Saturday, August 30, 2008

Good Pitch No Hit

Clay Condrey really isn't much of a major league relief pitcher, but he plays one on TV. Frankly, he's not alone; the heretofore reliable Phillies' pen is breaking down en masse at the worst possible time.

Yes, the Phils lost in part because the ump blew a call on Ryan Howard at first base that would have given the Phils a 3-2 lead, but those are the breaks. It's ironic, of course, that instant replay is now available in a northside Chicago ballpark near you, but, alas, only for boundary calls. You can be sure, however, that the men sitting in their underwear in front of computer monitors back at the Commissioner's office took at a good long look at that play just for practice.

Still, Condrey served up a gopher ball to Alfonso Soriano and that was all she wrote as the Phils dropped their third straight game to fall two full games behind the Mets, who rallied to beat Florida 5-4.

Tuesday's late night, late inning heroics notwithstanding and two offensive outbursts against the Dodgers before that aside, the Phils continue to struggle to score runs. It bears repeating at this late juncture of the season that the team's biggest worry in the pre-season, pitching, has generally outperformed their so-called greatest strength, offense. Until very recently the Phils' bullpen has been superb and their starting pitching has in fact far exceeded expectations. But a look at their starting lineup shows a team that hits a lot of home runs but not much else:

Rollins: .266
Victorino: .284
Utley: .290
Howard: .229
Burrell: .260
Werth: .273
Feliz: .255
Ruiz: .221

That isn't the lineup of a top-tier team. Yes, the middle of that order can and does hit a lot of long balls, but in between they don't do much else except to waste generally good starting pitching. In the end their futility will come back to haunt all 25 players on the roster.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who You Gonna' Sue?

The on-again, off-again question of whether or not Cole Hamels should sue his mates for lack of support took a sudden turn last night as a new potential target for his displeasure entered the picture. Hamels departed the game last night after seven outstanding innings against Chicago in Wrigley Field during which he held the heavy hitting Cubbies to five hits and one run. The bullpen then proceeded first to blow that lead and then the game, serving up five runs including a grand slam homer by Aramis Ramirez.

Ryan Madson was the chief offender, yielding three runs in the eighth inning, though the base-clearing drive by Ramirez came off Chad Durbin. Madson picked a particularly lousy time to revert to his usual unreliable self while Durbin, whose track record isn't nearly as extensive or uneven as Madson's, may simply be wearing down from overuse.

Normally this season the bullpen has been able to hold a good lead late in the game, but this was the second night in a row they failed. Despite their three run lead, the Phillies wasted other scoring opportunities, hardly an unusual occurrence, that could have put the game out of reach. Though they scored a run in the first inning, they also left the bases loaded. So instead of beginning this tough weekend series with a win against a team that hardly ever loses at home, the Phils lost and dropped a full game behind the Mets in the NL East.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So Much For Momentum

Less than twenty-four hours earlier the Phillies had electrified their fans and all of baseball with a thrilling, dramatic comeback victory that catapulted them into first place, a half game over the Mets. They faced the daunting task of further consolidating that lead against Johann Santana, who had completely dominated them in two previous outings.

The Phillies wasted little time in getting to Santana, scoring two runs in the first inning on Ryan Howard's thirty-sixth home run and adding another on Jayson Werth's solo shot in the second. But the bullpen, stellar the night before but threadbare after so many of their number had labored in that great victory, coughed up the lead and then the game as the Mets turned the tables and rallied for the 6-3 win, a split of the brief series, and the lead in the NL East.

The Phils only managed six hits against five NY pitchers while their own staff allowed thirteen. Kyle Kendrick started and scattered eight hits and two earned runs. Scott Eyre pitched two very good innings but Rudy Seanez followed and gave up the winning runs. Brad Lidge was also touched for two earned runs but by then the game was lost.

A let down was almost inevitable after Tuesday night's marathon, but the Phils overcame their biggest hurdle in getting a lead against Santana. Unfortunately, the offense went cold after that and the bullpen uncharacteristically surrendered the lead.

Things don't get easier as the Phils flew off to Chicago for a four-game holiday weekend set. The Cubs not only have the best record in baseball, they are 33 games above .500 for the first time since the end of World War II.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Best Rivalry In The Game Right Now

ESPN can have its Yankees-Red Sox hype; the best rivalry in baseball right now is Phillies-Mets. The pundits say Philadelphia is a football town but apart from the shenanigans of a long-since departed wide receiver who shall go nameless, which team provides more story lines with more drama?

Last night's comeback win against the Mets was sweet as it was improbable. Down 7-0 by the fourth inning and facing a rejuvenated Pedro Martinez, the Phillies rallied to tie the game with two outs in the ninth inning on a pinch double by Eric Bruntlett (of all people) and won the game in the thirteenth on Shane Victorino's triple and Chris Coste's single. In between these heroics, Ryan Howard hit his league leading 35th home run, Jimmy Rollins stroked five hits including a home run and stole three bases, and the Phils used not one but two starting pitchers -- Cole Hamels and Brett Myers -- as pinch hitters. Hamels' appearance wasn't his first as a pinch hitter; Myers' should be his last!

This was the kind of victory on which seasons frequently turn. We need look no further than last year's Phillies' surge and Mets' collapse for precedent. Jamie Moyer started for the Phils and before everyone was seated his team was down 2-0 and counting. Moyer had been terrific lately, but this was not his night. Fortunately, the bullpen was sensational, holding the Mets in check the rest of the way and allowing the offense to mount its comeback. Before popping out Rollins had reached base safely eight straight times, collecting eight hits over two nights. All is not only forgiven as far as the fans are concerned; it's forgotten.

Chase Utley, who'd stared down .279 a week ago and didn't like what he saw, has raised his average to .289 during this home stand. And Shane Victorino further made his case for team MVP, sparking the winning rally with his three base hit. Victorino always seems to be in the middle of rallies. Still, as is almost always the case, Jimmy is the key to this team's success. When he's on his game there's a feeling in the dugout and in the stands anything is possible.

A win tonight would sustain the momentum, important not only in putting some distance between themselves and the Mets (the Marlins have suddenly disappeared) but in building up for the important four-game series against the Cubs this holiday weekend.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Redemptions All Around

Who needs Kobe, LeBron and Dwayne? We have our own Redeem Team!

Philadelphia Phillies, c'mon down. Your sweep of the LA Dodgers, the first time the boys in blue had been swept in more than twenty years (twenty-three to be exact), redeems your own sweep at their hands a week earlier in LA LA Land.

Brett Myers, c'mon down. Man, have you ever turned it around. Four wins in five decisions since your little sojourn in Iron Pig Heaven. Sixteen straight shut out innings and counting. No managers berated on the mound for two straight starts. You are the man, Brett.

Jimmy Rollins, c'mon down. You want a sign Jimmy is coming around? Forget those triples. Don't even think about the three base hits last night, a homer short of the cycle. Instead, watch the man not named Victorino who makes the Phillies go standing at first base after a walk or hit, chirping and smiling away. That's how we know Jimmy is back.

Redemption, as we all know, has a short shelf life, so the Phils get less than 24 hours to bask in its glory before they take on the Mets in a two-game set that has "crucial" written all over it. I don't care how many more games remain, boys, you have to win these two. Meanwhile, enjoy your redemptions.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Games Do Go On

The Beijing Olympics have ended. Next up is London, which will host the games in 2012. To mark the occasion, thousands of Chinese bathed in glowing hues passed the torch to an aging rock-and-roller, an ex-patriot soccer player and a double-decker bus. There will always be an England.

The games just concluded were notable for their majestic opening and closing ceremonies of astonishing human coordination and spectacle punctuated by nearly colorless performances save for Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. A few other Olympians might have impressed but NBC never gave them a chance to show themselves in prime time. Instead, with an always smug Bob Costas serving as host, NBC's delayed broadcasts disproportionately featured beach volleyball with Misty May and Kerri Walsh, who, frankly, became a household joke among many viewers I know. Serve, set, spike. Serve, set, spike. We learned far more than we ever wanted to know about these two than nearly any other athlete and his/her mother. Meanwhile, many traditional Olympic sports of longer-standing pedigree were given short shrift.

The host city looked magnificent in televised images, especially those breathtaking aerial views of a modern city deliberately and effectively sanitized. Nobody does diving, table tennis and limited access better than the Chinese. Still, there was no taking away from the impression that China is ascendant, energetic, efficient, ebullient and determined. The Chinese government may control every aspect of life tightly -- abusing human rights with little or no constraint, displacing hundreds of thousands of inconveniently located citizens, placing barriers in front of unsightly sites -- but they also encourage the pursuit of excellence in many facets of human endeavor while the West, especially the United States, continues to expend enormous energy trying to legislate private morality.

Ever since Nazi Germany the Olympic subtext has been national and racial superiority. Jesse Owens' lonely assault on Arian supremacy was followed by the playing out of the Cold War pitting Soviet collective superiority, the East German sports and doping machine and Cuba's export of revolution against the rugged individualism of America and, to a lesser extent, her allies. By 1968 small portions of the American team itself were in open rebellion and in 1972 terrorism in its now familiar face thrust itself into the middle of the games.

The Chinese are too smart and ambitious to cast the Beijing games in such Manichean terms, but make no mistake they were out to prove the superiority of their system of near cradle to contested teenage years worth of unrelenting regimented training of their athletes. Though the Chinese overall medal count fell short of the Americans, the total of Gold Medals garnered by their Olympians topped all comers by a wide margin.

No one remembers who came in second. England, take note.


Don't look now but somethins' happenin' here.

Joe Blanton, who really doesn't look like your average major league athlete, delivered a fine pitching performance.

Ryan Howard, who will never be mistaken for Wes Parker, delivered one of the best defensive plays of the season, and in a critical situation.

Shane Victorino continues to be in the middle of everything good for the Phils. Last night he scored the tying and winning runs. His average is up t0 .291 for the season, leading all regulars.

And Pedro Feliz, who is your average major league hitter, delivered not one but two key hits last night, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth and winning it in the bottom of the eleventh with a 3-run walk-off homer. The only things Feliz needs to work on a little more are his helmet toss and plate leap; the Czech judge gave him a 4.2.

What a night! For the second time in as many days before a national television audience the Phils came up big. They hit a ton on Saturday afternoon but only a few hundred pounds last night, but they made the key plays when they had to in taking a third straight game from the Dodgers. With a win tonight, redemption is complete.

More important, the Phils are coming around in the clutch just when the Mets are starting their usual late season swoon. A win tonight could also put the Phils back in first place.

Ain't the beer cold!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coming Around?

That makes two offensive outbursts in a row for the Phillies as they continued to seek redemption against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who swept them in LA a week ago. The Phils 9-2 victory yesterday afternoon followed Friday night's 8-1 pasting of the Dodgers and also featured Cole Hamels' fine pitching performance. After this game Hamels isn't likely to pursue his lack of support suit against the offense.

If indeed the heretofore slumping core -- Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- are coming around their revival couldn't come at a more opportune time. The Phils victory coupled with the Astros win over the Mets reduced New York's lead to 1.5 games with 33 games remaining. Lest anyone forget, the Mets held a much wider margin over the Phils last season at the same juncture and we all know what happened.

Two games do not a permanent revival make, but there are a number of good signs in them including an opposite field home run by Howard, line drives by Utley, station-to-station scoring and plenty of hustle. The Phils also continue to rely heavily on the long ball as Burrell's home (#30) run gave them three players (Utley has 31 and Howard 34) with 30 or more home runs thus far this season.

The hardest part of watching the offense struggle mightily for nearly three months is that the starting pitching has generally far exceeded expectations. Nobody appreciates the hitting more than Hamels, who could easily have fifteen or more wins this season if his mates had matched his performances. That's all passed balls now, however; the Phils must maintain the balance of good pitching and hitting to leap over the Mets because winning the division realistically looks like the only chance they have of making the post-season. Too many good clubs are ahead of them in the Wild Card race. Indeed, looking at the overall Major League standings shows eight clubs in both leagues with better records than the Phils. They may be less stellar than originally thought, but that won't prevent them from playing in October if they can prolong their rediscovered collective strokes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nearly Everybody Hits

Pardon me, they can least for one game.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Chris Coste, three guys experiencing strong to moderate power outages, blasted home runs last night off Greg Maddux as the Phils exacted a small measure of revenge against the LA Dodgers, who swept them last week in California.

Kyle Kendrick got the win, pitching effectively after two straight horrible outings. Later, he credited a long talk with none other than Maddux himself as helpful. The two met when the Phils played San Diego last week, that is, when Maddux was still a member of the Padres. Have you got all that? Kendrick yielded a home run to the second batter he faced last night but settled down to pitch 5.1 innings of three-hit ball. Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and Scott Eyre all pitched effectively in relief.

Meanwhile, poor Jimmy Rollins continues to slump. His average dipped below .260 with his o-fer last night. Rollins is well on his way to a personal first to worst kind of season. It's really too bad because he remains one of the best players to watch when he's on his game. Right now he appears so frustrated the joy has gone out of the game. I suspect it's temporary though he has languished in the doldrums for quite some time now.

Cole Hamels gets the start this afternoon. It seems the slender Hamels is forever getting daytime starts under the burning sun of mid to late summer and doesn't particularly like them. I'm sure most pitchers don't, but when television is paying so much of the freight they have little choice.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What, Me Complain!?

I must be slow so explain to me again why Eric Bruntlett is considered a defensive replacement? While you're at it, tell me why he represents an upgrade over Abraham Nunez? And since we are on the subject, tell me why there isn't someone who owns a glove in the minor league system that can field and hit at least .214?

Now that you have me going, let's admit it, Ryan Howard isn't going to adjust. Last night's futile evening included three strikeouts in which the big guy looked...well...over matched and confused, like some pathetic giant tormented by gnats. His average has sunk below .230 again, which pretty much looks like the plateau at which he is most [un]comfortable. Even Carlos Ruiz is outhitting him this home stand...and out homering him, too.

As long as we are complaining (who, me?), Ryan Madson may have fooled most of the people most of the time over his last few appearances but this observer wasn't buying. Handed a lead, he blew it as only Madson can do.

And finally, the vaunted offense put two men on with no outs in the eighth and never delivered. That scenario, all too familiar lo these many months, is exactly why anyone waiting around for the Phils to make their move had better have alternate plans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Timing Is Everything

Let's give Brett Myers his due: the guy looks like he's back. Myers threw the third shutout of his career last night in beating Washington 4-0. Since his return from the minors Myers is 3-1 with an ERA under two runs per game. Much as the royal we dislike the guy, we have to give him credit for turning things around. If the offense ever gets untracked, Myers timing couldn't be better.

* * * * * * * *

That's why the play seven innings.

Speaking of timing, the US womens softball team, undefeated since 2000, chose the worst possible moment to lose for the first time as they dropped the gold medal game to Japan, 3-1. Softball is scheduled to be eliminated from Olympic competition after these games because in large measure the feeling was the US teams were simply too dominant. Ironically, losing might improve the chances the decision will be reconsidered. That silver lining won't be much consolation to the women who never knew losing before today.

* * * * * * * *

So, which regular leads the Phils in average as of this morning? Shane Victorino, the guy many people thought could never be a regular center fielder and whom others thought should be traded to acquire much-needed pitching. Without Victorino, whose defense is second to none, the Phillies would be struggling to contend.

Plus, if anyone saw the outtakes of Victorino trying to pronounce Yiddish words for the promo for tonight's Jewish Heritage event at the ballpark, who else could have butchered them in his inimitable non-Kosher style?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I'm not worried about Jimmy's ego; he can handle himself. I'm not particularly worried about Ryan Howard's either; he seems to prefer keeping his own counsel. I'm not especially concerned about the future of Pat Burrell in a Philadelphia uniform; it appears to be a foregone conclusion the Phils cannot afford the length of contract he'll likely seek. He'd like to stay but he's always been a realistic guy. I'm not losing any sleep over Cole Hamels' lack of run support; these things have a way of evening out and he knows that as well as anyone.

But I am concerned about Chase Utley. He might be suffering in silence but there's little doubt a player with his sense of pride and commitment must be suffering. His batting average continues its three month erosion and is now threatening to drop below .280. He isn't getting good swings. He's popping the ball up a lot and looking the ball into the catcher's mitt, sure signs of his struggles. He may or may not be nursing a sore hip but by this point in the season he, like most second basemen, is banged up a bit. Unlike many major leaguers, Utley goes all out, all the time and that approach takes an inevitable toll. The Phils can ill-afford his slide at this juncture of the season, but it continues unabated.

With the offense continuing to struggle the Phils need to get their core going. The consensus has always been that Jimmy holds the key. Nothing has changed that perception; when he gets on the rest of the offense kicks it up a notch. For his part, Utley would be seeing different pitches if Rollins or Victorino were on base ahead of him more often. It also wouldn't hurt to swap Howard and Burrell's spots in the batting order so opposing managers cannot load up with lefties late in a game. On that front Charlie Manuel has proved to be consistent -- doggedly and pig-headedly consistent.

According to today's Inquirer, Manuel is giving Jayson Werth more playing time, and the platooning right-fielder is delivering, but Manuel is also quoted as believing Geoff Jenkins will get hot. That's strictly a hunch, of course, but, then, Manuel plays hunches as much as any manager ever has. The lower third of the batting order largely remains what commenter extraordinaire George Southrey labeled a "black hole" a few years back. Chris Coste, Carlos Ruiz, Jenkins and Eric Bruntlett aren't getting it done. So, if your lower third is collectively almost an automatic out, your middle third is streaky and your upper third is under performing, you have an offense struggling to score runs. You have the Phillies.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Gone And Forgotten?

Are the Phillies still playing baseball?

I realized after the third hour of NBC's prime time coverage of everyone's favorite Olympic competition, beach volleyball, that it was only mid-August and indeed the Phillies were still playing. Somehow, through the magic and manipulation of taped "live action" the Olympics, half a world and 12 hours away, seemed more accessible than the Phillies, a mere three time zones behind us. The only baseball game this old head could stay up late enough to watch was Sunday night's improbable national telecast between two teams that can't hit their way out of a paper bag. The schedule must have been set long ago, when at least one club, ours, could still hit and was thus deemed worth watching. I thought the lords who rule baseball telecasts were more nimble than that when it came to scheduling and then I realized the Phils and Pads were probably the only two teams who didn't know they would be going head to head in prime time with volley ball, Michael Phelps and, of course, Michael's mother.

Anyway, the Phils managed only two wins in seven tries out West and those, by 1-0 and 2-1 scores, summed up their ongoing offensive futility. Had not Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels pitched so well, the Phils could have dropped the entire trip to the Dodgers and Padres and come home four games out of first place after the Mets won six straight...on the road. The Mets have suffered all kinds of injuries this season and still are without Billy Wagner, but they have opened up a lead on the Phillies and Marlins.

A look down the Phils starting lineup reveals a collective funk. Chase Utley is simply not putting good swings on the ball. He seems more and more vulnerable to pitches down and in and his batting average threatens to fall below .280 if he continues this way. Most of Ryan Howard's recent rbi's have come without benefit of a hit as he has grounded into fielders' choices and runs have scored. Jimmy Rollins' average is about 30 points below last season's figure. Pat Burrell continues to hit the occasional home run, thank goodness, but he, too, is mired in a pretty good major league slump. Both victories, however, came courtesy of Burrell dingers. Chris Coste is crash landing. Third base is temporarily a blackening hole except when Greg Dobbs gets the occasional nod. Right field is...wait...can anyone out there hit? This is a vaunted offense? Nearly ten weeks have passed since these guys collectively hit. By week four the brown out was a trend. By week eight it was pattern. By week ten it's a full-fledged black out.

Oh well, at least we have the boys home for a stretch, and against a lousy team. Now we can all look forward to the mixed greeting Jimmy will no doubt receive. Meanwhile, I can't wait to see who wins beach volley ball.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Since Jimmy tried (and failed) to clarify his statement, I'll add one more note of my own....

Some commentators including Rich Hoffmann of the Daily News think Phillies fans are too thin-skinned and that all Jimmy was doing was telling it like it is. I continue to beg to differ. The biggest problem with Jimmy's statement is that it's all too familiar, one big cliche, repeated by players who work here and those who merely visit. Philadelphia fans are negative. Philadelphia fans are tough. Philadelphia fans are front-runners. C'm,on, guys, give us a break. Spend an evening in the stands in any park in New York, Chicago or Boston.

One big cliche.

* * * * * * * *

For those including this observer who felt Brett Myers hadn't proved himself against enough tough opposition since his return (St. Louis being the only team in three that qualified on that count), last night's game against a good-hitting Dodgers team addressed that concern. Unfortunately for Myers and the Phillies, the bigger concern, an offense that is missing in action, hasn't improved. Indeed, after nearly two months of unrelenting under-performance, the offense can be declared officially lost in the aftermath of the Dodgers four-game sweep of the Phightens [sic].

* * * * * * * *

Carlos Carrasco must be ready for his call up, Mr. DeMille, if this report is any indication:

MOOSIC, Pa. - Carlos Carrasco struck out eight in six innings and gave up only one earned run, but the Lehigh Valley IronPigs fell, 2-1, to the Scranton Yankees in the International League last night.

Carrasco, who is 1-1 since being promoted from double-A Reading, has a 0.48 ERA for Lehigh Valley.

Should fit right in with the Phillies rotation, no?

* * * * * * * *

Commenter extraordinaire George Southrey believes Charlie Manuel has lost the players.

It's now 2 months since he pulled Rollins out of that game [July 1], and this team has been absolutely lifeless since then. The team no longer seems to respond to him.

It's hard to disagree with George given how little the team has responded to the obvious stimuli of fighting off two other contenders. On the other hand, it's equally hard to imagine another type of skipper could draw more from these guys. They just aren't that good.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Here We Go Again

It's right there on page one in the UPM, the official Underperforming Player's Manual:

When in doubt, blame someone else. However, when in doubt in Philadelphia, don't just blame someone else; put the fans down.

It's really oh so easy to label Philadelphia fans boors, hard to please, or front-runners as long-time fan favorite Jimmy Rollins did yesterday. Easy but very disappointing, especially to this long-time fan of J-Roll. He always brought a joy to the game. Now, however, it seems the joy has gone out of him and we are to blame. It's really oh so easy to blame the Philadelphia fans. And it wasn't particularly surprising he chose a West Coast setting to let loose if you understand Jimmy.

Rollins is a West Coast kind of guy where even if players fail to run out balls or get to the park on schedule the fans are going to sunbathe in the stands and chill. What's the big deal? Of course Jimmy also sees himself as an East Coast guy when it pleases him, if by that one understands he means the Big Apple. Yes, indeed, Jimmy makes no bones about it: he likes the big stage...especially when like so many Americans he can say, "I love to visit New York but I wouldn't want to live there." But hold on, Jimmy, if you think the fans and media are tough in Philadelphia, spend a season in the biggest spotlight of them all and perform at the same mediocre level you have thus far this season and see how everyone reacts. Better yet, look across the field to the Dodgers dugout and fix your eyes on one Manny Ramirez. Ask him if playing in Boston is a walk in the park? Whatever, Jimmy.

What's going on? Among other things Jimmy is probably setting the stage for his departure when his contract expires. Instead of leadership we are getting a glimpse of a lot less flattering side of Jimmy: thinking about going when the going gets tough. While he was at it, he also suggested the St. Louis Cardinals are a better fit for Ryan Howard because they would be far more understanding of their home-town bred slugger's horrible defense, high strikeout ratio, enormous salary and, yes, his bookmark on page one of the UPM. On more than one occasion Howard has mentioned how tough the fans are at Citizens Bank Park whereas everyone knows the good folks in the city by the arch aren't front-runners like those people in Philadelphia.


So everyone is agreed? Nothing more can be done? OK, the time of death was 10:18 PDT.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lack Of Support

OK, Cole, it's time to sue for lack of support. You've had your ups and downs of late but when you're up the Phillies offense is down. Just bear in mind when you and your attorney put your heads together that the Phils offense isn't routinely supporting anyone very much these days. With that in mind you may want to speak to the other pitchers and file a class action suit. I'll leave that up to you and your attorney.

Six hits. That's all the Phillies mustered last night, half of them in the first two innings. Five measly hits and a home run by Chase Utley. Meanwhile, Hamels had his four-day growth game face on and he pitched like someone determined to win at least one game a month this season. Here we are in mid-August and the ace is one game over .500 at 9-8. Hamels is a very animated guy. You see it when he throws a pitch he'd like to have back; you see it when he gets a base hit and smiles broadly; you see it when a fielder botches a play or makes a good one; but you especially see it when he's mad at himself. At some point that frustration is going to spill over and Hamels, never one to remain mum or keep his own counsel, is going to let everyone know what they already know, that he's getting sick and tired of laboring hard with little to show for it.

Who could blame him?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Plenty of folks want to make light of Brett Myers' latest public dust-up, this time with his boss, because they want him to remain in the starting rotation at all costs. Well, fear not, folks, he'll be there as long as he keeps getting people out. When it comes to morals and scruples, the people who run baseball are just as interested in the bottom [pitching] line as Myers' apologists.

In a logic known only to them those apologists actually argued the profanity-laced argument between Myers and his manager will only benefit the pitcher by firing him up. It seems even the target of all that invective and public humiliation likes that notion.

Don't believe what Charlie said in the immediate aftermath of the confrontation. He may not worry much about the public's perception of him, but Manuel believes strongly in keeping private matters private. Myers showed up his manager right out there in the middle of the diamond for all the world to see and then continued their little tete-a-tete in the dugout with inquiring cameras taking it all in. Whatever his faults, Manuel doesn't show up his players in public...ever. The ugliest part of Myers' latest petulance is that Manuel has always been one of his biggest supporters. Come to think of it, Myers is always beating up on those closest to him.

* * * * * * * *

A safety net is now required to watch Kyle Kendrick's high-wire act. The young sinker-baller got pounded last night by the Dodgers as the Phils lost the opener of a tough West Coast swing. When his ball is sinking Kendrick can give up a lot of hits but still keep the damage to a minimum, but when he's up in zone there isn't much else he can bring to the plate and the results are clear early in the game. Last night's line was 3.1 innings, 9 hits, 3 BB, i HR, and 7 ER.

* * * * * * * *

I was away last weekend and didn't see any of the games versus the Pirates. (Thanks to ESPN I did get to see Myers' little act...many times.) What's clear from the box score is that Joe Blanton threw his second straight terrific game and received no support. Pitching, especially of the starting variety, is officially not the Phillies' biggest problem any longer, especially if Cole Hamels continues to straighten himself out. Hitting is the problem...or more precisely...a lack of it. With 3/4 of the season gone it's time to admit the Phillies vaunted offense isn't so impressive. Had it lived up to expectations, the Phils would have a commanding lead in the division. As it stands, they'll struggle all the way to the finish line with the Marlins most likely nipping at their heels. The Mets pitching is in too much disarray to think they can stay with the Phils or Marlins, but despite their woes they remain very much in the hunt.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Always A Day Late And A Dollar Short

You want consistency?

Go somewhere else!

The Phils dropped another series to one of their chief rivals and they did so in particularly ugly fashion. Cole Hamels, winless since early July and battered in his last two outings, pitched well against the Marlins this afternoon but received absolutely no the plate or in the field. Frankly, had Hamels been able to finish off batters on two separate occasions with two outs in the inning things might have been different, but he certainly deserved better than what he got from his offense or Eric Bruntlett at third and Ryan Howard at first.

Bruntlett bobbled a potential double play ball that might have saved a run that scored later. He wasn't given an error on the play but deserved one. Is it me or does it seem that every time he makes a great play in the field one night he blows one the next game? Let's just say he isn't a model of consistency. Howard, on the other hand, is painfully consistent in the field. His latest adventure on a potential 3-6-what the *&1$% double play ball was vintage stuff. The next time a ground ball is hit to him with a man on first and less than two outs I'd rather see him flip the ball to Utley or the pitcher to make the toss to second. What has he got to lose?

The Phils were anemic against Chris Volstad today and, frankly, you knew that was coming before the first pitch. The rookie right-hander is the Marlins' top prospect and he looked the part in this, only his fifth start in the big leagues. Granted, most teams struggle against hurlers they've never seen before, but the Phillies have made an art of first-look ineptitude.

As I watched the game with increasing torpor, I came to the conclusion that the Marlins and Phillies represent opposite ends of the spectrum in many respects. The Marlins are less than two decades old but have won 2 World Championships in the interim. Moreover, every time they go through one of the periodic housecleanings, and they've been through a few, especially after winning it all, they manage to pick up top prospects via trades or development and are quickly back in contention. The Marlins simply never seem to be rebuilding for long if at all. Every time you look around the Marlins are giving the Phillies fits.

The Phillies, on the other hand, are always struggling to make the post-season let alone go all the way and are forever a piece or two short of putting it all together. They haven't received a top prospect in a trade who's made an impact in so long it's hard to remember when they did. And while they've drafted and developed some fine players over the last ten or fifteen years, how many times have the Phillies put a strong core unit on the field only to see pieces depart or disappoint before they could win it all, inevitably leaving them short in the end?

These Phillies aren't always brides maids because they're so rarely even been invited to the wedding.


Memo to the seventeen fans who actually go to Marlins' games in Miami: We know how it feels to squander scoring opportunities.

The Marlins had plenty of base runners against Kyle Kendrick last night, nine in six innings to be exact, but the young right hander managed to avoid any damage thanks in part to good fielding, timely strikeouts and Florida's lack of clutch hitting. In the end, Kendrick and the bullpen shut the Marlins down as the Phils won 5-0 to increase their lead in the NL East over both the Fish and the Mets, who also lost.

With few exceptions, Kendrick always manages to keep his team in the game, something that cannot be said for a few of the more seasoned starters on this staff. Since being called up from AA Reading last mid-season, Kendrick has compiled a 20-9 record. Not bad for a kid who came out of nowhere, wasn't the most highly rated hurler in the Phillies minor league system, and has one pitch (the sinker) he relies on.

Go figure.

The biggest surprise of the night was watching Charlie Manuel summon Ryan Madson to pitch the ninth inning. Madson has been dreadful lately but Manuel was loathe to use Brad Lidge in a non-save situation given how much work the Phils regular closer has put in of late. Madson came through with a stellar ninth, throwing six pitches...all for strikes.

Go figure.

Today Cole Hamels tries to right his own little personal ship after two straight poor outings. It's safe to say this is a very big start for Hamels and the Phils. A vicrtory today enables the Phils to win their first series against their biggest competitors - Florida and New York -- in the last several meetings and gets their putative ace back on track.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Team To Beat

Good pitching still beats good hitting as the Phillies discovered for the umpteenth time last night in an 8-2 loss to the Florida Marlins that could have been even uglier.

Jamie Moyer lost his magic touch against Florida, dropping his first decision in eleven against them. By his own admission, Moyer beat himself with his lack of command and location. Had the Marlins not committed some questionable decisions things might have been worse. For some inexplicable reason Hanley Ramirez, their best hitter, chose to bunt with the pitcher on second and no outs. The Phils made the play, throwing out Josh Johnson at third base. Then, Geoff Jenkins made a diving catch that staved off further disaster.

Still, the Phils couldn't muster any offense against Johnson or his successors except for another home run by newly-minted slugger Shane Victorino.

Right now Florida looks like the team to beat in the NL East. Johnson and Anibal Sanchez have returned from injuries and if they remain healthy they constitute a formidable rotation along with Ricky Nalasco and Scott Olsen. The Marlins are always described as impatient free-swingers at the plate, but they produce. And let us not underestimate the lack of pressure on a bunch of underpaid youngsters who weren't expected to stay with the Phils or Mets this deep into the season. They play in front of such small crowds at home who could they be afraid of disappointing? Only themselves. And right now they don't look too disappointed.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Take The Day Off...Not!

Charlie Manuel has this habit of giving a player the day off only to summon him mid-game to pinch-hit. Thank goodness.

Last night's beneficiary of a partial day off was Shane Victorino, who'd been hot as a fire cracker until an 0-for Saturday night. So what does Shane do on his day off? Pinch hits, what else! The first time he rode a fly ball deep to left center with men on. The next time he rode the ball over the fence for a game-winning three run homer. I shudder to think where the Phils would be without him, days on and days off.

Brett Myers threw a very good game last night, making only one big mistake. He held St. Louis to two earned runs in six innings, giving up four hits, striking out three, and walking no one. He three sixty-four pitches overall and made enormous strides in what had to be a real confidence booster for him and the club. St. Louis presents a tough lineup, as opposed to the Nationals last week, and Myers met the challenge. The game was also broadcast on ESPN, increasing the audience and, no doubt, the pressure on him. The Phillies have always faltered lately on prime time, so the win was big for all concerned. Coupled with losses by both Florida and New York, the victory also increased the Phils leads over both.

There is no rest for the weary as the Phils get set to host the Marlins for three games at the Bank, beginning tomorrow night. Today the entire team gets the day off...with no likelihood Charlie will relent and call on all of them to pinch hit. Right, Charlie?

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Thanks, Joe, we needed that.

Joe Blanton picked a darn good time to throw his best game in a Phillies uniform. Granted, the sample is still small, but the prospect of dropping another game to the Cardinals the night after putative ace Cole Hamels was roughed up for the second straight time outing was alarming. Blanton to the rescue. By pitching seven strong innings of four hit, one run ball he gave his new mates a chance to win the series when the face the Cards tonight in prime time.

Brett Myers gets the start tonight, the third consecutive most important game of his career. They're all big for Myers these days as he tries to find his groove by, well, not grooving the ball to the likes of Albert Pujols. His last start, against a mediocre Washington lineup, was a good one but hardly the test he needs to convince himself and the Phillies he belongs permanently in the starting rotation. If Myers falters, J.A. Happ could very likely take his spot five days hence. There aren't many second chances in August and September.

Speaking of "hence" the Phillies face a tough row to hoe including eight games against the Dodgers avec Manny and four games each against the Cubs and the Brewers. Oh, and they meet the Mets and Marlins five and nine times respectively. Thanks, schedule makers, we didn't need that!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Not Aces

Suddenly their ace isn't looking too good.

Throughout the pre-season and to this day the big concern about the Phillies has always been their starting pitching. Adam Eaton couldn't get people out. Brett Myers couldn't get the ball over the plate. Kyle Kendricks couldn't always keep the ball down. Jamie Moyer couldn't turn back the clock (though he really hasn't had to). Only Cole Hamels seemed a sure bet...if he remained healthy.

Despite their acquisition of Joe Blanton, aka the Innings Eater (man, do I hate that expression!) , the Phillies looked thin in the starting rotation. Still, most of the rumors surrounding the team as the trade deadline approached focused on a lefty for the pen and another bat in the outfield. More than one person said if Brett Myers continued to come back, as he did the other night against Washington, the team had for all intents and purposes acquired another starter. It may be far too early for that judgment, but Myers return to form won't nearly be enough if their ace continues to struggle.

As far as I can tell Hamel's is healthy though he seems to have lost a mile or two per hour on his fastball. Asked whether or not he was OK he said, "I'm not hurt. I'm fine." Despite his ready answer on the health front he's been getting hit very hard the last few times out. The Phillies alleged brain trust is clearly concerned about his stamina and health. The slim left-hander has been babied by the Phils -- given extra time off immediately after the All Star break, sent to St. Louis a day ahead of his teammates to get more rest -- but those measures haven't helped him his last two outings. He's giving up lots of home runs and hits and though his mates rallied the other day against Atlanta to stave off a loss they couldn't catch up last night against the Cardinals as Hamels took the W. There has been a lot of talk about excusing Hamels from energy-sapping day games, saving him only for the relative coolness of the night. (Game time temperature at Busch Stadium last night was 86 degrees.)

Hamels and his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, both said he's been leaving his bread and butter pitch, the change, up in the zone. Three starts ago he pitched very well against the Marlins in a no-decision the Phillies ultimately lost, 3-2. He had a game plan, relying mostly on his curve and change against the fastball-feasting Marlins, only occasionally mixing in the heater. Afterwards, he complained despite his superb eight-inning performance that the extra time off following the AS break hindered, not helped him, that he couldn't get his arm stretched out enough. But in the last two outings he hasn't seemed to have much of a plan instead relying on his change and fastball and all but abandoning the breaking ball. The results show he hasn't benefited from this approach. Big league hitters can sit on a pitch. Their chances improve considerably if the hurler isn't using his entire repertoire.

In the end, the Phillies were coming off a five-game winning streak, admittedly against some mediocre opposition, but their ace let them down in a relatively big game against a good but not great opponent. He didn't do his job.

Speaking of letting the side down, Ryan Madson has been terrible his last three outings, continuing a career pattern of breaking down in the second half. Madson's fastball has about as much movement on it as the Slowsky turtles. Right about now I'd bet Charlie Manuel is starting to feel very reluctant about summoning Madson in a tight game. I know I shudder when I hear his name.

Speaking further of pitching, the Florida Marlins have gotten back two talented but injured young starters and right about now look pretty formidable. Though too early to tell how they will hold up, the initial signs are good. The Marlins also acquired Arthur Rhodes who may or may not be the solution to the Phillies' left-handed batters. Arthur has been very good this year with Seattle, but we all know he is capable of melting down at a moment's notice. Still, Florida refuses to go away and should be there all the way to the end. I would not be surprised to see them take the division. With all the head-to-head meetings between the top three team in the NL East, whoever wins the majority of those games is going to take the crown. Those kids can hit a ton and now they just might have the strongest pitching.