Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Doc Halladay got his wish, to make one more start in the 2012 season. essentially overruling common sense and the Phils' alleged brain trust.  His performance was much like most of them since a quick start out of the gate in April, that is, labored, rocky and uninspiring looking forward.  Halladay enters the off-season a huge question mark for 2013.  Nothing he's done or said since going on the DL earlier this season has dispelled that notion.

Ryan Howard's injury-plagued season is also over.  No, he didn't aggravate the Achilles heel injury that sidelined him until July.  This time he dropped a batting weight on his foot, breaking a toe.  If that circle from the back to the front of his size 15 foot (guessing here) isn't a leading candidate for poster injury for the 2012 Phils, I don't know what is.

About the only excitement remaining with four games to play out is whether or not Michael Martinez will end up hitting his weight.  As of this morning, his avoirdupois leads his average .176 to .173.  It doesn't appear there are enough AB's looming to get his average below .100.  Too bad.  It would make a nice storyline in a season with precious few of interest.

Kevin Frandsen may be the most consistent sub ever to be ruled out for more playing time six months in advance of the next season.  All the career minor leaguer has done is bat well over .300, field decently (at best) and play the last few weeks with a stress fracture in his leg.  For all that he gets a shot at a bench position next year.  True, he doesn't have the power numbers or flashy glove normally associated with the better third basemen, but with so many other holes to fill, are the Phillies really expecting a big name to land at the hot corner next season, especially with the abortive Chase Utley move off the table?  On the other hand, he has hit well above his career average.  He is, at best, an uninspiring option.

Phillipe Aumont has gotten a lot of work with the Phils since his September call-up and his performance has been consistent with his reputation in the minors:  hard stuff, lots of strikeouts, lots of walks.  It would seem to this non-expert that by this point in his career command is either there or not and never will change much.  Sure, a pitcher can develop a mew pitch over time, but command is harder to acquire.  Aumont isn't a Steve Dalkowski by any means, either in terms of speed or lack of command, but he is consistently erratic.  When he overthrows his breaking stuff, the guys in the dugout should be on alert!

Josh Lindblom, picked up from the Dodgers at the trade deadline, is another inconsistent pitcher about whom the Phils remain optimistic.  Like Aumont, he has good stuff, and like Aumont, he doesn't control it very well.

For all the arms that have paraded through the bullpen this year, very few answers have been provided.  At least one good, consistent one is a high priority along with an outfielder.  More on this after the patient is put out of his misery.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Prepare Yourselves

It was altogether fitting the Phillies' home season ended with Jimmy Rollins popping up for the final out.  For the first time in 12 years the Phils finished one game under .500 at the Bank.  For a team some observers in March thought was still able to contend, a losing record at home sums up its shortcomings.

Now they go on the road for the final six games of this miserable season.  Will they continue to run out a boatload of youngsters auditioning for spots on next year's roster?  Yes...and no.  Roy Halladay gets the start this weekend.  Some commentators have seriously postulated Halladay has "earned" the right to pitch this game given his stellar career, commitment and work ethic and, oh by the way, the "clean bill of health" he received from the non-medical staff of Rich Dubee and Charlie Manuel when throwing a bullpen session the other day.  File this decision under "Give Me A Break!!!"

On another mysterious front, Chase Utley continues to take balls at third base.  Clips showing him doing everything from charging balls to deliberately bobbling balls and picking them up to hurry a throw across the diamond.  Anyone who has watched Utley knows how determined he is about everything baseball.  The same people will have noted he double clutches on a lot of throws to first base.  I've never seen any other second baseman except Chuck Knobloch turn more plays into close ones on routine balls hit to second.  Utley may have the reflexes for third (though I secretly doubt it), but he doesn't have the arm.  If he gets a chance to play there before the season ends, the Marlins' and Nats' grounds crews won't have over-water the patch in front of home plate; they should be able to lay down bunts without any help.

All of the Utley-to-third nonsense is predicated on putting Freddy Galvis at second base next season.  Galvis will clearly improve the defense up the middle, but do the Phils need another automatic out in their lineup?

The starting rotation next year features at least two dependable pitchers in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee (provided the latter gets some run support), one huge question mark in Halladay, an erratic number four guy in Kyle Kendrick and a back of the rotation type in Vance Worley, who had a marvelous freshman year and a sophomore year marred by injury and...well...perhaps familiarity.  Jonathan Papelbon will be the overpaid closer.  As for the middle relief and setup man?  Take your pick from a half dozen faces, or go get someone proven.

The problem with that last suggestion is obvious:  the Phils have to go and get someone proven to play the outfield.  Rumors they are interested in B.J. Upton are disturbing to this fan.  Upton has had some behavioral issues and his bat has, too, in the last few years.  Signing Upton would be a mistake.

The Phils find themselves in the position of a football team trailing by two or more touchdowns with about 12 minutes remaining in the game.  The temptation is to keep throwing deep and make up ground as quickly as possible.  The better approach is take it one score at a time, mixing up the offense.

The Phils won't score all of their needs in one year, so prepare yourselves for a longer rebuilding period.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Kyle Kendrick v 2.0 picked a lousy time to revert to v 1.0, but why blame him for the Phils' inevitable decline?

The miserable series in Houston is what really put an end to their faint hopes.  The succeeding series vs. NY, Atlanta and the Washington all were played with one hand on the life support switch.  It will be thrown in the next few nights, putting everyone out of their collective misery.

What we do know with certainty is the Phils' alleged brain trust is going to have its most difficult off-season since the first departure of Ed Wade.  The entire picture is blurry from the starting rotation to middle relief to offense and defense.  There are too many holes to fill in one off-season and, frankly, too many hopes riding on gimpy arms, knees, backs and, wouldn't you know it, Achilles heels!

The younger daughter of a close friend of mine is a devoted fan who lives and dies with her Phils.  She has really never known the desert through which this franchise wandered for so many years in the late '80's and '90s with few exceptions.  Five straight divisional championships, two World Series and one winner-took-all championship season seemed to her young mind to be the norm.   She knows nothing of Steve Jeltz and his ilk.  All was Utley and Howard for her...until now.

She will adjust, perforce.  The Phils will begin rebuilding, hopefully within a reasonable amount of time.  There are no guarantees, however.  We jaded old-timers know that all too well.  My beloved Orioles are concluding their first winning season since 1997.

The Phils have been dethroned by a heretofore perennial loser, Washington.  Several top draft choices plus a shrewd trade and free agent signing here and there and, voila! (not really that fast) the Nats became winners.  It didn't happen overnight, and neither will the Phillies' reconstruction.

So, let's get this one over with and get started on the next dynasty.  It was a very good run.

Monday, September 24, 2012

All But Official

While the Phillies await mathematical elimination from the Wild Card chase, aka, reality, it's worth pointing out no one aspect of their game led to their dethronement as NL East champs.  It was a real team effort.

The starting pitching was erratic at best, none more so than Roy Halladay, whose pummeling on Saturday afternoon in front of a national television audience (though in all likelihood the majority of the nation tuned out to watch their favorite football teams) marked one of the lowest points of the veteran hurler's career and perhaps a sign that the end has arrived earlier than anyone thought possible.

Sunday's loss, 2-1, highlighted the offensive funk the Phils were in and out of all season.  Ryan Howard's game-ending strikeout was an all-to-familiar ending to many games.  Howard has been on a home run and rbi tear of late, but his futility and flailing have been consistent since his return.

Just when Chase Utley appears to have regained his stroke, he too lapses back into mediocrity.

The bullpen has been completely erratic all season, relying too often on AAA pitchers auditioning for their chances.

There were too many injuries and far too many inadequacies for the Phils to contend this season.  Now, they will play out the string and begin the process of rebuilding.  It won't be easy with all the holes they have to fill.

* * * * * * * *

I digress.

The Eagles were butchered in the desert Sunday afternoon, the carcasses left to bleach in the sun.

Afterwards, Andy Reid uttered the predictable "This one's on me" crap for which he is famous.  The coach also said his team was not prepared well, another predictable comment.

Surprise us one day, Andy, and tell us BEFORE the game your team isn't prepared.  Then, we won't be so shocked when the fall on their faces.

There were goats galore.  Nnamdi Asomugha was beaten yet again and looked utterly helpless in the process.  He came to Philadelphia with a big reputation, but in the time I've watched him (mercifully infrequently) he has looked absolutely overmatched.

There were also many unprofessional moments in the game, but none more so than DeSean Jackson's whining about pass interference while the play was still unfolding.  That sums up the lack of preparation on this team, its inability to assume responsibility.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Still Ticking

The odds are still daunting to say the least but the Phils are making these last few weeks of the regular season interesting.  With eleven games remaining the Phils won their eighth straight game at home, a 6-2 victory over visiting Atlanta, to cut their deficit for the final Wild Card spot to three games.

Don't get your hopes up.

The math is there but the probability isn't encouraging.

Last night the Phils only managed six hits against Atlanta, but four of these were solo home runs, the most dingers the Phils produced in one game all season.  Ryan Howard homered for the third straight game.  Chase Utley, Kevin Frandsen and Chooch also homered.

The real star of the game, however, was Kyle Kendrick, who won his tenth game of the season and would be the hands-down winner for Comeback of the Year player if the voting started after July 4th.  The new Kendrick has been the key pitcher throughout this late run to respectability.  Stepping into the fourth spot in the rotation, he has been a bulldog.  Every time he goes out the Phils believe (and usually do) they will win.

* * * * * * * *

The night also marked the start of the final series appearance in Philadelphia by the Braves Chipper Jones, President for Life of the NAPK, the National Association of Phillies Killers.  Jones has had a remarkable, Hall of Fame career, propelled in no small measure by his gaudy numbers against the Phils.

So long, Chipper.  We won't miss your sweet swing here, but we will elsewhere.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Big Piece, Big Worries, Big Hit

No one has taken more heat in the press and blogosphere lately than Ryan Howard.  I've piled on with the best of them.

Howard's return from a major season-ending injury (literally!) was perhaps premature as he clearly hobbled in his debut in July of this year.  Since then every expert (or at least several thousand of them) has postulated his/her theory as to the source of his anemic batting average and utter futility versus lefties. 

Some have argued his hasn't regained sufficient strength in his injured leg, the source of much of his power and clearly an aspect of any batter's rhythm.  Others have wondered if his frustrations were a clear sign of his inevitable decline.Still others have put forth the big-man-always-struggles-more-to-recover-his-health theory, one which likely has the least scientific evidence behind it.  Many have worried he is playing too much too soon because the Phils' alleged brain trust still think they have a chance to make the post-season.

Through it all the faithful and scribes have fretted over the huge contract Howard signed a few years ago, which still has three years at $25 million per to go.

Despite all this hand-wringing and brow furrowing, Howard has been knocking in runs at a clip more or less in keeping with his historic average.  It's literally been a case of feast or famine for the Big Piece.

Last night, he silenced all the critics...for a stroking a game-winning home run with two outs in the ninth inning.  Prior to that the Phils did all their scoring in the 3-2 win in the first inning when Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a home run, the 43rd time J-Roll has done so.  The Phils managed only one more hit until Howard's big one in the intervening eight innings.

But it was enough.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


What are the Phils' prospects after dropping three of four to the No Name Astros?   NONE.

They lost in recognizable fashion.  The aberration was the winning since the trade deadline.  Doc Halladay may still be recovering from his injury but the growing feeling is he has begun his decline.

Ryan Howard has decent numbers based strictly on runs batted in per game, but he is clearly no longer a good big league hitter.  He claims he is still no 100% healthy, and who am I to doubt him, but his batting tendencies look awfully familiar and, frankly, awful.

Chase Utley is not the answer at third base.  Neither, in case you wondered, are Michael Martinez and Kevin Frandsen.

The Phillies alleged brain trust needs one good outfielder, a center fielder, a third baseman and a reliable middle reliever.  That means John Mayberry and Domonic Brown are your corner outfielders in 2013.

The Inquirer noted since 2004 the Astros are the only NL club with a winning record against the Phils.  That information comes as no surprise.

Same Old Same Old

I could just as well re-post the preceding entry with a today's date.  Little has changed except a few inescapable facts, not the least of which is the Phils have dropped two of three thus far to the lowly Astros.  What is more galling is that a bunch of nobodies including several AAA or lower pitchers and a guy from the Mexican League shut out the Phils Saturday night, 5-0.

I've watched portions of two of the three games against the Astros and STILL cannot name more than one player on the team.  I don't know the manager's name.  I don't know the coaches' name.  I have no idea who owns the team.  I saw the empty stands and wondered who draws fewer fans, the Astros or Marlins.

Re: the Astros move to the AL next year (paraphrasing Oscar Levant's legendary line when Milton Berle converted from Judaism to Christian Science), "our loss is their loss".

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Free, Gratis & For Nothing

Sorry, sports fans, but they pay me to worry.  (Actually, they don't pay me a damn thing; I worry free, gratis and for nothing).

If any team has given the Phils fits over the last few seasons in September it has been Houston.  This year the Astros are probably worse than at any time in the past several years, but for some reason their eyes widen when they see red pinstripes.  Let's hope this year Houston plays to form, i.e., rotten.  Then, they can move to the AL and the Phils will never see them again.  Oh, wait, interleague play expands next year.  Maybe the Phils will see them more often!!???

* * * * * * * *

John Mayberry continues to make a case for being given an UNCONDITIONAL spot in next year's starting outfield.  Are you listening, doubters?

* * * * * * * *

It has become pitiful to watch Ryan Howard bat.  He's Dave Kingman without as many home runs per AB.  (Actually, I didn't look that up, so I could be wrong.)  He's batting below .230.  His disgust after another strikeout has become routine.

* * * * * * * *

Can a team really make the playoffs with Michael Martinez starting at third base?  I guess we are about to find out.

* * * * * * * *

"Red Light" Rollins is at it again.  Time to acknowledge Jimmy is great when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

They Are Risen

When you win 14 of 18 games just to reach sea level you know you've been swimming upstream.  Yet, the Phillies have put on quite a surge to project themselves, albeit tentatively at best, back into the second Wild Card race.

The lords of MLB decided last off-season to expand the playoff system by adding a second Wild Card team in each league.  More teams, more fan interest, more money.  Of course there is also the possibility of a slightly longer season extending into November, but why quibble about small matters like playing outdoors in Detroit or Chicago in the same month Thanksgiving falls?

The Phils have roared back to even on the strength of Kyle Kendrick's sudden discovery he's been bulldog all along and just didn't know it.  Then, too, there has been the emergence of Erik Kratz., a longtime minor leaguer who finally got a chance in the Show and made the most of it, offensively and defensively.

John Mayberry has also had a big hand in the surge.  So have a bunch of youngsters in the bullpen, all of whom spent most of the season in the minor leagues.

Cliff Lee is winning again.  Roy Halladay has pitched moderately well.  Cole Hamels has been, well, Cole Hamels.  Kendrick has been sensational.  The fifth spot, previously inhabited by Kendrick, has been manned by minor league pitcher of the year Tyler Cloyd.  Jonathan Papelbon has been doing his best imitation of the Orioles' old closer, Full pack Stanhouse, whose propensity to work himself into trouble forced his manager Earl Weaver to smoke a pack of cigarettes in one half inning.

Chooch is back, catching and, of course, hitting.  Chase Utley seems to have found his stroke.  Jimmy is hitting home runs and occasionally running out popups.  Ryan Howard is...well...Ryan Howard, that is to say, striking out at prodigious rates, flailing at balls low and away, and occasionally hitting mistakes.  Kevin Frandsen has gone down with an injury so Michael Martinez, who only recently was making a serious run at a sub .100 batting average, is hitting a little, raising his average just below the Mendoza line.

So the Phils, given up for dead at the trade deadline, have risen to give their fans [false] hope of an extension to the post-season run of five seasons.

Just don't bet the ranch on their making it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

All Over The Place

Random thoughts while waiting for the NHL season not to start....

Penn State placekicker Sam Ficken must already be nostalgic for the era during which players' names were not written on the back of their jerseys.

* * * * * * * *

All Summer we heard how the Eagles' season depended on Michael Vick's remaining healthy.  Well, he's still standing after yesterday's skin-of-their-teeth victory over a mediocre Cleveland team, only now the questions all seem to concern whether or not his poor performance revealed a lot of "rust".  Commentators during the game (yes, for some strange reason I watched about ten or fifteen minutes of telecast) questioned his judgement on many occasions, four of which ended in interceptions.

If after ten years in the league Vick's judgement is still questioned I think it's safe to say his health is not the biggest problem facing the Eagles.  Vick has never been quick on his feet in the metaphorical sense.

* * * * * * **

The Phillies have won 12 of their last 15 games and should have won at least one more of them (the catastrophe a week ago Sunday night in Atlanta).  In the process they played mostly teams with something to play for including the Braves and Reds.  This past weekend they played a team with nothing to play for or lose and they swept them.  The late season push has the Phils six games back in the second, not first, Wild Card race, trailing four teams and tied with Milwaukee. 

The schedule is their friend and foe.  The Phils only have 22 games remaining in the season, but a lot of them including the next seven are against lousy, cellar-dwelling teams.  Still, there's too much ground to make up at this point.

* * * * * * * *

John Mayberry gets no respect.   Many say that's deserved.  I disagree.  Given a chance to play every day no matter what, he's responded.  Those who argue who was given that chance earlier in the season don't know what they are talking about.  He was in and out of the lineup early on; now, he's in there every day.  EVERY means without exception.

* * * * * * * *

Now, back to the NHL.  There appears to be a real chance the owners will lock out the players again.  The league already lost one season a few years ago.  If the owners are that arrogant, let's hope the players have options in their contracts to play overseas and that en masse they exercise those options.  I can think of no sport that is more demanding on its players than hockey.  Their careers are relatively short on average and full of injuries.  The game, including its equipment, can be dangerous.  The pace is astonishingly taxing.  Fighting is sanctioned; indeed, goons are sought by every team.  The players deserve as much as they can get in the admittedly overpaid world of professional sports.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Don't Go, Mini Mart, Don't Go!

The legendary Mendoza line is in danger, sports fans.  That's right, .200 may no longer be the dividing line between mere mediocrity and outright piss poor.  What, you ask, has happened to move the line south?

Michael Martinez, aka, Mini Mart has happened, that's what!  If the Phillies' Martinez can manage to "run the table" for the remainder of the season, he could presumably end up hitting below .100.

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm rooting for him...hard.  That kind of ineptitude deserves to be immortalized.


Let the record show it is the morning of September 5, 2012, and the Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East.  Go ahead, sports fans, name five players on that team!!

* * * * * * * *

Jimmy Rollilns stroked his 2,000th hit last night, a double, to move into fourth place all time on the team.  He needs  a few hundred more to become the all-time leader.

Earlier in the evening Rich Hoffmann, one of the best newspaper writers in town, noted how Jimmy had always been a "red light" player who knows to and more to the point rises to the occasion.  And so he did last night in Cincinnati.

* * * * * * * *

Kyle Kendricks, savaged in this space as much as anywhere, pitched another good game last night and deserved to win...or at least not lose.  He has solidified his spot in the rotation, ahead of Vance Worley, who may have struggled because of floating bodies in his elbow or because he just isn't that good and the league caught up with  him.

* * * * * * * *

Chase Utley continues to take ground balls at third base.  Says here is ain't never gonna' happen.  He doesn't have the arm for the position and, frankly, he doesn't have the instincts for the hot corner.  It's one thing to charge a ball and flip it to first with your glove hand and quite another to charge a topper at third and throw across your body.  That scenario doesn't even begin to discuss screamers hit to your right or left.  No way.  Admirable, perhaps, but no way.

* * * * * * * *

John Mayberry is much bashed in the blogosphere, usually by meatheads who condemn him for playing cold most of the year and heating up at the end.  Funny how it always seems he gets more playing time at the end, thus giving him a chance to get into some kind of rhythm.  The meatheads don't seem to care about that.

* * * * * * **

Speaking of outfield hopefuls, it now appears the biggest question about Dom Brown is not his glove or his bat.  It's his health.  Brown has missed a lot of time due to injuries throughout his career.  If he can't stay on the field it doesn't really matter how good he might be.

* * * * * * * *

Kevin  Frandsen has hit well during his stint at third base.  Fielding is another matter.  Has he earned a chance to start next season?  The Phils' alleged brain trust keeps saying he hasn't.  There aren't too many free agents out there who would replace Placido Polanco, whose career is least in Philadelphia.  Frandsen might get substantial playing time next season by default.

* * * * * * * *

Everyone with the exception of Mr. and Mrs. Papelbon agrees the Phils overpaid big time to sign the closer.  His numbers may not look too shabby, but his performances, especially lately, have been.  Moreover, watching his little act on the mound is tiresome to someone in front of a tv screen; I cannot imagine how the eight guys wearing the same uniform on the field view it, but I'll bet they'd like him to pick up the pace.  Papelbon has served up a few game-losing dingers of late, but his walks and deep counts are what really drive me nuts.

Monday, September 03, 2012

There's An App For That

If, like me, you got together with friends over this holiday weekend, you probably didn't watch yesterday's game versus Atlanta, especially given its 5PM start.

Naturally, I did check the score periodically, on my phone,  and upon learning the Phils had built a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning, I checked in far less frequently.  Even when I looked again in the bottom of the ninth and saw the Phils still maintained a comfortable 7-3 lead, I was quite pleased with the imminent prospect of their sweeping the Braves in Atlanta.

Refreshing the score on my phone, I began to worry slightly (hey, after all, these were the 2012 Phillies) when the ninth inning seemed to drag on.  I delved deeper into the app to discover Jonathan Papelbon was on the mound.  Suddenly, the small bases on the displayed diamond had all turned yellow.  Then the score changed.  7-5.  I excused myself briefly from our company to study the display on my phone more closely.  The score lingered at 7-5 for what seemed like hours not minutes.  Then I hit refresh one more time and the word "Final" appeared next to the totals, Atlanta 8, Phillies 7.

What had happened???

The standing President of the Phillies-killers Society, one Chipper Jones, had launched a walk-off three run homer.  Just like that a victory was snatched from the Phils.  Just like that a clubhouse turned silent and numb.  Just like that a flight to Cincinnati grew much longer. 

In a season of ugly losses and misery, this one would stand out.

After the game, Jonathan Papelbon demurred, saying it was just another loss in a bunch of losses this season.  What else does a guy being paid $12.5 million a season to prevent such endings say under the circumstances?