Thursday, August 28, 2014

Go Figure

Given up for dead, and rightfully so, in this space and elsewhere, the Phillies have mildly surprised the faithful by winning three straight series from teams likely to make the post-season.

Don't get your hopes up, faithful.

This modest streak comes on the heels of the following developments:

1.  Their number two pitcher is lost for the remainder of the season by July.
2.  Their number one slugger is flirting with the Mendoza line.
3.  Their manager has angered rookies and veterans alike by his quick hook or lack of playing time.
4.  Their GM only recently allowed for the possibility that his team, on a pace to lose 90 games, would not make the post-season.

Make no mistake about it, this modest streak will be halted shortly (perhaps as early as tonight) when the Phils start losing to teams with losing records.

More than a few pundits who get paid to write about the Phillies have raised alarm bells about the discontent simmering in the clubhouse.  When rookies and under-performers complained about the manager, some of this pundits advised the youngsters to shut up and put up, not necessarily in that order.  When veteran star Cole Hamels stormed off the mound, however, these same pundits began wondering whether or not the problem rested in the manager's office.

It's difficult to really measure Ryne Sandberg's performance given the crappy team his was furnished, but one conclusion is emerging:  a player who gave his all and made the Hall of Fame as a result is not likely to be impressed by or care much for anything but what happens between the lines.  Show him the performance, and then and only then can we assign some blame.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Breaking It Gently

Spoiler alert!!!

I want to break this to you loyal readers (all three of you) as gently as possible.  Ruben Amaro has announced he thinks it unlikely the Phillies will make the playoffs this year.

There.  I've said and I hope I didn't upset you.

I know.  I know.  It's a bitter pill to swallow.  Heck, all they have to do is jump four teams ahead of them in the standings...in their own division.  We won't even speculate about the Wild Card. Who knows, they could run off a winning streak of, say, twenty-six straight games beginning tonight on the West Coast in San Francisco, where they are always at the top of their game.  Piece of cake.

But, no, Rube dashed our hopes.  He looked at our aging veterans, most of whom are hitting twenty to forty points below their career averages, and just couldn't figure out how these guys could make the post-season. He signed a starting pitcher last week who'd already been let go by two other lousy teams this season.  He had Roy Halladay throw out the first pitch of a game last week.  I think it was a strike, but I wasn't there. He inducted Charlie Manual into the Wall of Fame after canning the winningest manager in Phillies history late in last season, which was probably going to be his last anyway.

He actually began the season convinced this team would contend even though the trend, sabremetrically and old-school-wise, continued its steady decline.

Rube's gotta' believe.

Frankly, Rube's gotta' go and if this announcement doesn't convince the alleged brain trust of the Phillies, nothing will.

I

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On And Off The Field

Last night at Citizens Bank Park nearly everything wrong with the Phillies was prominently displayed.

On the field, the bats were silent again wasting another fine outing by Cole Hamels, the only reliable starter on the staff.  For the second time in a week Hamels' mates were AWOL as he stifled the opposition.  Hamels has two no-decisions to show for his outstanding efforts.

Also on the field, the Phillies celebrated the induction of former manager Charlie Manual into the teams Wall of Fame.  It was all folksy and joyful as befitted the inductee.

Off the field, we can look at the events cited above and find nothing to celebrate with the Phillies' alleged brain trust.  Indeed, Hamels' plight can be laid directly at the feet of GM Ruben Amaro and whichever of the myriad owners actually has a say in the day-to-day operations.  Amaro took over a squad that was at its peak and tried to squeeze a few more titles out of it while emptying his farm system.  Injuries and age undermined his goal, but not nearly as much as his ruinous trades, reckless contracts, and general inability to judge talent did.  Until as recently as two months ago Amaro insisted the Phillies could be competitive.  Right now they are...as long as the Houston Astros provide the opposition.

But the night really revolved around Manual.  After leading the Phillies out of the wasteland and to consecutive World Series appearances and one win, Manual was saddled with these aging, injured and overpriced players and could no longer work miracles.  Was Manual a genius?  Hardly.  He had his issues with in-game strategies and was less than impressive as a judge of pitchers.  But Manuel was a players' manager and was successful in getting the most out of those players while he could.  So, what was his ultimate reward (Walls of Fame notwithstanding)?  He was fired late in the season with a little over a month or two to go.  Instead of telling Charlie they were going to let him go at the end of the season, they fired him with time remaining.  It was a decision not only lacking in class, it sent a message that this alleged brain trust had little regard for its valuable employees.

We should not forget Dallas Green here.  Green was no genius.  On top of that, he was a loud-mouthed jerk.  But he won a World Series after an even longer period of wandering the wilderness and was rewarded with a lifetime job, even after he left briefly to head the Chicago Cubs and succeeded in fleecing his former employers by wrangling Ryne Sandberg from them.  What goes around.....   Sandberg had a Hall of Fame career in Chicago and then returned to the Phillies organization only to become the manager who succeeded, you guessed it, Charlie Manual.  Meanwhile, Green has some senior advisory role with the Phillies, possible Loud Mouth For Life.

I'm not quite finished.

In addition to firing Manual instead of seeing him gracefully retire, the Phillies also fired long-time television and radio commentator Chris Wheeler.  In Wheeler's case the Phillies allowed him to finish the season, but after signing a huge new deal with Comcast, the alleged brain trust decided to unceremoniously cut Wheeler loose.  Wheeler had his detractors.  He made the phrases "middle in" and "no doubles defense" raise more than a few hackles among listeners; but, he was informed and passionate and devoted.  For this he was dumped very unceremoniously and replaced by two media neophytes, Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs, who are charitably the worst commentators in the booth this viewer has ever endured.  I haven't tried this duo as the cure for my chronic insomnia but I might force myself to tune in late one night for a trial dose.

So, there you have it.  The Phillies' alleged brain trust has screwed up the product on and off the field, and they have done it without apology.  They aren't good at their jobs and they have no class in the process.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Suicide Watch

The July trade deadline passed quietly in Philadelphia.  Very quietly.  The only momentous event of the day came later that evening when a few unnamed clubs who'd possibly been considering acquiring Cliff Lee breathed huge sighs of relief when the veteran left-hander left the game in the third inning with a recurrence of the elbow strain that had already sidelined him for two months of the season.  Lee is done for the year if not career and his trade value is nil.

Indeed, nil was the watchword in Philadelphia.  The Phils had nothing especially valuable to trade and potential partners had even less they were willing to offer.  The Phillies' alleged brain trust has finally come to the conclusion reached unanimously elsewhere that the rebuilding must begin.  The trouble is a team cannot rebuild overnight, especially not these days when free agency isn't what it once was with most teams locking up potential free agents with lucrative long-term deals.  The Phils are going to have to rebuild slowly the old-fashioned way, by developing players.  They did it within recent memory, developing Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, but they didn't do it after that bumper crop and now the farm system is bare.

The danger that looms, and thus the watch noted above, is the Phillies will make an especially desperate move and trade Cole Hamels for prospects.  To be sure, these prospects will be highly touted, but prospects are prospects, for all that, as Robert Burns never said.  Without Hamels, the Phils will not have one certified front line pitcher.

The counter argument is that Hamels will be the lone member of a pitiful staff come next year and will find even less run support from the cast of has-beens and never-weres surrounding him than he has the past two seasons.  Hamels soldiers on, but he has allowed in public he isn't thrilled with the Phillies' offense.  It won't get better in the foreseeable future.  How much losing can Hamels endure?  For his sake, I hope he is traded to a winning team.  For our sakes I hope he remains; as Matt Gelb pointed out the other day, at least every fifth day should provide some hope with Hamels on the team.

Ruben Amaro has shown a strong willingness to overspend for and misjudge talent, so one can hardly be sanguine about the prospects he would acquire by trading Hamesl or any other commodity of value on the current roster.  Some in town are giving him credit for not panicking last week and making some bad deals.  If these people want to keep score, Amaro's sudden caution hardly evened his ledger.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hold Your Applause

The three readers of this space may have missed it, but I Reversed Cursed Cole Hamels a few months ago and, sure enough, he responded with a string of stellar performances worthy of the title "Ace"!

If rumors are to be believed (need I remind you they aren't?!) Hamels' name has been bandied about a great deal as the July trade deadline approaches.  If the Phillies were to trade him, they would be signaling they not only are finally going to begin the rebuilding process, but they want to do it overnight in one fell swoop. Now, it wouldn't surprise me if the Phillies' alleged brain trust thought they could undo years of incompetence overnight, but I doubt seriously they are willing to shed the only pitcher on this squad capable of, as Matt Gelb of the Inquirer so eloquently put it this AM:  "But every fifth day, Hamels makes everyone associated with the Phillies forget their current predicament."


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Heart Of Wilderness

How bad are the Phillies?  They can't even get rid of people!

The pitchers most likely to be traded by Thursday have been lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree in their last few outings diminishing their value to everyone including the team for which they currently ply their trade.

The Phils have reached the heart of the Wilderness and they will be wandering around in it for years to come.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fearless Prediction

If Ruben Amaro acquires Matt Kemp the Phillies will spend another decade in the wilderness.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Polls Are Open

The annual meeting of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Reality-Check Club of America, Ruben Amaro presiding, will meet this week at Citizens Bank Park.  Poll watchers have been speculating for weeks how the membership will vote but as of this date no consensus has been reached.

What should be clear to those card-carrying diehards who still cling to the notion the Phils can still make a run at the playoffs in 2014 is that this past Sunday's thrashing by the Nationals proved the Phightins [sic] are only headed in one direction and it is due South!

The week before the Phillies brought home some fools' gold from Milwaukee.  Learned observers knew it would only take a series at home to put the boys back on track, and, sure enough, the friendly confines proved anything but as visiting Washington took two of three.

The case for rebuilding is really a simple one:  the Phillies are so bad and have so many problems to correct they had better get started without further delay or the good people of the Delaware Valley are looking at another lost decade...or two.

The first step in the right direction would be a coup d'etat, firing General Manager Amaro.  Rube has been on the job long enough now to demonstrate his lack of judgement.  He has saddled the franchise with ruinous contracts, depleted its farm system, and shown little acumen when evaluating talent.

Inquiring minds will be watching the vote tally closely.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

All That Glitters....

The Phils have won five straight.  Whoopee!!

I'm hardly one to minimize taking four in a row from the Brewers in Milwaukee (OK, I should point out Milwaukee was already tumbling back to earth when the Phillies arrived, but, hey.....).  Then they come home at stomp Washington (which also has been less than impressive of late).  It should be noted the Phillies hate home cookin' this season.

Anyway, the streak lifts the Phils from 14 games under .500 to 9 under.  (Math was never my strong suit but even I can figure this one out.)

So, if you, let alone Ruben Amaro, are tempted to think maybe these guys shouldn't start unloading a lot of veterans at the trade deadline, I have a suggestion for you:  DON'T!!!!!

Amaro isn't much of a judge of talent despite all those years watching the game.  He made a lot of foolish decisions about talent and money over the past several seasons desperately trying to go all in with the core of players held over from the glory years.  The problem has been four-fold:  the core has aged dramatically, the acquisitions have been less than stellar, the team is saddled with some crushing contracts, and the farm system is pretty much empty.

Now Amaro and Phils have arrived at another crossroads.  Five straight wins (forget the miserable series in Pittsburgh just before that when the Phils were themselves swept) may tempt Amaro to try and squeeze one more playoff appearance out of the core and bits and pieces he surrounded those players with.  It won't work.  The Phils aren't mathematically out of it, yet, because the rest of division has its own problems.  But make no mistake, the Phils aren't good and they need to begin the rebuilding immediately.

Amaro probably doesn't get that.  He's like the gambler who thinks the big pot is really just one more hand away.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pap Mixes Metaphors In With The Occasional Fast Ball

Let's face it, Jonathan Papelbon isn't overburdened.  No, I do not refer to his comment the other night that it is a "no brainer" to want to play for a contender.  Papelbon has been making it clear for more than a year he wants out of Philadelphia.  Once you have $50 million in the bank, winning IS everything.

Instead, I refer to his statement a day earlier regarding rumors circulating the Phillies were trying to trade him:  "I don't have a crystal eight ball," Pap replied to a reporter's query.

Now we know language isn't one of Papelbon's strong suits.  Heck, he probably just made it out of high school English as a first language.  For the record, Johnny boy, what you uttered is a mixed metaphor.  You see, it goes like this:

One is "behind the eight ball" or one does/does not possess "a crystal ball".  Not both.  Eight balls are decidedly black, Johnny, while crystal balls are clear.  One refers to the game of pool; the other to the game of chance.  Now, in his defense, Papelbon was probably recalling the Magic Eight Ball he owned as a high school senior.



According to Wikipedia, Johnny, here are the possible answers to that reporter's question:

The 20 answers inside a Magic 8 Ball are:
 It is certain
 It is decidedly so
 Without a doubt
 Yes definitely
 You may rely on it
 As I see it, yes
 Most likely
 Outlook good
 Yes
 Signs point to yes
 Reply hazy try again
 Ask again later
 Better not tell you now
 Cannot predict now
 Concentrate and ask again
 Don't count on it
 My reply is no
 My sources say no
 Outlook not so good
 Very doubtful

Thursday, July 03, 2014

When Do They Get The Message?

It's no fun watching the Phillies play.  As a matter of fact, it hasn't been fun to watch them for two seasons and counting.

They are an incomplete team on good days and an spent team on bad ones.  In between they get either good starting pitching, good relief pitching or the occasional offensive burst...but never all three and certainly not all three on the same day.

How much fun is it to watch Ryan Howard step to the plate with his .235 batting average?  How many more times will be treated to Dom Brown taking a route around his elbow to get to his thumb?

Chase Utley started off well.  Indeed, on the strength of his early season performance he will be elected to the All Star team, probably as the starter.  But Chase has slowed down considerably over the last five or six weeks.  His average has plummeted to a still respectable .288 but hardly the robust .333 of earlier days.  He's tired of playing his usual all out game and he's probably tired of losing.  The other night he dropped two balls.  Never a great fielder, he nonetheless was never prone to mental mistakes.

Cole Hamels pitches up and down...literally.  He gave up three home runs the other night.  Last night he walked four batters in five innings.  He has a losing record...again.  He has pitched well enough to have a winning record, but that would require he pitched for a team that had not been shut out 11 times before the All Star break.

The Phillies cannot pitch consistently.  They definitely cannot hit period.  And they do not field well.

They need to begin rebuilding without delay.

They won't

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Half Empty

Soccer fans of the domestic persuasion point to the enthusiasm for this year's World Cup as evidence their favorite sport is finally catching on broadly throughout the land.

Yesterday's loss to Belgium should correct that misconception.

The US side was badly outplayed and out-coached in yesterday's game.  Belgium controlled the ball for an overwhelming portion of the game and was thwarted from winning in regulation time by the heroics of US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was sensational.

Otherwise, the US could not control the ball, move the ball or threaten much.  Commentators like to point out the Americans play excellent defense...and for the most part they do.  But let it be said by this viewer, hardly an expert but, hey, this is the internet, defense is easier to play!  There, I said it!

It's much harder to control the ball and mount an offense then it is to head a ball away from your goal or kick it out to who-knows-where.  And in this regard, control, the Americans were absolutely inept versus the much more skilled Belgians.  Without Howard's heroics the game could easily have been 4-0 in regulation time.

The Americans played an extraordinarily dull game...again except for Howard.  They gave the ball up at midfield easily.  They were one and done on their few advances deep into Belgian territory.

Were viewers going to remember Howard or the ineptitude of his teammates?  The bet here is they will remember the latter.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

SIXERS TO FANS: DON'T CALL US, WE 'LL CALL YOU

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Something Old; Something Older

The Ron Hextall era has begun and we can be excused if we blinked and thought it looked a lot like those of his predecessors Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke.

Hextall's first roster move was to reacquire J.R. Umberger, whom the Flyers traded away several seasons ago.

What is it about the Flyers' front office that compels them to reacquire players they jettisoned?  I don't have the official figures in front of me (and I am not going to spend a single nano second digging them up) but if they aren't professional sports' all-time leaders in sellers' remorse I don't know what franchise is!!!

* * * * * * * *

In today's Inky the estimable Bob Ford suggested the Sixers would be smart to draft recently injured and operated on center Joel Embiid.  Embiid was projected to be the first pick in the upcoming draft and thus off the board by the time the Sixers made the third pick, but he fractured a bone in his foot, had surgery, and is on the shelf for at least six months.

Were the Sixers to draft Embiid they would be in position to set an all-time NBA record that will never be broken...guaranteed!  They would be the first and only team to ever acquire through a trade or draft pick three starting centers in three consecutive seasons who could not, and in two cases and counting, did not play a single game that season.

The Sixers' front office cannot be that stupid.

Can they?

* * * * * * * *

Through seventy-five games this season the Phillies have been shut out ten times.  Despite their ineptitude, some commentators are still suggesting they should not be sellers at the trade deadline.   What a great idea.  To follow such a course would not be postponing the inevitable because the inevitable arrived two seasons ago.  The Phils are old.  They cannot hit.  They pitch erratically.  They have nothing down on the farm.  They have plenty of examples not only of what some teams have done to rebuild but what they themselves have done in the past to avoid it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

J-Roll

Many years ago I took a graduate seminar with the most famous photographic historian in the world.  That statement isn't an exaggeration.

When I finished my degree I returned to the East Coast and landed in Boston.  There I met a number of photographers and historians who asked me about my background.  When I mentioned this historian and my admiration for him I was often taken aback when told, "Photography left him behind in the '50's!"  My reply was always the same:  "I'd rather judge someone for what he accomplished, not what he didn't accomplish."

I feel the same way about Jimmy Rollins.

Yesterday J-Roll tied Mike Schmidt for the franchise record of total hits.  As early as this afternoon, Jimmy could be in sole possession of the record.  Along the way Jimmy has earned an MVP, four gold gloves and the admiration of his peers.  He is one of the best all-around shortstops ever to play this game.  He has over 400 stolen bases and over 200 home runs.  His range is impressive, his hands sure and his arm strong.

J-Roll has also endured the wrath of fans who lament his failure to draw enough bases on balls, hit the ball on the ground more and in essence perform like the lead-off man he has been most of his career.

For my part, I'd rather judge him for what he accomplished.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Wake Me

Wake me up when they win.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Who Had June 3rd?

So, who had June 3 in the pool?

Who had the date Larry Bowa would publicly spew his trademark "He's killing us" tirade?

Does a team that has been shut out seven times in its last 27 games derive any benefit from Larry publicly scolding them?

So, will the winner please step forward.

Monday, May 26, 2014

No Kidding

Inevitably the morning papers around the nation trotted out all sorts of variations on the words "no", "nothing" and "nada".

What did you expect?

The Phillies celebrated their descent into the nether lands of the NL East by going hitless in a 6-0 loss to Josh Beckett, one of the genuine jerks in baseball.

The shutout was the fifth the Phils suffered in the last few weeks.

They landed in the basement on merit.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Predictable & Boring

Managers like to talk about certain pitchers giving the team a chance to win every fifth day when they take the ball.

Kyle Kendrick is never mentioned in that conversation.

Kendrick always has a bad inning or two somewhere along the way.  Some times he implodes right out of the chute; other times he is sailing along and then it happens.  The proverbial bottom line remains negative. Kyle, it seems, never gives his team a chance to win.

* * * * * * * *

In the interest of full disclosure, I've watched very little baseball this season.  I've read a fair amount and watched replays and wrap-ups, but it isn't much fun to sit there inning after inning listening to the most boring three-man commentary in baseball today describing a team that isn't much fun to watch...and hasn't been for a few seasons now.

The Phillies manage to take three out of four in Los Angeles, never an easy place to play for any East Coast team and then find all sorts of ways to lose more than they win ever since.  One night (or three) they just don't hit.  Then they kick the ball around.  Then the bullpen implodes or a starter gets rocked.

They already look like the tired, veteran team they are.

Of course they do have some youth on the squad, but there isn't much infusion from that group including Domonic Brown, who has all but disappeared this season, and Ben Revere, who should.

Cody Asche has shown some life (but not leather) with the bat lately, no doubt a nominee for Reverse Curse of the Month award from yours truly.


Friday, May 09, 2014

Alive & Well Division

The venerable Reverse Curse is alive and well.  (See Burnett in post below).

Meanwhile, in the Not So Alive Nor Well Division, I give you Domonic Brown.  From Phenom-in-waiting to Mediocrity-instead, Dom Brown has been a bust. Apart from the first half of last year, Brown has been invisible.  His outfield mate Ben Revere came to Philadelphia with a reputation as a slap hitting base stealer who could play some defense (minus throwing).  Revere will cost the Phillies as many runs with his glove as he might produce with his bat and feet.  He's been a complete bust, too.

I am all for giving Cody Asche a chance to prove he can hit in the big leagues.  I'm just not going to hold my breath.

Add high fastballs to the stuff with which to get Ryan Howard out.

Chase Utley has come back to earth.

Jimmy Rollins is again hurting.  The injuries aren't major but they keep on coming.  Age will do that.

The Phils probably aren't close to giving up on Antonio Bastardo, but that's only because they don't have someone to take his place.  Bastardo has been given plenty of chances to nail down a variety of roles.  In the end, he's flubbed them all.

The pitchers didn't like Rich Dubey but they pitched well despite him.