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Archive for June, 2007

On A JRoll

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, June 29, 2007 07:12 AM Comments: 0

Great game last night.  Jimmy Rollins came up huge.  In going 4-for-6 at the plate, he drove in both the game-tying and game-winning runs in the Phils extra-inning win over the Reds.  In his post-game interview you could hear the sense of relief in his words slowly turn into confidence as the Phils head into the huge weekend series with the Mets.  The Phillies recent success and drive towards first place has come about for several reasons.  First, the Phillies stars who are healthy, are producing.  Hardly a game goes by anymore without a huge hit by Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard or Chase Utley – their OPSs in the month of June are astronomical (.859, 1.004, 1.178).  The Phillies now also lead the league in runs scored; yet, some think it’s the manager.

Charlie Manuel has been receiving props from a number of print sources lately.  Bill Conlin dedicated a column yesterday to Charlie’s skills in crisis managementTodd Zolecki noted today that the skipper was invited by Tony LaRussa to help him coach this year’s NL All-Stars.  One thing Manuel should get some credit for is the better use of the team’s speed advantage on the basepaths.  The Phillies are tops in the league in stolen base percentage and second only to the Mets in number of successful swipes.

There are more reasons behind the alleged success this month.  For the most part, the team has been fortunate to have quality starting pitching, led by ace and All-Star-to-be Cole Hamels.   Also, the underperforming players on the team are playing less – another smart managerial move.  Burrell is riding the pine – he struck out in a pinch hit appearance last night – and now Jason Werth (.167 in June) is headed to the 15 day DL with a sprained wrist.  Chris Coste has been called up to take his place.  Rod Barajas has long been eclipsed by Carlos Ruiz who was 2-5 with a double last night.

So you have all these reasons why things have come together in the month of June for the Phillies.  One thing I think many people are overlooking is the general slumping of the Mets.  Back when the Phillies swept New York, they were in the midst of a 4-18 run to start the month of June.  But after sweeping Oakland to end the interleague season, the Mets seems poised the weekend series in Philly.  Here’s how the opposing lineups teams fare against each other this season:

Phillies AVG v. Mets   Mets AVG v. Phils
 Rollins  .406   Reyes  .385
 Victorino  .143   LoDuca  .222
 Utley  .250   Beltran  .207
 Howard  .333   Wright  .276
 Rowand  .381   Delgado  .259
 Dobbs  .000   Green  .231
 Ruiz  .150   Easley  .200
 Helms  .286   Gomez  .222
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Durbin’s Turbans

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, June 27, 2007 08:16 AM Comments: 0

J.D. Durbin will be the Phillies starter for the first game of Friday’s day-night double-header against the Mets.  The righty is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA in 10 starts for AAA Ottawa.  In 133 career Minor League games, Durbin has gone 49-27 with a 3.28 ERA.  He has appeared in five Major League games – Twins in 2004 and D’backs this season – leaving him with a 0-1 record and 14.63 ERA. 

A lot will be riding on the outcome of this game as the 25-year old goes for his first win.  Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro are scrambling to find some new pitching; but a good outing by Durbin could relieve some of the pressure – maybe long enough to allow Myers to return.  The Phils lucked out with Kyle Kendrick, who got the win in last night, but it’s unlikely lightning will strike twice on the mound at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark.  The team will still have to make a deal, if not for Buehrle, perhaps then for his teammate Jose Contreras.

One thing is for sure, two legitimate starters take to the hill tonight in the second game of the series with the Reds:  Jamie Moyer (7-5) and Adam Harang (8-2).  The Phillies have batted .361 against Harang in the last three season.

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Phillies Pitching Problems Persist

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, June 25, 2007 08:41 AM Comments: 0

The Phillies announced this weekend that an MRI uncovered a ruptured tendon in Jon Lieber’s right foot.  It’s a pretty bad injury and Lieber has two options.  He can either have to wait for the tendon to heal then begin rehab program which would likely take three months or he can have surgery and be done for the season.  As a 37-year old pitcher in the final year of an overpriced contract, this could have serious implications on Lieber’s career.  This season he has gone 3-6 and posted a 4.73 ERA, but his last game was indicative of his recent starts – allowing 5+ runs in an inning en route to a Phillies loss.  Although the team has not benefited greatly from Lieber’s starts, starting pitchers who once grew on trees in March, are at a premium at this point in the season.

One option of course, would be to reinsert Brett Myers into the rotation after he returns from the DL.  John Kruk suggested this on TV yesterday claiming that Antonio Alfonseca has done a good enough job closing to give him the spot for good and free up Myers to start again.  Brett went on the 15-day DL over a month ago and even after saying he would be ready on June 18, is still not healthy.  Over the weekend, Myers and his recovering throwing shoulder tossed 30 pitches in a bullpen session.  Simply put, he is barely ready to come back to the team let alone throw 70, 80, 90 pitches in a start.  The Phillies are going to have to look elsewhere for a new starter for Friday and every fifth day for the rest of the season.

Maybe Mark Buerhle is the answer.  After White Sox GM Ken Williams denied that a trade to Boston was eminent, he did hint at the lefty’s availablity.  "At least seven teams have made serious contact with Williams… the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets were the leading contenders until this weekend, with the Boston Red Sox now becoming the front-runner."  There’s a chance the Phillies could be one of the other four  teams in contention for Buehrle.  The Sox always did want Aaron Rowand back; though Buerhle is in the final year of his contract.  I don’t see this trade happening, it would be too much, too soon for Pat Gillick to make that kind of a move this early in the season.

Look for the Phillies to give another minor leaguer a crack.  I think J.A. Happ is this front runner in this case.  He had a good tryout with the club this spring and has put up decent numbers at Ottawa.  Expect an official announcement soon.

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Pitch to Howard

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, June 22, 2007 07:53 AM Comments: 0

A rumbling from our old friend Jayson Stark:

One NL executive says he can’t figure out why teams keep intentionally walking Ryan Howard when the Phillies player they should be walking is Chase Utley — to pitch to Howard: "At least Howard has holes — a lot of holes — especially this year. In a big spot, Utley fights you. He fights off tough pitches. He’s hard to strike out. He’ll take your heart out to win a game. Give me enough players like that, and I’ll win a championship. I guarantee you."

He’s right about that – a team full of Chase Utleys would coast to a championship.  I just can’t see intentionally walking Chase Utley to get to Ryan Howard, especially now while Howard is beginning to revive his swing of last season.  Howard’s hot bat has improved the entire team, including Utley as Todd Zolecki notes today.  Chase Utley hit .300/.375/.560 with Howard on the DL.  He has hit .366/.434 /.581 since.

Chase and Ryan’s offensive numbers notwithstanding, the stat I think this argument hinges on is Ryan Howard’s 33 walks in 103 AB with runners on base.  If opposing pitchers are willing to walk Chase Utley, they’ll just as easily walk Ryan Howard too.  Maybe they fail to realize Pat Burrell is batting .300/.517/.700 this season with runners on first and second. 

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KKKKyle KKKKendrick

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, June 20, 2007 06:43 AM Comments: 0

Well this couldn’t have worked out better.  Freddy Garcia who has been struggling all season is finally out of the picture.  Yes, hindsight confirms he was over-valued and the Phils now have a $10 million arm resting on the clubhouse couch for the rest of the season; but it seems the Phils may be able to write off that bad debt and solidify a decent starting rotation.  Garcia’s replacement, Kyle Kendrick, garnered his first major league win last night in the Phillies 9-6 win over the Indians.  The 22 year-old righty pitched 6 innings for the second consecutive outing and finished with a line of 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.  He also threw more than half of his pitches for strikes, which is key as a youngester, it shows composure and confidence in his fastball.  It also kept runners off the basepaths, so when Ryan Garko deposited one of Kendrick’s pitches over the wall, it was only a solo shot.  Staying with this strategy (and executing it) will lock Kyle Kendrick’s into Freddy Garcia’s spot in the rotation as well as add some balance to the Phillies recent history of callups.  Other than Cole Hamels, there hasn’t been a Phillies mid-season promotion that has stayed around for much more than a cup of coffee.  (See Gavin Floyd, Eudo Brito, Scott Mathieson or Adam Bernero).

In other news, Ryan Howard connected for his 16th home run of the season, providing more steam for his charge back up the home run leaderboard.  Before going on the DL in late May, he had only swatted 6 dingers; in the past 10 games, he has gone yard 5 times.  Although Prince Fielder (the next Ryan Howard) is currently tops in the league with 26 homeruns, we all know it’s possible for Ryan to keep hitting at his current pace.  More importantly though, Howard is slowing beginning to raise his batting average which now stands at .247.  While it’s a far cry from the .313 he hit last year, it’s certainly an improvement on the .204 he was hitting when he went on the DL.  Howard’s ability to hit for average should raise his RBI count (48) as well, which is something the Phils could really use.

In tonight’s rubber match in Cleveland, Jon Lieber (3-5) takes to the mound against C.C. Sabathia (9-2).  With Freddy Garcia out of the picture, Lieber is the lone Phillies pitcher with a losing record.  Neither pitcher tonight regularly allows many walks, so look for a short game.  Go Phils!

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Making It Interesting

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, June 15, 2007 12:39 PM Comments: 0

"The Phillies are two games back. That doesn’t seem right to me."

Add an Irish brogue from a 76 year old woman and that quote matches exactly what my Grandmother said while reading the baseball standings in today’s Daily News. It sounds baffling to every fan in Phillies Nation because two months ago there was no way any of us could of fathomed this team even being .500 by the All-Star break.

After completing a sweep of the Chicago White Sox , the club looks to continue their winning ways against the American League Champion Detroit Tigers. Following a no-hit gem tossed by Justin Verlander against the Brewers , the quality staff the Tigers possess is anchored by an equally destructive offensive. Magglio Ordonez has jumped out with MVP-esqe numbers for the Tigers batting .367 with 13 Home runs and 60 RBIs. He has done spectacular plating Gary Sheffield and Placido Polanco game in and game out. Those two seem to always find a way to get on base multiple times a game.
 
Meanwhile, the Mets have been dreadful dropping their last 5 games – 9 of their last 10 -  while allowing their massive division lead to dwindle to two games. New York will be facing their cross town rivals, the Yankees, who have gone George Romero as of late, Return of the Living Dead.

Let’s hope our boy Bobby A keeps up his newly found offensive stride for the Bombers and pray that the Phils somehow verdict a victorious outcome against the Tigers.

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Bitching About Pitching

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, June 10, 2007 07:09 PM Comments: 0

It seems like we’ve been writing a lot about the Phillies pitching lately.  Besides Jose Mesa coming in and Freddy Garcia going to the DL, there has been much drama surrounding the Phillies pitching staff all season.  Sunday’s 17-5 blowout only added to the saga; but it also provided an excellent example of a baseball theory I read about the other day.

I was in Phoenix this past week and besides catching a D’Backs-Giants game, I picked up a copy of Baseball Prospectus’ Baseball Between the Numbers for the flight.  The title of Chapter 2-2 especially piqued my interest, "Are Teams Letting Their Closers Go to Waste." I was thinking about it in the context of having an Opening Day start in the closer role; but it provided a different perspective on the role.  The essay contends that the bullpen ace – usually the closer – is better utilized in the sixth through eighth innings of a ballgame.  The outcome of those innings tend to have more "leverage" and thus the greatest impact on the final result.  "60 percent of all highly leveraged situations occur in innings six, seven, eight," they say.  You may recall that Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were used this way  before the closer role became en vogue.

The Phillies game on Sunday which ended 17-5 was a much more manageable 6-5 after five-and-a-half innings.  Ryan Madson, Jose Mesa, Geoff Geary and Francisco Rosario each took to the mound and allowed a 3, 2, 2, 1 runs respectively.  According to the Baseball Prospectus logic, the Phillies should have used their best bullpen pitcher in this situation.  Granted, Brett Myers and Tom Gordon are on the DL unavailable, I wonder if Charlie would have considered such a move in this situation.  This could be a new role for Myers and allow Gordon to reclaim his closer role.  I doubt it will happen, but it is an interesting proposition in light of the bullpen issues.

UPDATE:  Phillies promote righty Kyle Kendrick from Reading to fill in for Freddy Garcia in the rotation.  Kendrick will start on Wednesday is 4-7 with a 3.21 ERA and 2.8 K/BB.

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So You Think You Can Sweep?

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, June 08, 2007 01:38 PM Comments: 0

Last night at Shea, the Phils completed their first road sweep of the New York Mets since 2002. For the first time all year, whenever they were down in a game or needed a huge clutch hit, I never waived that the hit they needed wouldn’t come.

Case in point, Wednesday night after Pat Burrell struck out on four pitches against Aaron Heilman. This was classic Burrell, especially down a run with two runners aboard. Jimmy Rollins steps in and jacks one over the right field wall. All series, J Roll has stepped up offensively and defensively to help this team win at any cost. Since April 2nd, Jimmy Rollins has been the best offensive performer on this club. He’s been backing up his ‘team to beat’ rhetoric, it’s just a shame it has taken his club until early June to reciprocate.

Coming off three straight, the Phils fly to Kansas City to take on Scott Elarton tonight. His numbers suggest that he isn’t either a precise or power pitcher. With only 20 strikeouts in 25.2 innings, 14 walks and 31 hits surrendered he seems to fit more into the ‘batting practice’ pitcher category. But, in resent years the Phillies couldn’t beat a ball club membered by nuns if they dawned an AL patch on their jerseys. Let’s hope for the best.

Nightmare Alert: If you watch this team consistently or even just once, there is a good possibility you may have noticed that their bullpen is atrocious. Despite pitching three very good games in New York, who knows how long that is going to last. How do you remedy this situation?

Joe Table.

That’s right. Jose Mesa. The guy who ran out of the bullpen with a three run lead in the 9th inning at the Vet. The same guy who where upon seeing his brightly colored red glove that you would begin praying to the God of your affiliation for the Phils to somehow not wind up losing that game. (Assistant) GM Rueben Amaro said ”We will leave no stone unturned’ in searching for much needed bullpen help. Let’s hope so. He’ll been in to work out with the Phillies soon, oh boy.

Instead of Mesa, I think the three guys mentioned here from today’s Inky, Texas relievers Akinori Otsuka, Eric Gagne and Joaquin Benoit would make much better options that our old friend Jose. Phils scouts have been spotted recently at Rangers game in order to evaluate much needed bullpen talent. Also, the Rangers have been trading partners with the Gillick-led Phils before when Rob Tejada was sent there last season for David Dellucci.

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Phillies Pitching Problems

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, June 05, 2007 06:42 PM Comments: 0

So the Phillies split with the Giants over the weekend.  The Saturday and Sunday wins came in dramatic fashion with game winnings hits, fearless comebacks, and Phillies pitching handling Bonds.  The tailgate party was a blast – the beer was endless and the cheesesteaks on the grill were amazing.  Cole Hamels continues to prove he is the real deal.  His subtle maturity is noticeable both on and off the mound; and that why the one Cy Young he will win may just come this year.

Bonds' Error                  Tailgate Party

The two games on either side of the weekend wins were complete beat downs, 13-0 and 8-1.  It’s disheartening to see a team lose that bad – as if they can actually run on zero cylinders.  Jon Lieber had another poor outing, allowing a five run inning in consecutive games.  That kind of game has plagued his Phillies career even though he hasn’t given up that many runs in an inning previously this season.  It usually puts Charlie Manuel in sitituations too difficult to handle and the game quickly slips out of control.  Lieber’s 2-4 record is second worst on the team behind Freddy Garcia’s 1-4 mark.  I thought briefly that maybe Garcia should have been moved to the closer role instead of Myers, but it seems as if Freddy has completely lost his fastball.  His windup on Sunday reminded me of Tim Wakefield and I wonder if he’s not still hurt.

Speaking of Brett Myers, on Monday it was said that Charlie Manuel would not rule out the possibility of putting Myers back in the rotation.  I doubt it will happen and we can’t second guess Myers’ move to the back of the bullpen every time there is an injury or the rotation is on the ropes.  There is just simply not enough quality pitching on this team.  There are plenty of good pitchers that with career years could propel the Phillies into the playoffs but that is unlikely to happen all at once.  The Mets series which starts tonight will not give the Phils any pause to consider their unfortunate situation.  Veterans Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer face off tonight and the Mets will have to deal with Cole Hamels before interleague play starts again.  Last season he shut out the Mets in an 8-inning gem.  It’s a lot of pressure but he needs to continue at that pace just to keep this team afloat.

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Giant Whooping

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, June 02, 2007 09:33 AM Comments: 0

Yikes, that was some game last night.  Allowing a grand slam in the second inning is never a good sign; neither is an opposing pitcher that collects more hits than he allows.  The Phillies 13-0 shellacking last night at the hands of the Giants mean the Fightins are currently riding a 4-game losing streak (…can you ride a losing streak?).  So, what happened last night?  Frank Fitzpatrick - the Inky’s luddite sports reporter – sums it up like this:  "Charlie Manuel got thrown out. Barry Bonds got taken out. Adam Eaton got knocked out. The bullpen got no one out. And the Phillies got blown out."  I prefer to just read the ancillary game notes – they’re a bit more interesting:

  • It was the first time the Phillies were shutout since Sept. 10 at Florida.
  • Eaton has just four quality starts — three earned runs or less in six innings or more — in 11 outings.
  • Francisco Rosario pitched one inning in relief of Eaton before he left with a bruised left knee one inning after Morris lined a single off it.
  • Manuel has three ejections this season.
  • Victorino threw out Winn at the plate to end the first inning for his eighth outfield assist and the team’s 21st.

But that game is behind us, and hopefully the Phillies.  Tonight their stopper/ace/phenom/messiah, Cole Hamels takes to the hill against San Fran’s Noah Lowery.  Lowery got knocked around for seven hits in four innings in his last start, but did beat the Phils back on May 5th.  Meanwhile Cole is averaging 10 strikeouts per 9 and just 2.5 walks.  How will this affect his approach to Barry Bonds in their first major league duel?  Well, it seems Hamels will approach the meeting with his typical youthful bravado and best fastball. "I don’t believe in intentional walks," said the 23-year-old.  "Anybody who wants to be the best has to go up against the best."  Inspiring words, especially with evidence suggesting that pitching to Bonds isn’t the worst idea.

Finally, don’t forget tonight we’re holding a killer tailgate party with our friends from PhillyTailgate.com.  The festivities start around 4 and will be held in the parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field under the K16 pole next to 10th street.  All you can eat and drink as well as fun giveaways will be available to anyone who shows up with a ticket.  I can’t promise the Phils won’t get blown out tonight, but I can promise a fun time beforehand.

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