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Thome Walks It Off; Utley Back By Wednesday?

Posted by Corey Seidman, Sun, June 24, 2012 03:55 AM Comments: 7

Chase Utley could return to the Phillies' lineup by Wednesday, according to CSNPhilly.com.

The good news for the Phillies on Saturday was two-fold — they had their second walkoff win of the season on Jim Thome‘s ninth inning opposite field solo home run, and according to CSNPhilly.com, Chase Utley is headed back to the Philadelphia area and could be back in the Phillies’ lineup by Wednesday.

Jim Salisbury reports that Utley, who for the first time this weekend played second base on consecutive days, will likely play in one more rehab game with Lehigh Valley — perhaps Tuesday — before joining the Phils.

That is big, big news, especially in the wake of the Phillies taking Game 1 of their final interleague series vs. the Rays in preparation for Sunday’s Cole Hamels-Cliff Lee doubleheader. This is suddenly a sweepable series, as the Phils hold pitching matchup advantages at 1:05 and 6:35 p.m. Sunday. I wrote at the outset of the 10-game homestand vs. the Rockies, Rays and Pirates that an 8-2 mark was necessary, as it would put the Phils back at .500, at 39-39. Wins on Sunday would make the Phils 5-1 with four games waiting vs. Pittsburgh.

But back to Saturday for a second…

  • Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the season, allowing two two-out runs in the ninth inning after Antonio Bastardo maneuvered his way out of trouble an inning earlier. It was Pap’s first blown save in 18 chances and the first two runs he’s allowed in a save situation.
  • Thome hit an opposite-field, line-drive home run off Rays lefthanded fireballer Jake McGee to start the ninth. It was Thome’s first pinch-hit of the season, he was previously 0-for-12. Charlie Manuel thought seeing plenty of pitches in the at-bat helped Thome get his timing, which has clearly been an issue for him in this role. Thome saw eight pitches.
  • Jimmy Rollins hit his sixth home run to start the scoring for the Phils. A 2-for-4 afternoon has Rollins all the way up to .263. He began the month batting .239.
  • Juan Pierre smacked a no-doubter for his first home run as a Phillie, a three-run shot. Pierre also created a run on the basepaths, when he lined a ball to second that Ben Zobrist missed and hustled the whole way to beat the throw to second. Pierre then stole third and scored on Carlos Ruiz‘ 0-2 bloop hit to right field. Pierre is hitting .328.
  • The Phillies’ win, coupled with the Marlins’ loss to the Blue Jays, catapults the Phillies out of last place in the NL East. The Phils are 34-38, 8.5 games behind the Nationals. The Marlins are 33-38, 9.0 back. Miami has lost six straight for the second time this month. The Fish are 4-16 in June.

Cole Hamels opposes David Price in a battle of stellar lefties in the afternoon of Sunday’s split admission doubleheader. Cliff Lee will face 24-year-old righty Alex Cobb at night.

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How to Solve the Phils’ OF Conundrum

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, June 12, 2012 03:00 PM Comments: 32

Jim Salisbury wrote yesterday for CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies’ interest in Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler — who signed with the Cubs on Monday — was a reflection of the Phils’ own outfield uncertainty.

That refers to impending free agent centerfielder Shane Victorino and rightfielder Hunter Pence, who is under team control for 2013 but becomes a free agent afterward.

Salisbury writes that Pence, because of his team control, has more value than Victorino, which is true.

However, it’s my opinion that it still probably makes more sense to trade Victorino since a decision on him must be made sooner rather than later.

Victorino is deserved of a contract in the range of what Brandon Phillips was just given by the Reds — six years, $72.5 million. I would expect Victorino to get one fewer year than Phillips but the same annual average salary of $12 million.

Sixty-million dollars is a lot to commit to a centerfielder who will be 32 years old before the contract even begins. Pence,  meanwhile, is two years younger and speed is not his biggest skill. He’s probably a safer bet to commit to long-term.

Trading Victorino or letting him walk would put the Phillies at just about $121 million next season for 20 players. That leaves them just under $60 million to play with for next season. Add in Pence’s final year of arbitration at about $15 million and you’re down to $45 million — more than enough money to re-sign Cole Hamels (keep in mind that the luxury tax threshold increases from $178 million to $189 million after next season) and still make more moves.

The question becomes, “What do you covet more: Victorino’s speed and skills in center or Pence’s run production?”

There is one major factor that helps answer that question.

DOM BROWN

Domonic Brown has played eight games in centerfield since Phillies player development director Joe Jordan noticed how good he looked shagging balls in center a few weeks ago. Brown has played 10 games in center since May 24, and since May 26 he’s 21-for-61 (.344) with four homers, seven RBI and 16 runs scored.

It was the kind of switch that has the potential to do two things — reestablish Brown’s  trade value and make Victorino a bit more expendable. The Phillies certainly wouldn’t just hand the everyday CF job to Brown next season, but if he hits well enough and plays adequate defense there they could give him regular playing time with a few days a week in center next season. They could sign a cheaper outfielder like Angel Pagan to roam center the rest of the time and play left or right field when Brown gets a turn in centerfield.

That scenario allows you to save money, develop Brown, pay Hamels, pay Pence and at the end of the day, Pagan isn’t so much worse than Victorino. He’s hit .289/.339/.429 the last four years with 162-game averages of 37 steals and 58 extra-base hits per season. Victorino over that same span is at .274/.344/.449 with 162-game averages of 66 extra-base hits and 30 steals.

But Victorino is going to get that $60 million, whereas Pagan could probably be had for three years, $24 million.

It may appear on the surface that the Phillies are hampered by their current and upcoming contracts. But this exercise shows you just how much wiggle room can be created by not paying one of Victorino or Pence.

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What Does Utley’s Rehab Mean?

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, June 12, 2012 12:43 PM Comments: 5

OK, so now that the Chase Utley news has sunk, let’s examine what the commencement of a minor league rehab stint means for the Phillies’ second baseman…

- It means first and foremost that Utley begins a 20-day clock, which is true for all position players once an official minor league rehab assignment begins. This means that, barring a setback, Utley will be back in the major leagues no later than July 2.

- July 2 is an off-day, and the Phillies have 19 games between now and then. Just because the clock has a 20-day maximum doesn’t mean he’ll use every day of it.

- But then again, Utley hasn’t yet played second base in a live game situation, so his rehab stint won’t be as short as it was last season, when he needed only nine games and 36 plate appearances at Single-A Clearwater before being called up to the Phillies.

- Getting Utley back is a necessity with Freddy Galvis out indefinitely with a pars fracture in his back. But Phillies second basemen haven’t been as bad as you may think. They rank third in the majors in doubles, behind only the Rangers and Yankees, who have Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano. And Phillies second basemen have the fourth-most RBI in baseball, with 33. Only the Indians (Jason Kipnis) and Braves (Dan Uggla) have more.

- Utley’s on-base percentage is what the Phillies need, though. Phillies second basemen have a meager .283 OBP, which is 27th in baseball. Utley is a career .377 on-base guy and even “Zombie Utley” had a .344 mark last season.

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Don’t Be Scared – Halladay’s OK

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, June 06, 2012 04:01 PM Comments: 3

Roy Halladay and Phillies athletic trainer Scott Sheridan spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon to update Halladay’s condition.

Halladay, on the shelf since May 29 with a lat strain, had a second opinion on his shoulder that showed minimal changes to his rotator cuff since 2009.

So nothing changes. Halladay will be given three weeks off from throwing and then will be reevaluated. The initial diagnosis of 6-to-8 weeks appears safe.

Major relief.

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Jim Thome Activated From DL

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, June 06, 2012 03:43 PM Comments: 6

Jim Thome has not played since April 28.

Jim Thome has been activated from the 15-day DL, the Phillies announced Wednesday afternoon.

To make room for Thome on the 25-man roster, the Phils optioned Pete Orr to Triple-A.

Thome has been out since April 28 because of a back injury. He hit just .111, going 2-for-18 with 11 strikeouts.

This is perfect timing for a Thome return. The Phils head to Baltimore on Friday to begin a nine-game interleague road trip. Thome figures to DH against righthanded pitching during the trip. The Phils will face at least two righties in Baltimore — Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel.

Also, Dave Bush was formally released to allow him to pitch in South Korea.

Roy Halladay will speak to reporters with Phillies athletic trainer Scott Sheridan at 3:55 p.m. It will be televised on Comcast SportsNet.

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When All Else Fails, Turn to Hamels

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, May 23, 2012 10:04 PM Comments: 73

Cole Hamels did what Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick, Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton couldn’t do before him — won a game for the Phillies to end a four-game losing skid.

Hamels pitched eight shutout innings as the Phillies won, 4-1, in the final game of a three-game home series with Washington. The Phils will now travel to St. Louis for four games.

Some observations from Wednesday’s game:

- The Phillies have won two games against the Nationals since last August 20, and both of them have been gems pitched by Hamels. He beat the Nats on May 6 in a game remembered more for his plunking of Bryce Harper than his eight innings of one-run baseball.

- Hamels is obviously very, very good. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth and looked absolutely dominant in all but one inning.

- Hamels leads the majors with seven wins.

- Carlos Ruiz had three hits in his first-ever appearance in the four-hole. So it doesn’t look like his spot in the batting order will affect a swing that refuses to go cold.

- In the last four or five days, Shane Victorino has looked the best he has all season. He homered and doubled to drive in two on Wednesday and is now batting .267/.330/.439.

- The Phillies bunt a lot and run a lot. Maybe it’ll end up being a positive. Maybe it won’t net them anything. Wednesday’s suicide squeeze was exciting, as Juan Pierre sacrificed in Mike Fontenot from third base. But Pierre was also easily out at first base earlier in the game retreating after a hit-and-run resulted in a shallow flyout. That’s the danger of playing too much small ball.

- Jonathan Papelbon is filthy. The Phillies shouldn’t have committed that much to a closer, but if you’re going to, this was the guy. His fastball and splitter can disappear in any count to seemingly any batter.

- It’s pretty amazing that the Phillies have ONE complete game this season, and it was from Blanton.

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Sometimes, Instant Classics Trump Devastating Ls

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, May 03, 2012 12:17 AM Comments: 32

(AP)

It could have been their ninth straight win over the Braves. It could have been their first three-game winning streak of the season. It could have been Roy Halladay’s 108th win without a loss when pitching with a four-run lead.

It could have been a victory that put the Phillies over .500 for the first time since the first game of the season, and it could have moved them to within one game of the Braves for second place in the NL East.

But instead, the Phillies blew a six-run lead with Halladay on the mound, came back on Carlos Ruiz’s indescribably satisfying bat-flip three-run homer, melted down behind Jose Contreras and Michael Schwimer, tied the game in the ninth off Craig Kimbrel, but eventually lost on Chipper Jones’ walkoff two-run bomb in the eleventh. (See Ian Riccaboni’s full recap below.)

It was a hard loss to take, sure. But I don’t know… for some reason this didn’t hurt as bad as it should have.

Maybe because it felt kind of historic. Ruiz set the single-game franchise record for RBI by a catcher. Halladay was yanked in the middle of an inning for only the second time since June 2008. It sucked to blow numerous opportunities, for a team built on pitching to blow two leads of four or more runs. It sucked to watch a usually anemic offense score 13 runs and lose.

But really, if you’re a fan of baseball, you loved this game. Chipper narrowly missing a walkoff homer and then coming back a few pitches later to seal the deal. It wasn’t a walkoff, but I remember when Jimmy Rollins did the same thing in 2007. It’s cool, and you had to expect it with Brian Sanches in his third inning on the mound.

There are certainly things for fans to be upset over. Bullpen usage was not one of them. Chad Qualls was unavailable after pitching three times in four days. If you bring Jonathan Papelbon in for Sanches in one of those innings, you’re down to just Kyle Kendrick.

Sure, Papelbon gives you a better chance of prolonging the game, but pitching Kendrick or even Joe Blanton there changes the next few days. And as much as I hate when people say, “It’s only [insert month],” it really makes little sense to redirect the course of the next few games when it could or could just as easily not mean an extra-inning win on May 2.

I’m a die-hard Phillies fan who refuses to hide that fact even as I attempt to make a professional career out of this. But I’m a die-harder baseball fan, if that makes any sense, and Wednesday night’s game was tremendous theater for anyone who loves this game.

Twenty-eight runs on 36 hits in a game billed as a pitcher’s duel? Eight half-innings of multiple runs? A game-tying grand slam off the era’s most dominant pitcher? A game-tying infield single off one of the game’s most dominant closers? Perhaps the last walkoff home run of Chipper Jones’ career?

If I told you that you could watch all of that on a Wednesday night in exchange for a Phillies loss, I think you’d take it.

Or maybe you’re a bigger fan of the team and the city than the sport. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I’d personally just give up one game in the standings for 11 innings I’ll always remember.

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Phils Further Torment Padres in Worley Win

Posted by Corey Seidman, Fri, April 20, 2012 12:46 AM Comments: 14

The Phillies again did little offensively, but a win’s a win. It’s still pretty sad to go 1-1 when your starting pitchers give you 17 scoreless innings over two games.

- Vance Worley struck out a career-high 11 and allowed seven baserunners in seven innings as the Phillies won, 2-0. He struggled with command to the first three batters of the game then threw his two-seam fastball anywhere he wanted against an overmatched Padres lineup.

Worley is 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 21 Ks in 19 innings.

- The Phils scored a first inning run when Juan Pierre took an extra base after walking. Placido Polanco hit a line drive to left field and when Will Venable bobbled the ball, Pierre reacted quickly enough to slide safely into third. Jimmy Rollins followed with a sacrifice fly. The second run scored on a passed ball in the ninth inning.

- The win was the Phillies 12th in a row at PETCO Park, where they are 13-1 since 2008. The Phillies are 22-7 against the Padres overall in that span.

- Worley said to Gregg Murphy on CSN after the game, “It was good to get that win after what Cliff [Lee] did last night. That was ridiculous, I’ve never seen anyone do that.”

- No offensive issues were rectified in this game. The Phils went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded six.

- John Mayberry has overtaken Polanco as the Phillie struggling most. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and since Opening Day has nine strikeouts, eight groundouts, seven popouts and four flyouts to go with four singles. (h/t: David Hale (@DavidHaleTNJ)

- Cole Hamels faces Edinson Volquez Friday night at PETCO Park at 10:05 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. Hamels in his last start struck out 10 Mets — three on fastballs, three on changeups, two on cutters and two on curveballs. He had everything working last Sunday, in case you were busy watching the wild instant classic in Game 3 between the Flyers and Penguins.

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RISP Woes Plague Phils in Loss to Giants

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, April 18, 2012 01:08 AM Comments: 73

Placido Polanco is batting .179 this season.

The Phillies had a chance to win their second straight series at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, but that’ll have to wait 24 more hours. The Giants were victorious, 4-2, as Joe Blanton lost his second game of the season.

- The Phillies’ struggles with runners in scoring position reared their ugly head again. The Phils were 1-for-11 with RISP, delivering only one run in such situations despite having runners in scoring position in six different innings.

- Placido Polanco continues to look like he’s completely done. In the top of the fifth inning, Polanco came to the plate with Freddy Galvis on second base with two out. It was the kind of situation in which you used to feel confident in Polly. Now, not at all. He can’t drive the ball, he can’t make solid contact of any kind. Another 0-for-4 night dropped his average to .179, and he has just five line drives in 33 balls put into play. It’s gotten so bad for Polanco that he did his little “home run hop” on a fly ball to center field in his fourth at-bat. He’s so unused to good swings right now that he thought THAT was a real charge.

- John Mayberry hasn’t been much better than Polanco. The power we saw in 2011 is nowhere to be found, but it would be nearly impossible for Mayberry not to run into 8-10 homers as the season goes on. So at least with him, there’s a bit of room for optimism. His swing is just too long right now. When the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning, Mayberry weakly popped out to first base on a fastball right down the middle. His head wasn’t on the ball.

- The Phillies stole two more bases Tuesday. They are 12-for-13 swiping bags.

- Madison Bumgarner was hittable and this game was winnable. These are the ones that frustrate you… not because the Phillies fell to 5-6, but because this looked like the kind of game they could lose in the playoffs. Starter gives up three or four runs, offense can’t capitalize on opportunities.

It’s a familiar formula. And it can happen easily when a team refuses to walk (they had one on Tuesday) and seldom produces extra-base hits.

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Doc’s Dominance, Hot Hitters, Elite Base-Stealing

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, April 12, 2012 07:00 AM Comments: 5

Courtesy AP

The Phillies offense finally came to life Wednesday night in a 7-1 win over the Miami Marlins.

Here are some assorted notes on the win…

• Roy Halladay out-dueled Josh Johnson to even up their personal Phillies-Marlins series, 2-2. His other win over Johnson came in that little perfect game thing he threw on May 29, 2010.

• Freddy Galvis is now tied for the team-lead with four RBI.

• Hunter Pence just keeps on raking. He’s 7-for-19 (.368) with a team-high 11 total bases, and he continues to scald singles up the middle.

• Speaking of raking, how about Carlos Ruiz? He’s 6-for-13 on the season with a double and a homer, and was 23-for-48 in the spring. Add it all together and Chooch is 29-for-his-last-61 for a .475 batting average.

• How amazing is Halladay, seriously? He’s allowed one run in 15 innings this season. Last year, he allowed one run in his first 21 innings. The season prior, he allowed one run in his first 19 innings as a Phillie. Talk about hot starts…

• The Phillies’ big inning was due mostly to errors. An error by the second base umpire calling Juan Pierre safe, an error by Giancarlo Stanton, poor fielding in left by Logan Morrison. There was also the lucky bounce off Johnson’s leg that gave Placido Polanco an RBI single to start the rally. But whatever, a scuffling offense’ll take it.

• The Phillies have a major league-high eight stolen bases and haven’t been caught once. Only one other team in baseball (Toronto) has one steal without being caught.

• Johnson is just off right now. He’s allowed 21 hits in 9.2 innings after allowing just 18 hits in 41 innings last April. The pitcher the Phillies faced Wednesday is not the man that has stifled them with a hard, heavy sinker in years past. Have all of the injuries sapped a bit of his effectiveness?

The saga continues Thursday as Joe Blanton makes his first start of the season against Marlins lefty Mark Buehrle. Only five Phillies have ever faced Buehrle. Polanco is 14-for-35 (.400) lifetime against him, as the two faced off quite a bit in the AL Central.

Buehrle has never pitched at Citizens Bank Park.

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