Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Open Letter to Jimmy Rollins


I have so many things to say I’m not sure where to start. So let me start by showing my gratitude for what you have done for this team and this city, and in particular, me. I am in my mid 20s these days and I have been an avid follower of this team long before you left Oakland to come play in that concrete donut they called Veteran’s Stadium. Obviously, the team was lingering between terrible and mediocre when you arrived on the scene, but it was great to see young talent on the field (you and Scott Rolen). I remember your rookie season and thinking to myself this has to be a rookie of the year campaign, but you had the misfortune of being a rookie the same year as Albert Pujols (funny you actually came in 3rd that year behind teammate Roy Oswalt). In the National League, I don’t know if there has been a more important player for their team other than Pujols during the past 11 years.

For the first half of your career, it was all about changing the culture of the team. This did not just mean the record of the ballclub, which for the most part hovered around .500 in the first half of the 2000s. It was about believing that you could win. It was about hating to lose. It was about coming to the ballpark everyday with a smile on your face because you knew your team was headed in the right direction. I remember vividly a late September game in 2005 I attended against the Mets. Man, remember when the Mets were a decent team? You were somewhere around 30 games into that hitting streak. The Phils had been eliminated from competition but everybody was there to see you get a hit. I could be wrong, but I believe it was the 8th inning when you came through that night. It was pandemonium when that ball got through the infield. It was just a cool thing to be a part of and I thank you for that. I remember the next spring I was sitting in a computer lab class in college on opening day, and once again I might be wrong, but I believe you hit a triple late in the game to extend the hitting streak. I freaked out and jumped out of my seat celebrating your accomplishment while following the action on gamecast. It was quite the scene; nobody knew what I was doing.

Of course, I remember when you came into the 2007 season declaring “We are the team to beat this year.” What a statement Jimmy! It was clear you were ready to take this team to another level. Not only did you talk the talk that season, but goddamnit if you didn’t walk the walk too. I get nostalgic just thinking about that season. It was the year we finally broke through, and you were the number one cause for that. Those numbers you put up that year speak for themselves, but to come through the way you did after making such a brash statement just amazes me. The Phillies literally were, and have been since, the team to beat.

In 2008, well you know what happened in 2008. You, Cole, Chase, Ryan, Pat(!), Jayson, Shane, Joe, Jamie, Chooch, Brad, and the rest of that team will hold a special place in the minds and hearts of every Philadelphia Phillies fan for as long as we live. That was a magical ride that season, and it changed the mindset of Phillies fans all over the area. In 2009, the Phils were back and ready for more. When you got this hit, it may have been the most I have ever freaked out about a sporting event in my life. Are you serious Jimmy? Down a run with 2 outs in the 9th and you smoke a 99 mph fastball into the gap for a game winning 2 run triple to go up 3-1 in the NLCS?!? God, I hope you think about that hit every day. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

Sadly, you guys fell short to the Yankees shortly after that hit, but it was still a fun season. I’m sure 2010 was pretty rough for you with all the injuries and of course falling short again in the postseason was tough. I was very happy to see you healthy and for all intents and purposes, back to your old self again this year. I’m sure you were pretty happy about it too, because with the decent season you put together this past year it means you are due to get paid. And that is what brings me to the point of this letter Jimmy.

I looked it up. You have made $53,780,000 as a professional ballplayer. I have to assume that number is closer to 70 million when you account for endorsements/incentives/promotional appearances. You make more money in a year than the majority of people will make in a lifetime, and you play a game every day (for 6 months). I’m pleading with you to not make your decision on who you sign with about money this year. I know there is not a lot of talent at shortstop these days, so you should be due to make a boatload of money from some team that is willing to give it to you. You have earned it. I’m sure you want a 5 year deal because that will bring you the most money and most security. If the Giants come in with a Godfather offer of 5 years 50 million (I’m just throwing numbers around here), would it be worth it to take it if the Phillies are offering 3-4 years for 8 million a season? I just don’t see how it could be. You have built a relationship with this fan base. You have built a championship team with the help of your teammates, manager, and front office. You have built a legacy in this city that is borderline Hall-of-Fame. Is one extra year and a few extra million worth giving up on all the goodwill you have stockpiled in this town? You have been here over ten years, you know how this town works. If you bolt for more money and spite the Phillies, it will be hard for these people to forgive and forget.

I cannot pretend to know the inner-workings of Ruben Amaro’s head, but I have to believe he is going to offer you something fair. In my opinion Jimmy, you need to jump at it. The main reason is not the money, or the town, don't get me wrong, those are strong reasons and part of my argument, but the main reason is simple. Winning. Where are you going to go that is going to give you a better chance of winning than right here in this city? One World Series is not enough for this nucleus Jimmy, and you know that. Look at the talent on this team. How can you walk away from that just for more money, when you should have more than enough sitting in your bank account? It is a bold statement, but you are the Derek Jeter of the National League. If you win another World Series or two with the Phillies, that comparison will start to creep up more and more. He stayed, why shouldn’t you? So Jimmy, when you make your decision this off-season, please weigh all your options carefully. Think about what staying would mean, and what leaving would mean. If you get a fair contract offer from the Phillies, you need to sign it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Mourning: The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies - It Wasn't Supposed to be This Way

I was in Manhattan at a friend’s apartment Friday night, October 7th. The Phillies were playing in their first decisive playoff game in my lifetime. They were playing at home. They had the best pitcher in baseball on the mound. We all know how it ended. I sat on the couch in silence staring at nothing for at least a half hour. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I shook it off eventually and continued with my weekend, but I knew the inner turmoil/anguish/depression and most of all an insane amount of disappointment, had yet to set in for real. It finally came when I was driving to my night class early Monday evening. I was listening to the end of the Mike Missanelli show on ESPN radio, which runs right into “Talking Baseball with Dutch.” The Eagles had lost their 4th straight game the day before, and each mounting loss seems to be more pathetic than the last, but that is not what was on the mind of the sports radio scene. The mighty 102-60 Philadelphia Phillies were on everybody’s mind. In four short games (the first one was pretty good) the Phillies offense went kaput, and so did all the hopes and dreams of the seemingly endless legion of red-wearing Phillies fans.

As I cruised down City Ave I felt serious pain for Dutch, Darren Daulton, the former Phillies catcher and heart of the 1993 NL Champion Phillies. It was Monday night, and the second game of the NLCS was being played, but the Phillies were not there. This entire season was a crescendo to the playoffs, and before we even knew what hit us, the dream was snatched away like the Lindbergh baby. The whole (Phillies) nation is in mourning. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Instead of talking about how Cole Hamels was going to dominate a Brewers lineup with his changeup, Dutch had to talk about how the offense resembled a dead fish (and even that is putting it lightly) and every single person on the team (except Cole Hamels and Doc) coming up small. How.. could this have happened? I have had my trepidations about the Phillies offense for some time now, but when we picked up Hunter Pence in late July and finally got the entire offense back on the field for the end of the season I thought we would be fine, just fine. Man! Was I was wrong.

There are a litany of observations and questions I have about this series. I just need to get some things off my chest about how I feel about this debacle/collapse/performance.

I am not sure where everybody else stands on this, and I know the entire offense is the main goat of this series, but Cliff Lee f__ked up. He f__ked up bad. There we were in game two up 4-0 after two innings; Ryan Howard was clicking and so was the offense, to the tune of 15 runs in 11 innings. Howard had accounted for 8 of them with 6 RBI and 2 runs scored. I was at this game. The crowd was going wild in the first inning and the Phillies had every ounce of momentum in this series. Lee had basically been unhittable since July and the Phils were ready to rip Albert Pujols’ heart out of his chest, but it was not to be. You have to give the Cardinals and (I hate to say it) their manager Tony La Russa a serious amount of credit for clawing their way back for a game 2 win. In the top of the 4th inning, an inning in which La Russa pinch-hit for his starter, the Cardinals turned it into a game with 3 runs, 1 with 2 outs. No big deal I thought, the Phils will score more and Cliff will shut the door from here. Logic would have you think that the Phillies would win this game with the Cardinals needing 18 outs from their bullpen and Cliff Lee being Cliff Lee. Some how the offense took a nose-dive and managed to get two men on base in the next 6 innings, which was a serious foreshadowing of things to come. Lee continued to struggle and gave up the tying run in the 6th and the go-ahead run in the 7th. That was all she wrote for game 2. Brutal, absolutely brutal, the Phillies lost a game they led by 4 runs with a man on the mound that had not allowed more than 2 runs in his previous 10 starts, and in 5 of those 10 he did not allow a single run. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

How much pain was Placido Polanco playing in? We could talk about the other guys who straight up choked in this series (Ruiz, Ibanez, Pence) but think about Polanco here for a minute. Polly is a career .301 hitter. He hit .105 in the series and hasn’t driven a ball past an outfielder’s head since before Labor Day it seems. Apparently he was playing with a double (a double!) sports hernia. Has anybody ever had a hernia? Good God, they are painful, doubly painful in this case. Polanco is a gamer, I will give him that, but could Mike Martinez or Wilson Valdez have provided some sort of spark for this team? Polanco had two hits in the series. There was not much to lose by starting somebody else at third base in game 5. Just saying.

How hurt was Ryan Howard? After hitting one of the most impressive and important home runs of his career in game 1, and stroking a bases loaded single in the first inning of game 2, Ryan Howard forgot how to hit a baseball. How clueless is this guy against left-handed pitching? So clueless that Hunter Pence was intentionally walked in game 3 to get to Howard with men on first and second. So clueless that he (seemingly) likes to swing at balls and look at strikes. So clueless that my dad is constantly in my ear that Howard should be in a platoon for left-handed starters (he is due to make $125 million the next 5 years). So clueless you could switch him with this guy, and he would fit right in this movie. Having said all that, he had to have been playing in some serious pain right? For the second season in a row Ryan Howard was up with 2 outs and the season on the line. For the second season in a row, he did not come through. He hit a routine groundball into the shift and SNAPPED his Achilles tendon. What was up with his foot/heel/ankle problems over the last month of the season? I don’t think your Achilles tendon can just snap on a whim. He was playing baseball when he probably should not have been, and it is going to cost him the beginning of next season most likely. I cannot fault Ryan Howard for going Oh Ferrr his last however many at bats in this series. He had two of the three biggest hits in it, and that is a whole lot more than you can say for the rest of the position players.

How pathetic is the Phillies approach at the plate? Announcers, pundits, writers, and people who know the nuances of this game must sit there and shake their heads at the at-bats the Phillies offense puts together. There is obviously no strategy being employed with this offense, and I am not sure if it is lack of direction from the coaching staff, or a lack of discipline from the hitters, but I could have used a few Jayson Werth 13-pitch at bats in this series. For years and years Jimmy Rollins has been a professional about popping up foul during the second pitch of an at-bat. It is hard to say anything bad about Jimmy in this series, he had 9 hits (none in game 5), but why does he continue to not work counts? I am little tired of defending him by saying, “That’s just the way he is.” Obviously the approach the team had was not working so it would have been worth trying to work some counts for a change. Cardinals pitchers were virtually never threatened after the second inning of game 2. The Phils threw up 1-2-3 inning after 1-2-3 inning. In the final 34 innings of the series, the Phils went in order 19 times. 19 times!! You don’t need a calculator to know that Cardinals pitchers didn’t break a sweat during an inning more than 50% of the time. Not only did they go in order a lot, but it just seemed like at bats were over before they started. Cards pitchers got ahead early and the at bats rarely would go longer than 3 pitches. A lot of baseball is making the opposing team’s starter work hard to earn his outs, so that he will wear down and you can score runs because he cannot possibly stay sharp while constantly battling the hitters. I saw way too many innings pass where the pitcher threw less than 10 pitches. Pathetic!

On the flip side of this scenario, the Cardinals hitters were up to the task. The Cardinals were faced with a much more daunting task offensively than the Phillies but they took the Phils best punch and are still standing. They started the series with Lance Berkman crushing a 3 run home run in the first inning off Roy Halladay. This was the first 3 run home run Halladay had given up since 2008. You kiddin me? Regardless of the outcome of that game, the Cardinals could walk away from that game knowing they got to Roy Halladay. Serious confidence boost. One thing that stood out to me was the Cardinals hitters’ ability to continuously foul off 2 strike pitches. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels all know how to put hitters away. If not for Hamels missing a few starts, all three would have had 200 strikeouts this year. They may have eventually gotten their strikeouts, but the Cards hitters made them work by constantly fouling off two strike pitches. The Phillies, on the other hand, did not seem to know how 2 strike foul balls work. They give you another chance for the pitcher to make a mistake. If you keep giving yourself the opportunity to come through, chances are you will be able to. I can’t come up with a word that will clearly describe my thoughts on this matter. It is a combination of words that emit emotion: Pathetic. Sad. Maddening. Frustrating. Insane. Gross. Awful. Yikes. Put those all together, close your eyes, and put your head down in shame. After being the better team in every series they played all year, the Phils were not the best team in this series.

What does this terrible outcome mean to a passionate fan? The bottom line about sports is that they do not really matter. If your job sucked on Friday when you left, then your job probably will still suck when you get in on Monday (and vice versa). The difference is when the Phillies win a game, or a postseason series, your job, or your girlfriend/boyfriend trouble, or your daddy issues, or your relationship with your sister, or your credit card debt, or your school loans, just do not seem like as much of a burden, or less of a burden anyway. There is no tangible effect that the Phillies have on your life per se. What they do have is the ability to make you forget about all the bullshit in your life and concentrate on something that you care about that makes you happy. The load you are carrying around in your head seems a little bit lighter when Cliff Lee is on the mound. You expect good things to happen when Cole Hamels comes out in the first inning and makes hitters look foolish flailing away at his changeup. Your heart skips a beat when you see the ball rocket out of your television screen as Ryan Howard drops his bat, dips his shoulder, and admires a moon-shot home run. You are happy for a 3 hour-distraction that can make everybody else around you feel good too. You were happy looking forward to meaningful baseball games. You always want something good to look forward to; it makes life worth living. Of course, all of the opposite is true for this when they lose. The insane amount of build up and expectation for this postseason was not like anything we as fans have experienced with a baseball team (see the Eagles from 2002-2004 for a Philadelphia team to have this kind of experience). So we got up and went to work on Monday morning. When I go over the events in my life of the past few days and my mind lands on the Phils, wow, it just makes my heart sink. So, as much as I can I just try to not think about this carbuncle. It took me 5 days to even have the gumption to start writing this piece. It hurts, not physically, but in every possible way mentally.

I feel the same way Bill does at the end of this scene.

I just keep thinking to myself. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Game 3 2011 NLDS Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals

4:23 PM EST: Hello and welcome to my running diary for the pivotal game three of the National League Division Series. Cole Hamels will be starting for the Phillies, while Jamie Garcia, pronounced Himey (this is how he will be referred to for the rest of the day), will take the mound for the Cardinals. The series is tied at 1 game a piece entering tonight's matchup that will start at 5:07 PM EST.

Check back soon for more insight before the game!

4:36 PM EST: I was at the game Sunday night. It was my birthday. Cliff Lee gave me the equivalent of Santa getting you coal. 4-0 in the first inning with Cliff on the hill and the Phillies lose? If you had gamecast up at the time I'll bet it gave the Phillies a 93% chance of winning, and that does not even factor in who is pitching the damn game.

If you are like me then you did your best to avoid sportscenter and any articles relating to the Phillies over the last two days. I did check out espn.com baseball writer Jayson Stark's article previewing today's game though. Everybody seems to be scared shitless of Himey shutting down the erratic Phils offense considering he has a 1.20 ERA in 30 career innings against the Phils. I have to say it is not the best stat to see before the game.

I feel like Owen Wilson's character in Armageddon right before the spaceship takes off.

"I'm really excited right now, well 98 % excited and 2 % scared, or 98 % scared and 2 % excited, but that's what makes it so exciting!!"

4:44 PM EST: Text from my buddy Jaindl: Tickets for tonight's game on stubhub for $19. Good job Cards fans! There's probably a higher cover at McFaddens at CBP than that..

4:53 PM EST: As expected. John Mayberry will be starting today in left field. That is the only lineup change for the Phils and he takes the same spot in the order as Raul Ibanez.

1. J. Rollins, SS
2. C. Utley, 2B
3. H. Pence, RF
4. R. Howard, 1B
5. S. Victorino, CF
6. J. Mayberry Jr., LF
7. P. Polanco, 3B
8. C. Ruiz, C
9. C. Hamels, P

1. R. Furcal, SS
2. A. Craig, LF
3. A. Pujols, 1B
4. L. Berkman, RF
5. D. Freese, 3B
6. Y. Molina, C
7. R. Theriot, 2B
8. J. Jay, CF
9. J. Garcia, P

5:08 PM EST: Jimmy Rollins does a solid job of working the count and pops out foul on 2 pitches. Chase stepping to the plate.. Jimmy has had a great series so far, but feel like he just does not understand baseball situations way too often. Chase grounds out meekly to Pujols at first..

5:10 PM EST: I really wanted to see Ryan Howard bat in the first inning because that guarantees that a man is on base, but Hunter Pence lined out sharply to shortstop on the first pitch. I can't fault Pence for first pitch swinging because he does it more than anybody else in the league it seems, but I am horrified at the lack of working counts. It is like they look at the Yankees approach and insist it does not work? 6 pitches for Garcia in the first. Gimme a break!

5:14 PM EST: Hamels gets the first out on the second pitch of the game. This game is a 4:07 start in St. Louis and the shadows are creeping around between the mound and home plate. It could prove to be very difficult for hitters in the early going. At least that's what they always say..

5:19 PM EST: Pujols doubles in the gap on a 2-2 pitch that was down and away. He hit the ball a good 320 feet with one hand. He is a man amongst men. The camera angle we are experiencing on tv is different than usual. It is from straight away center field rather than just a little off center. It is an interesting perspective. Hamels clips Berkman with a cutter on the foot. 1st and 2nd 2 outs for David Freese.

5:20 PM EST: My only guess is that Cole Hamels straight fell asleep and the two slowest guys you can think of pull off a double steal. Pujols and Berkman get in scoring position but Hamels strikes out Freese on 3 pitches.

5:26 PM EST: Garcia willingly throws fastballs to Howard in his at bat. But he threw them up and Howard refused to let them go. Everybody seems to be swinging and missing at this point. Howard ks swinging and missing at a ball at his shoulders. Never seen that before.

5:29 PM EST: A solid 1-2-3 inning for Garcia that included at least 5 swings and misses. For some reason the announcer said it was a 7 pitch inning, but the Phils did make him claw through 13 stress free pitches.

5:34 PM EST: Tony La Russa is celebrating his 67th birthday today. I can't tell if he has looked 35 for the last 20 years or 67 for last 20 years but his appearance hasn't changed. Jose Molina just put a ball in the upper deck foul but he flew out to right after working the count full.

5:36 PM EST: Normal TNT basketball analyst Craig Sager is thrust into sideline coverage at baseball games. He is wearing a trademark hideous suit. This time a lime green jacket with a ridiculous multi-colored shirt.

5:39 PM EST: 32 pitches. 4 outs so far for Cole. Sitting in the corner barely able to watch. Jay has fouled off at least 5 pitches in this at bat. On a fairly borderline call Hamels gets Jay looking with a changeup on the corner. Regardless that was a great at bat for Jay.

5:42 PM EST: Hamels is out of the second with 39 pitches and two hits given up. If you told me Deion Sanders would agree to dress up for a commercial and look like an All-Pro Tinkerbell I would tell you DirecTV paid him a shit ton of money. I have to say that commercial is way better than dealing with Gus, the second most famous groudhog in Pennsylvania. Shut Up Gus!

5:46 PM EST: Polanco bounces out meekly on the second pitch of his at bat. Ohhh for 9 so far this series. Shaking my head in silence..

5:48 PM EST: Good God! After a Ruiz single Hamels pops up the (first pitch!!) bunt attempt to Molina. The announcers quip that he probably has not bunted that much this season. Which is not the case. Rollins promptly singles and Ruiz can only advance to 2nd.

5:51 PM EST: Utley grounds out meekly to end the inning. It was nice to see two hits on the board though. WIth the camera angle where it is, you can really see Garcia's ball dart away from right handed batters. Serious movement.

5:58 PM EST: Walks are never good. Especially when Hamels was up on Allen Craig 0-2 before Craig worked the count full and fouled one pitch off. Especially when Albert Pujols is the next man up.

6:01 PM EST: Hamels shakes off the walk and get Pujols to fly out and Berkman to fly to center. Victorino made the play on Pujols while showing off his baseball shades. Everybody out there is wearing them. Here is Lance Berkaman.

6:05 PM EST: After Pence flew out to deep right center they showed the Rangers celebrating winning their series against the Rays. They were spraying champagne everywhere. Somebody keep an eye on Josh Hamilton. Meanwhile Howard is batting and they just mentioned that Garcia had yet to run a 2 ball count. A 2 ball count!! It is the 4th inning! Howard manages to get 2 balls, oh my! But then strikes out looking on another borderline outside corner pitch. Howard is 2-2 if you want to count strikeouts as hits.

6:07 PM EST: Our 2-3-4 hitters go down 1-2-3 in less than 10 pitches. I would like to cry if it were manly.

6:12 PM EST: When Hamels misses he misses so far. The balls are not close and the Cardinals have been fouling everything off. The Cardinals at bats have been the opposite of the Phillies at bats so far, but thankfully for the Phils, the results have been the same. Hamels strikes out David Freese on a 3-2 count after several foul balls.

6:22 PM EST: The score is tied 0-0 after four. I'm sitting here with 3 of my friends. Even though it is tied, we all agree we feel like crap inside about this game right now. It's like when the Eagles go up and down the field but call a run pass option up the middle to Ronnie Brown on the goaline that results in the most horrible reprehensible turnover you have ever seen. One team is dominating, but not capitalizing. In this case, that team is the Cardinals. Luckily, one swing can turn things around for the Phils right now.

6:25 PM EST: I'm sure the Phillies aren't as nervous as I am. But I'm celebrating at bats that go over 3 pitches before they are even over right now. It just looks ugly. Chooch gets the first 3 ball count of the game (celebrating) and smokes a gounder in the hole, but Furcal made a nice back hand stab. I'm also celebrating hard hit balls even when they are not hits. That's where we're at with this game right now. Nothin nothin - mid 5.

6:33 PM EST: After a 2 out Pujols double, Lance Berkman chopped a grounder to Ryan Howard at first. He managed to make it out of the batter's box, but not much further. Nice hustle bro.

6:39 PM EST: Caught on tape: Dave Duncan, Cards pitching coach, sharpening his pencil by biting it. Rollins has possibly the best "at-bat" I have seen all game, but pops out to left on a full count.

6:40 PM EST:
"So Garcia looks good"
"We just make him look good"

Conversations happening at my house right now.

6:44 PM EST: Wow! Serious disrespect! After an Utley single and wild pitch to advance him to 2nd they intentionally walk Hunter Pence for Ryan Howard!! See if this pays off for La Russa...

6:46 PM EST: Well, at least he did not K after immediately falling behind 0-2. Howard grounds out to Pujols in a somewhat close play at first. He hustled more than Berkman, that's for sure. At least the Phils showed a little life in that inning.

6:48 PM EST: Sample texts I received after the slap in the face from La Russa to Howard and the subsequent out Howard produced.

"I would be mad if i didn't know that was going to happen"
"That was embarrassing. I am embarrassed for Ryan"

6:50 PM EST: Talk about embarrassing. Jon Jay just Ked for the 3rd time today. 2nd looking.

6:52 PM EST: I have to laugh. Jose Molina swung and violently missed at a 3-0 change up from Hamels. 2 pitches later he struck out. That was the definition of a green light.

6:54 PM EST: The camera catches a squirrel running around on the field. He ran next to the stands and in an effort to be "the dumbest fan in the stadium" a fan reached down as if he was going to pick up the damn thing. Get a clue buddy, that squirrel would literally bite your finger off.

6:56 PM EST: Talking about the Phillies great arms and Dick Stockton says, "That's why they call them stoppers, they stop losing streaks."

Thanks man.

6:59 PM EST: After getting the first 2 outs, Hamels gives up a single and a full count walk after an 0-2 count. You have the feeling this is his last batter regardless of what happens. 111 pitches. Himey at the plate. Worley up in the pen.

7:02 PM EST: Hamels gets through 6 innings without giving up a run. I expect to see Worley out there next inning. This game is all but officially out of Cole Hamels hands and he did everything the Phillies needed him to do, and more. The offense has to do its part.

7:04 PM EST: "I feed my lawn in the fall. Because that's when it likes to be fed." Scotts is such a great sponsor.

7:07 PM EST: Clueless announcers talking about sacrifice bunting John Mayberry after a leadoff single from Victorino. Mayberry is 3rd in slugging in the NL since his call up in July. The two guys ahead of him are Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki. Do those guys sac bunt?

7:13 PM EST: DIck Stockton "You metioned how ineffective Ben Francisco had been as a pinch hitter this season" Well. Benny turned into Matt Stairs and just hit a 3 RUN PINCH HIT HOME RUN!! 3-0 Phillies. The stadium went quiet, like Lloyd Christmas just killed an owl quiet. In one of the better second guesses we will ever have for Tony La Russa, he chose to intentionally walk Carlos Ruiz to get to Franciso. 3-0 Phillies. Rollins follows with a double over John Jay's head in center. Top 7.

7:21 PM EST: Is it me or are the "Education Connection" (sing it like you know how!) commercials, the cheesiest most corny, and did I mention basically useless? commercials you have ever seen. Vance Worley is on the mound to start the bottom of the 7th.

7:26 PM EST: Pujols cannot be stopped. A bloop piece of &#* fell in between Utley and Pence to put runners on 1st and 2nd after a 1 out walk. Berkman up. Tense at bat. Rich Dubee comes out to talk to the rookie. Berkman has a serious look at the plate. I'm not sure what he is doing with that M.I.T. (Mullet In Training) look going.

7:32 PM EST: After Berkman grounded into a first pitch fielder's choice, David Freese singled up the middle to give the Cards their first run of the game. Worley retired Yadier Molina on a fly ball to right and the game is headed to the 8th with the Phils sending Pence, Howard, Victorino to the plate. As you can imagine, the mood has lightened considerably but this game is (to get as cliche as possible) far from over.

7:35 PM EST: I put the last post up at 7:32 directly at the beginning of the top of the 8th. I post this at 7:35. 1-2-3, yet again for the Phils offense.

7:43: Antonio Bastardo is on the mound for Vance Worley. Worley gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Theriot who is 4-4 and yet to hit a ball hard. Bastardo was having one of the most dominant season a reliever could have until the last month when he struggled. This could get interesting.

7:48 PM EST: The chess match is on between Charlie Manuel and La Russa. Bastardo did his job and got John Jay to fly out. La Russa sends up pinch-hitter Matt Holliday who has been sidelined with a finger injury. Manuel counters with former closer Brad Lidge. Unfortunately for Charlie, Lidge gives up a single to Holliday. First and second for the Cardinals with 1 out in the 8th. Lidge has had an up and down history to say the least, but has been good for the most part this season. He is no stranger to these pressure situations.

7:55 PM EST: Hard to handle these situations. Lidge gives up back-to-back base hits to load the bases. Stomach is in knots. Manuel is going to Ryan Madson for a 5 out save. Something we haven't seen all year, so you know, it is probably a good idea right? Trying to concentrate on breathing...

7:59 PM EST: 2 pitches. 2 outs. Madson spins a pair and gets Allen Craig to ground into a 4-6--, make that an unconventional 4-3 double play. For some reason Chase did not want to make a 10 foot flip to Rollins and he ran the hard-hit ball over to 2nd and fired to Howard. Inning over. Pujols strraaaannnndddeeeedddd on deck, left to lead off the 9th inning. 3-1 Phillies top 9. If you are a Phillies fan, it doesn't get much better.

6-7-8 up for the Phils in the 9th. Madson will have to bat if the Phils can manage to not go in order.

8:02 PM EST: TBS showed the double play replay when the broadcast came back on. Bob Brenly comments "We mentioned the Cardinals led the wwwoooorrrrlllddd in double plays at the beginning of the telecast." Good stuff. Pujols has led the league in GIDPs for years now. That happens when you pepper infielders with scorched ground balls and you are not that fleet afoot.

8:08 PM EST: Madson got his chance to strike out and he came through. Now he has a chance to save the game, let's see if he can come through on that as well. Due up in the bottom of the 9th for the Cards: Pujols, Berkman, Freese. It's go time.

8:11 PM EST: My God Pujols is a machine. First pitch of the 9th inning he lines a double into the corner in left. Is he human? 4 hits today. 3 doubles. Berkman stands in as the guy who can tie the game with one swing. Had to be a tense 9th right?

8:16 PM EST: Berkman flies out to center. Freese grounds out to second. Pujols at third. Yadier "I love me a neck-tat" Molina stands between the Phils and a 2-1 series lead. Fans are chanting but have a glazed look for the most part.

8:18 PM EST: I just threw up a little in my mouth. Molina singles to center. 3-2 Phillies. Kyle Lohse in to run for Molina. Ha! Ryan "luckies hits all day" Theriot stands in to try and extend the game.

8:21 PM EST: Theriot grounds out to Chase Utley. Phils win 3-2. Good night. Game over. Drive home safely.

8:25 PM EST: I have to say that I did not approve of sending Madson out for a 5 out save when he has not done it all season, but it managed to work out anyway. Hamels and Francisco get it done. 2-1 Phils in the series with Little Roy on the mound tomorrow. Let's gooo!

8:37 PM EST: Watching the Charlie Manuel press conference. It is going something like this. "We played good. He played good" You have to love Charlie Manuel, I know I do.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Well, it is finally here, the month we have all been waiting for. October is starting this weekend and so are the Major League Baseball playoffs. The Phillies have finally reached the first weekend of the postseason and they did so in a fashion we all knew they would/could/should. I had to alter my original thoughts after the most incredible night of baseball in my lifetime last night. The night included some of the most insane/ridiculous/amazing endings I have ever witnessed.

The Rays scored 7 runs in the last two innings, and eventually pulled out a walkoff homerun victory courtesy of Evan Longoria’s second home run of the night. This win clinched the wild card for the Rays because the Red Sox and closer Jonathan Paplebon managed to blow a one run lead against the lowly Orioles in the 9th inning. The Red Sox had been 76-0 this season when entering the 9th inning with the lead. In the National League plenty of drama played out as well, directly involving the “playing for not much reason at all” Phillies and the division rival Atlanta Braves. The Braves, like the Red Sox, entered the final game of the season tied with a team (the Cardinals) that they led by more than 9 games at the beginning of the month. After rookie sensation closer Craig Kimbrel failed to reach the strike zone enough times in the 9th inning the Phils tied the score in the 9th on a bases loaded Chase Utley sac fly. Bam! Kimbrel blows the save and the scene in Atlanta resembled air getting let out of a balloon, but uglier. Like kids crying and grown men staring in disbelief ugly. Hunter Pence managed to fist an RBI single between first and second in the 13th inning and that’s all she wrote for the 2011 Atlanta Braves. This win gave the Phillies 102-60 record - the best record in the 129 year history of the team! It also moved Charlie Manuel past the not-so-fondly-remembered Gene Mauch into the number one position on the all-time wins list for Phillies managers (Manuel did it in 195 less games 646-488 compared to Gene Mauch’s 645-684 career record, no big deal). If the Houston Astros managed to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night the Braves could have gotten rolled on one more time in a one-game-playoff Thursday night, but Chris Carpenter and the Cards won 8-0. DING DING DING!! Tell them what they’ve won! A first round date with the best team in baseball starting at 5:07 EST at Citizen’s Bank Park Saturday afternoon. Roy Halladay will take on Jamie (pronounced Hi Me) Garcia.

There are a few things I need to address before we delve into the playoff preview, so let’s get them out of the way. Almost all summer I thought about writing a piece about what it would be like if the Phillies do not win the World Series this year. I know it is an ugly prospect for me, but I cannot imagine how my father would deal with it. He was beside himself last night watching the Phils struggle to score in the final game, which technically meant nothing. In so many ways the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies were built to win in the postseason, and we have known that since December when the Phillies managed to win the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. We knew this team would be the favorite to win in spring training, and in April, and at the All-Star Game, and certainly heading into the postseason. I do not believe there was one point during that time where we felt bad about what the Phils were doing on the field (I’ll get to the losing streak..). They grabbed first place early and then they took control of the best record in baseball by the time summer started and never relinquished. There was a period in June and July where they did not lose back-to-back games for over 50 days. When you have three starters on your squad that comprise half of the top 6 in ERA in the National League , you are bound to win 100 games.

The Phils have faced every challenge they have met head-on and stomped out the competition. In the beginning of September the Phils had built up a solid lead in the division but had still not clinched when they entered into a stretch against the two teams closest to them in the standings, Atlanta and Milwaukee. In games that mattered, they shredded these two teams. They swept the Braves at home outscoring them 18-5 in three games. They then traveled to Milwaukee where the Brewers boasted the best home record in the majors and took three out of four from the team that was supposed to be able to give them fits. They outscored Milwaukee 17-9 in those four games and lost a one-run game in the series finale that prevented the sweep. For all the talk about Milwaukee’s vaunted offense that features the best three-four combination (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder) since Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (2006-2009); they certainly did not make much noise with their bats in that series, barely averaging over two runs per game. This was the greatest Phillies season on record and has provided us diehard baseball fans with our favorite television show for at least 3 hours every night. If we do not win the World Series, there is no doubt that the disappointment will rival that of the Eagles losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. I have some fond memories from that season though, and as long as this season does not end with a called third strike I will try to look at the season in a positive way (ultimately it is an empty feeling). Having said that, I am confident that the Phillies can win the 2011 World Series if the bats produce like they are cabable of producing.

I would not be doing my job if I did not address that minor stumble in the Phillies march to a second championship in four years. After they clinched the division on Saturday September 17th, the Phils managed to lose eight F%#*ING games in a row! Were you panicking? I have to say that I was very frustrated, but I was not panicking. It is hard to imagine that we continued to throw Halladay, Lee, and Hamels out there during that stretch and still managed to lose that many games in a row. I feel that there is a simple explanation for it though. The core group of these guys, Howard, Utley, Rollins, and to a lesser extent Ruiz and Victorino, had not played in a meaningless game in, let me think here? I would say it has been since late 2004 that a Phillies game meant absolutely nothing (In 2005 and 2006 they stayed in the wild card hunt until the last weekends of the season). It has to be a weird feeling for these guys to get up and go to the ballpark and realize that it does not matter whether they win or lose the game that night. Imagine you have been going to work everyday for the last 6 years and at the end of each day your boss kept a score for how you did that day. If you did well, you got a small bonus, if you did poorly, the bonus was taken away. After a set amount of time, if your bonuses add up enough you were rewarded with something, most likely a pay raise. Also, this was not your every day run of the mill job. Your job employs the very best 750 people in the world at your profession and everybody is competing to be the best, because when you are that good at your profession, you need to know these things. If your bonuses did not add up and you did not produce you were most likely fired.

Then one day you come in to work and your boss says, “Hey Johnson, it does not matter how you perform the next two weeks, you have been that good for the past 6 months!”

How would you react to that situation? I might sit a few plays out.. And that is exactly what Charlie Manuel let these guys do, especially the ones that are banged up. During those eight games only one of the Phillies seven every day players (Rollins, Victorino, Polanco, Utley, Howard, Pence, and Ruiz being the seven) played all eight games, and that was the struggling Shane Victorino. The Phillies were putrid offensively during this eight game run, and you can look at Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence playing in one and four games, respectively, for your answer as to why it happened. When Ross Gload, Mike Martinez, Pete Orr, and Wilson Valdez are starting almost every day you cannot expect wins every day. Admittedly, eight losses in a row was tough to take, but once the lineup was back intact for the last four games of the season we saw what the Phils are cable of, especially with Jimmy Rollins racking up hits in the leadoff spot.

The Cardinals are following the blueprint they made for their World Series winning 2006 season (although they do have a better record than they did that year) by getting hot at the end of the season and riding that momentum to a wild card berth. It is a different game now that it was then though. Take a look at all these stats they are coming out with now that the season is officially over: Teams averaged 4.28 runs per game this year, lowest since 1992. Teams averaged .94 home runs a game this year (each team), also lowest since 1992. The major league batting average was .255, the lowest since 1989. The major league ERA was 3.94, once again lowest since 1992. In other words, nobody is taking steroids any more and pitchers are ahead of hitters on this whole learning curve, crazy technology side of baseball. ESPN Baseball writer Jayson Stark wrote a very detailed article about how the iPad was revolutionizing the game. It gives hitters and pitchers so much detailed information via videos, graphs, and spreadsheets that can be sorted every which way it is like Moneyball 2.0 these days.

This technology phenomenon baffles me a bit though. When you take a look at these numbers that pitchers are throwing up you have to assume they have the advantage of knowing how to get players out. But why is that the case if hitters have the same exact information? Bare with me on this and understand my thought process on my favorite player, Ryan Howard. Think about how much you think about why Ryan Howard struggles to make contact at the plate. Then think about how much he must think about it. You know it has to be absolutely killing him to strike out/ground into the shift as much as he does, but for some reason there is a disconnect in his brain when it comes to breaking balls. I’m not going to speculate on why he struggles with them, just know that he does. If he knows that he is going to see breaking ball, after breaking ball, after breaking ball because he can look at reports like this, why does he keep swinging? I am not sure, just know I put way too much thought into it. So, offensive numbers are down this year, significantly. Although it is a rather arbitrary comparison, let’s take a look at the numbers for Howard and the Cardinals super duper star Albert Pujols, in 2006 (The year Pujols led the Cardinals to their most recent World Series title) and 2011.

Ryan Howard
2006: .313 AVG / .425 OBP / .659 SLG / 1.084 OPS / 58 HR / 149 RBI / 108 BB / 104 R / 181 K
2011: .253 AVG / .356 OBP / .488 SLG / .834 OPS / 33 HR / 116 RBI / 75 BB / 81 R / 172 K

Albert Pujols
2006: .331 AVG / .421 OBP / .609 SLG / 1.101 OPS / 49 HR / 137 RBI / 92 BB / 119 R / 50 K
2011: .299 AVG / .366 OBP / .541 SLG / .907 OPS / 37 HR / 99 RBI / 61 BB / 105 R / 58K

Yikes, from the looks of these stats both these guys are falling off quite a bit. Good thing for Ryan Howard (maybe not necessarily the Phillies in some people’s opinion) he already got paid. I believe Albert turned down something in the $250 million range at the beginning of this season. Good luck having that work out after setting career lows in such notable categories as hits, doubles, triples, RBI, BB, Batting Average, On base percentage, slugging, and OPS (OPS goes without saying when on base and slugging are both career lows, but I wanted to throw that on there too). I assume, no I actually know, that most people I interact with are very scared about a Ryan Howard decline. How do people in St. Louis feel about giving Pujols 200+ million after a season like that? Before you call me out by saying that Pujols spent time on the DL this season I will point out that Pujols did not set a career low this year in games. He played in 147 games this year compared to 143 in 2006. Wow, 49 home runs in 143 games that year, not bad!

So offense is down, we’ve gone over it, ad nauseam. The Phillies pitching staff contributed quite a bit to those believe-it-or-not offensive numbers mentioned earlier. The combination of Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt starting the first four games of this series is a daunting prospect for the National League’s best offensive team. The combination of Albert Pujols, and Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman is also not something I am looking forward to, but the Phils faced the best offensive team in the National League last year in the first round and most of us can remember how that series went. If not, I can refresh your memory.

The first game of the series looks to be a pitcher’s duel. Roy Halladay will be pitching on extra rest in game one against Jamie Garcia, like I mentioned earlier. Halladay went 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 14 innings pitched against the Cardinals this year and is 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 4 career starts. Jamie Garcia has had an impressive run in his career against the Phils. This year he did not receive a decision but posted a .60 ERA in 15 innings, and during his career Garcia is 2-1 in 6 games (4 starts) with a 1.20 ERA over 30 innings. Garcia is left-handed and does not have any postseason experience.

I would love to go into more detail on all of this and take a look the other pitching matchups but the Cardinals have not announced who will start games two and three at this point. It will most likely be Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter but not necessarily in that order. Cliff Lee will take the mound Sunday night for the Phils and Cole Hamels will toe the rubber Tuesday night in St. Louis.

I hope to get a review of the two weekend games out in between games two and three. My prediction is the Phillies in 4. Until next time… Go Phils!

*** My good friend Dusty just pointed out some breaking news for game 1. The Cardinals have decided to throw Kyle Lohse (14-8 3.39 ERA) in game 1. Lohse went 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings against the Phils this year. Lohse is a former Phllie who pitched in the 2007 NLDS sweep at the hands of the Rockies. He does not strike fear into the Phils batters quite the way Garcia has and he does not have dominating stuff. This matchup just tipped much heavier into the Phillies favor in my opinion. ***

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Vanimal

I have gotten several requests from my readers to write an entry about the Phillies fifth starter, Vance “The Vanimal” Worley. After last night’s rain drenched victory, I have finally decided to relent.

Where do you start with this guy? Well, we can start at the beginning of the season when he was not on my, or really anybody else’s radar for that matter. Save probably Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel. Do you get the feeling that those two may be the smartest baseball guys in the room at all times? Just figure that Worley, and moves like playing John Mayberry Jr. during his recent hot streak, while still giving Raul Ibanez enough at bats are not things to be taken lightly. These guys have a plan, and they are executing it.

Needless to say, the plan at the beginning of the season did not involve a bespectacled mohawked rookie running rampant all over the National League. The guy is rocking the 2010s version of Kurt Rambis rec specs, and yet, manages to pull it off. The Phillies looked to be set at starting pitcher with the obvious big four, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Joe Blanton would be the fifth starter and Kyle Kendrick (all he does is win games, 42-30 career record) would be insurance if they needed it. A myriad of injuries to the bullpen, as well as Oswalt and Blanton, thrust Worley into the rotation a month into the season.

Worley made his Major League debut April 29th against the New York Mets in Philadelphia. He went six innings of scoreless ball, gave up two hits (two hits!?!?), four walks (tied for the most he has given up all year), struck out five and picked up the win in a 10-3 victory over the queens from Queens. He picked up three more wins in May, one as a starter, and two in relief.

In mid-May Roy Oswalt returned from his first stint on the disabled list so Worley was sent back down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to continue starting games. Oswalt’s return to the able list was short-lived and Worley found himself back with the big club within a week or so. He had a tough start against Cincinnati on May 24th, when he gave up three runs in five innings and received a no-decision in a Phillies loss. Another rough start followed, his second worst of the season. He gave up five runs in just three innings to the Mets in a 9-5 loss. His record dropped to 2-1 for the season. That game was played on May 29th. Since that game, Vance Worley has made fourteen starts for the Phillies. The Phillies record in those games: 14-0. I have to blink a few times whenever I read that somewhere else, so I hope you are doing the same.

Let’s list some records shall we? No team has won 14 consecutive games started by a rookie since Cincinnati did it for Joe Simpson in 1970. The Phillies have not won this many consecutive starts for any pitcher since a guy named Steve Carlton won 15 straight for the hapless 1972 Phillies. Those are triple-take stats. At this point in the season, Worley is 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA.

Obviously, on the surface Worley has been an outstanding pitcher this season, but it is also the way he has gone about it that makes him unique in my mind. He was born in 1987 and will celebrate his 24th birthday later this month. He stepped into a rotation that already had two Cy Young winners (Halladay, Lee), an NLCS/WS MVP (Hamels), and the guy who leads the National League in wins over the last ten years (Oswalt). I haven’t even seen Vance flinch under that kind of intimidating presence. Obviously, I am not in the clubhouse with these guys, but I have to figure that the veteran staff has taken Worley under their wings and made him one of their own. He is always smiling in the dugout with his hat not quite on all the way, chewing on sunflower seeds, and most likely scoping chicks in the crowd with Shane Victorino. If you’re 23 and killing it for the Phillies, wouldn’t that be what you were doing if you only played once every five days?

On the mound, Worley is all business. This is one of the most impressive pages I have seen on espn.com. He picked up three straight inter-league wins in June. The Phllies have historically been between not-good and awful in inter-league play so this was pretty good. The way he did it was borderline unbelievable. He picked up the only win the Phillies got in a three game series in Seattle, a 5-1 victory in which he went five innings and gave up just the one run. In his next start against Oakland, he went six innings and gave up a goose egg in a 1-0 Phillies victory. The Phillies offense was not exactly clicking during this part of the season so the pitchers knew there was little margin for error. This obviously did not faze The Vanimal. His third and final start in June was against the perennial AL East power Boston Red Sox. What did he do against the best offense in baseball you ask? He went seven innings, gave up one measly run and struck out five in a 2-1 Phillies victory.

Turn the page on the calendar to July and things really just got better for this young man from Sacramento. Worley went 4-0 in five July starts. He pitched 35.1 innings, struck out 29, and recorded a 2.04 ERA. The highlights of these starts included a marvelous eight innings of one run ball in the most oppressive heat of the year in Chicago. This was the series that Roy Halladay finally snapped his streak of pitching at least six innings in road starts that spanned over 50 starts due to heat frustration. Worley shrugged off the day game 100 + degree weather and went to work. I remember tweeting after the Cubs series “Vance Worley was better than Halladay and Lee in this series.” That is pretty much the highest praise you can get in baseball. His next start, against the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants was his best of the season. He pitched a complete game in San Francisco while giving up two runs and striking out five and improved his record to 7-1. I kept texting my friend Bob before every Worley start. “I know he cannot keep this going. He is going to get blown up.” Bob agreed, but for some reason it just has not happened. Even in his worst start of the year, a day game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers in which Worley gave up six runs in four innings, the Phillies rallied behind him and came back to win 9-8.

After this many impressive starts, Worley can no longer really be considered a fluke. If he had enough starts to qualify for the league leaders only eight starters that are not on his team have a better ERA than he does. Unfortunately for Vance, the Rookie of the Year race is out of control this year. The Braves have a pair of guys, in first baseman Freddie Freeman (.291/ 18 HRs / 64 RBI) and closer Craig Kimbrel (rookie saves record at 42 and counting – tops in the NL) who are possibly more deserving of the award than he is.

Having said all this about Worley, it is crazy to think about just how good the Phillies pitching staff is. There is little to no chance, despite all of the numbers and wins he has racked up, that Worley will get a start in a playoff game for the Phillies. It is a testament to the pitching staff that they can afford to leave a guy who is pitching this well out of the rotation. The big three of Doc, Lee, and Hamels will certainly start the first three games of every playoff series, and with a ton of postseason and big game experience, Roy Oswalt will almost certainly get the nod for a game four start in the playoffs. It will be nice to know that we have Vance waiting in the bullpen, ready to go if a starter is having an off night, or if the Phils have to go through some god-awful rain delay that would force a starter from the game. Confidence is the key out there, we know Vance has it, and as a fan base we should have it in him.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tiger Did What?!?

Today marked the start of the first Major golf tournament Tiger Woods played in since April’s Masters. His long lay off from knee, calf, achillies, sex, and caddy issues ended last week in a lackluster performance at the WGC Firestone Invitational. Woods had won that event 7 times prior to last week and has won over $9 million at that tournament alone. I shrugged off his above par (can’t use subpar to mean bad in golf) performance as rust. I knew he probably did not have a great shot at winning this week at “Glory’s Last Shot” aka the season’s final major, but I still thought he would compete.

I woke up to a text from my father that said Tiger tees off at 8:30 am and the coverage does not start until 1 pm. He is on vacation this week and able to watch a lot more than usual, so he was rather frustrated by the timing of things. Luckily for him, there was great online coverage that was solely following Tiger’s group of seemingly over-the-hill stars of the PGA tour. Woods was playing with former major winners Davis Love 3rd and Paddy Harrington. Tiger’s round started like any other major that he played (circa 2000) and he rolled in a 20 footer for birdie on the 10th hole, his first of the day. A par followed, and then another birdie and he was looking good at 2 under through 3 holes. Woods then made mince meat out of the par 4 14th hole and stuck his approach to 5 feet on his way to his third birdie in 5 holes and, believe it or not, he had a brief share of the lead at that point. Man, I looked at his scorecard at that point and I had the same feeling I have when Ryan Howard hits a home run. It is excitement coupled with the fact that your favorite player is doing what you want him to do. If you’re a big sports fan, it does not get much better than this feeling. So, from the highest of highs at this juncture in the round, Tiger Woods fell, and fell quickly. I could come up with any cliche in the book to explain what happened to Woods from that point on, especially for a man who was once indestructible. So I’ll let this clip do the talking. America was collectively playing the David Spade role in that scenario. Woods D-RAILED after his hot start.

He had to have been feeling good standing on the 15th tee at 3 under par and swinging the club well. The 15th is a ridiculously long par 3, 260 yards (longest in major championship history, to be exact) with water right and trouble left. For a long time I have been a firm proponent that a real man does not hit a wood off a par 3 tee (much to the chagrin of my distance challenged father), but even I may have made an exception on this one. Woods did not, and his tee shot on this hole was the beginning of a very ugly end. I assume he hit a 2 iron, if he carries one, if not it was a 3, but he flared it out to the right and it found the water hazard. He then had a 100 yard shot and a chance to get up and down to save bogey. He yanked that 15 feet left of the pin and then left his bogey putt a foot short. I’m not sure if you are aware, but 90% of putts left short don’t go in. It was just as much a mental mistake for Woods to leave that putt short as it was physical. Nevertheless, he had the hot start so he was still 1 under par and not out of anything. Woods found a fairway bunker with his next drive which led to another bogey and dropped him to even par for the tournament. No big deal, it’s Tiger Woods, he’ll right the ship. Well, from there he actually wronged the ship. He made par at 17 and then, brace yourself, he went double bogey at 18, bogey at 1, and another bogey at 2. That is a 6 hole stretch played in 7 over par, and he wasn’t done yet. After a par on the third hole, he bogeyed 4, and then he made a nice birdie at the par 5 5th to get him to +4 through 14 holes and hopefully give him some momentum. Unfortunately, he blocked his umpteenth drive of the day right into a bunker and did a nice job of catching his approach fat and letting it land a good 20 yards short of the green in the water. Another. Double. Bogey. He managed to make pars at 7 and 8, but for good measure he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on 9 and made bogey for an opening round 7 over 77, that’s an avalanche of strokes. Take a look at this scorecard, to borrow a phrase from the Rolling Stones, she’s like a rainbow. If only he could have thrown an eagle in there we would have seen the entire color spectrum on that card. Sheesh. 3 doubles, 5 bogeys, and 4 birdies do not make for a happy Tiger.

I made it home for lunch when the television coverage started at 1 pm and they were showing the high, I mean lowlights of his round. I was shocked by his body language. I was expecting Happy Gilmore, or at least Tiger Woods like outbursts and temper tantrums, but he was for the most part stoic while hitting shit shot after shit shot. Not Tiger’s style. I don’t assume to know what goes through Tiger Woods’ head, but when he was winning once every three or four starts and apparently sleeping with any woman who gave him a second look, he had to have been thinking about a lot out there right? Woods had to have been really good at compartmentalizing everything that was going on in his life. He was obviously juggling a wife (who figured out what he was doing eventually), two kids, an endless string of extramarital affairs, and oh yeah, being the best damn golfer who ever lived. Now, what’s going on in his life? He fired his caddy. Charles Barkley has publicly called him out for not being a good friend. He fired his swing coach. He has been hurt, or sort of hurt, for three years, and he has not won a tournament for two. The only things he has to worry about now are his kids and his game. I am not in any way recommending doing what Tiger Woods did off the course, but you have to wonder if the thrill and excitement of all the play he was getting while sneaking around kept him sharp on the course. Because right now, he ain’t crisp.

Reader Participation - Take another look at the picture at the top of the blog. At that point in the round he is riding high at 3 under par, and although he probably did not know it, he briefly held the lead for a few minutes. In the comment section, give me your best caption for this picture.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's Hunting Season

For the first time in recent memory I did not think the Phillies needed to add anybody to their roster in a trade deadline deal. The Phils have had the best record in baseball for almost the entire season and they did that without getting much of anything from one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Roy Oswalt. Oswalt will be back in the rotation starting this week after missing the last two months with back issues. Phillies GMs have had busy Julys for the last five plus years, if my memory serves me correctly, the Phils added Jamie Moyer in 2006, Kyle Loshe in 2007, “Fat” Joe Blanton in 2008, a washed up but wily Pedro Martinez in 2009, and of course Roy Oswalt in 2010. I’m not sure of the exact number, but that is probably something like 500 combined wins from those pitchers in their careers. Each year I was excited by the moves, to varying degrees, I mean how excited could you be when you get a chubby guy from Oakland who was 4-12 with a 5+ ERA at the time (Blanton), or some guy who made his first ever start against Steve Carlton (Moyer), but nevertheless I thought all of the moves were justified and would help us. With the exception of the stink bomb Pedro threw up in the deciding game six of the 09 World Series, and a shaky start from Loshe in the 2007 sweep at the hands of the Rockies, these guys came through. Hell, Blanton hit a World Series home run. But this year I thought was different. All five of those acquired players were pitchers, and as the saying goes you can never have enough pitching, but the Phillies are as close as you can be to proving that saying wrong. I know the offense has struggled at times, but I did not want to give up on Dom Brown despite the fact that he catches every fly ball like he is scared that he is going to completely miss it and it could hit him in the head. Have you seen his move where he will catch a ball that is on the left side of his body with his lanky right arm reaching all the way across his even lankier frame as if he couldn’t possibly get underneath the damn thing? What’s he thinkin there?!? His penchant for popping up foul to the third baseman with some sort of back-elbow-dipping loopy swing was freaking me out as well, but I digresse. I also thought the emergence of Vance Worley was too much of a good thing to give up on immediately even though there is a large likelihood that his stock is as high as it will ever be. So, whenever anybody asked me, “Who do you want to see us get?” or “What do you think we need?” I told them all that I think we should stand pat because if we can’t win with this team, we can’t win. Period.

Quick tangent. Can anybody believe the Yankees did not make a move at the deadline? Their GM’s name is CASH(!)man. I just hope they know starting CC in three out of five games in the ALDS could be detrimental to his health.

Everybody knows that the bearded flight of Jayson Werth to Citizen’s Bank Park South, erruhh Nationals Park left a sizeable void in the fifth spot in the Phillies lineup. If a righty starts against the Phillies, the lineup is chock full of left-handed bats. Most notably their run producing, All-Star combo of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Their spots as the number three and four hitters respectively are non-negotiable in the batting order when they are healthy. Werth created the ideal situation as a protector of these two, a right-handed power bat who worked counts and struck a solid amount of fear into opposing pitchers. It was a huge bonus to know that if a manager brought in a lefty to face Utley and Howard, he would have to make another trip out if Utley and Howard did any damage because that manager would not want to give Werth the opportunity to hit a southpaw. Werth provided possibly the most important asset this offense needs: protection for The Big Piece. If you watch the game, it is clear that Ryan Howard would much rather hit fastballs off the face of the bricks out in center than flail away helplessly because some goofy looking dude sprinted in from the bullpen and threw him Frisbee like breaking balls down and away. Have you seen that happen? So Charlie has used a lot of different guys in the five hole this year, mostly Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. They did a decent enough job, but the lineup certainly did not have the same feel as it did the past few years with the Utley, Howard, Werth trio penciled in at 3, 4, and 5. I did not think that this mattered though because of the studs we had on the hill each night.

The two biggest names being bandied about as July wore on were the Mets’ rightfielder and consummate under-achiever Carlos Beltran and the “tweaker” as my friends lovingly refer to as Hunter Pence. Beltran is a proven commodity and brings five tools to the table but is only under contract for the rest of the season and an acquisition of him would basically equate to a 2 (to 3) month rental. Also, Beltran signed a giant contract and had solid years for the Mets but you never felt like he was playing up to what he was capable of, save his first year as a Met, and the first half of this season. Other than his contract status, the main knock on Beltran was that he was a Met. And that’s all I have to say about that. Hunter Pence was a guy that I feared in Houston. I knew he looked, threw, and ran in an unorthodox manner but I also knew he was a .300 hitter with power who could also steal some bases. Nevertheless, I was standing firm in my assertion that we were fine as is.

Then, while we were in the midst of a three game series against the San Francisco Giants, the team that beat us in the NLCS last year and went on to win the World Series, the team that boasted nobody with more than nine home runs at the time of the trade, the team that had enough pitching despite their putrid (if you think the Phillies are frustrating on offense you would not want to live in San Fran, as I write this the Giants have scored 384 runs compared to the Phillies 471) offense to sit atop the NL West, yeah, that team, went out and picked up Carlos Beltran. He immediately became their leader or second best player in every meaningful offensive category; batting average, home runs, RBIs, on base %, OPS, you name it (oh yeah, he leads the NL in doubles). Needless to say, this was a big time acquisition for the only team the Phillies have a right to not feel absolutely great about facing in the playoffs. This move forced Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro’s hand. To use another gratuitous poker reference, the Phils are pot committed on this season and it would be alright for them to mortgage a bit of their future in order to win it all this season. The same is true for the next two seasons. Too much money is invested on players that are nearing the end of their primes for the Phils to not lay it all on the line each season. Although I did not necessarily want to get rid of Vance Worley or Domonic Brown, for the reasons above I knew I would grit and bare it if they had to go in order to get Pence. Luckily, Ruben Amaro appears to be one of these, and we landed what is possibly the best possible fit for our offense in Hunter Pence without giving up any Major League players. Maybe Ed Wade is just one of these though, either way I’ll take it (Ed Wade is former Phillies GM and current Houston Astros GM). So, the Phils acquired Hunter Pence on Friday night and he was in uniform for Saturday night’s game against the Pirates. The Phils are 4-0 with Pence in the lineup and he got to play in two come-from-behind extra inning wins on Sunday and Monday. What must be going through that kid’s head? He went from the worst team in baseball to the best team in baseball. The Phils last two wins are the kind of wins they will talk about on the 2011 season DVD. Right now the Phils are finding ways to win. One 2-run homer at a time.

Update - Howard has obviously benefitted from Hunter Pence's presence behind him in the lineup. Since Pence joined the team, Howard has gone 9-22 with 4 home runs, 4 doubles, and 9 RBIs. The Phils have won six straight, sweeping both the Pirates and the Rockies, and Pence has yet to lose a game as a Phillie.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies - At the Break

Editor’s Note: This post was written over the course of several days during the All-Star break.

At the official midpoint of the season (81 games), the Phillies were the only team in Major League Baseball with 50 wins. There were 50-31. Now that we are at the unofficial midpoint of the season, the annual midsummer classic that is the All-Star game, the Phils still have the best record in all of baseball at 57-34. They have won 6 straight series 2-1. Although they could not break through with a long winning streak in the last 21 games, they lost two in a row only once (to the Mariners 7 series ago). They won the first game of each of the last 6 series. When you do that, you have a good chance to take two of three and a .667 winning percentage would translate to 108 wins. Two teams in Phillies history have won 100 games and this team seems poised to do just that despite the following.

Number one closer Brad Lidge has yet to pitch in the Majors this season.

Jose Contrares was named as the closer at the start of the season but soon landed on the DL.

Ryan Madson took over the closer’s role and was doing an admirable job until he landed on the DL a few weeks ago.

Fourth ace Roy Oswalt has only made 13 starts and was not overly effective when he did pitch, 4-6 with a 3.79 era. He has landed on the DL as well with back issues and his commitment to the team has been questioned.

Fifth wheel starter Joe Blanton has only made 6 starts and has been sidelined for almost all of the season with elbow issues.

Chase Utley missed the first two months of the season with knee tendinitis and has played 41 of a possible 91 games. He just recently started playing every single day and his production has gone up.

The Phillies have 5 all-stars this season; none of them are named Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, or Chase Utley. (Thanks Bob)

Despite their best two offensive games occurring in the last week (18 hits and 14 runs vs. the Marlins, and in the rubber match of the three game series against the division rival Braves they threw up 14 runs and 20 hits) the Phils are still hitting only .250, good enough for 10th out of 16 teams in the NL. They are 9th in home runs (78), 9th in slugging percentage (.382), and 8th in OPS – on base percentage + slugging percentage (.705). They were first or second in these categories from 2006-2009. They are averaging 4.2 runs per game, down more than half a run from their offensive glory years.

Of their five all-stars, the only position players that made the squad were voted in by fans rather than peers. Placido Polanco was voted to become the starter at third base but will not play due to injury, and Shane Victorino won the final All-Star vote and became the fifth Phillie to join the team.

So far I have gone through only discouraging aspects of the season. We all know why the Phillies can S the B as bad as they have on offense and still toy with the National League like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did to the NBA in the 90s (Quick NBA tangent. Did you realize the Bulls went 25-1 in playoff series in the 90s when Jordan played? Trivia Question: Who was the only team to beat a Jordan/Pippen led Bulls’ squad in the 1990s? – Answer at the end) The Phillies have amassed the best array of starting pitching on the planet, and boy has it paid off. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all earned their way on to the All-Star team through beyond stellar play. Each player seems to bring a different aspect of cool to the table. While being dominant, they all have unique personalities, but one common trait; a serious desire to win. If you would describe each pitcher and their style in one word, each would be: Halladay – Grinding! Lee – Smooth! Hamels – Sunshine.. Okay, maybe the Hamels one was a stretch, but he is from California and has a much better disposition compared to years past while on the mound.

Roy Halladay is the number one person you can thank for the attitudes the Phillies pitchers carry. He leads by example. Have you seen his demeanor on gameday? He looks more serious than this guy. But, instead of stalking Sarah Connor, he’s stalking the World Series ring his All-Star teammate, Cole Hamels, already has. Players like Halladay and Chase Utley set the tone for greatness with their intensity. Why do you think you see Dom Brown busting down the line on every measly ground ball these days? Because he dogged it a month ago and got a stare like this from everybody in the clubhouse, and to top it off, Charlie Manuel set him down the next day. There is no room for complacency on this squad and this veteran experienced group lets it be known.

So with a three-headed-monster leading the way for the second half this season, let’s give each pertinent Phillie a grade and a breakdown for the first 91 games of the season. The grades will be more based on opinion than stat. Out of the 91 games I would venture to guess that I have watched the majority of 70 of these games. I live with these guys. I see their body language. I see how they react when things go well and when things don’t go well. You cannot look at a stat sheet and think you know everything about a ballplayer’s season. Having said that, Jayson Werth is hitting .215 with a .319 on base percentage, 31 RBI, 10 home runs, 70 hits, and 87 strikeouts in 88 games. No comment.

Roy Halladay – A

What can you say about Doc? We’ll get to the stats… When you wake up in the morning and you know Doc is pitching that day it puts a smile on your face. You know the other team is pretty much screwed if Doc isn’t way off. He is going to give up three runs in seven innings on a bad day, and if the Phils can push across a run or two, three even(!), that they are going to win the game. If he is on? Forget about it. He will break at least four bats and throw cutters that literally saw you off. He goes into the dugout, fresh trim on the red beard, sweating non-stop, throws one arm into the sleeve of his Phils’ jacket, and nobody even thinks about talking to him. The bull likes to finish what he starts. Charlie has gone to the mound two separate times in the ninth inning this season after Halladay allowed baserunners in a tight game and some how Roy stayed on the mound. Charlie knows better than to pull Roy when he still feels good. He lost two straight complete games on the road because the Phils couldn’t score for him, he could easily have 14 wins. As it is, he is tied for second in the NL with 11 (Jair Jurrjens, having a career year, has 12). What else for his stats you ask? Well, they are better than good. He is 1st in innings pitched (143.1), 2nd in strikeouts (138), 1st in complete games (6), 3rd in WHIP – walks and hits per inning pitched, (1.02), and 4th in ERA at 2.45. He is certainly in line to earn back-to-back Cy Young Awards, although he does face some stiff competition in…

Cole Hamels – A+

Man, how far have we come with Cole Hamels? I’d like to see a graph of the Phillies fan’s attitudes on Hamels over the past 5 years. It’s been going up and down more than this guy. He started with an unreal amount of hype and quickly broke his pitching hand in a barfight while in the minors (2006). He had a meteoric rise to the top of the baseball world while winning NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He fell apart by the end of the 2009 postseason and fans labeled him as a head case, but he regained his form in the second half of the 2010 season and threw a complete game shut out to finish off the Reds in the 2010 NLDS. So far this season, he has rode that momentum into the best stretch of his career and he is about to get paid son! Right now Hamels is not worried about the money (but he knows he has plenty of it coming his way). Cole looks like a different person on the mound than he did in prior years. He has finally learned that he cannot control everything in a game, so he concentrates on the things he can control. Namely throwing first pitch strikes and making batters look stupid as they wave at his baffling changeup. As for his numbers, they give the defending Cy Young winner a run for his money. By the way, Halladay is making 20 this year while Hamels is pulling in 9.5, mmmmiilllllliiooonnnnn dddolllllaaarrrrssss . Hamels’ numbers: 2nd in wins (11), 3rd in innings pitched (132), 5th in strikeouts (121), 1st in WHIP (.93), 2nd in ERA (2.32). Yikes! Those are some numbers. Hamels may have been the most consistent lefthander in the NL so far this season, but this guy may have the highest ceiling of everybody in the league.

Cliff Lee – A

Despite the fact that Lee has dazzled more than any other pitcher in the Majors has for a stretch this season, he still has been shaky during more than a couple of starts. Lee had one of the most dominant months a pitcher can have when he went 5-0 in June and threw three straight complete game shut outs and did not allow a run for 34 innings. In the game the streak was broken, at Toronto, Lee gave up three monster home runs in the 8th inning and took the loss. His bad outings like that one, have been more than made up for with the Phillies second longest scoreless innings streak ever and a career high 16 strikeouts in a May game against the Braves (In 7 innings and he took the loss no less). Lee is a strike thrower, first and foremost, and when he misses his spots he can get hit hard and it generally happens quickly. Lee also has impressed at the plate this season. During that stretch in June he had given up zero runs in three straight starts and had 2 RBI. Read that sentence again. Just this past weekend he was the first ace to break through with a home run, sadly it was the only run the Phils scored in their lost to the Braves Saturday. Lee’s stats, like the other two, are impressive. 7th in wins (9), 2nd in innings pitched (137.1, if you’re counting, we have the top three in this category), 3rd in strikeouts (137), 2nd in complete games (4), 5th in WHIP (1.06), and 7th in ERA (2.82).

Flabbergasting – is the only word I can come up with for the numbers these guys put up in the first half. It feels good to have them out there.

Jimmy Rollins – B

Every time you think Jimmy may have lost it he makes “an-unbelievable-no-way-he-can-get-him-deep-in-the-hole-backhand-plant-and-fire-play” and you know.. that Jimmy Rollins can still do the things he has for the past 10 years in Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong, Jimmy has lost a step, but his defense is still well above average and for some reason, I can’t quite explain it, but I feel good when he is up in clutch situations. There might not be another guy I want up there with the game on the line. All of the Phillies have come through with their share of clutch/game-winning hits, we wouldn’t be the kind of team we are if we did not have everybody contributing, but I like Jimmy’s “sense of the moment” mentality more than the rest of the guys. Utley approaches all at-bats the same it seems, Victorino is too nuts to feel the gravity of big time situations, and Howard is not quite a good enough hitter average wise, although he comes through even when you think he won’t, doesn’t he? Back to Jimmy, like I said in my season preview, we know that he likes to swing at the first pitch after the pitcher walked the last two guys on 9 pitches. We know he swings for the fences a bit and does not work counts enough, but when he is on we are tough to beat. Jimmy has put up a tad below average numbers, but going into this season we had no clue what to expect after he played in only 88 games last year (he has played in 87 games this year) and his production had dipped a bit. As it stands right now, Jimmy is projected to have approximately 90 runs, 170 hits, 25 doubles, 15 home runs, 60 rbis, and 35 steals if he finishes the season playing every day. I would take that in a heartbeat. He is currently hitting .268 after riding his hottest streak of the season into the break, hopefully he can continue it on to a big second half. He earns a B because his ceiling is obviously higher, but he could be playing much worse or not at all if he continued to get injured.

Shane Victorino – B+

Do you get the feeling that Shane is the guy that non-Phillies fans dislike the most on the Phils? I could see where some of Shane’s antics would get annoying to fans of other teams, but that is what I like about him. He gets under your skin, just ask Dodger fans. It helps that he has backed up his swagger with gold glove caliber defense. The only reason he does not have an A is the fact that he has landed on the DL twice so far this season and has only played 68 games. We need him healthy, he adds more danger to the lineup. He leads the Phils in batting average (.303), on base percentage (.376), slugging percentage (.524), and OPS (.900). Yes, he is ahead of Ryan Howard in all of these categories.

Ryan Howard – B –

Ryan Howard, the Fat Man (not really anymore), the Big Piece, is the most important part of the Phillies offense. He is not without faults (too many strikeouts, can’t figure out how to beat the shift, too many strikeouts, shaky at times defense, and of course too many strikeouts) but he makes up for them with what he brings to the table. One new thing he has added to his defensive arsenal is the ability to throw the ball to second base. In years past, Jimmy was lucky to keep his throws from going to leftfield but this year the throws have been on the money, which is nice. Although, he may not be feared as much as he was from 2006 to 2009, he is still the most feared batter in the lineup hands down. It is interesting to see how he reacts to the strikeouts in big situations. You can tell he is beyond frustrated with the fact that he can’t pick up the spin on a breaking ball and continues to swing over top of it again and again. I know that he cares, and I respect that especially having to go through the reactions of Travis Lee when he struck out with the game on the line. His batting average is only .257 while he has knocked out 18 home runs. His .317 batting average with runners in scoring position has helped him accumulate 72 RBIs, good enough to tie him for first in the NL with Prince Fielder and he is on pace to have 130. The fact is that Howard put up A-Rod on the sauce type numbers for the first four seasons of his career. Only Albert Pujols has ever set such a ridiculous pace at the beginning of a career and kept his foot on the throttle in recent memory (Home Runs for Pujols since 2006: 225 and for Howard: 247). For all the Howard haters out there, believe me we have a great player at first base for the next how-ever-many years and it could be a lot worse. You will never question his effort, and when he gets hot during the second half of this season, like he always does, don’t be surprised if he makes a run at his second MVP if he can hike that batting average up somewhere north of .270. He gets the B – because he hasn’t hit home runs in back to back games since April 27th and 29th when he hit one against the Dbacks and two against the Mets. It is time to get hot Ryan…

The rest of the team obviously has had an impact on their record, most notably the young bullpen duo of Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes, but seeing I am nearing 3000 words on this entry I will spare you the details on the rest of the team and just give a much more brief synopsis and letter grade for the players that remain.

Chase Utley – B Chase has not played enough yet this season to have a significant impact on the team, but just having him in the lineup everyday is a pleasure to see.

Placido Polanco – B Polanco was voted into the All-Star game but after a torrid start in April he has fallen off tremendously, possibly due to a bulging disk in his back that has sidelined him for the past week.

Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz – B+ Chooch is an invaluable member of the ball club and what he does for the pitching staff is his key contribution. His offense has been intermittent and it would be nice to see a little more consistency from his bat.

Antonio Bastardo – A+ This Bastard(o) has come out of nowhere to be the most impressive member of the bullpen this season. Opponents are hitting (I couldn’t find the
stat) but I believe it is in the neighborhood of .120 off of him (He has given up 11 hits in
33 innings of work) and is ERA is a miniscule 0.82.

Domonic Brown – C+ Brown was on the DL to begin the season with a broken wrist but Ben Francisco could not take the starting rightfielder job from him. Brown has a ton of hype but his swing and his outfield play have been far from smooth. He has showed speed and potential, but not much else.

Ryan Madson – B + Madson was nearly unhittable in the closers roles mixing a mid-90s fastball with a changeup that leaves hitters clueless. He was 15 for 16 in save opportunities and has a B + only because of his recent DL stint.

Other players that have filled in and done serviceable to terrific work are from most important to least important, Michael Stutes, Wilson Valdez, John Mayberry, Michael Martinez, Brian Schneider, and Pete Orr. Ross Gload has done a nice job as the primary pinch-hitter. If David Herndon or Danys Baez are on the hill, close your eyes.

The second half of the season is generally when the weather and the Phillies get hot. If it has averaged just about 90 for the past two weeks in the Philadelphia area and the Phils already have the largest division lead in baseball at the break, what can we expect for this second half?

Trivia Answer: The Orlando Magic beat the Chicago Bulls in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Shaq and Penny handed it to Mike and Scottie.

You might want to take a look at this, just for fun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Frustrating Phillies

It has been a while since I have had anything to say about the Phillies. That is not to say that I have been following them any less or more, but the ups and downs of a team with the best record in baseball are certainly quite remarkable considering, well, that they are the team with the best record in baseball (45-28). Normally, when a team has the largest lead in any division in baseball (4.5 up on the Braves) and one of the best starting pitching staffs ever assembled, there should not be much of a complaint about what they are doing on the field. But as a diehard Phillies fan, avid standings/statistics checker, and writer of this blog, I have to wonder… Are the 2011 Phillies a frustrating team to watch?

What do your conversations consist of with your friends when the Phillies are brought up? What are you texting your buddy in the 7th of another low scoring game? Are you surprised when the Phillies don’t score, or is it expected? Are these questions you normally ask about a team that is on pace to win 100 games?

My texts generally consist of things like this:

“What the _ _ _ k was Howard swinging at there?”

“Great at bat Jimmy”

“Man, Hamels is dealing”

“Would it kill them to get a hit with runners in scoring position?”

“Does Wheels ever shut up?”

And so far fifteen times this season.. “The FAT MAN!!”

Regardless of what happens from April to September, this season and this team that Ruben Amaro and former Phils’ General Manager Pat Gillick have put together will be looked at as a failure if it does not end with the second parade down Broad Street in four years. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be enjoying this regular season a bit more than we are? I know it is nice to see that once Kyle Kendrick takes his turn in the rotation that we will almost certainly be the favored team for the next four games. It is a good feeling when you wake up on Tuesday morning and know Doc Halladay is taking the mound, but do you find yourself worrying about who the starter will be for the other team? In 2007, I could care less whom the other starter was, frankly, I did not think it mattered. We were going to score runs off of whoever took the mound (I preferred right handers just because that gave Ryan Howard a better shot at a home run) but I knew we would score. I worried about the bullpen holding our lead, but I did not worry about Jimmy getting on base, or wondering if Chase still had it. Right now, every game seems to be a worry as to whether they will score enough runs to win.

Take this past weekend for instance, the Phils rolled into Seattle (When I was a kid, I always wanted to see the Phils play Griffey and as soon as interleague play came around he bolted for Cincinnati and was never the same) on a serious high. They were the winners of seven straight, including four in a 45 hour stretch against the Marlins, and were coupled with the Red Sox as the hottest team in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, the Phils managed to scrape seven runs together in three games and lost two of three to the Mariners. Believe it or not, their win did come against reigning Cy Young winner “King Felix” Hernandez, but they were shut out on Sunday wasting yet another stellar performance from Cole Hamels. Shutouts or getting one to two runs have become commonplace for a team that still features Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup.

How many times this season have you looked at the clock and saw that it was 8:10 PM and the game was already in the bottom of the 5th inning and scoreless? You were probably flipping channels and waiting for Howard’s at bat and watching Cliff Lee breeze through the lineup. The Phillies pitchers work fast and they are some of the best at what they do. It is obvious when they are in a groove, innings fly by, strikeouts and zeroes pile up on the scoreboard. But then you look at who is pitching for the other team. You realize it is a journeymen, it may be somebody you have heard of, but it might not be, yet it seems as if they are matching the Phils Cy Young award winners pitch for pitch. You think, actually, I am not going to print what you think, but how can this be happening? Why do Oswalt, Hamels, Lee, and Halladay constantly have to walk on eggshells while they are out on the mound? You do not assume any of them are going to blow the game, but when the other team is constantly one pitch away from tying the game, or taking the lead, it is inevitable that losses can and will occur.

Obviously, at 45-28 the Phils have done a good enough job on the offensive end to take command in the NL East, but I just wish I was more ecstatic about the state of the team. Aside from Oswalt being a little shaky, you cannot ask for more from Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. Do yourself a favor and check out the main pitching categories (wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP) and you will find all three in the top five or top 10 of every one of those categories. Their statistics are mind boggling. Hamels has to be the front runner for the Cy Young award at this point, and he finally seems to have figured out he cannot control everything in a game and has become unflappable on the mound. Halladay is Halladay and on a bad day he is going to give you seven innings and three earned runs. On a good day, he cannot be touched(Sorry Major League Baseball is really cool and does not allow copyrighted material on youtube, get a clue Bud Selig?). Lee may have the highest ceiling of them all. He has had his share of shaky outings this season, but when he is on, he is absolutely lights out. He struck out 17 in seven innings earlier this season, and took the loss.

The Phils will most likely ride this pitching staff to their fifth consecutive NL East Division championship (only 9 more to match what the Braves did from 1991 to 2005) but what happens when we go up against another dominant pitching staff (read Atlanta or San Francisco again)? Will we put up enough runs to ride the pitching staff into the sunset and down Broad Street? Only time will tell, but for now I just hope the offense catches fire and I stop worrying about who the third starter is when we play the Brewers.

Werth Watch

For the first time this season, the play of the Washington Nationals as a team is a bigger story than the signing of the bearded one. The Nats had reeled off eight straight wins before losing last night to the Orioles. Jayson Werth has not been the catalyst for this, but his move to the leadoff position ($126 million for a leadoff guy?) has coincided with this current streak. During the eight game win streak, Werth managed six hits and seven strikeouts. Yikes. He is hitting .232 with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs.