Thursday, December 10, 2009
A lot has changed since then.
Before Thanksgiving 2009 Tiger Woods’ image, personality, family, golf-game, and life in general were archetypes for what any man in his right mind would want. Tiger had everything going for him, and it is his personality, drive, and natural talent that allowed him to get where he is. It is that same personality and drive that has gotten him to where he is two weeks after Thanksgiving 2009. Bill Simmons always complained that Tiger Woods was difficult to write about because he was basically perfect with no glaring flaws (save a few F-bombs on national TV). Now, it is impossible not to write about him. Apparently a Swedish former swimsuit model knockout for a wife is not enough to satisfy his appetite for women. This brings up the saying of “you show me a beautiful woman, and I’ll show you the guy who is tired of having sex with her.” On the course, Woods cannot be satisfied. Obviously, the same is true in the bedroom (or hotel room). He was the most dominant player in the game after 2000 and was racking up Majors and regular tournament wins. It was not enough. He revamped his swing and came back better than ever. It is this same kind of thinking, albeit this time with women and much worse consequences, that has gotten Tiger into his current predicament. He had the perfect wife, but it was not enough for him.
From the time Tiger turned pro in 1996 and signed his multi-million dollar contract with Nike, he presence has been ubiquitous. Women had to be throwing themselves at this guy. A good-looking athlete with a wholesome image. Ugly athletes with bad images who barely make an impact in their sport can clean up with women. The term field day comes to mind when it comes to Tiger and women. Until he married Elin Nordegren he constantly showed up on “Most Eligible Bachelor” lists. Needless to say, Tiger most likely never had any problems with the ladies. According to American values, when you get married, you are supposed to turn off the switch that says “chase women.” Obviously, with divorce rates where they are, most married people (women included) cannot keep it in their pants. And most people are NOT TIGER WOODS! Imagine having access to relations with almost any woman you wanted, and then suddenly giving up on that. I am not saying what Tiger has done is right (it most certainly is not), but I am saying I can see where his thoughts were (sending dirty texts thinking you only live once, right?) Tiger is so ultra-competitive that what he was getting at home was not enough for him, so he strayed. First and foremost he let down his family. It must be nice that his two kids are not old enough to grip the situation his parents are going through right now. He also let down his sponsors and fans, but why is it even their business? Sadly, there are no boundaries for privacy any more, so when the mysterious car accident left so many questions the answers needed to be found for consumers that are gossip-obsessed. Hell, I even bought US Weekly to get some more info. If there is no car accident, there is most likely no scandal other than Elin filing for divorce, eventually citing something along the lines of irreconcilable differences to protect Tiger. Tiger most definitely cheated, but that should not make it his responsibility to come up with answers for the public. He has always tried to be a private man, and I do not see any reason why that would stop now. I’m not going to get into the whole “he could have been less obvious and used more discretion” argument because cheating is cheating.
Also, what is done is done and Tiger needs to figure out what is the best way to move on. Big time sports writers have come down on opposite sides of this argument. Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com rationalizes Tiger’s decisions and keeps things in perspective, while still pointing out where Tiger went wrong. Rick Reilly of ESPN demands a mea culpa from Tiger. Reilly sounds ridiculous asking Tiger to do things he most certainly should not, and will not do. Things like confessing his sins and apologizing on Oprah, firing his agent and caddie for being enablers, putting a hold on his endorsement deals, and skipping the Masters and the US Open. I can agree to the Oprah appearance as a way to save face with his fans, but the rest of the things Reilly asks for are out of control and unnecessary.
In order for the public to forgive Tiger Woods he has to do two things. First he has to apologize in a more sincere way than a lame cop out announcement on his web site. People are not buying the whole “deeply sorry about my transgressions” when they are not even words that come out of his mouth. He needs to get on television look into the camera and/or interver’s eyes and say, “I’m human, I messed up, I am sorry, I will do my best to make sure it does not happen again.” (Allen Iverson did the same thing in his welcome back press conference with the 76ers. They sold out his first appearance back in Philadelphia even though they are second to last this season in attendance.) The second thing he needs to do is win, and win big. America loves winners. Skipping the Masters and the US Open is beyond my comprehension. First of all, when normal people are involved in marital disputes they don’t skip out on work, why should Tiger Woods? Second of all, Tiger is chasing the biggest record in all of golf, 18 major championships won by Jack Nicklaus, and there are only four per year. Woods lives for the majors and relishes the big moments. He wants to set the record and make it untouchable. He missed two majors after ACL surgery in 2008; he is not going to miss two in 2010 if he is healthy.
So go out and win the Masters, Tiger. Obliterate the competition like you did in ’97. I know you have it in you. We all do. If you do that, after giving your sincere apology we will forgive. We will not forget, but we will forgive. I know I will. After all, he may have lost the image, personality, and family archetypes that everybody wants, but he has not lost what got him to where he is in the first place. The best golf game this world has ever seen.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Iverson Situation
Allen Ezail Iverson entered the NBA as the number one overall pick for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. I was 10 years old. I had been a big Sixers fan since I can remember, which was the season when Charles Barkley was shipped out of town. I had never known a Sixers team to be a winner, or to have a transcendent star.
Immediately, I became infatuated with the little guy. During his rookie season I kept a handwritten notebook of how many points Allen scored in every game. This was before the Internet, so it did take some time and some diligence to keep the notebook. It had asterisks for when he set career highs (he scored 40 or more in five straight games his rookie year), asterisks for double doubles, and a big asterisk for the game where he crossed over Michael Jordan. I bought his original pair of signature sneakers, the Questions. Since then, I have probably owned at least five different colors of the Questions. Every year I would buy at least one pair of his signature sneakers. All the way up to the Answer VII (Reebok is now up to the Answer XII). I would venture to guess that I had at least 20 pairs of Allen Iverson’s sneakers growing up. The last year I collected trading cards I bought at least 25 Allen Iverson rookie cards. By the time I was 13, I owned six Allen Iverson jerseys. They switched logos after his rookie year and they added alternate colors – so I had to have every one. When he was traded to Denver I bought a Nuggets jersey. When I graduated from college, I was given an authentic Mitchell and Ness Iverson throwback jersey from his rookie year. Needless to say, I was buying in to what Allen Iverson was selling.
I was watching when he led the league in scoring for the first time during the lockout season in 1999. That year he took the Sixers to their first playoff berth in eight years and they upset the Magic in round one. Iverson set the all-time record for steals in a game in that series with 10.
I was watching in 2000 when they lost for the second straight season in the second round to Reggie Miller’s Pacers. It was brutal. They were swept in ’99 and went down 3-0 before losing in six games in 2000.
I was watching in 2001 when the Sixers finally got past the Pacers, this time in the first round. I watched Iverson drop 50 twice in a seven-game series against Vince Carter and the Raptors, while the Sixers narrowly escaped to head to the Conference Finals. I watched Iverson battle through injury (he missed a pivotal game five with a bruised back) and Ray Allen’s Bucks, and once again prevail in seven games. I then watched him drop 48 points and will his team to victory in the first game of the NBA Finals against a Laker team that had yet to lose in the playoffs.
Sadly, that was the high point of Allen Iverson’s career (at age 25). He has not won another game in the Finals. In fact, he has not made it out of the second round of the playoffs since that magical run in 2001. It did not matter to me though. I grew up with Allen Iverson and knew that he was doing everything he thought he needed to do to win. (That is not the same thing as doing everything he needed to do to win. Iverson’s thoughts and what are actually right for winning are not exactly on the same page.)
Times were tough early in his career, but I stood by him. When he was pulled over in his Mercedes with a concealed handgun and marijuana in his possession I shrugged it off because he was young and stupid. When he threw his wife out of their house naked, and then went and banged on doors supposedly brandishing a gun to go find her, I shrugged it off because, hey, who doesn’t have marital problems? I only have to say the word “practice” and you can form your own opinion on that subject and Iverson. When he sat out fan appreciation night with Chris Weber despite both of them not being hurt during his last full season in Philadelphia, I shrugged it off because he was still my favorite player and I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
At this point in my life and Allen Iverson’s career, I know that he no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. Iverson is 34 years old and has not been healthy in 2 years. The last season he was healthy he was teamed with superstar Carmelo Anthony on a Nuggets team that was swept by the eventual Western Conference Champion Lakers in the first round. Melo was the top dog on that team and they still could not do anything substantial in the playoffs, so where does Allen Iverson’s ego stop? Does he really think he can carry a team that is centered around his me-first style? He only did that one year when he was at the peak of his career and was surrounded with guys who wanted to defend, rebound, and PASS HIM THE BALL! So he signed a contract with the flailing Memphis Grizzlies because no one else in the league wanted to handle his baggage. Instead of swallowing his pride and coming off the bench for a team with some young talented players, Iverson almost immediately took a leave of absence from the team because he was not happy with his role as a reserve. He then was waived by Memphis in an effort to alleviate the situation.
He has left himself with two options.
Option 1. He finds a team that will allow him to start and play him big minutes. Any team like this will not be making the playoffs this year and just looking to sell some tickets (read New York Knicks). He cannot possibly lead a team to the playoffs being the best player on it, but if he wants to try, more power to him. Why would you want to do that at this point though if you are Allen Iverson? He has accomplished pretty much everything an individual can accomplish, four-time scoring champion, league MVP, three All-NBA first teams, two All-Star Game MVPs, 10 time All-Star, the list could continue.
Option 2. He bites the bullet. He goes to an elite team’s owner, GM, and players and says: “I will play for you and do whatever it is you want me to do. I will come off the bench. I will not complain. I will be a good teammate in practice and during games. I will not sulk, pout, or throw temper tantrums when I do not play 40 minutes a game.”
Who would not want to inject their offense with some quick scoring like Iverson can provide? Apparently no one because Iverson is sitting at home without a team. I stopped buying Allen Iverson shoes and jerseys and paraphernalia years ago because I was growing up. It is time for Iverson to finally grow up and do what others are telling him to do. If he does not, he will tarnish the legacy of one of the best guards to ever play the game of basketball.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
What we know about the 2009 World Series thus far.
The Yankees lead the series 3-2 after the Phils escaped Philadelphia with a hang on for dear life 8-6 win that should not have been nearly as close as it was.
Chase Utley may be Mr. November this year, but the only way that moniker will stick is if the Phils pull off the improbable down three games to one comeback victory. Utley is doing his best for that to happen. He launched two home runs in game five including a three run shot in the first inning off AJ Burnett. By hitting his fourth and fifth home runs in this year’s World Series Utley has tied the legendary Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson for the most home runs hit in a World Series (Jackson hit five in 1977 for the Yankees when he famously hit three in a row in the series clinching game six). Five home runs in a World Series is where the comparisons between Jackson and Utley stop. Jackson had an ego even bigger than New York City and frequently clashed with manager Billy Martin. He was flashy, flamboyant, and most of all arrogant. Chase is workman like, a student of the game, and team first. Imagine Chase arguing with Charlie Manuel. Yeah, I cannot do it either. If Reggie decided to show up at game six wearing a Chinchilla, Chase’s wife Jen Utley might just take a Chase-like short compact swing at him, or at least throw a bucket of paint on it. The Utleys are proud members of PETA. It’d be nice to say the Phils never looked back from the 3-1 lead Chase staked them, and technically they never trailed, but they were certainly glancing over their shoulder when Cliff Lee finally came undone in the 8th inning. Relievers Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson got through the final six outs, but it was not pretty.
Burnett could not perform on three days rest (This may have been noted by announces Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, but I tried to black it out after the first mention of it). Burnett dominated the action in game two and kept Phillies hitters off balance. The exact opposite was true in game five. Burnett threw 22 out of 26 first pitch strikes in game two and it was clear that the Phils had a game plan to jump on the first pitch from Burnett this time around. Jimmy Rollins led off the game by swinging at a first pitch fastball that came in letter high. He swung and missed, but eventually got a pitch over the middle of the plate and lined it to center for a base hit. Second batter Shane Victorino then squared as if to bunt and was smoked on the right hand (He eventually left the game in the 7th and this almost cost the Phils dearly as defensive plays were not made in the late innings). With runners at first and second Utley stepped to the plate. The rally towels in Citizen’s Bank Park were waving and Kashmir by Led Zeppelin was bumping from the sound system. Almost on cue, Utley smoked the first pitch he saw (a fastball down the middle) into the right field seats. 3-1 Phillies. Pandemonium at the Bank. An expletive from Burnett. If Ryan Howard had waited outside the batter’s box, Utley certainly would have had to accept the curtain call the fans were begging for.
Speaking of Ryan Howard. Where do you begin? The big man (no longer capitalized in this blog) has gone from one of the biggest tears of his career to one of the worst streaks of his career. Howard has tied the mark for most strikeouts in a World Series with 12. You might wanna put some fake money down that he will break that record the way he is swinging the bat over the past week. Ryan might need to lay off the subway as well as the chew you can clearly see protruding from his lower left jaw. I cannot confirm this, but I am an avid attention payer to whether or not a ballplayer dips, and I cannot remember the big man dipping in the past. Certainly not as much as he is now. Anyway, it has to be the chew, or the beard he has decided to grow that is throwing him off. It cannot be mechanics or lack of confidence. One more possible solution would be Rick Vaughn type glasses because he sure cannot seem to pick up the spin of a slider. SERIOUSLY!! TELL THIS GUY THAT THEY ARE THROWING HIM SLIDERS AND THAT HE CAN HIT THEM OUT TO LEFT FIELD!!!!! The majority of Howard’s 228 (counting the postseason) home runs have gone to left field. He has the ability. He just needs to apply it.
Two of my big keys to the series were the mighty Howard and of course the enigmatic former NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Chase Utley has basically replaced Howard as far as the big man on Broad Street. Howard’s struggles are glaring but because Utley has been able to pick up the slack the Phils were able to force a game six. So that leaves Cole Hamels. Hamels was gifted an early three-run lead in a pivotal game three. He was seemingly in control early in the game as he cruised through the first three innings. Then Alex Rodriguez doubled with a man on. Or did he? Umpires got together and checked replay to confirm whether or not Rodriguez’s ball cleared the stands. Replays clearly showed that A-Rod’s ball smacked into a camera that was just beyond the fence and he was awarded a two-run home run. Sidenote – this ball hit the camera right in its lens. We saw every angle possible to show that it cleared the fence and every one agreed that it did. BUT WHERE WAS THE FOOTAGE FROM THIS CAMERA??? Even if it was not a great view of the entire play it still would have been pretty cool to see! That was it for Hamels. He got out of the inning physically, but not mentally. He unraveled in the fourth (despite still leading the game and opposing starter Andy Pettitte struggling) and the Phils fell behind for good. Hamels seems to be too effected by things going wrong. He is a perfectionist in a game where there have only been 16 perfect games since 1900. If he wants to continue to excel in this league he has to add a few layers of armor to his repertoire because he certainly has a dazzling fastball changeup combination that is capable of baffling any lineup ever assembled. So with Hamels loss, the Phils are down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. Others can certainly be blamed, but Hamels has been due for at least a seven inning less three runs performance and he has not given that to his team in the postseason. He, and all of Philadelphia, will be hoping he still can get that chance in a winner-take-all game seven. In order for that to happen…
Taking the ball in another do-or-die game for the Phils will be Pedro Martinez. Pedro has pitched more than solidly in his two starts thus far in the postseason. He started both game two of the NLCS and game two of the World Series. In the NLCS he pitched seven shut out innings and got a no-decision in a Phillies loss. In game two of the World Series he allowed three runs in 6 plus innings and kept the Phillies in the game despite being dominated by Burnett. If Pedro can give his team a similar performance in game six, the Phils should have more than a puncher’s chance. Andy Pettitte will be starting for the Yankees and looking to extend his all-time lead in postseason wins (17) and series clinching wins (5). He kept the Yankees afloat long enough for Hamels to sink in game three and escaped with a win despite not having great command of anything. Pettitte set a few other records in this game: mound conferences (11, catcher and pitching coach combined), TV-close ups (lost count after 79 in the third inning), and most times pitching with a five o’clock shadow and getting away with it under the Yankees’ clean-cut rule (36 in 39 career postseason appearances). Is any one else tired of looking at Pettitte cover his mouth when Posada comes out to talk to him? Can’t they just speak Italian and let people try to lip read that? Speaking of which, do Pedro and Chooch speak Spanish during their conferences? These are things I would like to know and Joe Buck and Tim McCarver could probably tell us. Instead we have to hear that Burnett is struggling most likely because he is pitching on three day’s rest and that somebody father was once a battery mate with McCarver. I digress…
The veteran pitching, serious star power, and possibility of a game seven should make game six great theater. The Yankee fans will no doubt be on their “Who’s Your Daddy?” tip. In game five it was Chase Utley. Who will it be in game six?
Friday, October 30, 2009
Things looked decent.
In the 4th inning, Lee struck out the side in order. The hitters were Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada. I sent a text to my dad, “Wow! that was Schillingesque.” He responded “indeed.” The Phils were up 1-0 at that point.
Things looked good.
In the 6th inning, Johnny Damon popped up weakly directly to the top of the mound. Lee yawned, flipped his glove open at his side and recorded the out. The Phils were up 2-0 at this point.
Things looked promising.
In the 8th inning, Robinson Cano sent a sharp one bouncer back up the middle and Lee stuck his glove behind his back, as if it were routine, snared the hot shot and threw Cano out at first. Jimmy Rollins gave Lee the “Are you kidding me look?” Lee responded with a wry smile. The Phils were up 4-0 at this point.
Things looked great!
I looked to my friend sitting next to me and gave him a fist bump.
“No way we are losing this game I said,” finally confident enough to say it out loud. He agreed.
To quote Jack Nicholson, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
If you ask anyone who watched the first game of the 2009 World Series last night that question about Lee’s performance, the answer would be an emphatic “YES!”
CC Sabbathia may have had all the hype entering the game, but Cliff Lee and Chase Utley stole the Yankees' thunder. Sabbathia battled early and often during game one and it was a testament to how good he is that he only gave up two runs in seven innings. He clearly did not have his best stuff, and usually against the Phillies when pitchers do not have their best stuff, it means an early exit and more than a two run deficit. Sabbathia had trouble locating his fastball, and Chase Utley made him pay for it. Twice.
Utley sent a fly ball into the seats on the ninth pitch of his epic second at bat of the night. This ball may have been an out in a lot of parks around the Majors but not at the new Yankee stadium, and it was good enough to give the Phils a 1-0 lead.
In the 6th inning, still clinging to the same one run lead, Utley fell behind in the count 0-2 and Sabathia made a mistake. He missed his spot and sent a 95 MPH fastball right down the middle and for the second time in two at-bats, Sabathia pivoted on his right foot and spun around to watch a laser beam from Utley fly deep into the right field seats. 2-0 Phillies.
The way Cliff Lee was dealing, two runs looked like it was going to be more than enough to hold up and it did. The Phils were able to add some insurance runs, two in the 8th and two in the 9th, on clutch hits from Raul Ibanez and the Big Man Ryan Howard. This cushion allowed Charlie Manuel to keep Lee in to finish what he started, a masterpiece.
Two interesting tidbits from this game.
1. On the radio show “Mike and Mike” this morning one of ESPN’s top baseball analysts, Tim Kurkjian, was asked what World Series performance he would compare Cliff Lee’s to last night. He did not mention Josh Beckett’s game six brilliance against the Yankees that clinched the 2003 World Series for the Marlins. He did not mention the 2-0 complete game shut out Curt Schilling threw in 1993 for these Phillies against the Blue Jays. He harkened all the way back to 1968 when Bob “Hoot” Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals struck out 17 Detroit Tigers en route to a 4-0 victory. Any time your name gets mentioned in the same breath as a legendary dominator like Bob Gibson, you know you have witnessed something special.
2. When Chase Utley hit his first home run of the evening it was the first homer CC Sabbathia gave up to a left handed batter all season at Yankee Stadium! Obviously, it did not take long for Utley to take Sabbathia deep again becoming just the second left handed batter to hit two home runs in one World Series game off left handed pitching. The other. Oh that was a George Herman “Babe” Ruth. “That is not bad company to be in,” Utley said after the game.
“What if this is as good as it gets?”
Hopefully it will only get better for the defending champs, but this one sure was sweet and it will be savored by Phillies fans for years to come.
Monday, October 26, 2009
World Series Preview
The New York Yankees won their 40th pennant yesterday evening over the Anaheim Angels. 40. Let that sink in. 40. Wow! That is intense! It is also the consummate Yankee, Derek Jeter’s, 7th pennant (96, 98, 99, 00, 01, 03, and now 09). Note, this is Alex Rodriguez’s first EVER pennant. Rodriguez signed a massive 10-year $252 million contract with his former team the Teaxs Rangers, but finished in last place all three years he played for the team. He joined the Yankees in 2004 and they failed to reach the World Series for five straight years with him in the lineup after they had reached it six times in the previous eight years. Another note, two years ago Rodriguez opted out of his contract in an effort to re-work his deal and make more money. I guess $25 million a year and not winning Championships was not good enough for A-Rod or the Yankees. Rodriguez was on the books for $33 million this year, I guess they finally got it right? The last two pennants the Yankees won did not end in a World Series championship, and Charlie Manuel and the Broad Street Bombing Philadelphia Phillies will look to continue that trend.
It is clear that the best team from the American League and National League will be representing their respective leagues in the annual Fall Classic. The Yankees were the best team in Major League Baseball for the whole season and the Phils are the defending Champions. It is one thing to spend a quarter billion on the likes of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira over the offseason, but it is certainly another thing for them to come out and perform the way they have. The Yankees should be happy with their investments at this point, but they will not be satisfied without a Championship. Burnett has come through more often than not, but is not quite as reliable as they would like him to be. Sabathia and Teixeira on the other hand, are both in the top 3 for the Cy Young and MVP races. They should be lauded for their first season in the biggest media market in the world. They have earned their pinstripes.
Since this is a World Series Preview edition of the blog, I am not going to spend a lot of time on last night’s game between the Angels and Yankees. One point, however, needs to addressed. The Yankees held a 3-1 advantage entering the top half of the eighth inning last night. Who did Yankee manager Joe Girardi turn to in this situation? Would he keep Joba Chamberlain in the game after he got the last two outs of the 7th? Would he turn to Phil Hughes who was terrific in the regular season but shaky at best so far in the postseason? The answer was “no” to the first two possibilities. Girardi went to the best closer Major League Baseball has ever seen in the postseason for the final six outs of game 6. Mariano Rivera delivered, like he always does, but that was not to say he was lights out. He gave up one run in the eighth, but the Yankees avoided any drama in the ninth by calling Geico for two insurance runs in the bottom half of the eighth. In fifteen minutes they saved themselves any chance of a late rally by the Angels. By going to Rivera in the eighth Girardi let it be known that he did not trust his middle relievers with the Pennant on the line. This could be a developing situation…
Without further ado –
Phillies Starting Pitching vs. Yankees Starting Pitching
Slight Advantage – Yankees
Let’s start this argument by saying how bad it must feel to be a Cleveland Indians fan. The 2007 and 2008 American League Cy Young winners played for the Cleveland Indians. CC Sabathia won it in 07 and Cliff Lee is the reigning American League winner. Unfortunately, Cleveland has been strapped for cash and needed to get rid of these two southpaws in an attempt to keep their ballclub afloat. These two will square off in game one at New Yankee Stadium Wednesday night in what looks to be a possible pitcher's duel in a series that will almost certainly be a slugfest. If you look up dominant in the dictionary they recently added pictures of Sabathia and Lee to better describe the word. Their numbers thus far in the postseason are staggering. Sabathia is 3-0 in 3 games started. He has pitched 22 2/3 innings while allowing 4 runs (3 earned), ate 2 Whoppers a day, struck out 20, and walked 3, which gives him a 1.17 ERA. Not to be outdone, Cliff Lee is 2-0 in 3 games started while pitching 24 1/3 innings, allowing 4 runs (2 earned), looking somewhat disinterested while on the mound, striking out 20 and walking 3, which gives him a paltry ERA of 0.74. Needless to say, Sabathia, despite his weight, and Lee, despite his lack of visible emotion, are earning their paychecks.
*Both starters are left handed and the Phils have two other possible left handed starters. The Yanks have one. Both the Phils and Yanks have records well above .500 against left-handed pitching so that angle is left moot in the World Series, especially with how Ryan Howard has seemingly turned it around against lefties through the first two rounds.
The game one matchup looks to be even, but after that the matchups are almost a toss-up. The edge has to be given to the Yankees because of Andy Pettitte’s pedigree. The guy just gets it done in the postseason. Last night he broke the records for most wins all time in the postseason (16) and most wins in a clinching game in the postseason (5). It makes it easier to set these records when you play with a team like the Yankees, but I am by no means saying what Pettitte has done has been easy. The guy is clutch, and the Phillies will have to deal with that.
Speaking of clutch, Cole Hamels certainly was in the 2008 postseason. He has basically been the exact opposite of that in 2009. Hamels looks to be the most important pitcher in this series. Out of all the other possible starters for either team, Pettitte, Burnett (the Yankees have shown thus far that they are comfortable enough with a 3 man rotation), Pedro Martinez, Jay Happ, and Joe Blanton, Hamels has the best stuff and it is not even close. What Hamels does not have right now, is the head game to win at this level. He gets rattled too easily, and it is visible when he is on the mound. He gets rattled by umpires, he gets rattled by shoddy defense behind him, he gets rattled when he gives up a long ball (which he has been prone to do). If Hamels can match Pettitte or outpitch him the Phils could have the advantage of starting pitching in this series, but sadly Hamels has shown no signs that he will do that in his three sub-par starts in the 2009 postseason. Pedro Martinez (game two of the NLCS) has shown that he is still wily and capable of spinning some magic from his slight frame, but another seven inning, zero earned run performance from Pedro is less than likely. The rest of the starters will basically be looking to keep their teams in the game and give the bats a chance in the later innings.
Speaking of the later innings…
Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen vs. New York Yankees Bullpen
If this blog was being written before the postseason the status of this argument would be HUGE ADVANTAGE YANKEES!!!! But the postseason has been kind to the Phillies bullpen, and the Yanks have shown a chink or two in their armor. Nevertheless, with Mariano Rivera on their side, the nod has to go the Yankees.
The Yankees two main set-up guys are Chamberlain and Hughes, whom Girardi decided not to have pitch the eighth inning of a tight game Sunday night. Hughes has been less than solid in six games, he has a 5.79 ERA in 4 2/3 postseason innings. Chamberlain’s ERA in the postseason is under three, but he has had to work out of trouble quite a bit. His WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is 2.10 and he has not given up a walk in 3 1/3 innings which means he is prone to give up base hits. If these two can hold leads, the Phillies will more than likely not win this series. Mariano Rivera enjoys slamming the door on teams and he has made a first ballot Hall-of-Fame career out of doing it. One thing the Yankees lack is situational left handers. Most teams have brought in lefties to face the back-to-back duo of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to neutralize their abilities, but the Yankees do not have the lefties that the Dodgers boasted. Of course, the Phillies left handed batters did not seem to have much trouble against the Dodgers lefty specialists so maybe situational lefties are overrated?
The story of the Phillies bullpen has been the re-emergence of Brad Lidge as a reliable closer. Lidge has given up one hit and three walks in four innings of shutout baseball. He has saved three of the Phillies wins and got the win in game four of the NLCS. Chad Durbin has been the Phils most reliable middle reliever, appearing in four games and pitching four scoreless innings. Ryan Madson and Chan Ho Park who have not been consistent, but have shown some dominant stuff are more likely to see work than Durbin, however. Scott Eyre is the likely lefty the Phils will turn to if needed. Charlie Manuel has also shown a penchant for bringing in starters for bullpen help as both Joe Blanton and Jay Happ have made appearances out of the ‘pen. Manuel is basically managing the bullpen on gut instincts rather than going with a set rotation. If Lidge can continue to be confident the Phils should be feeling better now heading into the World Series compared to the end of the season heading into their first round matchup against Colorado.
Philadelphia Phillies Hitters vs. New York Yankees Hitters
Advantage – Even
What can I say about the offenses in the World Series this year? Let me think. They hit the long ball about as well as any teams ever have. Top to bottom of each lineup, every hitter is a threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time. Every Phillie, except for Jimmy Rollins (who hit 21 in the regular season), has a home run in the first nine games of the postseason. Jayson Werth leads the team with five. Ryan Howard has not been hitting the long ball as much (two home runs) but he has been doing everything else. He has four doubles, one triple, and 14 RBIs including a postseason record tying RBI in each of the first eight games this year (Howard and Alex Rodriguez both tied Lou Gherig's record for RBIs in consecutive games this year). His play was good enough for him to earn his first NLCS MVP award. Howard, along with Werth, Shane Victorino, and hot-hitting catcher Carlos Ruiz all have an OPS (slugging percentage + on base percentage) of over 1000. To put this in perspective, only Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, and Albert Pujols had an OPS over 1000 this season. The Yankees pitching staff will also have to handle the likes of Utley and Raul Ibanez who has nine rbis through nine games.
Despite the Phillies’ successes they still do not boast the hottest player in all the land, and that would be the aforementioned Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has belted game tying home runs in the 9th and 11th innings so far this postseason to go along with three other home runs for a total of five. A-Rod is hitting .438 and slugging almost over 1000. His OPS is a remarkable 1516. The Yanks have a few other guys who can hit as well. Their leader and captain Derek Jeter is hitting .297 but has drawn nine walks and has an on base percentage of .438. Jeter and Jimmy Rollins play similar roles in jumpstarting their team’s offenses. They can do this by setting the table or hitting the long ball. Mark Teixeira has struggled in the postseason but is still a serious threat considering he led the AL in both home runs and RBIs. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada are all playoff veterans who are not strangers to pressure packed situations.
Keys to the Series
In order for the Phillies to win this series several things must happen. First things first. The bullpen needs to remain steady and hold leads. Holding leads is the most important thing for the Phils to do. The Yankee hitters are patient and know how to work counts. If starters do not get into grooves and get outs, they will not make it much past the 5th inning and the bullpen will come into play quickly. If relievers come into games in which they are trailing, it will be very important for them to keep the Yankees from piling on because as we have seen from the prior two series, the Phillies are not out of a game until the 27th out is recorded. Another important situation for the Phils lies on the narrow shoulders of Cole Hamels. If Hamels can couple with Cliff Lee in shutting down the Yankee’s potent bats, the Phils should be able to win three of four of their starts and possibly squeeze out a win when one of their other pitchers makes a start. Lastly, the most important thing on offense the Phillies must do is be patient and protect Ryan Howard. Howard is the key to the entire Phillies offense. He can carry them through this series if he sees pitches he can hit. He is locked in and is not going to miss if the Yankees must pitch to him. Rollins and Victorino need to work counts and make the Yankees; starters labor early in games. Chase Utley generally has good plate discipline but he did not hit very well in the NLCS. Howard absolutely MUST have people on base when he gets up so that Yankee pitchers have nowhere to put him on base. This process has two parts to it, and Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez do not have as important a job as the top three hitters in the lineup, but it is close. If Werth and Ibanez continue to work counts, which they did a great job of in the first two series averaging 4.8 and 4.2 pitches per plate appearance respectively, and get big hits the pitchers will be forced to throw Howard fastballs over the plate. If you watched Ryan Howard in the NLDS or NLCS and you are a Yankees fan you better hope Yankee pitchers are not leaving balls over the plate to the Big Man. The first inning of each game will be a good test for the Phils. Howard needs to have plate appearances in the first inning because that will guarantee him to have people on base while he is batting and enable to have a better chance at getting an early lead.
There is no way to predict how this World Series will go, but speculating sure can be fun. Either way we should be in for one hell of a series based on how the first two rounds played out.
The Hitter’s Counts Prediction for the 2009 World Series:
Phillies in 7
Sunday, October 25, 2009
2 Balls No Strikes – A Hitter’s Count
Editor’s Note – this article is being written during game 5 of the ALCS but is assuming that the Yankees will win the pennant.
If an average Philadelphia baseball fan took a quick glance at the pitching stats of Cole Hamels in this year’s NLCS he or she would be hard pressed to believe that the Philadelphia Phillies dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second year in a row. He or she would find it hard to believe that they only lost one game and took the pennant in 5 games for the second year in a row. Hamels started two games for the fightins in the series, game one and the clinching game five. His stats were less than pedestrian: 9 2/3 innings pitched, 7 earned runs allowed, and a whopping 5 home runs allowed, which translates to 6.52 ERA.
That same average fan probably knows that Hamels was untouchable in the Phils magical run to their first World Series title in 28 years during last year’s playoffs. Conventional wisdom would lead this fan to think that the Phils struggled and found it difficult to compete with the Dodgers (since their starter laid an egg in two of the five games), the best team in the NL during the regular season. The fan would think that if the Dodgers roughed up Hamels that the Phils would lose the games he started because the Dodgers boasted the NL’s lowest ERA (3.41) and lowest batting average against (.233) during the regular season. But the postseason is not the regular season, and the Phillies were not intimidated in the least. In fact, Philadelphia won both games Hamels started in the series despite his troubles.
These Philadelphia Phillies have continuously thrown conventional wisdom out the window (ask Dodger’s closer Jonathan Broxton). Sure Hamels gave up a first inning home run to Andre Eithier that put the Phils in an early hole in game five. (On a 1-2 count no less. Hamels, as well as other Phillies’ pitchers, too often make mistakes over the center of the plate when they are up in the count.) Nevertheless, in the bottom half of the inning the slug fest that can be described as the Phillies offense continued. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino failed to reach base, but Chase Utley and Ryan Howard drew back to back walks and Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla seemed a bit rattled as he ran a 3-0 count to Jayson Werth. Padilla fought back and worked the count full, but that is when Werth took over and launched a fly ball deep to right field several rows into the stands. 3-1 Phillies.
Despite Hamels struggles, he failed to complete the fifth inning; the Phils never looked back in game five. They hit three more home runs, one from Pedro Feliz, one from Shane Victorino, and another from Werth for good measure. Playoff baseball is supposed to be won by dominant pitching but the Phils have their own special brand of dominant batting that has allowed them to advance to the World Series for the second year in a row.
The first number is the amount of home runs the Yankees hit during the regular season. Tops in the majors. The second number is the amount of home runs the Phillies hit. Tops in the National League and tied for second in the majors with the Texas Rangers. There is no doubt that starting pitching and bullpen pitching will have a profound affect on the World Series this year, but this most likely will not be a Series where the losing team fails to score more than one run in five of the seven games like the 1968 World Series between St. Louis and Detroit. Sure CC Sabbathia and Cliff Lee have shut down stuff, but lineups like the ones the Phillies and the Yankees are not easily shut down. The Yankees have seven starters who hit 20 or more home runs. The Phillies have four straight batters in their lineup who had more than 30 home runs. Both of these are firsts for these clubs. Any time that teams like the Phillies and Yankees (who have been around for over 100 years) do something for the first time, you know it is special.
Experts and baseball pundits always insist that pitching wins championships, but maybe this year home runs will be the deciding factor.
Good luck to the pitchers in this year’s World Series they’re gonna need it.
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