Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Night at the Ballpark

Last night I was lucky enough to receive three free tickets from a generous friend for the ballgame against the Pirates. The seats were great, you can see mine, my roommate and my girlfriend's vantage point in the picture above. From the angle we were sitting, you can really see more nuances of the battle between pitcher and hitter that you don't normally get to appreciate on TV.

For instance, in his first at bat and during the first 3 pitches of his second at bat, Ryan Howard looked clueless. The Pirates started lefthander Wandy Rodriguez and he entered the game with an ERA under 1.00. This did not bode well for the Phillies considering they had been shutout by a lefthander the night before and been struggling mightily against lefties all season. Howard is a large portion of that struggle, he entered the game batting 2-18 on the season against left handed pitching. Well after making up his mind and swinging fastball, even though it’s obvious to the 32,000 in attendance (yes only 32,000 + paid last night) that he would not be getting a fastball, he struck out and was clearly way out in front of the pitch. This frustrates me a little bit I must say. My frustration was mitigated a bit because Chase Utley had lined a tracer over the fence while batting second in the first inning.

With the score 1-0 Phils after 1 it was time for Roy “Doc” Halladay to go to work. I was at the game last Friday night against the Cardinals when Halladay got a de facto complete game for finishing 7 strong innings and allowing 2 runs before the sky opened up and ended the game early. Needless to say, I was excited to see what Doc would bring to the table after two straight solid starts that followed his disastrous beginning to the season.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I’m not trying to jinx anything here but it looks like Doc is starting to regain his mojo. I was skeptical after the Marlins start because, well they’re the Marlins. But after seeing his last two starts in person I have to say I’ve been impressed. He’s getting swings and misses. He is keeping the ball down in the zone and his velocity is almost back to normal. He was hitting 92 regularly Friday and was hovering around 89-91 MPH on the gun all last night. He may not have been 2010 Roy Halladay but let’s go inside the numbers a bit here. He pitched 6 innings and gave up 1 hit! 1 earned run, walked 2, and struck out 8. He struggled a few times trying to put hitters away which caused his high pitch count but I can live with those totals. The lone run that scored came after he got the first 2 outs of the 4th, then gave up a walk and a hit by pitch before a single tied the game.

So with the game tied at 1 in the 4th inning The Big Piece waltzed to the plate with 1 out and nobody on. Man did he look awful getting himself in the hole 0-2 flailing away at breaking pitches. He barely hung on foul tipping the third pitch he saw and then fouled a ball down the 1st base line to keep the count 0-2 after 4 pitches. My roommate sitting next to me is saying “No way you give him a pitch to hit here.” This is what every one in the stadium who knows anything about baseball is thinking. Howard will chase and strikeout if you can make a pitch. Well, Wandy made a pitch alright. He hung a curveball and Howard didn’t miss. He sent a majestic moon-shot into the upper deck and the Phillies took the lead 2-1. The crowd went wild. This would be the high point of the game. Howard doubled his season total with that blast and now has 2 in 77 at bats. :(

Halladay exited in the bottom of the 6th for pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen who came through with a clutch RBI single to give the Phils a 3-1 lead and leave Doc with a solid chance for his third straight victory. It was not to be though. The Phils bullpen imploded, starting with a home run given up by Antonio Bastardo in the 7th and ending with Mike Adams literally soiling himself on the mound while giving up 3 runs without getting an out in the 8th. 5-3 Pirates.

The Phils got a man on in the 8th but Ben Revere knows how to kill any kind of rally. I don’t know how the fastest guy on the team has already grounded into 4 double plays but it is killing me. I had to look this stat up and who do I see leading the league in GIDPs? Michael Young already has 6! Erik Kratz also has 4 and the Phillies lead the National League with 22 double plays in 22 games. Double plays are soul crushing, especially to a team like the Phillies that struggles to score so mightily. The Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who has yet to allow a run all season, struck out Utley with a man on to end the 9th.

Pirates win 5-3.

Phils record when I’m in attendance: 2-1.

As an aside, I have to say that Citizen’s Bank Park really offers a nice variety of food options. Friday night my seats were in right field so I ventured back to Bull’s Barbeque and had a delightfully tangy pulled pork sandwich. Last night I strolled over to Ashburn Alley and braved the line at Campo’s to get myself “The Heater” which is basically a buffalo steak sandwich with pepper jack cheese. My roommate went with "The Schmitter" - good times.

The Phils have clearly not started to click this season and this loss dropped them to 9-13. They trail the Braves by 6.5 games and need to start turning it around before the mountain is too big to climb. There are encouraging signs from all of the better players on the team, but it needs to start happening on a more consistent nightly basis. The big three pitchers all look like they can dominate and that should prove to be a leg up if the Phils can provide some offense. That starts with Howard homering more than once every 40 at bats. Chooch comes back this weekend. Time to get going!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Early Observations

The Phils have played 9 games, just over 5% of the season, so we really can’t take anything we have seen in the first 3 series as if its set in stone. Having said that, I will share some of my observations and thoughts through the first part of the schedule.

My Highlight: I was on vacation in Jamaica from Friday to Tuesday. I knew Cliff Lee was on the mound the day I got back and the Phils were struggling. I thought, what better way to welcome myself back to America then to take in a ball game at the Bank? Not to mention it was Dollar Dog Night. I walked in with my two buddies as John Mayberry stroked a 2 run double. Within the next half hour I was standing in left field to watch Ryan Howard’s first home run of the season land in front of me, Michael Young go back-to-back with Howard for an oppo bomb, and Mayberry lace a rocket over the fence in the left field corner all in the span of 7 pithces.. Cliff never looked back.

My Lowlight: Anything and everything having to do with Doc Halladay. I conducted a live running diary of his first start of the season and ugly would have been one of the nicest adjectives you could use to describe that outing. His second start came on national television and I was able to catch some of it in Jamaica. What is his deal out there? I understand he’s struggling but I’ve never seen some one look so anguished, sweaty, and just basically showing his untimely demise written all over his face all at once. Like I said earlier, nothing is set in stone, but here are Doc’s stats so far this season.

Starts: 2
Innings Pitched: 7 1/3
Earned Runs: 12
HR: 3
BB: 6
K: 12
WHIP: 2.45
ERA: 14.73
W-L: 0-2

Every one of those numbers, except for the strikeouts, is ghastly. The chances of Halladay ever being the dominant force he once was are slim and none. At this point he needs to start finding the strike zone with much more frequency and basically just play through a serious transition in skill to be at the very minimum a 6 inning 3 run kind of guy.

Cole Hamels: Still pending, but just an abhorrent start. Makes me sick just thinking about how bad he has been.

Cliff Lee: See Hamels, but the exact opposite.

Ryan Howard: It took him 31 plate appearances to get an extra base hit. He looks just as clueless as ever/as he always has on more than a few pitches. Shaky would be a generous word to describe his fielding. He swung a decent bat in spring training against lefties but check out his stats versus the endless string of lefties he sees towards the end of games.

AB: 12
H: 0
AVG: 0
Ks: 7
BB: 1
RBI: 1
OB: .077
OPS: .077

Insert the Nelson “HA-HA” laugh from The Simpsons, but only if you’re not a Phillies fan.

He is a notoriously slow starter, but this is a discouraging start nevertheless.

Chase Utley: See Howard, but the exact opposite.

Michael Young: We may have a ballplayer on our hands here. I never knew a ton about Mike Young while he played for the Rangers other than that he put up 200 hit season after 200 hit season. Well 200 hit seasons are not something to be taken for granted. Utley and Jimmy Rollins have each done it once and no one else on the Phils roster has accomplished the feat. Young has done it 6 times. He had a down year last year but through 9 games he’s showing some of the brilliance he’s capable of at the plate spraying the ball around the diamond and showing some pop as well.

Larry Andersen: As irreverent and possibly drunk as ever. I love it.

The Phils take on the Miami Marlins this weekend and should have a decent shot to win their second series in a row. The Marlins have been shut out 4 times in their first 9 games and are basically fielding a minor league team full of has-beens and never-will-bes except for Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton. John Lannan will make his second start Friday night and Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay should be able to see a lineup that can put them back on track.

The Phils are 4-5 through 9 games and have received close to the worst pitching they could possibly muster. Even after allowing 6 runs (5 earned) over the last two games, they still have a 6.04 ERA, worst in Major League Baseball by nearly half a run. Things could be worse without a doubt, but as I alluded to many times in my season preview entries, at least it has been interesting.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Phillies - Game 2 - Running Diary

5:19 EST - I was not able to watch all of Monday night's game. Tonight will be the first game that I get to sit down, try and relax, and try not to overreact if Roy Halladay's night does not go as well as every one would like it to.

There has been a ton of talk, almost all bad, about Roy Halladay the last month plus. Tonight, for the first time this season, he will have a chance to show whether or not he is a top tier pitcher, or any kind of pitcher for that matter. The Braves were red-hot all spring and continued to rake against Cole Hamels on opening day, so this will be a true test for Doc right out of the gate.

He is facing Braves left-hander Paul Maholm. Maholm spent most of his career with the Pirates before splitting time between the Cubs and Braves last season.

Charlie Manuel filled out his lineup card the exact same way tonight as he did Monday and it is as follows:

Ben Revere CF
Jimmy Rollins SS
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Michael Young 3B
Dom Brown LF
John Mayberry RF
Erik Kratz C
Roy Halladay P

Check back in around game time for updates on how Doc's night is going.

5:45 EST - This quote/scene sums up my thoughts on Doc's potential performance tonight.

6:45 EST - Two and Half Men will be leading us into the broadcast on PHL 17. It's a Charlie episode.

6:58 EST - Astros got shut out by the Rangers again today. They struck out 43 times out of 81 outs. Good luck this season Houston. That's a division game by the way. The NL West will no longer have Houston to beat up on.

7:03 EST - The Phils pregame show did us the pleasure of showing the 6-0! lead Doc blew in Atlanta last season. Great memory. Michael Bourn, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones did a bunch of the damage, none of which are in the lineup tonight. Here's the Braves starting 9.

1. Angrelton Simmons SS
2. Jayson Heyward RF
3. Justin Upton LF
4. Freddie Freeman 1B
5. BJ Upton CF
6. Dan Uggla 2B
7. Juan Franciso 3B
8. Evan Gattis C
9. Paul Maholm P

7:10 EST It has been raining for an hour straight but they are starting on time. Revere in the box.

7:12 EST After Revere grounded out to the pitcher Jimmy swings right handed at the second pitch and gets jammed. The bloop was beautifully placed and Upton misplayed it to give Rollins a double.

7:14 EST Utley Ks on a slow looping curveball on a 1-2 count. The Piece Strides to the plate. The Phils fail to score but did threaten with Howard on 1st with a walk and Rollins on 3rd after a steal. The initial commercial on the broadcast featured Erik Kratz supporting Godshall's Turkey Bacon. Erik Kratz sittin on top of the world right now. Thanks Chooch.

7:23 EST Doc takes the mound and gets a K to start the game.  A changeup that fooled Simmons. It is raining steadily and the fans are sparse early on -- and there goes the no-hitter. Heyward broke his bat on a single to right. He still hit it pretty hard if you ask me. Doc just hit 90 on the gun with a fastball on the black for his first pitch to Upton, swing and a miss.

7:28 EST The air just got let out of the balloon.

7:38 EST Halladay struck out the side. He gave up three hits,  and three runs, including a 2 run smash HR to centerfield by Justin Upton, and he did that in a tidy 40 pitches. Some of the printable texts I received included:

"Too early for a rain dance"

"So glad they're doing pitch count now on the tv scoreboard"

And I may or may not have had to pour myself a drink.

3-0 Braves through 1.

"Not the way they drew it up." Wheels

7:49 EST The Phils threaten again but a 1st and 2nd no out GIDP by Kratz left Halladay at the plate with a man on 3rd and 2 outs. Roy went down swingin'. That first inning was a gut punch and Doc is warming up to try and get through the next inning with Maholm leading off.

7:56 EST He's rackin up Ks. Doc strikes out the side in back-to-back innings.  He has hit 92 on the gun. This time it took him 16 pitches and he did it 1 2 3. Season's back on. Not that I like to overreact.

8:02 EST After Rollins smoked a home-run right handed 10 feet foul he rips one past Simmons at short and singles to left. Jimmy is 2-2 to start the game.

8:09 EST Phils leave men on base for the first 3 innings. The Big Piece goes down looking to end the inning. Froze on a ball on the outside corner.

8:11 EST Wheels waxing poetic on Justin Upton's power as he leads off the 3rd. Gotta admit tho, Justin Upton has got some power. Make that 7 strikeouts through 7 outs. We're starting to gain some traction. Freddie Freeman bloops a single on a nice pitch to break up 4 straight Ks.

8:20 EST BJ Upton goes down swinging. Doc has 8 Ks through 2 2/3. He's settled in and finally got a ground out to end the 3rd. The opportunities have been there on offense, it's time to stop letting Maholm off the hook.

8:31 EST Halladay goes down swinging with 2 men on as the Phils fail to capitalize with men on base for the 4th straight inning. The top of the order needs to get something going next top half. Doc's pitch count is climbing but he's been effective since the shaky start.

8:34 EST Evan Gattis just got his first career Major League hit. It was a home run off Roy Halladay. He threw the bat down and acted as if he knew it was gone. It was out by a few feet and Dom Brown was camped at the wall trying to pull it back. Take it easy bro. 4-0 Braves no outs in the 4th.  87 pitches. :(

8:39 EST Halladay gets through 3 and 1/3. "Not sure how many it was in that first inning, boy oh boy, it was a lot of pitches that Doc threw there." Sarge bein' Sarge. 95 pitches in total. He tallied 8 Ks but the highlight is that he got 10 outs. Of all the performances Doc could have had to start the season, and it's early we all know that, this is not the one you wanted to see.

8:45 EST "It's only Four-Nothing. Couple a bloops and a blast and you're right back in the game." Sarge bein' Sarge.

8:50 EST Raul Valdez comes in and gives up back-to-back walks to load the bases. Freddie Freeman up. This doesn't feel good.

8:51 EST Good night Irene.

8:58 EST Freddie Freeman continues to be a professional Phillie killer and with a little help from Valdez he smashed an opposite field bases clearing double. 7-0 Braves. The Braves have struck out 11 times through 4 innings and lead by 7.

9:04 EST Maholm just cruised through the top of the order getting Utley looking on a borderline call. Shut out through 5. It's bleak.

9:11 EST Second 1 2 3 inning of the game for the Phils. Whoopee.

9:16 EST The Piece swings at the first pitch and drops the bat as if it has a chance. Warning track power on a ball he sent the other way near the left field corner. Sigh.

9:19 EST Maholm comes out to a standing O after pitching 5 2/3 of scoreless ball. Out pitching Halladay in a landslide.

9:41 EST And the Phillies are on the board. Chase lined a double to right field on an 0-2 count to knock in Laynce Nix and Ben Revere, who also got hits on 0-2 counts. Chase has now knocked in 5 runs in the first two games. Pitching change with Howard coming up, think it will be a lefty?

9:46 EST Luis Avilan gets Howard looking. The second time he's gotten Howard in as many nights.

10:03 EST We're in the top of the 8th with one out. The rain has been falling steadily the entire game. Can't wait for Cliff Lee tomorrow.

10:09 EST The Phils go down in order. Playing out the string here.

10:11 EST Papelbon sighting in Fulton County. Bottom 8.

10:19 EST Just for fun Jayson Heywared takes Papelbon deep for a 2 run homer. John Mayberry looked like he may have had a chance to rob a home run but he looked feeble attempting to snare it. 9-2 Braves. Its getting piled on.

10:24 EST The Phils will only need an 7 run rally in the to top of the 9th to force the Braves to bat in the bottom of the 9th. To be honest, I'd probably be flipping channels by now if I wasn't doing this. For instance, I missed the Sixers lose to the Bobcats and was sad I missed out on Jrue Holliday's solid game.

10:30 EST The Phillies went quietly into the night in the 9th. This was not the game I was hoping/expecting to commentate. Oh well, there's still 160 to go.

Final Score:

Braves 9
Phillies 2