Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This Isn't 2004

This isn’t 2004 anymore. Unfortuntately.

In 2004 Barry Bonds had the following stats:

147 games played, 45 home runs, 101 RBI, .362 batting average, 232 walks, and a .609 on base percentage.

That was Barry’s 19th season in the league and arguably his most impressive (save the 73 home runs he smashed in 2001) season statistically. For whatever reason baseball turned a blind eye to the quite obvious steroid use of players like Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. America was enamored with the long ball and those guys sold their souls to stay dominant well past the bell curve that is a player’s prime. These guys were able to play, and dominate play, well past their primes because they were doing it with the dreaded acronym “PEDs”.

Well, it may have taken Bud Selig a decade too long to have a reaction to all this, but he finally did decide to put policies in place to “preserve the sanctity of the game.” Since this is the case, we are not seeing aging players put up better numbers than they did in their prime. It’s logical to believe it doesn’t work like that.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, their front office doesn’t seem too interested in finding younger talent to mesh with their seriously aging core of superstars. Let’s take a quick look at the Phillies biggest three offensive (not a double meaning) names and how their careers are currently trending.

Ryan Howard turned 34 last month. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011 when he had technically his worst statistical season to that point. If he is somehow able to put up numbers comparable to 2011 when he hit .253 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI, the Ryan Howard bandwagon will be full up. It’s hard to imagine him doing this given his recent injury history and penchant for swinging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone. Howard is trending down.

Jimmy Rollins turned 35 last month. The old saying always went, the Phillies go how Jimmy Rollins goes. Unfortunately for the Phillies and Rollins, that saying still holds up. Rollins has played 316 games the last two seasons and while some of his numbers in 2012 were solid, the ones that matter most for a leadoff man have not been for some time now. In 2012 he hit .250 and had an on base percentage of .316 (both those numbers warrant a bit of a throw up reflex) but he scored 102 runs and led the Phillies with 23 home runs and 68 RBI. In 2013, oh boy, Jimmy hit .252 with a .318 on base but only scored 65 runs and managed 6 home runs. If he’s not hitting the ball out of the ball park and he’s not getting on base, he’s just a below average hitter. It’s sad but it’s true. Jimmy Rollins is trending down.

One silver lining for Rollins that could play into this year was the criticism he received, almost immediately, from new manager Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg was not afraid to call Jimmy out for his lack of patience at the plate. If you’re a long time reader of this blog, you’re well aware that I like to get on Jimmy for popping up the 2nd pitch of an at bat at least 5 times a week (all numbers very accurate). Well, Sandberg said publicly that Rollins needs to be more selective and that did seem to lead to him drawing 24 walks in August and September, after only  earning 35 free passes in the first 4 months of the season. In fact, Jimmy had a .370 on base percentage in September, which is unheard of for a man who’s career on base percentage is .327.

Chase Utley turns 35 this week. After not playing in more than 115 games from 2010-2012, Utley managed to suit up for 131 games in 2013. Chase had a solid season that saw him bat .284 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI. Obviously, that’s a far cry from his hey-day years when the Phils were racking up division crowns and back-to-back pennants, but it was an improvement from his prior few seasons. If Chase can put up similar numbers this year, his 2 year contract extension will look a lot better for much maligned GM Ruben Amaro. Utley is clearly not in his prime any more, but at least he is trending steady as of right now. Which is more than you can say for the two men that will play beside him this year.

Aside from the big three above, Ruben Amaro must’ve thought that the Phillies just needed more veterans on this team to round it out. He decided to bring back 36 year old Marlon Byrd for 2 years and 16 million. Ruben cited a lot of garbage about Byrd’s swing plane and how it now produces more fly balls which will lead to home runs. We can all agree that Byrd had a career year last year split between the Mets and Pirates, but this is also a man who was suspended for 50 games for PEDs and was seen on HBO’s real sports backing the infamous Victor Conte. Speculate what you want from that, but as I mentioned earlier, guys don’t generally have career seasons in their mid to late 30s. We’ll see how Byrd holds up this year, but the signing is just perplexing at face value.

Then a week later Amaro went ahead and re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three year contract extension for a little over 25 million that will keep Chooch in red pinstripes until he’s 37. Chooch missed 50 games last year for his ties to PEDs. I can’t fault this signing but it does solidify a virtually ancient baseball team.

The Phillies projected opening day lineup boasts Ryan Howard as the youngest player that’s been a starter in this league for more than 2 years. Dom Brown, Ben Revere, and Cody Asche are all 26 or younger but still have plenty to prove.

To me, it all comes down to one thing. One man really. And that’s Ryan Howard. If Howard can somehow manage to channel 2008 and mash 35 home runs and knock in 120 runs then it will take a serious amount of pressure off the rest of the team. Howard’s bat used to strike fear into every pitcher and the rest of the lineup could feed off that and thrive off of that. He hasn’t been that player since the dreaded game 5 NLDS loss to the Cardinals in 2011, and the Phillies haven’t been any good since then either. There is a lot riding on The Big Piece’s shoulders this year. We shall see..

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's All Over - The 2013 Phillies

I didn’t watch the 2010 World Series.

I didn’t watch the 2011 LCS or World Series.

I didn’t watch the 2012 playoffs.

Eight baseball teams are playing today and the Phillies are not one of them. I’ve avoided October baseball like the plague the last two seasons. It’s too painful to get reminded the Phillies are not a regular in the postseason any longer. We got a bit spoiled with 5 straight division titles, but now it’s back to reality.

The reality is that the 2013 Phillies were a combination of overpaid over-the-hill superstars (Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon), wet behind the ears unproven talent (Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Cody Asche) and aside from Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee a bunch of 4.00 + ERA arms. They held it together through the All-Star Break and the second half of the season looked daunting but doable.

It wasn’t.

The media hasn’t highlighted Ben Revere breaking his foot in the last series before the All-Star Break as much as they should have. It was clearly a catalyst for the cataclysmic tailspin that cost Charlie Manuel his job.  Revere was leading off and hitting nearly .400 from the beginning of May to the middle of July. The Phillies did not have anybody they could turn to that would make up for this kind of production.  They simply just could not score runs in the second half of July. When you couple that big loss with a pitching staff that went decidedly south in the dog days of summer; the Phils wound up losing 19 of the last 22 games Charlie Manuel coached. That was all she wrote for the 2013 Phillies.

Ryne Sandberg has come in and said and done all the right things so far. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what he says and does next year if the Phillies don’t put more talent on the field for him. A turnaround could start with Howard and Rollins proving to themselves and the rest of us that they can still be effective Major League hitters, but it’s hard to believe they still have it in them. Their time has come and gone.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least say what a time it was!

Ruben Amaro needs to get a bit luckier than he has been the past few seasons. For the most part, I’ve agreed with the moves Ruben has made. Maybe not all of the contracts, but the players he has acquired have generally been smart decisions that just didn’t pan out. Of course, it’s a lot easier for things to pan out when Howard, Rollins, and Chase Utley combine for 100 home runs 300 RBIs while striking a whole lot of fear in opposing pitchers. Nevertheless, Amaro needs to find his versions of Shane Victornio and Jayson Werth if this team is going to make a trip back to the playoffs anytime soon.

So that’s your season recap in a nutshell. The Phillies couldn’t hit or pitch for the last 70 games and they finished with a 73-89 record. Their worst in 13 years. Worse than the Mets! They finished 4th in the NL East.

Moving on, let’s poke some fun at none other than yours truly for some seriously god-awful predictions I made at the beginning of the season. I’ll show you my prediction from this blog post I made right before the season, and then provide some analysis on it.

Without further adieu, let’s get to it! 

The Phillies: 89-73 – Wild Card winner. The Phillies have too many “guys that know how to get it done” for me to believe that this year can’t still lead to a postseason berth.

No need for analysis on this one as we just went over it, but I needed to point out how big of a homer I am right off the bat.

The Nationals: 94-66 – Division winner. The Nationals remind me of the Phillies in 2007 with younger talent. This is not good for the Phillies.

The Nationals played pretty mediocre ball all season and finished the year in 2nd place at 86-76 after making a small charge at the Wild Card in early September. It boiled down to them not hitting well at all this season. This is karma at it’s finest my friends. The Nationals SHUT DOWN their best starter last year before the season ended and did not allow him to pitch in the playoffs despite having no injury issues. I think maybe they could have used Steven Strasburg in that 5 game heartbreaking series loss to the Cardinals last year. I’m sure the Nats’ brass thought they’d be back right away and Strasburg would get his shot. The baseball gods laughed at them this year. Bottom line, when you have your opportunity you make the most of it, don’t “get em next year.”

The Braves: 87-75 – 3rd place NL East.

The Braves had two brilliant stretches this season and rode that to the NL East Division title. They started 12-1 and then when the Phillies started their nosedive the Braves won something crazy like 18 of 20. I didn’t pay too much attention to the Braves this year but they sure could pitch. If they got a lead the game was over, which I believe was mentioned in the March post. Their offense is capable of struggling big time and for this reason I don’t see them making much noise in the playoffs, but knowing my predictions they win the whole thing. Just know that they had two every day players in BJ Upton and Dan Uggla who couldn’t get their averages above .190 on the season. Cliff Lee would hit .220 at worst if he played every day, just saying.

Now the real fun starts. I’m not even sure who to get to first, let’s start here.

Ryan Howard: .277 – 43 HRs – 139 RBI – Top 3 MVP voting – The Big Piece is back baby!

Whoops!! Actual stats: .266 – 11 HRs – 43 RBI – Top 3 LVP voting. Howard never had it this season. Sure he hit .266 in the 80 games he managed to play, but he was basically a singles hitter. Let’s hope he was just not close to healthy and he can do something next year. If he’s healthy next year and doesn’t do anything, then what’s his excuse? I love Ryan Howard more than anything, but he’s starting to get to me. Side note, Howard held onto the team lead in strikeouts (95) until the last week of the season when Dom Brown passed him. Howard didn’t play after the 4th of July.

Cole Hamels: 21-7 – 2.73 ERA – 222 strikeouts. It is time for Hamels to step his game up a notch and become that pitcher you don’t worry about.

Double whoops!! Actual stats: 8-14 – 3.60 ERA – 202 strikeouts. Actually, if you look at advanced metrics (I don’t) Hamels probably had a decent year. He was certainly the top of the line ace you’d expect him to be during the second half of the season. But man, that first half had to be some kind of personal hell for him. He went from early April to early June without pitching with a lead. This allowed him to rack up losses like you  wouldn’t believe possible. Most of it was due to terrible run support, but Hamels did his share of coming up small with a lead this season. He bounced back well enough in the second half to make you think he’ll be fine, just fine, next year.

Lastly, I actually didn’t do too bad with these guys.

Domonic Brown: 150 games - .252 – 17 HRs – 68 RBI –I’m of the opinion that he will be very frustrating to Phillies fans this season. He has the tools and the power to open some eyes but he has also had enough exposure at the Major League level for me to believe that he will never be more than an average everyday player.

Actual stats: 139 games - .272 – 27 HRs – 83 RBI. Dom had possibly the best two week stretch of baseball a Phillie has ever had. He hit something like 10 home runs in 12 games. A lot of his stats are boosted by that stretch, but just to know he’s capable of something like that means quite a bit. He proved himself to be at the worst an average major leaguer this year and he led the Phillies in homers and RBI. He should be here to stay.

Chase Utley: .291 – 19 HRs – 86 RBI – 145 games played. If we’re anywhere close to those numbers I will not be surprised.

Actual stats - .284 – 18 HRs – 69 RBI – 131 games played. Chase proved plenty to a lot of us this year. He did spend some time on the shelf, but it was not knee related.  He was among the leaders of 2nd baseman in every single offensive category. If we can get another year like the one he just got out of Chase, we’ll all take it.

Cliff Lee: 15-9 – 3.45 ERA – 196 strikeouts. Cliff remains an enigma to me.

Actual stats – 14-8 – 2.87 ERA – 222 strikeouts. Cliff was not an enigma this year. He was hands down the best player on the team. He had about a three start stretch in the middle of the summer where he kept throwing gopher balls, but it did not last. Check out his stats in September and tell me he wasn’t the best pitcher in the game down what used to be the stretch for the Phillies.

5 Starts – 3-2 record – 1.85 ERA – 39 innings pitched - .183 opponets batting average - .69 WHIP – 54 strikeouts – 1 walk.

He lost a game 1-0 to end the season. Cliff Lee got it done all year, that’s more than you can say for anybody else on the roster.

Until next year folks..

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Playing Out The String

So this is what it feels like to have your baseball team playing out the string? Have you noticed how literally NOBODY CARES what is happening with the Phillies right now? I can’t blame them, but it’s been a good 10 years since the Phillies didn’t play a meaningful game in September and it just feels weird.

I catch an inning or two here and there and let my friends know what’s happening. The other night, for instance, a haggard looking Roy Halladay took the mound in South Beach. This is a town where three incredibly short/long (depending on your point of view) years ago he threw a perfect game. This start was exceptionally painful to watch. Halladay looked like Chet Steadman after he threw his arm out at the end of rookie of the year. He topped out at 83 on the gun and got one out before giving up two walks and had to be lifted in the first inning. Knowing Doc, he will probably undertake a grueling offseason regimen and find a team he can try out for in spring training, but hanging them up is probably his best option. Depressing is the nicest word you can use.

When I give my buddies an update; the responses range from “who cares?” to “Riley WHY are you watching this?” If my girlfriend is around and I have the Phillies on then I really get to hear it. She knows they’re out of it, so what’s the point of following a team of guys you’ve barely heard of? I say do you realize how different every night would be if the Phillies were still in this thing?

The lineups the officially under contract for three years Ryne Sandberg gets to trot out this last month are not exactly a who’s who of proven talent that Philadelphians are used to seeing. Here’s a sample of names you might see..

Cesar Hernandez
Cody Asche
Darin Ruf
Roger Bernadina

With guys like this coming out of the bullpen or making spot starts..

Joe Savery
Ethan Martin
Justin De Fratus
Luis Garcia

Who? Exactly.

This (once, for a short time) proud franchise has fallen on hard times so quickly. It’s hard to believe that two years ago the Phillies won 102 games and had the best record in baseball for the second year in a row. They had the lowest ERA in Majors that year. This year, they have the highest ERA. Not only that, they can’t hit. That’s a pretty deadly combination when it comes to your chances at making the playoffs.

Blame can be thrown in almost every direction for this dreadful season that actually still had promise at the All-Star break. Names like Howard, Rollins, and Amaro are almost starting to leave a bad taste in your mouth due to frustration. It’s hard to believe that the Phillies can make it back to the postseason with the core that has basically let them down the last two years leading the way. Sandberg insists he will do things differently. We’ll see how the superrich over-the-hill guys on this team react to having a guy who may be more Larry Bowa than Charlie Manuel running the show. There’s hope that Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins still have not hit E on their gas tanks, but there’s not a lot of it.

So here we sit with 4 games remaining in the season and one Cliff Lee start left to have vague interest in. Nobody’s going to watch because nobody seems to care. I guess I don’t blame them, but this is still my team for better or worse. I’ll be following. I’ll be hoping against hope.

Stay tuned for a season recap complete with analysis of my boneheaded predictions from the beginning of the season.

Go Phils!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ryne Sandberg Era Begins

The Ryne Sandberg era started exactly how most Phillies fans expected it to start; with 23 straight scoreless innings. The Dodgers were in town, and if you haven’t been paying attention, the Dodgers have won 50 out of their last 60 so yeah, they were a tough team for Sandberg to break in against. Anyway, the Phils showed some life in the final game of that series and managed a come from behind victory by the score of 3-2. The Dodgers had been 30-0 when scoring first during their extended streak of white hot play.

You have to give Sandberg some credit for coming in right away and not pulling any punches. He has been labeled the interim manager, but nobody would be surprised to see him at the helm to start the 2014 season.

It’s no secret to this fan base that Jimmy Rollins is quite frustrating to follow on an everyday basis. It’s been mentioned time and time again in this blog that Rollins’ approach to the offensive side of this game needs work. Especially now that he no longer can produce like he could in his prime. He is a leadoff man who currently has a .309 on base percentage and can’t get his batting average above .250. He pops the ball up in the infield, a lot. When batting left handed he rolls the ball over to the right side of the infield and never runs out the ball. What do you think Chase thinks when he sees Jimmy lollygagging it up the first base line every night? Jimmy is just basically incredibly stubborn.

It’s also no secret that Charlie Manuel allowed Jimmy to get away with all of these less than flattering habits. I’d have to guess that Charlie’s relationship with Jimmy was so close and Jimmy had come through more often than not for so long that Charlie just couldn’t bring himself to force Jimmy to be different. Jimmy’s unwillingness to change at the plate would be tough to stomach on a team that was doing well, but on this team something needed to be said.

Ryne Sandberg came right in and said everything that all fans wanted him to say regarding Jimmy. He has to be more patient. He has to work on his on base percentage. He needs to stop being so “pull happy” and try to work all parts of the field with more consistency.

It remains to be seen if Jimmy will employ some of the tactics necessary to change his game, but at least he’s been put on notice publically from the manager that it’s time for a change.

So Sandberg’s Phillies are not exactly Manuel’s Phillies if you take a look at a box score. Right now you’ll see names like Bernadina, Wells, Ruf, and McDonald. This addition of new names and youth mixed with standbys like Utley, Rollins, and Chooch has produced a bit of a new mojo for Sandberg over the course of the past week. The Phillies have showed signs of this thing we call “life” late in ball games all week.

The Rockies came to town and the Phils took 3 out of 4 including bottom of the 9th wins on Wednesday and Thursday. Michael Young delivered a game winning single the first night, and the game tying single the next night. In fact, Jimmy Rollins was a catalyst in Thursday night’s comeback. The Phils were trailing 4-3 with 2 outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 9th when Rollins lined a double into the right field corner. He promptly stole 3rd and scored easily on an infield single from Young. Utley followed with a walk and Dom Brown singled home the game winning run in walk-off fashion. Scoring 2 runs with nobody on and 2 outs in the 9th was not something you’d see coming from a lifeless bunch, but the influx of youth has seemed to breathe some life into this much maligned squad.

The next night the Phillies continued their late game heroics when Chase Utley worked a 1 out walk in a tie ball game with the based loaded. The win was their third straight in their last at-bat.

Then came Saturday night. Starter Ethan Martin could not make it out of the first inning and the Phils seemed dead in the water trailing 7-3 for most of the game. Dead in the water until the 8th inning that is. So let’s talk about it folks, Darin Ruf is starting to create a bit of a legend (too early and too much of an exaggeration alert!!). Well, Ruf had hit a two run homer in the 8th inning of Thursday night’s ball game that allowed for Jimmy to get them to a win. In the 8th inning of Saturday night’s ball game he stepped to the plate down 7-5 with a man on. Boom, fly ball to deep left field sails over the fence. Tie ball game. Unfortunately, the Phils could not pull off their 4th straight walk-off win and failed to score for the next 10 innings! They wound up losing in the 18th after Casper Wells gave up 5 runs in two thirds of an inning. Wells played the entire game in right field and went 0-7, rough night for Casper the friendly outfielder. Nevertheless, the Darin Ruf legend grew significantly in this game.

Once again, if you haven’t been paying attention you should at least be checking Darin Ruf’s box score every morning. The kid has been hitting with power. In the last 30 games only Miguel Cabrera (by far the best hitter on the planet) has more home runs. Ruf has 9 in that stretch and plenty have been in big spots. At this point, Ruf has 11 home runs on the season which is good for 4th among all rookies. Here’s the thing, he’s only played 42 games. The three guys ahead of him, including Yasiel Puig who has 12, have all played a minimum of 73 games. The rookie leader, Jedd Gyorko, has 16. Also of note, Ruf’s 11 home runs have come in 151 at bats. Ryan Howard also has 11 home runs on the season, in 286 at bats. Ruf’s play since being called up has earned him a roster spot next season.

The 18 inning Saturday night game included 5 scoreless relief innings from Tyler Cloyd. The funny thing is, Cloyd was scheduled to start Sunday afternoon’s game. So guess who got a phone call in the middle of the night while sleeping in Reading, PA? You guessed it! Roy “Doc" Halladay made the trip from Berks County to South Philadelphia and suited up for his first big league game since Cinco De Mayo. All texts with my buddies prior to the game predicted carnage since Halladay had not looked too sharp in his minor league starts. Carnage is what happened, but it was for the DBacks starter Patrick Corbin. The Phillies smoked Corbin for 9 runs and Halladay was solid. Doc’s velocity was down, which was expected, but he finished 6 innings and gave up 2 runs on 4 hits earning himself a win. You can’t expect much more from him than that.

I must say it’s nice to see the Phils “playing out the string” with some life and some purpose as we head into September. The Phils record under Sandberg currently sits at 6-4 and they have won 6 of their last 8. At least the baseball being played seems interesting again.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Firing of Charlie Manuel

You know that the Phillies have never had a team as good or as accomplished as the teams Charlie Manuel coached.

You know that the Phillies have 130 year history of losing, save 10 years or so scattered throughout the last century.

You know he led this team and this city on a genuinely exhilarating thrill ride through the mid and late 2000s.

If you were paying attention, you know he was doing it with a smile on his face that generally matched the ones you’d see from Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard.

You know the Phillies went to back-to-to back World Series. You know about the 5 straight division titles, and of course you know about 2008.

You know that a mixture of injuries, talent evaluation, and mostly a serious drop off in production from players the Phillies counted on to win all those divisions has caused the Phillies to fall on their hardest times in over a decade.

So you know that a scapegoat needed to be found to alleviate some of the pressure the organization was feeling from a lost season.

And now you know that the Phillies’ management decided that scapegoat was Charlie Manuel.

What I want to know is why now? Knowing everything we know about Charlie Manuel, and the reign he has had here, why did David Montgomery and Ruben Amaro Jr decide mid-August was a good time to fire a beloved manager? What did the Phillies have to gain by parting ways with a man who’s been a large part of their tremendous success? Was the timing for this something the front office thought would sit well with the fans? Do they just not care what we think? Did they honestly think the fans thought it was Manuel’s fault that Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard fell off mile high cliffs in the blink of an eye? Did they think we thought it was Manuel messing with Chase Utley’s knees?

I understand the decision to part ways with Manuel. Whether we like it or not, the Phillies are going to have to move on from their aging core of superstars. At this point in Cholly’s career he does not need to stick around and sift through the mess this team is going to be in for the foreseeable future. A mess that was created by gargantuan long-term contracts handed out by someone not named Charlie Manuel.

So I get it. I get the decision to not have Charlie around after this year. But that’s just the thing. This year isn’t f*&^ing over yet! Maybe it would have been a tough next 6 weeks. Scratch that, it’s definitely going to be a tough next 6 weeks on the field, but, man! I don’t even know how to explain it but I’ll try.

Everyone in that organization that makes decisions above Charlie Manuel’s head owes him a heaping pile of gratitude for the job he did and the position he’s helped them get to. By firing him mid-season it was like they failed to recognize this fact. Instead of going out on his own terms the Phillies showed him the door. It frustrates me to think that a manager with the personality, likability, and unparalleled success that Manuel had got discarded like yesterday’s news. He did not deserve it.

We could compare this situation to one we just went through with Andy Reid except it wouldn’t quite be a fair comparison for several reasons. First of all, Manuel won a title. Second of all, by the end of the 2012 season you’d be hard pressed to find someone who had something decent to say about Andy Reid. Lastly, Jeffrey Lurie had some class and let his guy finish the season even if it was a bad one. 

I just can’t stop shaking my head at the timing of this departure.

There’s a few things I’ll always remember about Charlie Manuel.

He was just like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball.

He talked quite a bit like Foghorn Leghorn.

He was always smiling and joking around. God, I miss the days when he’d sit with his forearms perched on top of the dugout fence chuckling away and talking with Jimmy. He always was talking to Jimmy.

He loves to hit. He really, really, loves to hit and the Phillies did it better than any one else when he was here.

And of course, he loved that dent in the back of his hat.

One thing is for sure, I will miss Charlie Manuel.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Dog Days

It’s been 3 weeks since my last post which came a few games after the All-Star Break and in the midst of a tailspin. It has become the tailspin to end all tailspins but here’s the thing though, the tailspin still hasn’t stopped. I mean, things just got ugly quickly after the break. The Phils scored 13 runs in their first game after the break, and won easily against the Mets. Since then, here are their run totals for all 20 games they’ve played.

4, 0, 1, 3, 1, 1, 0, 4, 7, 2, 1, 4, 4, 1, 9, 2, 12, 2, 5, 0.

This is an average of 3.15 runs per game. In the losses they averaged 2.05 runs per game. The Phils managed to win 3 of those 20 games, those run totals are in bold. After this weekend’s latest sweep at the hands of the Nationals their road losing streak stands at 13 games. 

As Chevy Chase told Rodney Dangerfield in the penultimate money game at the end of Caddyshack, “You’re not.. you’re not, you’re not good.”

The trade deadline was fast approaching when I wrote my last post. Here is a recap of what the Phils did over the trade deadline to a team that was 6 games under .500 and over 10 games out of 1st place and is currently overpaying basically every player they have except for Dom Brown.

Moving on, the nightmare season continues for Cole Hamels. In his last 3 starts he has allowed 2, 0, and 2 earned runs and he has an 0-1 record to show for it during that time. He threw 8 brilliant scoreless inning 2 weeks ago against the Giants (I guess he should have thrown 9). He knocked in the only run of the game to head to the 9th with a 1-0 lead. Jonathan “I didn’t come here for this” Papelbon came in and promptly allowed the tying and go ahead runs to score before he recorded an out. To make matters worse, the Phils proceeded to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 9th and still managed not to get the tying run home en route to a cross between a gut punch / kick in the dick 2-1 loss. It was as if the Phils got together before the 9th inning that night and said, “Hey what is the worst possible scenario to lose this game tonight?” And that’s what they did. As John McEnroe would say, “You cannot be serious!?!” This paragraph is a microcosm of the Phils' season.

Meanwhile, the staff’s other “ace” Cliff Lee hasn’t made it out of the 6th inning for 3 straight starts, taking the L in two of the three. He’s been giving up more walks and home runs then you would think is possible for Cliff, but at this point in the season no bad news should really surprise the fans.

For the season, Hamels has received 3.13 runs per start and Lee has received 3.34 runs per start. It’s hard to have good numbers in the win loss column when this is the kind of support you get from an anemic offense. Alas..

Here are a few more miscellaneous tidbits of bad before I get to a few silver linings that have not gone unnoticed. Speaking of Silver Linings, this is just brilliant stuff if you’re a Philadelphia sports fan (Caution – DeNiro goes DeNiro with his language here).

Delmon Young was designated for assignment (to the minors) 9 at bats short of reaching a 150 K bonus. It’s funny because it’s basically a giant F U! to Delmon because the Phillies are paying Roy Halladay 150 K per out recorded and Ryan Howard 150 K per swing and miss this season. All numbers approximate.

Here are this Phillies numbers and MLB ranks since the All-Star break for offensive and pitching categories – Note this is out of 30 teams:


Batting Average - .225 (28th)
Runs – 76 (26th)
Walks – 44 (30th)
Slugging - .361 (26th)
OPS – 640 (27th)


ERA – 5.62 (30th)
Saves – 0 (30th) LOL!!
Batting Average Against - .293 (30th)
WHIP – 1.61 (30th)

Wow. To be honest, I knew these stats were going to be bad when I looked them up, but wow. Just WOW! Can’t stop thinking, saying, and typing wow. Dead last in the most important pitching categories is a sure fire way to be wretched, and the Phils are wretched right now.

Moving on, thankfully.

Darin Ruf actually looks like he knows what he’s doing at the plate. This is a serious accomplishment for Phillies not named Utley or Brown. Since joining the team full time when Ryan Howard hit the DL Ruf has reached base safely in 27 of 29 games, including the first 25 straight. He works counts and draws walks! I use the exclamation point because aside from Michael Young, nobody on the Phillies seems to care about getting on base via the free pass. He has also shown power, of his 28 hits 13 are for extra bases, 6 home runs and 7 doubles. He has been playing a mix of first base and left field, with a little bit of right thrown in. There is promise here.

Dom Brown missed two weeks after giving himself a mild concussion diving for a fly ball. There was a week or so there where Phillies outfielders were making pathetic attempt after pathetic attempt diving at fly balls. John Mayberry dove for a ball he was at least 4 feet away from catching. If John Mayberry stays in the big leagues after this year, well, let’s just hope it’s not with the Phillies. Sorry for getting off track but some things need to be mentioned, anyway Dom has been back for a week now and he has picked up where he left off. In the six games he’s been back he’s homered twice and knocked in 6 runs while moving his average to .274 on the season. He now has 26 home runs and 75 RBI, both team highs by far.

Finally, the biggest news from the past few weeks, whether you agree with the move or not, is that Chase Utley signed a 2 year contract extension worth $29 million. There are all kinds of vesting options that could make the deal worth $75 million over 5 years, but raise your hand if you think Chase will get those options to vest.

The whole Chase Utley saga is the very definition of a Catch 22. Chase Utley is to Phillies fans what Brian Dawkins is to Eagles fans. He’s the epitome of what we want in a player as Philadelphia sports fans, until he’s not. And Chase has been teetering between the guy we know and love and the guy we’re frustrated with because he can’t stay on the field. When Chase has been on the field this year, he has been stellar. Take a look at the numbers among NL 2nd baseman.

Average  – .278 (5th)
Home Runs – 15 (2nd)
RBI – 45 (5th)
Slugging – .506 (2nd)
OPS – .846 (2nd)
WAR – 3.1 (2nd)

Fairly impressive right? Here’s the kicker, aside from the aggregate stats (Home Runs and RBI) Chase does not even qualify to be listed with the leaders in these offensive categories due to the 30 or so games he missed with the oblique strain.  If he finishes the season healthy, he should rack up enough at bats to officially qualify but it’s disheartening that he is not right now.

So even in a season where you feel like Chase has been healthy for a good majority of the games, he’s still not going to play in 130 of them this year. Rube is taking yet another sentimental gamble on Utley that he will hold up physically and still be able to perform better than his contemporaries. I know I’m a homer and not calculating say along the lines of a Billy Beane, but Chase has earned this right to stay and to play for the only team he’s ever known. If it blows up in our face so be it, as long as I don’t have to see him suiting up for the Dodgers or any other uniform I’m fine with it.

Until next time folks..

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Vibe

It's hard to put it into words right now.

The Phils scored 11 runs in the first 3 innings of the break and have scored 10 in the last 42.

But right now, who really cares what the actual stats are? What matters most is the results in the win loss column and the Phils haven't hung up a W in 6 days. That's an eternity of losing when you're in as precarious a position as the Phillies are right now. They are riding a 4 game losing streak and attempting to avoid a sweep at the hands of what looks like the best team in the NL, the St. Louis Cardinals.

It's one thing to lose 4 games in a row when every game you play is basically "the biggest game of the year" but to lose them in the fashion the Phils have lost them is the most discouraging part. 

Saturday's game started with a leadoff home run from Jimmy Rollins in the top of the first. Then Cole Hamels took the mound and looked like he forgot how to throw a strike. He got hurt by a few bloops in the first, but the guy making  $19.5 million this year with $120+ million left on his deal needed to come out and shut down a team like the Mets even if it was 100 degrees Saturday afternoon. He didn't. He gave up 3 runs in the first and the Phils couldn't rally from 3 runs down in the 9th despite a 2 out 2 run home run from Chase Utley.

Phils lose 5-4.

Sunday was the marquee matchup. The two All-Star Pitchers promoted as the Lee-Harvey (Oswald) matchup was supposed to be a pitcher's duel. Harvey held up his part of the bargain. Old Cliff left the ball over the middle of the plate too much for the second start in a row and gave up another 3 gopher balls in that mammoth ballpark in Queens. At one point Cliff had given up 7 home runs in his last 7 innings pitched. Harvey dominated and the Phils looked like borderline little leaguers striking out 10 times. Harvey went 7 scoreless.

Phils lose 5-0.

Monday was a reprieve and a flight to St. Louis.

Tuesday the Phils never really threatened Shelby Miller. Shelby Miller has 10 wins. Shelby Miller?

Phils lose 4-1.

Wednesday all this stuff happened. If gambling were legal the Cards were a safe bet last night.

Phils lose 11-3. 

It's hard to imagine that an entire era of dominant Phillies baseball could come down to one week of baseball but that's virtually where we are at as I write an hour or so before Thursday night's game.

This team scored 13 runs in the first game after the break. Then Charlie had Hamels and Lee set up for them to begin a run on the Atlanta Braves, who should be losing ground in the NL East but nobody seems interested in catching them. That didn't even come close to happening and the losses have gotten more pathetic it seems each night. 

The doomsday clock I have mentioned is ticking loudly and the team Ruben Amaro constructed is making his job a lot harder than he'd like it to be. The trade deadline is looming less than a week away and Rube will have a lot to think about this weekend.

It's still a hair too early to begin a complete fire sale but it feels like I'll have to talk out of both side of my mouth when explaining that. The fact is the Phils could easily win tonight and then they're back to the Hamels-Lee duo as their road trip continues against Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers in Detroit Rock City. Hopefully those two can earn their paychecks this weekend.

I'll leave you with a glass half full / half empty scenario as we go into what may be the most crucial stretch of baseball Phillies fans could see for a long while. And it's not even August :(

Atlanta has only gained 1 game in the division and have been in a bit of a tailspin as well, so it's nice to see the Braves doing their best to keep pace with the Phils. You can throw the Nats into that mediocre NL East triumvirate as well.

The cynic would say, yeah they're still not out of it but they'd be picking up games just playing .500 ball! Blow this team up!

Man, I don't know what to think. I just wanna have hope.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The 2013 Phillies at the Break

Roy Halladay started 7 games and racked up an 8.65 ERA in 34.1 innings before heading to the DL for shoulder surgery.

Ryan Howard played 80 mostly ineffective games (probably half of which were played on a torn meniscus), batted 4th, hit 11 home runs in 286 at bats, and slugged just .465 before hitting the DL for knee surgery.

Cole Hamels has come on of late, but he managed to rack up 11 losses before July and seemed to lack control and composure on his way to finishing his first half with a 5 and – excuse me Jonathan Papelbon blew Hamels’ latest win – 4-11 record with a 4.05 ERA.

Although it has settled down some in the past few weeks, the Phils much beleaguered bullpen is the worst in the NL with a 4.39 ERA. The bullpen is also dead last in batting average against (.270), and WHIP (1.50). The other stat they are dead last in is innings pitched, which is technically first so those terrible stats are at least being employed for the least amount of game time in the NL.

The highest paid reliever in the game, the aforementioned Papelbon, seemed untouchable through his first 25 appearances this season. Then, all of a sudden, he seemed to have lost his mojo and blew 4 saves in an 8 day stretch. That’s pretty hard to do. He recovered to save 6 straight from the end of June until the last day of the break but he then managed to blow that game. At least he kept it tied and the Phils pulled it out in the 10th.

That’s the lowlights of the bad and the ugly of the first half.

Despite all that, the Phillies are in a markedly better position than they were last year at the All-Star Break. They finished a 10 game home stand on Sunday with a 7-3 tally to compile a .500 record of 48-48. The Atlanta Braves jumped out to a 12-1 record (That only loss was to the Phils.) to start the season and have played .500 ball ever since. They hold a 6.5 game lead over the Phillies and a 6 game lead over the Washington Nationals.

If you’ll indulge me and give this link a click, you’ll see that last year’s Phillies squad, as you probably remember, was in a far worse position than this year’s version. That team last year was 13 games below .500 at the break and the Nats ran away from everybody to win the division, so the deficit was 14 games at the break in 2012. Of course, as my biggest critic and steadfastly avid sabermatrician enthusiast Mike Rumbaugh would say, last year has absolutely no bearing on this year. Nevertheless, it’s still nice to see the Phils are in a better spot than they were last year.

So with arguably the three most important players on the team throwing stink bombs onto the diamond in the first half, you have to wonder how the Phillies managed to keep themselves in contention through the first 96 games?

The highlights of the first half:

Dom Brown has emerged! Dom enters the break with a by far team high 23 home runs, a team high 67 RBI, and has added value in left field with a plus arm that has been throwing out plenty of runners looking for an extra base. He is an All-Star and he belongs. During a 12 game stretch from the end of May to early June, Dom swatted 10 home runs and earned back-to-back player of the week honors as well as NL Player of the Month in May. He is now the man in the cleanup spot and he looks comfortable being there.*

Cliff Lee is back to being Cliff Lee. Lee went 10-3 in the first half and enjoyed a 12 game stretch without taking a loss until his final start before the break. He has a 2.86 ERA and is 3rd in the NL in innings pitched with 138.2 innings while striking out 125. When Cliff is scheduled to start that day you feel good about the team’s chances. He pounds the strike zone like you wouldn’t believe, almost to a fault actually. In his recent loss he threw 50 strikes in his first 58 pitches. That’s wild. He will join Dom Brown in Queens for the All-Star Game.

What’s next hurts.

Ben Revere has been stellar at the plate. That’s saying an awful lot for a guy who has 336 plate appearances this year and has yet to hit a home run (He’s at 1400 all time plate appearances without one, for those waiting for Benny to jerk one down the line.) Revere was playing himself out of the lineup during the first month of the season, but since May 1st he has been the table setter for this offense. It just seems like when he comes up for his third or fourth at bat he has one or two hits, damn near every game. Once he gets on he’s a constant threat to steal and causes havoc with his speed. His consistent hitting and speed made you accept the fact that he probably is ranked 2 out of 10 for arm and power in video games.  During the past 2 plus months he’s hitting close to .400 and has his overall average up to a team high .305 while racking up another team high of 22 steals.

Just when the fan base was really starting to turn the tide on the thinking of the Revere acquisition Benny went and fouled one off his foot, breaking it. Ouch! In many different ways. He had surgery today and is scheduled to miss 8 weeks.

So, like I said, it hurts.

Moving on to my keys for the second half:

**Captain Obvious Alert** The Phillies win when they score 4 or more runs. They are 35-12, that’s damn near .750 ball, in games when the score 4 or more runs. The caveat is that they have been scoring that many with more frequency since June 1. In their first 55 games they scored 4 or more 24 times or 43.6% of the time. In those games they went 18-6. In the 41 games they have played since June 1, they have scored 4 or more 23 times or 56.1% of the time. In those games they went 17-6. This is obviously a pretty simple concept, and the Phillies made a living of winning divisions by averaging over 4.5 runs a game year after year, but when you have an offense that catches as much grief from fans, writers, pundits, and part-time bloggers like myself it’s nice to shut your critics up a bit with a sustained period of above average offense.

They’ve been doing this by committee for the most part. Dom Brown has hit 23 home runs but no one else on the team has more than 11. Howard is second with 43 RBI. It seems like every one on the team is capable of getting a big hit on any given night, but certainly not with much frequency.

At this point the pitching staff includes a litany of unproven talent and proven mediocrity starring Jonathan Pettibone, John Lannan, and a struggling of late Kyle Kendrick as starters. Couple that with a bullpen that has regulars of an always adventurous if not effective Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, Jeremy Horst, as well as new edition JC Ramirez and the offense will still need to produce like they have for the past 40 games.

With Revere going down, the Phillies will really need to lean on the guys who have done it before to pick up the slack. Jimmy Rollins has hit 4 home runs this year after hitting 23 a season ago. He has been the subject of plenty of ire of late for continuing to do the things that every one dislikes, swinging early in at-bats, popping up in the infield, and not hustling on ground balls. He still gets it done in the field with the best of them, but the hitting for extra bases and power needs to start happening in the second half for the Phillies to contend.

Chase Utley has to be circa 2007-2009 Chase Utley. Can it still happen?

My take is that the Phillies have at the very least put themselves in the position to make a move for the playoffs with 66 games remaining even with more going wrong than right. At the start of the 2012 season all of us would have been disgusted if we were told that the Phillies missed the 2012 playoffs and had played to a dead even 127-127 record in a little over a season and a half. These Phillies were built to last with the pitching they had amassed, they couldn’t possibly fall off like this. The new faces that go with Utley, Rollins, Hamels and Chooch have earned the chance to not have this team dismantled with their play in the first half despite endless rumblings from every one who had an opinion. They should be laying pride on the line for the next 3 months as they have to be thinking that this will be their last shot with the core group still intact. Needless to say.. I’ll be following along so I hope you will too.

**Addendum for the stat geeks like me**

Here's a little show and tell on how the offense is stacking up compared to the last two years at the break. Their NL rank is in parentheses.

2011:      Avg.         HR          R               SLG              OPS           
         .250 (10)      78 (9)     4.0 (9)       .382 (9)       .705 (8)

2012:      Avg.         HR           R              SLG              OPS
         .262 (4)        84 (9)     4.2 (7)       .403 (9)       .719 (9)

2013:      Avg.         HR           R              SLG              OPS
          .257 (5)       90 (5)     3.9 (10)      .402 (6)       .714 (5)

Here's a hey-day year just so you can reminisce on the good old days. This is a full season as opposed to numbers at the break which are above.

2007:   Avg.            HR            R              SLG             OPS
        .274 (5)        213 (2)      5.5 (2)      .458 (1)        .812 (1)


*I hold a little skepticism about this but I can’t voice that in the main column.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sitting on the Fence

It’s a weird time to be a Phillies fan right now. It feels like every day is Doom’s Day and we’re not even at the All-Star Break. The fan base has been sitting on top of a fence leaning a different way each morning based on what the result was from the game the night before. If the Phils win, there is hope that maybe the Phillies can hit a bit, maybe their adolescent bullpen isn’t so terrible, maybe Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro do know what they are doing. But if the Phillies lose it’s cataclysmic. They can’t hit, or don’t even seem to know how. Their bullpen will almost certainly do them in, and Manuel and Amaro are bumbling blockheads.

Obviously, the day-to-day outcome of each Phillies game will not technically be indicative of how the rest of the season will go. That has not stopped most fans from jumping on and off the bandwagon about 10 times more than usual.

Just over a month ago the Phillies got up over .500 for the first time and it felt like they should be poised to make a run for the first place Braves. They were up 4-0 in a game in Milwaukee with Cliff Lee on the mound and wound up losing that game, and the next 4 that followed. Since then it’s been an arduous climb back to the .500 mark. Of course, the .500 mark doesn’t mean much of anything, but I have sort of looked at is as the possible jumping off point they need to be at to make a second half run.

Since losing 3 of 4 to the Dodgers in LA during the last week of June the Phillies have played their best stretch of baseball arguably since the 2011 season. They have won 3 straight series over teams with better records including 2 of 3 from the Pirates and Braves and 3 of 4 from the Nats. They enter the last series before the All-Star Break against the hapless Chicago White Sox at 46-47. They have the chance to reset for the second half of the season on a high note as well as  give Ruben Amaro more of a reason to buy than to sell in the coming weeks.

With the rain out last night the Phillies have the opportunity to win 3 games over the course of a 24 hour period. They need to prove their mettle and at the very minimum take 2 of 3 from a White Sox team that has clearly fallen on hard times while residing in the cellar of the AL Central at 36-53. If they can win one game in the double-header today with Jonathan Pettibone and John Lannan on the mound, Cole Hamels will get his shot to put the Phillies at .500 while the fans can take a 4 day respite from worrying about whether or not the Phillies can win that day.

If they lose the series that Doom’s Day Clock inches closer and closer the end of it all.

Stay tuned for an in depth midseason report coming later this week on the Phillies first half.