Friday, April 20, 2012

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The Phillies are 13 games into the season and in last place for the first time since 2007. That is the least of their worries. They are 6-7 and only 3.5 games back of the upstart Washington Nationals for first place. After losing a handful of series for the entire season last year, the Phillies are 1-3 in their first 4 series this year (they took 2 out of 3 from the Marlins at home), and they can’t seem to find any rhythm in the early going.

To put it bluntly, they can’t hit the goddamn ball. The season has gone pretty much how most people have expected it to so far, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with as a fan. Take a look at the breakdown for their runs scored so far this season. In their losses they have scored: 1, 4, 2, 2, 0, 2, and 0. Shut out twice in the first 13 games, and they have won games with run totals of: 1, 3, and 2. They have managed to score 5 or more 3 times and they are 3-0 in those games.

It only gets uglier as you climb deeper into the stats. Mind you, it is early but man it’s been ugly when the Phils are at the plate. They are 15th out of 16 National League teams with 37 runs. Sorry Pirates fans, it must be rough having your team score only 26 through their first 12 games. I know it’s been rough to watch the Phillies (not) hit the ball, so you must want to cry watching Andrew McCutcheon flailing away as your only valid hitter. Okay, brace yourself. The Phillies are also 15th out of 16 teams in the National League in home runs with 6! 6!!! Curtis Granderson hit 3 in his first 3 at bats last night! Matt Kemp has 6! (Somehow the Cubs only have 5, the wind must be blowing in at Wrigley.) Remember when the Phillies had power in spades? I do. In 2009 they had 4 guys in the top 13 in home runs; Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, and Chase Utley all had over 30 that year. This year they’ll be lucky to get one guy to 30 or in the top 13. I’d take either at this point. They are also 15th in slugging percentage and 14th in on base percentage. Their best offensive category is batting average, where they are hitting a collective .243 and are 10th in the National League. But of course, they are a singles hitting team at this point so even the batting average is weak.

Let’s take Wednesday night’s game as an example of why it’s discouraging to be a Phillies fan right now. First of all, we have been spoiled to the likes of which we’ve never been accustomed to as baseball fans for the last 5 years. In the beginning of our run, it was our juggernaut offense that drove us to the postseason. Since the addition of Roy Halladay the team has been much more reliant on pitching to win ballgames. You see a lot more 3-1 wins than you do 9-7 wins. Whatever, a win is a win. So when Cliff Lee came back into the fold in 2011 we became even more of a pitching oriented team.

When Cliff goes out on the mound you pretty much expect him to dominate, and that is exactly what he did Wednesday night. Unfortunately, this was a west coast game and I fell asleep right at the beginning of the game and did not wake up until 1245 AM to see that the game was no longer on my TV. A game ending in just over 2 hours has been nothing out of the norm this season, so I grabbed my iPhone and brought up the Sportacular Ap and saw that the Phillies lost 1-0 in 11 innings. My heart sank. I flipped over to the stats section to see what Cliff did. THE DUDE PITCHED 10 SCORELESS INNINGS AND GOT A NO-DECISION!! 10 scoreless! 10! Not only did he pitch 10, but he only needed 102 pitches (81 for strikes!!) to get that done. What must that feel like for Cliff Lee? I hope he can handle that kind of frustration because I’m not sure if I can and I’m only a fan. Antonio Bastardo came in in the 11th (not Jonathan Papelbon?) and quickly gave up the losing run.

Like I said, I did not see any of this game but I caught the highlights in the morning. The Phils had a man on 3rd with one-out in the 11th and Charlie Manuel pinch-hit Jim Thome. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy countered by bringing in a lefty to face the amiable galoot that is Jim Thome. Not wanting to disrespect the future Hall-of-Fame slugger, Charlie left him in to go down swinging against Giants reliever Javier Lopez (not to be confused with former Braves catcher). I can’t say I agree with this move by Charlie. It’s not like this was a 6-6 ball game in the 11th and the Phils had been hitting. That run was basically the Phils’ only chance to win the game. Pull Thome and pinch-hit a righty there. Get that run in. Win the ball game.

So, the next night Vance Worley goes out on the bump in San Diego and once again dominates the competition. The Phils squeaked one across in the first inning, and it turned out to be all that Vance and the bullpen would need. They added one more for good measure and won the ballgame 2-0. This is how most of the Phillies games are going to go this season, so be ready for it.

This season, we as fans, are going to have to do a lot of waiting. Waiting in all aspects. Each night I watch the game I sit around waiting for somebody to come through with an important hit. I’m waiting for Hunter Pence to go on a tear. I’m waiting for Jimmy Rollins to hit his first home run of the season. I’m waiting for Juan Pierre to ignite a rally. I’m waiting for Jim Thome to put the ball in play. I’m waiting for somebody to hit a home run in back-to-back games. I’m waiting for John Mayberry to hit the ball the way he did at the end of last season, rather than pop everything up the way he has been. But most of all, I’m waiting for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to get back in this lineup so the Earth can spin on its axis properly again.

Werth Watch:

Well, I have to start out the Werth watch by saying that the Washington Nationals have been playing great baseball. They lost last night, but are still in first place at 10-4. The Bearded One has been showing signs of life in the early going this season, after submitting load of crap last year under the pressure of his gigantic contract. Werth is hitting .327 and his 8 walks are in the top 10 in the NL. He has yet to hit a home run, but he has 3 doubles, a triple, and 2 stolen bases after two weeks.

I leave with you with some brilliant advice from one of my favorite baseball movies... 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Phils Are Back!

So here we are again in early April, awaiting the start of a brand new Phillies season. The Phillies have been the overwhelming favorite to win their division each year, and to a lesser degree, the World Series since they won it all back in 2008. This year is no different according to the Vegas Bookmakers. While the Phils may be the favorites according to the sharps, this season has taken on a whole different feel from the fan’s perspective.

The excitement at the beginning of last season, even with no timetable for a Chase Utley return, was palpable. Cliff Lee was back in red pinstripes and we had Roy Oswalt for a full season to pair with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Of course, this year we still boast the best top of the rotation starters in Major League Baseball with Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. But a giant question mark surrounds the rest of the team. Trepidation might be the best word used to describe how most Phillies fans are feeling these days as we head into the marathon 162 game season.

For the first time since 2005, Ryan Howard will not be starting at first base on opening day. For the second season in a row Chase Utley will not be starting at second base on opening day. Raul Ibanez will not be patrolling left field. Jayson Werth will start his second season with the Nationals. Brad Lidge will start his first season with the Nationals. Ryan Madson will be closing for the – scratch that, Ryan Madson is out for the season requiring Tommy John surgery for torn ligaments in his elbow and is no longer employed by the Phillies. Wilson Valdez will not be around to be a stop gap for our injured infielders. At this time, there is no definitive date of return for the Phillies two most important offensive players.

If these were normal injuries, we could possibly say “4-6 weeks” or some sort of timeframe that you always see scroll across the bottom line of ESPN when they are projecting these sorts of things. These are not ordinary injuries. Howard’s is a bit more stable, a torn Achillies tendon. Apparently the wound from a surgery like this does not heal (pun intended) well, and Howard ran into a set back with an infection to the incision on his repaired foot. Before that, it was thought that he was ahead of schedule and could return in May, but at this point nobody is saying when Ryan Howard will step into the batter’s box for the Phillies this season.

Chase Utley’s situation is worse, much worse. I don’t care what Ruben Amaro did or did not say about this injury during spring training. It doesn’t matter does it? The bottom line is that Chase Utley’s condition is chronic and degenerative. Two words you don’t ever want to hear about the franchise’s best ever 2nd baseman. He is 33 years old and all signs point to Utley never regaining his “sure fire lock for the Hall-of-Fame if he doesn’t have degenerative knees” form. Considering my last blog post, I will now go turn on my oven and put my head in. Just kidding, but man I just don’t know what to think about Chase? It pains me to think he’ll never be the same, and at this point I think we all have to accept that as a reality. Even 75% of Chase Utley is better than 75% of the second baseman in this league. And you know his work ethic, demeanor, and overall badassness will rub off on the rest of the team the way it always has. He just needs to man up and play through the pain, which I’m sure he has been doing for the past few years, so let’s just hope he figures it out. I feel like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank.. I hope. I hope Citizen’s Bank Park’s grass is as green as it is in my dreams..

Despite all this turmoil, like I said before, the Phillies are still the favorites in Vegas to win the World Series this year. That is pretty unbelievable at first thought, but then when you do think about it a little bit more: It is completely believable. I mean, come on! Do you think the Pirates are looking forward to their first series this year? They are going to have to face Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels in their first three games this season. All three of these men finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young vote last year. Read that sentence again. Now how about this. Look at all these categories that all three of them were in the top 10 for last year. Get ready for your mind to be boggled.

WAR – Wins Above Replacement (This is one of those advanced metric statistics that statheads rely heavily on. It basically calculates how many wins a player creates for their team. So a “replacement player” is the most average ballplayer there can be and he would not create any wins for your team)

WAR for pitchers.

1. Halladay 7.4
3. Lee 6.9
5. Hamels 5.4

To put WAR in perspective, Cy Young Winner Clayton Kershaw had 7.0 and “juiced up” MVP Ryan Braun had 7.0 as well.


2. Halladay 2.38
3. Lee 2.40
6. Hamels 2.79


3. Halladay 19
4. Lee 17
9. Hamels 14

WHIP (walks and hits per inning)

2. Hamels .986
3. Lee 1.027
4. Halladay 1.040

Innings Pitched

2. Halladay 233.2
4. Lee 232.2
9. Hamels 216.0


2. Lee 238
3. Halladay 220
9. Hamels 194

Sorry, sometimes I get a little carried away when it comes to baseball stats, but I felt it incumbent upon me as the guy who’s blog you read when you’re bored to make sure you knew that the Phillies are still the World Series favorites because pitching is what dominates this sport. And the Phillies have it in spades.

Hallady, Lee, and Hamels will make over $40 million combined this year, and that number is only going to go up (read - skyrocket once Hamels signs and Lee’s bigger money years start kicking in) in the next few years. This year, however, these guys need to earn every last penny of their paychecks, possibly more than any future year due to the current injuries. There is almost no doubt that the Phillies offense will be stagnant at times this year. Even with a full (somewhat) healthy roster in the playoffs last year the Phils managed 3 hits and put up a big fat goose egg in the deciding game 5 of the NLDS. Let’s not get into that, but you all remember it. So, these pitchers know that this offense is more than capable of sinking faster than the Titanic, and that it will be on the big 3 to make 3 or 4 runs stand up as a win every night.

I have to assume that the drive behind these pitchers should propel them to continue their stretch of greatness. Halladay has never pitched in a World Series, let alone won one. Lee lost back-to-back World Series in 2009 with the Philles and 2010 with the Rangers. He also BLEW game two of the NLDS last year with the Phillies leading 4-0 in the second inning. I hope these things make him angry. I hope when he gets angry he dominates. Cole Hamels is the third banana on this team, when he would be the top guy on more than half of the teams in the majors. He also is in a contract year, so he is pitching for what should be one of the most lucrative contracts ever signed. I hope his desire to be recognized as as good as his two All-Star teammates drives him to continue his dominance. I hope.