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Archive for May, 2007

Howard is Back Back Back

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, May 30, 2007 08:31 AM Comments: 0

Is it too early to say the Ryan Howard of last season has returned?  He is five games removed from the disabled list and already he is putting up better numbers that the start of the season.  Since returning to the lineup on Friday, Howard has gone 6-18, with 7 RBIs, 3 HRs, and 5 strikeouts.  Although it’s definitely a good sign to see Ryno accumulate more hits than strikeouts over a given period, it probably is too soon to say he has fully recovered.  Last night after he landed awkwardly on his injured leg, he was forced to leave the game with what he claims was only a cramp.  The Phillies slugger explained, "My hamstring cramped up when I tried to get up and make the play. That’s why I couldn’t make an accurate throw. A good play gone bad. My leg is fine."  Let’s hope so, Ryan, because if the Phillies are going to make a push for the playoffs, now is the time.

After sweeping the Braves over the weekend and crawling above .500, the Phils looked to have some momentum as the D’backs slithered into town.  Freddy Garcia – bucking earlier trends - pitched a solid eight innings in the opening game of the series but the Phillies were unable to hold on and lost 5-4 on Memorial Day.  Last night’s blowout saw two 5-run innings allowed on the heels of 3 errors as the Phils dropped back down to .500 - their favorite number as of late.  June is not going to get any easier for our hometown nine, with the Giants, Mets, Royals (whew!), White Sox, and Tigers all on the schedule in the first half of the month.

Hopefully the Phillies will be able to make a statement against the Giants this weekend and try to reclaim some of that momentum from earlier in the week.  As mentioned before, Phillies Nation will be there on Saturday supporting the Phils – first with an awesome tailgate party, then with some good old-fashioned rowdiness during the game.  Please join us for the big event, which is co-sponsored by PhillyTailgate.com and will feature booze, bbq, beverages, and a band!  There will also be plenty of Phillies giveaways, including some of those hot Howard-Utley shirts.  Tickets to the tailgate can be purchased here if you already have a ticket to the game ($20) or here if you still need both tickets ($42).  It’s gonna be a big day inside the park too: Bonds is in town, Howard is back, Hamels is pitching, and Greg Dobbs continues to impress.  See you Saturday.  Go Phils!

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Speechless

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, May 24, 2007 08:33 AM Comments: 0

What happened last night?  I mean, I am completely dumbfounded as to the events that unfolded in the latter stages of that Phillies game.  Both Greg Dobbs and Rod Barajas had a great chance to put the entire game to rest and indirectly prevent Brett Myers from blowing out his shoulder.  Even Charlie, in his infinite wisdom, said, "I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in baseball. It ranks with the rest of them."  Without going into all of the specifics, the Phillies eventually escaped with an 8-7 victory. 

Freddy Garcia showed signs of improvements as he lasted six innings but the pitching concerns now shift to Myers.  Last night’s game left him hurt – physically, mentally, and emotionally.  After tossing a pitch to the backstop, Myers left the game immediately and went to the clubhouse to ice down his right shoulder.  The Phillies said he strained it and may send the closer back to Philadelphia today for further examination.  Myers thinks a day or two of rest should straighten things out; let’s hope so because the Phils struck gold with Myers as the bullpen solution.  Brett has appeared in 11 games this month and the Phillies have won every one of them.  With Tom Gordon still on the DL 15 days later, the Phillies will have to look elsewhere for a Plan B.

Myers Upate:  Righthander Brett Myers was re-examined this morning by Phillies Head Athletic Trainer Scott Sheridan.  It was re-confirmed that he has a right shoulder strain.  He is listed as day-to-day.  Myers will have an MRI on his right shoulder today at the Phillies’ medical network in Clearwater, Fla.

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Freddy’s Follies

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, May 22, 2007 12:14 PM Comments: 0

Cole Hamels is pitching tonight and that is awesome, people get excited when his turn in the rotation comes up.  But alas, that means that tomorrow Freddy Garcia will inevitably take to the hill.  Garcia will receive much less fanfare and likely generate less baseball-drama, but he should.  I mean in 2006, he led the White Sox in innings (216.1), starts (33) and quality starts (18) and ranked 2nd in wins (17).  This season has been a different story as nagging injuries have plagued the off-season acquisition.  A sore right bicep caused discomfort in Spring Training, and then he was forced to start the season on the DL with tendonitis.  Then there was the incident where he went shin-first into a cart parked in centerfield.

All of this has undoubtedly affected his pitching.  He is 0-2 in his last 5 decisions and needed 114 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings in his last start.  He then let his frustration (most likely with himself) get the better of him as he criticized the Manual’s decision to lift him after the game.  This season he has worked 37 innings in 7 games for an average of 5 1/3 innings per game.  However, those aforementioned 2006 stats are indicative of his career – he is a very good pitcher.  For his career he’s averaged almost 6 2/3 innings per game; but he’s only pitched 6 innings twice this season. 

Tomorrow, Garcia (1-3, 4.86) will take on the resurgent Byung-Hyun Kim, (2-2, 7.15) who is back after a thumb injury.  Freddy has only faced the Marlins once in his career – an April 27th no decision, in which he allowed 4 runs on 7 hits (2 homers) over 4 2/3 innings.  In that short outing though, he mowed down 8 Marlins which speaks to his potential.  Garcia relies on his fastball, which he throws over 50% of the time, and when it’s on, it’s extremely effective.  It sets up his slider in which opposing batters can only hit for a .202 average.  But when the fastball fails, so too does Garcia and the Phillies cannot afford gaping-wide hole in the rotation ala Paul Abbott.

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Stop! Hamels Time

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, May 17, 2007 09:08 AM Comments: 0

Cole Hamels Fact #87: Cole Hamels walks on water and swims on land

Cole Hamels is the best left handed pitcher in the National League. If his 15 strike out complete game  against the Reds didn’t solidify that for you then last night must have.

Initially , he stuck out the first four batters he faced. I was thinking to myself "maybe he’d have a Jake Peavy night", striking out the first nine – you know – just for fun. Though it was only four consecutive,  his night took a turn for the better pitching six perfect innings. The defensive stepped up and made some quality plays , cheifly Chase Utleys’ sliding stop and Greg Dobbs back hander to end the 6th.

The perfect game was finished after Rickie Weeks walked to lead off the seventh. J.J. Hardy broke up Hamels’ no-hitter with his National League leading 13th home run during the seventh inning. It was clear during the Weeks at-bat that Hamels had hit a wall. His pitches were up in the zone and flat on the pitching plane. Hamels was visibly frustrated as he walked Weeks and who can blame him?

My favorite part of the game last night was the crowd. If you happened to be at The Ballpark last night you are a champion of integrity. Braving an hour rain delay (I was caught at the golf course, not fun), rallying behind every pitch  while being  a force  of inspiration is awe inspiring.  The fan participation has been great this series and hopefully it builds from here and erases the bad publicity the crowds have been getting recently.

For Today’s game, I’ll be in attendance to watch Freddy Garcia take the hill, as the Phils look for their first sweep of the season. The Brew Crew shuffle out staff ace Ben Sheets as their series stopper. This season, Sheets isn’t the same pitcher of past years for a couple reasons. Firstly, he is pitching injury free in May. Along with his low strike out totals (5 K’s game high, 25 Total K’s in 48.1 IP), his home run count is up at seven surrendered.  He  has been consistent with not giving up the long ball early in the season throughout his career, but  this year is  quite the exception.

 

Despite it being a sunny day with a bit of a windy chill, I except the Phils to his around Sheets. Their offensive output has been outstanding as of late and I don’t see any reason for that not to continue.

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On the Defensive

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, May 14, 2007 10:10 AM Comments: 0

The Phils made it through the weekend with two wins, but lost their struggling MVP.  Ryan Howard was moved to the disabled list with the earliest expected return date of May 25.  Howard said he first felt the left quad injury back during the first game of Spring Training.  In Clearwater and during the early parts of the season, it was apparent that something was bothering him even while he swatted the occasional dramatic homer.  Howard’s ingury saga plays out a bit like Tom Gordon’s in that the two All-Stars tired to play through injuries during Spring Training figuring they would work themselves out.  Instead those ailments were carried into the season and affected their play.  The loss of Howard does however pave the way for Chris Coste to return from AAA Ottawa.   Also, it means more Greg Dobbs as he will continue to pick up starts at first base against right-handed pitching as he platoons with Wes Helms.

In the nationally televised games over the weekend, fans across the country experienced the beauty that is the best defensive outfield in the National League - Cubs were regularly gunned down on the basepaths.  The team as a whole is tied for sixth in the league in team fielding percentage (.984) going into Sunday’s game, but the outfield is tops with 18 outfield assists, including 12 in last 19 games.

At the corners, Shane Victorino’s 6 assists in right and Pat Burrell’s 5 assists in left both lead the league.  Aaron Rowand is tied for the league lead in center with 3.  Other Phillies right-fielders have combined for an additional 3 assists.  Props must also go to the catchers, Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas, for applying the tag and holding onto the ball.  They both also have perfect fielding percentages and only a single passed ball thus far in the season.  This return to consistent well-played defense is crucial if the Phillies expect to contend for a playoff spot.  The four-game series that is about to commence at Citizen’s Bank is also pretty important as MLB heads into interleague play.  Wednesday night will feature Cole Hamels (5-1) against Jeff Suppan (5-3) as well as Ryan Howard MVP bobbleheads.  Although fans would rather see the real Phillies first baseman, the games should still be exciting.

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Fantastic Game

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, May 10, 2007 11:43 AM Comments: 0

What a great game last night.  The Phils were operating on all cylinders and the most notable sign was a game-winning pinch-hit grand slam by Ryan Howard.  Also on offer was another solid outing by Jamie Moyer, a two-inning close job by Brett Myers, and nine unanswered runs after being shut down most of the game by Randy Johnson.  The win saved the Phillies from their first sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks in almost a decade.  But it did more than just than.  The Ryan Howard grand slam especially provided a healthy blip on the otherwise flat-lined Phillies pulse.  "It doesn’t just lift his spirits. It lifts the club’s spirits, too," observed starter Jamie Moyer.  Pat Burrell reiterated saying, "You can’t count on the pinch-hit grand slam.  We needed something like that to happen for us." 

The trouble is I feel too often that the Phillies – when just teetering on the brink of disaster suddenly – find a way to pull things together.  Maybe they will take the series this weekend against the Cubs, but then they face the Brewers – the best team in baseball currently.  That’s going to be a real test for the club.  Only if last night’s grand slam was an indication that the healthy Ryan Howard of last season has returned do the Phillies have a chance to turn the season around.  Otherwise it will be just another roller-coaster ride with the Phillies doing just enough to get by.  Along those lines, I could definitely see a return of everyone’s favorite Canadian reliever, Rheal Cormier who was released by Reds yesterday.

For those of us who nonetheless can’t stand turning away from the car wreck that is the Phillies, we here at Phillies Nation have two awesome events.  They both involve the Phillies-Giants game on Saturday, June 2nd, which starts at 7:05.  First off, we are planning another world famous tailgate party.   There will be hamburgers, hot dogs, beer, cheesesteaks, soda, water, other random food, beer, musical entertainment and dozens of friendly Phillies fans.  We also have group tickets reserved for people who need seats.  The party with 400 level tickets to the game will run you $42, or just $20 if you have your own tickets.  It also might be worth mentioning that it is my birthday weekend, so I am considering it a party in my honor (although no one else is obliged to).

If you don’t already have tickets and prefer fancier accommodations, then you should be aware of a raffle being run by Holy Family University.  They are offering luxury box tickets to the June 2nd game for you and 11 of your friends.  The prize includes admission to the game, the swanky seats, free food, free drinks, and free parking.  There will be only 20 entries accepted for this raffle and an entry will set you back $500, but participants will have a 20-to-1 chance of winning the grand prize.  There is also a second prize of a Chase Utley signed bat and ball, 2 Hall of Fame Club Seats and a $10 food voucher.  Even better, the remaining 18 participants will receive 2 Hall of Fame Club Seats and a $10 food voucher to a game.  Everybody wins, whoo-hooo!  Call Luci Sweeny at 267-341-3353 if you are interested and remember entries are available to the first 20 people only.

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Injuries Plague Phillies Pitching

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, May 06, 2007 10:08 PM Comments: 0

Last week was not a good one for Phillies pitchers, three important members of the staff went down with various injuries.  While it is unlikely we will see a future Hall of Famer in our owner’s box announcing he is coming to fill the void, I wonder if Pat Gillick will use this opportunities to bring in some fresh arms.  Something will have to be done to keep the shred of momentum going that has helped the team begin to overcome its perennial slow start to the season.  There will be many decisions made this week, but much of the information needed is still pending.  Here is the scope of the latest rash of injuries.

Yesterday in a bizarre event, Freddy Garcia collided with a small John Deere tractor that was parked in centerfield during batting practice.  The incident, replayed during last night’s ESPN broadcast, involved a Ryan Howard fly ball that Garcia was trying to track down until he ran right into the truck’s bed.  His left shin took the brunt of the accident and was immediately iced down after Garcia was driven back to the dugout.  There are a lot of distractions during batting practice, that’s why they have nets protecting certain spot.  There’s no question a tractor on the field is an accident waiting to happen, but I never understood why pitchers shag fly balls before games.  I wouldn’t imagine they are very familiar with judging 300 foot fly balls when they rarely leave the circle 60 feet from the plate.  Nonetheless, the freak injury now puts Garcia’s start tonight in jeopardy.  The Phillies wanted to see if the leg stiffens up over night, and according to Charlie Manuel – ever the realist – "If he says he’s OK, he’ll probably start."

Ryan Madson also went down over the weekend and his injury was a bit more serious.  On Saturday this Phillies placed him on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique muscle.  This has been a nagging problem since Spring Training but according to Madson only this week has it begun to affect his pitching.  (I wonder how it felt the first two games of the year.)  Madson and the busy Phillies medical staff should know more today as there tests are scheduled back home in Philly.  In the meantime, the club recalled right-hander Clay Condrey.  Condrey opened the season in the majors and posted a 2.25 ERA in three games.  Condrey will be following Yoel Hernandez out of Ottawa, as the latter was recalled after Tom Gordon went down. 

Speaking of which, Tom Gordon, the third injured Phillies pitcher, is due back next Thursday, May 17.  In his stead, Brett Myers has held down the fort, last night recording his second save in as many opportunities.  Cole Hamels improved his record to 4-1 and Ryan Howard hit a bomb to center despite complaining of a sore left quad.  Perhaps that’s the the reason he now resides on the wrong side of the Mendoza line.  In any case the injuries are piling up for the Fightins, how will the Phillies respond?

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Closing the Closer Role

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, May 04, 2007 07:53 AM Comments: 0

They did it, they finally did it.  Brett Myers is now officially the new Phillies closer as he recorded his first major league save last night against the Giants.  The ace of the rotation at the beginning of the year is now taking over bullpen duties casting aside the likes of Ryan Madson, Tom Gordon and Geoff Geary as he shows he can fulfill all roles.  With Tom Gordon now headed to the 15-day DL after receiving an anti-inflammatory injection (another vague Phillies comment on Gordon’s health), Brett Myers will have a chance to take over the closing job for good.  Myers has said all along he doesn’t want to be jerked around between the ‘pen and the rotation like Madson last year, so it’s very likely he will be the closer for the rest of the season.  When/if Tom Gordon returns he would move into the setup role, as he did with the Yankees. 

This is a good move in my opinion because the Phillies can ill afford to blow any more late-inning leads.  Jayson Stark mentioned earlier this week that only 6 of the last 144 playoff teams found themselves more than 4½ games out of a playoff spot after April.  If the Phils expect to overcome those odds, Charlie Manuel will have to figure out how best to use Myers.  I’m interested to see when Myers’ first 2-inning save opportunity comes.  If it’s soon, Charlie might be misplaying his hand by overusing his best reliever – as he tends to do.  We’ll see, though Myers says he can handle the new pitching schedule.  "It’s easier to bounce back from throwing nine pitches than throwing 100.  But getting cranked up every night isn’t a problem for me, because I have trouble sitting down anyway."

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