Tuesday, July 31, 2012

By Comparison

Great rotations rarely stay together for a long time.  Before you can say Smoltz, Maddox  and Glavine, the greatest long-term trio of all time, let me share the only two I have actually watched on a regular basis:

Roy Halladay has won 192 games in fifteen years
Cole Hamels has won 85 games in 7 years
Cliff Lee has won 120 games in 11 years.
By comparison....
Dave McNally won 184 games in 14 years (13 with Orioles)
Mike Cuellar won 185 games in 15 years (8 years with O's all in the second half of his career except the final year)
Jim Palmer won 268 games in 19 years (entire career with O's)
Pat Dobson won 122 games (and lost 129) (2 years with O's) in eleven years but was part of the foursome for the O's in 1971 that won 20 games or more each. 
The O's had a great rotation that was together for eight years.  The Phils trio hasn't been together very long and doesn't appear likely to stay together much longer (they couldn be broken up by 4PM today!).

It's pretty hard to do in the Free Agency era, which is why the O's trio stayed together as long as it did.  Indeed, in the end the Braves' trio broke up largely because of free agency.

* * * * * * * *

You know the old joke, "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League."  Well, the NL version of the Nats have been in first place a long time this season and don't look like they will fade any time soon.  So, do the good folks of the nation's capital care?  Washington currently ranks 14th in MLB attendance.  

So much for a fan base starved for success.  The numbers do not lie:  Washington isn't a great baseball town even in good times.  Too many residents would rather be sitting on the beach in Bethany or Rehoboth, DE, reading their Kindles or acquiring a tan, to spend time in a muggy stadium along the Anaconda River.

Maybe the Nats' alleged brain trust, which went very public in its efforts to discourage hordes of Phillies' fans from filling their park for head-to-head games, ought to reconsider that strategy. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Doing Their Homework

Jiminy Cricket, is anybody going to be left to play for this team next year?

Rumors have Lee, Victorino, Pence, Blanton, Pierre and Wigginton being traded at the July 31st deadline.  Other rumors even have Doc hitting the road late this Summer.  Polanco almost certainly won't be back next year.

Of course, these are just rumors.  After their wonderful weekend in Atlanta the Phils probably won't trade more than four or five of these guys.  Frankly, if they can get rid of Lee they should commit some of his money to Victorino, but that probably won't happen.  Shane has begun to hit, a sign perhaps his wrist is feeling better.  Yesterday, he stroked a home run from the left side from which hitherto he's been pretty awful.  If he goes, next year's starting outfield could be Brown, Mayberry and Pence (if the latter doesn't go).  If nothing else that's a threesome which will provide plenty of adventures.

* * * * * * * *

Cole Hamels affirmed his love for Philadelphia, the city that loves you back.  (Is that the worst ad tag line in the history of tourism or what?).  Everyone was thrilled, especially Cole but probably not necessarily Dave Montgomery and his silent partners.  The contract was the second largest ever given to a pitcher and longer than any contract extension the Phils have ever granted anyone.  Hamels celebrated by getting blown out in Atlanta, yielding a career high six walks in the process.  But, hey, he's probably going to win more than his loses for the life of the contract and, after all, it's just money.  I wonder if as the Phils' alleged brain trust considered the cash flow they factored on the likelihood attendance will drop during the years in which they rebuild?  I'm sure people as smart as they are have done their homework.  Look at the contracts they gave Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee, for example.  Howard is paying serious dividends.  Why only this past weekend he struck out in 8 of 11 plate appearances in Atlanta.  Lee, meanwhile, has one win as of the end of July and is currently being shopped.  I guess that means the boys in the front office have done their homework, provided of course they do unload him.  If they have to eat part of his huge contract it would diminish the credit they deserve.  Then, there is the matter of having acquired and traded him a total of four times in three years.  If that doesn't speak of doing their homework I don't know what does!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Time Off

To my fifteen or so faithful readers:

I will be posting erratically from this point on due to a sudden overwhelming feeling of disgust at $130 million contracts.  It isn't just baseball that is out of whack.  The Flyers signed an offer sheet for something on the order of $100 for a defenseman this week.

There's not much point in railing against these obscene contracts.  They are more and more common in all sports these days.  Folks of lesser means such as most of us wonder how these owners can do it.  I mean, is it even fiscally possible one wonders??  As long as the turnstiles turn and the remotes tune in and the networks pay up and the municipalities cave in to extortion and the merchandising makes average citizens crave someone else's name on their backs I have to assume the answer is yes.

Have you noticed (how could you not!?) how even a double during the middle of a routine game invokes a commercial from an insurance company?  Every pitch comes with...well...a pitch.  A cold hard fact.  Safe and secure.  Keys to the game. 

None of this is new, of course; only the names and scale have changed.

It's just so boring and out of proportion.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


On second thought, don't break 'em up; they're already broken.

Yesterday's heartbreaking loss was unbearable to watch and even more unbearable to read about again.  If someone says it better than you can, let them have the floor:

(The floor is yours, Mr. Brookover)

The sweet combination of a three-game sweep, a ton of momentum, and a celebratory cross-country flight to Philadelphia were all right in front of the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
That was before a bloop hit, two infield singles, and a blown save triggered a marathon day that ended with one of the Phillies' most sour defeats of the season.

Where to begin?

Cliff Lee was magnificent.  He stepped up big time.  The offense was anemic again.  Nothing new there.  Hunter Pence, the oft-maligned rightfielder (see every third post at other blogs) delivered another two-run hit to give the Phils the lead in the 10th.  (His was the game-winning two-run hit the night before.)

And then came the bullpen.  Jonathan Papelbon blew another save with the Phils up 3-1.  Jake Diekman, who more and more resembles the AAA or lower pitcher he is, surrendered a walk-off two-run homer to Matt Kemp.

The Phils walked off the field losers and the momentum of their four-game winning streak swirled down the bowl.  The season isn't officially over, but yesterday's soul-crushing defeat will stand out as the moment the final chapter was written.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Break Up The Phillies!!

Sporting a lineup they could only dream about a month ago, the Phillies rallied in Los Angeles to beat the Dodgers 3-2 for their fourth straight victory.

Those of you with fairly long memories may recall the Phillies began their march to the World Series in 2008 with a three-game sweep of the Dodgers in LA.  One can dream.  Honestly, though, it's just a dream.

It isn't as if the Phils are exactly rolling.  Chase Utley isn't hitting.  Ryan Howard has yet to find his swing.  Roy Halladay is just off the DL.  Cliff Lee remains the biggest enigma.  The offense isn't exactly killing the ball, but it is getting just enough and, in this series, getting a team that has its own offensive deficiencies.  Ah, but that's where the other part of the dream comes in.  Excellent starting pitching, good late relief, and stop- 'em-in-their-tracks closing sealed the second straight 3-2 victory.  That's more or less they way the alleged brain trust drew things up last Spring.

This modest little streak is going to make Ruben Amaro's job that much tougher in the next few days.  Unfortunately, because he bungled things early on, his job will be tougher but ultimately unsuccessful.  Hamels is gone and with his departure the pitching prospects look glum.  They will have few reliable starters and still no middle relief.

But for the moment at least, we can dream.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not Helping Matters

Cole Hamels didn't do anything yesterday to relieve anxious minds around these parts.  Pitching in a notorious launching pad in broad daylight and struggling in the first few innings to find a rhythm, Hamels pitched his mates to their first series win since the last time the Phils played the hapless Rockies.

In winning his eleventh game in front of a host of big-time major league scouts, Hamels looked as calm and collected as his fans stirred nervously in their seats and couches.  There are dozens of reports out there having Hamels going to both coasts and every stop in  between.  Texas is a leading contender but the Dodgers and Red Sox are seen as possible suitors, too.

One argument that doesn't hold water is being made by potential new teams that will not trade highly regarded prospects for a rental.  Horse feathers!  If that rental produces a World Series title, the GM's in question would trade their own children.

No one, probably not even Cole himself, knows how this is finally going to play out.  Were the Phils to offer him a huge salary he might just say that's good enough, I'm staying.  Or not.

Meanwhile the Phils are getting back Roy Halladay this Tuesday.  When Doc takes the mound, he is likely to have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard behind him.  The Phillies would then look more or less like everyone dreamed of months ago.  The reality of their collective presence might be something else, however.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Found: One Nadir

Who would have thought the bottom was a mile high?

The Phils dropped the second half opener to woeful Colorado last night, 6-2.  Cliff Lee, counted on heavily to rebound from a disappointing (to say the least!) first half, gave up two earned runs and was again the victim of poor support in the field and at the plate.  He was also the victim of his own lack of command, leaving too many pitches over the plate while giving up nine hits in his six innings of work.

The Phils were facing a rookie hurler Christian Friedrich, who hadn't won a game in more than a month and whose ERA was over 6 runs per game so it figures he would shut them down.

They also lost because another rookie called up that day from the minors had two hits and knocked in two runs.  Apparently he arrived with so little notice he had to borrow equipment from his new mates.  He was rewarded with the Phillies' usual generosity to unknowns.

It might be presumptuous in this season of discontent to label one game the nadir, but I am going out on a limb and pronouncing last night's game my candidate.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Looking Ahead

The second half of the season gets underway this evening and I'm as unhappy with the first half as the rest of you.

That said, it's been a great ride these last five years.  Those of us who've been around a while can remember much bumpier rides throughout most of the '80's, '90's and early part of this century.  Youngsters are stuck with the mistaken belief winning is the norm.  Well, here's some news for them:  not in a franchise that only a few years ago set the all-time mark for most losses, surpassing 10,000.

The biggest question around these parts is what to do next.  Fire sale?  Piecemeal dismantling?  Stay the course?

One key to a possible answer lies in an ESPN story this AM in which they list the top 50 MLB prospects.  Nary a Phillie among them.  Another key is a quick glance at the NL East standings.  Washington built their team with top draft picks, shrewd trades and a homegrown development of a few key players.

There's no shame is starting over.  Yes, "starting over"!  The core of the Philllies' championship teams is either largely a shadow of its former self or about to depart via free agency.  Stockpile those compensation picks (which will be fewer under the CBA), acquire top prospects, draft wisely and rebuild.

The Phils did it before.  Howard, Utley, Hamels and Chooch were home grown.  It's time to begin the process again.  There's no shame or recrimination in that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This Bud's For The Birds

When his tenure finally draws to an end, Bud Selig will have overseen many changes in MLB, most of them for the worse. 

Heading the list will be interleague play, that now annual phenomenon whereby teams from the AL and NL mix it up.  It was novel but unnecessary at the beginning.  Today, it is merely unnecessary.  Among its greatest victims is the All Star game, the only game of its kind in major league sports that once excited the fans and players alike.

Number two on the list is the awarding of home field advantage in the WS to the winning league of the AS game.  Bud and his minions decided that the only way to make the players go all out was to have something more than bragging rights be the prize.  All but approximately three of the participants in any AS game give a damn about the home field advantage since the remaining players never benefit.  The AS game is more about incentive clauses in contracts, endorsements and video recorders.  I'm sure a few of the players, like a Carlos Ruiz, are thrilled to be chosen, but for many of the players it's probably a toss up as to whether o not they'd prefer the days off.

When I was a kid, the AS game was a real heated affair, with league partisans on each side glued to their tv sets and radios awaiting the outcome.  Living in Baltimore, I never saw NL players live, but friends and relatives living in NL cities would forever remind me of their superiority.  during most of my youth the NL dominated play even though the WS outcomes were more equally divided.

No one feels that way today.  It's all too homogenized.  Being awarded home field advantage is a big deal, but it worked better in the old days when the leagues rotated the privilege.  Today, like the DH, imbalance between the leagues is preferred and television revenues rule all.  Well, Neilsen, here's one set that won't be tuned in!

Monday, July 09, 2012


I'll keep this simple:

Last year the Phillies lost 60 games.  This year they have lost 50 games by the All Star Break.

The end.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

So What!

Halladay.  Lee.  Hamels.  Papelbon.  Howard.  Utley.  Rollins.

So many household names.

So what!

As the 2012 version of the Phillies plummets deeper into the NL East cellar it is worth noting many of those household names are like the 20 year old refrigerator or rubber sweep beneath the back door.  They wear out and need replacement.

And even those parts that are relatively new cannot make up for the defensive lapses occurring with greater frequency or the inexperienced middle relievers who, frankly, have no business being in the big leagues.

Perhaps the signature moment of this fall from grace occurred last night when Hunter Pence literally ran over third base coach Juan Samuel en route to scoring in the bottom of the second.  There was Samuel, flat on his back, batting helmet flying off.  After the play the cameras couldn't take their eyes off the Phillies' dugout where Pence, Kyle Kendrick and Cole Hamels laughed uncontrollably at what had just transpired.  They weren't unfeeling or cruel; heck, the Phils had just taken a 3-1 lead and everything looked pretty rosy for the moment.  When your team is up the laughter comes easily and Samuel was due for some serious ribbing when he returned to the dugout at the end of the inning, which, by the way, ended prematurely when Jimmy Rollins was caught stealing for the third out.  He was safe, but in this season of discontent his protest was short and as futile as the rest of the Phillies' efforts for the evening.

As the trade deadline approaches it grows increasingly obvious the Phils will be big sellers IF, and this is a big if, other clubs are willing to offer good to top prospects.  Everyone in baseball knows a Phillies firesale is likely and they can drive a hard bargain when dealing with desperate sellers.

So many household names.

So what!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

What Are They Thinking?

The Big Piece is back, but only part of him.

Yes, Ryan Howard made his 2012 debut last night, going two for four and running the bases like a guy who ruptured his Achilles heel ten months ago.  For weeks various pundits and blog commentators have argued Howard's presence in the middle of the Phils' lineup would make the hitters around him more dangerous and opposing pitchers more fearful.

So, naturally, he returns and watches his team play exactly as they have throughout his absence:  meager offense following by pitiful relief pitching.  The Phils dropped a 5-0 game to Atlanta to fall elven games under .500.

When Antonio Bastardo walked in the games first run in the 8th inning and Brian McCann, President and Chief Poo-bah of the Phillies-Killer Society, walked up to the plate, I said to myself:  this is going to be a grand salami.  Bingo!  Game over; night over; any drama associated with Howard's comeback over.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley is now hitting .269.  He might see a few better pitches per game with Howard behind him, but since both of these guys will be getting spot starts much if not all of the remainder of the season, I don't see much improvement in Utley's performance.  Indeed, he is hitting at the pace he's established the last few declining years.

While I watched Howard still hobbling around the base paths I wondered why exactly did the Phils alleged brain trust bring him back now and why have him debut on a night on which the temperature on the field was probably 95 or more?  Are these wunderkind seriously thinking this miserable season can still be saved?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Burning Question Answered

Now we know the answer to the burning question, "What does fifty million dollars buy you?"!!

The Phillies' obituary writers should load their files and hit "Print".

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

I Know The Bottom Is Around Here Somewhere

How much further can they fall, you ask?  How many games are left?

In a season of ugly losses it's chutzpah to point to one and say it's the one, but last night's thrashing in Queens ranks up there.  Right out of the gate the Phils were down a run as Vance Worley struggled in the heat.  The first batter he faced forced Worley to throw something on the order of 8-9 pitches (I lost count).  Worley just couldn't figure out what to throw and Chooch seemed stumped, too, setting up inside over and over again as if to say, "OK, you're never gonna' expect us to throw inside again!!"

By evening's end Worley's ego and ERA were badly bruised, the bullpen poured on its usual quota of gasoline and the score read Mets 11, Phils 1.

Oh, well, they get to redeem themselves by playing a day game in what should be something on the order of 95 degree temperatures and high humidity.

How much further can they fall?  Stay tuned.

* * * * * * * *

BTW, for all those fans who thought the Phils missed the boat when they didn't sign Roy Oswalt, read this summary of his outing last night (from ESPN):

Oswalt (2-1) was pounded for 13 hits and charged with 11 runs -- nine earned -- in 4 2-3 innings, throwing 112 pitches in his third start since joining the Rangers' organization in May.

Jeez, in retrospect he would have fit right in!!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What Have They Got To Lose?

Anyone who knows anything about baseball can look at the Phillies' farm system and come to a simple conclusion:  help is not on the way.  The canon fodder the Phils just received in the Jim Thome trade won't change that assessment. 

What needs to change is a scouting and development mentality that seeks "toolsy", "athletic" prospects.  The Phils' have salivated over those types of players lately and none has developed into a big leaguer.  Domonic Brown may yet ascend to an every day role with the Phils, but watching his routes to fly balls -- heck, watching his route to a position he can play comfortably at all -- should disqualify him from the "toolsy" part.

Rumors, always wild at this time of year, have the Phils trading or selling everyone but the clubhouse laundry service at his point.  Word from a few players willing to talk about it is that the clubhouse remains determined to regroup and fight on.  No one is issuing cyanide capsules at the moment, but the notion that there isn't doubt if not demoralization in the clubhouse seems ludicrous.  The Phils began the year unable to hit.  Soon, they were unable to pitch.  All along they couldn't find relief.  When they started to hit (a relative improvement at best), the pitching couldn't hold a lead for an inning.  They went through a stretch where they couldn't field either and that seemed to be the final straw until they started blowing leads left and right.

The most mysterious player this season has been Cliff Lee.  He started off like the Lee of old, was injured and disabled, came back and visibly displayed displeasure with the defense behind him, and then started a succession of games in which he imploded at some point.  He doesn't have a single win this season, which means he's making something like $20-25 million dollars a year with nothing to show for it.

Hunter Pence, an earnest lad if ever there were one, has become the butcher of right field.  When a rightfielder makes you long for Bobby Abreu you know you are in serious trouble.  Pence doesn't seem to be able to come in, go back, go right or go left.

Shane Victorino picked a lousy year to go into a prolonged funk.  He cannot hit from the left side worth a plug nickle and his overall average has dropped precipitously.  Everyone seems to think he will be gone by next year.   They're right.

Meanwhile, John Mayberry has had 30 AB's in the last ten games and five hits and a lone walk to show for it.  Maybe I'm just too optimistic about this guy.  Surely he's had some opportunities to shine, but only occasionally has done so.  Still, I think he's always playing with one eye looking over his shoulder at the starting lineup for the next game and wondering whether he'll be in it.  It cannot be reassuring to a player who is no longer a kid but is still relatively inexperienced.  (This is his fourth year in the big leagues and he has 532 AB's.) Give him a starting job, Charlie, and let's find out by the end of the year whether or we should give up on him.  I still think he'd reward the Phils with guaranteed regular playing time.

What have they got to lose?

Monday, July 02, 2012

All Star Travesties

It's time for my annual All Star rant, but first a mea culpa.

As many times as I've railed against voting early and often, I was guilty of voting for Carlos Ruiz six times this year.  I allowed my indignation, of which I have an ample reserve, to get the better of my ethics.  Ruiz clearly deserved a starting nod, but he wasn't well known enough around the country to garner the votes on merit alone.  Ballot stuffing was in order.  I was wrong.  He was chosen on merit, which leads me to number two on my list of complaints this year.

Tony LaRussa, who is OUT OF BASEBALL, is not only going to manage the NL team, he got to choose several of its members including all three Phillies.  Now, it is traditional for the skipper of each pennant winner from the previous season to pilot the team, but to allow a guy who retired to also choose several of its members is pure Bud Selig.

Number three:  Dan Uggla, starting second baseman.  Just look at the stats for this season, and while you're at it, don't even mention the word "defense"!!!

 Number four:  Pablo Sandoval over David Wright?  Right.

Matt Kemp comes in at number five.  A great player, who by the way hasn't played in weeks if not months due to injuries.

The worst part of all this fraud is the awarding of home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league.  The real reward is to the league with the best ballot stuffers.  On that basis alone, all seven games of the Series should be played in San Francisco.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

So Long, Jim. Any Chance You Can Take Ruben With You?

Gentleman Jim Thome has been granted a reprieve and his departure serves as a sharp reminder of GM Ruben Amaro's inadequacies and Manager Charlie Manuel's blind spot regarding veterans.

Thome was traded to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday, a team that only recently witnessed the occasional destructive power remaining in the big guy's bat.  Thome's departure was lamented by his former teammates, notably including Chase Utley, a man known in these parts for few words.  The consensus among all observers was that Thome deserved a trade to the American League, where he could DH every day, and to a contending team, which my beloved O's are perilously close to no longer being.

When Amaro signed Thome in the off-season he was no doubt motivated largely by the loss of Ryan Howard.  Thome would provide some fire power and, hopefully, a spot start now and then at first base.  That he hadn't played in the field for essentially five years was no deterrent.  That it should have been was obvious to everyone except the guy who signed him.  While Amaro was not doing his homework, his manager, who is like a father to Thome, was no doubt whispering in the GM's ear that Gentleman Jim still had something left.  Charlie loves his veterans, especially this one.  Indeed, a walk-off home run in June and a hot streak during the same period when DH'ing against several AL clubs, seemed to confirm Thome had much to offer.  But when the Phils reverted to their intraleague schedule, Thome was relegated to an occasional pinch-hitting role, at which he most assuredly did not excel this year.  If rust forms on most 41-year old players, it really begins to corrode the skills of one who sees a single AB a week.

So, Thome is off to Camden Yards, where he can play every day and get four AB's each time.  With the AL East in some disarray, especially with the Yankees having lost two starting pitchers to the DL, the O's are still in it.  Perhaps Thome can provide a shot in the arm to their anemic offense.  No one wishes him better than every resident and player in the Delaware Valley.

Amaro, on the other hand, doesn't get much credit for the original signing.  He clearly didn't do his homework, a practice that has become increasingly familiar.

The next item up on Amaro's scorecard will be Cole Hamels' impending free agency.  The time to have gotten a deal done was prior to this dreadful season, before, frankly, Hamels looked around himself and saw a veteran team's wheels coming off one by one.  Some observers think a chance remains to sign Hamels.  I don't believe it for one moment.  He will be the premier free agent pitcher on the market and will not only have plenty of suitors at exorbitant prices but will be able to pick and choose where he plays.  Since he will get the money he seeks, the choice will come down to a team where he wants to live and one with serious potential in the near future.  (There!  If that isn't a reverse curse in the making, I don't know one!!!)  Amaro badly mishandled this decision.