Sunday, March 31, 2013

Drum Roll, Please

The moment all of you have been waiting for....

The Phillies will finish third in the NL East this season, failing to make the playoffs for the second straight year of what promises to be a long hiatus on the outside looking in.

Built to win last year, they are surely more desperate than ever to try and win this season.  Unfortunately, they haven't got the horses, especially in the starting rotation.  Their top three starters feature a Cole Hamels on the continued way up, Cliff Lee who is enigmatic and unpredictable, and Roy Halladay, who is in decline.  Behind them are Kyle Kendrick, a perennial hopeful at best, and John Lannan, who could be a textbook example of a fifth starter were he not really a sixth one at heart!

The offense contains its own bevy of question marks, headed of course by a recovering Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.  Howard needs more plate discipline.  It's a worrisome sign the Phillies have announced before the first game of the regular season they plan to sit Howard against tough lefties.  Howard needs to adjust and he needs to adjust now.  The trends have been downward for several seasons now.  If he cannot alter the trend line now, he never will.

Utley appears healthier than he has in a few seasons.  How long he will hold up is anyone's guess.  This is the final year of his contract.  Will he be one of those aging stars who puts together a banner season in the final year or will he wear down under the strains of every-day playing?

Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young man the left side of the infield.  Rollins may need more range than ever to cover for Young, whose better fielding days are probably behind him; but Rollins isn't any younger either.

The outfield will be makeshift for what seems to be the billionth year in a row.  Ben Revere mans center.  He should do fine.  Domonic Brown, finally handed a starting job with no visible strings attached, gets his third chance to live up to the hype.  No one expects him to be a star fielder; indeed, he is the starting left fielder, not his more "natural" or at least accustomed position in right.  The Phils preferred right fielder, Delmon Young, starts the season on the DL.   There, at least, he cannot botch any plays.

The teams's catcher, leader and most likeable player in the last few seasons begins the year in banishment for testing positive for a substance for which he could have received an exemption.   The unfortunate fallout forced the Phillies to hand the job to Erik Kratz, who is not Carlos Ruiz' equal in any respect except, apparently, determination.

The bullpen is stronger in the eight inning than it has been for years with the addition of Mike Adams.  Jonathan Papelbon should do fine as the closer.  Getting to these two is still going to be an adventure.  The sixth or seventh inning could prove to be the Phils' undoing.

The bench is mediocre.

The manager and coaching staff don't matter unless the Phils are forced to make double switches every game.

Over the last five or six seasons the hardest ticket to find in these parts included one for a game at Citizens Bank Park.  By August of this year they could be easy to find.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Breaking Camp

The Phils are about to break camp and head north absent the barnstorming of yore.  If they've been watching the weather channel, the alleged brain trust might want to delay their departure.

While I am loathe to attach much significance to spring training results, indeed the superstitious me is convinced there is an inverse relationship between spring training and regular season success, it's hard to ignore the problems that have surfaced with the pitching staff.

On more than one occasion a starter has looked like a batting practice pitcher.  John Lannan's pitiful outing only yesterday isn't altogether surprising; after all, he is a mediocre player.  Roy Halladay's struggles are another matter.  While Doc is getting credit in some quarters for acknowledging he isn't the same pitcher he was a few short seasons ago, the guys in the other dugout could care less how he makes the adjustment.  All they know is they couldn't hit him before and they can now!!

The good news, in a nod to my friend Julia, is that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley  have appeared healthy and productive and Domonic Brown may finally be ready to be the everyday player the Phils envisioned.  That said, this team wasn't built as an offensive juggernaut and the production of the last few years, injuries notwithstanding, bears that out.

Cliff Lee needs to bounce back from his peculiar season a year ago.  Cole Hamels needs to be even better now that he is clearly the staff ace.  Kyle Kendrick has to pick up where he left off a year ago, especially since he is really likely to be the team's number three pitcher whether his manager and pitching coach like it or not.

Jimmy Rollins is a year older.  Still a fine shortstop, nevertheless he has lost a step.  He still is not the prototypical lead-off man and never will be.  The Phils should hand Ben Revere that role and stop tinkering.
That leaves one corner outfield position open.  Delmon Young, whose defense will never be mistaken for that of Pat Burrell let alone Shane Victorino, will probably man that position once he is healthy.  In the meantime, Lance Nyx will see some action there.

While Carlos Ruiz serves his suspension, Erik Kratz will handle the catching duties.  Expectations are low.

New setup man Mike Adams looks healthy and effective.  Jonathan Papelbon should provide all the excitement he did a year ago, a mixed blessing as far as this fan is concerned.

Next post:  My eagerly awaited predictions.  Are the three of you ready?

Sunday, March 10, 2013


One of the most clever signs ever hung in a store window was the following in a Detroit sporting goods store:

Now is the discount of our winter tents.

I was reminded of witty sign when considering the sports landscape in Philadelphia this winter.  It could not be more bleak except for some college hoop teams.

The professional hoop team is pitiful.  The promise of last season and optimism regarding the acquisition of Andrew Bynum have long since evaporated.  The players are mostly over-matched and the coach has become increasingly vocal and irritable about their efforts.  Daily News writer Rich Hoffmann had a particularly poignant line about Doug Collins' public lamentations:  "He bought the groceries and burned the dinner.  He can't now blame the stove."  Collins had a lot to do with the makeup of this team.  He also must have had some role in the due diligence on Andrew Bynum.

Bynum joins a particularly select group of players who arrived in the City of Brotherly Love damaged goods and tantalized (taunted, really) the local faithful with rumor after rumor he'd be back in the lineip at some later date.  Now, if not earlier, it is clear he was never going to play a regular season game in a Sixers uniform.  Good riddance, Andrew.  They team cleared some salary cap with your acquisition.  Some legacy.

Drue Holiday has continued to emerge for the Sixers, but Evan Turner has been impressively unpredictable.  Thad Young is a gamer, but just about everyone else on this club seems to be treading water.

Meanwhile, the Flyers began the truncated season ineptly and except for one day thus far, have been below .500.  Currently, they are three games under .500 and playing with little heart.  There were reasonably high hopes for this club, except for worries about the defense, but some players have been hurt (every team has injuries in this rough and tumble sport) while others have disappeared.  The coach is on the hot seat with an owner not known for patience.

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is still utterly unpredictable except for his mood, which seems to have gone from cheerful and eccentric when he arrived with much fanfare last season to gloomy with each defeat this year.  Goalies are only as good as the defense in front of them, and the Flyers don't have a good one.  On the other hand, he can be brilliant one night and give up soft goals the next.  One would guess much of his and our frustration could be alleviated if the team scored a few goals, but then, the other night they took a huge first period lead over the Penguins and then surrendered it and, finally, the game.  Bryzgalov, staked to a three-goal lead that night, had to be yanked after giving all of it up.

While GM Paul Holmgren struggles to find answers, the Flyers made at least two moves this season that are characteristic of them.  They reacquired two players whom they traded or otherwise moved previously.  I haven't the inclination to look it up, but the Flyers must lead the league in reacquisition.  (Corrections to this perception can be delivered in the comments section.)

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Is It April Yet?

If I've learned anything in 65 years (hold the snickers, please) it's that Spring Training performances don't mean diddly!

Ryan Howard and Dom Brown are smoking home runs one day and Cole Hamels throws batting practice to Dominican Republic the next.

Call me when the games count.