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Not the Astros… Not Now

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, September 13, 2012 08:00 AM Comments: 36

With a 35-21 record since the All-Star break, the Phillies have finally gotten over the .500 mark at 72-71. With 19 games left to play, they are a mere three games behind the Cardinals for the elusive second wild-card berth in the National League.

With Jimmy Rollins playing like a superhero, Kyle Kendrick pitching like a fourth ace, and the lineup and bullpen rounding into form, the Phillies are at their strongest at the most important time of the year. And with a fairly easy upcoming schedule pitting them against the Astros and Mets, the Phils could realistically enter the stretch-run on very solid footing.

Yet… there is something unsettling about this weekend’s four-game set with the Astros.

I don’t usually lend much credence to stats against a specific team, because “team” is an evolving term. The Astros of 2005 are not the Astros of 2009. David Bell‘s numbers against Brandon Backe have no bearing on how Chase Utley and the rest of this current Phillies squad will fare against Bud Norris.

Having said that, allow me to briefly throw numbers out of the window and admit that I am completely and utterly terrified of the Astros heading into this crucial series, whether or not they’re 12-45 since the All-Star break.

Late-season meetings with the Astros conjure up horrific memories of yesteryear, when the playoff-hopeful Phillies hurt their cause by losing, often in dramatic fashion, to Houston teams. On paper, the Phillies should throttle Houston. But the Astros shouldn’t be slept on, and the Phils have played so poorly against the Astros late in recent years that splitting the series or losing it probably won’t come as a surprise to most fans.

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The Schwimer Controversy

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, August 29, 2012 10:00 AM Comments: 4

The Phillies activated Jeremy Horst from the paternity list on August 23 and demoted Michael Schwimer to Triple-A to make room on the 25-man-roster. The move seemed relatively harmless. Schwimer had been effective over the last few months, but he hasn’t established firm job security. Further, this mess of a Phillies season has enabled the team to call on various relief arms to see which ones figure to pitch out of the bullpen next season. Sending Schwimer down so that Josh Lindblom can continue to work out kinks, or Phillippe Aumont can face some more major league batters is perfectly fine.

It isn’t the bets decision ever made, given that a few other relievers were far more worthy of a demotion, but we’re talking about August 23, eight days away from the September 1 roster expansion.

Schwimer reportedly didn’t take the demotion well, indicating that a disabled list stint made more sense given his elbow soreness. The team didn’t agree and the righty reliever decided to seek a second opinion from a list of Phillies-sanctioned physicians. Teams can’t demote injured players, but injured is a rather subjective term. Schwimer would continue to earn his major league salary while accruing service time if he stayed with the Phillies on the disabled list.

The situation took a turn for the even stranger on Tuesday when it was learned that he hasn’t yet reported to his Lehigh Valley assignment.

We have to be careful not to make judgments or react in a kneejerk fashion, because there are several unknown variables to this equation. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to understand each side’s motivation. It’s also easy to paint either side as the victim or villain. In any event, the bottom line remains that the Phillies shouldn’t take any chances when it comes to injuries.

If Schwimer is hurt and in need of medical treatment from the major league training staff, any type of service time gaming gets thrown out the window. It wouldn’t look too good if Schwimer misses time due to an injury because the team thought him to be The Boy Who Cried Elbow and didn’t want to pay him the pro-rated portion of a relatively measly $480,000 for eight days.

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It Should Have Been Lindblom

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Fri, August 24, 2012 09:10 AM Comments: 11

Lindblom is struggling.

Jeremy Horst is likely having the greatest year of his life. A year after making his Major League debut with Cincinnati in 2011, Horst has pitched well enough to cement a spot in the Majors with the Phillies in 2012. Horst has been dominant: in 18 IP with the Phils, Horst has 22 Ks and has only allowed two ER, holding lefties to an impressive .214/.290/.214 line and righties to a neutered .189/.293/.278 line.  On Monday, the Phils placed Horst on paternity leave to mark the arrival of his family’s second child and called-up Phillippe Aumont in his place. Congratulations again to the Horst family.

There was not much doubt as to what would happen with Horst when he returned from the paternity list. As expected, Horst returned immediately to the Phillies, activated Thursday, and pitching a perfect tenth with two Ks. And, for the most part, it was expected that Aumont would return to Triple-A Lehigh Valley once Horst returned. Except, that did not happen.

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Farewell, Shane Victorino

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, August 02, 2012 10:15 AM Comments: 25

Shane Victorino

So long, Shane (Photo: Phillies Nation)

Certain games and specific events stick out to hardcore fans, no matter how many years have passed. That’s just what happens when someone devotes so much of his or her time to a team. The players start to feel like members of the extended family and their great memories become ours as well. I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner last Thursday, but I know exactly what I did on September 22, 2005: I fell in baseball love with Shane Victorino.

The Phillies were five games behind the Braves in the NL East with only 10-11 games left, but remained legitimate contenders for the wild card berth. They were set to play the final game of a crucial late-season series with those Braves, and after splitting the first two contests, were sending ace Jon Lieber to the hill. The Braves countered with Tim Hudson, who was in his first year with the team. It was one of the most important games of the season for the Phillies, and a clear must-win.

The game was scoreless through eight innings. Lieber was on and Hudson wasn’t far off of that. However, Hudson started to falter in the top of the ninth. He walked Bobby Abreu on four pitches. Two batters later, he gave up a single to then-rookie Ryan Howard. First and second, one out, 0-0 game. Michael Tucker (!) singled Abreu in and the Phillies had finally broken through. Billy Wagner quickly started warming up to get ready for the save situation.

With Wagner getting ready to enter, Charlie Manuel pulled Lieber and decided to instead pinch-hit with Victorino, a September call-up. The Phillies had selected him in the Rule V draft prior to the season and he absolutely tore up the International League, winning the Triple-A MVP award. Over 126 games with Scranton, Victorino hit .310/.377/.534, with 18 home runs and 17 stolen bases. He had nothing left to prove and deserved the call-up. He would soon prove he deserved this pinch-hitting opportunity as well.

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The Phillies Absolutely Shouldn’t Trade Rollins

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, July 20, 2012 09:40 AM Comments: 52

In sports, the term ‘anchoring’ refers to when fans develop an opinion based off of a specific series of events and hold steadfastly to that opinion regardless of what subsequently transpires. Most of the time anchoring occurs at the start of a season, when a hot or cold stretch can mislead fans into under- or overvaluing certain players. When preformed opinions join anchoring at the bar, lazy narratives are often born. Jimmy Rollins is another perfect example of why anchoring to early season struggles, especially when it supposedly helps confirm a preconceived notion, is folly in the world of analysis.

Yes, Rollins started off slowly. He posted a terrible .259 wOBA in April, with a poor .283 on-base percentage that was actually higher than his even worse .271 slugging percentage. His defense remained solid, but he looked mostly lost throughout his first 85 trips to the dish. Since he hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut recently, and because he is past his prime, it became very easy to assume that Rollins was done; that he was washed up; that his new contract was a joke, because the Phillies were paying $11 million per season to the shortstop formerly known as Jimmy Rollins.

Don't even think about trading him.

Though many would readily admit that, under most circumstances, 85 plate appearances is far too small a sample off of which to base definitive conclusions, the mixture of anchoring to his early struggles and the preexisting belief — or fear — that he is rapidly declining, led to unnecessary widespread panic.

But then something funny happened — Rollins started hitting again. He posted a .289 wOBA in May, which, while still very poor, was an improvement. And he followed that up with a .396 wOBA in June. It may have taken him a while to get going, but Rollins has been tearing the cover off of the ball recently, and his seasonal line is right where we would expect it, even after a very poor two months to start the season.

Even before he started proving that he still has offensive talent in the tank, it would have been foolish to consider trading Rollins. Now that he has once again proven himself capable of hitting at a relatively high level, while flashing all-sport defense at the most important infield position, the Phillies shouldn’t even think twice about trading him.

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The Utley Era Wasn’t Supposed to Go Like This

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, March 20, 2012 07:00 AM Comments: 93

So we’ve learned that Chase Utley probably won’t be ready for Opening Day, a reality many of us assumed but wanted badly not to hear this season.

In the last episode of Phillies Nation TV, Pat asked why Utley hadn’t yet seen an inning in the field or a plate appearance against live pitching. It was a valid question that offered more and more room for pessimism the longer you thought about it.

Sure, resting Utley was logical. But if he was going to be OK, why not give him an inning a week or a few at-bats just to catch him up to speed? Jimmy Rollins has dealt with plenty of injuries to his lower-half and he’s been out there regularly this Spring. It just didn’t bode well and on Monday, Phillies Nation (the collective, not the site), awoke to a nightmarish scenario that may turn out to be passable, but may usher in the end of the Chase Utley era in Philadelphia.

That’s the longer-term scenario we’re looking at here. Utley is 33 with a contract that expires after next season and knees that will never get better. The last part of that sentence has been stated both subtly and explicitly by Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro.

Utley is missing cartilage in his knee, and as Amaro put it Monday, “you just can’t grow back cartilage.” There is likely bone-on-bone friction in Utley’s knee(s), and all you have to do is imagine the feeling of moving laterally with bones rubbing each other to understand why such a cautious approach is necessary and why Utley is probably destined for DH-duty in his next deal.

This isn’t a curable condition, it’s one you attempt to manage, but the fact remains that nobody in the Phillies organization knows what is going to happen with Utley in 2012, much less 2013 and beyond. I can guarantee you that nobody in the front office is thinking about how to approach Utley’s next contract because no one knows what he’ll be 18 months from now.

It’s an incredibly sad situation. Utley was on a Hall-of-Fame pace through the end of 2009, when he was averaging a .301/.388/.535 slash-line with 32 homers and 43 doubles in full seasons while playing elite defense (top-1 or top-2 in the sport) at a premium position.

Utley was the player that separated the Phillies from other teams.

This was before Roy Halladay, and for half of 2009, before Cliff Lee. It was after Cole Hamels’ stellar postseason run but before he turned into a four-pitch demon. Utley was what was different about the Phillies. A patient hitter who could hit the ball anywhere, for power and average, reach balls to his left and right that 25 second basemen can’t glove and run the bases exceptionally.

Now, he’s a shell of that.

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My Vacation With Shane Victorino

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Sat, January 21, 2012 01:00 PM Comments: 2

I didn’t actually take a vacation with Shane Victorino, but I did go on a cruise with him, Charlie Manuel, John Mayberry Jr, the Phanatic and Rich Dubee. I was surprised with a Christmas gift by my parents with this vacation, booked through AAA. It was a group of almost 400 Phillies fans on a seven day trip to the Bahamas. The destinations were Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St Thomas, and Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay.

I arrived Philadelphia International Airport a day before the cruise was set to embark. At the terminal, I was greeted by dozens of people wearing Phillies apparel.

After the plane ride, where I wasn’t even able to finish the movie I was watching, we arrived at the hotel, and it was just like the airport. Phillies clothes everywhere. And there is more than one hotel in Fort Lauderdale, too. So I imagine a lot of other hotels were similar.

The next day, we arrived at the dock terminal to the sight of a sea of red. And by sea of red I mean hundreds of people wearing Phillies jerseys, hats, jackets, and pants. Now, this was curious. Why would you wear a heavy jacket in Florida? I was sweating and I was wearing a Cliff Lee shirsey and khaki shorts! Furthermore, I spotted a Brewers shirsey, a Twins hat, and fair amount of Yankees apparel. Even some Cardinals shirts. Obviously not everyone was in the AAA group with the Phillies, but come on, these people had to have felt awkward. I imagine it felt like being a Marlins fan at a Phillies-Marlins game–in Florida. But I digress.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Saying Goodbye

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 23, 2011 11:00 AM Comments: 20

In June 2009, when I was trying to find a job after graduating college, I started writing for a small Phillies blog run by a longtime friend of mine, Paul Boye. He wasn’t doing much with it, I figured, so why not let me on board? That site, The Phrontiersman, trundled along for a while at about 1,500 hits a month for seven months. We each probably posted about twice or three times a week, and it was fun, but we knew that only a couple hundred people read our posts. That site served the purpose of helping Paul and me find our voices as sports commentators, all the while developing this strange sort of comedy double act, with me playing the role of Groucho Marx and Paul as Margaret Dumont.

In January 2010, I wrote a post trying to project the Phillies’ history if they’d kept Scott Rolen. MLB Trade Rumors linked to it, and the site blew up. A couple weeks later, Paul called me at work, saying this site called Phillies Nation had gotten in touch with him and wanted us to move over and write for them. I couldn’t say yes quickly enough, and for the past two years, I’ve written anything from a short poem about Cliff Lee facing the Mets to 2,000 words on attending the 19-inning game against the Reds this year. Over 23 months, we’ve been on a journey together, you and I, that’s featured both emotion and logic, with a touch of confrontation thrown in.

Today, that journey comes to an end. This will be my last post as a member of the Phillies Nation staff.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Nicknames

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 16, 2011 12:40 PM Comments: 43

Oil Can Boyd

There’s a lot not to like about baseball in the 1930s and 1940s–no television, racial segregation, and an offensive explosion that would make the Steroid Era look like the Bronze Age, thanks to joke ballparks (258 feet to the right field foul pole at the Polo Grounds!) and a set of strategic norms still adjusting to the live ball era.

But there were some things I wish hadn’t changed from then. Four, to be precise:

  1. No designated hitter
  2. No Atlanta Braves (though I admit that if they were from Boston I might hate them even more)
  3. No New York Mets
  4. Nicknames

Sure, we have nicknames on the Phillies, and while some of them are pretty good (J-Roll, assuming he comes back, Doc, Chooch), others are pretty awful, like “Polly” or “J-Bone,” which is what Steven De Fratus wants us to call his brother, Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus. Intending no undue disrespect to either De Fratus brother, J-Bone is the stupidest goddamn idea for a nickname that I’ve ever heard in my life. We can come up with something better.

That’s what was so great about the interwar years–they put thought into their nicknames, which is how we wound up with The Splendid Splinter, Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, Goose Goslin, and a litany of awesome sobriquets for Babe Ruth. And because we weren’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings, nicknames weren’t limited to things you might call your golden retriever or the third-line center on the squirt hockey team you coach on the weekend–you couldn’t really be mean, but you didn’t have to be complimentary, either. You could call someone “Losing Pitcher Mulcahy” or “Three Finger Brown” and no one would accuse you of being an insensitive pig. We need to think outside the box here, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get “Exxon” and “Tony No-Dad” to stick.

It’s also why I need your help.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Leonid Brezhnev, GM

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 09, 2011 12:26 PM Comments: 24

Because it’s finals week at universities across North America, I’d like to encourage everyone to do the following: if there’s a college professor who impacted your life for the better whom you never thanked, go back and do that. For me, it would be Dr. Gordon Smith, Director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies at the University of South Carolina and one of American academia’s foremost experts on Russian politics. My junior year of undergrad, I took his Russian foreign policy class because 1) I needed an international relations elective and 2) my girlfriend, a Russian major, was taking it.

That class was the first impetus for my choosing to attend graduate school for political science–international relations in particular–and Dr. Smith was a fabulous teacher. I wasn’t one of the star students, and I figured that if Dr. Smith remembered me at all, it would be as the sleepy-looking bearded guy who sat next to KTLSF in the back row–she was one of the star students–and thought it was funny to characterize the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko as “in Soviet Russia, tea drinks you!” But more than a year after our last class meeting, he spotted me on the street, called me by name, and we talked for several minutes about life, the universe, and everything.

This post was made possible because of one word–gerontocracy–to which Dr. Smith introduced me that semester. I’d like to dedicate this post to Dr. Gordon Smith, who, I’m sure would be proud to know that one of his students got just enough out of his class to spot the parallels between Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union.

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