things after building such a comfortable cushion is the best that can be said for the series just concluded, the first time the Phils dropped a set at home since losing two of three to the Giants in mid-summer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walls Of Worry

Just when Roy Oswalt appears to be rounding into shape we can add Cole Hamels to a growing list of worries.  Ever since returning from the RMDL (Rest Masquerading as Disabled List) for shoulder inflammation, Hamels has been rather inconsistent.  Last night he surrendered four earned runs and a pair of home runs in seven innings as the Cards blanked the soggy Phils 5-0.

Hamels joins Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes on the list of pitching anxieties. Among position players, Ryan Howard's foot, Chase Utley's swing (last night's 3-4 performance notwithstanding), Jimmy Rollins' groin, and Placido Polanco's sports hernia and back are the chief concerns. Indeed, the offense has been sputtering lately despite the occasional outburst such as Saturday night.

Hamels and Bastardo represent the biggest worries because, frankly, pitching has been the name of the game all season long for this club. The Phils need a healthy, dominant Hamels for the post-season and they need a lefty out of the pen besides untested Joe Slavery.

There are eleven more games left to sort things out.

* * * * * * * *

The Giants have run off quite a winning streak to project themselves back into the playoff picture as the Wild Card. Nothing would disappoint more than to see them make it!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

High Expectations Must Be Met

The Phillies captured their fifth straight NL East crown last night raising expectations of greater glories another notch.

For some time now it has been apparent nothing less than a World Series appearance and victory will satisfy the team or its followers. For some historical perspective on how teams are remembered based primarily on their post-season performances I offer you the Baltimore Orioles of the late 60's to early 70's:

  1. 1968  Finished 2 of 10 (Pre-divisional years)
  2. 1969  Finished 1st (Lost WS) (First divisional years)
  3. 1970  Finished 1st (Won WS)
  4. 1971  Finished 1st (Lost WS)
  5. 1972  Finished out of the running
  6. 1973  Finished 1st (Lost ACLS)
  7. 1974  Finished 1st (Lost ACLS)
Those were great teams, appearing in three straight WS, all of which they should have won.  How many people speak of those teams and the ones surrounding them (they also won a WS in 1966) as among the great teams of all time?

Friday, September 16, 2011

What, Lee Worry?

Right now Cliff Lee can almost do no wrong.


Lee, who has six shutouts already this season, is two pitches away from two more wins and two more shutouts. He has failed to get a final strike in two games over the last month and one cost him a shutout and the other a win and a shutout.

Is he complaining?

Not a chance.

Both games resulted in wins and Lee is one of those guys who likes to see W's next to his team's name first and only then after his own.

But you have to marvel at a guy who is two pitches away from eight shutouts for the season.

Combined with Roy Halladay, Lee gives the Phils a tremendous top of the rotation. Cole Hamels runs a close third but is more erratic.

Still, you have to like this rotation going into the post-season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Still Still Having Problems In Houston

C'mon, guys.

I'm not greedy for a 106-win season like some, but I don't like losing two straight to the Astros.

The lineup may be makeshift, but it's still the Astros in the other dugout, the biggest collection of no-names I've ever seen. Heck, I can name more players on the Kansas City Royals squad. (Actually, I can't, but I said that for effect.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Still Having Problems In Houston

Man, oh man, does Houston have the Phillies number in September or what?

If memory serves me (always a tricky proposition these days), Houston has stuck it to the Phils in the late season several times, even sweeping them once or twice in the last series between these two favorite trading partners.

Roy Oswalt returned to Texas to face Brett Myers, who has had one unmemorable season. So, naturally, Myers pitched a strong game for the win and Oswalt looked like his was throwing batting practice on occasion.

Conventional wisdom says Oswalt will be in the starting rotation this post-season based on past performance and that Vance Worley will be in the bullpen. Not a good idea. Worley has simply pitched much better than Oswalt, who has been very erratic since his return. Oswalt has thrown out of the bullpen as recently as last post-season. If the Phils want to go with experience, Oswalt has it there!

They won't.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pitching And Defense

No Jimmy.  No Chase.  Some Howard.

No one would have guessed the Phils would take 3 of 4 from the Brewers in Milwaukee while the core of the team sat and watched, some from nearly 900 miles away.  No one, that is, but the Phillies themselves.

If anyone needed further evidence good pitching beats good hitting, they should sit down and watch a replay of this weekend's four-game set with Milwaukee. And if anyone needed further evidence good defense makes up for some offensive deficiencies, they should watch the same tapes.

The Phils' march to the post-season is due in large measure to the strength of its starting rotation and its ability to catch and throw the ball. True, they are near the league lead in runs scored, but no one is kidding himself about the strengths and weaknesses of this team. Brewers' manager Ron Roenicke said it best when it noted the Phils keep throwing one great starter after another at the opposition.

One of the more difficult tasks facing the manager in these last few weeks of the regular season is the question of what to do with all his good starting pitching. Not everyone can make the post-season roster as a starter and it appears even brilliant rookie Vance Worley, who has won eleven games, will have to move to the bullpen. The trick is to get Worley and other bullpen candidates some game experience from that perspective. With Michael Stutes encountering some bumps in the road lately and their only lefty, Antonio Bastardo, suddenly very mortal, the Phils need to work out the seventh and eighth inning candidates. Unfortunately, they don't have a lefty other than Bastardo to audition.

But that won't be as critical an issue if the starters continue to go so deep into games. Still, as the games and innings pile up, the bullpen becomes more critical than ever.

Friday, September 09, 2011


I'm not a podiatrist but I play one on the blogosphere.

Bursitis, to those who've never had it, is one of those mystery ailments.  To those who have had it, it's no mystery, it just hurts like hell.

Ryan Howard has bursitis in his heel according to reports.  I know a thing or two about that.

First of all, one cannot walk let alone run without pain.  Cortisone shots are normally not effective for bursitis in the heel.  The bursa sac fills with fluid and is very painful to the touch to say nothing of carrying a load of 240 plus lbs.  The only real cure comes when the sac bursts, the fluid is released and the pain subsides.  It's hard to tell when that can happen.  I had bursitis in the right heel for nearly two months before experiencing relief.  A cortisone shot provided absolutely no relief.  Walking on it provided nothing but pain.  One day the pain was gone.  Nothing I had done up to that point -- exercises, Advil or the shot -- helped one bit.

You have my sympathy, big guy.


Charlie Manuel may have sent his B team out to play the field  against Milwaukee in the first of a three-game set, but he sent one of his A team pitchers out to join them.

The result was a quiet but unmistakable statement:  the Phillies are the team to beat.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

No Rest For The Weary

I looked out my window at 5PM yesterday afternoon and said, "No way they play tonight.".  It was pouring after a day of intermittent showers.  Then I thought, they'll wait to call this one because they are desperate to avoid yet another doubleheader.

After that, I didn't give it another thought.  I didn't tune in at 7:05PM as the rain came down.  As I prepared for bed, however, I turned on KYW to hear the weather forecast.  As if I needed a weatherman to tell me rain was on the way!  A minute later the top sports story had the Phils leading 2-1.  "They're playing," I said to my wife incredulously.  "They actually started this game!"

Started and finished it and won.

The Phils took their second straight from the Braves, opening up a 9.5 lead in the process of winning their 90th game of the season, best in the majors.

Most of the discussion these days is about when to rest the regulars.  The decision will be tempered by the urgency to gain home field advantage by having the best record.  Then, there is the schedule and the weather.  The Phils have no days off remaining the rest of the season.  Indeed, they have at least two doubleheaders already on the books, which always unsettles the pitching rotation.  Some players are hurting (Ryan Howard among them).  Some need a blow because of other nicks and bruises or in the case if Antonio Bastardo, from overwork.  Jimmy Rollins is still out (though not missed terribly at the moment).

The Phils will face the Milwaukee Brewers next and definitely want to bring their A team to that possible preview of the playoffs.

It all adds up to no rest for the weary.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ask And Ye Shall....

By now it should be apparent to those of you who check in here I have a special relationship with the Reverse Curse. Every time I point out a player's deficiencies, he usually responds that day with a breakout game. Chase Utley is the latest case in point.

I point this out not to blow my own horn; rather, I invite you to submit concerns regarding any player. I will immediately post a critical review or, at the very least, a negative comment, and voila!! Guaranteed to bust slumps, turn things around or otherwise set things straight.

Speaking of setting things straight, the real ace among aces on this staff is clearly Cliff Lee, who has stopped more mini losing streaks and other bumps in the road more often than not. Last night's stellar performance would have been his second straight shutout had he been able to record the 27th out in his last start. With his dominating performance last night in which he had his curve working magic, Lee has injected himself smack dab into the Cy Young award race...not that he cares. Oh, sure, it's nice to win awards and in this regard Lee is probably no different than the next guy; but he could give a damn about personal achievements if his team again reaches the post-season and, this time, wins it all. That's what the guy is really all about.

Monday, September 05, 2011


Two losses in a row to the Fish isn't the end of the world but the way the Phils lost isn't encouraging either.

The first thing to know about yesterday's ugly defeat is this: Hunter Pence should have been called out. The Marlins outfielder would probably have made that catch. Joe West turned the play into more of a controversy than necessary, but, then, Joe West always tries to inject himself into the action whenever possible. He's a bad umpire who made a bad decision, not "out or safe" but the review. If he couldn't make the call on a play he saw, why ask someone else?

* * * * * * * *

The Phils failed to capitalize on the opportunities they had yesterday, a reversion to their early and mid-season habit that is distressing.

* * * * * * * *

The Phils were due for a stinker or two given their impressive record thus far, but to my way of thinking they already had them in the two late losses to Washington. A team can "get things out of their system" just so many times.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley flirted with .290 a month or so again and has fallen off the table into a pretty ugly funk ever since. The worst part of all is he is know popping the ball up a lot or hitting shallow flies and when he swings he doesn't even look up to see where the ball is going. Instead, he just puts his head down and takes off for a futile run to first. His swing is awful right now and his confidence at the plate looks pretty damn shot!

* * * * * * * *

Placido Polanco looks miserable at the plate, too, and his fielding fluctuates between the sensational and the awful.

* * * * * * * *

Let's face it, Roy Halladay isn't dominating anyone these days. Indeed, he's only won once in his last five or six starts.

* * * * * * * *

Cole Hamels moves back and forth between dominant and hittable, especially the long ball.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bull Dogs And, Well...Dogs

There are plenty of players who hate to lose and there are plenty who hate to perform badly and don't mind showing it.

Doc Halladay makes both lists. Indeed, Doc may head both lists.

Halladay returned from a long, weather-enforced layoff last night and pitched seven strong innings, at one point retiring seventeen in a row after a yielding a leadoff hit. Doc worked out of a bases-loaded jam, fighting himself as hard as hit fought the Reds in that frame. After hitting a batter he spoke aloud to himself. If one could read lips the translation would run something along of the lines of "%$#%( idiot". Later in the inning, after walking the bases full, he threw the rosin bag to the ground hard enough for it to be available to anyone pitching in China at the moment.

But Doc being Doc, he escaped the jam and finally recorded his sixteenth win of the season.

Ryan Howard homered twice, the first one a two-run shot that gave the Phils their first and what proved to be sufficient lead to record their 84th win of the season. Hunter Pence tomahawked a homer to right and Raul Ibanez, who must have about nine hundred lives, stroked three hits including a two-run shot of his own.

The win, coupled with an Atlanta loss, stretched the Phils' lead to 7.5 games.

* * * * * * * *

The Giants are fading fast in the west proving that last year's world championship was indeed a fluke. Sure, the Giants had superb pitching last year but, c'mon, let's face it, they won because has-beens like Pat Burrell were briefly resurrected at the right time and never-weres like Cody Ross went on a tear, especially in the post-season. One might argue the loss of Buster Posey was too much to overcome, but a careful look at the roster will show Burrell has been released for good and Ross is hitting .231 and Aubrey Huff is the team leader in everything but homer runs with .243 average, 55 rbi's and obp of .301.

Oh, and last year's starters are mostly struggling and closer Brian Wilson is on the DL.

Before you start arguing how much injuries have hurt the Giants, let's not forget how many other contenders have had to deal with them, too. Again, Burrell and Ross proved to have feet of low-fired clay.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rusty But Good Enough

Cole Hamels returned from the DL/roster maneuver list last night and at least for the moment calmed frayed nerves about his left shoulder. Hamels was masterful.

Pitching in the place where his major league career began, Hamels stifled the Reds on two hits, allowing a single run over six innings. Hamels showed none of the rust and all of the command of his peak form.

A trio of relievers, beginning earlier than usual -- the seventh inning -- with Antonio Bastardo and following with Michael Stutes and Ryan Madson, held off the powerful Reds' lineup for a 3-2 win. Shane Victorino provided the margin of victory with a two-run shot, his fifteenth homer of the season.

Hamels was nearly perfect. Bastardo was, too. Stutes, who has scuffled badly lately surrendered three hits and a run in his inning to allow the Reds to creep to within one run. Madson allowed the tying run to reach second before shutting the door.

Each team managed six hits but Reds' starter Homer Bailey allowed the biggest one of all, to Victorino.

The Phils could be excused for being a bit rusty overall, having only played one game in the last four days due to hurricane Irene. They shook off some of that rust last night and need to shake off the rest in the days ahead.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mediocrity...Of Late

A few weeks ago, when a record-setting victory total seemed in sight, more than a few observers noted the Phils only had to play .500 ball to assure themselves an outstanding season.

Apparently, the Phils listened.

Over the last ten games the Phils have dropped at least two games they had in the bag while losing a few more they might have won with some timely hitting. Meanwhile, Atlanta kept on winning to "close" the gap between the two teams to six games.

Last night, both teams lost. The Phils' lost when Roy Oswalt was rocked for six runs including a grand slam homer. Oswalt, who looked reasonably sharp last start vs. Washington, pitched poorly last night. He didn't have the velocity of his last game and his command was off. Frankly, with last night's performance he dropped to fifth on my depth chart and sixth if you believe Kyle Kendrick offers more at this stage.

The chinks in the Phils armor explain their mediocre play of late. Cole Hamels has shoulder inflammation. Jimmy Rollins is on the DL. Placido Polanco is back but could be gone with one swing or bend. Michael Stutes pitches more like a rookie every day. Brad Lidge is a slider in the dirt or a "fastball" with little on it always waiting to happen. Ryan Howard has been in a funk and has a sort hand (last night he homered, however.) Michael Martinez has looked more like a Rule 5 player.

The most surprising development of all is that Roy Halladay hasn't been winning lately. There are all sorts of explanations for his recent dry spell, but they don't offer much consolation.

The rain has certainly wrecked havoc on the Phils' staff and, one would guess, on the position players who've had to play until nearly midnight a few times lately. With a hurricane on the horizon, the juggling of rotations doesn't get any easier. The Phils will try and sneak one in this afternoon and then skedaddle off to Cincinnati before the airport shuts down.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meeting And Greeting

Charlie, meet John Mayberry, your new left-fielder. Raul can come off the bench as your left-handed pinch hitter because it's no longer a question of whether or not John Jr. has earned a starting spot.

As long as we're meeting and greeting, Charlie, meet your new seventh inning guy for the post-season in Vance Worley. Of course, his role will be determined by the health of the big four.

As long as we're saying hello (and goodbye), Charlie, meet Michael Stutes, former phenom who appears to be returning to earth with a thud.

And also on the greeting front, Charlie, meet Placido Polanco, not only the ultimate pro but apparently possessor of at least nine baseball lives. He comes back from the DL, gets multiple hits and fields his position well. Placido is not going quietly.

* * * * * * * *

Scoring nineteen runs against the Mets in the first two games of this series just doesn't quite approach the level of satisfaction it might have years ago given how decimated and dismal the New Yorkers are. Still, the Phils have to feast on the never-rans as the Braves keep winning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Leaking Oil

There's no denying it now: the Phils' bullpen is leaking oil.

For every surprise performance by, say, a David Herndon, there have uglier surprises by heretofore reliable pitchers.

Antonio Bastardo, one strike away from settling things yesterday, blew a save when he yielded his second home run in August allowing Washington to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. The next inning, Brad Lidge, whose best pitch is more than likely to be in the dirt as not, hit a batter with the bases loaded to blow the third game in seven in which the Phillies led going into the ninth inning. Their once bloated 9.5 lead over Atlanta is now a more manageable 6.5 game spead.

Bastardo and Lidge haven't been the only culprits. Ryan Madson blew a 2 run lead in the ninth the other day, allowing six runs including a walk-off grand slam homer.

New call up Michael Schwimmer began his big league career by yielding a home run to the first batter he ever faced. Michael Stutes had a good outing Saturday night, but he, too, has had his ups and downs recently.

So, this isn't just a question of the league catching up with youngsters. Madson and Lidge in particular aren't spring chickens. Lidge is an especially troubling case because it cannot be easy for Charlie Manuel to send out a reliever who lacks command.

The schedule offers some potential temporary relief with two upcoming series with the Mets and Marlins but in September the Phils will face the Braves and Brewers back-to-back. That should be interesting.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In No Particular Order

Last night's 5-0 victory over Washington was memorable for a number of reasons. In no particular order:

John Mayberry threw a one hop strike to Carlos Ruiz to nail a runner at the plate and prevent Washington from getting back into the game early when the Phils' lead was 2-0. Raul Ibanez never makes that play. Oh, and Mayberry collected two more hits last night. He should be the every-day left-fielder but given his manager's loyalty to veterans, won't be.

Roy Oswalt had a fine outing and demonstrated to all he is back from, well, his back. A fresh Oswalt will be critical down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Wilson Valdez, nearly forgotten when Minnie Mart got so many starts at third base, again rose Phoenix-like. His two-run triple, following his key hit in a losing effort the night before, was all Oswalt needed. Is this guy a super-sub or what!!??? Three cheers for Dye Man.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I receive an early edition of the Inquirer each day, delivered through the mail slot of our front door. Often, this early edition does not include the results of games with late endings. How fortunate for me, this Saturday morning, to not have to read the gory details of last night's brutal loss in Washington. After all, in a rare event, I actually watched it happen in real time.

Ryan Madson turned a 4-2 win into an 8-4 loss Friday night by completely melting down in Washington. Having already yielded two runs to open the bottom of the ninth to knot the score at 4-4, Madson seemed on the verge of wiggling out of further damage when with the bases loaded, two outs and a 3-2 count on Ryan Zimmerman, the Phils' closer grooved one right down Pennsylvania Avenue and the Nats' third baseman deposited it in the left field grandstands for a walk-off grand slam home run. A ground level shot, moments later, showed a bemused Jimmy Rollins walking off the diamond.

With the pitch, the Phils lost their second game this week when holding a lead going into the ninth inning. The first loss, at home, was courtesy of their ace, Roy Halladay. Last night's defeat, on the road, was courtesy of their so-called closer.

Lately, nearly everyone seems fond of pointing out the Phils only have to play .500 ball the rest of the way to win 100 games. Well, this is their second loss to Washington in three games; they took two of three from Arizona. Even with my limited math skills that looks like .500. Frankly, it isn't impressive. Worse, the two losses were ugly. The Halladay loss was ugly because it was unnecessary. He should have been removed for a relief pitcher. Of course, Friday's loss was delivered by the guy who might have been that relief pitcher. That sounds like .500 to me...again!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Get Used To It

With apologies to Sports Illustrated.....

A sign the apocalypse is not only upon us but has been consolidated could be found this AM on the crawl under ESPN's Sportscenter in which the lead, the LEAD, was Tom Brady throwing two TD passes in a pre-season game.  The LEAD, for crissakes.  A practice game.  On what may have been a slow night for sports news this couldn't have been the biggest story.  Do we really need further proof this is a football nation and the NFL pays the mortgage for everyone else in sport?

Of course one need only watch Daily News Live to see how much this town obsesses about the Eagles despite the Phillies magical season.

Get used to it, Swing.

* * * * * * * *

The Phils completed their three-game set with Arizona taking the last two games. They should've swept the Dbacks but didn't. Still, they sent another message to a potential playoff opponent.

* * * * * * * *

John Mayberry again justified further playing time by hitting a two-run homer in the game. Good thing the rains finally stopped after more than two hours. It would have been a shame to waste his effort or that of the bullpen, which collectively pitched six innings of one-run ball against Arizona.

One thing is for certain about rain delays: they have to last more than two and half hours for a game to be called. No one wanted to see Arizona make a one-day stopover in Philadelphia later this season to make up one game.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Horse Racing

While Charlie Manuel sifts through the waiver wires, minor leagues and other repositories of left-handed pinch hitters, here's something else for him to keep in mind regarding lefties: bench Raul Ibanez and start playing John Mayberry every day.  Mayberry has earned the spot based on his hitting to say nothing of his fielding.  Raul can get the occasional start vs. righties, but that should be about it going forward.

* * * * * * *

Bob Brookover, the Phillies beat writer, made the following point this morning regarding Manuel's decision to leave Roy Halladay in for the ninth inning in Tuesday's 3-2 loss:

The second-guessers had it all wrong when they questioned whether Roy Halladay stayed in too long Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In fact, it might have been the least educated second guess in the history of the game when you consider that Halladay was 52-0 when taking a lead into the ninth inning, he had thrown only 96 pitches through eight innings, and he had retired the side in order in the eighth by striking out all three batters.

Ah, yes, Bob, dismiss those uneducated, unwashed second-guessers but when you do, remember this:  the odds suggested a good thing cannot last forever and, indeed, Halladay lost the game and he and Manuel bear responsibility.  The odds may have favored another win at the start of the inning, but that first hit should have been sufficient evidence to bet against them continuing.  And that, Bob, is what makes horse racing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Set Ups

News that Cole Hamels will miss a start underscores how fragile the Phils' rotation is at the moment, a nine-win road trip notwithstanding.

Hamels complained of stiffness in his last start, a loss to the Nationals. An MRI revealed shoulder inflammation. Roy Halladay was gassed in the ninth inning last night and it showed as he yielded three hits and the winning runs in a stunning and unnecessary loss to the Diamondbacks, who now stand 3-1 against the Phils this season.

The starting rotation also lost Roy Oswalt for two months of this season.

Cliff Lee routinely pitches complete games.

It's only mid August but the Phils' starting rotation appears to be overworked. Who's running the show? Charlie? Rich Dubee? The pitchers themselves?

Instead of setting themselves up for a post-season run, the Phils appear perilously close to setting themselves up for huge fall.

Stubborness Killed The Cat

No question about it, Roy Halladay lost last night because he's too stubborn and his manager won't stand up to him.

Leading 2-1 going into the ninth inning, Halladay surrendered a leadoff single to Justin Upton and immediately the alarms went off everywhere but where it counted, Charlie Manuel's head. Instead of pulling Halladay and summoning Ryan Madson, Manuel again deferred to Halladay who NEVER wants to come out of a game. Another single, by Miguel Montero, and a bases-clearing double by Phillies-killer Lyle Overbay and, boom, the game was lost.

Most managers would have turned that game over to their closer to begin the ninth, but Charlie isn't most managers, especially when he has to take the ball from Halladay. Halladay could use the rest. The Phillies could use the win, giving them enough of a cushion to afford the luxury of resting all of their starters down the stretch. But as is usually the case in these situations, Manuel allowed his horse to lead the cart.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Can't Win Em All

OK, we admit to being spoiled. Can we really be faulted after the last two weeks?

Still, the notion of losing to the Nationals and ancient Livan Hernandez THE HITTER when you have a beautiful night in front of the usual sell-out crowd and Cole Hamels on the mound is hard to imagine let alone swallow.

But there it is, a 4-2 loss in which the Phils did little.

Hamels wasn't sharp. Hernandez was throwing his usual slop, some pitches nearly rolling back to him for lack of forward momentum.

Oh well, they can't and won't win 'em all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happiness All Around

If you think we are happy about the acquisition of Hunter Pence, think how he feels!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


It may be the understatement of the season to date, but here it goes: The Phils are on a major roll right now. All cylinders are clicking even when the injury bug bites their starting third baseman again. No deficit is too large to overcome, as they showed yesterday in Los Angeles. No Western swing is too daunting, as they showed by taking nine of ten games on the just-concluded trip. No pitching staff, Tim Lincecum excepted, is too tough, as they demononstrated in taking three of four from the Giants. No suspensions are too worrisome, as they await the outcome of Shane Victorino's appeal. No pitcher is an automatic out, as Cliff Lee proved in belting his second home run of the season. No trade deadline deal is too costly, as they clearly proved in acquiring Hunter Pence.

The Phils moved to 37 games over .500, their best record in 34 years. (I moved to Philadelphia 33 years ago and missed that last performance.) The hitting appears to be catching up with the pitching, facing Tim Lincecum excepted. They lead second place Atlanta by 8.5 games, a comfortable margin that normally would provide a cushion but which yesterday's monster rally demonstrates is not about to be taken for granted.

The Phils return home to face the Nationals and NL West leader Arizona, to whom they dropped 2 of 3 earlier this season. With the big lead over Atlanta the temptation will be there to pull starters a little earlier, perhaps even go to a six-man rotation at some point, with Kyle Kendrick the candidate to get another start.

It's nice to have so many options.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Wall Of Worry

Apart from the loss on Sunday, their second in as many tries against Tim Linsecum, the Phillies have been on quite a roll. Ten wins in their last eleven games, seven of eight on the road out West. They hold an 8.5 game lead over second-place Atlanta. Theirs is the best record in baseball. They've been hitting lately.

So, why am I worried?

Roy Halladay has not looked sharp lately. He may have earned his league-leading fifteenth victory last night and lowered his ERA to 2.51, but he's been giving up a ton of hits lately and then working out of jams. Living on the edge can be nerve-wracking, especially to fans like me who don't need much encouragement to begin trembling.

The bullpen remains a work in progress. The return of Brad Lidge has not brought any comfort. Indeed, Lidge is probably playing out his last season in red pinstripes. His velocity is down and has never returned. His slider doesn't have the bite it did earlier. He throws an inordinate number of balls in the dirt, sometimes with disastrous results that only the always-superb Carlos Ruiz manages to control.

Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have been remarkable, but they are young and relatively inexperienced. Stutes hasn't been as sharp lately; Bastardo yielded a quick home run in San Francisco.

In the starting rotation, Roy Oswalt has returned from a long hiatus. He gave up twelve hits in six innings Sunday, many of them of the bloop variety. His velocity was good and he didn't tire despite the long layoff. However, his fastball looked to have minimum movement on it. True, he was squeezed a few times by the home plate umpire, who wasn't giving anyone the outside pitch that day. Still, Oswalt didn't look like the Oswalt of old. It remains to be seen if he will return to form.

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino was the only participant in Friday night's "brawl" to receive a suspension. Let's see: a guy is deliberately hit in the back, reacts as one would expect, and is the only player to receive a fine AND suspension. Ridiculous, of course, but that's baseball justice, inexplicable, incoherent and inescapable.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Obviously, Cole Hamels forgot to check in yesterday to read my post. How else to explain his "failure" to pitch a complete-game shutout as requested?

Oh, well, so he was a pitch short. No harm, Cole. A poll of readers of this space concluded overwhelmingly a 2-1 complete-game victory over the Giants in San Francisco is acceptable every time out.

With the victory, the Phils stretched their win streak to nine games, six of them coming on the current Western road trip. The three straight wins over the Giants are particularly sweet given the animosity and rivalry that has developed between the two clubs. There was no repeat of Friday night's rumble. Indeed, the game moved along tautly but mostly uneventfully.

Make no mistake about it, however. With the three straight wins the Phils made a huge statement. The Giants can throw tremendous pitching at them, but the Phils have much stronger hitting now with the arrival of Hunter Pence. The road to the World Series may still run through San Francisco, but it seems much less daunting after this series. (The road probably runs through Milwaukee for those who have been paying attention to the Brewers run.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Serve Well Chilled

While the Phillies were delivering a hay-maker to the Giants Friday night, San Francisco was responding in their usual fashion when things go wrong: they threw at someone.

Last night's target was Shane Victorino, who had homered earlier. The coward who threw at him was Ramon Ramirez, who doesn't have to come to bat to face the music. The Giants love to throw at the Phillies and the Phillies don't retaliate. It will be interesting to see if they do after last night. The bet here is they won't. The Phillies don't play baseball that way. In our fantasy world it would be appropriate for Cole Hamels to drill the first batter he faces this afternoon, but in the real world it would better to have him pitch a complete game shutout.

These teams don't like each other and it's easy to see why. The Giants play with a chip on their shoulders, perhaps because they realize they are lucky rather than good. They have terrific pitching but let's face it, they won it all last year because guys like Pat Burrell, released for the second time in two seasons only last week, and Cody Ross, hardly the second coming of Hank Aaron, delivered.

The win last night also featured a second straight night of home runs by Hunter Pence and John Mayberry. Mayberry has made his case for more playing time.

Taking a third straight game from the Giants in their own park would indeed be a dish served very cold!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Round Two

Cliff Lee pitched his fifth shutout of the year; Hunter Pence hit his first home run as a Phillie; John Mayberry followed Pence with a solo shot of his own and yet again made a case for at least sharing the duties in right field; and, the Phils beat the Giants 3-0 to open a four-game set in the city by the bay.

There's little love lost between the Giants and Phils and each game has at least the undercurrent of a grudge match. Whether it is alleged throwing at batters, denigrating pitchers or simply two recent World Series champs squaring off, every time these two teams meet there is plenty of tension in the air.

Tonight, Vance Worly, a California native, goes for the Phils against Jonathan Sanchez, who leads the majors in publicly clearing his nasal passages on the mound.

The Phils are riding a seven-game winning streak which has seen them increase their lead in the NL East to 8.5 games over the Braves.

Since the game will be played on the dark side of the moon, I'll likely have to check the results somewhere around 4AM, when I awaken.

Round Two

Cliff Lee pitched his fifth shutout of the year, Hunter Pence hit his first home run as a Phillie, John Mayberry yet again made a case for at least sharing the duties in right field and the Phils beat the Giants 3-0 to open a four-game set in the city by the bay.

There's little love lost between the Giants and Phils and each game has at least the undercurrent of a grudge match. Whether it is alleged throwing at batters, denigrating pitchers or simply two recent World Series champs squaring off, every time these two teams meet there is plenty of tension in the air.

Tonight, Vance Worly, a California native, goes for the Phils against Jonathan Sanchez, who leads the majors in publicly clearing his nasal passages on the mound.

The Phils are riding a seven-game winning streak which has seen them increase their lead in the NL East to 8.5 games over the Braves.

Since the game will be played on the dark side of the moon, I'll likely have to check the results somewhere around 4AM, when I awaken.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Two On The Road

Shane Victorino failed to hustle in the third inning on a double by Chase Utley and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. In the tenth inning he made amends, hitting a game-winning solo home run as the Phils beat Colorado 4-3 in the opener of a ten-game road trip.

Victorino's redemption wouldn't have been possible if John Mayberry, down to his and the Phillies' last strike in the top of the ninth trailing 3-1 hadn't homered with a man on to tie the score and set the stage for the extra inning heroics.

Just further reminders that Shane is a very good player who could be even better were it not for his occasional mental lapses and that Mayberry is a seldom-used part-timer who should be given more chances. His manager could start by platooning Mayberry with Raul Ibanez.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Defying Expectations

Raul Ibanez continues to confound most of us, me perhaps most of all. I've buried and resurrected him several times already this season and that was before yesterday's phoenix-like performance. Two home runs, the first to give them a lead, the second to tie the game late and a game-winning double. Man, he just won't go quietly.

Truth is, Raul is just as likely to botch a makeable catch in left field that would cost the Phils a win as he is to put up half the total bases he did yesterday. In the end, the problem isn't with Raul. He is, at age 39, what he is only streakier and more unpredictable.

No, the problem is with his manager, whose devotion to veterans and nice guys clouds his judgment. Raul Ibanez should have been platooning with John Mayberry for at least the last month if not more. Charlie isn't going to do that because he gets hunches to go along with his blind devotion and right now he's thinking Raul has turned things around and will hit the remainder of the season. Who knows? Charlie may be right. What we do know is Raul will make every play except the routine ones an adventure in left field.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence has already paid at least one dividend, doubling in the tenth inning yesterday and scoring the winning run on Ibanez' walk-off hit to right field. A lot of people seem intent on making sure the fans understand Pence isn't a superstar. Pence could care less. He's thrilled to be on a winning team and likely to contribute in an atmosphere in which the pressure isn't on him every night to produce. I'll take a garden-variety double in the bottom of the tenth any time. Maybe it wasn't the work of a superstar but it sure counted in the win column!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back From The Shore

A week at the shore in Delaware has left me out of the loop though I was able to keep track via wrap-ups of the Phils' adventures on and off the field.  In no particular order:

Good pitching may beat good hitting but better pitching beats good pitching and good pitching always beats no hitting.  That sums up the Giants series, which was notable among other reasons for the ability of the Phils to dodge Tim Lincecum and the Giants to dodge Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.  If there are any conspiracy theorists out there (probably just a few, eh?) NL All Star manager Bruce Bochy must have looked not far down the road and figured if he used the two Phils' aces he might miss them when his every day job brought him to the City of Brotherly Love.

Of course, it didn't help that the Phils stopped hitting after beating the Giants in the opener of the series.  Of course they may have stopped hitting because they faced damn good pitching.  The Giants remain formidable if for no other reason than their superb pitching staff, which is every bit as good as that of the Phils. For the Phils to make it back to the Series they are going to have to go through San Francisco.  They get a chance to even the regular season score when they go through there next week.

* * * * * * * *

Domonic Brown is the odd man out as Hunter Pence took up residence at his former address and Placido Polanco returned from the DL. Brown took his demotion to AAA hard, as one might expect, but he will be back and will get better. He's never going to make locals forget Gary Maddox in the field, but he should learn to hit. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Pence was a smart move by the Phils. They need his bat and his energy. Look at how he ran out that ball he hit his first time up in a Phillies' uniform. He was safe but Angel Hernandez, who is a terrible ump who seems to always get involved in something controversial in Philadelphia, called him out. First base should be the easiest of calls. You hear both the ball and the batter arrive and even if you do not clearly hear the batter, you should hear the ball and see the batter's foot.

Pence is further proof the Phils plan to win now. He may be theirs for a few years, but he was brought in at the cost of four prospects, two of which were the Phils' top prospects and listed among the top 25 in baseball, and he will be expected to be the right-handed batting difference-maker the Phils have needed all year. Whether or not the two top prospects pan out remains to be seen, but it is clear the Phils would rather find out what they have now not later.

* * * * * * * *

I did watch one game on ESPN, the one Cole Hamels lost to the Giants 2-1. Once again, national broadcasters got the gloss right but the substance superficial in talking about the local club whose fans know much more. And this was one of ESPN's better duos broadcasting.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley has started hitting with power again as well as for average. Couldn't come at a better time.

* * * * * * * *

It is painful to watch Ryan Howard flail away at breaking balls and off-speed stuff. It may be popular to contend all he really needed was a good right-handed bat behind him and certainly adherents to this perspective will note in Hunter Pence's first game Howard went 4-4; nevertheless, it's going to take a lot more than one game before I am convinced Howard doesn't need to do more for himself. He has never moved closer to the plate nor adjusted his stroke. Pitchers have been getting him out an awful lot the last few seasons on breaking stuff away and change-ups just about anywhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Domonic Brown

2003: 43 games .239 BA 2 HR 21 RBI .322 OBP
2004: 94 games .266 BA 13 HR 57 RBI .308 OBP

Those are Chase Utley's numbers for his first two seasons.

2010: 35 games* .210 BA 2 HR 13 RBI .237 OBP
2011: 48 games .238 BA 5 HR 16 RBI .339 OBP

* 62 total AB's

Those are Domonic Brown's numbers for his first two seasons to date.

All those who already want to trade Domonic Brown don't have a clue. Many of these same idiots are convinced Brown will never be a decent fielder. Utley was a very mediocre second baseman when he arrived in the big leagues.

Now, granted, Utley has a work-ethic second to none and Brown has had his lapses. But the rookie made no excuses, accepting responsibility for those lapses. He seems eager to learn. He has lots of potential. He plays a position where the Phillies are weak.

Trading him would be a huge mistake and the Phillies' alleged brain trust isn't about to do it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Phillies fans were "treated" to an unsettling and uncommon sight last night: Roy Halladay sucking for wind and exhausted by the third inning. It wasn't pretty.

Halladay labored mightily in the stifling heat and humidity of Chicago last night, throwing 31 pitches in the third inning, taking two breaks behind the mound to try and recover, changing his drenched uniform top in the dugout between innings, looking beet-red with obvious dehydration symptoms, and finally departing the game in the fifth inning, approximately two innings after it was clear to everyone but his manager and pitching coach he was done for the night.

Frankly, as the camera studied an exhausted and stressed Halladay on the bench between the third and fourth innings, I worried for his health. The team's trainer sat beside him but apparently never went to Manuel and said Halladay had to come out of the game right now!!

The Phils lost the game 6-1. Halladay's counterpart, journeyman Rodrigo Lopez, looked cool as a cucumber in frustrating the always impatient Phillies hitters. It it was never more clear than last night this team collectively takes a poor approach to the plate. As Gary Matthews pointed out, the Cubs were literally wearing Halladay out fouling off pitches and taking others while the Phils went up to the dish hacking as usual. Sure, the Phils could use bullpen help, but they clearly need another bat, right-handed and intelligent!!

As distressing as it was to see the always fit and durable Halladay literally wilting before our eyes, the other ominous sign of the night was the second straight poor outing by a Philadelphia ace. With Cole Hamels' pummeling in New York on Saturday, this makes two straight appearances by Aces that have been disastrous. Cliff Lee gets the ball tonight with the hope he can break this mini-string. Who'd have thought the best two games pitched by a Phillie starter since the All Star break would be by Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick???!!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Help Wanted

Call me a psychic (or a fair-weather fan if you prefer), but I turned the game off as soon as the ball dropped between Utley and Howard in the first inning. Right then, I knew the Phils were in for a very long afternoon and I couldn't stand to watch it.

They looked feeble in the first inning against Jon Niese, none more than Ryan Howard, and would only continue to as the shadows grew longer. They had Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez in the starting lineup. Everything added up to a loss, Cole Hamels notwithstanding. The Mets were missing Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright. The reverse curse was in effect. Oh, and Danys Baez was going to get in the game. That's always good for a few runs.

The Phils are widely rumored to be looking for bullpen help but I don't believe it. There biggest need remains a right-handed bat, especially with Placido Polanco's questionable health.

Still, they lost yesterday because they couldn't pitch or field.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Random Though

Random thoughts waiting for the second half to begin....

The Florida Marlins announced they are closing the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium to cut costs. The two people who sat there this season will be relocated to Las Vegas.

* * * * * * * *

The All Star game was watched by fewer people than at any time in its history. "Fair and balanced" Fox News announced the viewership was the "network’s best night of prime time since the “American Idol” finale in May." Maybe Fox can boost ratings next year by combining the two.

* * * * * * * *

An article online at ESPN suggests scouts are not sold on Jair Jurrgens stuff and that the Braves should consider trading him while his value is at it's peak. I'd bet the rest of the league would love to have his stuff on their staffs.

* * * * * * * *

Many sources suggest the Phils are considering obtaining Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros. The right-handed bat of Pence would come at a steep price, perhaps the Phils' top pitching prospect. Of course the Astros' GM Ed Wade loves talking turkey with his former employers so this rumor probably has some merit.

* * * * * * * *

The jurisprudence threads in professional sports are gaining more prominence every day but the public is weary of the steroids-related trials still pending. The most notable alleged abuser still before the bench is Roger Clemens, on trial for lying to Congress, not for using. Lying to Congress! That one is sure to capture the imagination of the American public.

* * * * * * * *

Last rant on the All Star game:

If you want to know one reason viewership for the All Star game is so low these days, take a look at the box score. Scott Rolen actually started for the NL at third base. He's hitting .241 and still wears that grim expression that fans in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto and Cincinnati love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Stars

What a joke!

The All-Star game used to be fun until baseball's lords on high started messing with it forty-one years ago when they decided to have two games in 1960. That was the beginning of the end.

Skip ahead to today. Whereas the biggest news used to be who got snubbed and who got in but didn't deserve to, the current climate is all about defending or decrying decisions by those actually chosen and whether they decide to play or not to play. Oops, let's make that "show or not show". Derek Jeter, undeserving this year but a great player over his career, was chosen for this year's game but declined to play. Yesterday, he even declined to show up. Now everyone who thinks he could hit a fastball has jumped in with an opinion. I neither condone nor condemn Jeeter. Why single him out?

Trust me, no one gives a damn whether he or anyone else plays or not other than the network broadcasting the whole sorry mess and ESPN, which usually fawns over the home run derby contest the night before like it meant something to anyone other than Budweiser or Geico.

Here's all you need to know about baseball's All Star game: fans are invited to vote online early and often. That's right. You can vote up to something like 28 times. MLB even makes it easy by remembering your selection(s) so you don't have to re-enter anything other than the security code each vote.

The All Star game is beyond fixing. It should be taken out and shot.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anybody Home?

What if they held an All Star Game and no players came?

We're not there yet but this year will see more elected players fail to perform than any time in the history of the mid-season "showcase". Fifteen players have withdrawn from the game, among them several starting pitchers who are ineligible to play because they pitched the previous Sunday. There's an actual rule for that circumstance.

A few elected players are on the Disabled List and unable to perform. Some are nursing injuries and could use the rest.

Who knows, maybe a few were elected but would rather take the kids to Great Adventure or fix that leaking downspout.

Whatever the reasons, the post-election movement of players on and off the roster has never been so dramatic. The question is, does anyone care?

The players' union chief has stated publicly all the excused absences are legitimate. Bloggers and their commenters throughout the land are divided. Bud Selig is oblivious to it all but one wonders how long his honor (with a decidedly deliberate lower case "h") will sit by and watch the contest he's tried to pump up become the only game of musical chairs where those circling don't want a seat!

Selig tried to inject life into the game a few seasons back when it was decided the winning league in the game would get home field advantage for the World Series. That, he insured all, would make the players put a little more effort into the proceedings. It sure does make a difference if the NL wins home field advantage if you are a Phillies fan. Four potential games, including the first two of the Series, without a DH is a distinct advantage.

But in this era of astronomical salaries, incentive clauses and bonuses for election (are there caveats that a player must be elected and play to collect, one wonders?), players put far more stake in their health and future contract negotiations than a mere showcase.

Derek Jeter should be this year's poster boy for all the changes that have taken place. Chasing 3000 hits and struggling at the plate most of the season, Jeter was injured and went on the DL. Still, he was elected the starting shortstop for the AL, a result not unusual for fan favorites whose production has nevertheless dropped. But Jeter returned from the DL, achieved his milestone, going five for five the day he passed the magic number, and then announced he would take a pass in the All Star game for a chance to rest. The argument made for electing aging stars over more deserving players has always been the fans deserve to see their heroes one more time. Apparently, the feelings aren't mutual.

The solution is to junk the game altogether and go back to the rotation system for home field advantage in the Series. Come to think of it, junk the DH, Interleague Play and just about every other "innovation" his honor put in place, upheld, sustained or dreamed up. Nobody seems to like them but him.


It's a real burden being a glass half empty kind of guy.

What could possibly be bothering me after this weekend's series with the Braves? The Phils took two out of three games to increase their lead over Atlanta to 3.5 games. They sport the best record in baseball going into the All Star break. They scored a ton of runs on Sunday. Rookie Domonic Brown shows flashes at the plate of the stardom expected of him. The big three of Halladay, Lee and Hamels had a superb first half.

Well, for one thing the Phils beat the Braves but didn't face two of their three aces. Jurjens and Hudson will be tough the next time around. And on Sunday the Phils beat up on the righties in Atlanta's bullpen because Fredi Gonzalez was forced to overuse them after his superb lefties worked the night before.

Oh, come on, man, enjoy it.

After all, the Phils played without two of their starters, both of whom were elected to the NL All Star squad.

Chill. Take three days off. Skip the All Star game, especially the home run derby. See you Thursday.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pitch Hitch

Tommy Hanson's delivery looks like that of a man who is changing his mind in mid windup. He draws back, hesitates at the apex, then flings the ball homeward. The hitch is deceptive to batters, according to all reports, and the results confirm it. Hanson, a highly touted rookie a few seasons ago, has become a premier pitcher. He certainly was one yesterday as he stymied the entire makeshift batting order of the Phils with the lone exception of his opposite number, Cliff Lee. Lee belted the first home run of his career to give the Phils a brief lead.

Dan Uggla tied the score with a four-bagger of his own and that's the way things stood until the eleventh inning when the Braves scored a run on an rbi single by Alex Gonzalez, who is fast becoming a member of the Phillies-killer club and baseball's number one member of that exclusive organization, Brian McCann, launched a two run home run.

The Lee-Hanson matchup certainly lived up to its advance billing. Michael Stutes, who has pitched brilliantly all season, surrendered the Braves winning runs to take the loss.

Cole Hamels faces Derek Lowe in the series finale this afternoon. The Phils look to increase their lead to 3.5 games over the Braves at the break and even the season series at six apiece.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I Told You He Was Great

I take it all back, Raul. You are swift afoot, sure-handed, with a quick bat.

Last night the much-maligned (especially in this space) left-fielder crushed a ball in the tenth inning for a walk-off home run that propelled the Phils to a 3-2 victory over Atlanta in the opener of a crucial three-game series.

The other hero of the night was even more improbable: journeyman pitcher Juan Perez struck out the side in the top of the tenth inning on nine pitches. That's right, fans, the minimum number of pitches to retire the side. Atlanta's contributors to this rare event were Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Wilkin Ramirez.

Roy Halladay started for the Phils and allowed Atlanta's two runs in seven innings of work. The Phils hit the ball well all night, totaling eleven hits, but had little to show for it before Ibanez' extra-innings heroics.

The win extends the Phils' lead over the Braves to 3.5 games insuring they will hold onto first place by the All Star break. Game two is this afternoon. A fellow named Lee faces a fellow named Hanson.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Crucial Series

Anyone who says the weekend set with Atlanta isn't a crucial series is seriously mistaken.

The two teams have met nine times thus far in 2011 with the Braves holding a 5-4 lead. Over the last five weeks the Braves have the best record in baseball. On top of that, they began the season on a losing note for the first month and have rebounded dramatically to close the gap with the Phils to 2.5 games. If the Braves take the series they leap into first place. If they take 2 of 3, they close the gap further. If the Phils win, they open a nice lead in addition to making a statement. Everyone in the Phils dugout knows what's at stake.

Atlanta's starting rotation is very strong; their bullpen is even stronger. The offense has sputtered as has the Phils', especially Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward. Should they rebound, the Braves throw a formidable lineup out there every day.

The Phils enter the series without sparkplug Shane Victorino, an enormous loss. They have their rotation set up perfectly with the big three ready to go. They also miss Jair Jurrjens, whose 12 wins lead the NL, and Tim Hudson. Apparently, Fredi Gonzalez didn't feel it necessary to set up his rotation for this series to have his top two available. Don't read too much into that. Gonzalez sees this as a big series, too.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lousy Loss

Last night's loss to Florida never should have happened as the Phils blew 4-0 and 6-3 leads. They might have been due for a stinker but this one came courtesy of several base-running mistakes, including an uncharacteristic one by Chase Utley, and a characteristic big fat walk-off home run pitch by Danys Baez to Mike Stanton.

John Mayberry celebrated his latest return to the majors by hitting two line-drive home runs, but he also dropped a line drive in the seventh inning. Domonic Brown had an adventurous night, too, misplaying a ball in the third inning that allowed Florida to get back into the game early when two runs scored. He was also called out for missing second base, a call that is virtually never made and in this case probably should not have been upon unofficial review. Still, Brown continues to make the sort of mistakes that leave one wondering and concerned just how focused he is.

With the loss and Atanta's win, the Phils remain three games in front of the Braves. Wouldn't you know it, the schedule makers knew this would happen?! The two teams meet this weekend at the Bank. And wouldn't you know it, Charlie Manuel had this figured all along as well: he has his three aces lined up for the series?!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Game Of Inches & Coincidents

Baseball, its fans love to point out, is a game of inches. Sometimes, those inches can be stretched a little.

Yesterday's loss in Toronto came down to one play, when Shane Victorino broke too soon from second base and was picked off. Raul Ibanez followed with a double that would have scored Victorino and given the Phils a 5-3 lead. That may have been enough padding for Cliff Lee to work what turned out to be the fatal eighth inning a little differently. Instead, Lee was rocked for three home runs as the Blue Jays stormed back from a 4-0 deficit to take the finale of the three-game series and interleague play for this season.

Another common coincidence baseball fans love to point out is how often the guy who just made a great play leads off the next inning. I guess the opposite phenomenon was in effect in Victorino's case; to wit, the coincidence of a player making the game's bonehead play and then asking the fans to vote him into the All-Star game the next day. Oh, well, Shane, all is forgiven. You deserve to go to the AS game and I am voting for you.

While on the subject of interleague play, here's one vote to abolish it immediately. Not only has the novelty worn off years ago, but the schedules are invariably uneven in a given season with some teams playing a lot of contenders while their division rivals play a bunch of patsies. Naturally, interleague play is here to stay because, after all, it is the brainchild of the same alleged brain trust that maintains a DH in one league but not the other. The DH is the premier travesty that really comes into play in the World Series. Should the NL team win the All Star game and thus gain home field advantage for the Series, the only bright idea to come out of the AS game in decades, it can neutralize the AL's clear advantage with the DH being a fixture in that league by hosting four of the seven games, including the first two, if the Series goes the limit.

With new rumors of realignment brewing, the end of the DH fiasco may finally be at hand. Of course, the alleged brain trust could vote to have it in both leagues, something the Players' Union would probably love.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Chase Utley is back and with his return the Phillies' often-moribund offense takes on an altogether different look to opponents. Utley, of course, missed all of Spring Training and nearly the first two months of the season, forcing him to get into game-shape on the job. Frankly, he looked over-matched those first few weeks, facing pitchers who were already deep into their second month of the regular season.

Slowly, he flashed signs of his devastating short, compact swing and yesterday, facing a left-hander, he delivered the game-winning hit, a two run homer, allowing Roy Halladay to win his Toronto homecoming. It was a sort of home-coming for Utley as well.

With Utley hitting again, the Phils lineup is far more potent with Shane Victorino, Utley and Ryan Howard surrounded by an always erratic Jimmy Rollins and steady, dependable Placido Polanco. There aren't any easy outs in that bunch though Rollins and Howard are too prone to get themselves out.

Halladay has had an unusual season. He pitched his sixth complete game of the year yesterday and improved his record to a league high 11-3 with an era of 2.44. Yet he has looked vulnerable at times, leaving more balls over the plate than he did last year, having to work more from the stretch, wiggling in-and-out of jams. But the bulldog in him, and make no mistake this is one fierce competitor, nearly always finds a way to reach back and make the pitch he needs.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lehigh Legion

It's hard to say what may be churning inside them, but the rookie troika of Vance Worley, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo all looked cool as cucumbers on the outside as they led the Phils to a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox last night. All three players began the season at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Raul Ibanez, batting 1 for his last 22 prior to the night, paced the offense, driving in both runs while falling a triple shy of the cycle. And in the don't-look-now-but category, Chase Utley had two hits to raise his average to .281. Utley also had a stolen base. Watching him run the bases, one would be hard pressed to believe in the Spring he was suffering from a serious injury that might have ended his entire season.

The Lehigh Valley legion was impressive, none more so than Worley. The only Red Sox run came on a double by pitcher John Lackey. After the game many Boston players expressed admiration for Worley's mound presence and assortment of pitches. No one, however, was more impressed than his own manager and teammates. On a squad that doesn't lack starting pitching, the kid held his own.

Stutes pitched a perfect eighth inning and Bastardo, pressed into service as the team's fourth closer of the season after Ryan Madson went on the DL, pitched a perfect ninth. Both have been nothing short of stupendous this season and despite their youth and lack of big league experience, they come into games at critical moments and dominate.

What, us worry?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Efficiency Expert

Cliff Lee is one efficient pitcher. Run to the mound. Run from the mound. Get the ball. Throw the ball. Stick with two pitches (fastball and cutter) in the main. Throw in a very occasional curve. Oh, and win.

Lee threw his third straight shutout last night, the first Phillie to do so since a fellow last name of Roberts accomplished the same more than half a century ago. In the process, he won his ninth game of the season, the third ace on the staff to reach that level, and he extended his scoreless innings total to 32. Too bad he allowed a single run in the previous outing.

On a night when yet another injury left the Phils facing the prospect of using their fourth different closer of the season, Lee forestalled the possibility by going the distance again.

Lee doesn't say a lot, at least not to the press or public. He isn't surly or shy or averse to talking. He's just being efficient.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rube's In A Cube

The Inquirer's Ray Parillo summarized this season best in his piece this morning:

Maybe this is what the Phillies are: a team that sends its fans filing out of Citizens Bank Park moaning about the futility of its offense, griping about the couple of hours of boredom they endured, stewing in the same frustration that grips manager Charlie Manuel when his impatient lineup helps make another opposing pitcher look like Walter Johnson.

Maybe it's time for those fans to come to terms with the reality that the Phillies are going to be all about pitching and defense.

Or they can do this: They can check the standings each day, find the team is in first place, and tell themselves all is right in their imperfect world.

Rube's going to have to make some moves because he knows better than anyone else with the exception of his manager this team was built to win this year. He has to acquire another bat at the very least and could use some bullpen help given how much he is relying on two young guys and an injured Ryan Madson. We won't even talk about Madson's impending free agency or that his agent isn't exactly Philly-friendly. Those are post-season problems and the the Phils have plenty of problems to solve this season.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Comings And Goings

Roy Oswalt always looks like he'd rather be somewhere else, perhaps sitting on a tractor in Mississippi. He sure doesn't look happy to be here. Last night Oswalt gave up a home run, a few seeing-eye hits and lo and behold he was down 4-0 after two innings. He really looked like he wanted to be riding that tractor. He's a man of few words, none of which seem to express much pleasure in playing baseball any longer.

Truth is, Oswalt has never sounded particularly happy to be in Philadelphia either. Last night, after two innings of mediocre work, he left the game claiming his lower back tightened. Oswalt has had back problems in the past. He's even spent time this season on the DL recovering from miseries. Combined with a loss of velocity if not words, Oswalt just looks like a guy who wants out. One of the heralded four aces before the season began, Oswalt hasn't received much support in some of his outings but, he hasn't exactly pitched well in others.

It isn't much of a stretch to speculate that Oswalt would like nothing less than to just go home. When a tornado ripped through his home town in early Spring he did just that...for a week...with the Phillies' blessings. I have no idea how popular or not Oswalt is with his teammates, but he sure doesn't go out of his way to make himself well-liked to the rest of the folks around these parts.

His latest injury combined with Joe Blanton's problems presents the Phils with some issues to resolve. Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley are the available choices to fill their spots; indeed, Worley is already poised to permanently fill Blanton's fifth spot provided he can do the job consistently. With Oswalt's injury the Fab Four are down to three. Moreover, the injuries to him and Blanton preclude the possibilities of trading them at the deadline for a needed right-hand bat.

The Phils have an option for Oswalt next year; he has a no-trade clause and a huge salary. My crystal ball sees him riding a tractor sooner than later.

* * * * * * * *

The Sixers drafted a big center out of USC with the the sixteenth pick in last night's draft. With all the guys playing basketball around the globe, to be the sixteenth pick says a lot; so, too, however, does the fact that fifteen teams passed on Nicola Vucevic before the Sixers grabbed him. No one knows how a draft pick will turn out. Evan Turner wasn't very impressive last season and he was one of the first guys chosen. Meanwhile, some late picks blossom into real stars.

* * * * * * * *

The Flyers stunned everyone in hockey, especially Mike Richards, when they traded the their captain and his buddy Jeff Carter to two different teams yesterday. I was not surprised Richards was sent packing. He was a good two-way player who would disappear at times offensively. Last season he had a terrible offensive game for much of the end of the season and the playoffs when measured by goals and assists and it was only afterward we learned he had an injury.

But that's not really the reason they moved him now. The coach, the owner and the media didn't like the often sullen and defensive captain. There's a good chance those feelings extended to the locker room, too. If a player's production is deemed inadequate, a sour personality won't save him, either. Richards wore a pained expression just about any time he had to answer a question from someone outside the locker room. It always seemed to be such a chore for him to speak.

I don't suppose he has a tractor waiting for him somewhere just yet, but perhaps Roy Oswalt can suggest a model when Richards is ready.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Phils Take First Two From Cards In Presence of Genius

Apparently the Phils have found a way to win in the presence of self-anointed genius, a.k.a., Tony LaRussa.

For the second night in the row the Phils beat the Pujolsless Cardinals and in the process increased their major league best winning percentage. Cliff Lee continued to do it all, pitching, fielding, hitting the ball hard if not safely. Lee is a real pleasure to watch. Get the ball; throw the ball; field the ball. The Phils' TV commentators love to talk about athleticism. In Lee's case, they cannot say enough.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins hit his fourth round-tripper in June and Ryan Howard belted a two-run shot, his ninth at the new Busch stadium, a major league best. The cameras immediately cut to his jubilant family in the stands. The Big Piece likes to hit in his home town.

Tuesday night's bizarre win featured another fine performance from Roy Halladay, who got no decision despite holding the Cards to a lone run. The 43 minute eighth inning, in which the Phils scored nine runs without benefit of an extra base hit (fourteen batters only managed four hits that inning) was vintage LaRussa. Hit batsmen (probably on orders from the bench in the case of Howard), five pitching changes. Management only a mother could love.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wanted: A Right-Handed Bat

This latest loss sticks in the craw.

The temporary offensive surge of the last home stand came in part at the expense of the currently worst team in baseball, the Florida Marlins.

The two losses in Seattle underscored the ineptitude of the Phils offense, particularly from the right side of the plate. Sending Ben Francisco out there in any capacity, DH or position player, is an experiment long-since deemed a total failure.

Are the Phillies so old these days that several starters have been getting a day off? Do we really need Minnie Mart in left field instead of John Mayberry?

The real sign of Cole Hamels' maturation, everyone agrees, has been his ability to take adversity in stride. Based on the lousy support he's received on too many occasions this season, this is ONE MATURE GUY!

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of the Marlins, they are rumored to planning to name Jack McKeon the new manager. McKeon has been there before and won it all, but at 80 years of age you have to wonder what all parties are thinking. Stay tuned. If McKeon does take the job, will the Orioles bring back Earl Weaver?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Report From The Dark Side Of The Moon

Two games, two different results.

Most observers including this one thought game one on Friday night was going to be tough to win.  The Phils were:

1. Flying across the country after a day game, arriving at their Seattle hotel in the wee hours of Friday morning.
2. They were facing a young pitcher they'd never seen before.
3. They were sending Roy Oswalt to the mound, he of the diminishing stuff.
4. Raul Ibanez was playing left field.

Sure enough, the Phils didn't manage a hit until the sixth inning. Meanwhile, Ichiro, the greatest player on the planet few if any of us know, reached base three times and scored three times.

The Phils had some chances, but as is their wont, squandered them. Results: an expected loss.

Game two was Saturday night. The Phils would be well-rested if by well-rested one means they went to bed and woke up in the same time zone.

Vance Worley, back from another stint at AAA, was the starter for the Phils. Opposing him was the Al reigning Cy Young winner, Felix, the King, Hernandez. The Phils scored early against Hernandez but squandered a chance to score more. One had the sinking feeling they'd failed to really get to Hernandez early and would regret it later.

The feeling grew when Vance Worley struggled in the first. He wasn't fooling anyone as the Mariners hit the ball hard against him, but he wiggled out of the inning. Fortunately, unlike the night before, he kept Ichiro off the bases in that first inning or things would have turned ugly early.

While Worley struggled the rest of his stint, yielding a home run to highly touted Mariners' rookie Dustin Ackley and being bailed out with a play at the plate that nailed Mike Carp, Hernandez kept the Phils at bay until they scored two in the seventh inning on Shane Victorino's chalk-hugging ground rule double.

Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo followed and held the Mariners in check and Ryan Madson closed the game striking out, fittingly, Ichiro Suzuki, who rarely strikes out.

It was a good win for the Phils who can clinch the series behind Cole Hamels this afternoon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wake Up!

The Phils are on a roll so, naturally, they boarded a plane last night and flew to the most distant part of the contiguous 48 states last night.  Egad, they are on the dark side of the moon.  The 10:10PM start times are well past my bedtime.  What's a fan to do???

Worse, this is one of our few opportunities to watch one of the best players of this generation, Ichiro Suzuki.  Even though Ichiro is reportedly in somewhat of a decline, hitting a very mortal .269 (he's a lifetime .329 batter), he is still worth watching.

I am going to have to stay awake.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Butcher Of Left Field

Just when Raul Ibanez thought it was safe to give out his private email address, along came last night.

He was absolutely brutal in the field, costing Roy Halladay a possible victory single-handedly by failing to catch an admittedly tough ball near the foul line, one which a good fielder would have had, and then completely butchering a ball hit back toward the wall a batter later.  Ibanez is an utter liability in the field, more than neutralizing his feeble offense.

Speaking of that feeble offense, his stepping out and adjusting his batting gloves while spitting is getting so old to the point of being positively nauseating.  I've never seen an allegedly solid veteran batter fooled by more pitches than Ibanez, who can no longer get around on a fastball, bails out on breaking stuff, and is always vulnerable to high hard stuff.

Frankly, I'd bench him permanently and give John Mayberry one last full time chance.  At the very least the Phils would have a good glove out there.

 OK, watch now, Ibanez gets fifteen hits today and makes a top ten play in the field.  NOT.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tops In MLB

How do they do it?

The Phils beat the Cubs again yesterday and saw their record improve to a major league best 40 wins.  One is tempted to repeat the maxim "good pitching beats good hitting."  In the Phils' case this truism would largely apply were it not for the utter lack of consistent, good hitting they have suffered much of this campaign.  But the numbers don't lie.  Forty wins by the second week in June and only a week since most of the anticipated starting lineup was intact.

They still have to sort out the back end of their starting rotation.  Meanwhile, the middle portion of the bullpen, the seventh and eighth inning guys, seems to be sorting itself out...for now at least...with the emergence of Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo.  As for the back end, that job now seems securely held by Ryan Madson.

On the offensive front, the continued development of Domonic Brown is critical.  Lately, he is producing prodigious uppercut swings aimed, it always seems, at producing home runs.  Once he calms down and levels off his swing the line drives will come and he will be more productive.  Veterans Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez have to survive the coming long, hot days of summer.  Chase Utley has to regain his stroke and adapt to the periodic days off he never liked but appears willing to accept.  Ryan Howard has to go to left field more.  His plate discipline is forever wandering but the rbi's seem to come anyway.  Shane Victorino has to stay healthy as does Placido Polanco. 

As for Chooch, well, if he hits his weight he's still the key to the Phils' success.  He just knows how to handle pitchers and manage a game. And in this latest pitchers' era, having an outstanding field general behind the plate is of incalculable value.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reverse Curse Redux

About a week ago I wrote but never posted a short take on Chase Utley's batting woes. At the time I believed my "insights" were reached prematurely given the small data sample. Utley had just returned to major league baseball after his usual rigorous rehab efforts and though his struggles at the plate were significant, I realized he needed more time.

After Friday night's game I decided it was time to share my brilliance with other fans and reworked that original post.

Then, of course, Utley had a breakout game on Saturday, driving in four runs and leading the team to victory.

Man, do I have my finger on the pulse or what?

The reverse curse is my friend.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Polly & Chase

Placido Polanco has to be the most quiet MVP ever seen in these parts. I cannot recall the last time a sound bite featured the Phils' superb third baseman. Has Polly ever been seen pitching a local product? How many "authentic" jerseys bearing his number can be seen in the stands? Do youngsters imitate the calisthenics he performs before standing in the batter's box?

The answers to all these questions are, of course, a steady beat of NO's, which in a way is emblematic of Polanco. He is steady, at times spectacular with the glove, but never flashy. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find another Phillie who draws more admiring comments from broadcasters and fans. You need a runner moved along? Polly's your man. You need sure defense? Take a bow, Mr. Polanco. Do you mind if we bat you fifth instead of second or third? No problem.

Just your garden-variety pro.

* * * * * * * *

Another fellow about whom many of the above things can be said is Chase Utley. His play last night in which he clearly blocked second base with his need to prevent a steal at a crucial time in the game drew deserved praise from TV commentators. It was just the sort of heads-up play that has become routine with Utley.

Despite his always alert game-awareness, however, Utley is not the player he was a year or two ago and nowhere is this more evident than his batting. He isn't putting good swings on the ball any longer; indeed, he seems to be slapping at anything middle out and getting badly fooled on balls breaking down and in. He looks unsettled and uncomfortable at the plate. Some of this may be the time he lost preparing for the season; for Utley it is still late Spring. Some of it may be the result of his injuries, which might have altered the way he pivots and pushes off on his troubled knee.

Whatever the explanation, his legendary short stroke is turning into a halting slap stroke in which he appears badly fooled but manages to get enough wood on the ball to punch it to the opposite side. At a time when the Phillies are desperate for offense, Utley's decline is troubling.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gimme Re-Runs

Seven hits in eleven innings rarely win ball games. Last night was no exception.

Ryan Madson blew the save as the Phils squandered a three-run lead in falling to the Cubs 4-3. The Phils closed out their scoring in the third inning but were required by law to remain at the stadium until the final out was recorded one rain delay and eight innings later.

The night before Madson looked a little shaky in closing out the Dodgers. He didn't seem to have much command against LA but escaped with the save. Last night he looked worse. Only a disputed home run granted the Phils a reprieve until Chase Utley meekly flied out in the bottom of the eleventh to end the evening.

The lament over their feeble offensive grows louder and more anguished with each passing game. A few voices decry the [typical] overreaction of Phillies' fans, pointing out the stellar pitching they normally receive. In truth, only the mediocrity of the rest of the division if not the entire league has kept the Phils on top.

No one is hitting, not even Placido Polanco. The rest of the lineup features a cast of undisciplined veterans woefully short of power let alone patience. The lineup isn't the only thing in the doldrums; fans are falling asleep at an alarming rate as well because this club is so damn boring to watch. I find myself channel surfing in mid-inning at an increasing pace. Surely, I tell myself, there is something more interesting to watch than this stuff! Even another Law & Order rerun whose outcome is already known has more drama.