Monday, June 30, 2008

Say A Not So Fond Farewell To Interleague Play

Their vaunted offense continues to offend most nights of late as the Phillies dropped their sixth straight series. Mercifully, they concurrently concluded interleague play finishing with a 4 - 11 record against much of the cream of the AL. If nothing else the Phils learned this about themselves: they ain't ready for Prime Time.

Incredibly, back in the friendly confines of the NL East they also still managed to cling to first place as the rest of their immediate competition fared only slightly better. Their lead is down to one, however, with series against Atlanta and New York looming. By this time next week the Phils could be in the middle of the pack unless they right the ship quickly. Signs are not good.

With the notable exception of Brett Myers (more on him in a moment) the Phillies have generally received better than expected pitching during their current slide but they haven't been able to score runs consistently.

When the starting lineups for the Phils and their opponents are posted each night it's quite evident the Phils don't match up well from 1 - 9. Ryan Howard may be leading the league in RBI's and Chase Utley may be tied for the major league lead in home runs, but their numbers are misleading. Howard continues mired in the low .200's, many of his rbi's soft, while the gaudiest of Utley's numbers came before his recent slump. Ultey did throw a couple of multi-hit games into the mix over the last four or give outings, but he, too, lacks consistency. He still looks uncomfortable at the plate though I noticed yesterday he isn't looking the ball into the catcher's mitt as much as before.

Meanwhile, J-Roll's is mired in a pretty big slump and Pat Burrell's last multi-hit game was in mid June. Geoff Jenkins can't buy a hit; nor can Carlos Ruiz. You want frustration? Normally stoic Chris Coste barked at the umpire when he was called out on strikes late yesterday afternoon. (The pitch was inside.)

Brett Myers appears on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation. No matter what anyone says, I believe he is hurt. True, he's never had the smarts to pitch, but normally he gets by despite his limitations above the shoulder on his stuff alone. But with his fastball lost in action and his mechanics still a mess, one has to believe a veteran like Myers is favoring his shoulder or arm. Whatever the real root of his problem is, the Phillies cannot afford to keep sending him out there. His awful start over the weekend was the shortest of his career. Up until then Myers was willing to talk and take the blame for his poor outings this season. Now, he has chosen to remain silent. The Phils need to shut him down and are reportedly considering skipping his next start.

Only a few weeks ago the Phils had climbed to twelve games over .500 and had opened up a good lead on the Marlins, Mets and Braves. They were also fun to watch. Now, it is painful to watch them struggle, especially with the bats. No one looks good; indeed, many look terrible. They remain five games over .500 at this juncture and still have a chance to straighten things out, but they can't wait one more series to do so.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Duped

Apparently the great outfield catch by the ballgirl was just a great video editing job

So, forget signing the ballgirl; sign the producers.

Qualtiy?

If there is any more misleading and deplorable statistic in the current era than "quality starts" I'd like to know what it is. Defined as a start in which the pitcher gives up three or less earned runs in six innings, the so-called quality start like many statistics needs serious scrutiny before being applied so freely.

Let's take Adam Eaton's latest effort, described as "solid" by the Inquirer and, of course, the Phillies own web site, and officially a "quality start" according to MLB. When a team has lost seven of its last eight games and has effectively and collectively stopped hitting it's hardly a quality start when their pitcher immediately puts them in a two run hole, even if he settles down and pitches effectively after that. A hole is a hole except when your team has spent the last two weeks in an offensive work stoppage. Then a hole is a crater. Imagine being a position player in yesterday's game. After Eaton surrendered a walk to the lead-off batter he gave up a double and a single and, bingo the score is 2-0 with nobody out and half the people in attendance still not in their seats. If you guessed more than one of those other eight guys dressed in Phillies uniforms muttered "here we go again" to himself you'd probably be correct regarding the sentiment if not the language.

That may have been a statistical quality start but it sure as hell wasn't one by any other standards.

Oh, and by the way, for a look at a quality start without the quotation marks just take a glance at the other team's dugout yesterday. Tim Harden threw a real one. Just ask the Phillies.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Crazy Game

Crazy game, eh?

Kyle Kendrick follows what was arguably his worst outing as a Phillie with last night's team life-saving gem, the best outing of his big league career. He limited the A's to four hits over eight innings, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth.

Chase Utley, mired in the throes of an awful slump, breaks out of it not by getting two or three hits but by getting four for the night, a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. In the process he raised his average eight points.

Jayson Werth, hardly your prototypical lead off guy, walks, is the front man on a double steal, and scores a run in the first inning, giving the Phils the lead for the first time in what seems like a month. Werth's run stands up as the winning one as the Phils beat Oakland 4-0.

Crazy game.

The best team this year in interleague play? The Kansas City Royals, who have won twelve games against NL opponents. This is the same Royals club that lost twelve straight games in May.

Crazy Game

New York's David Wright took a seat the night before last, against his wishes (though he didn't sqawk). Manager Jerry Manuel thought the night off would do his third baseman some good, "freshen" him up as he put it. So how did Wright respond when he found himself back in the lineup? He homered in his first two AB's.

Maybe Charlie Manuel should give Ryan Howard a night off. A complete night night, that is. No sitting him through the first seven innings only to succumb and use him as a pinchhitter late in the game. Give him one entire night off...with pay. Lots of pay.

Crazy Game

Don't look now but old friend El Enigma won his tenth game of the season the other night while lowering his ERA to 3.74. Word is this Texas Ranger might be named to the AL All Star rotation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What A Great Idea!!

Maybe the wrong manager named Manuel got tossed last night. New Mets skipper Jerry Manuel, whose team is 3-4 since he took over, got tossed for arguing balls and strikes while Charlie Manuel, whose charges have lost six in a row and counting, stayed in the dugout and watched his offense sleep walk through another game. We have to assume Philadelphia's Manuel doesn't think a tantrum will help the Phils slough off their sloth. What's his second choice?

* * * * * * * *

It's a good thing fans heeded the advice of MLB and voted early and often; otherwise, Chase Utley might not continue to lead all NL players in All-Star voting given his struggles at the plate. Utley has seen his average drop from .317 to .289 over the last few weeks. One base hit in 29 official AB's will do that.

Utley isn't the only star struggling. David Wright's average has dipped just as dramatically and his hands are turning to stone. An error by the Mets third baseman the other night gave life to the Mariners and heretofore unknown slugging Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez responded by hitting a grand slam home run in his first plate appearance of the season off of no other than Johann Santana. Afterwards, Hernandez said he swung with his eyes closed, a condition Santana corroborated (though I suppose there might have been a different outcome had his eyes been on the catcher's mitt and not the batter's peepers.)

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino's name is figuring prominently in trade talks these days and one explanation given is that the Phils aren't too pleased with "his situational hitting" according to Paul Hagen. Subtracting Victorino from the Phils lineup will eliminate speed at the top of the order and leave the team with perhaps the most plodding lineup in MLB. Subtract his glove from the defense and the Phils will have arguably the worst outfield alignment in MLB. What a great idea!!

* * * * * * * *

Another note we hear sounded often when it comes to the Phillies and trade talks is that they don't have much in the way of prospects to deal. Maybe they could offer their number one picks from 2006 and 2007, Kyle Drabek and Joe Slavery, in any deal. On second thought, both have had arm miseries and those are the types of pitchers the Phils tend to acquire not trade!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Outfield Help

Who needs the draft when the best talent can be had for a folding chair along the foul line?
video

Monday, June 23, 2008

Exposed

Exposed.

That's the only way to put it, sports fans. Your Philadelphia Phillies have been exposed for the middle of the pack team they are. They followed half of the old formula for success by beating up on the weaklings, but they forgot the other part, about playing the stronger teams even.

They've lost four straight series, two of them to division-leading clubs and two to clubs in second place. In the process they've gotten decent pitching from most of their staff but their offense has deserted them. Frankly, the overall numbers on offense are worse than they appear, skewed by two 20-run victories during their run to mediocrity. Pitching was supposed to be the weak link for this installment of the Phillies while offense was its strength. Right now it's difficult to say either is impressive. Keep in mind the Red Sox were playing without a few of their best hitters in taking two out of three at Citizens Bank Park while the Angels were hardly considered an offensive juggernaut before they left town on their brooms.

Ryan Howard has been variously rumored to be over his funk, out of the woods, coming around or having finally turned the corner, but in truth he is still closer to the Mendoza line than not and for all of his gaudy power figures he has let the side down more often than he has come through. When he strikes out, looking or lunging, he looks awful. He still has that pained look when he fails but he doesn't seem to be glaring at the home plate umps as often, a clear signal that he knows whose fault his ineptitude really is.

Chase Utley, the team's best hitter, has precisely one in his last 27 AB's, the longest and most painful drought of his career. Watching Utley bat lately two things seem apparent: he is literally looking the ball into the catcher's mitt more than ever as if he doesn't trust himself to let a pitch go by and he is putting an awful lot of poor swings on the ball....for him. Yesterday he flied out meekly to left in a situation that called for a simple ground ball to the right side and didn't look up to follow the flight of the ball. Instead, he hung his head in a gesture that could stand for the team's collective futility of this mercifully-ended home stand.

The rest of the lineup has also been crashing back to earth, especially Pat Burrell. J-Roll has been inconsistent as has Shane Victorino. The outfield platoon in right isn't adding up to one good player. Chris Coste is getting more playing time and not making the most of it. Pedro Feliz is stuck in mediocrity. The pinch-hitters have not been coming through, especially So Taguchi, whose swing on an 0-2 pitch out of the strikezone ended yesterday's game with the tying run in scoring position and for all intents and purposes may have ended his run as a member of the team's 25-man roster. For good measure, Taguchi also muffed a play in the field over the weekend. Oh, and he was passed over as a pinch-runner yesterday in the ninth inning in favor of Eric Bruntlett, who only the day before ran the Phillies out of a rally.

Meanwhile, back at the mound, Brett Myers is leading the NL in home runs surrendered. One of the more bitter ironies of modern baseball is the so-called "quality start", which both Myers and Adam Eaton threw over the last week. Myers served up several bombs in his while Eaton gave up 12 hits in his. Spare us all from such "quality".

So the Phils are off to the West Coast to complete their interleague nightmare by playing the Oakland A's, whom they played poorly in their last adventure in California, and the Texas Rangers, who know a thing or two about hitting. They wind up their roadtrip in Atlanta, where the Braves no doubt await them with one thought on their minds: revenge for the sweep the Phils completed there before the bottom dropped out.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gambling

The recent draft saw the Phillies taking a gamble on more than a few picks. "High ceiling" were the buzz words being bandied about within and without the organization regarding some of their choices who will need a lot of work and development if they are to contribute down the road. "Raw talent" was another combination being applied to these same picks including first-rounder Anthony Hewitt. Pat Gillick's penchant for taking gambles on players was all over this draft.

Well, as long as we are talking gambles, the Phils might consider trying to pick up Dontrelle Willis at the trade deadline should he become available and provided of course they won't be stuck with the bulk of his salary. Sure, those are big provisos, and so is the possibility that the electric left-hander is cooked, his herky-jerky delivery and balky knee finally having gotten the best of him.

Willis has battled knee problems and control issues for a few seasons now, ever since he made a run at the Cy Young Award in 2005 with a 22-10 record. Considered something of a throw-in last winter when the Tigers and Marlins engineered the blockbuster trade of centerpiece Miguel Cabrera, Willis has spent the majority of this season on the DL. In his return last night he gave up 8 earned runs on only three hits in the first two innings against Cleveland while walking five. Word is he may be dropped from the Tigers' rotation, no mean feat given their overall struggles.

He will draw some interest were the Tigers to cut him loose and if they do Pat Gillick and his reclamation team will be interested.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Magic Carpet Ride

The weekend just passed resembled a magic carpet ride more than your traditional march through Georgia but the results were the same as the Phils swept the Braves at broiling Turner Field. (We're sure at least some of the traveling party kept the players informed of the hour-by-hour weather reports emanating from back home thus offering little consolation if relief from the Georgia heat.)

Following Friday night's last out reprieve and subsequent right-handed marksmanship by that fellow from Hawaii, the Phils scored a more conventional 6-2 win Saturday night. They followed that with what can only be described as a typical (for this installment of your Philadelphia Phillies) victory, winning 6-3. In the Sunday matinée, the Phils jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening frame, surrendered that lead the very next half inning, played the Braves even until the ninth inning at 3 runs apiece, were held hitless from the fourth to the ninth inning and rallied for three runs in their final at-bats to cap the win and sweep.

Throughout the season to date the bullpen has been nothing short of phenomenal. No one expected them to be this good, probably not even Mssrs. Durbin, Romero, Madson, Gordon and Lidge included. And when the vaunted offense gets shutdown, someone manages to find the on button just in time. Yesterday as he's done quite often of late, Shane Victorino was in the middle of the rally. Prior to the start of the season very few bloggers and their followers were thrilled with the prospect of Victorino taking over the centerfield job for the popular Aaron Rowand. Well, Victorino is clearly Rowand's superior in the field and though his average isn't as lofty and his power figures pale compared with Rowand's the last two seasons, Victorino provides a spark at the top of the order when combined with Jimmy Rollins and does a fine job not only setting the table for the bangers who follow in the order but has done a nice job knocking in runs himself of late. Any arguments that Jayson Werth deserves to split playing time with Victorino in center should be dropped immediately. Werth, who just returned from the DL, looked awkward and tentative at the plate yesterday in two appearances. Some may attribute his swing to rust, but, frankly, he has as many awkward AB's as good ones his health notwithstanding.

Ryan Howard was named player of the game yesterday, hitting three doubles and knocking in four runs. He also committed two base-running gaffes and could have as easily been named goat of the game. So it goes when your team is on a magic carpet ride.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Good Start To A Tough Road Trip

Down to their final out, the Phillies rallied against Atlanta to tie the score when Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson dropped Chris Coste's lazy pop fly near the right field foul line. An inning later, the Phils scored two runs and held on to win 4-3 when Shane Victorino gunned down Gregor Blanco at the plate.

And that, boys and girls, is why you always run out every ball you hit.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Time Will Tell

All of those years throughout the late forties and fifties the Yankees would beat up on the weak teams and split with the good ones. It's a formula for success that have never gone out of style.

The Phillies have been doing a pretty good job of beating up on the weaker teams with a few exceptions thrown in like last weekend's series with the Marlins but over the next weeks and months they are going to collide head on with many of the best both the NL and AL have to offer. We should know a lot more about these Phillies at the end of their series with the Braves, Marlins, Red Sox, Angels et al.

What we do know right now is that the Phils are getting contributions for the entire 25-man roster. Whether they are clubbing the opposition over the head with their bats or shutting them down with expected efforts from a few such as Cole Hamels and surprising efforts from many such as nearly the entire bullpen as well as much of the starting rotation, the Phils have moved to ten games over .500 and a 2-game lead in their division. Pat Burrell has been resurrected. Eric Bruntley has made not one but two key game-ending or saving plays while subbing for Jimmy Rollins. Chase Utley has been other-worldly. Ryan Howard has been mostly awful but still is among the league leaders in home runs and RBI's. The outfield platoons have been remarkably solid. Chris Coste has moved from backup catcher to catcher number one A.

Nothing seems to be slowing them down. Even the mid-game benching of Rollins yesterday is being viewed by all including J-Roll himself as a positive little kick in the pants. Charlie Manuel keeps playing his hunches and getting most of them right, whether it's pulling a starter he thinks has suddenly hit a wall or using pinch-hitter extraordinaire Greg Dobbs.

Even a three-game skid a ten days ago is a distant memory.

Like we said, crunch time arrives this evening in Atlanta, GA, and continues unabated for several weeks. We will know a lot more about this installment of the Phillies. What we do know already has been largely satisfying and fun.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

How many of us greeted the Pedro Feliz acquisition with enthusiasm? I thought so.

Raise your hands if you were comfortable on March 31st with the Phillies bullpen? Higher, please.

Step forward if you believed Shane Victorino could handle the every-day responsibilities of centerfield and the number two hole in the batting order. Right!

Sign here _______________ if you believed Brad Lidge would convert his first fourteen save opportunities. Need a pen?

Pat yourselves on the back if you had Jamie Moyer leading the staff in wins by early June and Kyle Kendrick tied with Cole Hamels for second. Uh huh.

Let's get a voice vote on whether or not the Phillies should even consider re-signing Pat Burrell. Quiet please.


OK, have there been any developments that did surprise you?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Round One To The Phillies

You know the Phillies have arrived when they can take two out of three from the Marlins while averaging "only" seven hits a game and seeing their top pitcher struggle mightily for the second straight outing.

Good teams find a way to win and the Phils did so by making the most of their hits in the rubber match of the weekend series. Trailing early, they came back on the strength of home runs by Chase Utley, his MLB-leading 20th, and Geoff Jenkins and a game-winning double by Pat Burrell. The win vaulted the Phils over Florida into first place by half a game. The Phils pounded a lot of home runs over the course of the three games but the real story line was pitching.

Brett Myers began the proceedings by getting roughed up, but he straightened himself out and pitched better than he had nearly all season in winning the opener Friday night. For the first time in several starts Myers' hit his spots and pitched inside. The next evening Cole Hamels pitched poorly for the second straight game, yielding three home runs and seven earned runs total in less than six innings. He couldn't hit his spots and the Marlins sat on his fastball.

Jamie Moyer got the start Sunday. Previously, he had owned the Marlins, sporting a lifetime 7-0 mark against the Fish. After a routine first inning Moyeryielded five earned runs in the next two innings, all four coming in the third with two outs. After that he settled down and allowed his mates to perform their customary comeback heroics.

Players from both teams pooh-poohed the significance of this first meeting, coming with a third of the season already in the books, but no one really believed them. The Marlins were out to prove the pre-season prognosticators had misjudged their chances for success while the Phillies were out to prove a veteran club with a much bigger payroll was clearly superior. They will have fifteen more opportunities before the regular season ends to continue to make their respective points.