Sunday, April 27, 2014

What's to Like?

Last Sunday morning the Phillies were sitting at 7-10 on the season and on the verge of being written off for the season due to an anemic offense and a National League worst bullpen. Since then, they have gone 6-2 with a series ending win in Colorado, an impressive three out of four against the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, and a very necessary two out of three in Arizona against baseball's worst team, the Diamondbacks.

After a frustrating Friday night loss that we'll get to, the Phillies were down 5-0 in the 6th inning of Saturday night's ball game with Cliff ____ing Lee on the mound. The Diamondbacks had improved their home record to 2-10 the night before and sent the Phillies to the mat early on. The Phigtins fought off that standing eight count and capitalized on some DBack mistakes to climb back and win the game 6-5. That's what we call - big time.

Ryne Sandberg's club sits at 13-12 on the season after a 2-0 shut out win to cap a 6-4 road trip today. They are playing good enough baseball to make you believe they can be competitive for the duration of 2014. Don't get me wrong, I'm not sitting here saying they will win 95 games and run away from the Braves along with the rest of the NL East. But through four weeks this team has shown the resiliency you like to see from a winning ball club.

When Saturday night's game ended I had the radio broadcast on and Larry Andersen was poignant, as usual. "What this team is doin' is drivin' ya nuts but they're keepin ya excited." Well said Larry.

I'm stealing this idea from's basketball writer, Zach Lowe, but here are five things I like and five things I don't like right now about this team.

1. Carlos Ruiz has his dosage calibrated right on that adderall prescription these days. He should be a shoe-in for NL player of the week. Chooch did not play in the slugfest series finale in Colorado last Sunday and entering Monday night's Dodgers game he had the following stats:

Avg: 245 OB: 365 SLG: 415 R: 10 RBI: 0 2B: 4 HR: 0

And a week later..

Avg: 296 OB: 412 SLG: 479 R: 18 RBI: 7 2B: 8 HR: 1 (He also had a triple)

Yowsers, Chooch is red hot and he's doing it from everywhere in the batting order. In the Dodger's series alone he batted 4, 6, 7, and 2. So yeah, CHOOOOOOOCCHHHH has been texted quite a bit this week.

2. I've been saying it for years and John Mayberry Jr continues to cement my thoughts on him which includes but are not limited to his head being stuck up his ass. Friday night Sandy tapped him to pinch run for the Big Piece at 1st base in the 8th inning of a one run game; the idea here being Mayberry could score on a double or go 1st to 3rd much easier than Ryan Howard could. We thought wrong.

Marlon Byrd followed with a line drive down the left field line that Tony Campana, the Diamondback's weak throwing left fielder, was able to cut off right at the warning track. With the play in front of him, and only one out, Mayberry slammed on the brakes about 5 steps past second base. I can't fathom the thought process that's going through his mind not attempting to get to third base in that situation with one out in the inning. It's literally what he entered the game to do but he figured he'd just give the team what Howard would have been capable of giving them on the base paths. I'm borderline surprised Chase Utley didn't call time, walk out of the dugout, and go slap Mayberry in the face for such an incomprehensibly stupid play. Sandberg made it clear after the game that he was disappointed in this play. Needless to say, so was I.

To make matters worse, the Phils once again threatened in the top of the 9th and Mayberry came up in Howard's spot with two outs and the tying run on second base. He worked the count full and then watched a fastball directly down the middle whiz by. Game over. I went to bed Friday night about as upset with a Phillies player as I'm capable of being.

3. The starting pitching has been solid. As I said in my season preview, the starting pitching should be the least of the Phillies worries and lately that has certainly been the case. AJ Burnett in particular has been nearly lights out since he tweaked his groin four starts ago. In his three starts since he's lowered his ERA from 3.94 on the season to 2.15. Including a masterful eight shut out innings today, Burnett's line for the last three starts looks like this: GS: 3 IP: 21.2 ER: 2 K: 18 BB: 3. His 6 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio is a vast improvement over his 5 to 7 ratio over his first three starts.

Kyle Kendrick has yet to record a win this season but he has kept the Phillies in every game he has pitched. Here are his earned run totals for each of his five starts: 1, 4, 2, 3, 2. That's getting it done as the 5th starter. Cole Hamels looked sharp in his season debut loss at the Dodgers. If he pitches as well as he did Wednesday night the top of the rotation featuring him, Lee and Burnett should prove to be formidable. Roberto Hernandez hasn't been awful but he hasn't been that good either.

4. Third base is a gaping hole offensively right now. This article from the Phillies official ESPN blog Crashburn Alley shows that the Phillies platoon at 3rd base is performing staggeringly below the league average level. In fact, as good as Chase Utley has been at 2nd base is how bad the combination of Cody Asche, Freddie Galvis, and Jayson Nix have been. Utley has cooled off a bit of late but he was the best baseball player on the planet for a 15 day stretch there so it's pretty clear the Phils are in trouble at 3rd base. For more perspective just know that Freddie Galvis is ONE for THIRTY on the season. You almost have to try to be hitting .033.

5. Here's to me not having the power to jinx these sort of things but Jonathan Papelbon has not allowed a run since his second outing of the season. Everybody was quick to lose their mind about how bad Papelbon was on his way to blowing an early game in Texas but he's been rock solid since that game. He's had 10 one inning appearances and has seven saves, eight strike outs, four walks and a 2.38 ERA to show for it. This is the kind of production that is absolutely necessary from Jonny Paps and it feels good to report this kind of thing.

6. Not to be overlooked by other things I'm not fond of, but the bullpen continues to hover between "I wanna kill Ruben Amaro for not getting us anybody better than this" and "Oh my god! Please hang on, please hang on, please hang on!"

The bullpen is dead last in the NL in ERA at 5.22. I thought for sure they'd be dead last in the Majors but the Tigers' pen has a 5.65 ERA and the White Sox relievers are checking in with a whopping 6.07 ERA. And you thought the Phils were bad, can you imagine almost being a full run worse? Pour one out for White Sox fans this year..

Anyway, Jake Diekman, he of the 98 MPH heater, has been the main culprit of late. Sandy had some mercy and optioned BJ Rosenberg for assignment which left Deikman to be the new guy to give up all the late game home runs. It's a combination of Diekman being terrible and missing his spot and the players he's facing being Major League hitter's and not missing his vomit-inducing hanging sliders. Diekman has allowed 10 runs in 12.1 innings which equates to a 7.30 ERA. That's the opposite of doing your job.

7. Through the first 14 games, the Phillies had 13 errors. Through 25 games, the Phillies have 14 errors. Through the first 14 games, the Phillies had given up 10 unearned runs. Through 25 games, the Phillies have given up 12 unearned runs. Get the picture? The sloppy ball the Phils were playing in the first two weeks of the season has subsided and the team has started to flash some leather.

Two players of note are Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Jimmy just still flat out gets it done and he's a marvel to watch at short. He's lost a step but it's barely noticeable and he still has that gun attached to his right shoulder that hits Ryan Howard in the stomach every time it's fired. Byrd is just a welcome sight in right after watching Delmon Young flounder about last year. Marlon is a professional outfielder in that he always seems to be on his horse by the time the camera angle changes and follows a ball into the outfield. He's made several diving plays and is a bonafide upgrade defensively over anything the Phils have had since Hunter Pence.

8.  It's nit-picking but Marlon Byrd has to cut down on his strikeouts. I'm pleased with the production from Byrd (He leads the Phils with 16 RBI) but we can't have our four and five hitters combining to strikeout 36% of the time, like they currently are. Ryan Howard is who he is and there's no stopping that strike out train, but Byrd has to figure something out to give up the team lead in strikeouts to the rightful owner. Of note, Ryan Howard is 10th in the NL in Ks. I'll take it.

9. Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen

10. Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs, and Jamie Moyer.

NL East Standings through 4 weeks:

Atlanta Braves  ............................ 17-7 (Yikes)
New York Mets  ........................... 14-11 - 3.5 GB
Washington Nationals  ................... 14-12 - 4 GB
Philadelphia Phillies .................... 13-12 - 4.5 GB
Florida Marlins ............................ 11-14 - 6.5 GB

Werth the Watch:

Jayson Werth

Avg: 281 OB: 378 Slg: 438 HR: 3 RBI: 14 R: 14

Shane Victorino (He's now played 3 games)

Avg: 133 OB: 188 Slg: 267 HR: 0 RBI: 0 R: 2

Hunter Pence

Avg: 253 OB: 349 Slg: 400 HR: 2 RBI: 8 R: 15

Raul Ibanez

Avg: 155 OB: 221 Slg: 310 HR: 3 RBI: 15 R: 7

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cole Hamels' Season Debut - Running Diary

Cole is back, baby!

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to my running diary of Cole Hamels' first start of the season. It has been a while since I've done a running diary so for those of you who aren't familiar with the concept I'll explain.

As the game is being played tonight, I will be reporting and commenting on the action as it is happening. It removes the hindsight from any opinion and allows for insight that will hopefully turn out to be completely erroneous and laughed at the next day. That's the goal anyway. Also, for anybody following the action live and reading the blog it will be necessary to press refresh on your browser every five minutes or so to allow for anything I'm posting to display on the page. Who's ready for a late night?!

On paper, we have a pitcher's duel ahead of us at Chavez Ravine. Hamels should have a good feeling on that mound. He is the owner of two postseason wins there including the brilliant game-five-series-clinching-win in the 2008 NLCS. Overall, Hamels is 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA against the Dodgers and that includes a 3-0 record with a 2.22 ERA in LA.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers send one of their two former Cy Young winner's to the bump in the form of Zack Greinke (Greinke won his with the Royals). On the season, Greinke is 3-0 in four starts with a 2.42 ERA. He has yet to make it out of the sixth inning and is a bit of a jackass if you ask me. You see, the Dodgers played a series against the Padres one week before the season really got started in Australia. Here's the direct quote on what Greinke thought of this idea. Keep in mind the Dodgers are paying him $26 million this season and will pay him $102 million more over the next four years.

"I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it. There just isn't any excitement to it. I can't think of one reason to be excited for it."

Well Zack, I could think of about 26 million reasons just for this season. What an ambassador for the game huh? I guess if I was getting paid $26 million to go on a pseudo vacation to do my job, which is in fact, just playing a game, I'd have zero excitement as well. Wait.. What..?

The Phils will be looking to win their 4th straight game and 3rd against the Dodgers in an effort to win the four game set in LA. Check back for updates as the game begins..

**Posts from here down will be shown in reverse order**

1:03 AM EST: Dom Brown strikes out on a high fastball. Dodgers win 5-2.

"The 5-6-7-8 hitters were oh for fourteen with nine strike outs, I think that's the difference right there," LA. I think you're right LA.

I gotta get to bed.

1:01 AM EST: Dom Brown swings at the first pitch and fouls it off. On the second pitch he stares at a fastball on the corner. 0-2.

1:01 AM EST: Marlon flies out to Yasiel. One out left. 

12:59 AM EST: Marlon Byrd swings and misses at the first pitch he sees from Jansen. It was a fastball high and out of the zone. Hmmm..

12:57 AM EST: The Dodgers closer is Kenley Jansen. He's already appeared in 15 games and has 7 saves in 9 opportunities. He also got Ryan Howard to fly out to center.

12:55 AM EST: Camp gets Gonzalez to fly out to the warning track in dead center. We will go to the 9th with the Phillies needing 3 runs to tie the game. Ryan Howard will lead off.  The bullpen has been an issue.

Here's Camp's info - your guess is as good as mine right now, it's late.

12:52 AM EST: Shawn Camp is breathin heavy, I guarantee you that. He's given up an RBI single. And another single. Now Adrian Gonzalez steps to the plate to pinch hit with men on first and second.

12:50 AM EST: "That run charged to Mario Hollands," Scott Franzke. Ryno went with Shawn Camp. I can't believe I'm saying this: I don't know who Shawn Camp is. It's 5-2 Dodgers after Camp gives up a 2 out single to score another run.

12:45 AM EST: Sandy having serious conversations with Bowa and McClure. Here he comes. That's it for Mario Hollands after getting one out in the 8th. He is chased by a double from Van Slyke, his second of the game.

12:43 AM EST: Hanley Ramirez was 1 for his last 20 until he was 2 for his last 21. Super Mario just went from big to small. Leadoff home run for Hanley to negate the Nix home run. 4-2 Dodgers.

Hanley really stood in the box and admired his blast to dead center. You'd think raising your average to .095 in your last 21 at bats you might just put your head down and jog around the bases. Off Mario Hollands no less, act like you've been here before Hanley.

12:38 AM EST: Well, Howard will lead off the 9th. Utley goes down swinging on a curveball that fell off the table from Howell.

12:36 AM EST: Rollins flies out to Puig. Even the way Puig catches a routine fly ball gets under your skin if you're not a Dodgers fan.

"I still think Carlos Gomez has Puig beat as hot dog of the year," LA.

12:34 AM EST: Revere up, he's hitting .445 against lefties. Take a look at JP Howell. Are you surprised he's a lefty?

JP Howell

12:32 AM EST: That's it for Greinke. Top of the order coming up and anybody who knows anything knows the Dodgers need to bring a lefty into this ball game.

12:31 AM EST: Jayson Nix just sent one deep to left on the first pitch of the 8th. 3-2 Dodgers. So glad Don Mattingly decided to keep Greinke in.

12:30 AM EST: No way.

12:27 AM EST: Jayson Nix makes a nice play leaning over the dugout fence to end the 7th inning with the Dodgers up two runs. Jeff Manship did not make it out of the inning by the way. Mario Hollands induces the foul pop off the bat of Andre Eithier. Citizen's Bank Park is currently missing out on an opportunity to play this every time Super Mario does something positive.

12:22 AM EST: Puig delivers his second clutch two out hit in as many plate appearances. He thought his line drive off the wall was a home run when he flipped his bat. Not quite. Even though he didn't get out of the box he still went in cleats high to 3rd base without a throw. Yasiel Puig has a certain, zest, for the game. 3-1 Dodgers. 

Zack Greinke is winning the game for the Dodgers one strike out and one at bat at a time.

12:22 AM EST: F word.

12:20 AM EST: Promptly, Greinke doubles down the line. Here comes the Cuban sensation.

12:18 AM EST: Manship gets the first two outs with little effort. Don Mattingly is rolling the dice and sending Zack Greinke to the plate in the bottom of the 7th with 107 pitches.

12:16 AM EST: Jeff Manship has taken over for Cole Hamels in the bottom of the 7th inning of a 2-1 ball game. They said there were no restrictions on Hamels but he only threw 86 pitches. Sandy is feeling the bullpen, perhaps.

Hamels line: 6 IP 2 ER 1 BB 5 K, he can lose it he can't win it.

That walk was with 2 outs to Zack Greinke and it led to the go ahead run. It was an encouraging outing from the 146 million dollar man. If he hadn't been so sharp I wouldn't complain about that one hiccup, but like I mentioned before, you can't walk the pitcher.

12:14 AM EST: Obviously Ryno couldn't handle watching Freddie get below .040 on the season and wanted Cody to get down a shade under .190. The bottom of the order, and who ever is playing 3rd base right now, are a problem at the plate.

12:13 AM EST: The side is retired. That was a 2nd pitch foul pop out pinch hit appearance for Asche. Is that a good approach?

12:13 AM EST: Cody Asche alert.

12:11 AM EST: 0-11 with 8 Ks. Chooch goes down on yet another check swing that went around. Not much conviction up there. Greinke has 11 Ks. Just letting you know.

12:09 AM EST: "5-6-7 and 8 hitters are 0-10 with 7 Ks," LA just let us know. See post at 11:54 PM.

12:08 AM EST: 91 MPH fastball at the letters and Dom some how foul tips it into the catchers glove. These guys are like Kit in A League of Their Own, "I like the high ones!"



12:05 AM EST: Greinke is out of the 6th for the first time this season. Dom Brown leading off the 7th.

12:02 AM EST: Van Slyke hits an even more pathetic swinging bunt than Byrd. That's a big out folks. Hamels can get Juan Uribe and escape... And as I type that Uribe grounds out to Rollins on the first pitch. That's a big time job from Hollywood. He's through 6 and given up 2 runs on 86 pitches. His ERA is 3.00.

12:01 AM EST: Infield in.

12:00 AM EST: Midnight. Bullpens up, Jeff Manship :/. 82 pitches for Cole and Kemp skies a ball 10 feet short of the warning track in center. Do you think Hanley can make it to 3rd on Revere?

11:59 PM EST: Hanley Ramirez smokes a leadoff double down the line in left. Hamels was cruising until all of a sudden...

11:54 PM EST: Byrd grounds out on a swinging bunt. Hey, he didn't K. The Phillies end their half of the 5th with 1 hit, 2 left, and no runs. Not going down 1, 2, 3 is a small win I'll take. Will need the extra at bats for the top of the order the way 5-6-7-8 have been going lately.

11:53 PM EST: First pitch swinging Byrd fouls back a letter high fastball. I say take one there, but that's just me, and conventional baseball wisdom.

11:52 PM EST: Howard gets a 2-0 curveball that's a foot outside. They make the 3-0 pitch intentional. Nice to see some respect for the big man. I'd take my chances with Marlon Byrd right now too.

11:50 PM EST: Chase Utley hits his league leading 9th double of the season setting up the Piece with 2 outs and the tying run in scoring position.

11:49 PM EST: Pat Burrell sighting (mention) on the radio. He's in the building somewhere. Giving girls the eye.

11:48 PM EST: Two weak fly balls in 4 pitches for Revere and Rollins. Not frustrating at all.

11:43 PM EST: Chase Utley just added to his WAR with a big time play at 2nd. Andre Eithier sent a scorching ground ball up the middle but Utley made the stop and got up to throw out Eithier and saved a run. Top of the order coming up. Got to get the sticks going.

11:41 PM EST: Check out my post at 11:32, that's what we call jinxing it. Yasiel Puig lines an RBI single to left on the first pitch of his at bat. Hamels doing this to himself. You. Can't. Walk. The. Pitcher. 2-1 Dodgers. Hamels is capable of getting emotional as we know. He's frustrated and he needs to settle the ____ back down.

11:39 PM EST: A cardinal sin has been committed by Cole Hamels. He just walked Greinke and wasn't too close to the zone after he gave up a hard hit single to Drew Butera.

11:32 PM EST: Justin Turner gets rung up on a borderline pitch on the outside corner. Hamels dealing.

11:31 PM EST: Hamels gets Uribe flailing with a changeup on the outside corner. K number 4. Cole has hit 94 on the gun tonight. We like to call that velocity.

11:27 PM EST: Greinke gets the side as Hamels was borderline walking back to the dugout as that fastball painted the corner. 5 straight and 9 total Ks for this wonderful humanitarian Zack Greinke. He's at 76 pitches through 5. A more respectable job is being done by the Phils at the plate at this point despite the Ks. 1-1 ball game nevertheless.

11:26 PM EST: Freddie down. This time on a solid check swing. Greinke has four strikeouts in a row. 

"The Phils have just got to get something out of the bottom of the order. Besides the pitcher," LA.

11:25 PM EST: Freddie up.

11:23 PM EST: Chooch taking a seat. That's 7 for Greinke. This was a strike at least.

11:20 PM EST: Hamels induces a Van Slyke pop up to centerfield. Folks Hamels is through four innings with 48 pitches. The Dodgers are employing a Phillies-esque gameplan against a guy who hasn't thrown in the Majors yet this season. I'm frustrated with the lack of patience if I'm Magic Johnson. But if I'm Magic Johnson, there's not a goddamn thing in the world that could actually piss me off.

Decent graphic. Sanatana. LOLzz

11:18 PM EST: Matt Kemp doubles again. That's a single on anybody else in the majors. "That's on the arm, or lack of arm of Ben Revere," LA. 2 outs bottom 4 with Kemp on second.

I have a similar arm to Ben Revere. Sadly.

11:16 PM EST: Andre Eithier take a seat. Hamels 3rd K of the game.

11:12 PM EST: That's 6 Ks for Greinke through 4. Dom Brown goes down on a fastball up and away. Byrd's ball was also out of the strike zone. Need more patience from these guys. Greinke is tough though, we'll take the tying run there.

11:10 PM EST: These strike outs are racking up for Marlon Byrd. 27 Ks in 20 games. If you have more strike outs than Ryan Howard you're not exactly on your game. Howard has 25 ;)

11:07 PM EST: The Big Piece delivers! Greinke threw a change up down and away and Howard served a single into left field. A nice piece of hitting, if you will. We've got a tie ball game with a man on 1st and one out in the 4th. You have to like seeing that kind of hitting from the Piece.

11:06 PM EST: Jimmy makes a ballsy play and takes off for 3rd on a ball hit just to his left. Ramirez thought better of the throw. LA says he was "a little escared" of making that throw. Piece up. 1 out. Man on 3rd. Cmoonnnnn!

11:04 PM EST: Jimmy sends a rocket deep into the night, just foul. Next pitch he keeps fair and puts it in the right center gap for a double and we have a man in scoring position with no outs for Chase Utley in the top of the 4th.

11:01 PM EST: Didn't matter one bit. Hamels sends Yasiel back to his seat for the second time in as many at bats, this time on a dirty curveball down and in. Hamels just cruised through the third on 10 pitches and has 26 strikes in just 37 pitches.

11:00 PM EST: Hamels throws one right down the middle to Puig for a ball. LA is non plussed.

10:57 PM EST: Marlon Byrd 1. Dodgers fan 0. Byrd makes a basket catch leaning over the right field foul fence as a rather portly Dodgers fan tried to make an attempt at the ball but we can see why he never played outfield. 1 down in the 3rd.

10:56 PM EST: They're showing the Eagles schedule on the broadcast. We didn't get any favors from Gooddell and the boys.

10:54 PM EST: Revere strikes out on yet another ball out of the zone; this one about a foot outside. We're heading to the bottom of the third.

10:52 PM EST:  Well it wasn't 9 up 9 down. Cole Hamels gets Phillies pitching's 5th hit of the series with a nice piece of hitting. He slapped a low and outside curveball down the line for a single. AJ Burnett had three hits last night and Cliff had one Monday. They say Burnett is available to pinch hit tonight.

10:51 PM EST: Freddie down. He has 1 hit in 19 at bats. Swung at a first pitch fastball shoulder high and then looked minor league on two straight curve balls.

10:50 PM EST: Freddie up. He has 1 hit in 18 at bats.

10:49 PM EST: Chooch pops up. We got to hear it on the radio a half second before it happened. I swear the commercials throw off our sync. They really just don't want you to be able to do this.

10:46 PM EST: Turner, formerly of the Spurberry Police Department, flew out to left. With two strikes on Butera, Cole Hamels picks off Van Slyke trying to steal second. Ryan Howard managed to unspool with that deliberate arm motion and throw a strike to Jimmy to get him at 2nd. Hamels out of the inning giving up one run. 

10:41 PM EST: Juan Uribe knocks in the first run of the game with a sac fly to right field. Better than a hit, not better than a strikeout. Justin Tuner at bat. Looks like this guy from Super Troopers.. 1-0 Dodgers with 1 out and a man on first in the 2nd.

10:39 PM EST: Scott Van Slyke, gotta be related to Andy, singles in the hole to left. We've got runners at the corners with no outs in the bottom of the 2nd. Jump right in Cole, the water is warm..

10:38 PM EST: First hit of the ball game is a leadoff double by Matt Kemp. Took Dom Brown a year and a half to cut it off before it got to the wall near the corner.

10:35 PM EST: Dom Brown rolls out meekly to second base on a 3-1 pitch. A few guys have gotten ahead of Greinke but no one has been close to squaring one up through one and a half innings.

10:33 PM EST: Byrd strikes out on a pitch slightly less pathetic than Howard's. Still not close to a strike. Scott Franzke let's us know that out of the last 15 four game series the Phillies have won two. It will take tonight or tomorrow night to change that.

10:32 PM EST: Adult beverages have been made.

10:31 PM EST: Howard strikes out on a pitch that was never even close to being a strike. About eye level. Frown face.

10:30 PM EST: Howard rolls an 0-1 pitch just foul. "We know Howard has speed,we've already seen a triple now we can see an infield hit," LA.

10:29 PM EST: That was as good a first inning as you could hope for. Hamels hit 92 on the gun and threw dazzling changeups and the curve ball already mentioned.

10:27 PM EST: Hanley battled to a full count but hit a chopper to Rollins who threw him out by a step. A low throw was dug out by The Big Piece. He's just like John Kruk or Rico Brogna over there..

10:25 PM EST: Good god. Nasty curveball from Hamels gets him to 0-2 on Hanley Ramirez. "Talk about breakin out the hammer early," LA.

10:23 PM EST: Well, he can still throw a filthy changeup. Yasiel is left shaking his head and flailing away as Cole gets his first K of the season against his first batter. Ya gotta love it.

10:21 PM EST: First pitch for Hamels is a fastball on the inside corner at 90 MPH that got called a ball.

10:18 PM EST: Greinke takes 18 pitches to go through the Phillies 1, 2, 3 in the first. Chase lofted a fly ball to center that carried all the way to the warning track but once again, caught by Matt Kemp. 

I have not detected if Larry Andersen is half in the bag yet, but it's early. We can hope.

10:16 PM EST: Jimmy had two different hitter's counts in his at bat. He swung through a 2-0 pitch and check swing fouled the 3-1. Another fly ball caught by Matt Kemp on a 3-2 pitch. If the first two guys are going to make outs I'll take working counts as solace.

10:13 PM EST: Ben Revere working a nice opening at bat here. He hit a 3-2 pitch, the 7th of the at bat, about as far and as hard as he can hit one. Caught by Matt Kemp with little effort. Not much power for Benny.

10:02 PM EST: 

Yup, officially going to sync this game to the radio. LA and Franzke here we come!

9:55 PM EST: Botallico and Harris really went out on a limb for their prediction's of tonight's "standout stars" - Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. Let's hope fellas, let's hope.

9:50 PM EST: Ryno deciding to keep Cody Asche on the bench. Pick your poison at third base for the Phils so far this season. Galvis is hitting .056, Asche is at .196, and the incomparable Jayson Nix is coming in at a scorching .156. Not exactly Mike Schmidt these days.

9:45 PM EST:  Just kicking it here watching pre-game with Ricky Botallico and Marshall Harris. I enjoy RIcky, he brings some passion to this gig. When the Phils got smoked 12-1 by the Rockies last weekend he was red in the face mad talking smack on who he called "Jered" Pettibone.

Here's tonight's lineups:

Ben Revere - CF
Jimmy Rollins - SS
Chase Utley - 2B
Ryan Howard - 1B
Marlon Byrd - RF
Domonic Brown - LF
Carlos Ruiz - C
Freddy Galvis - 3B
Cole Hamels - P

Yasiel Puig - RF
Andre Ethier - LF
Hanley Ramirez - SS
Matt Kemp - CF
Scott Van Slyke - 1B
Juan Uribe - 3B
Justin Turner - 2B
Drew Butera - C
Zack Greinke - P

Nice to see Adrian Gonzalez out of the lineup.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Salvage Yard

I had been building the narrative for this post for the better part of the past six days. The last week was like a crime scene for the Phillies offense. There was a mountain of evidence and a lot of carnage in those box scores. The Phils entered today's series finale against the Rockies trying to avoid a sweep and trying to score more than one run for the first time since Monday. Yikes.

Then today happened and the Phillies managed to salvage a win as well as some dignity with a solid offensive display.  As opposed to the completely offensive display from the prior four games.

Somehow the dormant Phillies offense showed signs of life. But before we get to today, there are some stats that must be pointed out about the four games the Phillies played before putting up 10 runs (they needed all 10).

The Phillies scored 3 runs in the last 4 games entering Sunday.

The Phillies had 18 hits in the last 4 games, none of them for extra bases.

The Phillies had 4 walks in the last 4 games.

After lauding them for seeming much more patient at the plate through two weeks of the season, they  retreated to their same old tricks. Here are the pitch totals and the amount of pitchers used during these four games. 

115 - 1 - Braves
103 - 1 - Braves
110 - 3 - Rockies
114 - 3 - Rockies

I can't go any further on this topic because it makes my head hurt when I try to comprehend.

Also, you can see from the tweets by  Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) some really outlandish things the Phils managed to accomplish during this four game stretch.

But let's talk about what allowed me to alter the narrative, if ever so slightly. They got off the extra base hit schnide in the first inning with a Jimmy Rollins line drive home run to right field. Jimmy finished the day 3-4 with a walk and 2 RBI. His second run batted in of the game was a clutch two out hit in the bottom of the 8th that gave the Phils some extra insurance that the bullpen obviously cashed in right away. And Jimmy didn't even have the best day at the plate for the Phightins.

The Big Piece delivered today. Ryan Howard went 4-5 with a home run, a triple (You can't teach speed," Larry Andersen quipped), and 3 RBI. Out of the four hits he may have actually only hit one ball on the nose and that was a triple to the left center field gap. Howard's home run was an old-fashioned pop-up that managed to clear the fence in left. The thin air in Colorado aside, every part of Coors Field is deep so it was impressive to see the Piece capable of muscling that ball out of the park when he clearly didn't get all of it.

The offense churned out fifteen hits, including seven for extra bases, but they still only managed to squeeze out a one run victory over a Rockies team that just mashes the ball in their home stadium. Entering the game they were hitting .349 at home and .249 on the road. It's early but telling.

Roberto Hernandez had easily his worst start of the season, giving up six runs in 4+ innings after not allowing more than three earned runs in his first four starts. His ERA went from 3.86 to 5.75. He left the game with the Phils trailing 6-3 but then the offense turned it on to the tune of seven runs over the course of the next three innings. 

Hernandez, as well as the bullpen, did about the worst job you could possibly do sustaining momentum for a team who's offense remembered how to hit after awaking from a coma in the first inning. The Phillies scored in five of nine innings today and Phillies' pitching gave up runs in the bottom half of those innings four out of five times. That's a recipe for disaster. 

The usual suspects let the Phillies down yet again. BJ Rosenberg was unable to make it out of the seventh inning even when gifted a double play after back-to-back brilliant plays made by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Rollins cutting a runner down at home after making a diving stop with the infield in, followed by Utley winning a challenge tagging the Rockies runner with his foot off second base. After this kind of play you figure it might just go your way today.

When Jake Diekman came in and missed his down and away location with an up and down the middle breaking ball that Michael Cuddyer sent into the seats in right tying it at 8-8 you thought, maybe this day isn't going to go your way today. Some how, the offense was resilient and clawed out the much needed win. Jonathan Papelbon came on in the 9th and allowed two men to reach base but he completed his fourth save in a row.

Despite the historically bad stretch the Phils only lost three of the last five games and have to be feeling good about sending Cliff Lee, AJ Burnett, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Kendrick to the mound for a four game set with Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers. Here's to late nights this week.

NL East Standings through three weeks of play:

Braves - 12-6
Nationals - 11-8
Mets - 9-9
Marlins - 9-10
Phillies - 8-10

Bringing it back like baking soda - Werth Watch 

Jayson Werth

Avg: .262 OB: 351 Slg: 446 HR: 3 RBI: 11 R: 11 

I'm also going to keep running tabs on several other former Phillies that may be of interest for you stat geeks like me. Let me know if you'd like me to add any one to the list in the comments section.

Shane Victorino

Has yet to play this season. On the shelf with a hamstring for the defending champ Red Sox.

Hunter Pence

Avg: .188 OB: 291 Slg: 290 HR: 1 RBI: 3 R: 9 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

About Last Night

Dan Uggla hit .179 last year and is currently batting .222

Last night’s Phillies game was one of the more painful games to experience in recent memory. There was a blip of a good feeling early in the game when Ryan Howard connected on an Ervin Santana fastball and sent it over the fence in right center field to give the Phils a 1-0 lead. It was his second in as many games. Even though it was a solo shot, I can tell you that there isn’t a better feeling as a Phillies fan right now than watching Ryan Howard hit a home run. It’s what he’s supposed to do and we took it for granted for so long that we could not get used to the feeling of him not being capable. Here’s to The Big Piece being capable and healthy in 2014.

From there not much happened until the last two innings of the ball game. Second year catcher and already tenured Phillie killer Evan Gattis swatted a 2 run home run off Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez in the 6th inning to take a 2-1 lead. Gattis had three homers against the Phillies last year, and he was their backup catcher! Whether it’s Brian McCann or Gattis it seems like the Braves guy behind the plate will do damage against our Phillies.

So after Mario Hollands got through the 7th inning without allowing a run the Phils desperately needed to keep the game close in order to have a chance against the Braves bullpen that boasted the best ERA in the Majors last year. Job not done. BJ Rosenberg entered the game in the 8th, his 3rd appearance in as many days, and got lit the _____ up! Gattis asked the bartender for another round and got it. This was his second multi-home run game against the Phillies. Ugh. Next up was Dan Uggla and he sent one into Harry The Ks restaurant in left. Not to be outdone, Andrelton Simmons made it back-to-back-to-back jacks (sounds like a Tom Emanski commercial). Rosenberg’s ERA for the game looked like an 8 on it’s side as Larry Bowa undoubtedly said to Sandberg before the Simmons home run ball landed, “I think you can go get him now.”

So the Phillies were completely dead in the water down 5-1 entering the bottom of the 8th against the Braves bullpen and their lefty specialist Luis Avilan. Tony Gwynn Jr, making the most of Ben Revere’s injury, led the inning off with a walk. This is a cardinal sin that way too many relievers commit.  Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both followed with singles to load the bases for The Big Piece. He struck out looking. No matter, Marlon Byrd sent a two strike low and away pitch through the hole on the right side for a two run single to make the score 5-3 Braves with one out and two men on.

Dom Brown was next up and he picked one hell of a time for his first home run of the season. He sent a scorching line drive out to right field on a 1-0 pitch. All of a sudden the Phillies dropped five quick runs on the Braves and took the lead in the bottom of the 8th for the second game in a row. What a tremendous feeling this was for the few thousand that remained in the ballpark and the dedicated fans still watching.

What a tremendously short lived feeling it was.

I sent my father a text “It’s Pap time” as the 8th inning ended.  Unfortunately for the Phils, Jonny Paps had been used in three straight games and was unavailable to nail down his 4th consecutive save. In came lefty fireballer Jake Diekman, who clearly was not ready for the moment, his first career save opportunity.

As is Phils’ bullpen tradition, Diekman committed the cardinal sin and walked the leadoff man to start the 9th. He did that on four pitches that weren’t close. Next up was the dangerous Freddie Freeman and Chase Utley managed to make his first bad play of the season. Freeman hit a slow chopper to Utley and Chase tried to flip to 2nd for the force but his play was to first for the sure out, safe all around. Heap big trouble. Of course, Diekman then walked Justin Upton to load the bases with one out. There was a wrench in my gut.

Diekman then managed to strike out the obviously dangerous Evan Gattis on three pitches, the last one blew him away at 98 MPH just so he could toy with our emotions a little more. Up stepped the man with the biggest forearms and the worst batting average you’ve ever seen, and Dan Uggla did not miss the meatball of a hanging slider Diekman served up to him. GRAND SLAM. Braves take the lead 9-6 on Uggla’s second home run in as many innings.

That was all she wrote for the Phillies on Mondee night.

The moral of the story is that the Phillies bullpen is not very good (putting it nicely alert!) and it’s being over used because the starters have not made it past the 6th inning in all but two of the games. When the bullpen gets over used then the shaky relievers are not available and the terrible ones have to pitch in key spots. I think Jake Diekman has what it takes talent wise, but his head was not there last night and it cost the Phils dearly.

Hope springs eternal though as constantly banged up set-up man Mike Adams returns to the fold tonight and Cliff Lee is on the bump. Couple that with AJ Burnett still scheduled to make his next start and Cole Hamels being close to a return and the Phils could be looking good going forward. Especially if the offense keeps ticking like it has.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Bashing the ball like the Chase of old

We're 12 games in and life feels a lot better on this late Sunday afternoon than it did as I arrived with my fiancee for Friday night's Phillies - Marlins game at Citizen's Bank Ballpark. Phillies life anyway. 

When we got off the Broad Street line and made the three block walk into a stadium that was a little more than half full, I told Abby the Phillies probably had a 20% chance to score more than two runs tonight. You see, the Phils were coming off a could not have gone worse home opening series sweep at the hands of the Brewers. To make matters worse, the Marlins were sending sophomore sensation, and current reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez to the mound. Fernandez is as impressive a talent at the ripe age of 21 years old you're going to see. He throws 98 and in two career starts against the Phillies he'd given up 1 run.

That's what made what we witnessed Friday night rather impressive from a team who basically fell apart for three straight days mid-week. Improbably, the Phillies touched up Fernandez for two runs in the first inning with several hard hit balls. I couldn't believe my eyes. With a two run lead early, obviously the Phils played shoddy defense in the top of the second. Jimmy Rollins couldn't deliver a decent throw to AJ Burnett to complete an inning ending 3-6-1 double play. So of course the very next batter, Derek Dietrich, launched a two run home run to tie up the ball game. Standard.

No way they'd get more off of Fernandez. Well, after Jose struck out six in a row in the third and the fourth he didn't get an out in the 5th. Rollins led off with a triple in the gap and then Utley, Howard, and Byrd followed with hard hit singles chasing Fernandez. The Phils didn't look back and the bullpen came through like you wouldn't have thought possible. This included an impressive appearance from Jake Diekman who came into the ball game with the based loaded, one out, and proceeded to strike out the two batters he faced.

Not lost on Friday night's win was a possible injury to AJ Burnett. The man who has made at least 30 starts in six straight seasons will be re-evaluated Monday after he left with a strained groin. Stay tuned but not good news.

From there the Phillies used late game home runs to ensure victory against the Marlins two games in a row. Rollins, batting right-handed, sent a two out solo moon shot down the line in left to end Saturday night's ball game in the 10th inning. Just a few hours ago, Chase Utley continued his (I can't even come up with the adjective, so here are a few that come to mind) brilliant, phenomenal, unbelievable, white-hot play and smoked a two out blast into the seats in right off Marlins lefty David Dunn. Short, compact. That 8th inning tracer put the Phillies up 4-3 and Jonathan Papelbon slammed the door with a perfect 9th. The Phillies bullpen retired all nine batters they faced after Kyle Kendrick battled for six innings. Hard to believe, Harry.

If the question is what have you done for me lately? You feel good about the Phillies.

If the question is how bad are the Phillies capable of being? You get pretty damn scared when you think about the Brewers series.

The Phils left a turd in the punch bowl on Opening Day at the Bank and continued to leave it there until the Brewers left town Thursday. Ryan Braun torched the Phillies all series long, the cheater was awfully impressive. He went yard three times in the series opener, two were three run shots, and busted open Wednesday night's sloppily played ball game with a two run triple in the 8th. Ryan Howard's mobility and glove cost the Phillies dearly in this game. It's hard to believe those two things won't continue to be an issue. Cliff Lee was unable to avoid a soul-crusing home opening sweep on Thursday night. 

Let it be known that the Brewers rolled right over Pittsburgh and swept them as well this weekend. That is nine in a row for the 10-2 Milwaukee Brewers. There's no doubt the Phils got cut in a half by an early season buzz saw.

Let's just ask ourselves; what have you done for me lately?


Chase Utley is the MVP of Major League Baseball through two weeks. I'd say this without even looking at the stats, but let's look at the stats for some confirmation.

For starter's he's got 20 hits in 40 at bats. If you can do that math, that's a .500 batting average in a little more than a small sample size. His on base percentage is .585 and he's slugging .875 because of his six doubles and 3 home runs. Those slash numbers are good enough for tops in the majors.

The Phils are 6-4 with him in the lineup and 0-2 when he's out. He missed the first two games of the Brewers series with the flu but didn't miss a beat as he went 7-12 with four extra base hits over the weekend. 

After twelve games it's time to start talking about it I think. It might be a bit premature to say the Phillies have finally started to adapt to a new approach at the plate, but they don't seem to be giving away at bats early in counts. At least not nearly as often as they have for three years straight. 

Don't believe me? Well, the Phils were leading the NL in walks going into today's game in which they walked - 6 times. That's 49 walks on the season (4.25 a game) and they were third  in on base percentage at .343 going into the game. They just have people on base and opportunities to score in seemingly every game. That was not the case under Charlie Manuel for the end of his tenure. It is a trend that will need to continue given the Phils lack of talent in the bullpen and suspect defense. Let's also hope it continues from a sheer watchability perspective because its a lot more fun to watch a team that feels like it always has a chance.

We are seeing this phenomenon the most with Ryan Howard. Howard is guaranteed to be polarizing for the rest of the time he is here and I’m fighting like hell to stay on the positive side. Some days are harder than others. Howard has had a bit of a slow start but indulge me with a comparison real quick. One of these players is Ryan Howard, and one isn’t, after two weeks of play.

Player A

AB: 43 R: 4 H:10 2B: 2 HR: 0 RBI: 4 BB: 11 SO: 10 AVG: 233 OBP: 382 SLG: 326 OPS: 707

Player B

AB: 45 R: 7 H: 10 2B: 2 HR: 2 RBI: 6 BB: 9 SO: 15 AVG: 222 OBP: 352 SLG: 400 OPS: 752

Player B is Ryan Howard. Player A is reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen. So let's give The Big Piece some room to breathe. He's getting on base and scoring runs. He's striking out and is a borderline atrocity at first but he's not going anywhere and there's no reason to not pull for the guy. He hit his second home run of the season today, a towering drive over the high fence in the deepest part of the ball park just left of center. We need more of this.

The Phils will face what should be a much tougher division opponent starting Monday. The Atlanta Braves are in town four a four game set. Let's hope it's more Marlins than Brewers.