Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting To the Game and the Slumping Philadelphia Phillies' Bats

Well, I went to the Phillies Rockies game last night. The only good thing about that was the fact that I did not have to listen to Chris Wheeler drone on about Jason Giambi turning back the clock and pulverizing the ball like it was May 2001 not May 2011. At least it's May.

For those of you who have yet to get to a ball game this year, it is not exactly the easiest thing to do these days on a school night. Most people do not get out of work until 5 PM and then you have to get back to your house, get on your favorite jersey (I wore Howard last night), maybe fill up a cooler if that is the way you want to do things before the game, and then it’s decision time if you live north of the city. Do you take SEPTA regional rail to suburban station and then hop on the orange line subway and get off at Pattison, oops I mean AT&T station (I wonder how much that deal cost AT&T, it was only the most iconic subway stop in Philadelphia and they just renamed the thing), because you do not have to deal with traffic? The only positive with SEPTA is that you will not be caught in traffic but it is a time consuming process and if you plan on tailgating you do not exactly have a vehicle to set up a home base from. So, if you are not going to take public transportation your next decision is also a big one. Do you take the Schuylkill (76 East) or the Blue Route (476 South)? Well, the Schuylkill was designed with good intentions but that is where the good stops with that road. It could be 2 PM on a Saturday and you need to get into the city and you turn on traffic and transit on the twos and some traffic guy comes on, “Whoa! Looks like slow-going on the Schuylkill if you’re trying to make it into the city this afternoon. It’s jammed up from the Conshohocken curve all the way to South Street.” Obviously, we (We is my friend Laurie, superb job driving, and my roommate Chris who is a season ticket holder) opted out of taking the Schuylkill down to the game. We left my house in Conshohocken at about 5:30 PM. If there is no traffic either way you go, it will take about half hour to get to the game. After struggling just to make it out of the Consh, and meandering in stop-and-go traffic on the blue route we made it to the K lot between Lincoln Financial Field and Citizen’s Bank park a little bit after 6:30 PM.

Have you been to the K lot lately? That sh*t is crazy. It has the atmosphere of a college football game tailgate (Maybe not Penn State, but some other smaller schools that party). This was a rainy Thursday night in May and the drinks, games, and co-eds were indulging. We struggled to find a parking spot and made a bad decision with the spot we picked. A group of early 20s “dudes” were blasting Katie Perry and playing beer pong with a pink ball and Four Loko. About 10 dudes, seemingly not interested in heading into the game, playing beer pong with Four Loko, jamming out to sweet tunes that were so loud you did not hear much else, I just wanted to reiterate all that. It was quite the scene we all thought. Have you ever seen a pink ping pong ball? The girls were taking a cue from Eddie Murphy as Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor for their wardrobes (skip to 54 seconds into this video). I have never seen so much red and so much spandex in my life. I’m not complaining.

Since we did not make it down until just before game time we decided to have a beverage or two instead of rushing into the game where these same beverages would run you at least $7.50. I was getting text messages from several people that Kyle Kenrick would be making an emergency start for Joe Blanton. My roommate Chris has now seen both games Kyle Kendrick has started this season. Our other four starters are all-stars. Ouch. Just before we started to head into the game I get a few more texts. Old graybeard, that chubby, bloated, former MVP slugger, Jason Giambi had just rocketed a three run blast in the 1st inning. If you have been following the Phillies lately, a three run deficit in the first inning essentially means the game is over. It turned out to be the case. The Phils never challenged in this game and Giambi provided more than enough offense. In his second at bat he sent another blast into the seats. This time a 2 run bomb. It was 5-0 Rockies and the Phillies offense looked and felt stagnant. Giambi added a third jack in his third at bat for good measure to make the score 7-1. The Phillies offense is not even worth mentioning. Giambi did have two shots at hitting a fourth home run, but he struck out both times. It does not seem to matter who is pitching these days, the Phils are good for 1-2 runs and that is about it.

Let’s break down this awful slump the entire team is going through right now though. First of all, the guys who are in the lineup that are everyday players are not pulling their weight. That is where this thing starts. Shane Victorino was the only Phillie getting clutch hits and he was pulled out of Sunday’s game before his last at bat with a hamstring injury. This snapped his 15 game hitting streak. Originally, it was the thought that Shane would miss a game, maybe two. Four games later he is getting an MRI. He has yet to land on the DL so hopefully he can remain day-to-day and be back soon. Ryan Howard is Oh for his last 20 with 9 strikeouts. His average has dipped to .240. He seemingly always falls behind in the count, and there has not been much hope for him to get any kind of contact unless he is ahead three balls and one strike (hitter’s count!). When he does make contact, take one guess where that ball is going? Yup, right at one of the three fielders on the right side of second base that every team has employed when ever The Big Piece strides to the plate. Placido Polanco has been banged up a bit, and his average has dropped from .370 to .330. Hitting .330 is obviously still very good, but when your average drops .40 points in a week or so, not much is being done at the plate. Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Carlos Ruiz are not doing much either. The non-regulars in last night’s lineup included Michael Martinez in centerfield, Ross Gload in right field, and Pete Orr at second base. Martinez is hitting .194, Orr is at .230, and Gload is hitting .313 but has significantly less at bats than the other two. If the regulars are struggling, it is a lot to expect these guys to get the job done for you night in and night out. With the exception of last night, the Phillies have been in every game for the last two weeks despite their decrepit offense. Their pitching is still the best in Major League Baseball. They cannot hit the ball to save their lives right now. Their best player (Chase Utley) has yet to play an inning this season. Ryan Howard could not hit water if he fell out of a boat. Jimmy Rollins has not been consistent for ten years, should we expect him to start now? (I am not taking anything away from Jimmy. That is just the player he is.) The bottom line is that the Phillies are a second half team and I expect them to burn through the National League like Sherman burned through the South in August and September. The bats will turn it around and the pitching will continue to be lights out. Hey, you have to lose 57 games to win 105.

Werth Watch:

Werth is continuing to scuffle just down 95. His average has been hovering in the .230s almost all season. His on base percentage is almost 100 points higher than his average at .330. He is doing a good job of drawing walks, but his RBIs are still rather low at 14 to go along with six home runs. The Nationals themselves are treading water, having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. They won both games Werth homered in this past week.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday May 15th Philadelphia Phillies vs Atlanta Braves

Hello and welcome to my first ever running diary for the Hitter's Count blog. I will be posting every few minutes with thoughts and commentary on everything happening in the game. There will probably also be some stuff that does not relate to baseball at all. Feel free to leave me comments/questions in the comments section about anything you are thinking.

What a sports nut huh?

12:41 PM EST: I'm watching The Firm prior to the game. I thought some scenes in Tom Cruise movies were ridiculous. This scene takes the cake.

1:23 PM EST: Morgan Freeman among others at the game for civil rights weekend. Shawshank your favorite Freeman movie? I'm partial to Wanted. That was brilliant filmmaking.

1:34 PM EST: Interesting defense behind Doc today. Shane Victorino is out of the lineup after being pulled yesterday late in the game for what I believe was a hamstring injury. Not good, obviously. Victorino was riding a 15 game hitting streak that was snapped after he missed his final at bat. In his place will be Michael Martinez, batting second and playing centerfield? Interesting choice by Charlie. He generally makes the right decision in these situations so I have faith. The rest of the lineup is listed below.

Rollins SS
Martinez CF
Polanco 3B
Howard 1B
Ibanez LF
Mayberry RF
Orr 2B
Ruiz C
Doc P

Ben Francisco hasn't exactly been tearing it up so it is nice to see Mayberry in right. It is also nice to see Chooch in the lineup making his second start in the last three games.

The Braves lineup:

Prado LF
McLouth CF
Jones 3B
McCann C
Uggla 2B
Hinske RF
Gonzalez SS
Freeman 1B
Hudson P

It should be one hell of a pitching matchup with both staff aces going in Tim Hudson, and of course Roy Halladay. I expect the Phils to get off to a slow start, as is tradition. Although, Ryan Howard does have decent history against Hudson. He hit three in one game off of him in his 2006 MVP season.

The Phillies and Braves are wearing excellent throwback uniforms from the 1974 season commemorating Hank Aaron's record breaking home run season. Think powder blue for the Phils.

Wheels and T-Mac are wearing one of the ugliest neon green shirts I have ever seen.

1:42 PM EST: The game is getting started a little late due to the civil rights ceremony. Although the Phils uniforms are brilliant in their powder blue, but the edge may have to go to the Braves with their old school unis. All white with blue sleeves and the lower case cursive a hat.

1:48 PM EST: Rollins does a great job of working the count and pops up on the first pitch. Not frustrating at all. I have never seen him do that before.

1:54 PM EST: Phils go 1-2-3 in the first. Prado stays hot and of course beats out an infield single. At least they scored it that way. Rollins had a tough play up the middle but could not throw him out after doing his patent spin movie.

2:00 PM EST: Doc gets through the first rather easily. After Prado's infield single the rest went in order.

2:15 PM EST: As you can imagine, no score through two. Both pitchers have faced one batter over the minimum. Halladay has two strike outs through two. He was tied for the league lead entering the day with 59.

2:20 PM EST: After much deliberation. We settled on a serious platter from Fingers Wings and Other Things. Plenty of people in attendance in the Consh for today's game. 50 wings and 20 fingers coming this way. Although for some reason they do not deliver so a dispatcher will be sent out.

2:22 PM EST: Halladay fails to get a bunt down and strikes out after Chooch singled to center. Of course Martinez singles 2 batters later and it is now first and third for Polanco with 2 outs rather than 1-0 Phils. It's the little things. Roy needs to get that bunt down.

2:27 PM EST: Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball, and overall pushover who kept his job as the steroids scandal unfolded over his watch, is in the booth with Wheels and TMac. Even he thinks Wheels is a know-it-all.

2:33 PM EST: Still scoreless through three. Phils offense limp. Doc allowed two baserunners in 3rd but ended the inning by getting professional Phillie-Killer Brian McCann to fly out to Michael Martinez in deep center. Martinez looked good coasting under the ball and was there in plenty of time.

2:36 PM EST: Howard grounds to Uggla deep in the shift for the second straight time. CSN just showed a graphic displaying how much further ahead of the pace for home runs he was compared to Bonds and Aaron. As far ahead he is in home runs, he had 3 x as many strikeouts as Aaron and 2x as many as Bonds. You win some you lose some with Howard. I'll take the production.

2:40 PM EST: If you have an extra $100 lying around and are a big Muhammad Ali fan, fathead is doing the damn thing.

2:45 PM EST: The food has arrived. Signing off for a bit. Enjoy the game. 2 outs Mayberry up in the top of the 4th at current time. Still no score.

3:17 PM EST: And I'm back. Food was marvelous. The Braves took the lead in the 4th on a series of broken bat flares and a ball that glanced off Halladay's glove that may have been a double play ball. Polanco has led off the 6th with a walk currently. 1-0 Braves.

3:21 PM EST: Howard pops up a massive fly ball on a 3-0 green light. Just missed it or this game would be 2-1 Phils. Ibanez now at the plate and Polanco still at first.

3:27 PM EST: The Phillies are on the board! John Mayberry hit a line smash home run into the seats in left field. Polanco scored ahead of him to make it 2-1 Phils. Mayberry has been making the most of his start this afternoon. He has 2 walks as well as a stolen base to go along with his go ahead 2 run shot. There were 2 outs when he sent the blast out of the park.

3:35 PM EST: Morgan Freeman in the booth. Best voice in there since Harry left us. Wearing all Braves gear, I'll grant him a pass.

3:39 PM EST: A walk and more bloop hits followed by a sacrifice fly by Freddie Freeman tie the game at 2. Roy cannot be happy. In other sports news game 7 of the Western Conference Finals just began. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder are at home taking on the memphis Grizzlies.

3:50 PM EST: Best saxophone version of America The Beautiful I have heard in a while...

3:58 PM EST: Doc gets through the 7th stranding who else? Prado, on second. Howard caught a ground ball and could have thrown to second to try and get Prado but he hesitated, thought better of it, and took the out at first. His track record on throws to second is not the best. Doc then got McCann on one pitch.

4:08 PM EST: Doc comes out to start the 8th despite having over 100 pitches. He gives up a grooved 3-2 fastball home run to Dan Uggla. The leadoff home run puts the Braves ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the 8th.

4:26 PM EST: Well. For the second time in a row Roy Halladay has pitched a complete game and lost. Ben Francisco led off the ninth with a walk but nothing could be done. The Phils were in this game the whole time and Roy Halladay will tell you he blew a lead, and then blew a game that was tied in the 8th. In reality, the Phillies need to score more runs for him. He cannot be taking losses and pitching complete games. That's bass ackwards. Give him three runs we win 75% of time. You give him four runs and we win 90% of the time. All figures guesstimated.

4:30 PM EST: The Phils drop two out of three to the Braves for the second week in a row. The Phils remain in first place. Thank you to everyone who read and who posted. I had a lot of fun with this. I hope you enjoyed it. Here is one of my favorite movie clips from youtube to brighten your mood after the tough loss.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Phils Sweep Nats in Jayson Werth's Return to Philadelphia

“Phils! Phils are good!!”

The bearded one returned to South Philadelphia for the first time since signing his lucrative contract over the offseason. Jayson Werth, still sporting that Grizzly Adams beard, was greeted rather warmly by Philadelphia standards. He spent four years in Philadelphia and blossomed into a player worth $127 million. Wait, not really. But he at least hoodwinked the lowly Washington Nationals into giving him a tractor-trailer full of $20s. When he was announced for his first at-bat Tuesday night the crowd was fairly mixed at first. There were a solid amount of boos mixed with cheers until Werth took his helmet off and acknowledged the crowd. At that point, 45,000 fans gave in; well maybe 40,000 fans gave in and gave him a solid ovation. He certainly played well during his four seasons and leaves the club as their all-time postseason home run leader, although Chase Utley and Ryan Howard may have something to say about that in the coming years.

The Phillies lost their prior game against the New York Mets in 14 innings entering the three game mid-week series. The Nationals were fresh off winning two games in a row in impressive fashion over the defending champion San Francisco Giants, including a 2-0 shut out on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they ran into the buzz saw that is Cole Hamels on Tuesday night. Crafty veteran Livan Hernandez started for the Nationals and he pitched effectively but when Hamels is on his game like he was on this night, it is going to be tough to beat the Phillies. Hamels began the hitting by smashing a triple to deep right center field (the first of his career) and later scored on a Jimmy Rollins base hit. Charlie Manuel shuffled the top of the lineup a bit and moved Rollins up to his traditional leadoff spot and he pushed Victorino and Polanco each back a spot each to the two and three holes, respectively. This new look first inning lineup has paid dividends through three games thus far. Jumping to the 7th, Hamels made one bad pitch and gave up a solo home run to Michael Morse in the 7th. The Phillies added two runs in the bottom of the 7th for a little insurance on RBIs from Ryan Howard and the formerly struggling Raul Ibanez. Ibanez snapped an 0-35 streak with two hits Tuesday night. Read that sentence again. Let it sink in. Somehow, despite John Mayberry Jr. waiting in the wings Manuel chose to continue to play Ibanez through this possibly career-ending slump and once again, Manuel has seemingly made the correct decision. Hamels cruised through the next two innings including a 1-2-3 ninth inning in which he struck out Jayson Werth who was fooled badly by a changeup. The crowd seemed to enjoy this. Final 4-1 Phillies.

Vance Worley made his second consecutive start in place of the injured Joe Blanton on Wednesday night. After going six scoreless innings in his first start, Worley began with five straight scoreless innings in his second start. National League teams have to be thinking, “When are we going to get a break against this rotation?” Worley did finally give up a run in the top half of the sixth inning but by the end of the bottom half of that inning; the Phils led 7-1. Raul Ibanez continued to see the ball better and recorded three hits including a massive home run to right-center field. Rollins and Victorino chipped in with run-scoring hits and the ball was handed over to the bullpen for the final nine outs. JC Romero returned from a short stint on the DL and made it through the seventh unscathed. Newcomer Michael Stutes kept his ERA at 0.00 with a scoreless eighth but Danys Baez had his first rough outing this season and gave up a three-run home run to Danny Espinosa in the ninth. Luckily, the Phils had built that six-run cushion and Baez was able to finish the game. Final 7-4 Phillies.

If you are the Washington Nationals staring down the barrel of the umpteenth sweep at the hands of the Phillies over the past five years, you cannot be too pumped to know that Roy Halladay is taking the mound for the Phillies. You also cannot be too pumped if you are the Washington Nationals. It is true the Phillies have beaten up on the perennial cellar dweller in recent years. Here are the Phillies records against the Nationals over the last four seasons as well as their runs scored versus runs allowed.

2007 – 12-6 (85-60)
2008 – 12-6 (92-69)
2009 – 15-3 (116-85)
2010 – 12-6 (107-68)

It is safe to say the Phillies have the Nationals number.

Halladay took the mound with some impressive numbers so far this season, and staggering numbers against the National for his career. Halladay had won nine consecutive decisions against the Nationals/Expos, dating back to his time with the Blue Jays. He would be opposed by John Lannan, who has a similar streak compared to Halladay, except the exact opposite. Lannan is 0-9 all time against the Phils. This one did not look good on paper for the Nats, and it did not look much better on the field either once the game got started. I have had countless versions of this exchange with my dad, Pete:

Me: What the ___ is Charlie doing? I can't believe he is letting Player X continue to kill us.

Pete: I don’t get it. I’m giving up on the season. Charlie is nuts.

This, of cousre, is more sarcasm from a man who grew up with this squad. Hell, he cried himself to sleep every night at the age of 10 during the infamous collapse of the 1964 Phillies. He has seen it all and been through it all with these Phils.

You could substitute quite a few names in there for Player X. Most notably Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell. This season public enemy number one on the Phils’ roster has been Raul Ibanez. Manuel is the manager, and let us thank him for doing just that. All of the players mentioned above struggled mightily for extended periods of time during their tenure in Philadelphia. Still, Manuel stuck by all of them and they all have come back to redeem themselves and prove their value to this club.

After Shane Victorino got the third started with his fifth home run of the season, a two run shot to left field, the Phillies kept rolling. Polanco singled up the middle, Howard walked, and up stepped Ibanez. Raul already singled in the first but came up with two men on this time. He ripped a hanging breaking ball down the right field line for a two RBI double and the Phils extended their lead to 5-0. Raul then scored on a base hit by Wilson Valdez to make the score 6-0. You had to figure this would stand up with Doc Halladay on the mound. Surprisingly, Doc had to battle through the fourth inning and gave up two runs. Jayson Werth slid home safely under the tag of third string catcher Dane Sardinia even though the throw beat him by a solid margin. I have to say it was weird watching Werth make that kind of play when you are so accustomed to him doing it for the Phillies. Despite his fourth inning struggles, Halladay calmly rebounded and retired the last 11 batters he faced. Doc finished the game with 10 strikeouts in seven innings. This was his third game of at least 10 strikeouts and zero walks since the start of last season. The only other man with three such games? Cliff Lee. Raul came up again in the 5th and for good measure he launched a mammoth blast into the upper deck on the first pitch he saw. Ibanez finished the series batting 8 for 12 with two home runs and five RBIs. He raised his average from .154 to .214. That is some serious damage from a guy who wouldn't have gotten a hit off me about a week ago. The bullpen combination of Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson finished the game. Final 7-3 Phils.

The Phillies enter their weekend home series against division rival Atlanta Braves tied for the best record in Major League Baseball at 21-9. They are tied with the Cleveland "I guess these guys aren’t too ____in’ bad" Indians. Maybe they got a speech like this before the first game of the season. Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt (back from taking care of his tornado ravaged property), and Cole Hamels will start the three games for the series. Let’s see how that Braves pitching staff can matchup against those guys this weekend.

Werth Watch:

Jayson did not do much damage in his return to Philadelphia and is scuffling with his swing to put it lightly. He is now batting .230 and is still stuck at four home runs. He has driven in a measly eight runs. The Phillies have six players with more RBIs than that, and Wilson Valdez has seven!