Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Go Figure

It sure didn't seem like Jimmy Rollins had an award-winning season, but there is it in black and white:  Rollins wins 4th Gold Glove.

To be sure, Jimmy had a better season in the field than at the plate but from my seat on the couch it looked like he'd lost a step in 2012 and I don't mean from home to first.  Yes, he was sure-handed, but he certainly didn't look like a Gold Glove winner.

J-Roll's award should be the only hardware taken home by a Phillie in this post-season unless one counts the chains several of them are carrying around.

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BTW, anyone seen Andrew Bynum?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bad Times

Detroit, the city that is, cannot catch a break.

Their Tigers, a balanced team with fine starting pitching and a lot of thunder in their lineup, was just swept by San Francisco in the World Series.  No one predicted such a rapid, ignominious exit.  The win gives the NL its third straight WS championship and the Giants' their second in three years. San Francisco isn't really such a great club but in this era there are no great teams only good ones cobbled together.  Of course the other factor is the history of nobodies, has-beens, never-weres and flashes-in-the-pan rising to the occasion on the biggest stage.

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If you had an employee who publicly blamed himself for a series of poor performances, what would you do?  If your foreman announced to all the world he hadn't done a good job preparing his workers for the tasks at hand, what would you do a his boss?

If your COO assumed responsibility for poor production time and again, changed some of the managers immediately beneath him in a desperate step to achieve positive results, vowed to set things right immediately and still failed miserably week after week, would you sit by idly?

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Anyone seen Andrew Bynum?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Suffering Fools Gladly

Word has it Larry Bowa is being considered for the manager's job in Miami.

Great.  Take one of the worst towns for baseball, mix in an alleged brain trust whose collective IQ is smaller than their individual shoe sizes and what do you have?  A serious case of ineptitude.

From a blathering clown hired for four seasons and fired after one to considering a hyperventilating screamer who has failed at every stop.  Miami owner Jeffrey Loria hasn't a clue.  If he isn't busy trying to hire a manager who will appeal to the Latin fan base he's focusing on retreads.  Bowa was intensely disliked in Philadelphia by the people who counted the most:  his players.  He flopped badly in San Diego, too.  I guess that makes him the ideal candidate for Miami.

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The Tigers have their backs to the wall and will count on Anabel Sanchez to stave off further disaster.  Sanchez was pretty successful when he came over to the Tigers but that was due in no small measure to unfamiliarity among AL hitters.  The Giants know Sanchez, which gives them the advantage.

Meanwhile, who tries to send Prince Fielder from first to home on a double?  Fielder moves pretty well for a small-sized mountain, but not from first to home.  Maybe the third base coach figured the Tigers wouldn't get another hit.  He was pretty much right on that front.

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Anyone seen Andrew Bynum?

Friday, October 26, 2012

More Random Walking

Hunter Pence again, right in the middle of things!  Talk about good timing.

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Anyone seen Andrew Bynum?

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The guy who couldn't tackle, aka Asante Samuel, is back in town this weekend and judging by his tweets he is still as shy and retiring as when he played here.

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Is there a major sports commissioner more disliked than Gary Bettman?  OK, maybe Roger Goodell, but anyone else?

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On a list of 100 post-season surprises, the firings of Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen are numbers 101 and 102.

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Were you surprised to learn the Giants have been in more World Series than the Cardinals?  I was.

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The President of the NCAA reiterated his approval of the punitive sanctions imposed on Penn State's football program by declaring among other things the governing body wanted to see university control reestablished over the football program.

I'm glad the programs at, say, Alabama, South Carolina, Ohio State, USC et al don't act like autonomous entities and that their coaches are paid salaries commensurate with the heads of other departments.

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Rumors have circulated the Yankees want to dump A-Rod and the Phillies might be interested.  I know you read this blog faithfully, Rube, so do us all a favor and take a pass.  We thought the idea was to lower the median age on this team.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Random Walk

Hunter Pence didn't make out too badly, did he?

Traded to the Giants at the July deadline, Pence struggled for his new team but came up big in game seven of the NLDS.  Now Hunter is going to the World Series.  Funny game.  Ha ha.

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Bicycle racing authorities have stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France medals and expressed the hope he would be forgotten.  Well, he won't be....yet, but they can be certain that generations hence no one will remember someone whose name has been expunged.

Armstrong isn't out of the woods yet.  Tour officials are going to want their money back.  I assume if an athlete has the desire and arrogance to succeed at any cost he is prone to cheating.  Isn't that right, Mr. Bonds?

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Anyone seen Andrew Bynum lately?

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It isn't looking good for hockey this season.  I haven't a clue what date is the magical tipping point after which the league will cancel the entire season, but I am sure the alleged brain trust of the NHL knows it.

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Believe it or not, I follow local college football to a degree, that is, I always check to see how Penn, Temple and Villanova fared.  Temple really isn't doing that badly this year considering how many starters they lost and, of course, their move to a better overall league and caliber of opponent.

Penn has played poorly, plagued my sloppy play.  After so many years as one of the elite teams in the Ivy, it is a comedown to watch the Quakers struggle.

Villanova had an awful year last season after losing so many outstanding players from its championship and near championship teams.  They have begun to jell, however, and are now ranked in the top 25 of their respective division.

If you have never watched a game at Franklin Field, I urge you to buy a cheap ticket and go.  Highly entertaining.

Friday, October 19, 2012


The NHL labor dispute threatens to cancel the entire season, something only hockey seems capable of doing not once but twice in the span of a few short years.  I have paid attention to many of the details proposed by both sides and remain convinced the players have the better arguments if for no other reason than they play the toughest sport in the world (sorry, NFL fans), have relatively short careers (on average) and deserve as much salary in the contemporary sports world as any athletes.  Actually, there are other good reasons to support them not the least of which is the current owners' proposal represents a ridiculous reduction in their salaries while increasing requirements for years of service before becoming free agents.  Ownership in nearly every successful major sport cry poor all the time but few if any have sold their franchises for less than stunning profits over the last many years.  While they wait to cash in their franchises they can at the very least write off their losses.  There are few less transparent ledgers in all of finance than the books of major league owners.

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I am rooting hard for the Tigers to win the World Series.  Detroit, as I've said in this space several times, needs all the good news it can garner.  Then there is the small matter that I dislike both St. Louis, who appear likely to be the NL representative, and San Francisco.  St. Louis was always a smug team when self-anointed genius Tony LaRussa was at the helm.  With him gone they are marginally more acceptable though hardly the best team in the league.  The Giants are a very arrogant bunch, especially Tim Lincecum, and deserve to be brought down more than a peg or two.  Of course, that doesn't always happen in sports, as all of us know from experience.

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The Sixers were thrilled to acquire Andrew Bynum during the off-season and, indeed, his presence promised better days ahead.  Now, his presence remains uncertain as his historically balky knees continue to give him trouble.  He hasn't appeared in a pre-season game to date is not expected to.  He is also expected to miss the season opener and perhaps several more games.  Worst of all, I've yet to see a picture or video of Bynum showing him looking pleased to be in a Sixers' uniform.  The bet here is he has a difficult season, marked by long stretches where he has to sit out, and then does not re-sign.  You heard it here first (I think),

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Is there any local team less interesting to read about let alone watch than the Eagles?  Who gives a damn at this point what Andy Reid thinks, says or does?  The Eagles' coach has always accepted full responsibility for his team's shortcomings, which are legion.  The problem with Andy's mea culpas is that they are as automatic and meaningless as everything else he promises to do to correct obvious deficiencies.  Reid's game-planning and clock management are legendarily poor.  His personnel judgements have also been horrendous, Danny Watkins being the most recent example.

But being so boring, predictable and in essence unaccountable (he's still in his job 14 years later, isn't he?) are the worst crimes of all.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Truly Not

Let's face it, the Orioles didn't reach the post-season because of an explosive offense.  Sure, they hit a lot of home runs over the course of the season, but it was their stellar bullpen that normally feathered their nest.  So, it comes as no surprise they exit their first post-season in fifteen years for lack of base hits.

Will the O's challenge again next year?  They were missing one of their few stars, Nick Markakis, for the last month of the season and the entire post-season.  They got career years from a few others.  They have a fine young third baseman in Manny Machado, who is just beginning his career.  They have an savvy manager in Buck Showalter.  Still, they have a lot of holes to fill and need good follow-up years from Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen and Jim Johnson in particular.

Meanwhile, 35 miles to the south the Washington Nationals blew their chance with an outright collapse in game five against the Cardinals.  The Nats had everything going for them in this.  Their Cy Young candidate, Gio Gonzalez was on the mound.  They took at 6-0 lead after three innings.  They were playing at home before a post-season starved audience.  And, unfortunately, they were playing St. Louis, whose recent post-season magic is second to none.

So, no Baltimore-Washington Parkway Series, folks.  A true baseball fan would still be keenly interested in the games to be played.  I guess I am not a true fan.  I will say this:  I hope Detroit wins it all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Play On

The Orioles' magical carpet ride has at least one more scheduled stop thanks to their latest late-inning victory, a 2-1 victory over the Yankees in thirteen innings.

At this point it seems astonishing those guys have any energy left after a season of late-inning heroics.  Without doing the actual calculations, it wouldn't surprise me to learn the O's have played the equivalent of about 175 games so far in 2012.  Not that they are complaining.  They would gladly play at least nine more!

Meanwhile, in DC, Jayson Werth prolonged the Nationals' magical season with a walk-off home run to even the series versus St. Louis.  While I have no particular love for the Nats, I don't dislike them with nearly the same intensity as I feel toward the Cardinals, even without self-anointed genius Tony LaRussa at the helm.  Right now the $126 the Nats paid Werth looks like a good deal.  I also have to keep reminding myself Washington is playing without one of its top pitchers.  I'm sure management has privately second-guessed itself on the decision to shut down Strasburg.  I applaud the unselfishness of their decision, a sentiment apparently not shared by everyone in the clubhouse according to reports.

In the Queen City, on the other hand, it appears Dusty Baker's tenure is in serious jeopardy as the Reds collapsed along the river front and dropped their series to the Giants.  San Francisco is another team I love to dislike, but I do have to admit they have learned how to win, in this case at the expense of their former skipper.

Detroit closed our their series with Oakland behind Justin Verlander, who hurled a brilliant game.  Detroit needs good news, the city, not the team, and I wish them well...until they face the O's.

One final note on the playoffs to date:  how did the alleged brain trust of MLB ever decide to award the play-in teams home field advantage?   Why did Washington and New York, both division winners, have to play their first two games on the road?  Do Bud Selig et al want to turn the regular season into the somewhat meaningless exercise it has become in the NHL and NBA vis-a-vis winning the division as opposed to qualifying for the playoffs?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

How 'Bout Them O's?!

The Orioles will go to the post-season when Nate McCouth's career is resurrected.


For those of you just starting to pay attention to the Orioles, how many players on that team could you name a week ago?  A day ago?  Today??!!!

A lineup sporting Endy Chavez, Nate McClouth, Mark Reynolds, Jim Thome (sorry, Jim) AND Joe Saunders on the mound?  C'mon, get real.

So all they do is chase the Yankees down to the last day of the season, then go into Arlington and do a Texas hold 'em on a powerful lineup to advance to another showdown with New York.

A manager's role is frequently overrated, in my humble opinion, but not when it comes to this team.  Buck Showalter should get the Manager of the Decade award now.

The fact remains, this is not a frightening lineup.  One of their best players, Nick Markakis, has been on the sidelines for a month.  Chris Davis has been in the majors for five years and doesn't really have a spot except DH, which he yielded to Thome.  Davis slammed 33 home runs this year, nearly half his career total of 77.  Adam Jones is a very fine player and they have some decent pitchers sprinkled about.  Jim Johnson saved 9 games in 2011 and 51 this year.  He has 71 saves for six years of service.  Still, when you look at the auto- and semi-automatic outs in this lineup you have to believe they are on a magic carpet ride.

Where will it end?  Haven't a clue.

Bad Calls Before And During

The addition of a Wild Card playoff game in each league beginning in the current season has alternately been called a one-game playoff, a play-in game, a winner-take-all game or, after last night's Cardinals-Braves game, a joke.

The alleged brain trust running MLB (hereafter know as ABTMLB) has rarely upheld a protest, especially in the post-season (fact-checkers alert here) and particularly on a judgement call.  Last night's appallingly bad call of the infield fly rule, made by the sixth umpire on the field down the left field foul line, may or may not have altered the outcome of the game, but it underscored the argument that a one-game, winner-take-all playoff in baseball should be restricted only to teams tied at the end of the regular season for a contending spot.

Baseball is a game of series.  Teams never travel to a city, play a single game, and move on (unless making up a rain out toward the end of the season).  That's not the nature of the game with every team normally carrying 4-5 starting pitchers.  It's all about setting up rosters to play a series, not a single game.  Managers spend considerable time trying to set up their rotations for the end of the season to have their top pitchers ready for crucial games.  This isn't football, played once a week in a different city.

The only reason the ABTMLB concocted a second Wild Card spot was money.  No surprise there.  That they limited the playoff to a single game was also pretty obvious:  the season already threatened to extend into November under the previous post-season setup.  This concoction was a travesty before last night's poor call and the fallout will surely increase pressure to revise the system.  The answer would be a shorter regular season, an unlikely development since all those teams failing to qualify for the post-season would probably lose money with fewer dates scheduled.  (Miami would probably save money since it wouldn't have to open its stadium and turn on the air conditioning for the seven fans, 300 ushers, two alligators and assorted other workers in attendance.)  The solution would be to discard interleague play, which the fans no longer give a damn about.  Even the players have little enthusiasm for this novelty whose luster wore off a long time ago.

Last night's call looked bad live; on replay it looked worse. The infield fly rule requires at its invocation that the umpire signal as soon as the ball reaches its apex and the fielder(s) "comfortably" settle under it.  In the Cardinals-Braves game the all came late in the action and the ball dropped because of poor communication by the fielders.  The Braves had played uncharacteristically poor defense last night, leaving them trailing the Cards.  They also failed to capitalize on several scoring opportunities that could have altered the game's outcome. 

But all anyone will ever remember is the bad call.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Passage Of Time

Rootin' for the O's.  It's been a long, long time since the O's played post-season baseball (1997).  If there's any justice...oh, no, on second thought....

Just win one for Brooks, guys.

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The firing of Bobby Valentine still leads the headlines on ESPN's site more than a day after the fact proving once again how Red Sox-Yankees centric the all sports network is when it comes to baseball.

Valentine's firing was the worst kept secret in baseball.  Indeed, his firing was expected as soon as his hiring was announced.  Valentine was hired on the basis of a long-standing baseball tradition:  ownership had concluded the players had taken too much advantage of the previous manager and needed to be punished with an iron fist.  The Phillies tried it with Larry Bowa and look what that got them.

Baseball owners never learn.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Summing Up

81 up.  81 down.  Right where they started.  Mediocre through and through.  Losers of two of their last three to, appropriately, the new kings of the divisional hill, the Washington Nationals.

What happened?   Injuries.  Bullpen woes.  Lack of run support and clutch hitting.  Shoddy defense.  Too many AAA guys auditioning on the job.  If the Phils were going to snap their divisional winning streak, this was the way to do it, under-perform at nearly all levels.  It was a team effort with a few notable exceptions (see post below).

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley had forgettable seasons to varying degrees.  That Utley came back at all, which many including this observer doubted, was testament to his determination.  His defense was always above average at best, but it has declined.   Unfortunately, he is not the same hitter he once was either.  Often, his stroke looks too self-conscious and mannered.  He would settle into a rhythm once in a while only to lapse back into self-consciousness.  He still takes more first pitches than any player I've ever watched.  You would think he'd swing at one every now and then just to throw the pitcher off, but he gives away that first pitch 99.9% of the time.  (Fact-checkers can correct me at will on that percentage!)  Utley's career has entered a new phase in which he is constantly making adjustments for physical and psychological shortcomings.  I am not throwing out some cheap psychology here, but when a player is faced with his professional mortality, and he is, the effects are enormous.

As for Howard, he was expected to recover from his crippling, season-ending injury from 2011, but no one was sure how much he could recover in 2012.  The answers were mixed.  He played, he struggled to run and move, he struck out a ton (nothing new here), drove in runs at more or less his normal rate, fielded with the same mediocre skills he has always possessed, threw even more poorly and largely had a poor half season with his lowest batting average as a starter.  Of course his manager over-used him and Howard seemed willing to be over-used.  Despite the Phils' futilties, they actually seemed to have a remote chance late in the season to overcome their failings and make the expanded post-season.  However, a collapse in Houston ended the matter once and for all.  At that point, Howard should have taken a seat, but Charlie kept running him out there and one day he dropped a batting circle weight on his foot and broke a toe.  Then, and only then, did Charlie shut him down. 

Roy Halladay also faced his own professional mortality this season, pitching poorly over the second two thirds and going on the DL for a period of time.  The insult added to injury was the ridiculous start in Miami last weekend during which he was rocked.  Nearly everyone in the media expressed the tired cliche that Halladay had "earned" the opportunity for one last start because he was the consummate professional, "a warrior" and had showed in a bullpen session he was up to the task physically.  Horse feathers!  He was batted around like a September call-up.  It had been noted by more than a few scouts as early as last Spring that Halladay appeared to have lost a noticeable amount of velocityl.  He bristled at the suggestion.  Those nameless scouts were right, of course.  Now, the Phillies hope a soon-to-be 36 year old pitcher with tens of thousands of pitches in his right shoulder can still cut the mustard.  It's a doubt the Phils never saw coming...even with a year's warning.

John Mayberry is one unpopular dude in most of the blogosphere, but he isn't unpopular here.  My reading, and it's as speculative as one can be, is that he is the kind of player who needs his confidence boosted all the time.  If Charlie were to tell him he's the starting ___ fielder next Spring and that he shouldn't worry about his job, just go out there and play, he'd been a classic late bloomer.  Now, is this wishful thinking on my part?  Absolutely!  Would Mayberry be better if he could lay of breaking stuff away?  No doubt about it!  But I am sticking with my hunch for another season, at the end of which I am willing to stand corrected...if necessary.

Cliff Lee was living proof the numbers don't always tell the whole story...let alone the truth.  He suffered an astonishing lack of run support including yesterday's loss.  He also gave up his share of gopher balls throughout the season in occasionally otherwise tight games.  Still, his ERA was 3.20 and his won-loss record was 6-9.  He fanned more than 200 batters but still couldn't win consistently.  Lee's demeanor throughout the season often was one of pained frustration which even boiled over once in the dugout.  It was a very disappointing season for the left-hander who only a year before was so delighted to be in Philadelphia.

And The Envelopes, Please

Why wait for one last game?  It's awards time, so without further adieu....

MVP, full season division:  Carlos Ruiz.  This one was easy.  Without Chooch the Phils finish in the deep end of the Panama Canal.

MVP, second half division:  Kyle Kendrick.  Without him the Phils would be looking for another starter this off-season when, frankly, they have more pressing needs.  He solidified his spot as a number four.

Cy Young, team division:  Cole Hamels.  He signed a big contract and got even better.  A stellar campaign topped off by a career-high 17 wins.

Special Mention I:  Michael "Mini Mart" Martinez.  With only one game remaining, the Mini one cannot hit below .100 for the season, but hitting below his weight is a distinct possibility.All he has to do is stop getting cheap hits like last night.  C'mon, Mini, you can do it!  Had Martinez cooperated a little more he could have achieved baseball immortality by topping (or is it "bottoming"?) the Mendoza line.  The "Martinez line" doesn't quite roll off the tongue, but it was the Mini One's only shot at fame.

Special Mention II:  Dom Brown has clearly demonstrated he is a lousy fielder.  His poor defense makes you wonder what player the scouts were watching as he came up through the minors as a highly touted prospect.  Last night, he leaped at the fence in vain for a home run off the bat of Adam LaRoche and, as Gary Matthews pointed out, was about three or four feet to the side  from where the ball cleared.  It's one thing to leap and fail to snare a fly ball that sails over your glove; it's quite another to be in a different zip code at the time.  Brown also overran a foul ball later in the game and looked quite awkward in the process.  Can Brown outplay Darin Ruff in the field?  Inquiring reporters want to know.

Special Mention III:  Jimmy Rollins finished with a career high 62 walks, something fans have been pleading with him to do for years, and still had his lowest OBP in many a season.  Jimmy gets the special Topsy Turvy Award for an up-and-down season marked by achieving 2000 hits and being benched for failing to run out a pop up.

Special Mention IV:  Kevin Frandsen had two more hits last night.  He still doesn't get any respect, however.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Some Good News

Not all was misery in 2012.

Cole Hamels concluded his stellar season with his seventeenth win yesterday.  He could easily have won 20 win a little more support from his offense and bullpen.  Hamels' decision to re-sign with the Phils during the season was one of those "he likes us!" moments.

Jim Thome was traded to Baltimore in mid-season to give the big guy a chance to DH exclusively and, perhaps, reach the post-season one more time.  He accomplished both goals.

Speaking of the O's, they have had an astonishing year by any measure.  The most telling mark of all was their ability to win close games late or in extra innings.  Looking over their roster, one is struck by the absence of many marquee players.  Their most consistent star over the years, Nick Markakis, was injured several weeks ago and probably won't return for the post-season.  Adam Jones has had a fine year.  Jim Johnson saved 50 games and counting.  There are more than a few retreads, has-beens or never-weres on the club, but they have kept on winning.  GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are rightfully being given a lot of credit, but from a management standpoint the biggest change is probably that infamously meddling owner Peter Angelos has stayed in the background and allowed his front office to run the team.

The alleged brain trust of MLB added a second Wild Card spot before the start of the season to generate (in this order) more income and more fan interest in more cities.  They have succeeded...up to a point.  The second WC winners play a single elimination game, which is bound to leave a bad taste in the collective mouths of the players and their fans.  "You mean that's it?????!!!!"

But, then, again, not all was great news....

Several big articles have appeared in national newspapers and journals hailing the return of post-season baseball to the nation's capital.  Here's one observer who still thinks DC is a lousy baseball town.  Check out the attendance figures for the home games in Washington through yesterday:

76 games
2,264,786 overall attendance
29,799 average
71.8 capacity

Hardly overwhelming support for the first post-season baseball team in DC since 1933.