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Archive for March, 2006

Anyone Interested in a Starting Pitcher?

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, March 14, 2006 10:44 AM Comments: 0

Remember not so long ago when all anyone talked about was who the Phillies could fetch for Bobby Abreu and how Gillick was dying to land a starter?  Well, a Ryan Franklin trade and a Ryan Madson promotion later and so rounds out the Phillies starting rotation.  Yet if Gillick is still looking to make a deal, the Red Sox are offering.  Numerous sources have claimed the Sox are looking to move David Wells, Matt Clement, or Bronson Arroyo.  Plenty of speculation has surrounded these guys all off-season since the Red Sox are carrying seven legitimate starters, but only recently have they begun to actively shop them.  Wells, though he rescinded his early trade demand, seems the most likely to go.  His age, off the field antics (last week calling Bud Selig "a piece of shit"), desire to pitch on the West Coast, and small salary combine to create the perfect storm for his departure.  But perhaps he isn’t the Phillies savior. 

Clement has yet to allow a run scored this spring training but is due $18 million over the next two seasons and absolutely tanked towards the end of last year including the playoffs.  Arroyo has always been the most promising.  Two months ago, we mentioned involving him and Jason Michaels in a deal.  Although he would be another righty starter, he should at least be considered by Gillick.  The Sox need help in the bullpen and we all know the Phils have plenty of arms.  How would an Arroyo for some combination of Aaron Fultz, Eude Brito, Rob Tejeda or Gavin Floyd trade sound?  If it’s to happen, it will have to be more appealing than the Nationals’ Nick Johnson, because as of now he appears to be the frontrunner in the clinching the deal.

While it is unlikely Arroyo – or any current Red Sox – will be starting for the Phils come April, I do hope that Gillick and his team at least make a few calls.  No matter how much Ryan Franklin is thought of as a "Gillick-guy," the management cannot play favorites.  Similarly, just because spring training has started and we have Madson - and now Gio Gonzalez – aiming for the final spot in the rotation, it’s never too late to improve the team.

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Monday Morning Notes

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, March 13, 2006 08:27 AM Comments: 0

First allow me to apologize for a slow past week.  Myself and a few other Phillies Nation staff were preoccupied ripping though the seedy underbellies of London and Amsterdam and well, as you can imagine, computers were not always accessible.  But we’re back in full force and ready to start enjoying and commenting on some Spring Training and WBC Phillies baseball.

Two quick reminders first before we play catch up on the latest Phillies news.  First, Phillies Nation will be sponsoring a tailgate party on Opening Day, April 3rd.  Details can be found at our myspace.com shadow site.  So, if you like free beer and hanging out with fun Phillies fans, I strongly suggest you attend – even if you don’t have tickets to the game.  Second, the two divisions of the Phillies Nation Fantasy League (Delaware and Schuykill) will be holding drafts over the course of the next few weeks, so be sure to keep an eye on the Yahoo! pages for info.  More draft details will be posted as the dates near, but if you’ve signed up and are not planning on participating, please delete your team as we having others still looking to join.  Now to some Phillies news.

The Phils have amassed a 7-4 record so far in the Grapefruit League, but have been plagued by sloppy play and injuries.  While some comfort may be found in the Phils’ ability to overcome adversity and win ball games, the plethora of mistakes are certainly troubling.  It is unlikely that during the regular season it will be as easy to win games featuring a host of errors, baserunning gaffes, and bunting mistakes as the Phils have experienced these past two weeks.  Nonetheless, there is not much need for concern on these issues as yet, the team is just shaking off the winter cobwebs.  Like we said in the last post, the Phils need to come out of the gate strong this season and the momentum of a successful spring training can only help.  I would like to see Jon Lieber and Jimmy Rollins in particular perform as well as they did in the closing months of last season.  Lieber is 10-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 13 starts in September and October over the last two regular seasons with the Phillies and Yankees and of course JRoll finished on fire with a 36-game hitting streak.

Speaking of starting with strength, two Phils have been flexing their muscles recently in Florida.  Ryan Howard, while beginning to make contact against lefty pitchers is still crushing the ball against righties.  He has smashed six homers so far despite battling a high fever during the first week.  Similarly, Alex Gonzalez, who only hit 9 HRs all of last season, has belted three dingers so far.  Hitting like this could greatly increase his chances to play more at third base.  With the extent of David Bell’s back injury still unknown, Charlie Manuel will continue to evaluate potential replacements.  To that end, Ruben Amaro, Jr. has mentioned that trade talks involving sending Tomas Perez to the Marlins have been put on hold.  Still, even with Bell out of the picture the Phils have a lot of backup infielders, so don’t be surprised if those talks resume shortly.

Finally, I wanted to share two things that have left me scratching my head.  The first involved Chase Utley’s Ryan Howard impersonation during the WBC game versus Scott Mathieson and Team Canada.  Upon smacking a towering drive to deep centerfield in the eighth inning, Utley prematurely raised his arms in celebration.  The ball was eventually caught at the warning track, leaving Utley looking foolish.  Though WBC games might have a different sense of competition about them, I’m puzzled by the move from the otherwise level-headed Utley.  Not that it’s a big deal as I’m sure we all forgive Chase, it was just a bit uncharacteristic for a guy everyone is looking to as the team leader.  The last puzzling piece of this post pertains to the 2006 Phillies slogan:  "Red Means Go."  While I can appreciate the traffic light pun, the line seems cornier than usual and not very catchy.  How about using the color in its more traditional sense, like "red hot" or idiomatically, like "paint the league red," or perhaps just something simple like "World Series or Bust."  Slogans might not seem like a big deal, but then again, why do phrases like "Whatever it Takes, Dude," "Ya Gotta Believe," or "Cowboy Up" invoke a sense of determination that "Red Means Go" does not?  Anyone have a suggestion for something better?

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Charlie Manuel is Not Happy

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, March 10, 2006 07:51 PM Comments: 0

What’s eating Charlie Manuel?  Well this week it’s the Phillies sloppy play in Florida.  After restraining himself after the loss to Tampa Bay, he addressed the squad yesterday about proper execution.  Manuel, who usually takes the hands-off approach to managing conceded, "I usually don’t have meetings unless I get kind of upset."  Well, the Phils lost to Boston today, pushing their streak to three straight losses and 5-4 record overall.  Charlie must be really upset now heading into tomorrow game against Houston which will be shown on UPN57.

The calling of a meeting comes as no big surprise as Manuel’s under a great deal of pressure this season – especially early on.  The Phils open the season against St. Louis, LA at home, then Atlanta and Colorado on the road.  These games will be tough and if the Phils stumble out of the gate again this season, there’s is a good chance Manuel’s managerial job will be in jeopardy.  It’s clear that Charlie is not the type of manager Pat Gillick favors.  Gillick’s is not likely to be the Phillies GM after his 2-year contract expires, so if he doesn’t see (playoff) results in the first year he will have an incentive to replace Manuel.  So there’s a good chance Manuel won’t be around next year, but with a slow Phillies start, spring training included, he might not even make it through May.

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Field of Phillies Dreams

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, March 05, 2006 12:13 PM Comments: 0

Where will the Phillies be in 7 months?  Robbie has a dream…

Dead baseball players emerge from a corn field to play baseball:  it’s every baseball fans dream. The 1989 cinematic classic Field Of Dreams is more than a baseball fantasy for one man on an Iowa farm. Field of Dreams gives the characters from the movie something I wish, that Phillies fans wish we could have:  A Second Chance.

We envy the fact that protagonist Ray Kinsella builds a baseball field on his farm and ghosts of baseball past appear out of the Iowa air like a Stephen King novel.  I never heard voices while plowing my corn field; then again, I never have seen a tractor or a corn field other than on tv or the movie Signs. Yet, we all have had crazy notions which defy rational reasoning or effective explanation. We believe in this one, thing, so much that the means of accomplishment or the effects of failure are secondary to the belief that you can fulfill something so much greater than yourself. For me, that one thing is Phillies Baseball.

Patience is a virtue, or so I’ve been told. Being born in Philadelphia and being raised a Phillies fan has been rough. Patience is not in my DNA. I’ve been alive for little over two decades and during that time span the team I love has made the playoff once. Every year since that magical 1993 season, I sat in my blue plastic seat in two different stadiums waiting for my Shoeless Joe to run out from the outfield and give me what I’ve wanted: a second chance at a title.

Last year while attending a 12-2 thrashing by our arch rival Atlanta Braves, which featured Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan hitting 2 home runs apiece, I realized I am a fan of the worst professional sports team in the history of America.

So why is it that I care so much? When I was eight years old my family went on vacation to North Carolina.  I remember being poolside at a magnificent indoor pool at the hotel and I remember getting into an argument with another kid and his sister over the Phillies. I don’t recall the words exchanged, all I know is that I wound up pushing them both into the pool when they said the Braves were better than the Phillies. Later that year, the Phils proved me right by winning the National League title.  border=

There are countless other memories of the Phils which are dear to my heart, including getting my hands on my first official ball during batting practice off the bat of Dale Murphy and catching my first foul ball from behind the plate by Jason Varitek (who later hit a Grand Slam to win the game).  I’m reminded of numerous past birthdays when the Phanstormers threw countless handfuls of confetti in my eyes and devouring even more buckets of chicken fingers and crab fries from Chickie’s and Pete’s. Some of the best moments of my life began and ended at a Phillies game, though it wasn’t until a fateful January Sunday when I would realize why I care so much about this team.

Last year when the Eagles won the NFC championship and frantic jubilation ensued, I saw grown men crying in the streets during the "victory riot" at Cottman and Frankford Avenues in Northeast Philly. I looked at my friend and he said, "This would be so much better if it were the Phillies." For me, I can not agree with such a truer statement. If the Phils do make it to the playoffs for the first time since I was 8 years old, it would make the long suffering seem worth all the frustrating years of futile Phillies baseball.

So once again here we are Phils fans. A new season and new reasons to believe in something a young generation of fans have never experienced. Our eyes set on April with our hearts set in October. Though we know how it feels with our other teams, nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Phils represent the National League in the 2006 Fall Classic.

If that day comes we will be there cheering our team, oh yes we will. We’ll come for reasons that have eluded us since seasons played long ago. We will turn up 8 hours early and tailgate like only Philadelphians can. Beer and Steak for everyone. We’ll walk through the turnstile as innocent as children, longing for the past victories of such champions as Carlton and Schmidt. And who cares how much the playoff memorabilia is worth? It’s only $20 for a t-shirt. How many times will you get to use the words "Champions" and "Phillies" in the same sentence? We’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. And we’ll walk out to the Ashburn Alley wearing gloves and scarves to watch batting practice in the cold and then reheat ourselves with more crab fries. After heckling the other team during their pregame drills, we will find our seats and endlessly cheer on our Phillies heroes in the same places we have all season long. And we will rock that game as if it was our last; leaving the memories of that night carved so thick into our minds we will never forget it.

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Boo to Boo-Boos

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, March 02, 2006 06:55 AM Comments: 0

The first official spring training game is today versus the Yankees at 1:15pm EST.  The first televised game is Sunday versus Houston on UPN57.  If you’re dying to see the Phils however, all games are shown on MLB.tv, which is a pretty decent service and good deal for access to all spring training, regular season and World Baseball Classic games.  Yet, at least for the next week or so, it will be questionable which Phillies you’ll get to see in action.  The injuries are piling up down in Clearwater - fortunately though none seem to be too serious.

Aaron Rowand was hit in the shin on Monday by an Aaron Myette pitch and now requires the use of a shin guard while batting.  Pat Burrell has been experiencing some soreness in his right foot – the same one on which he had surgery last winter to remove a bone spur.  The good news is that he is planning to DH today against the Yankees.  For the past week Ryan Howard’s had a bit too much sun and is now running a 103-degree fever.  While that is dangerously high, it’s funny how they announced his precise temperature.  Chris Booker meanwhile is having problems with his left knee, which he had surgery on during the off-season. He failed his physical last week and then failed stability tests on Monday.  Then there’s David Bell, the walking wounded.  For the first part of the week he was hampered by a sore left elbow, but just as that has started to recess, he tweaks his back on Wednesday.  You may recall that Bell has had a history of back problems, and for that reason he will be visiting an orthopedic surgeon today.

Whew.  That’s it for now, but the games haven’t even started yet!  It seems most of these setbacks are manifestations of injuries past.  Most likely the players’ bodies are just a bit stiff from the winter and the first workouts affect the troublespots the most.  After a few games they should loosen up and hopefully be back close to 100%.  But what if they’re not?  Injuries, specifically during the regular season, are practically inevitable.  Will the Phillies’ depth be able to sustain them through a major injury to a starter?  It seems offensively the lineup should be ok, and while there are a plethora of possible starting pitchers, options 4-8 are still vastly unproven.  If Lieberthal knee’s start to give out, can Sal Fasano play everyday or can Carlos Ruiz conjure up the ghosts of Bobby Estalella in 1998?  The bullpen has extra bodies on ice, but like the starters, few if any are solid.  Finally there’s the middle infield, an injury to Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins - despite all the backups - could be devastating, especially on the defensive front.   In most regards, we’ll just have to hope Coop and the medical staff can keep the guys healthy.

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