Friday, August 31, 2007

Ain't The Beer Cold!

The sight of a usually taciturn Pat Burrell rushing out to home plate to hug Tadahito Iguchi, who had just scored the winning run, and then rushing over to first base to join the throng of his teammates pounding the back of Chase Utley, whose single drove in that run said it all. The Phillies had just concluded their most exciting four game series in more than a decade by sweeping the New York Mets to climb to within two games of first place in the NL East.

Burrell, left for dead two months ago, continued his remarkable, nay, astonishing comeback by blasting two more home runs off Mets pitching, one of them coming off former teammate and old nemesis Billy Wagner. The two round-trippers were his 40th and 41st against the Mets, passing Willie Mays for most all-time. There were, of course, a lot of heroes yesterday, none perhaps bigger than Jayson Werth, also resurrected of late, who stole second and third base off Wagner in the bottom of the ninth with the Phils trailing by two runs. Iguchi knocked in Werth to tie the game and promptly stole second base. Jimmy Rollins was then given an intentional pass setting up Utley's game-winning single. When Shane Victorino is healthy enough to play every day the Phillies are going to have a dilemma with Werth also deserving of a starting role. If Aaron Rowand departs after the season, the answer as to his replacement may already be in place. Victorino, by the way, is hardly pouting on the bench. For the second straight day he delivered a pinch-hit when called on.

Ryan Howard also continued his own resurgence by delivering a two-run homer in the first inning to give the Phils the first of three leads they held and lost before the ninth inning heroics. Howard has raised his average fifteen points in the last week while hitting three home runs and cutting down dramatically on his strikeouts.

The bullpen nearly coughed up the game when Goeff Geary and Antonio Alfonseca could not hold the Mets, but Flash Gordon picked a good time to finally deliver, holding the Mets scoreless in the ninth to pick up his second win of the season.

This series had it all: drama, luck, controversy and sold-out crowds whooping it up and cheering wildly. The Phils returned the favor by giving them plenty to cheer about. Baseball doesn't get any more exciting than the last four days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Tall & Short Of It

The big man is back, but the little guy remains the key.

Ryan Howard is hitting the ball again with authority. His two-run walk-off homer last night provided the margin of victory as the Phillies overcame a fine effort by Tom Glavine to score all four of their runs off the Mets' bullpen in a 4-2 victory. Howard has eleven hits, two home runs, and nine rbi's in his last five games. Just as significantly, he's only struck out once during that time. Howard has shown he's a second-half late season hitter. His latest chapter couldn't have come at a more important time.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins remains the real heart and soul of this team. I watched J-Roll's expressions carefully last night. Jimmy is always smiling, but when he flied out early in the game with men on base, he was thoroughly disgusted with himself. None of the usual ebullience; just disgust. He even seemed to dwell on it, as if to say, they need me and I have to come through. In the eight inning he did, blasting a line drive home run to greet reliever Pedro Feliciano and bring the Phils to within one run of the Mets. After Pat Burrell walked, Shane Victorino ran for him, stole second, went to third on a throwing error by Paul Lo Duca, and scored when Aaron Rowand's roller stayed fair as David Wright and Lo Duca watched helplessly. That set up Howard's tenth inning heroics.

Rollins is having an MVP year though he won't get nearly enough consideration when the votes are tallied. In this era of great shortstops in the NL, Rollins gets plenty of praise but still not enough. Prior to the start of the season the always honest and entertaining shortstop pronounced the Phils the team to beat in the NL East. He's taken plenty of heat ever since for his candor, but it's worth mentioning he's backed it up with his astonishing statistics: 113 runs scored (tops in the NL), 23 homers, 73 rbi's, 15 triples, 32 doubles and a .288 average. Oh, and by the way, he fields with the best them. Make no mistake about it: without Rollins the Phillies would be battling for second or third place in the Dutch West Indies League, not the NL East.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Second Acts

Who said "there are no second acts in American lives"?

For a guy who assiduously shuns the spotlight Chase Utley has quite the flair for the dramatic. Coming back from nearly a month on the Disabled List during which he missed 28 games, Utley provided plenty of excitement as he help power the Phillies to a 9-2 win over the Mets last night. Utley's home run to center field in the fifth inning provided the Phils with a 4-2 lead a half inning after the Mets had crept back to within a run. That's precisely the kind of timing and leadership his teammates missed. Utley also doubled and singled in five at bats to increase his batting average to .339, tops in the National League. No one ever compared hitting a baseball to riding a bicycle, but Utley sure made it look that easy.

There were plenty of other offensive heroes as the Phils banged out 18 hits. Chief among them were Jayson Werth, whose four hits last night gave him nine straight hits in two days, and Ryan Howard, who has been hitting the ball solidly for three straight games. If the big guy gets going he can carry a club. At the moment, he's getting a lot of help. Pat Burrell also continued to hit, especially home runs versus the Mets. He is tied with Barry Bonds for most homers against New York by an active player. Burrell's second half resurgence has quieted the local boo birds and given the veteran left fielder a new lease on life. He looks a lot happier than at any time in the last several seasons. Tadahito Iguchi, who filled in so admirably for Utley, took his demotion in stride as he delivered a pinch-hit two run homer in the seventh inning.

On the other side of the ball J.D. Durbin pitched a fine game, holding the Mets scoreless for four innings and keeping Jose Reyes off the bases, a key element if you want to beat New York. Durbin has made the classic journey from the depths of despair to triumph as he won for the sixth time in a Phillies uniform since being inserted in the starting rotation. It's a heartwarming story for a guy with his fourth team in one season, a veritable second act!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jekyll & Hyde

It would be tempting to blame the Phillies' tailspin on absent players but that would only tell part of this sad story. In truth, their four straight losses at home are as much the responsibility of the players who were present and accounted for, especially the bullpen.

Kyle Lohse, who has been disparaged in this space, gave the Phillies a quality start and deserved to win. Tom Gordon and Brett Myers followed and threw his good work away. Gordon continued his string of inept appearances surrendering a tying home run and Myers cemented once and for all his reputation as a Jekyll or Hyde, giving up not one but two ninth inning home runs as the Phils lost to San Diego 4-3 to fall four games behind the Padres and Dodgers in the Wild Card chase and seven games behind division-leading NY.

I've seen enough of Myers' routine. He never fulfilled his early promise as a starter and he's just as unreliable as a closer. Myers is a career mediocrity. Were the Phillies in a better position to deal pitching, he'd be my first candidate to go. As it is, they are such a mess in the rotation and pen they are forced to hold onto Myers and their noses every time he goes out there. Myers also further cemented his reputation as a loose canon by going on an expletive-filled tirade in the locker room after the game. He's never going to change on or off the field.

Precious little good happened last night apart from Lohse's performance. Pat Burrell's homer in the opening frame was his 20th of the season, tying him with Bobby Abreu (7 seasons) for second behind Mike Schmidt (14) in consecutive seasons with 20 or more home runs. Ryan Howard, one of those present and accounted for players who has performed dismally of late, stroked two hits, drove in a run, walked and did not strike out at all for the first time in memory. Howard's pained expression after each AB has become commonplace, reminiscent of Burrell's from previous seasons. One game is hardly a breakout, but if the Phils expect to recover he is the offensive key along with the expected return of Chase Utley.

Kyle Kendrick takes the mound today to try and salvage one game against the Padres, who will have visited Philadelphia without sending thier top two pitchers, Jake Peavy and Chris Young, to the mound. The Phillies wish they had two top pitchers to withhold let alone expose.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thinking Is Strictly Optional

The consensus is that Fabio Castro was fortunate to escape from his first major league start, allowing the Dodgers one run in five innings on two hits, four strikeouts and six bases on balls. After the game the Phillies' alleged brain trust confirmed the popular view by sending Castro back to AAA Ottawa.

Well, the popular view is wrong. Dead wrong. The kid was wild, as is his wont, but he gave the Phils five innings and limited the Dodgers to a lone run. That's a damn sight better than most of the so-called veteran starters have achieved for this club. The worst part of it all is that the inept front office who run this team decided the best way to boost Castro's confidence was to give him a return ticket to Canada before the visa stamp on his passport was even dry. The Phillies are infallibly wrong when it comes to dealing with players' egos and confidence. Look what they did to Chris Coste this year. Coste, by the way, is largely here because of injuries and only playing as often as he does because Rod Barajas is on the DL. Had things been otherwise the brass would have buried Coste deep in Ottawa for the entire year.

So Castro goes down and Brian Sanches, who has never shown he belongs in the big leagues, is called up in his stead. Castro must be wondering what he did wrong. Nothing, Fabio; you walked a lot of guys. So did Flash Gordon in his one inning of completely inept so-called relief. But you have options, Fabio, and Flash doesn't.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pepper

I'm sure most of you saw this in the Inquirer:

Opening Day Today

Pitcher Record ERA Pitcher Record ERA

Brett Myers 2-2 2.59 Kyle Lohse 7-12 4.61

Freddy Garcia (DL) 1-5 5.90 Kyle Kendrick 6-3 4.06

Cole Hamels (DL) 14-5 3.50 Fabio Castro 0-0 12.77

Adam Eaton (DL) 9-8 6.36 J.D. Durbin 5-2 5.36

Jamie Moyer 11-9 4.97 Jamie Moyer

The graphic says it all. No amount of offense can overcome the limitations of that rotation, especially with the man in the middle slumping badly.


* * * * * * * *

Texas 30, Baltimore 3. OK, that qualifies as an epic embarrassment, but here's the part that amazed me the most: Texas struck out 11 times, or 41% of their outs in this game. By the way, this was part of a doubleheader; the Rangers also won the other game. One final note: there's no truth to the rumor that after the games the entire 25-man Baltimore roster was sent down to Williamsport.

* * * * * * * *

The Yankees made a run at the Red Sox recently, closing an eleven game gap from mid-summer to only four games by the end of last weekend. That was before the Yankees faced the Angels, who put an almost Texas-like hurt on them in pounding out 7-6 and 18-9 wins in the first two games of the series. The Yanks fell six games behind Boston but picked up a game last night when Andy Pettitte won his fifth straight start. Still, a look at the rotations of the two leading AL East teams strongly suggests Boston has a big edge. The Yanks rotation features a lot of old guys, one of whom, Mike Mussina, looks cooked. Overall, the Red Sox are much deeper in the starting rotation and pen with the exception of Eric Gagne, who alone probably helped the Yankees shave four games off Boston's lead.

* * * * * * * *

Any team with Albert Pujols in its lineup is dangerous. King Albert has hit home runs in five consecutive games and the Cardinals, given up for dead by everyone including yours truly, have climbed to within a game of .500 and are only three games behind Central division leading Chicago. Lest we forget, the Cardinals climbed out of a late-season swoon last season and went all the way. While such recoveries should give hope to Phillies fans, who have watched their favorites suffer insult upon injury, the difference is between the Cardinals MVP candidate of a year ago and the Phils' MVP winner.



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This Time Is Different?

If I were on the Phillies 40-man roster I'd keep an eye on my first born. Things have gotten that bad.

The latest news, that Cole Hamels will miss at least 2-3 starts with an "elbow strain", couldn't have come at a worse time as the Phils enter the most critical phase of the season. The loss of their staff ace would be bad news at any juncture of the season, but at the start of consecutive series against three of their chief contenders for a playoff spot it could be devastating. If an MRI reveals no serious damage and Hamels goes on the Disabled List he would be the 21st player this season to do so, breaking a club record. If the news is worse, it wouldn't come as a complete surprise given Hamels has never pitched this many innings during a professional career marked by a series of injuries.

Somehow the Phils have managed to cobble together enough pitching to hang in their but this hole is a gaping one. The patchwork rotation and bullpen don't even begin to address the loss at one time or another of their first and second basemen, right fielder and top bench players. To a man the players express optimism they can overcome this latest setback. Based on the casualties they've sustained and their position in the Wild Card chase you wouldn't want to count them out. Veterans like Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins have pointed out repeatedly this team is different from previous clubs. They are about to get a chance to prove it...again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shivered Their Timbers

We're into that portion of the season when the phrase "cannot afford to ....[fill in the blanks]" is uttered with increasing frequency, as in "The Phillies cannot afford to lose two out of three games to the Pirates" or "The Phils cannot afford to give up big leads on the road" or...well, you get the picture.

A road trip through the lower depths of the NL East and Central divisions yielded precious little as the Phillies split the six games with Washington and Pittsburgh. The classic formula for success hasn't changed over the years: play the tough clubs even and beat up on the other guys. Somewhere along the way that page was omitted from the Phillies' play book. Now they come home to face the Dodgers and Padres before taking on the Mets. In about a week we should have a much better picture of their post-season prospects baring some unforeseen winning streak.

Frankly, with the pitching they are running out there the chances the Phils will run off a six or seven game winning streak seem highly unlikely. The patchwork rotation is strictly of the chewing gum and baling wire variety. As I wrote a month ago, Jamie Moyer is going to give you some decent outings and he is going to get rocked; there's little in between. Kendrick has pitched well but probably over his head. Lohse remains a career mediocrity. Durbin is a work (and a hope and a prayer) in progress. Only Hamels can be relied on. That isn't a playoff rotation by any stretch. As usual with this club, it comes down to offense.

Heck, take Russell Branyan out of the mix and the offense hasn't exactly sparkled over the last two weeks. Ryan Howard is sinking like a stone, refusing (yes, refusing!!) to adjust. If he stands any further off the plate he might as well just take his hacks from the on-deck circle. You can be sure of one thing: National League pitchers have adjusted to him. Everyone was delighted when Iguchi picked up the slack when Chase went down. We learn today whether the doctors will give Utley the green light to begin gripping a bat and swinging. We know he's ready to return, but let's hope the Phillies' desperation doesn't dictate the next step.

Throughout the season it's been feast or famine with this team. When the pitching has been good the offense disappears. When the hitters are tearing the cover off the ball, the pitching heads south. Good teams put the two together. Case nearly closed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

To Disable Or Not To Disable

Adam Eaton to the Disabled List? C'mon, guys, you have to be kidding! Eaton himself acknowledged his landing on the list was a bit odd and were his record better the whole transaction probably would not have come to pass. Wink. Wink. So, once again the Phils suddenly announce a player who heretofore appeared healthy albeit inept was going on the DL. In Eaton's case, the matter was exacerbated by the dilemma of whether or not to have him take his regular turn in the rotation. The last three times out he has stunk up the joint. The last I looked, however, the smells emanating from a player were not a factor is determining whether or not to disable him. Case closed...for now, but frankly the Commissioner's office should look into the whole business of abusive use of the Disabled List.

When it comes to the Phillies' potential guilt in their use of the list the matter is further compounded by their complete lack of credibility with the public in disclosing or withholding information about injuries to players, particularly pitchers. Freddy Garcia, Tom Gordon, Brett Myers, Jayson Werth, and now Easton.

Meanwhile, back at the diamond, the Phillies have stopped hitting. Yes, it would be great to have Chase Utley and Shane Victorino back, but the Phils had kept up the offensive pace even when those two critical components landed on the DL with legitimate injuries. But in their last six games the Phillies aren't hitting at all...literally!! They aren't even making enough contact. Last night they were trailing the Nationals 4-1 when they loaded the bases with no outs. Chris Coste alone delivered a run-scoring single but Russell Branyan showed us the miss part of his swing and miss act, Jimmy Rollins failed to put the ball in play, too, and Tadahito Iguchi grounded out meekly. No one is hitting a lick which is a shame given what good pitching they are receiving over all, especially from the much-maligned bullpen.

Maybe the entire offense should go on the DL.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

B R A N Y A N

"They want me to start focusing a little more on staying on top of the ball," Branyan said. "I have a tendency to swing and miss. It's something I've been working on. It was a free-and-easy swing tonight. I was able to pull that ball. . . . You can build off this. It's very exciting, coming in with my first at-bat with the team [to] contribute."

A man after my own heart and now the darling of every Phillies fan, Russell Branyan arrived here with about as much fanfare as a water meter reader. More than a few bloggers and commenters wondered what the Phillies were thinking when they signed the journeyman, but it took GM Pat Gillick to put it into perspective:

"We wanted somebody who could run into a ball and win a game for us," general manager Pat Gillick explained after the game. "Branyan was the guy we got. He's a hit-or-miss. I don't look at his average. We know he's going to strike out, but he's also going to run into some."

And the career pinch-hit numbers weren't a concern?

Gillick shook his head.

Why not?

"Because he was the only guy available," he said.

Nobody's second-guessing Gillick now. Branyan's pinch-hit two-run homer at RFK Stadium of all places propelled the Phillies to a 3-2 victory last night and enabled them to keep pace with the Braves and Mets, both of whom won, and the Padres, who lead the Phils by one game in the Wild Card Chase. It was the kind of win that not only boosts team morale, it will stand out down the road if the Phils finally make it to the Promise Land as a game that was a turning point.

Meanwhile, the guys who manufacture those jerseys you can buy in sporting goods stores and at the stadium are spell-checking
B R A N Y A N right now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Firing and Misfiring

Make no mistake about it: the box score will say Ryan Howard provided the margin of victory last night with his three run homer, Jamie Moyer settled down after a rough opening frame to pitch six plus strong innings and the bullpen did a tremendous job in stopping a fine offensive club, BUT the main man who provided the spark was Jimmy Rollins, who played as if his "We're the team to beat" statement were running across the bottom of every television screen and scoreboard in America.

Jimmy scored three runs and had two hits, but his fist-pumping energy was what underscored the Phillies victory. Jimmy has never hogged the limelight, but he knew he and his mates were on national television playing at home before a huge adoring crowd in a tight game against a division rival. He rose to all occasions...as he almost always does.

* * * * * * *

The night before, Adam Eaton failed miserably to rise to his occasion...again!

When the Phillies signed Adam Eaton in the off-season they figured he would be a difference maker in their quest for a post-season berth. They never imagined that difference would be measured in losses but that is precisely what is transpiring with alarming frequency. At this rate he could cost them a shot at the playoffs. None of this should come as much of a surprise; Eaton is a career underachiever. Still, the Phillies gave him big money to sign for a guaranteed three years. At this stage Eaton can't guarantee much more than a poor effort very time out, none of which the Phillies can afford. They cannot continue to send him out there every fifth day, especially when one considers he could make nine more starts before the regular season ends. It's time to send him to the bullpen and give the ball to J.D. Durbin.

* * * * * * *

As long as we are talking demotions, it's deja vu all over again in the third base coaching box. Steve Smith has been horrible most of this season, reviving still-fresh memories of his equally inept predecessor, Bill Dancy. Smith keeps sending runners home and they keep getting nailed. Last night he sent two slow runners home against Jeff Francoeur, one of the best arms in baseball, and both were out by wide margins. A few weeks ago he sent speedster Michael Bourn home and he, too, was out by a country mile. The irony is the Phillies have the fleetest team they've had in memory as the stolen base totals attest. It's a good thing Smith isn't the first base coach, I guess. Both outs at the plate last night came with the Phillies trailing by a run. Only some infield gaffes by the Braves and an apparent blown call at first base by the umpire set the stage for Howard's home run, bailing out the Phils in general and Smith in particular. In the immortal words of Dallas Green, he's "killing us".

* * * * * * * *

Rick Ankiel proved his dramatic debut Friday night wasn't a fluke by hitting not one but two home runs Saturday in leading the Cardinals to victory. Afterwards he asked fans not to hold him to "days like this". Yesterday, Ankiel went 1-4 with two strikeouts, leaving four runners on base.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Bad & The Good

Brett Myers ought to worry less about what musical number is being played as he makes his way in from the bullpen to the mound and more about what he's going to do once he gets there.

Wednesday night the chronically inconsistent right-hander wasn't pleased with the musical selection blaring on the stadium loudspeakers as he took the mound but somehow he managed to overcome his displeasure and throw a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save. Speaking to reporters after the game Myers solicited suggestions from the fans for a signature piece of music to herald his arrivals. Presumably, the polls remain open and as we wait for all precincts to report, last night Myers came into a tied game in the ninth inning and promptly yielded two hits, a base on balls and two earned runs to take the loss and spoil another fine start from Kyle Kendricks. Just another night in the Myers adventures. Stay tuned...if you can.

Speaking of Kendricks, manager Charlie Manuel lifted him in the seventh inning with the score tied at two apiece when Carlos Ruiz lead off with a walk. Manuel elected to send in a struggling Wes Helms to pinch hit for Hendricks. Helms fouled off two bunt attempts before going down on strikes and the Phillies failed to score in the inning. Why would Manuel lift the youngster Kendricks, who was pitching well and apparently told his manager his felt strong? The situation barely called for it with Ruiz, a decent runner "for a catcher" on first and Helms, who isn't even starting much these days, batting. What the Phillies most desperately need is good starting pitching, especially from ones who can go deep into the game and avoid having to go to the bullpen. The Phils have proven to everyone they can score runs, even late in the game. What sense does it make to take out your starter when he is in command? (For an excellent piece on the subject of complete games read Bill Conlin's recent column.)

* * * * * * * *

One of the season's best feel-good stories, right up there with the Josh Hamilton comeback, took center stage in St. Louis last night where former pitcher Rick Ankiel made a long-awaited return to the major leagues as a power-hitting outfielder. Ankiel, you may recall, began his big league baseball life as a very successful pitcher, winning 11 games in 2000 before suffering a complete collapse in the post-season, throwing an astounding nine wild pitches in only four innings of work. Ankiel never recovered from that disaster and after a few failed attempts to pitch in St. Louis and in the minors eventually concluded his only path back to the big leagues would be as a position player, not a pitcher. So he went back to the drawing board and remade himself into an outfielder.

Now 28 years old, Ankiel was good enough to be hitting .267 with a league leading 32 homers and 89 RBIs in 102 games at Triple-A Memphis. He also struck out 90 times and had a .314 on-base percentage. Yesterday, he got the call and started in right field for the Cardinals.

In his first three at-bats Ankiel popped up and, true to his minor league form, struck out twice. But also true to that form, in his fourth plate appearance Ankiel hit a pretty darn good curve for a three-run homer.

After the game, a usually stoic Tony La Russa said that other than the World Series triumph he'd never seen his club happier or felt such baseball joy himself. I have to admit welling up a bit myself watching the replays.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Stay Tuned....

I owe the Phillies a collective apology. They aren't dead. Far from it. These guys have had more resurrections in them than a host of Sunday morning televangelists and they've managed their miracles with a cast of fill-ins, cast-offs, third-stringers and veterans. Whatever else plays out, one cannot help like these guys. No big egos. No bickering. No disgruntled players riding the bench. Heck, the only one who admitted to being pissed off was Brett Myers, who complained about the music played to introduce him when he came in to toss a scoreless, triple-K ninth last night against the Marlins.

It all makes you wonder what if Garcia hadn't arrived as damaged goods and Howard, Victorino, Gordon, Myers, Lieber, Bourn and Utley hadn't gone down with injuries. Through it all the Phils are only one game behind Wild Card leader San Diego and four games in back of the Mets in the NL East.

Let it also be known the fans have noticed. Attendance has soared this season with the Phils averaging more than 38,000 per game, up from 31,000 +/- a year ago. Heck, it's downright hard to get a ticket these days. Don't think the players haven't noticed the support. The Phils have won nine of their last eleven at home. Last season they barely played above .500 at the Bank.

More than 30,000 brave souls showed up last night against the Marlins and the temperature at game time was still in the '90's. The Marlins must have walked out on the field and literally felt they were still in South Florida as the humidity hovered around fully saturated. Dontrelle Willis went through two jerseys by the fourth inning. Everyone was stepping out and wiping his brow. It was brutal even if you stood still. (The temperature never fell below 80 degrees in the wee hours of the morning, nearly matching the record in Philadelphia for highest low, 82 degrees, set in 2001.)

Once again Aaron Rowand was the hero as he hit his eighteenth home run of the season, a two-run shot that provided the winning margin. The silence coming out of his camp and the Phillies' front office is ominous. It looks more and more like he is departing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Crowned


*

Monday, August 06, 2007

Monday Notes

While reports in this space of the Philllies' demise may have been premature, only the timing was off. Inevitably, the more they keep sending out Adam Eaton, Kyle Lohse, Tom Gordon, Geoff Geary, and Jose Mesa the more likely they will be making a collective quick right turn toward the dugout in early October.

Yesterday's down-to-their last strike 9th inning rally and extra-innings win was satisfying turn-about is fair play, but truth be told I missed every bit of it having abandoned the game early after Adam Eaton surrendered four quick runs before I'd even had a chance to settle in to the couch. In a post over at Beerleaguer, commenter extraordinaire RSB predicted Eaton's post-game response prior to the miserable reality:

(RSB) Adam Eaton is already devising his postgame comments. "I just can't explain it." "Maybe they should start the game in the second inning." "It's very frustrating, I know I can pitch better." "Sometimes you have to give the other team the credit." "I felt like I made some good pitches there, it just didn't work out."

(From the Inquirer) What is it?" he asked. Why has he pitched so terribly early in nearly every start?

"Maybe more conviction," Eaton told reporters of a possible solution. "Maybe that's not the right word. . . . You're there, then settle in. Maybe just get after it in the first inning, then settle in. I don't know if that's right or not. I'm thinking out loud to you guys."

Advice to RSB: Run, don't walk, to your nearest lottery vendor.

Years ago the Orioles' great lefthander Mike Cuellar went through a stretch during which he surrendered a lot of first-inning runs. His solution was to warm up longer than usual in the bullpen, hoping to leave that first inning there. By the time he took the mound, he'd thrown so many warm-up pitches he considered the official start to be the second inning, not the first. It worked. Eaton might try the same tactic, especially since unlike Cuellar, no one expects Eaton or anyone else these days to go more than five or six official innings anyway.

* * * * * * * *

Three milestones were reached this weekend but only one, Tom Glavine's 300th win, was satisfying. I need not say anything more about Bonds; readers know my feelings about him. A-Rod's 500th home run was more news in New York than around the nation. Glavine's success, however, should be encouraging to all those pitchers out there who don't possess Nolan Ryan's fastball, Steve Carlton's slider or Sandy Koufax's curve; in other words, to nearly all pitchers. Glavine simply knows how to pitch. He has made a great career out of mixing up his pitches, pinpoint control and, yes, helping himself out with a base hit. Last night he drove in the first run of the game with a single. Hat's off to Glavine.

(Glavine's milestone win came in his third attempt. Yesterday, in the NY Times, George Vecsey wrote a wonderful piece on Early Wynn, who more than three decades earlier struggled mightily to win his 300th game.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dog Days Musings

Let's face facts: these guys are dead. When they aren't wasting the relatively rare strong outings by a starter, they are stopping just short of Curt Schillings' favorite approach -- drooping towels over their heads and hoping the bullpen doesn't self-destruct.

When Chase Utley went down all was doom and gloom but the Phillies surprised most of us with a few wins. Then Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino were injured within an inning of each other and Ryan Howard all but disappeared behind a veil of whiffs. Were it not for a resurgent Pat Burrell, whom they desperately tried to dump at every turn, the Phillies would be sinking even faster and further. Now, they must rely on Adam Eaton of all people to salvage a lone win in Milwaukee.

Don't get your hopes up.

* * * * * * * *

Well, Barry Bonds is now co-home run king of all time and as soon as today will be the new Sultan of Swat, at least officially. Bonds isn't likely to replace Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth in the hearts and minds of baseball fans, even in San Francisco when the dust settles, but he is going to wear the crown and no asterisk or other qualifier will rest beneath it unless something dramatic and unforeseen happens on the steroids front.

The royal we don't congratulate him.

* * * * * * * *

Jim Salisbury had an interesting column the other day on the endless and largely tedious exercise in following Bonds around the country as he pursued Aaron's record. The interesting part wasn't about Bonds, per se, but about PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres, where Bonds tied the mark and might break it today.

It seems when the Padres built the park, much admired throughout baseball, they determined to build it to favor pitchers, which let the record show, it most certainly does. The Padres' ownership decided pitching is the name of the game and their home field would thus favor hurlers. (Salisbury also noted there were rumors the Padres' management wanted to "Bonds-proof" the park. It seems Bonds has victimized San Diego's pitching staff more than any other. I doubt any management, even the Phillies", would go to such lengths.)

Citizens Bank Park, which opened the same season as PETCO Park, is as we all know not a pitcher-friendly park. Indeed, just the other night the Padres stellar starter Jake Peavy became the latest member of his sect to diss the Bank. He has hardly been alone. One can only assume the Phillies ownership, faced with the same design decisions several years ago, said in unison, what the heck, let's go for offense. At the time the Phillies had Jim Thome and Pat Burrell and an untested or proven Ryan Howard. They also had Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd on the way and Brett Myers already in the majors, but David Montgomery, Bill Giles & Company were evidently more inclined toward the Mike Schmidt's of the world than the Steve Carlton's.

Nary a single pitcher has ever been heard to say anything but a disparaging let alone discouraging word about the Phillies' home. And none will. Local fans can drool all they want over free agent pitchers, only Adam Eaton types would consider plying their trade in this bandbox. Meanwhile, the Padres, hardly offensive juggernauts, are contending for the NL West lead on the strength of their pitching.

Friday, August 03, 2007

It's Still About The Pitching

Kyle Lohse made his Phillies debut yesterday and anyone arriving late at the ballpark would have missed it. In one inning of decided labor the newly acquired Lohse allowed two hits, one walk, and one run. Oh, and he also hit two batters. It might have been a whole lot worse when the Cubs Jacque Jones scorched a liner up the middle with the bases loaded, but the ball struck Lohse on the forearm, he knocked it down and threw Jones out to end the inning. After the game Lohse had quite an ugly bruise but appeared to be otherwise OK. He insisted he'd be ready for his next start, but will the Phillies' position players be ready for him? Whatever the outcome, let's hope we don't receive an official medical report from the Phillies in the interim because we all know what those have meant lately.

Jason Werth, Pat Burrell and Chris Coste had big days for the Phils as they split their series with the Cubs. If Burrell keeps up his positively torrid hitting not only Pat Gillick but every blogger and commenter in the Delaware Valley is going to have to go back to the drawing board again. Geez, Pat, you sure know how to throw a wrench into the works. Frankly, I'm happy for Burrell, who throughout his years of tribulations has maintained a remarkably even public disposition, but I am not ready to be seduced. Sooner than later we are going to see the .201 hitter again.

Coste, meanwhile, has made yet another case for remaining with the Phillies on some sort of permanent basis, a sure sign that he will be sent down or away again. The question no longer is what does he have to prove but what exactly does management have against him?

The game was also marked by another near fatal collapse of the vaunted bullpen but just when it looked like the Cubs would come back from a huge deficit the Phils tacked on three late-inning runs to put the game out of reach even for its own bullpen. Brett Myers was the only member of the pen to have a good outing, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning. That makes three straight outings for Myers, two 1-2-3 innings sandwiched around a meltdown.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Grim And Grimmer

When the great closers of the past came into a ball game, you could normally expect them to enter throwing heat or nasty breaking stuff and opposing batters to be flailing away or frozen hopelessly. Sure, the occasional batter would get a hold of one and turn it around, but not very often. Goose Gossage. Bruce Sutter. Rollie Fingers. Dennis Eckersly. All of them came in throwing strikes.

In his short career as a closer Brett Myers has shown none of the dominance of these men or others like John Smoltz, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Last night's performance demonstrated conclusively why Myers will forever remain an unfulfilled promise: two wild pitches, one of them a walk-off wild pitch. It's one thing to leave a fastball over the middle of the plate and quite another to sail one pitch over the catcher's head and a few pitches later throw one in the dirt with the winning run on third.

There's never been much reason to admire Myers as a pitcher (let's leave aside his personality). Two nights after pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning to save a ball game he came back and had a miserable evening. Perhaps he was unnerved by the play by defensive substitute Jason Werth, who dived attempting to field a ball but could not hold on to it. Myers has a history of unraveling when someone fails to make a play behind him. In Werth's defense, however, he was just coming off a rehab stint and had not appeared in a game prior to being inserting in left field instead of Pat Burrell. Moreover, it was a very tough play to make under any circumstances and Werth could hardly be faulted. The loss of two outfielders the night before last left the Phillies with few options. Normally, Werth would not have been in there. Still, Myers was all over the place, walking one batter unintentionally and another deliberately. It should be noted Tom Gordon was unavailable last night, reporting he had some shoulder tightness that was "nothing [he] was too worried about."

Some of this drama might have been averted had Ryan Howard not made two bonehead plays earlier in the evening. Howard made the first out of the fifth inning at third base after doubling in a run. Howard hesitated at second base and then tried to stretch his hit into a triple before being thrown out. Aaron Rowand followed with a home run, a solo shot instead of a two-run dinger. Howard also made yet another fielding gaffe, throwing high to second base after J.C. Romero picked off Alfonso Soriano. Though Soriano failed to score, the errant throw by Howard (who didn't get an official error) was one more instance of mediocre play at first base. Apart from the double, Howard has been struggling mightily since the Washington series ended last week. He is striking out at a prodigious rate and looking awful doing so. Only a few weeks ago he was named NL player of the week and looked like he had solved his batting woes. Against Pittsburgh and now Chicago he has looked absolutely lost, lunging for ball way outside and pulling off others. Howard looks grim and disconsolate, often walking back to the dugout muttering to himself. He isn't helping the team much.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ebb & FLow

Scorecard:

Braves improved themselves. Mets improved themselves. Phillies did not improve themselves. Indeed, the Phillies slipped further behind by virtue of the latest injuries to befall them when both Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn went on the DL. What's next? A plague of frogs and boils? Or worse, another start from Adam Eaton?

At this point a start by Eaton invariably leads to a loss. After a miserable beginning with the Phillies, the overpriced Eaton pitched a few decent games, but he is back to his old losing ways and nothing in his last several outings suggests we will see anything other than the nearly 6 run ERA he currently sports, among the worst if not the worst among starters in the NL. Don't expect Kyle Lohse to pick up the slack; he, too, is a career middling pitcher at best.

With Ryan Madson now on the DL the Phillies pitching remains a shambles. The potent offense cannot be expected to overcome these shortcomings with several of its members on the DL and with Ryan Howard suddenly slumping again. It's amazing how quickly this team's fortunes ebb and flow.