Sunday, September 30, 2007

People, Get Ready

Yes, we know, the plastic is ready in the locker room, the champagne is on ice and the "We never gave up on ourselves" quotes are on the players' tongues, but if the Phils win today and the Mets lose, just go here.

(Editor's note: No provisions have been made for a loss.)

Friday, September 28, 2007


Climbing out of a hole they dug themselves a mere 159 games ago, the Phillies rode a 6-4 victory over John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves all the way to a tie with the free-falling Mets for first place in the National League East. Unaccustomed as they are to the penthouse suite, the Phils looked mighty comfortable with their new digs.

Hordes of white towel -- not flag!! -- waving fans, a sight not seen in these parts in a very long time, whooped it up as the Phils jumped all over Smoltz in the first inning for four runs and added two more in the third. The usual suspects led the way, beginning with Jimmy Rollins, who stroked Smoltz' first offering of the proceedings up the middle and scored when his partner in speedy crimes Shane Victorino dropped a beautiful bunt down the third base line and Smoltz threw wildly to first. After the usually sure-handed Mark Teixeira booted Chase Utley's hard smash to first allowing Victorino to score, Ryan Howard lined a shot over the night field wall. Smoltz came into Citizens Bank Park on the record as the number one hater in all of baseball of the Phillies' home field's cozy dimensions. He left town with his grip on first place firmly in place though it must be said neither Howard's shot, which was hit so hard it was rising when stopped by a hand or seat, or Burrell's, which cleared the petunias by at least twenty rows at least, was nearly as cheap as the one Jeff Francoeur hit in the ninth off Brett Myers. What's sauce for the goose....

The Phils now control their own destiny. "All" they have to do is sweep the Washington Nationals this weekend in Philadelphia and watch the Mets hit rock bottom and baseball ignominy and the division title along with a large portion of vindication for one James Calvin Rollins will be theirs. The Nationals are no pushovers, just ask the Mets, and have played the role of spoiler well over the few years of their existence. But something tells me this Phillies team is destined to defy all the odds.

We won't have long to wait and learn the outcome.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Getting Closer

Last night's taut 5-2 win over Atlanta came courtesy of the kind of starting pitching the Phillies have mostly dreamed about this season. Kyle Lohse, whom the Phillies coveted when he was still a Minnesota Twin, delivered seven strong innings precisely when his teammates needed him and the offense, led by Jimmy Rollins (of course!), chipped in with just enough hitting to get the job done.

J-Roll led off the game with his 19th triple of the season and scored on Ryan Howard's single up the middle. Gregg Dobbs, who has had a superb season as a super-sub, knocked in two more and Shane Victorino, who has accepted his part-time role without complaint, smoked a pinch-hit homer in the second deck.

It never gets monotonous to write about Jimmy. Indeed, on more than a few occasions this season I have reminded myself not to take him for granted. One day, many years in the distance we hope, he will hang it up and we will no longer have the pleasure of watching one of baseball's best all-around players. This year four or five players in the National League merit serious consideration for the MVP award but none has had a better season than Jimmy and none has ever flashed that grin as widely or taken such obvious pleasure in playing the game.

Meanwhile, back at the pennant race, the Mets continue to stumble and bumble their way towards possibly one of baseball's legendary late-season collapses. It couldn't happen to a nicer team. (On occasion I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, sit up straight and ask myself, "How in the hell did the Mets beat the Orioles in '69??!!") The Phils are only a game out of first with four games remaining. If they manage to overtake NY, they should award the Washington Nationals a full share of whatever post-season bonus awaits them, provided, of course, that the Nationals further cooperate and lose all three of their games in Philadelphia this weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There's Still Time

The scary thing is the Phillies could end up third in the NL East! The Braves are red hot and though the Phils just concluded a great 8-2 road trip, they have chosen the worst time to lose two in a row. With San Diego's dramatic ninth inning win yesterday, the Padres regained their one-game Wild Card lead over the Phils. Meanwhile, the Mets have done everything humanly possible to give the Phillies the NL East title but the Phils have failed to take full advantage of the Mets' "generosity".

Last night Jamie Moyer looked like a 43-year old pitcher, a game one, but nonetheless an aging and tired one, allowing nine base runners in 5.1 innings. He surrendered a three-run homer in the first to Mark Teixeira and though eventually the Phils came back and took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, Moyer couldn't hold it. Geoff Geary and Flash Gordon each gave up two runs in relief, the first time in a while the bullpen collectively faltered. Now, of course, is not the time to falter and the fans let Geary in particular know that.

Individual achievements, most notably Jimmy Rollins' 30th home run of the season, were lost as the Phils fell 10-6. If they do manage to sneak into the playoffs, Rollins deserves to be the NL MVP, but right now they aren't focused on individual stats and accomplishments. Five games aren't many, but they are enough to overcome the deficits the Phillies still face.

Monday, September 24, 2007

One Week To Go In Regular Season

Random thoughts while waiting for the regular season to wind down....

You can't win 'em all and don't but the Phils just concluded a damn good road trip by taking eight of ten to scare the living daylights out of the Mets (NY Times headline today said "Mets Exhale, With Some Breathing Room") and inch closer to the WC leader San Diego.

* * * * * * * * *

Ryan Howard is on the verge of becoming the all-time strikeout leader for a single season despite having missed several weeks earlier in the year. If he finishes with something on the order of 210 strikeouts, that would average out to roughly anywhere from 42 to 52 games in which he didn't put a ball into fair play. That looks and sounds a whole lot worse than simply listing his total number of punch outs. Forty-two to fifty-two games where he might as well have not bothered going up to the plate. Yes, I know, I exaggerate here, he didn't strike out four or five times a game for those 42 - 52 games but it is still a colossally dismal effort.

* * * * * * * * *

Take a good hard look at Aaron Rowand because he's leaving. At the beginning of the season I predicted mediocre things for him at the plate and knocked his fielding as less than stellar, particularly when it came to the routes he takes to the ball. Shows what I know. The thinking around baseball appears to be that the Phils need to spend too much on pitching to give Rowand the rich contract his stellar season will likely command. If the Phillies had some pitching lined up for next season Rowand might want to come back, but that doesn't appear to be in the offing.

* * * * * * * * *

While you are taking a good hard look, fix your gaze upon Brett Myers, closer. If the Phils land a legitimate stopper during the off-season the pressure to move Myers back into the starting rotation will be tremendous. Problem is, he isn't going to go quietly. Myers likes the macho image associated with the closer role even if he hasn't exactly been the second coming of Goose Gossage or others who defined the role that way.

* * * * * * * * *

Wes Helms has certainly been the biggest bust among position players signed during last off-season and Adam Eaton is the title holder among hurlers. Yes, even Freddy Garcia gets a pass on this ballot because he wasn't honestly healthy enough for anyone to expect much except, it appears, Pat Gillick. Helms has been awful at the plate and awful as advertised in the field. Eaton is in the running for worst free agent signing in the league, not just in the Delaware Valley. And Freddy? Mark your Garcia ballots under the name Gillick, Pat.

* * * * * * * * *

The Phillies have a few pitchers on the roster who are recuperating from major arm surgeries and should get serious looks some time next season. Chief among these are Scott Mathieson, Matt Smith and Mike Zagurski. They may not look like world-beaters but they were literally sorely missed over the last few weeks.

* * * * * * * * *

Finally, I hope my readers picked up on the unusual note of optimism in today's headline. I sure I whistled by the graveyard.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Taking Notice

It's doubtful the Phillies have caught the attention of fans around the country save those in New York, but there isn't any doubt they've caught the attention of baseball itself. Everywhere one turns, stories and comments abound regarding this team's heart and soul. Players, managers, commentators and writers are duly impressed with the Phillies refusal to die despite the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, especially those aimed at the pitching staff.

Those major-league leading forty-eight come-from-behind victories have impressed the constituency most difficult to impress, the baseball brotherhood itself. (Yes, last night's win counts in that total since Washington jumped out to a 1-0 lead.) Words like "swagger", "indomitable", "grit", "heart" and the like are making their way into every story about this team. More than a few commentators have said this installment of the Phillies has more determination than any team since 1980. Yes, that's right, any team including the 1993 version. When your pitching staff is put together with spit and baling wire and a few key position players have spent some time on the DL, too, and you are very much in the hunt with nine games to go your effort gets noticed and appreciated.

These guys have been a lot of fun to watch in no small part because so many different players have contributed. As has been well-documented, this isn't just the Jimmy-Chase-Ryan show. Pat, Jayson, Greg, Aaron, Carlos and Shane have all had many moments in the spotlight. In the end a local fan only needs to know this about the 2007 Phillies and their late-season surge: none other than Bill Conlin has called for giving Charlie Manuel a two-year contract extension. Now that's an endorsement!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Forget The Wild Card

Aim high. Isn't that what they always say?

The Phils should forget the Wild Card and line those New York Mets up in the cross hairs. The division title is theirs for the taking. The Philies continue their amazing string of come-from-behind victories, tops in the major leagues this season, and inch closer to the Mets. With nine games to play the Phils trail New York by 1.5 games. Much bigger deficits have been overcome before; much bigger leads have also been surrendered.

So much rides on these next nine games apart from the most obvious one, an end to the Phillies' fourteen year post-season drought. There is also the small matter of Jimmy Rollins' pre-season prediction his team was the one to beat in the East. Jimmy has never backed off from that statement and now with a little more than a week to go he can almost taste the redemption. Then, there is the not so small matter of bragging rights. Chants of "Let's Go Mets" would be just a wee bit more muted next season in games at Citizens Bank Park should the Amazins' complete their nearly-historic collapse. And finally, there is the strong likelihood that the same Mr. Rollins would become a leading candidate for NL MVP if he leads his team to the Promised Land.

Ah, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Phils still have six games remaining against the pesky Nationals, who gave them all they could handle last night, and three against Atlanta, which is suddenly on a roll again.

The pitching staff remains as unpredictable as the weather in Texas. If the starters aren't imploding, the bullpen is...and vice versa. One guy who keeps surprising to the upside is J.D. Durbin, who threw his second straight superb relief performance after losing his tenuous spot in the starting rotation with a few absolutely awful outings. Tonight, Adam Eaton seeks redemption for his rotten season. If he gives his team five or six solid innings, most but not all that has come before might be forgiven.

The offense, meanwhile, continues to deliver when all hope seems lost. If it isn't the quartet of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Rowand delivering, supersubs Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs can be counted on to step into the breach.

Nine games to go. They will be exciting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Myers A Closed Case

They had already taken two from a team impersonating the St. Louis Cardinals -- no Scott Rolen, no Albert Pujols, Jim Edmunds for one night, and no real starting pitchers for games one and two -- but their luck ran out as the Phillies went for the sweep. Closer Brett Myers came on in relief in the bottom of the tenth in a tie game on the road, a violation of baseball orthodoxy but less shocking on a team as depleted in the pen as this one.

He'd pitched the night before as well and had blown that save only to be rescued by his teammates in the bottom of the 14th inning. Last night was different, however, as he took the loss. The box score will show he gave up two hits. Apologists will say one was a bang-bang play at first and the other a seeing-eye single. Both were sandwiched around a stolen base. I didn't see the play and cannot say whether or not Miguel Cairo stole the base on Myers, Chris Coste or both. All I do know is that for Myers the series boiled down to this: two nights, similar results, different outcomes.

Myers is anything but the dominating closer the Phillies fantasized about when they moved him into the role after the season got underway. Indeed, opponents show little fear when Myers takes the mound. Now, on top of his evident inconsistency, he's being overworked. A few more outings like last night and he can begin his off-season recuperation...along with the rest of the roster.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hot Hot Hot

When you manage eight hits in fourteen innings and win you are officially on a roll and the Philllies, if nothing else, are certainly that as they won for the sixth straight time last night.

Only a week ago most observers including this one were preparing obituaries (or writing them!) after the Phils were crushed at home by Colorado, 12-0. Since then they haven't lost and in the process have moved to within 1.5 games of the Mets. Yes, fans, the Mets, not just the Padres.

Everyone literally got into the act last night as Charlie Manuel used his entire bench and a whole lot of his bullpen. On a team which sees a different hero virtually every night three unexpected ones emerged last night in St. Louis: Rod Barajas, Jose Mesa and J.D. Durbin.

Durbin came on in early relief of a rusty Cole Hamels and pitched two scoreless innings when the Cardinals threatened to run away with the game. Mesa, whose ERA is approaching the trade deficit, pitched two scoreless innings of relief (the 12th and 13th) while the rest of us were sleeping. And Barajas, the forgotten man, drove in what proved to be the winning run in the top of the 14th inning. Geoff Geary and Clay Condrey also shut the door on the Cardinals.

Cole Hamels did not look sharp in his first start in more than a month, not a surprising outcome. His bread and butter pitch, the change, wasn't fooling anyone and the location of his fastball, which sets up the change, was not there. The good news is he didn't complain of soreness after his three innings of work.

Meanwhile, in the nation's capital, the Mets were losing for the second straight night to Washington and the fifth time in a row overall. Following the Phillies' sweep at Shea Stadium last weekend a few Mets were less than complimentary to their division rivals, collectively huffing that they were still the team to beat. How delicious would it be forJ-Roll to have the last word on that score?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living Another Day

Ignominy was in the batters' box in the person of Russell Branyan. Two men were on and two were out. Fortunately for the Phils, Branyan always either strikes out or homers -- nothing in between. This time he took a called third strike to end the game and thus the Phils, who at one time led the Cardinals 11-0, held on to win 13-11. It wasn't pretty but as they say, it was effective. Big home runs by home-grown Ryan Howard (two of them), Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand (also two) moved the Phils to within 2.5 games of the Mets and 1.5 games of the Padres.

With the specter of their meltdown in Atlanta a few weeks ago fresh in everyone's mind, the Phillies avoided having last night's game enter the annals of late-season horrors. There is no rest for the weary. Tonight may really be the most important game of the season when Cole Hamels, who has been on the DL for more than a month, takes the hill. Hamels will be on a strict pitch count according to reports, but if he can give his mates five solid innings the boost to morale will be incalculable. Coming at a time when the starting rotation remains in tatters and the bullpen is nearly spent, a quality start by Hamels could make the difference between a berth in the post-season or not.

* * * * * * * *

With so many different position players taking turns leading the Phillies second-half surge one player who has quietly played a key role has been lost in the shuffle. Carlos Ruiz has taken on the lion's share of the catching duties and has performed admirably. Any carryover from last season's reports of some language difficulties in communicating with pitchers have evaporated. Ruiz has also become something of a fire-brand, whipping the ball around, urging on his battery-mates, taking command, throwing out base-runners and hitting decently, indeed sometimes in a little bit of hard luck. He blocks the plate, handles bunts very efficiently and has become a very dependable backstop. Nor is he afraid to get into it with opposing players either when necessary. His energy level rivals that of some of the more vocal Phillies.

Monday, September 17, 2007

And The Answer Is....?

Hold those reservations for tee times, they've done it again.

The team that made eleventh hour pushes for October the official time of the realm just completed their second sweep of the division-leading Mets in a fortnight to creep to within 1.5 games of the Wild Card lead. As usual, they did it in dramatic fashion, riding the pinch-hit grand slam home run of Greg Dobbs to a 10-6 victory at Shea Stadium. In the process the Phils overcame another rotten start by Adam Eaton to also post their major league leading 45th come-from-behind victory of 2007.

Dobbs had plenty of company this weekend, not the least of whom were Aaron Rowand and Jimmy Rollins. As far as Mets' fans are concerned, Rollins wore a scarlet letter on his back all season after proclaiming prior to the start of play the Phils were "the team to beat" in the NL East. Then, of course, he backed up his words, at least in head-to-head play, by leading the Phils to a season series victory including seven straight (four at Citizens Bank Park and three in New York) and three sweeps, two at Shea. If the Phillies fall short in their quest for a post-season berth no one will be more disappointed than J-Roll, their leader and catalyst. If they break their fourteen year post-season drought, Jimmy would get serious consideration as the league's MVP.

It's impossible to watch this team and not wonder what might have been with decent starting pitching. Heck, we are left to wonder what it might have been with healthy starting pitching! The reality is their pitching woes don't begin and end in the first few innings. A shaky bullpen from April on has also undermined their potent offense. There appears to be little doubt 2007 will be the last chance for this particular group to make it to the playoffs, as Aaron Rowand seems destined to depart via free agency. Rowand might have been tempted to remain if the prospects for improvement in the starting rotation were better, but no obvious help is on the horizon.

With thirteen games remaining, six against the Nationals, who always play the Phillies tough, there is plenty of opportunity if not time to make up ground on both San Diego and New York. As this past weekend demonstrated, the Phils hitters can go into a hostile climate and remain focused. Can their pitching staff do the same? That's been the question all along. The answer will appear shortly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tee Times Available

Random thoughts as the Phillies begin making reservations for tee times in October....

If I were Jimmy Rollins or Pat Burrell I might consider upping my accident insurance. They are the only two starters who haven't gone down so far this year. Kyle Kendrick is the latest to suffer an injury when he took a lined shot off his knee last night. Moments before he had surrendered a 3-run homer to Matt Hollilday, the Rockies magnificent left fielder. It was Holliday's fourth home run of the series. In fairness to Kendrick, he got squeezed not once but twice on the two preceding batters.

* * * * * * * *

The Yankees and Red Sox play a big three-game series this weekend in Boston. Normally the media over-hype these meetings, assuming that the rest of the nation gives a damn about them. Chris Berman-like hyperventilating notwithstanding, this one should be good with the Sox leading the Yankees by five games. Boston has fifteen games left; the Yankees have 17 games remaining on their schedule. All of the games will be televised nationally either by ESPN or FOX, so get ready for Joe Morgan, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver...if that's possible. My recommendation would be to make sure the volume control on your HD-TV is in good working order, especially the arrow that points south.

* * * * * * * *

The Tigers fell apart in the second half of the season and pitching was the culprit. All of those Phillies fans who still yearn for Jim Leyland might take note of the fact that he can't throw the ball for the Tigers either.

* * * * * * * *

The Baltimore Orioles have sunk like a stone, losing at both a prodigious rate over time and per game. The have suffered the indignity of a 30-run loss along the way but they routinely give up huge numbers of runs in bunches. The franchise has hit rock bottom. Only new ownership could restore some of its glory and that doesn't seem imminent or likely.

* * * * * * * *

In his piece in the Inquirer this morning, Jim Salisbury asks whether the end is near for the Phillies or is the current series with the Rockies a detour. Neither, Jim. The end is not near, it's far, having come in Atlanta and Florida a few weeks ago. As for detours, consider the Rockies series a detour only if the Phillies were on their way to Cincinnati via Bermuda.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of Colorado, that is one helluva an offense they throw out there. If they get pitching they will be dangerous in the future. Of course the Rockies will always have a lot of trouble attracting established free agent pitchers to Coors Field despite the humidor used to temper the flight of baseballs. They are going to have to acquire pitching via trades or the draft. They came into Philadelphia and threw a lot of young and inexperienced pitchers at the Phils, who naturally responded by treating these neophytes like Cy Young clones.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rotation Blues

When the postmortem is inevitably performed on the Phillies in a few weeks doctors will be hard-pressed to single out a particular ailment as the fatal one, but everyone knows 'twas pitching killed the patient.

Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee have tried to follow their own Hippocratic oath and do no harm to the patient by juggling the depleted pitching staff, but they had to relent last night and throw Adam Eaton out there after nine days between starts (they euphemistically called it "rest" but everyone else called it for what it really was, avoidance). Eaton wasted no time in putting his mates in a hole out of which they never climbed, serving up the first of three home runs on the night to only the second batter of the game. Just like that the Phils were behind to stay. Eaton gave up six hits, two free passes, those three homers and four earned runs in five innings of work. Afterwards, he had this to say to the press: I don't think I necessarily threw the ball that bad, but obviously the bulk of my mistakes ended up over the fence. For the most part, I was happy with the way I threw the ball.

Spare us such happiness, Adam.

The 8-2 loss to Colorado, as potent a hitting team as exists in the NL, was one of those desultory performances by the Phils that normally come after a modest winning streak. The entire team seemed to sleep-walk its way through the nine innings, hardly the kind of urgency one should expect at this time of year. That's what playing behind the eight ball, or Adam Eaton, can do to a club.

What a miserable season from the pitchers. Even Cole Hamels has largely faded from the radar screen. All we have left are soft tosses, chiropractors and tender elbows. Freddy Garcia? A horse in a glue factory. J.D. Durbin? A hope and a prayer. Jamie Moyer? A wily old veteran who frequently acts both parts in the same outing. Kyle Kendrick? A huge surprise who having logged more innings thrown than any other season in his brief professional life is already on management's watch list lest he, too, breaks down. As for the bullpen? We aren't going there this post. Leave that for another postmortem.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pat's Bat Is Back

No one, yours truly included, wanted to see Pat Burrell in a Phillies uniform in 2007 and by mid-season all of us were hoping the Phils could move him at the trade deadline. Trouble was, it was more than a little difficult to move a high-priced outfielder who was hitting .201.

Just goes to show what we know.

On a team with two legitimate MVP candidates and the reigning title holder, Burrell has been second to none over the last two months. He is hitting for average, drawing a lot of walks and mashing the long ball in critical situations. The Phils would be nowhere without Jimmy, Chase and Ryan but they would be somewhere south of the back of beyond without Burrell.

Last night the big leftfielder stroked a three-run homer to knot the score at five apiece with Colorado and in the tenth inning Ryan Howard delivered a game-winning double to the opposite field as the Phils moved to within a game and a half of the Wild Card leading Padres.

Jose Mesa tried his best to give the game away but the rest of the bullpen, Mssrs. Romero, Gordon and Myers, closed the door on the hard-hitting Rockies and set up Howard's heroics. It's safe to say the Phillies have a lot of different heroes every night (and their share of goats, too) and more often than not these days Burrell has been right in the middle of the mix.

For the first time in many years Burrell appears to be healthy; moreover, he appears to be enjoying the game. Whatever else one says about him, Burrell never complained throughout his years in the wilderness. Indeed, he never said much of anything. He grimaced on more than a few occasions, broke his bat across his knee once or twice and largely withdrew into his shell as his struggles and injuries mounted. But he never indulged in that favorite pastime of many local sports stars who fall from grace, blaming the fans. Now he is their darling again and he might just help get them to the Promised Land.

We're lucky to have him around...and I don't mind saying so.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Precious Lives

I've lost count of the number of lives the Phillies have already used up but it must be approaching nine by this point in the season. Still, they open an important four-game series with Colorado at Citizens Bank Park this evening and find themselves "only" two games out of the Wild Card lead. What games aren't important at this stage in the proceedings?

The Phils managed to take two out of three from Florida thanks to some impressive relief work. Nonetheless, no lead appears too safe thanks in no small part to last week's disaster in Atlanta and sure enough, the Marlins did make it interesting yesterday with three sixth-inning home runs off starter Jamie Moyer, who suddenly lost it after cruising along for five innings.

The Phils threw another makeshift lineup at the Fish on Sunday -- is there any other kind in this season of disablements?-- with Chase Utley starting at first instead of Ryan Howard. Manager Charlie Manuel explained Howard "wasn't seeing the ball good" and needed a day off. I've always wondered how one clears up one's vision by not looking, but I'll assume it was his head and not his eyes that needed recalibrating.

Colorado is no gimme any longer. Indeed, their record is nearly identical to Phillies whom they trail by a single game in the Wild Card chase. The Phils need to win three out of four here going into the big weekend series against the Mets at Shea. Anything less and they use up another precious life.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The End Is Neigh

Gordon and Myers...perfect together.

There are multitudes of Phillies followers, particularly those commenting on some blogs, who are enamored of Brett Myers. There are others, like myself, who cannot abide him for his behavior on and off the field. After today's meltdown, overdue frankly as Myers normally alternates good performances with stinkers, I would be delighted to see the Phils move him in the off-season while he can still fool some of the people some of the time. He's a mediocrity through and through. Yes, I know the arguments about today's devastating loss: the Braves got a lot of cheap hits and breaks and Chris Roberson probably should have caught the game-winning hit. Nevertheless, Myers walked three batters in his two innings including one with the bases loaded and never could put the Braves away. After the game Chipper Jones shook his head and wondered aloud whether any team had ever gotten so many breaks in a win as his Braves just did. He concluded by saying the better team didn't win this game. Still, Myers contributed mightily to the loss, constantly allowing the Braves back into the game. He walked two in the eighth inning and one in the ninth. The infield single in the ninth wasn't luck. The chopper off the plate was. The walk certainly wasn't and the game-winning double off of Roberson's glove was hit well enough to drive a stake into the Phillies' hearts. Rarely if ever has a manager looked more shell-shocked than Charlie Manuel did as the winning run crossed the plate for the Braves.

As for Gordon, he was truly the victim of a series of incredibly unlucky breaks as the Braves managed three straight bloop hits off of him, but Flash gave up four hits, not three, and four runs and continued to raise serious doubts about his future.

The Phils road trip through the South pretty much fricasseed them for this season baring something miraculous. Throw in the likelihood that Cole Hamels is done for the season and there is little to cheer about on the pitching front. (Also throw in that Hamels is unhappy about the lack of a team-provided chiropractor and one has the sense things are starting to unravel a little in the clubhouse.) I feel sorry for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell in particular. They deserve better.

More thoughts the day after....

Jim Salisbury, whom I respect enormously, wrote this morning that Myers is "still learning the closer's role". Salisbury wasn't making excuses in his piece entitled "This one never should have gotten away" but even the mere suggestion that Myers is learning on the job ignores the realities that he walked three batters in his two innings of work, one with the bases loaded, and that he worked a lot of other deep counts before losing most of those battles as well. Bloop hits and balls bounced off the plate are the luck of the draw; free passes, a wild pitch, and lack of command are not the stuff closers are made of. Brett Myers is a veteran pitcher and no matter what role he plays, he knows he shouldn't be issuing free passes. (Myers also didn't help himself in the ninth with a poor throw to first base that pulled Ryan Howard off the bag, a play that might have ended the ball game with the Phils ahead by two runs, but the play would have been very close at best. Lack of command, it seems, is not just a question of Myers' throwing to home.)

Should Michael Bourn have caught that slicing fly ball that broke the Phillies' backs and hearts? Some theorize that if a fielder gets his glove on a ball he should have made the catch, a concept I find hard to support in a game of inches, but there is no getting around the poor decision he made when the ball was hit and the even poorer decision the Phillies' dugout brain trust made in positioning him shallow to put him in position to throw a runner out at the plate. Chris Wheeler noted an inning before when the Braves had the bases loaded with two outs and a few batters before in the fatal ninth that the outfield defense was not in a "prevent doubles" position. Now, Wheeler loves that phrase but in many instances he is correct. Leading by two runs the issue wasn't to be in a position to cut down a runner. The proper defense was to prevent extra base hits. Bourn should have been deeper and Jimmy Williams or whoever is in charge of those decisions should have placed him there.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ain't The Beer Stale!

One trademark of this current Phillies team is their inconsistent play. A mere week after playing some of the most exciting baseball seen around these parts in many a season and in the process climbing to within two games of division-leading New York, the Phils dropped two out of three to the lowly Florida Marlins and the first of three to the Braves to fall five games off the pace.

In the process all the bad habits that have plagued them off and on all year reappeared: bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching, and failing to hit with runners in scoring position. Apart from Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, the offense has pulled another disappearing act, especially Ryan Howard who cannot seem to put together more than a week of good swings before reverting to lunging after balls out of the strike zone or taking called third strikes. He is on a pace to set a major league record for strikeouts, no mean feat when one considers thousands and thousands of people have come before him.

Adam Eaton is another culprit in the current swoon, squandering a five run lead he was handed the other day en route to a devastating loss. Let's not really fault Eaton, however, because he's just doing what he's always done, which is to say not much. Instead, let's put the blame squarely where it belongs for his signing: the GM's office. Meanwhile, there hasn't been a single public word about negotiations, if any, with Aaron Rowand. Try and recall the last time a team's starting centerfielder, acquired at considerable cost and eligible for free agency, who moreover has been hitting over .300 all season, is not even the subject of speculation about whether or not he is returning? Pat Gillick moves in mysterious ways, but when it comes to Rowand we haven't seen nor heard any movement. Perhaps if he were a Rule 5 player or had been with four teams in four months he would at least be the subject of rumors.

Nearly one week into September there aren't a lot of games remaining to make up ground. A big series looms in New York and might represent the last chance at a division title...provided the Phils are not eight or nine games out by the time they get there.