Saturday, May 28, 2011

Home Again

I go to Spain for eleven days and upon my return learn that Wilson Valdez won as many games as anyone on the staff except for Cliff Lee. I had a chance to catch the video replay of Valdez' performance and I must say what I enjoyed the most was watching him shake off a sign in the 19th inning of the game. THAT, sports fans, was either Chutzpah of the first water or showmanship of an even higher degree. I'll bet the pitchers watching in the dugout got a huge laugh out of that one.

I had to review the box scores from the games against St. Louis, Colorado, Texas and Cincinnati to learn what happened in those contests. Clearly, their first head-to-heads with the Cardinals did not go well.

Of course the biggest news other than Valdez' debut on the mound was the return of Chase Utley. I haven' seen him play yet so I haven't much sense of how "back" he is, but there's no doubt he continues to defy the experts when it comes to his healing powers and his presence in the lineup is always a boost to his teammates.

More to come once I catch up on some sleep. The trip over is always a much easier adjustment than the trip back.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fatal Flaws?

It's been said ad nauseum, here and elsewhere. The Phils cannot hit and it's turning out good pitching is not enough. Indeed, Cole Hamels pitched to no decision Friday night and Roy Halladay lost Sunday, his second straight loss.

Originally, we hoped the Phils would win these 3-2 games, but when the opposition throws a Tim Hudson at you, there's just as good a chance you will end up on the short end.

Is help on the way? It could start by giving a starting job to John Mayberry until he proves he cannot handle it. Ben Francisco has already proven he isn't an every-day player. Raul Ibanez isn't one any longer either, but Charlie seems determined to hang in there with the over-the-hill veteran. I see no reason to rejoice he has raised his average all the way to .230!!

Jimmy had an awful series in Atlanta going 2 - 14 and reverting to his old swinging ways. Even Placido Polanco is leveling off, but, then, he started near .400.

There will be a lot of pressure to bring up Domonic Brown and throw him to the lions. Not only has he shown in the past he may not be ready to face big league pitching on an everyday basis, he hasn't even shown he can remain healthy enough to play on an everyday basis. Moreover, he is still a work in progress in the field.

Chooch is struggling mightily. Ryan Howard is driving in runs but seeing very few pitches to hit given those who surround him. Second base is a revolving door of has beens and never weres. Shane Victorino is nursing a sore hamstring.

As for pitching, Bob Ford said it well in this AM's Inquirer: the relief corps is holding up well but there are a lot of rookies being counted on heavily there and we all know how up-and-down that sort of dependency can be.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who's Next?

The baseball gods must be very displeased with the Phillies. How else to explain the rash of injuries to key players?

The latest to go down was Shane Victorino, who suffered a hamstring injury yesterday and will probably miss a few games at the very least. I'd say the Phils can ill-afford the loss of any more starters, but especially in the outfield where they are perilously thin already and where the obvious replacement, Domonic Brown, was himself just removed from the injury list only to suffer another setback.

As a senior citizen with his share of non-sports induced aches and pains, I can well appreciate how debilitating a heel spur or bulging disc can be. What I've always had trouble coming to grips with is how professional athletes can suffer hamstring pulls when they are supposedly so well conditioned. I guess like any muscle ailment, sudden or exaggerated use can trigger a response.

Victorino has been one of the few Phillies to hit more or less consistently. His absence for even one game is going to hurt everyone.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A New Kiddie Korps?

The first use in baseball of the term "Kiddie Korps" was in 1960 when the Baltimore Orioles finished in second place with an 89-65 record, their best performance to date since the franchise moved from St. Louis in 1954. The O's record was due in no small measure to their young staff:

"The pitchers, nicknamed the "Kiddie Korps", included Chuck Estrada (18-11, 3.58), Milt Pappas (15-11, 3.37), Steve Barber (10-7, 3.22) and Jack Fisher (12-11, 3.41), all of them 23 and under." (Quoted from

The Phillies hardly have a Kiddie Korps at the front of their collective rotation, but lately they have been trotting out their own mini-version in middle and late relief (with a few starts thrown in by Vance Worley). Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo and Worley have been impressive in their short time in the big leagues, no more so than last night when the first two were called on to put out a fire in the seventh inning with the score tied at four apiece, one out and the bases loaded. They struck out the next two batters to preserve the tie and when the Phils took the lead in the top of the eighth, Worley came on in the bottom of the frame and after newly-minted Phillies-killer Alex Gonzalez singled and was sacrificed to second, the young right-hander got the next two batters to preserve the lead.

The emergence of these youngsters is emblematic of a team that has really had to patch itself together following all sorts of injuries, disablements and assorted ups and downs. Heck, the Phils were down to their third string catcher the other night, but they didn't miss a beat in taking two out of three from Florida and last night's opener in Atlanta.

They still sport the best record in baseball and have achieved all this without their star second baseman, closer, and first string catcher off-and-on. (The closer issue now seems moot with the emergence of Ryan Madson.) Speaking of Carlos Ruiz, he may be mired in a horrific slump, but don't think for one minute his presence last night wasn't critical. The Phillies' pitchers are simply better when he is not only calling the game but running it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Something New, Something Old

Something New

Over the last few seasons the Phillies have been remarkably successful in unearthing a role player or two who have proven invaluable. Last year, super-sub Wilson Valdez filled in admirably for both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. It is reasonable to say without him the season might have turned out worse.

This season, it appears Pete Orr is assuming the mantle of key addition. The nearly 32-year old journeyman has already appeared in two-thirds of the Phillies' games this season and has made the most of his opportunities.

Last night Orr doubled twice as the Phils rallied from a three run deficit to beat Florida 5-3 to take the series in Miami. Orr has begun seeing more playing time, especially against lefties, as Valdez struggles. He may not be as slick as fielder as Valdez, but he has handled his position well, especially on the pivot. He has also come up with some nifty scoops of throws on attempted steals.

Something Old

On the veteran side of the ledger, Jimmy Rollins continues his resurgence. A night after his uncharacteristic error cost the Phillies a victory, JRoll bounced back by doubling in the winning runs in the top of the ninth inning. He did this after arriving at his last plate appearance wearing a classic horse collar.

After Tuesday night's loss Jimmy was his usual candid self, taking the blame and clearly feeling he'd let his mates down. Last night he made amends.

Something In Between

Ryan Madson has been viewed as the closer of the future for a few seasons now but never seemed comfortable in the role when handed the opportunity. This season he wasn't so much handed the opportunity as he was forced into the role by injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras. Madson has never looked back.

Last night he converted his fifth save in five opportunities and looked impressive doing so. When the above mentioned injured players return, Contreras will return to the set-up role and's hard to know where he will fit. One thing is certain, however; Madson is more effective as the closer. The bet here is Charlie Manuel will agree despite his loyalty to veterans and his unwritten policy that veterans don't lose their jobs due to injury. The Phils can no longer afford the adventures Lidge brings, especially with Madson having matured into the role.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Losing Ugly

Yes, sports fans, this was an "ugly" loss insofar as the Phils squandered a tremendous early opportunity to get to Josh Johnson. They had already taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on Ryan Howard's opposite field home run and then loaded the bases with no outs. They failed to score another run the rest of the evening.

Roy Halladay pitched very well at times though he uncharacteristically walked the opposing pitcher for what the announcers said was the first time in his career. Can that be right? (Rhetorical question. Someone else can look it up!!) Johnson came in to score the tying run on a sacrifice fly and in the eighth inning the Fish scored the winning run on two errors, really, by Jimmy Rollins, who bobbled a hard hit grounder right at him for the first miscue, then hurried his throw wide of first for the second and official miscue.

That was it. The Phils failed to capitalize and they paid the price.

Raul Ibanez started in left field and Ben Francisco in right. Ross Gload, who hit well the night before in a rare start, sat until he pinch-hit in the ninth. Why, Charlie? Why not start Gload in right and John Mayberry in left? Manuel's devotion to Ibanez is killing this team. (OK, the guy who is looking up the Halladay info above can check to see if Ibanez and/or Francisco have great numbers against Johnson. Frankly, it's hard to imagine anyone on this team has great numbers against Johnson.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Winning Ugly

The Phils beat the Marlins in Miami last night, 6-4. If you taped the game because of prior commitments, do yourself a favor and just erase it without watching. It wasn't a keeper.

Combining lousy starting pitching from both teams with some less than stellar defense and questionable base-running by the Fish, both teams staggered to the finish line. Joe Blanton, coming back from the DL, looked like he was working a rehab game. Javier Vasquez, coming back for the umpteenth time in his career, looked like he was throwing batting practice. At the end of the game, the Phils' announcers were openly speculating this might be the end of the line for the well-traveled Vasquez.

All of this sloppiness by the starters overshadowed another solid pitching performance from Lance Worley, who came on in relief of Blanton and threw three innings, yielding a lone run. Worley has been one of the early season's pleasant surprises. After the game, in an on-field interview with Gary Matthews, Worley sounded intelligent, humble and glad to be in the big leagues.

It was good to get the lousy starting pitching out of the way in the first game of the series because tonight two of the best pitchers in the league if not the game will be facing off again. Roy Halladay vs. Josh Johnson. We all know what happened the last time these two squared off.

* * * * * * * *

Have you ever noticed batted balls sound louder in games televised from Miami than anywhere else in baseball? I swear each batted ball sounds like the hitter got all of it. Every time a batter connects in this ballpark, one hears an almost comic-book THWOCK!!! Well, that's because the Marlins clearly have good field mike locations AND they have no one in the stands to absorb or drown out the sound. When the patrons are outnumbered by the ushers, you can be sure sound carries. Absolutely the worst place in the universe for major league baseball. Everyone thinks the new stadium will make a difference. Maybe for one season. This just isn't a baseball town.

Monday, May 09, 2011

It's The Offense, Stupid

Last night we saw the new and old Cole Hamels. He pitched well enough but as he did too often in the past surrendered two home runs that were his undoing. Of course, conventional wisdom has it he would have fared better had he received decent support, but these days decent support is a rare commodity.

What a strange series we had this weekend. Two Phillies pitchers struck out a lot of Atlanta batters -- 16 in one game, nine in another -- and lost anyway. One Phillie pitcher not expected to start except as an emergency fill-in pitched surprisingly well and won.

The one consistent feature throughout the weekend was an anemic offense that squandered whatever opportunities it had. As the Phils advance deeper into the season and begin to see better pitching than they did during the first four weeks of the season, the futility of Ibanez, Francisco, the second-base combo, whichever catcher is in there at the moment and the erratic plate discipline of Rollins and Howard are all going to take their toll on the starting staff.

Atlanta took two of three from the Phils. They are the real competition for the Phils' four-year reign atop the NL East.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Surprise, Surprise!

The surprises just keep on coming.

Kyle Kendrick stepped in for an ailing Roy Oswalt and pitched five strong innings last night as the Phils topped the Braves 3-0. Who'd have thunk it were possible? And four successive relievers threw a shutout inning each as the Phils evened the weekend series at a game apiece going into today's finale. Cole Hamels gets the start today.

The Phils didn't exactly light up the Braves Julio Teheran, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, who was making his major league debut, also as a fill-in. They managed all of five hits. Normally, the Phils don't fare well against unknown hurlers and last night wasn't really any different; but they managed to score three runs including Ryan Howard's 260th, moving him past Del Ennis into second place all-time in the club's history. Mike Schmidt is more than comfortably ahead with 548 round-trippers.

Florida lost again as the Phils increased their lead to three full games over the second place Fish. The Phils also sport the best record in baseball.

The Phils continue to get good pitching and adequate hitting. Get used to it.

On another front, Chase Utley played baseball yesterday albeit not your conventional kind. He played in the field every other inning apparently and batted early and often. That he had five hits including two home runs is less important than he took the field at all. His return would be a huge boon to the woeful offense.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Last night's loss to Atlanta was telling on several fronts.

Cliff Lee was impressive, striking out sixteen batters in just seven innings of work. Even more impressive to this observer were Lee's comments after the game in which he matter-of-factly discussed leaving some pitches over the plate, Atlanta's seizing those opportunities, and the impressive work of his opposite number, Derek Lowe. If nothing else, Cliff Lee is one honest guy.

Lowe took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before yielding two hits and the rest of the game to the bullpen.

As dominant as Lee's numbers appear, he gave up nine hits in his seven innings. If a pitcher is striking out sixteen batters in twenty-one outs, he's got something on the ball...literally!! On the other hand, Atlanta's lineup clearly adjusted to him and when Lee made a mistake, they were all over it.

The Phillies, on the other hand, never adjusted. Ryan Howard, in particular, never adjusted even when ahead in the count. Raul Ibanez, he of the recent renaissance, looked so over-matched against the Braves' flame-throwing bullpen, all notions that his bat speed may have picked up should be questioned once again.

Make no mistake about it, Lowe was impressive. And make no mistake about it the Philllies didn't appear to have a clue how to make adjustments. It's customary to give the other team's pitcher credit for shutting you down and Cliff Lee certainly did that. Still, there is the matter of adjusting. When the Phils seem over-matched in a game, they don't seem capable of adjusting. Atlanta's batters seemed quite aggressive in making adjustments. Therein lies the difference.

Lee's record fell to 2-3. He seems to have an inning per game where he suddenly loses it. His teammates could probably minimize the damage if they would make the other guy pay for his mistakes once in a while, but the real point is to not sit there waiting for mistakes to fall into your lap. Go to the plate with a plan. Adjust.

Friday, May 06, 2011


If I didn't know better, Raul, I would start taking your resurgence personally.

The Phils completed their sweep of the Nationals last night behind a host of hitters including Raul Ibanez, who went 8-11 in the series raising his average to .214. That's right, folks, all the way to .214.

The other news of the night, from my perspective, is that Roy Halladay again looked a lot less than sharp and overwhelming but certainly pitched well for most mortals. He was hit hard at times and struggled to put other batters away at times. He struggled so mightily against Jerry Hairston in one particularly troubling at bat, throwing nine or ten pitches, six or seven of which Hairston fouled off. Halladay simply could not put him away.

Now before you say, "Gimme a break, Goodman, the guy has a 2.19 ERA and is 5-1" let me direct you to the words "most mortals" above. There have been times when Halladay has been hit harder this season than I recall from last year. He gets good run support, which for "most mortals" can result in something of a mental letdown, but not Halladay. He bears down 24/7 as they say. If you don't think so, take a look at the tape when he finished the inning in which the Nats scored two runs. You can see him yelling at himself.

By the way, Jayson Werth was out at the plate despite the attempts by Sarge and Tom McCarthy to exonerate the umpire, who was out of position and could not really see what happened. Ibanez' throw did beat Werth to the plate and Dane Sardinha was a little late in blocking the plate with his right foot. But if one closely watches the replay, while Werth's leg does appear to get to the plate before Sardinha gets the tag down, the tape also shows Werth's leg sliding to the right of the plate by which time Sardinha did tag him.

Speaking of Sardinha, he was given the start for the demanding Halladay because of previous success, but in that inning in which Roy struggled, it was pretty clear they had trouble communicating. You can bet Halladay is trying everything within his power to help Carlos Ruiz recover. On that front, the news isn't good. Apparently, Ruiz tweaked his ailing back and now word has it he may go on the DL.

Coming up in May is some real competition for the Phils. It's a good thing they've been beating up on the lesser lights.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Reverse Curse Sighting And Other Matters

Me? I like my crow roasted and my humble pie warmed.

Raul, you old Reverse Curse maven, you are trying to fool us again.

Let's be serious though, folks. Two nights does not a turn-around make. Raul Ibanez has a lot more hitting to do before I am ready to put in my order.

Meanwhile, if Vance Worley continues to pitch like he has the first two outings, look for the Phils' alleged brain trust to start making it known a certain right-hander from Kentucky is available for the right price. OR, and this is contingent on whether or not he has a no-trade clause with the Phils, a smaller-framed right-hander from Mississippi might be available, too. I don't know the details of his contract, but Oswalt would seem to be expendable if the Phils think Worley is ready to be an every-fifth-day pitcher in the big leagues. And he might bring more than Kentucky Joe.

* * * * * * *

It is more than slightly astonishing the Phils have done so well. Yes, yes, I know about their great starting pitching, but they are missing so many key parts on offense and are still leading the pack. Of course, they've feasted on a diet of low-hanging fruit in the Mets and Nationals. Let's see what happens when they see more of the Reds, Rockies, Cardinals, Giants and the like.

* * * * * * * *

When Domonic Brown is finished his rehab, he is expected to go to AAA rather than join the big club. The Phils' alleged brain trust feel he needs more seasoning. They might have reached that conclusion after his first extended call up last season and his disastrous off-season experiences. One thing seems sure, however; Ben Francisco is an adequate replacement in right field but apparently not the answer. Defensively, Ben is a serious liability out there. Offensively, he is on a pace to drive in roughly 100 runs at his current pace, so it is hard to argue he represents a big drop-off from Jayson Werth in that category alone. Brown has to prove he can improve on those numbers before he gets a serious chance to take the job.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of Reverse Curses, perhaps there is such as thing as the Reverse Reverse Curse, a.k.a., The Curse, when it comes to Danys Baez. Just when he was getting some positive mentions for his last few outings, he goes out there last night and gives up three runs in the ninth inning against the Nats. There's a reason he's with his sixth team.

* * * * * * * *

I digress...again.

The Fly Boys look like they are headed for summer vacation any day now. While it's popular to joke the Flyers have the Bruins right where they want them (Go on, admit you know they don't but still...just maybe....), but the truth is this team has been very inconsistent for several months now, especially in goal and especially when it comes to scoring. If the Flyers had a goalie of Tim Thomas' stature and consistency, they would be in a different position. If they had Chris Pronger regularly, despite his sarcasm and barely contained contempt for anyone with a pen, microphone or smart phone, they might be in a better position. If they had snipers who could put the puck in the next consistently, they might go deeper into the playoffs. But they don't and they won't!!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ace Among Aces

Among the aces on this staff, Cole Hamels is second to no one. Hamels threw a complete game five hitter against Washington last night to improve to 4-1. Subtract his awful early-season meltdown against the Mets and Hamels has been superb in 2011. After the game, CSN commentator and former Phils' catcher Chris Coste said one of the chief differences between the current and former Hamels is his ability to command the breaking down down and away and down and in.

Hamels also contributed two hits on the night including a triple over Jayson Werth's head. Werth never could go back to the wall to his right. The ball looked catchable on replays but not with Werth on the case. Hamels then scored the first run of the evening on a rbi single by Jimmy Rollins, back in his familiar leadoff spot for the first time this season.

The Phils improved to 19-9 with the win.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare A Hit?

Out like a like a lamb.

That, in a nutshell, is the storyline this season for your Philadelphia Phillies.

April was the most successful month in franchise history. May is starting out on a different note. After romping 10-3 over the Mets Friday night, April 29, the Phils managed only two runs in nine innings Saturday night, April 30, and one measly run in fourteen innings Sunday night in dropping the finale of the three-game set on May 1. The Phils collected all of seven hits for their effort in last night's futility fest.

Cliff Lee again struggled early but eventually righted himself. If he holds the opposition to a lone run in seven innings every time out he should expect to win, unless, of course, the offense fails to show up that night.

Raul Ibanez led the futility parade, failing to hit for the 34th straight at bat including leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth after the Phils had tied the game. You could see Ibanez struggle in the at bat, swinging late or awkwardly. He finally grounded out to kill the threat. Charlie Manuel is notorious for sticking by his veterans but his loyalty to Ibanez goes far beyond anything reasonable. Ibanez is cooked. Unless he is injured or otherwise unavailable, Ross Gload should have batted in Ibanez' place last night. Charlie blew that one.