Archive for September, 2006

Phillies Bullpen Restores Confidence

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, September 14, 2006 12:56 PM Comments: 0

Well, things worked out pretty nicely for the Fightins last night.  The bullpen in question performed excellently allowing just one hit and three walks over the course of 8 2/3 innings.  Brito, White, Fultz, Gordon, Geary, and Madson did extremely well to restore confidence in the beleaguered relieving corps.  Most impressive were the entirely different situations in which they were used in each game.  Randy Wolf left the first game after allowing five runs in two innings.  Brito and company went on to pitch seven innings of no-hit ball to give the Phils a chance to comeback and take the lead.  The offense took advantage and mounted their biggest comeback victory (down five runs) all season – kudos also go to the Braves’ Matt Diaz for getting turned around on and dropping a Dellucci line drive for the game-winner.  The backend of the doubleheader witnessed another solid late-season performance by Jon Lieber, who earned his fourth straight win.  He left the game in the eighth with the score 5-2 in favor of the Phillies.  Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary each recorded an out to end the inning.  After the Phils scored two more in the top of the ninth, Tom Gordon sat back down and Ryan Madson came in to seal the victory.  The bullpen performed well in both situations, but there’s no time for them to rest on their laurels, there’s still 17 games remaining to be played.

One concern that does arise from last night’s games lies in the drop off of Ryan Howard’s home run production.  He has not hit a home run in four games!  This aberration has occurred only nine times all season.  Ryno is supposed to hit a home run on average once every ten at bats.  He’s gone 11 without one!  While under most normal circumstances this should be cause for concern, I think we can rest assured that he will explode for a couple tonight.  If not, come look for me teetering on the edge of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

In all seriousness, there’s been a lot written about Ryan Howard in the past few weeks and much of it comes within the context the large shadow cast upon baseball by steroids.  Dan LeBatard in the upcoming ESPN Magazine (ESPN Insider) writes about how Howard has become a victim of circumstance.  "Howard could be the unharmed infant, still in the car seat, cooing and innocent on the side of the road. It’s just that so much of what surrounds him is mangled metal and 19-car pileup."  Even amidst this environment, most, including LeBatard, believe (or choose to believe) Howard is clean.  A cover story in yesterday’s USA Today had this to say:

In this home run chase, there are no steroid allegations. No congressional hearings. Steroid testing, which existed every year Howard was in the minors, is now in the major leagues, too. He has never played a professional season without being tested.

"The only juicing Ryan has ever done is apple or orange," says older brother Chris, associate athletics director of compliance at LSU. "Anyone who knows us can tell you that he is the smallest boy in the family." Howard’s twin, Corey, who played basketball in high school and eventually got a law degree, is 6-6, 250. Chris is 6-5, 270.

Scott Miller from CBSSportsline.com wrote recently about how the whiff of allegations sit with Jerry Lafferty, the Phillies scout that discovered Howard:

Consequently, a guy like Howard, presumably clean, still can’t escape some questions as to whether his power output might be in part because he may have found baseball’s HGH loophole.

There is zero hard evidence, other than him gaining some weight as he has grown up. But yes, when the subject is even hinted at in this era of suspicion, the echoes extend much further than your basic cell phone coverage.

 "It is personally insulting to me," Lafferty says. "I’ve known this young man … I haven’t been with him 24 hours a day, but I know him. I know his parents. This is a question with no validity. This is an honest young man. I’ll tell you what, it just makes me hot."

There are plenty more articles on this topic, but they all seems to say the same thing.  While Ryan Howard’s growth and testing history have vindicated him from some other home run hitting peers, his run for home run records will always be surrounded not only by questions of his use, but more importantly by the rehashing of the steroid saga made fools out of the fans.  Luckily, Ryan isn’t the kind of guy to get wrapped up in these ancillary topics, he remains committed to doing his job and keeping me off the bridges.


2 Games, 3 Times

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, September 13, 2006 03:37 PM Comments: 0

This evening the Phillies kick off another doubleheader against the Braves.  This will be the third doubleheader between the two clubs in less than two weeks.  The Phillies have split the first two sets - L 4-3, W 16-4 and W 8-7, L 3-1.  These twin bills got me thinking, how does playing doubleheaders against the same team so often change the approach to the games?  Is it more difficult to battle a team twice in a day?  What can be learned from the first set of doubleheaders to help plan for the third?

First off, I think it’s safe assume the players are not quite at their physical and mental peak in the second game, which often means a varied lineups.  This then might distort the manager’s view of the opposing team causing them to employ different strategies than they normally would.  For instance, might Bobby Cox choose not to walk Ryan Howard in an otherwise debatable situation?  After all, Howard hit three home runs in the first game of the second set, but none in either of the second games. 

Second, what about the bullpen?  We already know from yesterday’s post much of the blame in the Phillies recent losses resides squarely in the bullpen.  The troubles began on August 31st when the Phils were looking for a sweep in Washington.  Arthur Rhodes and Aaron Fultz gave up two runs in the ninth and tenth innings respectively to lose that game.  The bullpen woes were then exacerbated by the weekend doubleheaders against the Braves. 

One thing is for certain, tonight’s doubleheader provides another prime opportunity for the Phillies to pick up ground in the Wild Card race.  I’m not one to shy away from the bullpen and hope for complete games by the Wolf and Lieber.  The relievers will be needed tonight, the rest of the season and hopefully into October.  Taking advantage of tonight’s games by winning both with the help of the bullpen could go a long way in rebuilding the team’s confidence in the ‘pen and in themselves.


The State of the Phillies

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, September 12, 2006 02:22 PM Comments: 0

Well folks, this is it.  For the past 2 or 3 weeks that queasy sensation of mixed emotions has crept up on us Phillies fans.  As the summer winds down and the kids go back to school, the Phillies once again have stabilized to make a run for the playoffs.  It’s a scene we have experienced the past 6 years, but ultimately falls short and makes the disappointing season all the more distasteful.  In the bigger picture, for what its worth, the Phillies have started this century on a good note.  They have finished the season above .500 in all but one (2002) when they went 80-81.  Assuming the Phils finish the season with a winning record (a tenuous assumption) it will be only the third time in their history in which they garnered winning seasons in five out of six years.  The other two times this feat was matched or bettered occured between 1975 and 1986, which was punctuated by a World Series victory, and between 1962 and 1967, which was punctuated by the collapse of 1964.

Yet at this point in time, history is in the past and 2006 Phillies are the present.  To narrow the focus a bit more read the recent history as told by Todd Zolecki.  "The bullpen is 3-5 with one save, four blown saves, and a 5.94 ERA in its last 11 games, having allowed 24 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings.  The Phillies are 5-6 in that stretch, and five of the losses…came in the ninth inning or later."  This certainly does not bode well for the future.  The Phils bullpen which was taxed heavily early in the season is falling apart now.  Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary will finish the season with career highs in innings pitched.  Ryan Madson, whom we have witnessed breakdown towards the end of each of the past two seasons, has pitched 37 more innings than his previous career high thanks to his now defunct spot in the starting rotation.  The honeymoon that existed soon after the trading deadline has now faded to memory as the Phils will now need to scrape out each win: no lead is safe and no runner on third with less than 2 outs is guaranteed to score.  Charlie Manuel keeps saying he doesn’t think the current squad realizes how close they are to the playoffs or how much like the 2005 Astros they could be; but that doesn’t matter.  The Phils are in a tough spot.  With Uncle Mo on the side of the Padres and Marlins, and history not in their favor either, the 2006 Phillies do not seem fit for a happy ending.


Phillies Nation Trivia

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, September 11, 2006 12:34 PM Comments: 0

Which early-20th century Phillies manager shares his name with the last King of Prussia?


The Playoff Chase

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, September 11, 2006 12:25 PM Comments: 0

Going into the Marlins series, many thought the Phils would be lucky to go 2-2.  After taking the first two games, the Phillies let the final two opportunities slip away and scored no more than three runs in the final three games.  This week, the club will continue their Wild Card push through Atlanta and Houston and meet up with the likes of Tim Hudson, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte – as they did last week in Philly.  They will be without the services of Arthur Rhodes who is out the rest of the season with an elbow strain in his pitching arm.  Rhodes was unable to fulfill the role of closer while Tom Gordon was injured and it is likely that he was overused.  He first complained about this injury after pitching three straight games.  If not overused, then he was at least used in a role in which he feels uncomfortable.  Ryan Madson will assume setup duties as he’s done in the past, and this may force Charlie Manuel to use some of his more inexperienced arms in key situations.  This is something he has been reluctant to do, but is ultimately necessary if they are ever going to learn what it’s like to pitch in big games.

If the Phils are going to return from this road trip with a winning record, Chase Utley will have to improve at the plate.  In the last seven days, Chase is batting .240, which is around his average for August and September.  While it’s unlikely he can repeat his torrid July which featured a 35-game hitting streak, he must return to form and help Ryan Howard lead this lineup into the playoffs.   His hit totals over the course of the season may offer a reason to be optimistic; he’s about due for another peak:

Utley's hits by month

The team as a whole will have to find a way to improve on the embarrassing inability to drive in runs which plagued them this weekend.  Despite leading the lead in runs scored, the Phils were unable to score more than three runs in six of their last seven games.

On the pitching front, the Phillies rotation cannot be blamed for the recent close loses.  Although early-inning runs continue to be a problem, they have surrendered less of them lately.  For those with an ESPN Insider account check out Jerry Crasnick’s piece today on the father and son dynamic developing between Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels.  For those without, here are a few choice quotes:

Hamels on having a mentor…"This is the top level," Hamels says, "but there’s a level beyond it where you have the Cy Young winners and MVPs. Jamie’s mental approach to the game is absolutely phenomenal. If I can learn from him and better my mental approach, it will help me in the long run so I can get to that next level."

After Hamel’s 11-2 beat down in Wrigley…"I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be interesting,’" Moyer says. "I want to say something, but he’s a young kid and I don’t know how he’s going to react. So he comes in and he’s standing there and I say, ‘You know Cole, regardless of how you did today, the biggest thing you can do is take something positive from this game and move forward.’"

On Moyer’s return next season…Will Hamels and Moyer get a chance to tee it up together as teammates in 2007? No one can say. Moyer’s contract includes a $4.75 million mutual option for next year. His wife and kids are back in Seattle, he just moved out of a hotel in New Jersey, and the Phillies are still scrapping for a postseason berth, so he’s willing to wait until his head is clear to contemplate his future.   One teammate, for sure, is hoping he will return.  "I can’t say much because I’m so young," Hamels says. "It’s up to the guys upstairs. But I would definitely like that."

Hamels definitely can learn a lot from Moyer, but Moyer shows signs of breakdown, I don’t think the Phillies can afford a $4.75 million pitching coach. 

Finally, to keep your Phillies knowledge sharp and expansive, check out the new crossword puzzle at Phillies Nation Games.  It’s a new page that will feature Phillies related puzzles and an occasional trivia contest.  Happy gaming and Go Phils!


Who’s to Blame?

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, September 07, 2006 02:48 PM Comments: 0

I was at last night’s Phillies-Astros debacle and witnessed barely a sniff of urgency to win the game.  Mind you, I left the park with the same feeling on Monday, even though Chase Utley ended that one with a walk-off home run.  For all that is said about the importance of starting pitching, when it comes down to it, only offense can win games.  Even if a pitching staff gives up 13 runs in a game, it is still possible to win by scoring 14.  In the same vein, you cannot win a game by scoring zero runs, it’s just impossible.  Thus my issue du jour is the inconsistency of the Phillies offense.  In the first half of the season, this plagued the pitchers but they have since stabilized to the tune of a 2.50 ERA in the past eight games.  In the past three games the Phils have failed to score more than three runs – a pity since the club is 63-29 when scoring more than three.  When they score three or less runs, their record stands at a declarative 7-40 with one of those 7 wins coming Monday.  So on one hand you have the Phillies who score over ten runs four times over a seven game stretch (from 8/14-8/20) and on the other you have what we’ve seen this week:  a failure to advance runners and leaving 12+ men on base per game. 

The biggest culprits I have witnessed are Abraham Nunez and Pat Burrell.  Nunez’s sub-.200 batting average shines like a beacon on the CBP scorebaord warning ships and fans not to expect a hit when he approaches the plate.  I could tell you that he hits just .189 with runners in scoring position, but I’m sure you would have guessed something close.  Pat Burrell, meanwhile, leads the century in strikeouts looking – well, I can’t prove that, but he has been the worst in the past two seasons.  For what it’s worth, it’s not that he has poor plate discipline, he is ninth in the league in walks; he just refuses to swing the bat with two strikes on him.  Faced with a two strikes situation this season, Burrell has struckout half of the time.  Compare that with Chase Utley who in the same situation has struck out only 37% of the time.  Granted, Burrell is billed a power hitter so a comparison to Ryan Howard may be more apt.  Howard strikes out 54% of the time when faced with two strikes, but allowances are made when you hit 50+ home runs.  I don’t know if Burrell is just up there looking for walks, which as the number five hitter he should not be, but he just chooses not to protect the plate.  For all the times he has struck out looking, he could have at least tried to put the ball in play to move runners.  With runners in scoring position he has struck out 27% of the time while garnering a hit just 24% of the time.  Obviously, a batter is not expected to get a hit more than 30% of the time he is at bat, but there is such a thing as a productive out despite the sabermatrician’s mantra of "thou shall not record an out."  Besides Burrell’s inability to advance runners in key situations, he also has become a liability for Ryan Howard.  Burrell’s ineptitude at the plate under pressure, gives an opposing manager every incentive to walk Howard and pitch to Burrell.  When the Phillies fail to score runs and leave men on base, these are the situations and players that cause it.  I didn’t intend for this to be a Pat Burrell bashing column but when you see him fail miserably in consecutive games sometimes this stuff just writes itself.


What Wild Card Worry?

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, September 06, 2006 01:39 PM Comments: 0

Last night’s rainout was a bit of a disappointment, but on the plus side the makeup game on September 25th will add to the limited number home games left on the tail-end of the Phillies schedule.  With a Padres win last night, the Phils are now a full two games back in the Wild Card.  San Diego is streaking, winning 12 of their last 15, and is now challenging Los Angeles for first place in the NL West.  The Dodgers, who have lost their last 3 after coming off a 7-game winning streak, are battling the Mets and could easily drop into the Wild Card race by the week’s end.  Thus this begs the question whom would the Phils rather be fighting an uphill battle against, the Padres or the Dodgers?  Although the Dodgers have dropped their last few games, stoppers Derek Lowe and Brad Penny will likely turn them around with starts tonight and tomorrow.  With the addition of Greg Maddux at the trading deadline, it seems LA is better suited to close out the season with quality starting pitching.  The only starter on the Padres with a winning record is Chris Young at 10-5, while Jake Peavy sits at an underachieving 8-13.  Four out of the last six Padres wins have been garnered by their relievers which suggests either the starters haven’t been going deep into games or the Padres have been forced to play come-from-behind baseball.  Neither scenario are represents a sustainable strategy to make it to the playoffs.  Although any team can get hot and lucky for a while - as the Padres are now - I wouldn’t worry that their gradually increasing Wild Card lead will become insurmountable.  As for the Phils, they can do only one thing: win games.

Much has been said this year about the poor fielding of the Phillies relative to their superb 2005 season.  Our friend Tom over at tangotiger.net is putting together his annual Scouting Report on fielding and needs your help.  You may recall a few years ago we used his "When to Walk Bonds" chart to evaluate how Larry Bowa chose to pitch to the slugger.  The philosophy behind this current project is that baseball fans can forecast the performance of players as well as guys with rather sophisticated forecasting engines.  Therefore he is looking for volunteers to complete this simple survey measuring the fielding characteristics of various Phillies.  There has been an unusually low response by Phillies fans, so what better way to kill a few minutes at work and help a good cause than by completing a scouting report on the team you know best.


Utley’s Walk Off Wins It in 10

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, September 04, 2006 06:09 PM Comments: 0

Today the Phillies accomplished what has been eluding them for the past few days – a win in extra innings.  The game was billed as a pitcher’s duel and did not disappoint for the first few innings.  Roger Clemens, on the mound for Houston, pitched five innings allowing just one hit (to Cole Hamels) and Chase runs into a mobrecording six strikeouts.  He got himself into trouble in the fourth when he loaded the bases with a walk to Shane Victorino, a Chase Utley HBP, and then another walk to Howard.  Pat Burrell helped out the Rocket with one of his signature caught-looking strikeouts in which he sticks his rear out of the batters box trying to fish for an inside ball call.  Clemens then plunked Jeff Conine to give the Phils a 1-0 lead, but then Chris Coste promptly grounded into a double play.  During his 1-2-3 fifth, Clemens apparently strained his right groin and was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth.  Charlton Jimerson, the hitter, then launched a bomb into Asburn Alley straight over the 409 feet sign in his first major league at bat.  Aubrey Huff added another solo shot in the eighth, but they were Cole Hamels’ only mistakes of the day.

Hamels pitched masterfully, allowing just three hits over eight innings while striking out eight and walking none.  Today’s outing was certainly another step towards Hamels becoming a Phillies ace.  Pitching in a game with playoff implications, opposite a Hall of Famer, he remained focused and kept balls over the plate while making them unhittable at the same time.  He was aided just enough by the Phillies offense, most notably its two future leaders.  Ryan Howard, who experienced regular standing ovations throughout the day, hit his 53rd homer of the year in the sixth – a line drive shot to right field.  In the eighth with JRoll on second, the Phillies had a chance to take the lead as Utley came to the plate.  Hamels casts a long shadowMy prediction at the time was that Utley would strike out and set the stage for Ryan Howard to lead off the ninth with a walk-off homer.  Utley struck out, but Howard was intentionally walked in the ninth and the Phillies eventually left the based loaded as Charlie Manuel relieved the bench of inept pinch hitters.  Fortunately, Utley atoned for his earlier strikeout and again left Ryan Howard in the on deck circle.  His walk-off blast, which gave the Phils the 3-2 victory, was only his fourth home run since July 30th.  Hopefully, this return to clutchness will catalyze another one of his hitting streaks to catapult the Phils into the playoffs.  The Phillies and fans will also find hope from the scene after the fourth inning, a healthy Tom Gordon trotting out to the bullpen; though it must be said, the Phillies bullpen pitched well today.  Click here or on the pictures for a slideshow from the game.

The Phillies win combined with a Padres victory means the Fightins now stand one and a half game out of the Wild Card.  Tomorrow’s game will showcase a lefty duel as the undefeated (3-0) Randy Wolf faces the 13-13 Andy Pettitte.  The game will be preceded by another one of Phillies Nation’s awesome tailgate parties.  If you’re coming to the game, or even if you’re not, head down to the Lincoln Financial Field Parking Lot around 3 o’clock.  We will be occupying the cozy concrete median which separates section K and L - refer to this map if you’re not familar.  It’s a Phillies’ college night tomorrow, so if you don’t have tickets yet, roll on over to Phillies.com and enter WILD into the promotions box when purchasing tickets to receive a discount.  If you plan on coming, you can RSVP here or send us an email and I would suggest contributing snacks and drinks though some will be provided.  So clear your schedule for tomorrow and head on down for a fun afternoon outside the park and an exciting night inside.  Go Phils!

UPDATE:  Phillies game tonight is rained out….the tailgate party is unfortunately postponed.  No word yet on the rescheduled date, but I will be at tomorrow’s game if anyone is interested in partying.


Hamels vs. Clemens – Citizen’s Bank Park

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, September 04, 2006 09:57 AM Comments: 0

Click for slideshow


Game 1

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, September 03, 2006 03:32 PM Comments: 0

Innings One Through Eight

The first game has just ended moments ago and once again the Phillies have led us on a wild roller coaster of 9 innings of baseball. For the first 8 innings of the game the entire day could be predicated on one person : Ryan Howard. He hit three bombs to three different fields to record his 50th, 51st and 52nd home runs of the year. He becomes the first player in the majors to eclipse that mark.

Jamie Moyer also shined in his home debut. He through a solid 7 1/3 innings only getting burned by the long ball twice. At one point he retired 10 straight batters until Matt Diaz hit a single to center in the 8th.

Ryan Madson replaced Moyer to en duce a 4-6-3 double play to retire the side. With one out in the 9th Ryan Howard stepped up to the plate with a chance to hit the first 4 home run game since Carlos Delgado did it in Toronto in 2003. Unfortunately , it was not to be. He instead hit a rocket to center field to fall in for a single.

At this point in the game you’re thinking to yourself "It’s 6-3, even they can’t possibly blow this great of a game, can they?"

Inning Nine

 For those who trashed us by giving Tom Gordon the Jeltzy even though he isn’t playing we are here to show you examples A through C on why Tom Gordon’s selfish play is costing our team games.

Example A : Thursday at Washington

Example B: Game One on Saturday Night

Example C: Game One , Today

Since Flash has gone on the DL when he decided he wanted to jeprodize his health and the team’s winning chance by pitching with a bum shoulder we have learned that we can not trust ANYONE in our bullpen. They are a bipolar group and we just pray when Charlie calls on Rhodes, Madson or Fultz that today is one of their good days. Recently, he could have  a better chance of pulling a rabbit from his hat then choosing the right man for the situation.

After yet another implosion of the bullpen, this time courtesy of Ryan Madson, I couldn’t help but thinking "Not Again."

Being down by one run going into the bottom half of the ninth brought out the optimism in me (rarely seen optimism) because I knew If the bottom of the lineup could somehow get on base that Jimmy Rollins would tie or win this game.

The Chris Coste at bat was the most important of the inning. Having the lead of man get on when your back is against the wall puts the pressure on Atlanta to get the Phils and gives us a shot of confidence that we may actually win this thing. Abe Nunez successfully bunted over Thurston, who was running for Coste, which proved to be a great strategic move by Manuel to put his team in a position to tie. "Sausage Beating" Randall Simon had the most patient at bat in his career drawing a five pitch walk and not swing at a single ball thrown.

 Carlos Ruiz came on to run for Simon to prevent a costly double play. I might call myself Dionne Warwick for now on because J Roll hit a single to left . Ryan Langerhans promptly fielded the ball and air mailed it to the backstop and almost throwing it into the stand, which would have won the game for the phils. J Roll moved up to 2nd, Ruiz now at third with Shane-O up to win the game.

The Braves drew their defense up but it proved not to matter. Victorino singles through the 2nd base hole and the Phillies adverted disaster in a close, close game.

I’m geared up for game too. Hopefully it is becomes another lopsided blowout like Game Two from last night!

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