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.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

See Yesterday's Post

It's June, already, not late April. The Phillies haven't hit consistently all season. It's no longer a question of when. Too many aging veterans are, well, showing their age.

Speaking of aging veterans, forget that apology, Raul. You are so brutal in the field that whatever modest improvements you've shown at the plate (and let's face it, Raul, they are modest) are negated by your butchery in left. That misplay last night on the ball hit by Lyle Overbay was the game-breaker.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Thank goodness the Phils are into the soft part of their schedule.

The Inky reports Charlie Manuel is completely mystified by the failure to launch by his starting lineup, intact for the first time this season. Well, frankly, he shouldn't be; nearly everyone told him this team would struggle offensively. For this lineup to produce a lot of guys were going to have to rebound from poor seasons a year ago.

None of them has.

So we continue to get outcomes like the recent losses by Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, both of whom pitched more than well enough to win their last starts.

As for Danys Baez, the loser last night, he had one good outing in a 19-inning game in which the opposition was probably too tired to swing at anything thrown their way including his hittable stuff. Surely there is someone down on the farm who can match this has-been!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

In No Particular Order

If anyone has Raul Ibanez' email address, please send it to me. Somehow, a public apology on this site seems insufficient. The guy just continues to fool me. A month ago I was demanding his figurative head. His bat was slow. His feet were slow. His glove was slow. Now, he's among the most dependable batters on the club. So, Raul, here's my public apology; a private one awaits you.

* * * * * * * *

Cliff Lee hasn't looked real sharp on several occasions this season. Last night in Washington he wasn't missing by much, not only the corners but the Nationals' bats. Lee is walking batters at a pace well in excess of last year and is surrendering a lot of long balls, too. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay looks mortal nearly every time out these days but even a feet-of-clay Halladay is always tough.

* * * * * * * *

Kyle Kendrick gets an emergency start for the Phils and inquiring fans want to know, what about Wilson Valdez?

* * * * * * * *

Jimmy Rollins has looked terrible in the Washington series, at bat and in the field. Rollins has had a lot of lazy AB's in the series. He looks very uncomfortable. More troubling has been his defense. He seems to have lost a step or two and hasn't looked focused.

* * * * * * * *

Domonic Brown has certainly taken advantage of the playing time Shane Victorino's injury and Ben Francisco's disappearance have provided. He isn't coming out of the lineup when Shane returns. Who knew Francisco had an option remaining? Still, he isn't the likely player to get sent down. With Ibanez resurrected for the umpteenth time, the starting outfield when Victorino returns will have the Flyin' Hawaiian in center flanked by Ibanez and Brown. Mayberry, who has been described (accurately) as looking very tentative lately may be the odd man out if Charlie wants to keep the lefty bat of Ross Gload on the roster.

* * * * * * * *

Let's pause a moment for my first of what promise to be many bleats against the All Star voting. Chase Utley is in third place? Ridiculous.

* * * * * * * *

It's too bad about Buster Posey's season-ending injury but any talk about changing the rules regarding runners, catchers and home plate will go nowhere, and rightfully so. It wasn't as if Scott Cousins was trying to injure him a la Pete Rose and Ray Fosse.

* * * * * * * *

Placido Polanco's batting average has dropped, but, then, how could it not have given the lofty heights to which it had ascended by the end of April? Still, if there is one guy I'd hate to see out of the lineup for more than a game it is the veteran third baseman who is simply one professional player.

* * * * * * * *

It seems as though talk of Ivan Rodriguez' decline has been in the air for several seasons now. It is painful to watch him swinging late, hitting everything to the opposite side. Still, it is remarkable to hear he has over 2800 hits to go along with his first team defensive talents. Will he be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Who knows? He should be. Toughest position in the game and one of the toughest in all of professional sports and he has excelled at every facet.