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.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Game 5 2011 NBA Finals Running Diary

Hello and welcome to the second ever running diary for the Hitter's Count Blog. This is the first time we will chronicle a basketball game.

The stage has been set for a pivotal game 5 between the Dallas Mavericks with their shaggy, sharp-shooting, German Dirk Nowitzki and his much maligned group of veterans to take on the Big 3 of the Miami Heat. The series is tied at two and a win tonight in Dallas will go a long way in deciding who will take home one of the most significant NBA Finals in recent memory.

The Heat's big three has shrunken to the big one. The one being the irrepressible Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh has played decent but has not done anything spectacular or out of the ordinary for the former VelociRaptor, excuse me Toronto Raptor. The real question that is on everybody's mind heading into game five is - What Can We Expect Out of Lebron James?? After eviscerating the competition in the first three rounds (won all three series in 5 games a piece), including some of the most inspired all-around basketball ever played in the deciding games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Lebron James has pulled a Lebron James. Of course, I may be taking liberties with referring to his disappearing act thus far as a Lebron James, but I was glued to the television in May 2010 when he was doing the same thing against the Celtics when he played for Cleveland. That night he took his talents back to the locker room and probably cried about it. Right now, his talents have either been repossesed by the aliens from Space Jam, or he put money on the Mavericks for game four. The lack of interest, aggression, and sense of the THE MOMENT, have escaped Lebron and everybody knows it. Nowitzki has basically been the exact opposite, leading come from behind wins in games 2 and 4, including the game winning shots in both games. We are one patent Dirk turnaround jumper from the foul line in game three from this series possibly being 3-1 Mavericks.

It is time for Lebron to join Wade and showcase his talents. He has yet to do that in the Finals. Dirk willed his team to a win with a 102 degree fever and flu like symptoms in game 4, but it was Lebron who played like he was sick.

Check back for more when the game begins...

8:38 PM EST - Pregame has just started. Lebron is calling this the biggest game of his life. He is right, if that is the case why am I wondering if he is going to try hard tonight? Have you ever felt that way about a transcendent athlete in his prime before? I haven't.

8:44: PM EST - A few predictions from my roommate Rolletto. He has some interesting rather specific goals he is setting for LBJ. He envisions a stat line that includes 26 pts 9 rebs 8 asts 2 blks 3 stls. He thinks that this will also be more points than Wade will score and that the Heat will win by 5. Just for kicks he also has Dirk at 14-16 at the line. Dirk has been automatic from the line all playoffs long and is an incredbile 163-174 for the duration of the playoffs. We'll see about these predictions, and ball bust as quickly as possible.

8:49 PM EST - Phils update - Jimmy Rollins blasted a two out three run home run to give the Phillies the lead 3-0 before rain delayed the game in the third. It was nice to see Jimmy back in the lineup and he gave the Phils a boost on offense. I think the last time they scored 3 runs on one hit Lebron knew how to hold on to the ball for more than 2 seconds at a time in the fourth quarter.

8:53 PM EST - From the interesting stats you should see more of on television department...

2006 Dirk Playoffs - 23 G / 43 mins / 27 pts / 47 % FG / 12 rebs / 3 asts / 34 % 3 pt / 205-229 FT 90%
2011 Dirk Playoffs - 19 G / 39 mins / 28 pts / 50 % FG / 8 rebs / 3 asts / 50 % 3 pt / 163-174 FT 94%

9:00 PM EST - Mark Cuban really pulled out all of the stops for the National Anthem - The Acoustics. I tried to link the name of the group to a picture of them but google could not come up with anything that looked like who I just saw sing the National Anthem. Mark, come on son! You are better than that.

9:08 PM EST - Two serious bricks from Nowitzki and Bosh to start the game. JJ Barea is in the starting lineup tonight.

9:09 PM EST - Jason Kidd makes a breakaway layup. He is on the board. I was hoping Kidd could go back to back 35+ minute games without scoring. It would have been a challenge, but Jason is on the board tonight after not scoring despite playing 39 minutes in game 4.

9:13 PM EST - Nowitzki strokes two straight jumpers from the same spot after missing his first two shots. Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson then try to force as many chicken soup jokes into one discussion on how Dirk recovered from his flu.

9:19 PM EST - Lebron is 1-4 early. He has missed all three of his jump shots and has a dunk on a fastbreak outlet pass. He seems lively on offense and just made a terrific block on a Shawn Marion layup. A pulse has been detected, let's see if he can get his offense going. Dallas leads 17-10 with just over 4 minutes left in the 1st.

9:24 PM EST - We have a Brian Cardinal sighting in Dallas. The token bald slow white guy just nailed a three for his first points of the seas-- series.

9:31 PM EST - Dwyane Wade exited the game after getting shaken up driving to the basket and ramming into who else? Brian Cardinal. He is probably just getting a late first quarter rest but the announcers seemed to think it could be more serious.

9:35 PM EST - The lone remaining member of the Fab 5 Juwan Howard is making his presence felt. First he threw Brian Cardinal to the ground on a made basket by the Heat and then made two baskets in a row.

9:37 PM EST - Mario Chalmers drains a running 30 footer as the first quarter ends. Those could prove to be huge points in close game late. The score is 31-30 Miami at the end of one. They just showed a replay of Wade reacting to the hit he took from Cardinal. He looked to be in serious pain and is in the locker room at the quarter break.

9:44 PM EST - Wade is back on the bench with a left hip contusion and is "questionable" to return. Questionable my ass, unless he consults Jay Cutler in the next few minutes I expect to see him back out there.

9:48 PM EST - Jackson and Van Gundy agreed with my assessment of the Wade injury. Needless to say, D-Wade is back on the floor in a one point game, 40-39 Miami.

9:51 PM EST - Wade makes a running bank shot in the lane showing no ill effects of the injury. Hhhmmppphhh DWade!

9:53 PM EST - "Eddie House lost his job when the Heat acquired Mike Bibby who happens to be his brother-in-law" is something you don't hear too often about NBA guards. Is there animosity between the two, or are they good friends? These are the things I'd like to know, but just for the season DVD, not for the Finals' commentary.

9:57 PM EST - 48-44 Heat with just under 6 minutes to play in the second quarter. These teams do not seem to be as stingy on the defensive end as they have been throughout the series. Both teams are consistently knocking down their open looks including plenty of three pointers and a parade to the line by DWade 7/8 FTs.

10:01 PM EST - As much as I enjoyed Hitch and the occasional King of Queens, I have to say Kevin James has not impressed me since. Paul Blart Mall Cup featured this guy from Wedding Crashers as the bad guy so how could you take that seriously? And I just saw a preview for Zookeeper. It looked like Dr. DooLittle but more ridiculous. What's goin on man?!?

10:07 PM EST - I love the hyperbole from Van Gundy. "There isn't a better DVD out there than Dirk shooting. That would be a my Christmas gift." Jeff is generally on point and plays foil to Jackson's opinions quite well.

10:10 PM EST - Shawn Marion just got T'd up for reacting to a call. The NBA instituted the quick fuse technical this year as a way to keep every NBA fan from seeing this face 25 times a game. I contest, and he will most likely agree with me, that Tim Duncan has never committed a foul.

10:15 PM EST - The first half ends with a mini Mavs run that has them leading 60-57. Dirk hit a pull up jumper with 10 or so seconds left to give him 16 in the first half on 6-9 shooting. Wade sauntered off the court with a noticeable limp and uncomfortable stride. His hip contusion was all a fake he met with David Stern in the locker room who told him to play up the injured angle to add to the drama. You have to love that wily David Stern, always pulling strings!

10:19 PM EST - First half news and notes- Lebron went 4-10 with 9 points and did not make a shot outside of a layup/dunk. Mario Chalmers hit four three pointers and is tied with Wade for the team lead with 13 points. Jason Terry shot 4-6 and has 9 points. The Mavericks shot a jaw dropping 23-35 66% while the Heat were not too shabby either at 20-39 51 %.

10:23 PM EST - Both teams can take some positives from the first half but I think Miami should probably be feeling better. The Mavericks shot 66% and the Heat trail by just three with pedestrian first halves for their electrifying duo. The Heat played a little sloppy and committed 7 turnovers. Looking forward to a make-or-break second half.

10:37 PM EST - The teams have traded three point baskets to open the second half and Wade is in the locker room to begin it. Does that mean Lebron time? He makes his first shot of the second half, a leaner in the lane.

10:41 PM EST - The degree of difficulty on Nowitzki's shots is unexplainable. One possession he makes a turnaround jumper from 15 feet on the baseline with Bosh draped all over him and kept a hand in his face. Two possessions later he hits a 3 from the top of the key that literally brought rain. It was a beautiful rainbow swish but if you want to see the best rainbow shot ever take a look.

10:44 PM EST - JJ Barea has made both his three point attempts this half and Lebron answered back with a driving layup. The pace of the game has picked up considerably and shots are finding the bottom of the net. 73-69 Mavs midway through the 3rd quarter and still no DWade.

10:48 PM EST - The screen splits and shows Wade emerge from the locker room. The screen stays split much too long and becomes awkward and annoying as they follow Wade to the bench. He will be re-entering the game, but why don't producers understand that we want to watch the full screen of the game as much as possible? I don't need split screens of talking heads or walking Dwyane Wades when the game is going on.

10:50 PM EST - The Mavs are going off from 3 point range as Jason Kidd has now joined the party. They are 9-13 from 3 pt land and lead by 7. Shooting this well you would think the Heat would get blown out of the water but they are hanging around at this point.

10:58 PM EST - Jason Terry took Dirk's advice and has started making some more clutch shots in the finals. He has hit both his jumpers in the third quarter and the Mavs lead 84-77. Terry is 6 for 9 with 13 points.

11:02 PM EST - The third quarter has come to a close and you really cannot ask for more. The fans are going wild as the Mavs hold an 84-79 lead. Both teams are trading body blow after body blow and the Mavs have landed a few more three pointers which has them in the lead. As of now a few of Rolletto's predictions are looking decent for LBJ. He has 15 pts 7 rebs 6 asts and a block. The next quarter has the potential to define the careers of either Nowitzki or James. Yeah a little dramatic, but come on, this is a big one.

11:06 PM EST - Just look at this time stamp. Why do these games have to be on so late? It is a school night. Is that sour grapes or am I right that half the country is in bed by now?

11:09 PM EST - JJ Barea looks impossibly small on the floor amongst the trees but he has been a difference maker tonight. He has 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting including three 3s. It inspires hope for all those 5 foot 7 guys out there, but then they realize they aren't lightning quick and can't make a layup...

11:12 PM EST - Lebron has yet to take a shot in the fourth quarter, just two and a half minutes in, but he does have 2 boards to go along with two assists. A triple double seems imminent. Only LBJ can pull of a triple double while making it look like he is not fully engaged in the game. Is that a backhanded compliment? I don't know but sometimes I'd rather see him go for 43 7 and and 7 instead of 20 14 and 12, but that's just me.

11:16 PM EST - Wade just managed to shuffle his pivot foot at least three times. I actually lost count and he may have never even established a pivot foot. It was more of a fox trot. No call was made.

11:20 PM EST - Mavs lead 95-90 with 6:48 to go in the game. Barea is providing the spark the Mavs need and Nowitzki is 8-8 from the line to give him 25 points.

Phillies update - Ryan Madson has blown his first save of the season.

11:24 PM EST - James and Wade in transition are something to see. They are getting to the rack, and they are getting to the rack quicker than you are. LBJ assists on two straight baskets to give him a triple double. 15 10 and 10 and the Heat are scoring with ease at the rim. 96-95 Miami after a quick 6-0 run that included 3 uncontested dunks/layups. Are you kidding me Dallas? This is not the time to start missing assignments on pick and rolls.

11:29 PM EST - "Lebron James messed around and got a triple double" Mark Jackson quoting Ice Cube. Something tells me Dirk is about to get going.. Let's see we are now under 5 minutes.

11:31 PM EST - Seven seconds left on the shot clock and Lebron gets the pass. What do you do here Lebron? Well he decided that the ball was much too hot to hold and made a quick pass that got deflected and led to a turnover. 99-97 Heat with 3:38 to play. LBJ showing no aggression. He's playing like Jason Kidd would play but taking less 3 pointers, it is almost as if he forgot that he is Lebron James.

11:33 PM EST - Jason Terry nails a wide open monster 3 to tie the score at 100 followed by a missed jumper from Lebron he clearly settled on rather than taking his man off the dribble.

11:35 PM EST - Lebron misses badly on a wide open 3 pointer. The crowd was going wild as the Mavs brought the ball back down the court but that was before Jason Kidd blew the lid off the building with a knock down wide open three point shot. Mavs take a 5 point lead 105-100 with a minute twenty-six to play. Timeout Miami.

11:39 PM EST - Seriously physical defense is being played on Lebron. Fouls could have easily been called on his advance to the basket but he managed somehow to get a pass off to Bosh who then drew a foul. Bosh predictably made 1 of 2 and cut the lead to four.

11:40 PM EST - Wow! With the shot clock winding down Jason Terry answers the bell. He drained a contested ice in his veins 3 with 33 seconds left to all but ice the game. 108-101 Mavs. Dirk gets to say that his calling out of Terry for not scoring in the crunch was great motivation. Guarantee that.

11:43 PM EST - Lebron finally gets his first 4th quarter points since game 3 but it will almost certainly be too little too late as Jason Kidd makes two free throws to make the score 110-103. How can Lebron live with his effort? The going down with the ship mentality does not exist for this man quite obviously. It seems as if he would rather rely on his teammates rather than himself to win the game. Albeit, one of those teammates is Dwyane Wade, but come on Lebron. Where is your pride??

11:46 PM EST - A standard Dirk stat line with 29 points and 6 boards but it was Jason Terry who hit the big shots down the stretch to clinch the 112-103 game 5 win. In the postgame interview, Terry made sure to thank God first and foremost for his success. Lebron will probably not mention him.

The series heads back to Miami where the Heat have lost 1 game in the playoffs. Oh yeah, it was to the Mavericks in game 2.

Thanks for reading guys. Had a good time covering the game.