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Fifth Starter? Not Important Now

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 13, 2010 06:33 PM Comments: 39

The loneliest time for any human being? That hour you have to wait for AAA to help change your flat tire.

Look, I’m no tire expert. Dad didn’t wheel me under the 1988 Ford Escort – which I remember most for its front license plate: the old-school Phillies typography and a cartoon Phanatic. My hands never knew oil or sludge and I for years, I couldn’t tell a monkey wrench from an Allen wrench. Horrible, but true. So when I find a deflated tire on my car, I call the pros – the guys who might appreciate that Escort more for its strange hum than its childish license plate.

During that hour waiting for AAA, I started thinking about numerous things, chief among them the Phillies fifth-starter competition. It’s truly the only competitive battle ongoing in spring training. Bullpen entrants will be left up to chance; if Brad Lidge can convince the managerial crew that his knee is elastic, his arm is fantastic and his head isn’t spastic, he’ll be slinging sliders in the ninth inning by opening day. That will eliminate a job for Antonio Bastardo or – shudder – Ryan Vogelsong. But the winner of the fifth starter competition will truly be victorious: He’ll get an opportunity to pitch major innings for one-fifth of the National League champion’s season. The loser? Maybe the bullpen. Maybe Lehigh Valley, where he’ll likely be shagging balls with Vogelsong. Seriously, Vogelsong.

Fifth starter. It’s one of the common buzz terms of spring. Every team seeks a fifth starter. They sign a couple retreads, hand a cookie to a prospect and assure a veteran slop-thrower that he is not completely secure in his position. And some kid who’s already tasted the sour juices of major league rejection gets a lemony shot at redemption. Jamie Moyer is that veteran. Kyle Kendrick is that kid.

Then you add ingredients. Moyer is the $8 million reason the Phillies aren’t shuttling out an all-universe rotation in 2009, led by the studious duo of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, backed by the feisty Cole Hamels and rock-solid Joe Blanton and JA Happ. Because of Moyer and his inability to leave a game he says to love more than flank steak, the Phillies opted to refill the system, swallow the pills and hope that the National League still can’t figure out the wicked combination of 74 MPH curveball and 81 MPH changeup. Needless to say, the preferred exit was with the Clydesdales and Pat Burrell.

Kendrick had his chances. He broke through in the wacky 2007 season, when the National League failed enough to let a bullpen co-led by Antonio Alfonseca reach the postseason. Kendrick’s fastball-sinker routine won some games, then got tired, then stunk. His head blew up. He moved to Allentown. Now he has gained a changeup, a “sick” cutter (always believe a 30-something female ex-”Survivor” contestant) and the tutelage of Halladay, the coffee-slurping breaking-ball king who plows through the elliptical for breakfast.

On one end: The old guy who doesn’t know how to leave. On the other end: The hungry youngster with the greatest teacher in pitching land.

I know who I’m taking.

But that’s not the point. It’s the fifth-starter competition. The winner has the opportunity to start one-fifth of the Phillies games, but will he? Tough to call. For help, let’s run through the names of 2009 Phillies starting pitchers:

Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, JA Happ, Cliff Lee, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez, Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick.

The Phillies used 12 starters in 2009; only two of the five pitchers who started the season on the rotation ended the season on the rotation (Blanton, Hamels). Durability is a key. The ability to pitch solidly is the other key. Not a key? The ability to pitch well in March, when hitters are working on their timing and managers are shuffling lineups every three innings. Take, for example, Mr. Park.

Park’s spring 2009 numbers would have made Lee or Halladay blush: 21.1 IP / 6 ER / 20 H / 25 K / 2 BB / 2.53 ERA. He translated that to the 2009 season, where right out of the gate, he showed his true colors: 3.1 IP / 5 ER / 7 H / 2 K / 3 BB / 10.38 ERA. While he improved from there, he wasn’t an effective starter, leaving the rotation for the man who lost that 2009 spring battle, Happ. That kid only ran through the National League, barely missing a Rookie of the Year award despite a sub-3.00 ERA. Today, Happ is entrenched in the Phillies 2010 rotation; Park, meanwhile, is trying desperately to win a starting job with the New York Yankees.

What 2009 showed is however strong a man can pitch in March, it won’t mean much once the calendar turns to April. Moreover, you have to look at the big picture. Park was obviously effective as a reliever with the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers; in 2009, he again showed his worth as a reliever, a man who can turn all his pitches up to 11 for one or two innings, instead of pacing himself for six or seven.

The problem here, is that in 2009, Kendrick barely showed enough to prove he can last six or seven consistently against National League offenses, while Moyer has proven that at least enough to give him a decided advantage in the fifth-starter competition. The good thing, though, is that the Phillies won’t use just five starters in 2010. Someone will get sore or injured. Someone won’t pitch well enough to hold his job. There might be a trade. Anything and everything can and probably will happen – the joy of a baseball season.

This is why when I waited for that AAA-certified auto-repair man, I realized there wasn’t much of a competition for fifth starter. With all likelihood, Moyer will start in April for the Phillies alongside Halladay, Hamels, Blanton and Happ. But Kendrick – wh0 has pitched quite well so far this spring – is the next guy in the ready. He’ll be starting by May or June, when he can prove himself worthy of facing and defeating National League hitting. If he can do that, he won’t find the same fate that found Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez and Antonio Bastardo. Instead, he’ll be starting the important games in September 2010, maybe with the division on the line, maybe with 40,000-plus red-clad radicals throwing their towels around and screaming like banshees.

Oh, yeah, he did that last year.

It’s likely he’ll be there again this year, but he won’t prove it in March.

Tim Malcolm is a former regular writer at Phillies Nation. He’ll write once in a while to talk Phillies. He also writes a once-in-a-while scribe of the 2010 Phillies at Pheel! The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies.

  • 39 Comments
 

Mug Of Malcolm: Ah There Goes Clifton Lee

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, August 02, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 23

This is Mug of Malcolm, a weekly Sunday column written by Tim Malcolm, senior writer of Phillies Nation. E-mail him at tim@philliesnation.com

CliftonPhiferOne of Arkansas’ most famous natives is Levon Helm, drummer and slack-jawed vocalist of the iconic Band. He made a killing from his geographic placement: With a drawl that rang from the hearts of the tattered south, he laced pathos to songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Ophelia.”

But Helm’s best quality remains to this day his superb percussionist talents. Keeping a beat like a veteran grandfather clock, he always knows when to punch an additional snare, or slice the cymbal gently, or hiccup his back for effect. With a blue-collar ethos, Helm stands true at his kit, pushing through each grand song with stunning wizardry.

Not far west of Helm’s native town of Turkey Scratch, Ark., lies Benton, native town of Clifton Phifer Lee, born with the gift to hurl 90 mph fastballs past unsuspecting southerners. In time and from injury, Lee has developed himself into a controlled surgeon of the hill. His fastball still flies by, but his decimating curveball dips terribly out of the hitter’s focus, while a great changeup and cutter fall into place justifiably.

Like the driftwood drummer of The Band, Lee uses his whole repertoire with intelligence and wizardry. Out on the hill that foggy Friday night, Lee even resembled a wizard: His over-sized jersey hanging from his arms, turning him into some stick-figure Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He barely broke a sweat, and when scoring stunning — and simply beautiful — hits, he giggled them off with uncertain surprise. Like a true Arkansan.

The one quality that Helm possesses that even I have trouble grasping is his ability to see through the madness of his line of work. Joining up at age 17 with Ronnie Hawkins, one of Canada’s most revered front-men, Helm was quickly thrown into a world where everything was growing exponentially. His new co-players, led by Canadians Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, grew with him, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel to become — possibly — rock and roll’s greatest and tightest group of musicians.

After ditching Hawkins, Helm and his mates met a folk troubadour named Bobby Zimmerman. Together they’d create amazing music. And soon everyone wanted Helm and his band, The Band. They cut some albums together, and slowly, each member of The Band reacted harshly to new-found success.

Manuel, a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a golden voice, turned hard to the sauce. He recuperated in time, but old habits make a man die hard. He passed in 1986.

Danko, whose incredible voice shook with fear, fell hard after a life of rampant drug use and internal physical problems, spurned mainly by the rigors of being a musician. He died in 1999.

Robertson, while still cooking today, fell out of favor with his mates, and most Band followers will curse you if you bring up his name. His addictive personality comes through fully on the iconic film “The Last Waltz.”

Hudson is still alive and doing well, as is Helm, who resides in the quiet art colony of Woodstock, N.Y. You’ve heard of the place, but it’s not “the” place — it’s simply where Helm hides away, playing incredible weekly late-night concerts for gobs of money. He never abused himself. He never shook himself. And today he’s happy, defeating throat cancer, singing again, playing again.

The height of fame

I wonder how Cliff Lee will respond to his new surroundings — the insulated madness of Citizens Bank Park on a hot, summer evening; the throngs of red-clad fans screaming his name; the pressure of raising another flag high into the South Philadelphia sky. But something comforts me when I think about his character — if there’s a little Levon Helm in him, he should be fine.

We’ve seen men shrink at pressure and new venues. CC Sabathia found Milwaukee a piece of chocolate cake after arriving there, then stepped into the Thunderdome, was shaken by Brett Myers and thousands of eager fans, then rocked by Shane Victorino. Rich Harden succumbed to pressure in his first postseason with Chicago, lasting only into the fifth inning.

And yet Joe Blanton, the unheralded pickup at the trade deadline, powered through and lasted past his contemporaries, even punching a home run in the World Series as a Cash-ian middle finger to the pundits. Blanton? A Kentucky kid, seemingly unfazed by the lights. A good character guy, salivated over by Billy Beane, who knew he had a expert major league gunslinger in his grasp back in 2002.

To say it’s a south thing is too simple. But some guys aren’t simply cut for the big stage. That’s why enormous trade deadline deals almost never pan out — the pressure behind the deals almost always outweighs the production gained. Does Colorado’s Leroy Halladay succumb to the pressure of pitching in a pennant race? Who knows. We won’t now. But now we know it’s Clifton Phifer Lee who must help slam the door on the rest of the National League.

I go back to “The Last Waltz.” Martin Scorsese led a team that captured The Band at its last classic lineup concert. Jammed to the gills with cocaine, Scorsese and cohort Robertson formed a guest list as high as the rock mountains. There was Hawkins, and Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and, of course, Bobby Zimmerman, to name some. The film interspersed the iconic performances of The Band and their guests with backstage scenes where Robertson speaks about nothing and everything to Scorsese. You see Robertson trying to etch his solo star with this very performance. Meanwhile, there’s one scene of Helm, alone, at a table, discussing medicine shows — traveling friendly rock concerts — over a cigarette.

Helm would soon carry out his medicine show dream, turning it into his current rambles. At “The Last Waltz” concert — a Thanksgiving night show — with Manuel’s voice considerably lower register and Robertson and Danko more erratic than ever, Helm stayed at his kit, still a bit surprised that all these great artists were shuffling into the stage to fete his band. But he played each song with superb precision, never giving up his beat and never overpowering his bandmates. His vocal and drum performance of his trademark “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” remains the definitive reading.

In many ways, “The Last Waltz” represents everything good and bad about The Band. Bad because the characters in the group over-saturated the enormous talent. Good because it showcased enormous talent still in top form. And it showed that Levon Helm had this workman’s personality that could overcome any obstacle. It would years later, it still does today.

And if that awkward kid from Turkey Scratch, Ark., could run through a charmed life with the solid steel character of a blue-collar wizard, I have no doubt that Clifton Phifer Lee could do the same. They’re practically cut from the same dang cloth.

  • 23 Comments
 

Commentary: Two Scenes Say A Whole Lot

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, July 15, 2009 09:16 PM Comments: 98

When you duck away from the charity of writing analysis you believe is insightful, you gain a new appreciation for the water in which you once bathed. With my head in the tub for long enough, I’ve began to notice something odd: The Philadelphia Phillies are on a whole new level.

These aren’t your father’s Phils. Heck, they’re not even your great-grandfather’s Phils. I don’t think Chuck Klein ever envisioned this type of popularity.

In a short glance of time, the Phillies swept through the Mets and cleaned up the dregs of the National League Central division, coasting into the All Star break with fat tummies. And Charlie Manuel only expanded those belts, giving Jayson Werth a pat on the back with an all star label and placing fan-rewarded Shane Victorino into his starting lineup. Watching last night’s All Star Game, I found myself applauding so much that I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.

It felt odd rooting for so many individuals on an all star team. It felt like the great swindle of 1993, the greater swindle of 1994 and the greatest swindle of 1995, when even Heathcliff Slocumb and Tyler Green hitched a ride on the all star wagon. This time, however, the spots were deserved. (You could make cases for Victorino, Werth and Ryan Howard, since you should factor in some of the 2008 ledger — or else we should have two all star games again, shouldn’t we?) These boys suddenly became the face of the National League, seen in the boyish crew melon of Howard, the pranking eccentricity of Victorino, the steady nerves of Werth, the wise adulation of Raul Ibanez and the stoic manliness of Chase Utley. Oh, and let’s not forget Manuel, the wrinkle-faced, white-haired teddy bear with a mouth the size of Lake Dinty Moore.

Take Stan Musial kissing fingers in a convertible, or Carl Crawford robbing a home run, or any one of the 7,100 camera cuts of Albert Pujols. To me, the lasting picture of the All Star Game festivities was Manuel, clad in a clean, black two-piece suit and tie at the media day conference, handing reporters the same business he’d hand reporters before a Phillies playoff game. To Manuel, this wasn’t simply a break from real baseball, nor was it a chance to let loose in a casual black button-down. This whole all star business was Charlie Manuel’s big moment — his opportunity to tell the world, “Look. I got here by winnin’! I earned this here!”

Far beyond 2008, the Phillies have extinguished the ghosts and turned to the business of winning in 2009. But being an all star manager isn’t simply a perk, it’s a testament to your efforts at work. It means you were good, real good. Manuel sure earned that managerial spot, just as the Phillies earned all the attention they gained during all star weekend. Your world champions — and not just that, but your still first place Phillies. Not only did they win last year, but they’re looking purty good this year.

Pedro Mania

The dust mites that flew far enough from Saint Louis found a veritable amusement park Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. There, newly signed Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez greeted the media with honesty and guffaws. Reporters bounced every question imaginable at the three-time Cy Young winner, and he swatted his answers back to them without an ounce of transparency. Martinez is the real deal, and no matter how much you could loathe him in blue and orange, you love him now. You have to — he gave us everything we wanted.

More than that, though, Martinez gave the Phillies that amusement park. It’s the type of scene reserved for the pantheon players (in baseball immortality and immorality): Clemens, Bonds, McGwire. Those guys. Sure, Martinez may not have that one thing in common, but he’s definitely in that competitive level. He’s beyond the game. And like a big-market, big-name, big-city, big-bullswat team, the Phillies grinned wide as they lapped up the pantheon pitcher. Even if he doesn’t throw a pitch at Citizens Bank Park, he hammered my point home.

Two very different men sat at skirted tables and spoke to reporters within 48 hours. One a huckling West Virginian, a former ball-blaster in Japan. The other a smooth-talking Dominican, a Hall of Fame pitcher if he ended it now. They couldn’t be farther apart in what they were given, and in what they took. And yet both men spoke with dead seriousness about their intentions: To win baseball games. Manuel for his National League all stars. Martinez for his Philadelphia Phillies.

And both men each wore a clean, black two-piece suit and tie.

These scenes both represented bookends to a break filled with appreciation for the past. The great team of the National League had their time, parading out their stars, lauding Stan the Man and giving their new Hall of Fame player a chance to catch the president’s pitch. It seemed oddly fitting, then, that the new great team of the National League was stealing the headlines on either side of the show.

I can’t help but feel amazed that the Phillies are suddenly bubbling with popularity. This is the same team that stirred in the bowels of the National League for not just years, but decades. Heck, over a century. And while we can’t tell if this will all last too long, living in that moment feels all the more special.

So if you’ll excuse me, time to go back underwater.

Tim Malcolm is the former everyday writer of Phillies Nation. He’ll post again when his head comes above water. Until then, e-mail him at tim@philliesnation.com.

  • 98 Comments
 

Farewell, And Thank You

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, June 26, 2009 07:00 AM Comments: 102

Hello Nation,

As some of you may have seen, I’ve been away from the site for a week. And during the week absence I came to some conclusions about my future; in prioritizing my life, I have realized writing at Phillies Nation can no longer be a priority.

So this is my farewell.

My very first post at Phillies Nation came Dec. 17, 2007. In the post, I wrote about how the Phillies needed to take charge in the 2008 season:

The Phils are rumored to be close to signing Geoff Jenkins. That’s a start. There are still pitching holes to solve. They must grab another starter and a back-end reliever. If it takes Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman, so be it. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are in their absolute primes. Cole Hamels is a stud. Brett Myers will likely put up good numbers. There’s enough of a supporting cast to carry these guys to 85 wins again, but they need the three pieces left to get them to 95.

Ownership frugality aside, there’s potential for the Phillies to run away with the city’s heart. Now is the time. Front office — you’re the best team in the city. You won. Now go for the jugular.

Who knew my fist-out proclamation would show true less than a year later? I had written at a previous blog that the 2008 Phillies had the opportunity to accomplish special goals, but did I really believe it then? Did any of us really believe that team’s capabilities? Heck, I didn’t completely believe it in September 2008. Deep inside, we’re all skeptics.

After that initial post I struggled to find a voice. I bashed the team’s signing of So Taguchi (in retrospect, kudos to me) and wrote a horrible breakdown of the Durbin signing. It took some time, but I found a groove that I rode for quite a while. I visited Clearwater for the first time, really immersing myself in my love of the Phillies.

Then tragedy struck.

I’ll never forget the outpouring of well wishes and thoughts I received after losing my home to an apartment fire in April 2008. During that trying time, the Phillies were my crutch, and you all were my eyes and ears. That’s when I learned the true value of Phillies Nation — that no matter what, people were behind you, looking out for you. That feeling rose as the Phillies made their annual late-season run, accentuated by our bus trip during Labor Day 2008. The Nation was growing, both literally and figuratively. And in a whirl, the Phils were division champions, then league champions. Then world champions.

Often I scroll back at the posts I wrote during that cherished run of October 2008. I poured a lot into my writing then, trying desperately to summarize my feelings — and the feelings of the Nation — in small swatches of text. I’d like to believe I had some success bridging words to emotions, and I hope you readers felt what I was attempting to convey.

I remember my nerves during the two parts of game five: Telling everyone “This is the night” on Oct. 29, 2008 was difficult — even when the Phillies were 3.5 innings from a championship, I struggled to be certain. As always, I felt skeptical. But I knew, for the Nation, I had to put on my game face. There were many times I put on my game face, just for the Nation.

I remember the victory itself, leaping and shrieking, calling my father and crying loudly. There was no feeling quite like that in my life. And I bet that if I didn’t follow the team urgently throughout the 2008 season, I wouldn’t have felt that incredible. Sure I would’ve leaped and shrieked, but I wouldn’t have felt a part of something bigger, of a cause that meant more than just sheer fandom.

I remember the parade — the culmination of our work as fans. I most remember the perfectly beautiful weather — 73 degrees, sunshine without a cloud in the sky. People as far as the eye could see clad in red. Smiles on everyone’s faces. Bells, applause, whistles, screams. I trekked on foot from 30th Street Station to the sports complex, absorbing every smiling face and wide eye. Some of these people had been fans for five minutes. Some had been fans for 50 years. And I felt like a part of each one — truly, it was a Phillies Nation.

Since that parade we’ve gone through the same annual emotions: Hope, determination, pride, anger, resentment, disappointment. We question a team that has already proven its mettle, merely because we can, merely because we are fans. As long as they make millions, we can say whatever we will. And that’s the freedom of the fan; it’s what makes Philadelphians a cut aside the rest. We’re brash, we’re direct, we’re furiously passionate.

Since Dec. 17, 2007 I’ve played the role of passionate fan very seriously. In a way, I’ve represented the fan. That came to fruition with a television appearance on a Mets pregame show. But since that moment, my thoughts have led me to this script.

Is there a future in sports blogging? Sure, and hundreds of scribes have cashed their independent blogging efforts into full glory. But that’s not my future. And I have come to grips with that reality.

But I will always be a Phillies fan. I will always root loudly for the team that has gripped my hand since I was a very small child. I will attend games and opine about the state of the team, and I will lurk and possibly comment once in a while. I will always be a Phillies fan.

So thank you. Thank you for giving — your eyes, your time and your fandom to my words. I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. Keep reading Phillies Nation, keep rooting for the Phils and keep being the best fans in baseball.

Best,
Tim Malcolm

  • 102 Comments
 

Commentary: All The Cracks Are There To See

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, June 19, 2009 09:00 AM Comments: 77

MadsonagainWatch how Marco Scutaro legs out his bloops and bunts. Watch how Scott Rolen digs a single into a double against a rookie outfielder. Watch how Jon Lester studies his opponents and schools them with the same pitch, over and over.

This is how baseball should be played.

Now watch Jimmy Rollins swing up and pop the ball into the shallow outfield. Watch Shane Victorino get caught stealing yet again in a tight spot. Watch Ryan Madson throw an 0-2 high fastball to a man who can only hit the high fastball.

This is how baseball should not be played.

It’s baffling, downright stupifying that the Phillies are playing 13-19 at Citizens Bank Park. Then again, is it?

Forget statistics. Just watch the Phillies in action.

They’re a bunch of uppercut-swinging, impatient, often lost and unaware, overly aggressive, fence-seeking, pitch-waving hitters. How many times must I watch Jayson Werth fall to a knee when fishing for an unhittable pitch? Or Ryan Howard completely miss a low-and-outside slider? Or Rollins pop up a first pitch?

Of course, these offensive offense is just a piece of the rhubarb.

Mangerial mishaps. Like taking Carlos Ruiz out for Chris Coste, a lesser offensive player and much lesser receiver. Fault Madson for making that pitch to Rod Barajas, but someone had to call the 0-2 fastball.

Baserunning blunders. Like Victorino trying to steal a base with two outs in the eighth after roping BJ Ryan for two runs.

Fielding follies. Like Rollins and Chase Utley forgetting a play never ends, as the intelligent Scutaro took two bases on a walk.

Then there’s pitching, which goes far beyond the performance on the field. As of this writing, the Phillies have two inexperienced starting pitchers, one over-the-hill starting pitcher and one inconsistent starting pitcher, not to mention a fifth who is having a shaky season despite his “ace” status. Can the Phillies rely on their current rotation? Absolutely not.

This rotation’s performance has made it laborious for the relievers, who are dropping like flies and being overexposed to the point of complete breakdown. Chad Durbin? A middle reliever being pushed far beyond his boundaries. Clay Condrey? Ditto. JC Romero? Facing too many right-handed hitters. Jack Taschner? Tyler Walker? They should never pitch in important spots.

The Phillies need more than reinforcements. They need new relievers, strong outings and, most of all, a rotation that can ensure quality starts. When your “ace” has just two starts of seven innings or better, you’re in complete trouble.

Oh, and why the heck is Paul Bako taking up a roster spot?

This is a confusing pie — a confusing one to write and understand, but that’s because so much is wrong with the Phillies. It doesn’t show via wins and losses, but watch six games against superior teams, and you’ll notice all the many cracks. They’re only getting worse, and it’s because there’s no urgency to change.

At some point things might completely fall apart, but that’s if the front office doesn’t act. They need better bench players. They need smarter hitters. They need more dominating starting pitchers. They need organized and stable relievers. And they need leadership that’s not only loose and friendly, but geared toward winning every situation.

The 2008 Phillies won because they had a superior bench, smart hitters when necessary, strong starting pitching, an outstanding bullpen and decisions that paid off more than not. These 2009 Phillies?

They’re playing the way baseball shouldn’t be played.

It’s time to change that.

  • 77 Comments
 

Jays Sweep Pathetic Phillies, 8-7

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 05:25 PM Comments: 19

JayssweepLast season the Phillies met the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a three-game home series. When the dust settled, the Angels pitched circles around the Phillies, leaving them snakebit amid a three-game sweep. It came in the middle of a harrowing Interleague schedule, and not long after the Phils had reached their previous high-watermark of the season.

Fast forward a calendar year: The Blue Jays walked into Citizens Bank Park and played hard, smart and patient baseball. Their pitching – while not dominant – benefited from advanced scouting. Toronto was geared up for a set against the defending world champions, and made absolutely sure they’d leave victorious. They certainly did, sweeping the Phillies with an 8-7 win.

The series played the encyclopedia of all the negative aspects of the 2009 Phillies. In game three, starting pitching allowed too many quick runs, the uncertain and labored arms of the bullpen imploded and the offense showed their inability to strike against breaking ball slingers.

Joe Blanton lasted 5.1 innings, allowing four runs and nine hits, two of them home runs. Behind him was a sterling effort by Chan Ho Park (three strikeouts) that still led to trouble, punctuated by JC Romero’s wildness. The Phillies at least scored to back this pitching, as Jimmy Rollins struck a two-run home run to seize the lead, 5-3, into the sixth. Jimmy Rollins nailed a home run, one of his three hits in a good day for the shortstop. John Mayberry Jr., called to the big league’s as an emergency replacement for the injured Raul Ibanez, hit his second home run of the season, one of two hits. Jayson Werth also homered.

After the Jays tied the game, thanks to some outstanding baserunning by Scott Rolen, Clay Condrey allowed two quick runs. The Phils still bounced back, scoring via a Greg Dobbs home run and Shane Victorino RBI single, in the eighth. But the sweep seemed inevitable, and Ryan Madson gave up a leadoff home run to Rod Barajas to seal the deal. Barajas has gone 8-for-16 against his former team since leaving Philadelphia.

Even on a day when the offense made noise, it seemed to be shallow. A few home runs – great, but where are the rallies? They aren’t coming when Ryan Howard strikes out three times in his now predictable fashion. They aren’t coming when the team continues to try swatting balls out of the park via flies. It’s getting old.

Then again, this whole thing happened a year ago, and we can’t complain about that result.

  • 19 Comments
 

Gameday: Blue Jays (36-31) At Phillies (36-27)

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 11:49 AM Comments: 323

jayslogo Toronto Blue Jays (36-31) at Philadelphia Phillies (36-27)
Brad Mills vs. Joe Blanton (4-3, 5.17 ERA)
Time: 1:05 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
Weather: Cloudy, 67
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Twitter: Phillies Nation

Joe Blanton and the Phillies will face off with Brad Mills and the Blue Jays for a Business Person’s Special today at the Bank.

Mills is making his major league debut against the Phillies. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, ascending the Jays’ system quickly thanks to some high strikeout numbers. Mills went 3-2 with a 1.10 ERA for triple-A New Hampshire this season, getting the call to Toronto because Casey Janssen hit the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. The lefty has a weird delivery, throwing a lot of curveballs and changeups with his fastball to get his strikeouts.

The Phils will be without its best lefty hitter, as Raul Ibanez hit the disabled list today. In his place comes John Mayberry Jr., who will start in right field today. Jayson Werth goes to left field; meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins will lead off and Mayberry will hit seventh.

Your gameday beer: We’re feeling pretty crummy lately, so we need something hard and strong. I suggest Bigfoot by Sierra Nevada. This Barleywine is loaded with flavor and alcohol content, coming in at more than 9 percent. It’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. Get ready for the Gs. We sure need them today.

Go Phillies!

  • 323 Comments
 

Ibanez Injury Means Time For Others To Step Up

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 11:18 AM Comments: 3

IbanezpressIt all seemed bound to happen. It started with the Brad Lidge injury, then the starting pitching began to crumble again. Then the bullpen got overworked and taxed, leading to scabs and bruises for Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park. Now, in maybe the biggest physical bump of the season, Raul Ibanez has hit the shelf with a strained groin. The Phillies are now down their best offensive player.

But don’t fret, Phillie fans. For it is June, and these are the exact things that happen in June.

Last season the Phillies were blessed with few injuries, but they had them: Jimmy Rollins saw the disabled list in April and May; Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins both had stints on the shelf; Shane Victorino was out for a spell; Tom Gordon went bye-bye early. Oh, and Chase Utley was playing on 1.5 legs for more than 100 games. Yes, injuries happen to every team.

And, as we should know by now, it’s better these injuries occur in June and not later, when all parts – large and small – are necessary to a team’s overall success. Ibanez needs to fix the groin (and Achilles) problem, rehabilitate and prepare for the second half. Just like Brad Lidge needs to do the same with his knee. Together, those two are capable of riding the Phillies through a month of baseball. And lucky for the Phils, they have a few other healthy players capable of the same thing.

I’m looking at Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard; the former the forever slumping “leadoff” hitter, the latter the close-your-eyes-and-swing beast who needs to start making solid contact and stop making mental mistakes. The Phillies needed a push in September, and look what they accomplished together. This season? With a three-game lead and a few holes in June, the Phils don’t look so bad. But they’ll need help from the struggling pitching staff, and yes, they’ll need help from the other big bats. It’s time others start stepping up for good.

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BREAKING NEWS: Ibanez On 15-Day DL With Groin Strain

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 10:34 AM Comments: 69

Raul Ibanez has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain. John Mayberry Jr. has been sent up from Lehigh Valley to take his roster spot. He will start in today’s series-closing game.

***

UPDATE (11:18 a.m.): The groin has been bothering Ibanez since April, and is unrelated to the Achilles injury. He will have an MRI today, and Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ibanez could be out longer than 15 days.

Opinion: Fine. Let him rest until the All Star game. I don’t care if he plays or not. Get him healthy for the second half. Something tells me the Achilles contributed to the groin, or vice versa. Either way, get him healthy.

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Scouting Your Poor, Pressing Phillie Offense

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 09:00 AM Comments: 17

WerthusualIf you can throw your breaking ball a lot, you too can beat the Phillies.

It’s pretty simple. Let’s look at the five worst starting pitching assignments against the Phillies this season:

Chris Young, April 17
Game score: 15
Young allowed nine hits in 3.2 innings, among them three doubles, a triple and a home run. He threw only six sliders — everything else was a fastball or changeup. The fastballs scored in the high-80s with very little horizontal movement. He was up and down, easy to strike, and very easy to guess. In a June 3 start he allowed three runs on five hits, throwing twice as many sliders and even more changeups, plotting them around the zone. He even mixed in a curveball.

Shairon Martis, April 27
Game score: 22
After a successful first start against the Phils, Martis allowed seven runs on eight hits, walking four in five innings. In the first start Martis threw 23 percent of his pitches as sliders. In the second start he threw just 16 percent sliders. The fastball tracked in around 88 with a changeup at near 80. And the slider, ranging from 75 to 85, had very little movement horizontally and vertically. In the first start his slider hit different spots throughout the zone, and he used a curveball. He didn’t use the curve when he got lit up.

Daniel Cabrera, May 16
Game score: 22
Cabrera has never been a great pitcher, so there’s one red flag. He had one excusable start against the Phils in April (one earned in five innings), then came back with this stinker: Seven runs on eight hits (two home runs, three doubles, a triple) in five innings. Of the 107 pitches Cabrera threw in this game, 27 were curveballs (25 percent). That’s not a bad ratio, but the curves never went too low, always remaining in the strike zone. He threw fewer changeups, but they came in close to the same height as the fastball. To be short, Cabrera his hittable any time.

Ross Detwiler, May 29
Game score: 23
This is odd. Detwiler allowed five runs on 10 hits (four doubles) in four innings. He threw just 68 pitches, and 18 were sliders (26 percent). Here’s the rub: He only threw two changeups. And because his slider and fastball hit such different spots at such different speeds and paths, it’s pretty easy to pick him up. In his best starts he threw many more fastballs and changeups.

Shairon Martis, May 30
Game score: 19
Martis again. Sense a real bad trend here? In this start he threw even fewer sliders — four of the 71 pitches he threw, or 5 percent. Here he had a fastball that remained high and at about 88. His changeup barely dipped below the heart of the plate. The result? Seven runs on seven hits (two homers, two doubles) in four innings.

Compare these five starts to the best starts against the Phillies — Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda and last night by Scott Richmond — and you’ll see a large amount of sliders or sinkers — breaking pitches that either break wildly horizontally or vertically. In short, you’ll see performances that keep the Phillies completely off balance.

Yes, it takes good pitching to beat the Phillies, but sometimes it simply takes the right ratio of fastballs to breaking pitches, plus the ability to attack the plate early. Most Phillie hitters are guessing hitters; they automatically like swinging at 3-1 counts. Look close at each game — Jayson Werth has two patterned swings, one very low, one reaching out; Ryan Howard seems to have two, as well; Raul Ibanez is easy to beat with high cheese.

The point is it’s very easy to scout against the Phillies. Maybe there’s a reason why the worst pitching performances against the Phillies have almost exclusively come from the Nationals. Just as there’s certainly a reason pitchers who aren’t afraid to change pitch types are likely to succeed against the Phillies. It’s becoming criminally elementary.

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