Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bull Dogs And, Well...Dogs

There are plenty of players who hate to lose and there are plenty who hate to perform badly and don't mind showing it.

Doc Halladay makes both lists. Indeed, Doc may head both lists.

Halladay returned from a long, weather-enforced layoff last night and pitched seven strong innings, at one point retiring seventeen in a row after a yielding a leadoff hit. Doc worked out of a bases-loaded jam, fighting himself as hard as hit fought the Reds in that frame. After hitting a batter he spoke aloud to himself. If one could read lips the translation would run something along of the lines of "%$#%( idiot". Later in the inning, after walking the bases full, he threw the rosin bag to the ground hard enough for it to be available to anyone pitching in China at the moment.

But Doc being Doc, he escaped the jam and finally recorded his sixteenth win of the season.

Ryan Howard homered twice, the first one a two-run shot that gave the Phils their first and what proved to be sufficient lead to record their 84th win of the season. Hunter Pence tomahawked a homer to right and Raul Ibanez, who must have about nine hundred lives, stroked three hits including a two-run shot of his own.

The win, coupled with an Atlanta loss, stretched the Phils' lead to 7.5 games.

* * * * * * * *

The Giants are fading fast in the west proving that last year's world championship was indeed a fluke. Sure, the Giants had superb pitching last year but, c'mon, let's face it, they won because has-beens like Pat Burrell were briefly resurrected at the right time and never-weres like Cody Ross went on a tear, especially in the post-season. One might argue the loss of Buster Posey was too much to overcome, but a careful look at the roster will show Burrell has been released for good and Ross is hitting .231 and Aubrey Huff is the team leader in everything but homer runs with .243 average, 55 rbi's and obp of .301.

Oh, and last year's starters are mostly struggling and closer Brian Wilson is on the DL.

Before you start arguing how much injuries have hurt the Giants, let's not forget how many other contenders have had to deal with them, too. Again, Burrell and Ross proved to have feet of low-fired clay.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rusty But Good Enough

Cole Hamels returned from the DL/roster maneuver list last night and at least for the moment calmed frayed nerves about his left shoulder. Hamels was masterful.

Pitching in the place where his major league career began, Hamels stifled the Reds on two hits, allowing a single run over six innings. Hamels showed none of the rust and all of the command of his peak form.

A trio of relievers, beginning earlier than usual -- the seventh inning -- with Antonio Bastardo and following with Michael Stutes and Ryan Madson, held off the powerful Reds' lineup for a 3-2 win. Shane Victorino provided the margin of victory with a two-run shot, his fifteenth homer of the season.

Hamels was nearly perfect. Bastardo was, too. Stutes, who has scuffled badly lately surrendered three hits and a run in his inning to allow the Reds to creep to within one run. Madson allowed the tying run to reach second before shutting the door.

Each team managed six hits but Reds' starter Homer Bailey allowed the biggest one of all, to Victorino.

The Phils could be excused for being a bit rusty overall, having only played one game in the last four days due to hurricane Irene. They shook off some of that rust last night and need to shake off the rest in the days ahead.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mediocrity...Of Late

A few weeks ago, when a record-setting victory total seemed in sight, more than a few observers noted the Phils only had to play .500 ball to assure themselves an outstanding season.

Apparently, the Phils listened.

Over the last ten games the Phils have dropped at least two games they had in the bag while losing a few more they might have won with some timely hitting. Meanwhile, Atlanta kept on winning to "close" the gap between the two teams to six games.

Last night, both teams lost. The Phils' lost when Roy Oswalt was rocked for six runs including a grand slam homer. Oswalt, who looked reasonably sharp last start vs. Washington, pitched poorly last night. He didn't have the velocity of his last game and his command was off. Frankly, with last night's performance he dropped to fifth on my depth chart and sixth if you believe Kyle Kendrick offers more at this stage.

The chinks in the Phils armor explain their mediocre play of late. Cole Hamels has shoulder inflammation. Jimmy Rollins is on the DL. Placido Polanco is back but could be gone with one swing or bend. Michael Stutes pitches more like a rookie every day. Brad Lidge is a slider in the dirt or a "fastball" with little on it always waiting to happen. Ryan Howard has been in a funk and has a sort hand (last night he homered, however.) Michael Martinez has looked more like a Rule 5 player.

The most surprising development of all is that Roy Halladay hasn't been winning lately. There are all sorts of explanations for his recent dry spell, but they don't offer much consolation.

The rain has certainly wrecked havoc on the Phils' staff and, one would guess, on the position players who've had to play until nearly midnight a few times lately. With a hurricane on the horizon, the juggling of rotations doesn't get any easier. The Phils will try and sneak one in this afternoon and then skedaddle off to Cincinnati before the airport shuts down.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meeting And Greeting

Charlie, meet John Mayberry, your new left-fielder. Raul can come off the bench as your left-handed pinch hitter because it's no longer a question of whether or not John Jr. has earned a starting spot.

As long as we're meeting and greeting, Charlie, meet your new seventh inning guy for the post-season in Vance Worley. Of course, his role will be determined by the health of the big four.

As long as we're saying hello (and goodbye), Charlie, meet Michael Stutes, former phenom who appears to be returning to earth with a thud.

And also on the greeting front, Charlie, meet Placido Polanco, not only the ultimate pro but apparently possessor of at least nine baseball lives. He comes back from the DL, gets multiple hits and fields his position well. Placido is not going quietly.

* * * * * * * *

Scoring nineteen runs against the Mets in the first two games of this series just doesn't quite approach the level of satisfaction it might have years ago given how decimated and dismal the New Yorkers are. Still, the Phils have to feast on the never-rans as the Braves keep winning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Leaking Oil

There's no denying it now: the Phils' bullpen is leaking oil.

For every surprise performance by, say, a David Herndon, there have uglier surprises by heretofore reliable pitchers.

Antonio Bastardo, one strike away from settling things yesterday, blew a save when he yielded his second home run in August allowing Washington to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. The next inning, Brad Lidge, whose best pitch is more than likely to be in the dirt as not, hit a batter with the bases loaded to blow the third game in seven in which the Phillies led going into the ninth inning. Their once bloated 9.5 lead over Atlanta is now a more manageable 6.5 game spead.

Bastardo and Lidge haven't been the only culprits. Ryan Madson blew a 2 run lead in the ninth the other day, allowing six runs including a walk-off grand slam homer.

New call up Michael Schwimmer began his big league career by yielding a home run to the first batter he ever faced. Michael Stutes had a good outing Saturday night, but he, too, has had his ups and downs recently.

So, this isn't just a question of the league catching up with youngsters. Madson and Lidge in particular aren't spring chickens. Lidge is an especially troubling case because it cannot be easy for Charlie Manuel to send out a reliever who lacks command.

The schedule offers some potential temporary relief with two upcoming series with the Mets and Marlins but in September the Phils will face the Braves and Brewers back-to-back. That should be interesting.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In No Particular Order

Last night's 5-0 victory over Washington was memorable for a number of reasons. In no particular order:

John Mayberry threw a one hop strike to Carlos Ruiz to nail a runner at the plate and prevent Washington from getting back into the game early when the Phils' lead was 2-0. Raul Ibanez never makes that play. Oh, and Mayberry collected two more hits last night. He should be the every-day left-fielder but given his manager's loyalty to veterans, won't be.

Roy Oswalt had a fine outing and demonstrated to all he is back from, well, his back. A fresh Oswalt will be critical down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Wilson Valdez, nearly forgotten when Minnie Mart got so many starts at third base, again rose Phoenix-like. His two-run triple, following his key hit in a losing effort the night before, was all Oswalt needed. Is this guy a super-sub or what!!??? Three cheers for Dye Man.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I receive an early edition of the Inquirer each day, delivered through the mail slot of our front door. Often, this early edition does not include the results of games with late endings. How fortunate for me, this Saturday morning, to not have to read the gory details of last night's brutal loss in Washington. After all, in a rare event, I actually watched it happen in real time.

Ryan Madson turned a 4-2 win into an 8-4 loss Friday night by completely melting down in Washington. Having already yielded two runs to open the bottom of the ninth to knot the score at 4-4, Madson seemed on the verge of wiggling out of further damage when with the bases loaded, two outs and a 3-2 count on Ryan Zimmerman, the Phils' closer grooved one right down Pennsylvania Avenue and the Nats' third baseman deposited it in the left field grandstands for a walk-off grand slam home run. A ground level shot, moments later, showed a bemused Jimmy Rollins walking off the diamond.

With the pitch, the Phils lost their second game this week when holding a lead going into the ninth inning. The first loss, at home, was courtesy of their ace, Roy Halladay. Last night's defeat, on the road, was courtesy of their so-called closer.

Lately, nearly everyone seems fond of pointing out the Phils only have to play .500 ball the rest of the way to win 100 games. Well, this is their second loss to Washington in three games; they took two of three from Arizona. Even with my limited math skills that looks like .500. Frankly, it isn't impressive. Worse, the two losses were ugly. The Halladay loss was ugly because it was unnecessary. He should have been removed for a relief pitcher. Of course, Friday's loss was delivered by the guy who might have been that relief pitcher. That sounds like .500 to me...again!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Get Used To It

With apologies to Sports Illustrated.....

A sign the apocalypse is not only upon us but has been consolidated could be found this AM on the crawl under ESPN's Sportscenter in which the lead, the LEAD, was Tom Brady throwing two TD passes in a pre-season game.  The LEAD, for crissakes.  A practice game.  On what may have been a slow night for sports news this couldn't have been the biggest story.  Do we really need further proof this is a football nation and the NFL pays the mortgage for everyone else in sport?

Of course one need only watch Daily News Live to see how much this town obsesses about the Eagles despite the Phillies magical season.

Get used to it, Swing.

* * * * * * * *

The Phils completed their three-game set with Arizona taking the last two games. They should've swept the Dbacks but didn't. Still, they sent another message to a potential playoff opponent.

* * * * * * * *

John Mayberry again justified further playing time by hitting a two-run homer in the game. Good thing the rains finally stopped after more than two hours. It would have been a shame to waste his effort or that of the bullpen, which collectively pitched six innings of one-run ball against Arizona.

One thing is for certain about rain delays: they have to last more than two and half hours for a game to be called. No one wanted to see Arizona make a one-day stopover in Philadelphia later this season to make up one game.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Horse Racing

While Charlie Manuel sifts through the waiver wires, minor leagues and other repositories of left-handed pinch hitters, here's something else for him to keep in mind regarding lefties: bench Raul Ibanez and start playing John Mayberry every day.  Mayberry has earned the spot based on his hitting to say nothing of his fielding.  Raul can get the occasional start vs. righties, but that should be about it going forward.

* * * * * * *

Bob Brookover, the Phillies beat writer, made the following point this morning regarding Manuel's decision to leave Roy Halladay in for the ninth inning in Tuesday's 3-2 loss:

The second-guessers had it all wrong when they questioned whether Roy Halladay stayed in too long Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In fact, it might have been the least educated second guess in the history of the game when you consider that Halladay was 52-0 when taking a lead into the ninth inning, he had thrown only 96 pitches through eight innings, and he had retired the side in order in the eighth by striking out all three batters.

Ah, yes, Bob, dismiss those uneducated, unwashed second-guessers but when you do, remember this:  the odds suggested a good thing cannot last forever and, indeed, Halladay lost the game and he and Manuel bear responsibility.  The odds may have favored another win at the start of the inning, but that first hit should have been sufficient evidence to bet against them continuing.  And that, Bob, is what makes horse racing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Set Ups

News that Cole Hamels will miss a start underscores how fragile the Phils' rotation is at the moment, a nine-win road trip notwithstanding.

Hamels complained of stiffness in his last start, a loss to the Nationals. An MRI revealed shoulder inflammation. Roy Halladay was gassed in the ninth inning last night and it showed as he yielded three hits and the winning runs in a stunning and unnecessary loss to the Diamondbacks, who now stand 3-1 against the Phils this season.

The starting rotation also lost Roy Oswalt for two months of this season.

Cliff Lee routinely pitches complete games.

It's only mid August but the Phils' starting rotation appears to be overworked. Who's running the show? Charlie? Rich Dubee? The pitchers themselves?

Instead of setting themselves up for a post-season run, the Phils appear perilously close to setting themselves up for huge fall.

Stubborness Killed The Cat

No question about it, Roy Halladay lost last night because he's too stubborn and his manager won't stand up to him.

Leading 2-1 going into the ninth inning, Halladay surrendered a leadoff single to Justin Upton and immediately the alarms went off everywhere but where it counted, Charlie Manuel's head. Instead of pulling Halladay and summoning Ryan Madson, Manuel again deferred to Halladay who NEVER wants to come out of a game. Another single, by Miguel Montero, and a bases-clearing double by Phillies-killer Lyle Overbay and, boom, the game was lost.

Most managers would have turned that game over to their closer to begin the ninth, but Charlie isn't most managers, especially when he has to take the ball from Halladay. Halladay could use the rest. The Phillies could use the win, giving them enough of a cushion to afford the luxury of resting all of their starters down the stretch. But as is usually the case in these situations, Manuel allowed his horse to lead the cart.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Can't Win Em All

OK, we admit to being spoiled. Can we really be faulted after the last two weeks?

Still, the notion of losing to the Nationals and ancient Livan Hernandez THE HITTER when you have a beautiful night in front of the usual sell-out crowd and Cole Hamels on the mound is hard to imagine let alone swallow.

But there it is, a 4-2 loss in which the Phils did little.

Hamels wasn't sharp. Hernandez was throwing his usual slop, some pitches nearly rolling back to him for lack of forward momentum.

Oh well, they can't and won't win 'em all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happiness All Around

If you think we are happy about the acquisition of Hunter Pence, think how he feels!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


It may be the understatement of the season to date, but here it goes: The Phils are on a major roll right now. All cylinders are clicking even when the injury bug bites their starting third baseman again. No deficit is too large to overcome, as they showed yesterday in Los Angeles. No Western swing is too daunting, as they showed by taking nine of ten games on the just-concluded trip. No pitching staff, Tim Lincecum excepted, is too tough, as they demononstrated in taking three of four from the Giants. No suspensions are too worrisome, as they await the outcome of Shane Victorino's appeal. No pitcher is an automatic out, as Cliff Lee proved in belting his second home run of the season. No trade deadline deal is too costly, as they clearly proved in acquiring Hunter Pence.

The Phils moved to 37 games over .500, their best record in 34 years. (I moved to Philadelphia 33 years ago and missed that last performance.) The hitting appears to be catching up with the pitching, facing Tim Lincecum excepted. They lead second place Atlanta by 8.5 games, a comfortable margin that normally would provide a cushion but which yesterday's monster rally demonstrates is not about to be taken for granted.

The Phils return home to face the Nationals and NL West leader Arizona, to whom they dropped 2 of 3 earlier this season. With the big lead over Atlanta the temptation will be there to pull starters a little earlier, perhaps even go to a six-man rotation at some point, with Kyle Kendrick the candidate to get another start.

It's nice to have so many options.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Wall Of Worry

Apart from the loss on Sunday, their second in as many tries against Tim Linsecum, the Phillies have been on quite a roll. Ten wins in their last eleven games, seven of eight on the road out West. They hold an 8.5 game lead over second-place Atlanta. Theirs is the best record in baseball. They've been hitting lately.

So, why am I worried?

Roy Halladay has not looked sharp lately. He may have earned his league-leading fifteenth victory last night and lowered his ERA to 2.51, but he's been giving up a ton of hits lately and then working out of jams. Living on the edge can be nerve-wracking, especially to fans like me who don't need much encouragement to begin trembling.

The bullpen remains a work in progress. The return of Brad Lidge has not brought any comfort. Indeed, Lidge is probably playing out his last season in red pinstripes. His velocity is down and has never returned. His slider doesn't have the bite it did earlier. He throws an inordinate number of balls in the dirt, sometimes with disastrous results that only the always-superb Carlos Ruiz manages to control.

Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have been remarkable, but they are young and relatively inexperienced. Stutes hasn't been as sharp lately; Bastardo yielded a quick home run in San Francisco.

In the starting rotation, Roy Oswalt has returned from a long hiatus. He gave up twelve hits in six innings Sunday, many of them of the bloop variety. His velocity was good and he didn't tire despite the long layoff. However, his fastball looked to have minimum movement on it. True, he was squeezed a few times by the home plate umpire, who wasn't giving anyone the outside pitch that day. Still, Oswalt didn't look like the Oswalt of old. It remains to be seen if he will return to form.

* * * * * * * *

Shane Victorino was the only participant in Friday night's "brawl" to receive a suspension. Let's see: a guy is deliberately hit in the back, reacts as one would expect, and is the only player to receive a fine AND suspension. Ridiculous, of course, but that's baseball justice, inexplicable, incoherent and inescapable.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Obviously, Cole Hamels forgot to check in yesterday to read my post. How else to explain his "failure" to pitch a complete-game shutout as requested?

Oh, well, so he was a pitch short. No harm, Cole. A poll of readers of this space concluded overwhelmingly a 2-1 complete-game victory over the Giants in San Francisco is acceptable every time out.

With the victory, the Phils stretched their win streak to nine games, six of them coming on the current Western road trip. The three straight wins over the Giants are particularly sweet given the animosity and rivalry that has developed between the two clubs. There was no repeat of Friday night's rumble. Indeed, the game moved along tautly but mostly uneventfully.

Make no mistake about it, however. With the three straight wins the Phils made a huge statement. The Giants can throw tremendous pitching at them, but the Phils have much stronger hitting now with the arrival of Hunter Pence. The road to the World Series may still run through San Francisco, but it seems much less daunting after this series. (The road probably runs through Milwaukee for those who have been paying attention to the Brewers run.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Serve Well Chilled

While the Phillies were delivering a hay-maker to the Giants Friday night, San Francisco was responding in their usual fashion when things go wrong: they threw at someone.

Last night's target was Shane Victorino, who had homered earlier. The coward who threw at him was Ramon Ramirez, who doesn't have to come to bat to face the music. The Giants love to throw at the Phillies and the Phillies don't retaliate. It will be interesting to see if they do after last night. The bet here is they won't. The Phillies don't play baseball that way. In our fantasy world it would be appropriate for Cole Hamels to drill the first batter he faces this afternoon, but in the real world it would better to have him pitch a complete game shutout.

These teams don't like each other and it's easy to see why. The Giants play with a chip on their shoulders, perhaps because they realize they are lucky rather than good. They have terrific pitching but let's face it, they won it all last year because guys like Pat Burrell, released for the second time in two seasons only last week, and Cody Ross, hardly the second coming of Hank Aaron, delivered.

The win last night also featured a second straight night of home runs by Hunter Pence and John Mayberry. Mayberry has made his case for more playing time.

Taking a third straight game from the Giants in their own park would indeed be a dish served very cold!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Round Two

Cliff Lee pitched his fifth shutout of the year; Hunter Pence hit his first home run as a Phillie; John Mayberry followed Pence with a solo shot of his own and yet again made a case for at least sharing the duties in right field; and, the Phils beat the Giants 3-0 to open a four-game set in the city by the bay.

There's little love lost between the Giants and Phils and each game has at least the undercurrent of a grudge match. Whether it is alleged throwing at batters, denigrating pitchers or simply two recent World Series champs squaring off, every time these two teams meet there is plenty of tension in the air.

Tonight, Vance Worly, a California native, goes for the Phils against Jonathan Sanchez, who leads the majors in publicly clearing his nasal passages on the mound.

The Phils are riding a seven-game winning streak which has seen them increase their lead in the NL East to 8.5 games over the Braves.

Since the game will be played on the dark side of the moon, I'll likely have to check the results somewhere around 4AM, when I awaken.

Round Two

Cliff Lee pitched his fifth shutout of the year, Hunter Pence hit his first home run as a Phillie, John Mayberry yet again made a case for at least sharing the duties in right field and the Phils beat the Giants 3-0 to open a four-game set in the city by the bay.

There's little love lost between the Giants and Phils and each game has at least the undercurrent of a grudge match. Whether it is alleged throwing at batters, denigrating pitchers or simply two recent World Series champs squaring off, every time these two teams meet there is plenty of tension in the air.

Tonight, Vance Worly, a California native, goes for the Phils against Jonathan Sanchez, who leads the majors in publicly clearing his nasal passages on the mound.

The Phils are riding a seven-game winning streak which has seen them increase their lead in the NL East to 8.5 games over the Braves.

Since the game will be played on the dark side of the moon, I'll likely have to check the results somewhere around 4AM, when I awaken.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Two On The Road

Shane Victorino failed to hustle in the third inning on a double by Chase Utley and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. In the tenth inning he made amends, hitting a game-winning solo home run as the Phils beat Colorado 4-3 in the opener of a ten-game road trip.

Victorino's redemption wouldn't have been possible if John Mayberry, down to his and the Phillies' last strike in the top of the ninth trailing 3-1 hadn't homered with a man on to tie the score and set the stage for the extra inning heroics.

Just further reminders that Shane is a very good player who could be even better were it not for his occasional mental lapses and that Mayberry is a seldom-used part-timer who should be given more chances. His manager could start by platooning Mayberry with Raul Ibanez.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Defying Expectations

Raul Ibanez continues to confound most of us, me perhaps most of all. I've buried and resurrected him several times already this season and that was before yesterday's phoenix-like performance. Two home runs, the first to give them a lead, the second to tie the game late and a game-winning double. Man, he just won't go quietly.

Truth is, Raul is just as likely to botch a makeable catch in left field that would cost the Phils a win as he is to put up half the total bases he did yesterday. In the end, the problem isn't with Raul. He is, at age 39, what he is only streakier and more unpredictable.

No, the problem is with his manager, whose devotion to veterans and nice guys clouds his judgment. Raul Ibanez should have been platooning with John Mayberry for at least the last month if not more. Charlie isn't going to do that because he gets hunches to go along with his blind devotion and right now he's thinking Raul has turned things around and will hit the remainder of the season. Who knows? Charlie may be right. What we do know is Raul will make every play except the routine ones an adventure in left field.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence has already paid at least one dividend, doubling in the tenth inning yesterday and scoring the winning run on Ibanez' walk-off hit to right field. A lot of people seem intent on making sure the fans understand Pence isn't a superstar. Pence could care less. He's thrilled to be on a winning team and likely to contribute in an atmosphere in which the pressure isn't on him every night to produce. I'll take a garden-variety double in the bottom of the tenth any time. Maybe it wasn't the work of a superstar but it sure counted in the win column!