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Archive for February, 2007

Phils to Face Smoltz in Opener

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, February 28, 2007 08:12 AM Comments: 0

The Braves announced the other day that Bobby Cox has his ace John Smoltz penciled in for April 2nd’s Opening Day game in Philadelphia.  Usually managers wait until the middle of March before assigning a starter for the big game, but I suppose there is some value in making the decision now to help plan the Spring Training rotation.  There is no question Smoltz is a fearsome pitcher and we all know his feelings on pitching in Citizen’s Bank Park; fortunately however, John-boy has compiled a paltry 0-3 record and a 7.71 ERA in his previous three Opening Day starts. 

As for Smoltz’s opposition?  Charlie Manual said the answer to his Opening Day starter question will be come clearer over the next two weeks.  We all suspect Brett Myers has finally earned the nod but a lot could happen over the next month.  Speaking of which, the Phils play Florida State University today in an exhibition game before opening the Spring Training season tomorrow against the Tigers.  Baseball is finally here…Go Phils!

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What To Look For In 2007

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, February 26, 2007 10:53 AM Comments: 0

The weather is changing more rapidly than the headlines involving Britney Spears.

That can only mean one thing…spring training is here.

First off, I want to thank Phillies Nation for giving me the chance to write here, and if anyone wants to or has the dire need to email me (ladies include pictures please) throw me a bone at staskinn@yahoo.com

We’ve all heard the interviews, read the stories and watched the same pieces 182 times on Comcast SportsNet: apparently the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League East.

My question though, is why?

The nucleus of MVP Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins is a force to be reckoned with, but the rest of the offense is filled with question marks, holes and uncertainty.

What has Pat Burrell done to show us that he won’t do his patented ass-out move to look at strike three? The only thing Burrell has going for him, is he starts the season relatively hot…one of the only on the team that does so. Last April, he hit .300 with seven HRs, 21 RBI and only 17 strikeouts. Unfortunately all of those numbers dropped in the coming months…well except for strikeouts, they increased.

I don’t expect a .300 year with 40 jacks and 120 RBIs out of him. However, would it be too much to justify his home runs and RBI totals of last year (29 and 95)? We all know what garbage time points in the NBA are and Burrell is garbage time in MLB.

Oh and real quick, for those wondering the pretty boy hit .233 with 30 RBIs in 45 day games. Dirty stay out.

The Wes Helms/Abe Nunez platoon is going to work out better than people think. Hell, Aramis Ramirez would have been awesome, but it wasn’t happening. If the duo can combine to drive in 100 runs and score 90, this will be a success.

Count me in as probably the only one who does not want to see Chris Coste playing catcher. He might have hit .328 last year, but his defense was a liability to say the least. Too many interference calls for a part-time player, and the staff was obviously not comfortable with him catching a game.

If it turns out there is a spot to keep his bat on the bench, so be it. However, it will be Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas behind the plate. Hoping for Coste to get back there, shows that you obviously only read the box scores.

The other big question mark is whether Aaron Rowand will be able to rebound from a season-ending injury suffered in a collision with Utley last season. Most people seem to love Rowand for the one play he made against the Mets last season, breaking his nose and preserving a win at the same time. But let us not forget, that Rowand posted near-career lows in almost every offensive category last year, and even if he had not been injured, it would have been a disappointment.

The bench? Well the Phillies have one of the worst benches in all of baseball. There is no other way to say it. The fourth outfielder, Jayson Werth, has not swung a bat in a Major League game since 2005. Nobody knows who the fifth OF will be, but its looking like a race between Karim Garcia and Chris Roberson…keep your clothes on you exciting animals. As for the infield spots, well the platoons of Barajas/Ruiz and Helms/Nunez will take up two other spots, leaving one maybe two spots remaining. That leaves Coste, Greg Dobbs, and Danny Sandoval fighting it out.

The starting pitching this season will make or break the team. With a weak bullpen behind them, the rotation of Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton will have to consistently get to the seventh inning. Where does Jon Lieber fit into all of this? No freakin’ clue.

The one team with a glaring need for a starter is the division-rival New York Mets, who also happen to have one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. However, will both of these teams swallow their pride and make an in-division trade to help each other out? Probably not.

So for now that leaves Tom Gordon in the closer role (oh boy), Antonio “Doc Oct” Alfonseca as the set-up man (my lunch is coming up), with Ryan “Two-Pitch” Madson right alongside him (there’s a long drive….). Rounding out the rest of the pen will be Matt Smith (sorry, no one-liner here…I actually like the kid) and Geoff “More miles from Scranton than Dwight Schrute” Geary. The rest of the bullpen is most likely up for grabs in the next few weeks.

The last piece to the puzzle has a leash on so tight you can almost hear Charlie Manuel suffocating. If the Phillies get out to a start that they have been accustomed to, a new manager will be in charge by mid-May. However, should we get off to a .500 or better start, the Manuel factor needs to be added in.

This will be his third season at the helm of the Phightins’, and in the previous two, our boys in red have missed the playoffs by a combined four games. Manuel himself has to be responsible for anywhere from 10-14 losses over that two-year span. The man has admitted to forgetting to double switch, pinch-hitting the likes of Mike Lieberthal and butchering a lineup on a nearly daily basis for the first two months of last season.

Sorry if I’m a pessimist or as I like to call myself, a realist. Are the Phillies capable of winning the NL East this season? Hell yea. 

Is it going to be a run-away? Hell no.

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It’s On Like Donkey Kong

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, February 24, 2007 12:51 PM Comments: 0

Grapefruit League is still five days away though you would think that it’s mid-July with the tough words coming out of Clearwater. After Jimmy Rollins threw down the gauntlet with his "We’re the team to beat" speech, Brett Myers latest comments drops a bomb on an already turbulent war of words with the Mets this spring.

In the Courier Post, Myers told reporters what every Phillies fan has been thinking since April of 1962:

"I hate the Mets," said Brett Myers, who made it clear it was more about the uniform than individual players. "I want to beat them more than anyone else. What we need to do is make sure none of their fans get in our building. We shouldn’t sell tickets to Mets fans."

Myers and Rollins have single-handedly made something happen that I never, ever thought possible: making the April 9th series against the Mets at Shea more important than Opening Day.  Two-thirds of that series is already sold out, so you know how much it means to Mets fans already. Despite being the Mets Home Opener,  it will give the Phillies their platform to come out and back up all the junk they’ve been talking. Conversely, Mets fans will just be waiting for the first opportunity to pounce on the first Phillies mistake. If you can someone get tickets for any of those games, do it. I’m even thinking about calling in sick for Childhood Psychology class and taking a trip up the turnpike.

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Jayson Werth Can’t Spell His Own Name

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, February 21, 2007 08:01 AM Comments: 1

It seems that Jayson Werth is becoming a bit of a celebrity in the Delaware Valley.  Three articles yesterday - one in the Inquirer, one in The News Journal  and one on Phillies.com – chronicled the injury-plagued career of the Phillies new 4th outfielder.  For a guy who has over 50% of his potential contract tied to simply making the club, I wondered why he received so much ink today.  Now what may have happened is that the Phils media people released a heart-warming account of Werth’s two-year comeback from wrist injury and Todd Zolecki, Scott Lauber and Ken Mandel ate it up like a Schmitter in the fourth-inning; but when you hear it, it is actually quite a remarkable tale.

In Spring Training of 2005, a misguided A.J. Burnett fastball sliced a ligament in Werth’s left wrist – early reports placed the recovery time at two weeks.  A fortnight came and went, and Werth still had pain, so he opted for surgery.  After the initial surgery failed and all hope seemed lost for a return to professional baseball, Jayson got wise to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  They fixed him up good and yesterday he took BP in Clearwater with no complaints.  Both he and Ruben Amaro expect him to be at 100% for the upcoming season.  The question then is, how good is 100%?

Werth is a career .245 hitter.  I use the word "career" loosely because other than a few cups of coffee in 2002 and 2003, Jayson has only played in 89 games in 2004 and 102 games in 2005 (0 last season).  However in 2004, he had a career year going .262/.338/.486 with 16 HR and 47 RBI.  Although he will strikeout a lot, he hits the curveball well and can be a flyball hitter.  In his two full years in the majors he went 3 for 11 as a pinch hitter with one homer and four RBIs.  Still, Werth might well be the Phillies best right-handed bat off the bench when compared to the options of Ruiz/Barajas, Coste, Nunez, Roberson, and Sandoval.

Jayson is predominantly a left fielder but can play any outfield position as well as first base and catcher.  His real value will be measured if one of the Phillies starting outfielders is injured as Werth is an able replacement.  We all know that with Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand as outfielders, injuries are never far away.  For that reason, expect to see a good deal of Jayson Werth this year.  If he stays healthy he could see at least 250 at-bats in 2007.  That would be 250 more than he saw in 2006.

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Phillies Nation Videos

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, February 17, 2007 01:26 PM Comments: 0

Now that the Phillies have set up camp in Clearwater, it’s time to get this season started.  What better way to prepare for the future than by reliving the past.  Sure, the Phillies legacy is only sparsely dotted with high points but none are higher than those depicted in the video below.  So as the ice starts to thaw and minds turn towards another summer with the Fightins, enjoy this clip of what could be.  Also, check out more Phillies videos in the new Phillies Nation Video Center.

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Continuing the "Trade Lieber to _____ for middle relief" magniloquence

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, February 13, 2007 01:47 PM Comments: 0

Ken Rosenthal at Foxsports.com has released news of Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kris Benson has torn his rotator cuff eliminating him of having any chance of playing in 2007. I was struggling to find the words to describe the type of pitcher Kris Benson is and how it will affect the Orioles young starting rotation. Luckily, at CBSsportsline.com the Fantasy Outlook of Benson surmised him perfectly:

Better known as the pitcher who gets less headlines than his outspoken, sometimes half-dressed wife, Benson continues to prove to be nothing more than a .500 pitcher. In Pittsburgh, it was thought to be a function of his team, but it’s becoming apparent it’s a function of his pitching. Now that the Orioles are deep into a rebuilding stage, Benson is a low-end Fantasy option that you fall back on out of necessity.

The O’s are faced with two problems related to Benson’s injury. The first being that Anna Benson will not be hanging around Camden Yards looking like she came straight from an FHM cover shoot. Secondly, their only major league-ready pitching option is Hayden Penn, who was a September call up from last year and is projected to fight for a rotation spot this March. Penn, who took advantage of his six late season starts in 2006, posted an 0-4 record with a 15.10 ERA in 2/3′s innings. 

So, what is a team to do?

I know for a fact that Pat Gillick has the O’s front office on the speed dial of his office phone. He must have grown tired of dialing 1, then all 10 digits of O’s GM Mike Flanagan while he tried flipping Pat Burrell to Baltimore for Daniel Cabrera through July of last year. This time Gillick isn’t hampered by no-trade clauses, a staple incentive enacted for all of former Phillies general manager Ed Wade’s favorite players. This time Gillick has leverage with Lieber, a veteran pitcher with playoff experience, over the Orioles who are looking to reclaim their perennial third place spot in the AL East from the Toronto Blue Jays.

UPDATED: The O’s signed Steve Trashcel to fill the hole in the starting rotation. So much for wishful thinking.

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Phillies World Series

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, February 12, 2007 08:06 AM Comments: 1

Last night I watched a rebroadcast of Game 2 of the 1983 World Series, part of an Orioles Classic shown here in DC on MASN.  The game was called by Al Michaels, Howard Cosell and Earl Weaver – an all-star broadcasting lineup save Weaver’s Orioles bias.  It was nostalgic to see interim manager Paul Owens trot out during the announcements in his classic powder blue uniform.  Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Joe Lefebvre, Gary Matthews, Gregg Gross, Bo Diaz, Ivan DeJesus followed in sequence with rookie Charlie Hudson pitching.  The team was full of Phillies legends, mostly veterans of the 1981 Championship – but only 2 players were younger than 30. 

It got me thinking, what will the Phillies nucleus be like a handful of years from now?  By 2010, when Jimmy Rollins’ contract expires, the core group of Phils will just be hovering around 30 (Jimmy Rollins – 31, Chase Utley – 31, Ryan Howard – 30, Cole Hamels – 27, Shane Victornio - 29).  In the past two years they have gained some valuable experience battling in the Wild Card race.  I’d like to think these players have carved out a five to seven year window for bringing a World Series to Philly, and they’re already a couple years into it.  It doesn’t seem like these guys will be a flash-in-the-pan club like the ’93 team.  Ideally we’re looking at the playoffs this year, and a World Series by 2009.  That’s not too far out of the realim of possibility, wouldn’t you say?

More Phillies on TV - Tonight at 10pm EST on HBO’s Real Sports, Ryan Howard sits down and discusses life and baseball with Bryant Gumbel.

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Spring Training with Phillies Nation

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, February 09, 2007 02:55 AM Comments: 0

In case you haven’t done the math, we are less than one week until pitchers and catchers report.  Spring Training is upon us and things are looking bright in Clearwater.  Away from the frigid weather gripping the east coast,  temperatures are in the low-70s and sun is expected all week down on the Gulf.  The Phillies’ first Grapefruit League game will be against Detroit, the reigning AL champs, on March 1st at 1:05pm.

Phillies Nation will be represented at Spring Training down at Bright House Networks Field on March 15th and 17th by myself and Jim.  The 15th features a Thursday night game against the Blue Jays.  On Saturday the 17th, the Phils will battle the Yankees in an afternoon match up that will hopefully feature green uniforms and hats.  Tentative plans are to have a small (or large) tailgate party before both games.  For the Yankees game we will be sitting on the lawn in centerfield, so that party will continue around our general vicinity for the entire game. 

Judging by the poll, it seems a number of our readers will be migrating south for March.  So if you’re planning on going to either of the aforementioned games, let us know, we’ll buy more beer.  If you’re just considering going, now you’ve got another good reason.  Get all the Phillies Spring Training info here and start packing! 

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Phils Minors are Older

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, February 06, 2007 09:09 AM Comments: 0

Hey, who wants to catch for the Phillies this season?  Currently, the Phils roster lists Rod Barajas, Ryan Budde, Chris Coste, and Carlos Ruiz as those competing for spot in 2007.  Let’s go ahead and eliminate Budde from the list of potential starters.  That leaves us with a situation we saw often last year, Coste and Ruiz plus one or two other guys splitting backstop duties.  Now, none of these guys jump off the screen and scream franchise catcher: Coste turned 34 on Sunday, Ruiz is a 28-year old rookie and Barajas is 31.  Coste was the feel-good story of last season and put up some useful numbers late in the season.  He batted .329 with 7 homers and 22 RBIs from July to September.  Barajas put up similar numbers with the Rangers last year, but with a much lower batting average.  Ruiz is the youngest of the lot and thus has more potential to be an everyday catcher and long-term member of the team.  I think the job is Ruiz’s to lose.  But that’s not the point here today.  This catcher controversy stems from the fact that the Phillies have a depleted farm system.

Two recent articles have highlighted a point many of us have suspected for a while.  First up, Keith Law from ESPN Insider ranks the Phillies minor league system 29th out of the 30 MLB teams:

29. Philadelphia: Thin system which got thinner by the sudden rise of Cole Hamels. The closest solid-average prospect to the majors here is Carlos Carrasco, who spent the year in low-A.

Sounds promising…Perhaps the Phillies farm system is ranked so poorly because it is one of the oldest in baseball?  That’s what Baseball Prospectus says in study on the average age of farm systems.  The Phillies’ minor league system is the 27th most youthful in baseball. 

The Phillies were third [oldest], at +.58, thanks largely to Reading, the oldest minor-league club in baseball relative to their level. Interestingly enough, the second- and third-oldest minor-league teams were Altoona and Bowie, meaning the top three were all in the Eastern League.

The major league team is the 23rd youngest.  Neither of these are good statistics.

There is hope however behind the plate.  The Phillies have a stable of young catchers in the minor league system.  Unfortunately, none of them will likely make an impact this season.  So it will be up to Ruiz, Barajas and occasionaly Chris Coste.  Carlos Ruiz will hopefully receive the majority of starts this season giving him the chance to prove that he is the Phillies catcher of the near-to-mid future.  If he does not succeed, the Phillies will be in this same predicament next year.

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Myers Agrees to 3-Year Deal

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, February 02, 2007 10:14 AM Comments: 1

The Phillies shored up the top of their rotation today by announcing the resigning of Brett Myers to a 3-year, $25.75 million deal.  Myers will earn $5 million this season, $8.5 million in 2008 and $12 million in 2009, along with a $250,000 signing bonus.  The agreement avoids arbitration for the two parties; Brett was asking $5.9 million for this season while the Phillies countered with $5 million.  While it looks like the Phils won the short term battle, the cost of securing Myers through his remaining arbitration years and first year of free agent eligibility proved high.

Speaking on the newly-inked contracted, Myers had this to say: "I’ve grown up in this organization and this is where I want to stay.  I love pitching in Philadelphia, I love the ballpark, I love the fans and having Charlie as the manager and guys like Chase Utley around for the next few years was a big part of my decision.  I couldn’t imagine myself playing for another organization or with another group of guys."

After last year’s incident in Boston, it was a wonder if the Phillies would resign Myers at all.  He is easily one of the top starters in the National League and has pitched consistently at top form for much of the past two and a half seasons.  The personal issues notwithstanding, in securing Myers, the Phillies have locked up a highly competitive pitching staff.  Myers, as the newly anointed Phillies ace, will likely take the mound on Opening Day.  A solid performance that day could go a long way in giving the Phillies a quick start to the season and hopefully those handful of wins that have eluded them the past few years.

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