Monday, March 31, 2014

Opposite Day - Phils Win Opener 14-10

Have you seen that Seinfeld episode where George realizes that any decision he's ever made has been wrong? From there he decides to do the opposite for every decision he has to make for the rest of the show. Because if every instinct he's ever had has been wrong, then the opposite, has to be right.

That's how opening day 2014 felt for the Phillies. Up was down! Black was white! The offense hit! Cliff Lee sucked! The bullpen was decent!

We'll pick up the action in the 2nd inning at Globe Life Park (Globe Life Park?!) in Arlington where the game took a decidedly sharp turn from what everybody expected out of the Phillies. Much maligned slugger Ryan Howard led the inning off with a walk. Innocent enough, and nice to see the big man show some patience in his first at bat of the year. After a 2 out Carlos Ruiz walk there were men on 1st and 2nd for rookie 3rd baseman Cody Asche, and the young man sent an opposite field double to left scoring Howard and giving the Phils their first run and first lead of the season.

Up next was Tony Gwynn Jr (maybe 1/100th the talent as his dad - which is still good enough to be in the big leagues) and he also walked. If you're keeping score that's 3 walks for the Phils in the 2nd inning, would love to see how many innings they accomplished that feat last year. Leadoff man Ben Revere then delivered an RBI single for the Phils to go up 2-0 and load the bases for James Calvin Rollins. On the second pitch of his at-bat a left handed hitting Rollins rocketed his 200th career home run, a grand slam, a few rows deep in right center field. 6-0 Phillies. They did a fantastic job of making the Rangers pay for granting them 3 free passes, not to mention dropping all 6 runs with 2 outs. That's a good way to start the day!

Where's Yu Darvish when you need him? Rangers' manager Ron Washington was thinking to himself.

So you're thinking Cliff Lee on the mound good night, game over, drive home safely. Not so fast Cliff said. Miraculously Lee gave up a double, a single, and a walk sandwiched around a ground out to load the bases with 1 out. Leonys Martin delivered an RBI single and up stepped Josh Wilson, a guy with .225 career batting average. Wilson came through with a bases clearing double to cut the Phils lead to 6-4. Gut punch. Doubled over.

Okay, Cliff will settle down and we can still pull this thing out. Not so fast Cliff said. After the Phillies failed to score with men on 2nd and 3rd and no outs in the top of the third (Ryan Howard out by a country mile at home after going on contact), Lee gave up a 3 run bomb to Alex Rios. 7-6 Rangers and all the air was officially out of the 6 run inning balloon.

Astoundingly, there was no quit in the Phillies on one of the warmer opening days in recent memory. Chase Utley found himself up with Ben Revere in scoring position thanks to Benny and his jets 1st steal of the year. Like you've seen him do countless times before, Chase came up with a clutch RBI single to tie the game at 7. 

Breathin' heavy here top of the 4th on the highway between Fort Worth and Dallas.

By the time the top of the 5th came around the Phillies had knocked out Texas' starter Tanner Scheppers (what a name), but their hit parade was far from over. With two men on Ryne Sandberg made his first in game managerial decision of the season and pinch hit right handed batter John Mayberry for lefty Tony Gwynn Jr. The Rangers' left hander Pedro Figueroa couldn't have been too happy with the move as Mayberry smoked a 2 run double into the gap to give the Phils a 9-7 lead. Sandberg 1 - Ron Washington - 0.

Cliff managed to claw his way through the 5th inning giving up 2 more hits and 1 more run. His line for the day 5 IP 11 H 8 R 8 ER 1 BB 1 K - 14.40 ERA. Cliff got the W with that crap line because he exited with a 9-8 lead. He better keep any run support comments to himself until Memorial Day.

There was no quit in the Phils bats today as Texas went through 5 pitchers and only 1 kept his ERA at 0.00 on the season. Highlights from the second half of the game included a low and inside pitch Marlon Byrd sent for a ride over the left field fence. Ben Revere racking up his 2nd steal, 3rd hit, and 3rd RBI of the game. For the cherry on top, Cody Asche sent a tracer deep down the line in right for his 3rd hit of the game and 1st home run of the season. 

Tell me how you feel about the call from Tom McCarthy on the Asche home run, this is case in point for me as to why I can't stand McCarthy. What a lackadaisical call to an exciting moment in the game. Video courtesy of yours truly.

When it came to the bullpen, all wasn't good but Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon both pitched effectively. Jake Diekman had a quick and easy 6th inning but struggled immediately in the 7th before being pulled. BJ Rosenberg induced a no out bases loaded double play but then couldn't find the strike zone after that. The bullpen will be patch work, guaranteed, but if Bastardo and Pap are effective the Phils can win ball games. 

If Cliff Lee has any more starts like that we're on a Roy Halladay watch. Cliff should not be capable of that kind of catastrophe, let's hope its an anomaly.

Undoubtedly this will be one of the more exciting games this season so soak it in now folks. 

Relax kid, we got 161 of these to go.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

2014 Season Preview

On Monday afternoon all of the answers to our questions about this Phillies team can finally start to formulate. Let’s be honest with ourselves, it doesn’t look good. There’s always hope and anticipation at the beginning of a season but there’s probably the least amount of both in a decade. This Phillies team has pinned so much of their hope on guys who are just plain old.

I know this angle has been looked at before by me, but it bears repeating. Let’s take a look around the diamond and give a quick breakdown of the projected starters for this outdated squad. I’ll list each player and the amount of worry about their performance this season in parentheses. 1 being no worry and 10 being Ryan Howard.

Catcher (3) – Carlos Ruiz

Chooch turned 35 in January and is coming off an up and down season that was more up as the season went along. He was suspended for 50 games at the beginning of last year for using adderall, but hey! This year Chooch has a legit prescription and maybe this will help him regain his All-Star caliber play from 2012. Pitchers seem to love him and he plays solid defense. Chooch is a plus catcher in this league and should bring plenty to the plate from that position.

1st Base (10) – Ryan Howard

The Big Piece turned 34 last November. Gone are the days of Howard being a feared slugger who can impact the way pitchers pitch to the rest of the lineup, let alone himself. He hasn’t played close to a full season since 2011 and that was his worst statistical season to that point. He’s going to make $25 million this season and all recent evidence suggests platooning him against left handed pitching would benefit all involved. Newsflash! You don’t want to platoon guys you’re paying $25 million a year! The Phillies need Howard more than they’ve ever needed him but there are shadows of doubt everywhere in his game. The glimmer of hope fans can cling to is that he is probably the healthiest he has been since the beginning of the 2011 season. Let’s pray to Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas that that can translate into more than 30 home runs for the once great Piece.

2nd Base (6) – Chase Utley

The Man, as Kalas liked to call him, turned 35 in December.  Lackluster spring aside, I can’t be too worried about Chase Utley if he’s healthy. Of course, that’s been a massive if the last few years, save last year. Utley has played a normal amount of spring games and while he is hitting under .200 with one extra base hit, which I heard was a flare down the left field line, he has been healthy by all accounts. That’s all that really matters when it comes to Utley as far as I’m concerned. 2nd base is not usually a spot that generates a lot of offense and if Chase can manage to play 140+ games I can’t see him having a season that isn’t better than 75% of NL 2nd baseman. Is that a double negative? Who cares..

3rd Base (7) – Cody Asche

I know, I know, you wanted to see an infield made up of all guys born in the 70s. Amazingly for the Phillies, they won’t even have one guy start opening day in the infield that was born in the 80s as Asche was born in June of 1990.  Asche is by far the least proven starter on this team but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He played in 50 games last year and he’s not exactly the next Scott Rolen but he also looked like he belonged. He gets a 7 on the worry-meter simply because he’s never played a full major league season. Hopefully he can inject some positive youthful exuberance to this team of grizzled veterans.

Short Stop (8) – Jimmy Rollins

JRoll turned 35 this past November and he’s coming off back-to-back seasons of hitting .250. In 2012 he at least showed some pop with 23 home runs. 2013 was just a dismal season at the plate for Rollins. As far as seasons when he played every day, he set career lows in hits (151), home runs (6), RBI (39), and stolen bases (22). There’s also the attitude he has (I’m not calling it a problem) and how it seems to clash with Ryne Sandberg. Jimmy plays baseball his way and it’s worked way more than it hasn’t over the past 1952 games. Since the media driven dust up between player and manager a few weeks back, Jimmy has shown some good signs at the plate. Hopefully that can transfer into the season. Also, it’s na├»ve but I’m going to continue to hope that he won’t pop up the 2nd pitch of an at bat more than once a week.

Left Field (3) – Dom Brown

Finally, a player born in the 80s. Dom Brown is 26 years old and should be entering the prime of his career. Dom had a breakout season last year and had just about the most impressive two week stretch of any player in Phillies history, hitting something like 10 home runs in 12 games. He led the Phils in homers (27) and RBI (83) and was a bit nicked up toward the end of the season or those numbers would have been even stronger. He still needs to work on his defense a bit, but it’s light years better than when he broke into the league and refused to catch a fly ball without extending his arm as far away from his body as he could. Dom is a major league ball player and could possibly be the best hitter on the team this year.

Center Field (3) – Ben Revere

Benny and his jets will turn 26 in a month and he should be coming into this season with the most confidence of any position player. Revere’s broken foot derailed the Phillies season at the All-Star Break. He was humming along at over a .400 clip from the beginning of May until the injury in early July. The Phils were also playing their best ball and scoring runs at their best clip since the 2010 season for the month before the break. Revere could prove to be key as the leadoff man who can get on base and cause distractions for pitchers when trying to get Utley and Howard out. That’s the plan anyway. His drawbacks are having -1 rank of power and a 1 rank for arm on a 1-10 scale. If he gets on base and steals a ton of bags while running down everything he can in the outfield he can mollify those negatives.

Right Field (4) – Marlon Byrd

The 36 year old former Phillie (he hasn’t played for the Phils in 10 years!) is coming off his best statistical season and has had a good stroke this spring. He should be a solid upgrade over the Delmon Young / not Nate Scheirholtz fiasco last year. His position in the batting order, 5th, right behind Ryan Howard, has been a void since Jayson Werth left town. The Big Piece could use all the production Byrd can give the Phils to make sure he can get a fastball to hit once and a while. Howard is a lot like Pedro Cerrano when it comes to breaking balls and fastballs. Byrd is a solid defender and other than that you just have to hope he can re-create whatever magic he had last year with the Pirates. I can say I’m officially on board with this Byrd signing as the season is about to start. I had my doubts at the face value of it when the news first broke, but at 2 years $16 million it’s a low-medium risk with possibly high reward. (Giving Ruben the benefit  of the doubt alert.)

It’s a shaky group to put it bluntly. And we haven’t even touched on the bullpen. Who’s ready to talk pitching? In the interest of everyone, I’m not going to go quite as in depth on this group but I’ll make a few shallow, fairly  obvious observations.

Starting Pitchers (4) – Cliff Lee, AJ Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, (Cole Hamels)

If Hamels wasn’t in parentheses for having somewhat mysterious shoulder issues the worry meter would be at a 2 for this group collectively. It’s by far the strongest area of the team, and was certainly bolstered by the 1 year contract bestowed upon AJ Burnett. All reports have Cliff Lee as dazzling during the spring and the Phils will certainly need that to be the case if Hamels is unlikely to make a start in April. Sanberg has decided to go with a 4-man rotation until mid-April due to more off days than usual in the early going.

The key for Hernandez and Kendrick will be keeping the ball down in the zone. They are ground ball pitchers that can get hurt when they leave the ball up. We don’t need Kendrick getting whiplash watching balls rocket out of hitter friendly Citizen’s Bank Park. Other than that, you have to expect this group of guys to be better this year considering this list I’m about to share with you.

2013 Philadelphia Phillies starting pitchers:

Cole Hamels - 33 starts
Cliff Lee - 31 starts
Kyle Kendrick - 30 starts
Jonathan Pettibone - 18 starts
John Lannan - 14 starts
Roy Halladay - 13 starts (6.82 ERA)
Tyler Cloyd - 11 starts
Ethan Martin - 8 starts
Zach Miner - 3 starts
Raul Valdes - 1 start

Yikes, got pretty ugly quickly there. So anyway, they should have a pretty decent shot at having better starting pitching this year if Hamels only misses April. And according to Cole he feels “great”.

Bullpen (9) – Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and a whole lotta eeeessshhh

How confident do you feel about the 3 names I actually listed? Well, the rest of them, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont, I could go on but I won’t, aren’t much to look at either. The Phils bullpen was the worst in the Majors last year and while it wasn’t the only reason they stunk up the joint, it was a serious contributing factor. Amaro brought in Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez from Cuba who proved he wasn’t going to make the team before getting hurt. There isn’t much else he did to improve upon a disastrous group from last year so I’d say the bullpen is right up there with the Utley/Howard/Rollins triumvirate as far as worry. Hopefully Jonathan “my velocity is down because I can’t get pumped up to play for this team” Paplebon won’t be a huge jackass distraction, but who are we kidding?

So Vegas has set the over / under on Phillies wins this season at a very meek 76. As sad as it is to say, I think the the best this Phillies team could possibly muster is a break even of 81 wins. That's assuming more goes right than wrong. I'd put them making the playoffs at about 12 to 1 considering the Braves and Nats will most assuredly be better than them. I'd love to be proven wrong on these predictions but after being a complete homer with my predictions last year I'm trying to be more of a realist this season.

Well folks, that’s your 2014 Phillies season preview. It’s not quite bleak, but it’s close.

Remember up with hope, down with dope!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sandberg Setting a Tone

It’s high time that I weighed in on what I consider to be the fairly ridiculous Jimmy Rollins situation. As most of you who read this blog probably already know there is what the media describes as friction between the old standby Jimmy Rollins and the new regime that is Ryne Sandberg.

At the beginning of last week Jimmy was quoted saying something along the lines of “who cares” when asked about how putrid the Phillies offense had been during the first two weeks of spring games.

Guess who cared? The guy who decides whether Jimmy plays every day or not, that’s who. Ryno decided to sit Jimmy the next three days straight after those comments.  Sandberg also commented, “no comment” when asked about Jimmy’s attitude and leadership toward the ballclub. That was comment enough.

Cue the local media drumming this thing up way out of proportion. Let’s face it, the Eagles are in an offseason, the Sixers have lost 21 straight and counting (probably 22 by the time people read this), and the Flyers have their rabid fan base that isn't big enough to sell air time or generate page views. They need to talk about something, so why not make it a negative story about the Phillies?

Next came the national stories about how the Phillies seem to be shopping Jimmy Rollins. A story like that doesn’t surprise me given how the Phillies operate. They always want to look like the bad guy in any situation. Job well done.

Jimmy has made it clear for a while now that he doesn’t have any interest in being traded. He’s sixty-one hits away from breaking Mike Schmidt’s franchise record, and it’s borderline refreshing to hear his honesty about wanting to break that record.  I like the pride that he’s showing there, selfish or not. He’s been a Phillie his entire career and he has full veto power over any trade. He also has to get to 434 at bats for the $11 million option in his contract to vest next season. It's safe to assume he's staying put for the time being.

The bottom line is that these games don’t matter. Sure it’d be nice if the Phillies weren’t setting offensive futility records this spring, but whether or not they have a good season we’re not going to look back on the spring and say that caused it.

It’s no secret that Rollins isn’t Chase Utley when it comes to work ethic (who is?), but his work ethic shouldn’t be in question. He doesn’t show up late. There’s no reports of him not interacting well with teammates. He might not hustle on balls he rolls over to 2nd base, but is it really that big a deal? It’s not a big deal when Jimmy is churning out 180+ hit seasons while bashing the ball out of the ballpark way more than a person his size should be able to. Of course, it is an issue when he’s coming off back-to-back .250 seasons where he continues to become less and less of an asset at the plate.

I get what Sandberg is doing. The beef on Charlie Manuel at the end was that he was not hard enough on the aging superstars that made up the Phillies roster. Sandberg was brought in to change the attitude of the ballclub and see if he couldn’t teach some of these old dogs new tricks.  So there will be some tough love he has to show to guys who aren’t adhering to his way of doing things. We saw that last week.

What I don’t get is the timing of it, or the way he has let it play out in the media. Maybe it was a rookie manager not realizing what he was doing, or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to get the fans and the media on Jimmy early. 

We all know Jimmy Rollins and how he operates. We know for certain there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for Sandberg to make an example of Rollins, so why do it before things are even getting started? Why cause friction and a perceived riff before anything has truly happened? Set a tone early is the answer some of you might say, but spring training is too early for this for me. Let’s wait until Rollins pops up the first pitch of an bat 5 times in the first two weeks and makes it half way down the line. Let’s wait until the Phillies come out flatter than a leftover beer from a keg party. I don’t need this kind of turmoil this early.

Maybe you’re fed up with Jimmy Rollins, but he’s the best we have and it’s not close, so you might as well root for Jimmy Rollins.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

"Tossing 35 pitches in the bullpen last Saturday felt like 1000," Cole Hamels.

Meanwhile Ruben Amaro has "zero concern" of this being a larger issue for Cole Hamels.

Gooooood Rube! Gooood for youuuu! That makes 1 of us.
Wrap your head around both those statements.

I'm upset about a few things here. I'm upset that Cole Hamels isn't healthy. I'm upset that Ruben Amaro continues to alienate the fanbase by being smug (smugness is not a good quality). I'm upset that we gave Hamels $144 million and Ruben is taking it in stride that Hamels is going to miss April after having zero health issues last year. I'm upset every time I hear the word set-back. I'm upset whenever I hear "no timetable".

Most of all I'm upset about the lack of transparency from this organization. It's like the Phillies actively engage in dicking around their fan base. How did the news come out on the first day of Spring Training that Cole Hamels wasn't ready to go? At that point every one was shrugging it off like it was no big deal and Hamels was 8-10 days behind schedule. Two weeks later here we are. Apparently Cole feels like his arm is about to fall off after throwing just 2 innings worth of pitches in the bullpen.

How are alarms not sounding?!

We should know the Phillies don't operate like that. They've already put us through this type of saga before. Two years in a row of it actually, with a player who was just as important as Hamels.

Chase Utley didn't play his first game in 2011 until May 23rd. Nobody seemed to mind that much that year because the Phillies were a pitching juggernaught. After finishing the season fairly healthy we assumed Chase was ready to go for 2012. I wrote a piece about how he was going to have to carry the load in 2012 with Ryan Howard recovering from the torn Achillies.

Before we knew what hit us the Phillies were halfway through a disatrous season without Chase or Ryan stepping on the field. Chase had a rare degenerative knee condition known as Andrew Bynum disease. It's where your knees have very little cartilige and they don't heal or work properly. Ryan's wound from the incision on his Achillie's got infected. You know, because it wasn't that important to be monitoring that sort of thing so the Phils just let it go.

Anyway, this Hamels situation is starting to feel eerily similar to the Chase Utley situation. I can't sit here and put a ton of blame on the Phils' medical staff, but I'd start taking a long look at it and seeing if anything better can be done to protect these guys who have $100 plus million invested in them.

As for a spring training update. As Sarge would say, Oh boy.