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..