Saturday, October 08, 2011

They Died With Their Batting Gloves On

The team built to win now didn't when it had to and for the second straight year took an early exit from the playoffs.

The elimination came in familiar fashion with Ryan Howard making the final out as he did last season. Apart from his game one heroics, Howard finished this installment of the NLDS by going 0-15. Last year, he stood at the plate and took a called strike for the final out. This year, adding literal injury to insult, he may have torn his achilles tendon trying to run out a ground ball.

The loss to St. Louis also had another familiar ring from this season: a starting pitcher held the opposition in check only to see his mates collect a total of three hits. Apparently, four Aces beat any hand but the one they hold themselves.

Years from now, or even next week, if your grandchildren work up the courage to ask what happened, tell them t'was offense killed the Phillies in this series and most of the year. Nearly everyone's average was down considerably except Hunter Pence, who wasn't here long enough to catch the disease.

With the loss, the 102 win season will fade from memory until some other collection of Phillies makes a run at that mark.

We can also expect this roster of rapidly aging veterans will probably see wholesale changes. It isn't difficult to imagine Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Madson will not be here next season for a variety of reasons. Rollins wants a longer deal than the Phils are likely to give. Ibanez' contract is up. Madson is a free agent represented by Scott Boras. Placido Polanco is signed but failing rapidly. Chase Utley had a mediocre season at the plate. His health is always a concern. Howard may be out four to six months if the injury is serious. Then there is the question of whether or not to bring Roy Oswalt back. At times he sounded like a guy who would rather be sitting on a tractor.

A season which began with huge expectations fell flat on its face in the end as the offense sputtered to a dead stop in the finale of the series. At least it can be said they died with their batting gloves on.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Not A Lock

The acquisition of Roy Oswalt at last year's trade deadline was seen as a major deal, adding a third ace to the Phillies rotation as the team sought a third straight appearance in the World Series.

The reality fell short of the expectations.

This year Oswalt was projected as the fourth starter in the Phils' Four Aces rotation. Due to injuries and perhaps some outside issues (concerns about his home and family), Oswalt was really the fifth starter, behind Vance Worley. Prior to the post-season there was serious discussion regarding which of the two of them would go to the bullpen. In the end it was decided the veteran, heretofore successful in the post-season, would get the nod.

Last night Oswalt pitched like a back of the rotation guy. He was being counted on to close out the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the NLDS and he failed to do so despite being handed a two-run lead in the first inning.

Of course the blame isn't all his. The Phils scored those two early runs and then fell asleep. Chase Utley, normally an aggressive but smart base-runner, killed a rally when he tried to go from first to third on a ground ball to short. It was a stupid play and it cost his team a chance to pull even or go ahead when trailing 3-2. But let's not blame Utley and Oswalt entirely. The Phillies simply stopped hitting...again!

When the final chapter is written for this club, chances are the what-ifs will begin with their offensive inconsistency. The simple truth is this team does not have a reliable offense. Look at the heart of their order. Can you examine it strikes fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers? And whatever bullpen issues affect them, and there certainly are several, they normally fail when they stop hitting, which is too often. In this series their runs have come in a very few bunches, punctuated by lots of 1-2-3 innings of ineptitude.

They return home for the final game of the series relying on Doc Halladay, the CBP adoring crowd and a feeble offense to get them to the next level. It isn't a lock by a long stretch.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Benny Fresh

Ben Francisco's season began with much hope and anticipation.

The journeyman outfielder had been handed the starting job in right field albeit somewhat by default as the heir-apparent, Domonic Brown, suffered an injury. Still, the thinking was Francisco only needed a guarantee of steady play to showcase his abilities and once and for all prove his worth.

Things didn't turn out well, however, at least not until last night.

Francisco began the season decently but steadily declined. He was never much of a fielder, but he was thought to be a decent hitter. Within a short time his average plummeted and he lost the starting job. Then, he lost the possibility of even platooning. Relegated to the bench he became the primary right-handed pinch-hitter. By the end of the season, he sat on the bubble wondering if he'd even make the team's post-season roster.

Last night he was called on to pinch hit and he responded with a three run homer, providing all the Phillies' scoring for the night and the winning margin as the Phils took a 2-1 lead over St. Louis in the NLDS. From all accounts after the game, Francisco's teammates were as happy for him as they were for themselves. If nothing else, Benny Fresh, as Ryan Howard called him, is very well-liked in the clubhouse. You can now extend his circle of friends to the nearly 6 million people who live in the Delaware Valley.

Cole Hamels started the game and though he wasn't dominating, he pitched tough when he had to and left the game without surrendering a run. He wiggled out of trouble a few times but he stepped up big time in a game the Phillies had to win. The fellow who batted for him was this guy named Francisco, Benny Fresh to his legion of friends.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Let's just say yesterday was not a good day to hold a lead in Philadelphia.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Built To Win Now

They were built to win now and nothing less will satisfy them not to mention their fans.

The core is aging rapidly and may be partially dismantled this off-season. This particular configuration will not get another chance to win and walk together.

Predictions? I am certifiably lousy at most of them. The starting pitching should be sufficient to go deep if not all the way. The relief pitching is less certain. The batting is even less certain.

I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if they falter. I hope I'm wrong.