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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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