Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back From The Shore

A week at the shore in Delaware has left me out of the loop though I was able to keep track via wrap-ups of the Phils' adventures on and off the field.  In no particular order:

Good pitching may beat good hitting but better pitching beats good pitching and good pitching always beats no hitting.  That sums up the Giants series, which was notable among other reasons for the ability of the Phils to dodge Tim Lincecum and the Giants to dodge Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.  If there are any conspiracy theorists out there (probably just a few, eh?) NL All Star manager Bruce Bochy must have looked not far down the road and figured if he used the two Phils' aces he might miss them when his every day job brought him to the City of Brotherly Love.

Of course, it didn't help that the Phils stopped hitting after beating the Giants in the opener of the series.  Of course they may have stopped hitting because they faced damn good pitching.  The Giants remain formidable if for no other reason than their superb pitching staff, which is every bit as good as that of the Phils. For the Phils to make it back to the Series they are going to have to go through San Francisco.  They get a chance to even the regular season score when they go through there next week.

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Domonic Brown is the odd man out as Hunter Pence took up residence at his former address and Placido Polanco returned from the DL. Brown took his demotion to AAA hard, as one might expect, but he will be back and will get better. He's never going to make locals forget Gary Maddox in the field, but he should learn to hit. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Pence was a smart move by the Phils. They need his bat and his energy. Look at how he ran out that ball he hit his first time up in a Phillies' uniform. He was safe but Angel Hernandez, who is a terrible ump who seems to always get involved in something controversial in Philadelphia, called him out. First base should be the easiest of calls. You hear both the ball and the batter arrive and even if you do not clearly hear the batter, you should hear the ball and see the batter's foot.

Pence is further proof the Phils plan to win now. He may be theirs for a few years, but he was brought in at the cost of four prospects, two of which were the Phils' top prospects and listed among the top 25 in baseball, and he will be expected to be the right-handed batting difference-maker the Phils have needed all year. Whether or not the two top prospects pan out remains to be seen, but it is clear the Phils would rather find out what they have now not later.

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I did watch one game on ESPN, the one Cole Hamels lost to the Giants 2-1. Once again, national broadcasters got the gloss right but the substance superficial in talking about the local club whose fans know much more. And this was one of ESPN's better duos broadcasting.

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Chase Utley has started hitting with power again as well as for average. Couldn't come at a better time.

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It is painful to watch Ryan Howard flail away at breaking balls and off-speed stuff. It may be popular to contend all he really needed was a good right-handed bat behind him and certainly adherents to this perspective will note in Hunter Pence's first game Howard went 4-4; nevertheless, it's going to take a lot more than one game before I am convinced Howard doesn't need to do more for himself. He has never moved closer to the plate nor adjusted his stroke. Pitchers have been getting him out an awful lot the last few seasons on breaking stuff away and change-ups just about anywhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Domonic Brown

2003: 43 games .239 BA 2 HR 21 RBI .322 OBP
2004: 94 games .266 BA 13 HR 57 RBI .308 OBP

Those are Chase Utley's numbers for his first two seasons.

2010: 35 games* .210 BA 2 HR 13 RBI .237 OBP
2011: 48 games .238 BA 5 HR 16 RBI .339 OBP

* 62 total AB's

Those are Domonic Brown's numbers for his first two seasons to date.

All those who already want to trade Domonic Brown don't have a clue. Many of these same idiots are convinced Brown will never be a decent fielder. Utley was a very mediocre second baseman when he arrived in the big leagues.

Now, granted, Utley has a work-ethic second to none and Brown has had his lapses. But the rookie made no excuses, accepting responsibility for those lapses. He seems eager to learn. He has lots of potential. He plays a position where the Phillies are weak.

Trading him would be a huge mistake and the Phillies' alleged brain trust isn't about to do it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Phillies fans were "treated" to an unsettling and uncommon sight last night: Roy Halladay sucking for wind and exhausted by the third inning. It wasn't pretty.

Halladay labored mightily in the stifling heat and humidity of Chicago last night, throwing 31 pitches in the third inning, taking two breaks behind the mound to try and recover, changing his drenched uniform top in the dugout between innings, looking beet-red with obvious dehydration symptoms, and finally departing the game in the fifth inning, approximately two innings after it was clear to everyone but his manager and pitching coach he was done for the night.

Frankly, as the camera studied an exhausted and stressed Halladay on the bench between the third and fourth innings, I worried for his health. The team's trainer sat beside him but apparently never went to Manuel and said Halladay had to come out of the game right now!!

The Phils lost the game 6-1. Halladay's counterpart, journeyman Rodrigo Lopez, looked cool as a cucumber in frustrating the always impatient Phillies hitters. It it was never more clear than last night this team collectively takes a poor approach to the plate. As Gary Matthews pointed out, the Cubs were literally wearing Halladay out fouling off pitches and taking others while the Phils went up to the dish hacking as usual. Sure, the Phils could use bullpen help, but they clearly need another bat, right-handed and intelligent!!

As distressing as it was to see the always fit and durable Halladay literally wilting before our eyes, the other ominous sign of the night was the second straight poor outing by a Philadelphia ace. With Cole Hamels' pummeling in New York on Saturday, this makes two straight appearances by Aces that have been disastrous. Cliff Lee gets the ball tonight with the hope he can break this mini-string. Who'd have thought the best two games pitched by a Phillie starter since the All Star break would be by Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick???!!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Help Wanted

Call me a psychic (or a fair-weather fan if you prefer), but I turned the game off as soon as the ball dropped between Utley and Howard in the first inning. Right then, I knew the Phils were in for a very long afternoon and I couldn't stand to watch it.

They looked feeble in the first inning against Jon Niese, none more than Ryan Howard, and would only continue to as the shadows grew longer. They had Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez in the starting lineup. Everything added up to a loss, Cole Hamels notwithstanding. The Mets were missing Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright. The reverse curse was in effect. Oh, and Danys Baez was going to get in the game. That's always good for a few runs.

The Phils are widely rumored to be looking for bullpen help but I don't believe it. There biggest need remains a right-handed bat, especially with Placido Polanco's questionable health.

Still, they lost yesterday because they couldn't pitch or field.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Random Though

Random thoughts waiting for the second half to begin....

The Florida Marlins announced they are closing the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium to cut costs. The two people who sat there this season will be relocated to Las Vegas.

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The All Star game was watched by fewer people than at any time in its history. "Fair and balanced" Fox News announced the viewership was the "network’s best night of prime time since the “American Idol” finale in May." Maybe Fox can boost ratings next year by combining the two.

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An article online at ESPN suggests scouts are not sold on Jair Jurrgens stuff and that the Braves should consider trading him while his value is at it's peak. I'd bet the rest of the league would love to have his stuff on their staffs.

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Many sources suggest the Phils are considering obtaining Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros. The right-handed bat of Pence would come at a steep price, perhaps the Phils' top pitching prospect. Of course the Astros' GM Ed Wade loves talking turkey with his former employers so this rumor probably has some merit.

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The jurisprudence threads in professional sports are gaining more prominence every day but the public is weary of the steroids-related trials still pending. The most notable alleged abuser still before the bench is Roger Clemens, on trial for lying to Congress, not for using. Lying to Congress! That one is sure to capture the imagination of the American public.

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Last rant on the All Star game:

If you want to know one reason viewership for the All Star game is so low these days, take a look at the box score. Scott Rolen actually started for the NL at third base. He's hitting .241 and still wears that grim expression that fans in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto and Cincinnati love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Stars

What a joke!

The All-Star game used to be fun until baseball's lords on high started messing with it forty-one years ago when they decided to have two games in 1960. That was the beginning of the end.

Skip ahead to today. Whereas the biggest news used to be who got snubbed and who got in but didn't deserve to, the current climate is all about defending or decrying decisions by those actually chosen and whether they decide to play or not to play. Oops, let's make that "show or not show". Derek Jeter, undeserving this year but a great player over his career, was chosen for this year's game but declined to play. Yesterday, he even declined to show up. Now everyone who thinks he could hit a fastball has jumped in with an opinion. I neither condone nor condemn Jeeter. Why single him out?

Trust me, no one gives a damn whether he or anyone else plays or not other than the network broadcasting the whole sorry mess and ESPN, which usually fawns over the home run derby contest the night before like it meant something to anyone other than Budweiser or Geico.

Here's all you need to know about baseball's All Star game: fans are invited to vote online early and often. That's right. You can vote up to something like 28 times. MLB even makes it easy by remembering your selection(s) so you don't have to re-enter anything other than the security code each vote.

The All Star game is beyond fixing. It should be taken out and shot.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anybody Home?

What if they held an All Star Game and no players came?

We're not there yet but this year will see more elected players fail to perform than any time in the history of the mid-season "showcase". Fifteen players have withdrawn from the game, among them several starting pitchers who are ineligible to play because they pitched the previous Sunday. There's an actual rule for that circumstance.

A few elected players are on the Disabled List and unable to perform. Some are nursing injuries and could use the rest.

Who knows, maybe a few were elected but would rather take the kids to Great Adventure or fix that leaking downspout.

Whatever the reasons, the post-election movement of players on and off the roster has never been so dramatic. The question is, does anyone care?

The players' union chief has stated publicly all the excused absences are legitimate. Bloggers and their commenters throughout the land are divided. Bud Selig is oblivious to it all but one wonders how long his honor (with a decidedly deliberate lower case "h") will sit by and watch the contest he's tried to pump up become the only game of musical chairs where those circling don't want a seat!

Selig tried to inject life into the game a few seasons back when it was decided the winning league in the game would get home field advantage for the World Series. That, he insured all, would make the players put a little more effort into the proceedings. It sure does make a difference if the NL wins home field advantage if you are a Phillies fan. Four potential games, including the first two of the Series, without a DH is a distinct advantage.

But in this era of astronomical salaries, incentive clauses and bonuses for election (are there caveats that a player must be elected and play to collect, one wonders?), players put far more stake in their health and future contract negotiations than a mere showcase.

Derek Jeter should be this year's poster boy for all the changes that have taken place. Chasing 3000 hits and struggling at the plate most of the season, Jeter was injured and went on the DL. Still, he was elected the starting shortstop for the AL, a result not unusual for fan favorites whose production has nevertheless dropped. But Jeter returned from the DL, achieved his milestone, going five for five the day he passed the magic number, and then announced he would take a pass in the All Star game for a chance to rest. The argument made for electing aging stars over more deserving players has always been the fans deserve to see their heroes one more time. Apparently, the feelings aren't mutual.

The solution is to junk the game altogether and go back to the rotation system for home field advantage in the Series. Come to think of it, junk the DH, Interleague Play and just about every other "innovation" his honor put in place, upheld, sustained or dreamed up. Nobody seems to like them but him.


It's a real burden being a glass half empty kind of guy.

What could possibly be bothering me after this weekend's series with the Braves? The Phils took two out of three games to increase their lead over Atlanta to 3.5 games. They sport the best record in baseball going into the All Star break. They scored a ton of runs on Sunday. Rookie Domonic Brown shows flashes at the plate of the stardom expected of him. The big three of Halladay, Lee and Hamels had a superb first half.

Well, for one thing the Phils beat the Braves but didn't face two of their three aces. Jurjens and Hudson will be tough the next time around. And on Sunday the Phils beat up on the righties in Atlanta's bullpen because Fredi Gonzalez was forced to overuse them after his superb lefties worked the night before.

Oh, come on, man, enjoy it.

After all, the Phils played without two of their starters, both of whom were elected to the NL All Star squad.

Chill. Take three days off. Skip the All Star game, especially the home run derby. See you Thursday.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pitch Hitch

Tommy Hanson's delivery looks like that of a man who is changing his mind in mid windup. He draws back, hesitates at the apex, then flings the ball homeward. The hitch is deceptive to batters, according to all reports, and the results confirm it. Hanson, a highly touted rookie a few seasons ago, has become a premier pitcher. He certainly was one yesterday as he stymied the entire makeshift batting order of the Phils with the lone exception of his opposite number, Cliff Lee. Lee belted the first home run of his career to give the Phils a brief lead.

Dan Uggla tied the score with a four-bagger of his own and that's the way things stood until the eleventh inning when the Braves scored a run on an rbi single by Alex Gonzalez, who is fast becoming a member of the Phillies-killer club and baseball's number one member of that exclusive organization, Brian McCann, launched a two run home run.

The Lee-Hanson matchup certainly lived up to its advance billing. Michael Stutes, who has pitched brilliantly all season, surrendered the Braves winning runs to take the loss.

Cole Hamels faces Derek Lowe in the series finale this afternoon. The Phils look to increase their lead to 3.5 games over the Braves at the break and even the season series at six apiece.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I Told You He Was Great

I take it all back, Raul. You are swift afoot, sure-handed, with a quick bat.

Last night the much-maligned (especially in this space) left-fielder crushed a ball in the tenth inning for a walk-off home run that propelled the Phils to a 3-2 victory over Atlanta in the opener of a crucial three-game series.

The other hero of the night was even more improbable: journeyman pitcher Juan Perez struck out the side in the top of the tenth inning on nine pitches. That's right, fans, the minimum number of pitches to retire the side. Atlanta's contributors to this rare event were Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Wilkin Ramirez.

Roy Halladay started for the Phils and allowed Atlanta's two runs in seven innings of work. The Phils hit the ball well all night, totaling eleven hits, but had little to show for it before Ibanez' extra-innings heroics.

The win extends the Phils' lead over the Braves to 3.5 games insuring they will hold onto first place by the All Star break. Game two is this afternoon. A fellow named Lee faces a fellow named Hanson.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Crucial Series

Anyone who says the weekend set with Atlanta isn't a crucial series is seriously mistaken.

The two teams have met nine times thus far in 2011 with the Braves holding a 5-4 lead. Over the last five weeks the Braves have the best record in baseball. On top of that, they began the season on a losing note for the first month and have rebounded dramatically to close the gap with the Phils to 2.5 games. If the Braves take the series they leap into first place. If they take 2 of 3, they close the gap further. If the Phils win, they open a nice lead in addition to making a statement. Everyone in the Phils dugout knows what's at stake.

Atlanta's starting rotation is very strong; their bullpen is even stronger. The offense has sputtered as has the Phils', especially Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward. Should they rebound, the Braves throw a formidable lineup out there every day.

The Phils enter the series without sparkplug Shane Victorino, an enormous loss. They have their rotation set up perfectly with the big three ready to go. They also miss Jair Jurrjens, whose 12 wins lead the NL, and Tim Hudson. Apparently, Fredi Gonzalez didn't feel it necessary to set up his rotation for this series to have his top two available. Don't read too much into that. Gonzalez sees this as a big series, too.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lousy Loss

Last night's loss to Florida never should have happened as the Phils blew 4-0 and 6-3 leads. They might have been due for a stinker but this one came courtesy of several base-running mistakes, including an uncharacteristic one by Chase Utley, and a characteristic big fat walk-off home run pitch by Danys Baez to Mike Stanton.

John Mayberry celebrated his latest return to the majors by hitting two line-drive home runs, but he also dropped a line drive in the seventh inning. Domonic Brown had an adventurous night, too, misplaying a ball in the third inning that allowed Florida to get back into the game early when two runs scored. He was also called out for missing second base, a call that is virtually never made and in this case probably should not have been upon unofficial review. Still, Brown continues to make the sort of mistakes that leave one wondering and concerned just how focused he is.

With the loss and Atanta's win, the Phils remain three games in front of the Braves. Wouldn't you know it, the schedule makers knew this would happen?! The two teams meet this weekend at the Bank. And wouldn't you know it, Charlie Manuel had this figured all along as well: he has his three aces lined up for the series?!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Game Of Inches & Coincidents

Baseball, its fans love to point out, is a game of inches. Sometimes, those inches can be stretched a little.

Yesterday's loss in Toronto came down to one play, when Shane Victorino broke too soon from second base and was picked off. Raul Ibanez followed with a double that would have scored Victorino and given the Phils a 5-3 lead. That may have been enough padding for Cliff Lee to work what turned out to be the fatal eighth inning a little differently. Instead, Lee was rocked for three home runs as the Blue Jays stormed back from a 4-0 deficit to take the finale of the three-game series and interleague play for this season.

Another common coincidence baseball fans love to point out is how often the guy who just made a great play leads off the next inning. I guess the opposite phenomenon was in effect in Victorino's case; to wit, the coincidence of a player making the game's bonehead play and then asking the fans to vote him into the All-Star game the next day. Oh, well, Shane, all is forgiven. You deserve to go to the AS game and I am voting for you.

While on the subject of interleague play, here's one vote to abolish it immediately. Not only has the novelty worn off years ago, but the schedules are invariably uneven in a given season with some teams playing a lot of contenders while their division rivals play a bunch of patsies. Naturally, interleague play is here to stay because, after all, it is the brainchild of the same alleged brain trust that maintains a DH in one league but not the other. The DH is the premier travesty that really comes into play in the World Series. Should the NL team win the All Star game and thus gain home field advantage for the Series, the only bright idea to come out of the AS game in decades, it can neutralize the AL's clear advantage with the DH being a fixture in that league by hosting four of the seven games, including the first two, if the Series goes the limit.

With new rumors of realignment brewing, the end of the DH fiasco may finally be at hand. Of course, the alleged brain trust could vote to have it in both leagues, something the Players' Union would probably love.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Chase Utley is back and with his return the Phillies' often-moribund offense takes on an altogether different look to opponents. Utley, of course, missed all of Spring Training and nearly the first two months of the season, forcing him to get into game-shape on the job. Frankly, he looked over-matched those first few weeks, facing pitchers who were already deep into their second month of the regular season.

Slowly, he flashed signs of his devastating short, compact swing and yesterday, facing a left-hander, he delivered the game-winning hit, a two run homer, allowing Roy Halladay to win his Toronto homecoming. It was a sort of home-coming for Utley as well.

With Utley hitting again, the Phils lineup is far more potent with Shane Victorino, Utley and Ryan Howard surrounded by an always erratic Jimmy Rollins and steady, dependable Placido Polanco. There aren't any easy outs in that bunch though Rollins and Howard are too prone to get themselves out.

Halladay has had an unusual season. He pitched his sixth complete game of the year yesterday and improved his record to a league high 11-3 with an era of 2.44. Yet he has looked vulnerable at times, leaving more balls over the plate than he did last year, having to work more from the stretch, wiggling in-and-out of jams. But the bulldog in him, and make no mistake this is one fierce competitor, nearly always finds a way to reach back and make the pitch he needs.