Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Youth Over Experience: Part Two

Once again, the pitching matchup featured a "Young"-er pitcher facing a veteran. Last night this worked in favor of the younger pitcher as the Phillies won 7-4. Tonight, it worked in favor of the younger pitcher again as San Diego's Chris Young bested 45-year-old Jamie Moyer and the Phillies lost 4-2.

The game started off with Adrian Gonzalez hitting a two-run shot off Moyer in the top of the first. Matters could have gotten much worse due to errors by Eric Bruntlett and Jayson Werth, but Moyer was able to get Scott Hairston to fly out and Jim Edmonds to ground out. It looked like the Phillies would be in for a long night, until Chase Utley countered with another two-run homer in the bottom of the inning. However, those would be the only two runs the Padres would surrender in the game, and when Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a solo home run in the top of the third, no one in the Phillies offense was able to answer him. The Padres got an insurance run in the sixth when former Phillie Tadahito Iguchi singled in Josh Bard.

Moyer had a perfectly mediocre outing, allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings. This season, Moyer has never pitched for more than six innings, but he has also never allowed more than four earned runs in an outing. He was followed by Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, and Rudy Seanez. After Durbin gave up the single to Iguchi, the bullpen was again lights out, and no further damage was done. On the other side, Chris Young went for six innings, striking out six, and their bullpen was also able to prevent any damage, with Trevor Hoffman getting his fifth save of the year.

San Diego has extremely good pitching, and Young is a top-notch pitcher, but once again, it was the lack of offense that hurt Philadelphia. It looked like the Phillies could get to Young when Utley hit his home run, but after that, the team did nothing. Their offense has simply been shoddy lately. Chase Utley continues to produce, and perhaps the return of Victorino will help, but Jayson Werth has cooled off, Pat Burrell hasn't had a multi-hit game in over a week, Ryan Howard continues to do nothing, and none of their free agent acquisitions have been able to contribute. Geoff Jenkins actually had a great night with three hits, but no one behind him made use of them. Aside from Utley and I suppose Burrell, the most productive hitters in the lineup have been Eric Bruntlett and Chris Coste, who is now starting more than he had been. It's nice that Bruntlett figured out how to play everyday, but he's out of the lineup when Jimmy Rollins gets back (oh, what a glorious day that will be), and it's hard to see Coste suddenly becoming an offensive force.

The good news is that the Phillies finished the month of April with a record over .500. A lot of their players struggle in April, so if they can all start picking up the pieces, and improve their play the way they have in past years, this team could be a force to reckon with in the coming months.

Year April Final Record Season Finish
2005 10-14 88-74 Second in NL East (only two games behind Atlanta)
2006 10-14 85-77 Second in NL East (twelve games behind Mets...but still)
2007 11-14 89-73 First in NL East, lost in first round
2008 15-13 ? Who knows...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Youth Over Experience: Hamels Bests Maddux

When Cole Hamels left tonight's Phillies game, he had gone 7 1/3 innings on less than 100 pitches. This was his longest outing of the season and one of his most efficient, so it was only appropriate that he beat his boyhood idol, Greg Maddux, as the Phillies defeated the Padres 7-4.

Hamels has pitched well all season, to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, but he entered with a 2-3 record due to poor run support. This time, the Phillies gave him a little help, right from the start. In the bottom of the first, Eric Bruntlett walked, then stole second, and Ryan Howard drove him in with a two-out single, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. In the third, Jayson Werth hit a stand-up triple to deep right field and Bruntlett delivered again, bringing Werth home with a single to make it a 2-0 game.

Hamels was practically untouchable in the early going, allowing only one hit until the fifth inning. Then, with two outs, Scott Hairston hit a deep fly ball that sailed over the left field wall and cut the Phillies' lead in half. However, in the seventh, Hamels helped his own cause, hitting a one out single that advanced Carlos Ruiz from first to third. The next batter, Werth, hit a sacrifice fly that scored Ruiz and brought the lead back to two runs.

In the eighth inning, which had been uncharted waters for Hamels, trouble arose. Hairston doubled over Werth's head and then moved to third on a Josh Bard groundout. Tony Clark came in to pinch hit and worked a full count before drawing a walk. With the tying run on base, Charlie Manuel went to the bullpen, bringing in J.C. Romero to face Brian Giles. However, Romero's control was off and Giles walked, loading the bases.

With two right-handed hitters coming up, Manuel pulled Romero and summoned Tom Gordon. A few weeks ago, this would have been terrifying, but Gordon has really improved since his Opening Day meltdown. Former Phillie Tadahito Iguchi stepped to the plate and promptly grounded to short, scoring Hairston in the process. Then, with the winning run in scoring position, Kevin Kouzmanoff grounded to second, and the Phillies held on to a 3-2 lead.

Glendon Rusch came in for San Diego to pitch the bottom of the eighth, but Chase Utley greeted him with his tenth double of the season. Rusch struck out Howard, then intentionally walked Pat Burrell, with the left-handed Geoff Jenkins on deck. Burrell was immediately pulled for pinch runner So Taguchi. Manuel would no doubt have preferred to say "Bohn Voyage" to Burrell, but T.J. is back in the minors.

His replacement, Shane Victorino, fresh off the disabled list, came in to pinch hit for Jenkins, which caused the Padres to bring in right-handed Kevin Cameron. Cameron got Victorino to fly out, but the next batter, Pedro Feliz, hit an RBI single to right field. Utley scored and Feliz advanced to second base on the throw home. Next up was Ruiz, who doubled to score Taguchi and Feliz. Then pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs followed with a double of his own, plating Ruiz. Werth flew out to end the inning, but the Phillies went to the ninth with a 7-2 lead.

With a secure lead, Brad Lidge got the night off and Manuel turned to Ryan Madson to finish the game. Adrian Gonzalez led off the inning with a single, but Madson got the next two batters out. Scott Hairston stepped in and made things interesting with a home run to left, his second of the game, to make bring the Padres within three runs. But all it did was pad Hairston's stats, as Bard struck out to end the game.

The win brought the Phillies' record to 15-12 and, combined with Florida's 6-7 loss, put Philadelphia just half a game out of first place in the NL East. A Phillies win and a Marlins loss tomorrow would put Philadelphia in first place in the division going into May for the first time since 2001. Win or lose, the Phillies will leave April over .500, which they haven't done since 2003.

While the young Hamels prevailed over the experienced Maddux tonight, tomorrow's pitching match-up will be something of a role reversal as Chris "28-years" Young takes on Jamie Moyer. After the slow starts of the last few years, first place is pretty enticing right now. Let's hope it's age before beauty tomorrow night.

Mike Lieberthal to Retire as a Phillie

Longtime Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal has decided to retire as a Phillie on June 1st. 

Lieberthal was the third overall pick for the Phillies in the 1990 draft. He got to the majors during the 1994 season and played with the Phillies through 2006. Last year he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .234 and playing in 38 games as the backup to Russell Martin. Lieberthal made the All-Star team twice, in 1999 and 2000 and ends his career with a .274 average, 150 home runs, and 610 RBI. He is one of only six catchers to ever hit for a .300 average and 30 home runs in the same year (1999). 

Just as it was right for Doug Glanville to retire as a Phillie back in 2005, it is very befitting that Lieberthal retire as a Phillie. Lieberthal never wanted to leave the Phillies anyway. 

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maholm and McLouth Pillage Phils

Mostly I just wanted to make a pirate joke.

Paul Maholm pitched a complete game for the Pirates, allowing only an RBI single by Eric Bruntlett to score Pat Burrell. Leadoff hitter Nate McLouth hit two home runs off of Brett Myers, including one to start off the game, and the Pirates defeated the Phillies 5-1. 

Paul Maholm needed only 99 pitches to get through the nine innings. In other words, the Phillies offense was virtually non-existent. The Phillies' only two hits came from perhaps the most and least likely hitters: Pat Burrell doubled in the fifth, and Eric Bruntlett singled, scoring Burrell. But it's not as if the Phillies were striking out left and right. There were only two strikeouts, one of which coming from a pinch hit appearance by Chris Coste. There were some fantastic fielding plays by the Pirates, Xavier Nady and Jose Bautista in particular, but the Phillies just couldn't get the ball anywhere but to the fielders. 

It seemed like no one was able to get the offense rolling. Utley didn't do anything of interest, Howard's slump continued, and Pat Burrell hits too far down in the lineup to be trying to start anything. Perhaps if Feliz and Jenkins were hitting well and Jenkins was actually starting it would make a difference, but until that happens, Pat Burrell should not be hitting in the five hole. What would make a great deal of sense at this point is to bat Burrell fourth and Howard fifth. This would break up the three big Phillies hitters (not counting Rollins at the top of the lineup) into lefty-righty-lefty and give Burrell more opportunities to be productive without having an almost sure out right in front of him. It's very hard to imagine Howard performing like this all season, so at least until then, let the two big hitters from each side of the plate hit back to back. 

The other alarming aspect of this game was the continued degradation of Brett Myers. Apparently the issue is that Myers hasn't been throwing as hard as he normally is able to, and that is why he's been giving up more home runs. However, if he's going to be the ace of the team, he can't rely on his speed. He's got to find ways to get batters out without being able to blow them away with speed. If his speed is starting to decline, then perhaps it's a good thing that he hasn't remained the closer. Jamie Moyer should be able to teach Myers a thing or two about getting batters out without needing speed. That's what he's there for at this point, because Moyer's outings certainly haven't been impressive. If Myers can figure that out and then somehow get his velocity back, then he could absolutely be the ace the team needs him to be. That ability will also result in longer outings. In his six starts, only three have lasted longer than five innings. 

But even if Myers has a mediocre outing, the offense should be able to outscore the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's not as if the Pirates scored a million runs. They only scored five. Utley, Howard, Burrell, red-hot Jayson Werth, and some combination of Feliz, Taguchi, Ruiz, and Bruntlett should be accountable for at least one run apiece. Burrell and Utley are doing they're jobs (even if Utley took today off). Everyone else needs to step up. 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Phillies Take Early Lead to the Bank Against Pittsburgh

After Friday's game, a Phillies fan could be forgiven for being a little nervous going into Sunday's. It was a win, but it was a win that seemed like a semi-fluke, requiring Charlie Manuel to spend the bullpen and coming on the basis of production from unexpected players. Saturday's 8-4 victory over the Pirates, however, was a reassuring and comfortable one.

Ryan Howard did what we had hoped in vain so many times already this season that he would do: he drove himself and Chase Utley in with a two-run homer. Has he finally returned to form? Was it just a fluke? That's impossible to say at this point, but it was very sweet to see. If he does keep producing it will start to look as if the decision not to start him for two games was quite a wise one.

A comedy of errors allowed to Phillies to extend the inning for three more unearned runs, and it would turn out that five was just the magic number that they would need for their cushion.

Chase Utley continued his offensive leadership, with a walk, two hits, and two runs scored in this game, and Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz also maintained their recent production by contributing back-to-back doubles in the two-run seventh. If Feliz continues to pinch hit this well, he will give Manuel some breathing room as far as whom to start at third base. It's difficult to think of pencilling Greg Dobbs into the lineup when one knows how valuable a player he can be in a pinch situation.

Kyle Kendrick provided another quality start and looked quite good this evening. Pittsburgh is a weaker team and one the Phillies should be beating, so it's good to see that they are using this series to build some consistency and good patterns while they win.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Phillies Hang on for Win over Pirates

Elements of the Phillies' 6-5 win of Pittsburgh indicate even more that maybe Charlie Manuel is just still learning. His decisions are not always among the most consistent that one will have the pleasure of encountering, but sometimes among the myriad illogical-seeming choices, some will arrive that actually seem to work quite well. Since Ryan Howard has for some reason been feeling obligated to fill the "Pat Burrell" role on the team in the wake of Pat Burrell's decision to fill the "good player" role, Charlie Manuel has benched him and allowed Chase Utley to play first, with newcomer Brad Harman taking his place at second.

In fact, the whole lineup had an experimental feel this time. If indeed Manuel was shaking up the batting order in an attempt to create some production (as opposed to because he received an important message from his magic eight ball), it was a sucessful experiment.

Harman delivered his first Major League RBI on a double. Jayson Werth continued to draw a sharp contrast with the "Jayson Werthless" we sometimes encountered last year, with an RBI double of his own and a solo home run.

Chis Coste was hitting fifth, and was arguably the star of the game with his 3 RBI on as many hits. It's true that Coste is a newish player in his mid-30s, and that this makes him as much of a gamble in a game like baseball as it does a Cinderella story, and it's true that as a catcher in his thirties he probably shouldn't be played every day -- but it would be foolish not to recognize that he's been incredibly hot at the plate lately. The impressive consistency of Coste's performances since he came up have been slightly overshadowed by the impressiveness of the fact that he finally came up in the first place. At this point, though, Charlie Manuel would have to be crazy not to take the .406 average that he has right now to the bank for all it's worth (whatever that might be).

What makes this game especially memorable, though, is Manuel's decision to remove starter Adam Eaton in th fourth after he had allowed Pittsburgh to recover half of the six-run lead the Phillies had accumulated. It has been a long time since it has seemed like a good idea to surrendur two thirds of a Philadelphia Phillies game to the bullpen, but this year's staff hae performed well enough to make doubting the conventional wisdom quite reasonable. Such a conclusion seemed erroneous in the fifth as Chad Durbin allowed the Phillies' lead to be diminished to a single run, but Charlie Manuel's gambit eventually paid off: the rest of the bullpen shut out Pittsburgh for the rest of the game, and Philadelphia took home a 6-5 win. Charlie Manuel's managerial decisions may seem odd. They may even come off as random or novelty moves -- but when they pay off, it feels sweet.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Burrell's Clutch Double Wins It

When Jamie Moyer put runners at the corners with no outs in the bottom of the seventh in a tie game, it looked like Charlie Manuel had done it again. Last night, Manuel was slow to pull the starting pitcher, Cole Hamels, and he served up a game-winning home run to Prince Fielder. Today, Manuel was slightly quicker to action, calling in Tom Gordon. Gordon struck out Tony Gwynn Jr., walked Jason Kendall, struck out Rickie Weeks, and got Gabe Kapler to ground out to short to end the inning. Gordon's bullpen heroics allowed Pat Burrell to put the Phillies on top in the eighth inning with a two-out double that scored Greg Dobbs and Chase Utley. Burrell's double proved to be the difference and the Phillies took the game 3-1.

Moyer had his best start so far, going six innings and allowing only one run, which came on a Ryan Braun RBI single in the third. Jeff Suppan shut down the Phillies until the sixth inning, when Jayson Werth hit his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot to tie the game at 1-1. Suppan would finish the game after seven innings, allowing only one run, and striking out three.

As soon as Suppan left the game, the Brewers started to miss him. David Riske struck out the first two batters in the top of the eighth, the first of whom was pinch hitter Ryan Howard, but then gave up a walk and a single to Dobbs and Utley, respectively. That brought Burrell to the plate with two on and two out. Riske (Could there be a better name for a relief pitcher with a 7.36 ERA?) got two strikes on Burrell, before he lined a double to left field for two RBIs, giving the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

Burrell was promptly replaced by T.J. Bohn (surprise!) and Howard stayed in the game at first base. With two innings to go, it was up to the bullpen, and it delivered once again, as it has been apt to do this year. J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson combined for a perfect eighth inning and Brad Lidge allowed a Craig Counsell single before getting Jason Kendall to fly out to end the game.

As mentioned earlier, Howard only entered the game as a pinch hitter, and struggled off the bench, striking out twice in as many at-bats. It was not a total shock for Howard to get the day off, as his batting average is now down to .176. The Phillies need to find some way to get Howard going, but using him as a pinch hitter probably isn't it. Perhaps moving him down in the order would loosen him up a bit. He'd look just fine hitting fifth, and Burrell looked awfully good in Howard's customary clean-up spot today. If there's one thing Manuel has proven he is good at (and there may only be this one thing), it's dealing with struggling hitters. He seems to have figured out Burrell, who could be on his way to a career year, so maybe he can help Howard break out of this slump.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hail to the Prince? Fielder Bests King Cole

Innings two through seven were ever-so-kind to Cole Hamels, but it was the bookends, innings one and eight, that did him in. Hamels gave up five runs, four of which came on two Prince Fielder home runs, and the Phillies snapped their three game winning streak, losing 5-4 in Milwaukee.

Hamels got off to a rocky start, as Rickie Weeks and Gabe Kapler started the game with back-to-back doubles. Then, after a Ryan Braun pop-out, Fielder crushed a ball to right for his second home run of the season and a 3-0 Brewers lead. Corey Hart followed with a single, but after that Hamels settled into a groove. He would only give up one hit between the Hart single and the start of the eighth inning.

Meanwhile, the Phillies offense started off a bit sluggish, but Chase Utley put the Phils on the board in the third with a solo shot to center field. It was Utley's Major League-leading tenth homer on the year and his seventh in as many games. Later, in the top of the fifth, Greg Dobbs hit a two-run shot that tied the game at 3 runs apiece. Then Pat Burrell led off the next inning with a home run of his own, his eighth, giving the Phillies a 4-3 lead and a chance at another comeback win.

Hamels set down the Brewers in order in the bottom of the seventh and could have been done for the night. Correction, he should have been done for the night. After seven innings, Hamels had thrown 110 pitches and with a relatively fresh bullpen, Manuel could have easily gone to any of J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon, or Chad Durbin. Instead, he channeled his inner Dusty Baker and let Hamels hang around for one more. The result? Braun led off with a double and Fielder hit his second home run of the day, putting the Brewers in front 5-4.

As if he were watching the game on tape delay, Manuel finally made the sign to bring Durbin in after Fielder circled the bases. Durbin did exactly what he's done all year for the Phillies: put runners on, but didn't allow any to score, and kept it a one-run ballgame.

In a somewhat surprising move, Derrick Turnbow, one of the many closers-turned-middle relievers on the Brewers, came in to close out the Phillies in the ninth. Turnbow entered the game with an ERA over 9.00, but the Phillies had the 8-9-1 hitters due up, so the lead seemed somewhat secure. Brewers Manager Ned Yost didn't have much of a choice anyway, as they were coming off last night's twelve-inning win over the Cardinals, in which Eric Gagne blew the save in the ninth and needed 27 pitches to do it. Turnbow was one of the few who did not have to pitch yesterday, so he was the logical choice.

Even with logic on his side, the Phillies gave Turnbow all he could handle. Eric Bruntlett started the inning with a ten-pitch at-bat that ended in a strikeout, but then So Taguchi drew a pinch hit walk. With Jayson Werth at the plate and one out, Taguchi took off for second. Jason Kendall's throw went awry and Taguchi made his way to third. Werth had a great chance to tie the game, with a runner on third and one out, but Turnbow struck him out in another lengthy at-bat. Pedro Feliz stepped to the plate representing the Phillies final chance, but he grounded out in short order and that was the game.

I like to think I've been relatively easy on Manuel for the most part this season, but all the blame here has to go to him. Yes, Hamels was on a roll coming into the eighth, but after 110 pitches and with the heart of the order coming up, why not go to the bullpen? If I didn't know better, I would've thought the Phillies were coming off a twelve-inning game as well because what other reason could Manuel have had for not going to Romero here? It's likely that Hamels pleaded his case to Manuel to keep him in the game, but regardless the manager has to execute better judgment in this situation.

Another issue, once again, is the defensive substitutions. Feliz and T.J. Bohn both entered the game in the later innings, replacing Dobbs and Burrell, respectively. The Feliz move is reasonable, as he is a capable hitter (arguably better than Dobbs even if this year's numbers don't reflect it) and there was a left-handed pitcher on the mound when he first came in, but the Bohn one makes no sense.

The logic, if you can call it that, is that when leading, you want a stronger outfield defense than is possible with Burrell in left. In theory that sounds good. In practice it only helps you if the ball happens to be hit somewhere within Bohn's range and beyond Burrell's. Most of the time the difference in range is negligible, as was the case tonight. Braun and Fielder both hit to right field and Fielder's bomb would have taken Michael Bourn with a jet-pack to reel it in. And even that wouldn't have been enough if Super Bourn had been in LEFT FIELD.

It might seem like I'm nitpicking here. As mentioned, the balls were hit to right field and Bohn didn't register an at-bat. While both are true, Bohn could have easily gotten up in a clutch situation. (Sure, he delivered last night, but who would you rather have up with the game on the line: Bohn or Burrell?) Had Feliz gotten a base hit and tied the game in the ninth, the next three batters would have been Utley, Ryan Howard, and, you got it, Bohn.

With a right-handed pitcher on the mound and the hottest hitter on the planet up, what do you think the Brewers do? Probably walk Utley. Then comes Howard, who is giving the Mendoza line more of a fight than he is to most pitchers right now, but he's still a former MVP. If Burrell's in the game, they pitch to Howard and perhaps even Utley, knowing what looms on deck. But with Bohn, why not intentionally walk, or at least pitch around, both Utley and Howard to take on the right-handed hitter with 16 career at-bats? We've seen it before, both this year and last, but Manuel steadfastly refuses to let Burrell stay in any game where the Phillies have a lead, no matter how small.

To make a basketball analogy (it is playoff time after all), this is roughly the equivalent of the Suns removing Amare Stoudemire in favor of Brian Skinner with forty-five seconds left in a game in which the Suns lead by five points, except Stoudemire can't be subbed back in. In theory, that should work out fine. Skinner is a better defender, so his defense should keep the other team from coming back and Skinner's offensive deficiencies shouldn't matter because all the Suns have to do is keep the other team from scoring five points in forty-five seconds The only way this move makes any sense is if the opposing team is practically guaranteed to give the ball to whoever Skinner is guarding, putting his defense to the test.

But what if the opposition avoids Skinner altogether, whether by design or by chance? Then what was the point of the substitution? Now what if the opposing team cuts into the lead or even ties the game? Wouldn't it be better to have Stoudemire out there to possible score a bucket or two and provide some breathing room? Even worse, what if the game goes to overtime and Brian Skinner is your power forward for the duration? And what if this happened game after game after game to the point that some Suns blogger asked an entire paragraph of questions in frustration?

If Mike D'Antoni followed this course of action (provided that the NBA rules changed to make substitutions permanent) he would be run out of town in a hurry. Maybe the basketball comparison isn't perfect, but it helps to bring to light a ridiculous strategical maneuver. One which might not have cost the Phillies this game, but has and will cost them many others.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Burrell's Bases-Clearing Double Wins It

With Pat Burrell being hitless on the night, walking Ryan Howard to get to him seemed like a reasonable idea. Apparently the Rockies forgot about his .357 batting average. 

The Phillies entered the top of the ninth trailing 5 to 6. So Taguchi singled, Chase Utley doubled, and, not wanting to have right hander Manny Corpas face Howard, they intentionally walked him to get to Burrell. Burrell doubled for his first hit of the night, scoring Taguchi, Utley, and despite a very close play at the plate, Howard too. Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth and the Phillies beat the Rockies again 8-6.

Brett Myers came in with a fantastic record at Coors Field - 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA. Myers went for seven innings, but allowed six runs. Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless eighth and with the lead restored, Lidge closed out the game, striking out two of three. Utley's homer streak was broken, but Jayson Werth hit one for him. 

Thankfully, the game didn't go into extra innings due to a very interesting eighth inning from the mind of Charlie Manuel. With his 7-8-9 hitters coming to the plate, Carlos Ruiz, Eric Bruntlett, and Myers, Manuel decided to pinch hit for all of them with Geoff Jenkins, Greg Dobbs, and Chris Coste. Granted, it did look like they had a chance to come back in that inning, which they didn't, but had they only tied the game, they would have been in a really bad position. By the end of the nine innings, every position player on the roster had been used. There would surely have been at pinch hits from Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton, and even dare I say Jamie Moyer. Also, teams are usually extremely cautious about using their second catcher to pinch hit, but Coste went before Brad Harman and T.J. Bohn. Coste may be better, but he's still the second catcher. Why Manuel felt he had to take Ruiz out isn't clear. Ruiz is a perfectly fine hitter. It's hard to be too upset about it given the eventual outcome, but it does make one wonder. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Phils Beat Rockies in NLDS Rematch

At the start, this looked awfully similar to the last time the Phillies and Rockies met. Kyle Kendrick, the Game 2 starter of that series, got off to a rough start, giving up a three-run home run to Yorvit Torrealba in the second inning. He'd later surrender a two run shot before leaving after five innings. Yet despite his poor outing, the Phillies rallied in the late innings and came away with a 9-5 win.

Early on it looked like the offense was going to be a problem yet again, as the Phillies were held to one hit in the first three innings. They finally struck in the fourth, as Pat Burrell hit a two run homer, his seventh of the year. That made the score 3-2, in favor of Colorado, but it looked like the Phillies were on their way to a lead. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Garrett Atkins homered to make it a 5-2 game. That inning was the end for Kendrick, but the rest of the Phillies weren't done yet.

Jayson Werth led off the sixth inning with an inside-the-park home run and Chase Utley followed with a more conventional homer, bringing the Phillies back to within one run. Clay Condrey entered and nearly made the lead insurmountable once again, as he puts runners on first and third with one out. Troy Tulowitzki hit a sharp grounder up the middle that looked like a sure RBI single, but Utley made a spectacular diving stop and tossed to Eric Bruntlett, who tagged and fired to first to complete the inning ending, and perhaps game-saving, double play.

With both starters lasting only five innings, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens. Despite Condrey's struggles, this gave the Phillies the edge. Rudy Seanez pitched a scoreless seventh inning, bringing the Phillies up in the eighth trailing 4-5. One-time Phillies farmhand Taylor Buchholz stayed on the mound for his second inning of work, after pitching a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Buchholtz handled the first two batters of the eighth as well, striking out Utley for the second out. This brought up Ryan Howard, whose early season struggles have been well-documented. Howard came through this time, with a two out single, then Burrell followed with another single. After T.J. Bohn was brought in to pinch run for Burrell, Pedro Feliz drew a walk (rare for him), loading the bases for Carlos Ruiz.

This prompted the Rockies to bring in former closer Brian Fuentes to get the final out. Ruiz had other ideas, as he singled to right field, driving in Howard and Bohn and giving Philadelphia a 6-5 lead, its first of the day. Bruntlett grounded out to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

Tom Gordon struck out two in the bottom of the eighth and only allowed one baserunner, as Brad Hawpe reached on an error by Bohn. (It's ironic that yet again Burrell's defensive replacement committed an error, but in fairness to Bohn and Charlie Manuel, Bohn had to run a long way just to make a play for the ball and it's unlikely that Burrell would have reached it at all.) Gordon held the lead for the Phillies, but after Brad Lidge nearly blew a two run lead last night against the Mets, Phillies fans had to be concerned about such a small lead.

The Phillies must have felt the same way and they responded by making it easy for Lidge in the ninth. Geoff Jenkins singled and Chris Coste was hit by a pitch, bringing up Werth with two on and no outs. Werth sent a double to deep right center, scoring Jenkins and sending Coste to third. This made the score 7-5 and brought up the heart of the Phillies' order. However, Rockies pitcher Micah Bowie induced an Utley ground-out and then struck out Howard, bringing up Bohn with two outs and runners on second and third. The rookie, in only his second game with the team, did his best Pat Burrell impression, drilling a double down the left field line for two RBIs and saying "Bohn Voyage" to a realistic chance for a Rockies comeback. With a nice four run cushion, Lidge struck out Matt Holliday to end the game.

While this start has to bring up concerns about Kendrick, who faired poorly tonight after a great start against Houston last week, both the offense and the bullpen stepped up once again. Utley is just absurdly hot right now, with six home runs in the last five games. He has nine on the season, which leads the National League. Burrell hasn't been too bad himself, going 3-4 tonight with his seventh home run. Howard had two hits, both singles, which may be a good sign considering the way he has been swinging for the fences and usually missing of late.

The bullpen deserves praise as well, providing four scoreless innings against a very tough Rockies lineup. Also notable is the fact that they were able to get the job done while Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero got much-needed days off. But let's not forget tonight's heroes, Carlos Ruiz and T.J. Bohn. Ruiz's clutch single gave the Phillies the lead and Bohn's double assured that they would keep it.

Last week it was Chris Snelling making a bid for a fan group, but now Bohn has moved to the forefront in our quest to honor seldom-used Phillies. We'll be taking suggestions for T.J. Bohn fan group names. And don't forget recent call-up Brad Harmon, who could also be in the running. For now, however, Bohn has the upper hand until Harmon can prove his worth.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Utley and Feliz Power Phils

Chase Utley provided the meat of the offense, Pedro Feliz supplied the gravy, and the Phillies avoided being swept in a 5-4 win over the Mets.

Adam Eaton had another solid start, but once again wound up with a no-decision. He was solid through 5 innings, not allowing a run and striking out four, but once the sixth inning came around, he couldn't get an out. Two home runs by Utley, which gives him eight on the year, gave the Phils a 4-0 lead coming into that inning. Eaton let by three runs and left a runner on second for Chad Durbin, who allowed that runner to score before getting out of the inning. But Pedro Feliz, pinch hitting for Greg Dobbs, hit a home run in the seventh, J.C. Romero pitched two scoreless innings, and Eric Bruntlett made a fine defensive play to secure Brad Lidge's third save of the year.

The Phillies are turning out to have a really strong bullpen this year, which could make the difference when competing with teams like the Braves and the Mets. The Braves bullpen is getting injured one at a time, and aside from Wagner, Feliciano is pretty decent, Jorge Sosa can be good, but Joe Smith, Scott Scheoneweis, and even Aaron Heilman aren't particularly scary. While Rollins and Victorino are out, the bullpen becomes extremely important because it's hard to know how much offense the Phillies will be able to get on a given night without a true leadoff hitter to get the ball rolling. If they can get enough offense from Burrell, Utley, or anyone else, it's become clear that they can trust the bullpen.

New Alternate Uniforms

On Saturday the Phillies debuted their new alternate home uniforms. Wearing alternates has been a big trend in baseball in recent years. That's because the more varieties of a team's uniform are worn, the more replica jerseys the team can sell to each fan. It's good business. However, it usually looks silly. I'd grown pretty tired of looking at diamonds full of players dressed as soda cans, and I was proud that the Phillies were one of the last holdouts, with just one uniform for home, one for road, and a subtle change in the cap for interleague play.

The new alternates, however, to be worn during day games at home, don't look anywhere near as ridiculous as some of what can be seen around the league. They're 1940s-style throwback uniforms, and the current Phillies look pretty classy in them. It actually underscores how traditional their main uniforms are, actually, since the designs are very similar. The main change is that the home uniforms are worn without pinstripes. It takes an inning or two to get used to seeing the "Phillies" script over bright white, but in the end the Phillies have actually got it right where alternate jerseys are concerned.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Phillies Hitting Lags in Loss to Mets

The Phillies' offense once again looked sluggish in their latest 4-2 loss to their New York rivals. With Rollins and Victorino disabled and Howard slumping horribly, it seems as if the only two players who are contributing at the plate are Chase Utley and Pat Burrell. It's nice to see them playing well, but it's not enough to win games.

Jamie Moyer did what Jamie Moyer is around for. After allowing two in the first he held the Mets down for five more and was removed from the game before he could have a characteristic meltdown. It doesn't do any good to keep a team in the game who won't get into it in the first place, though. Not hitting against Johann Santana has come to be one of the occupational hazards of being a Major League Baseball player. Not scoring against Oliver Perez says there might be a problem somewhere.

It says something about the production in this game that the Phillies didn't score until the seventh, and when they did it was on a Chase Utley solo home run. Pat Burrell, who scored their other run the following inning when Carlos Ruiz singled him in, has been looking uniformly good lately, and it's still hard to get over the shock. The difference can be seen not just in his numbers, but even his very look at the plate. When he drew a walk today it didn't look as if he was afraid to swing as it often did in the past, but as if he was actively fighting off the pitches he didn't want. He mde a nice catch near centre today, indicative of the more awake look he is starting to have in the field as well. Let's hope it continues.

Ryan Howard these days couldn't be a greater contrast. He's a home run hitter, but one of his greatest strengths is that when he's hitting, he doesn't just hit home runs: he's a contact hitter who happens to over the outfield wall a good percentage of the time. Howard needs to remember this and go for hits rather than swinging wildly for the fences or letting perfect strikes sail past him.

There's little else to do until Rollins and Victorino come back except hope Howard gets hot, Feliz starts to produce, and the momentum builds, though I for one would like to see Greg Dobbs, who has been pinch hitting excellently, get some starts. Some kind of offensive pickup, for whatever cause, will be needed before the Phillies can stop losing 4-2 games like this one.

Friday, April 18, 2008

If You Didn't Before, Johann it to the Mets Now

There was no ambiguity about what baseball fans expected from this game, which ended in a 6-4 loss for Philadelphia. The Phillies-Mets rivalry has been brewing for quite some time, as it was officially christened (if necessary) by the end of last season. Now, in the first game of a series at Philadelphia, the Philles' homegrown ace Cole Hamels was pitted against the Mets' hired gun Johann Santana. The season's biggest crowd came to Citizen's Bank Park to see a pitchers' duel. Largely, they got one.

Hamels pitched extremely capably for most of the game, allowing a run in the first and another in the third (David Wright was having a good day). It would be enough for most teams on most days, but the Phillies' offense -- still lacking the force of Jimmy Rollins -- was resoundingly shut down by Santana, who showed the poise and precision that makes him almost impossible to hit on his best days.

When Chase Utley put the Phillies on the board by homering against Santana in the seventh it was a ray of hope. Perhaps the New York pitcher was tiring. The one-run game was anybody's. Unfortunately, alas, it was the Phillies who were first to give in the tight game. When Hamels allowed two singles in the eighth, Charlie Manual called for an intentional walk (to get to Carlos Delgado) and brought in the overworked J. C. Romero. The three runs scored for the Mets and were charged to Hamels.

Greg Dobbs' pinch-hit three run home run after Santana left the game was exciting and dramatic, but not quite enough. Tonight's loss was one for which no blame can be squarely cast. The offense was lethargic, but there is only so much one can expect against a pitcher of Santana's caliber. Hamels' performance was much finer than will be reflected in his earned run totals. Even the Phillies-fan's favorite hobby of second-guessing Charlie Manual's pitching decisions amounts only to 20-20 hindsight in a situation such as today's, which could just as easily have turned out well as badly.

The Phillies' 6-4 loss today might be a dispiriting one, as it is always the closest games that it is hardest to let get away, but the Phillies' business now is looking forward to evening the series behind Jamie Moyer tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Myers Shuts Down Astros

After imitating a moribund offense for the last two games, the Phillies showed their true colors today. The hitting got back on track, belting four home runs in a 10-2 thrashing of the Houston Astros.

The Phillies had only mustered a total of one run in the first eight innings of the last two games, but they started off with a bang today. Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Geoff Jenkins drove in a run apiece, as the Phillies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Myers did his part, holding the Astros scoreless until the fourth when Miguel Tejada hit a solo home run to right field, making it a 4-1 ball game.

Chase Utley expanded the Phillies lead to five runs in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run shot, which spelled the end for Houston starter Brandon Backe. Backe only lasted three innings and gave up six runs, five of them earned.

The 6-1 score held until the bottom of the sixth, when Howard and Burrell went back-to-back off Oscar Villarreal. Geoff Geary pitched the seventh inning, providing a bit of nostalgia for Phillies fans, as he set down the Phillies in order. Then Jose Valverde, the same Jose Valverde who blew the first game of the series, came in for the eighth. Unfortunately for Astros manager Cecil Cooper, the move didn't pay off. Valverde surrendered a two-run homer to Chris Coste, which left him with a 12.27 ERA plenty of bad memories of his trip to Philadelphia. Coste's blast made it a 10-1 game. Carlos Lee homered in the ninth off Clay Condrey to make it 10-2, but by then the game was already over.

The Phillies finished the series strong and should go into their three-game set against the Mets with a great deal of confidence in their starting pitching. Myers looked like a staff ace today, going seven innings while allowing just one run and striking out eight. As in his last start, he displayed excellent command, issuing only one walk.

While Myers was at his best, the offense was the driving force in today's win. Every starter except Bruntlett and Myers had at least two hits, and the top of the order produced as well as it has all season, despite the makeshift 1-2 of So Taguchi and Greg Dobbs. Coste, in particular, was dominant at the plate, going 4-5 with a double, a home run, and 3 RBIs.

As for Michael Bourn, who carried Houston yesterday, he walked once and stole his ninth base of the season. He has yet to be caught stealing and is on pace to swipe nearly 100 bases.

With the Mets coming to town next, runs will undoubtedly be harder to come by. Tomorrow's match-up should be especially exciting as Cole Hamels takes on Johan Santana. While the Mets rotation is highly-regarded, the way the Phillies have been pitching of late, there's no reason they can't beat the Mets at their own game, should it come to that. Based on today's offensive outburst, the starters may have some help after all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bourn and Oswalt Handle Phillies

The Phillies seemed poised to repeat last night's dramatic comeback, trailing by one run heading into the ninth, with Pat Burrell due to bat first. Burrell tied the last game with a home run off Jose Valverde and it looked like history might repeat itself, but Astros manager Cecil Cooper had other ideas. Cooper bypassed Valverde and went instead to Doug Brocail. Brocail was able to do what Valverde wasn't, allowing only a pinch hit single to Jimmy Rollins (the first of his career), before striking out Greg Dobbs to end the game. It was only the eighth save of Brocail's 13 year career and it finished off a 2-1 Astros win.

Houston got on the board in the first inning, as former Phillie Michael Bourn made an immediate impact. Bourn led off with an infield single, stole second, and scored on a Carlos Lee double to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. However, Philadelphia followed suit in the bottom of the first, as Ryan Howard drove in Jayson Werth with an RBI single. Starters Roy Oswalt and Kyle Kendrick dominated until the fifth inning, when Bourn put a dent in the right field foul pole with his second home run of the season, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead.

As in yesterday's game, it was a pitcher's duel. This was a bit surprising, as both starters had gotten off to very slow starts. Oswalt came into the game sporting a 0-3 record and a 9.00 ERA, but performed to his lofty expectations, holding the Phillies to one run in seven innings. Meanwhile, after failing to get through the third inning in his last start, Kendrick pitched seven strong innings and surrendered only two runs. He walked only one batter, after walking six in his last disastrous outing, and struck out five.

Once again, the hits were few and far between for the Phillies. Burrell went 2-4, but was unable to get on base in the ninth, and no one else made much of an impact at the plate. There's no doubt that Rollins' return will inject some life into the offense, but at this point there's no telling when that will be. One has to suspect he's saving himself for the upcoming Mets series, but that's purely speculative.

Despite the loss, Kendrick's start is extremely encouraging. He had not inspired any confidence in his first two outings and it was beginning to look like last season's success was simply a fluke. Hopefully he can build on this start with some renewed confidence and bolster what is starting to look like a very strong Phillies rotation.

That said, the story of the game has to be Bourn. He scored both of Houston's runs; one with his blazing speed and the other with a surprising bit of power, and tonight that was all it took, as the Phillies' bats remained stagnant, even in the ninth inning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Phils Rally for Win in 9th

Pat Burrell finally got a chance for an at-bat in the ninth inning, and he sure made the most of it. Burrell launched a two-run opposite field home run off of Hoston closer Jose Valverde to tie the game in front of a euphoric Philadelphia crowd. Two batters later, Pedro Feliz drove in the winning run and the Phillies pulled out a stunning 4-3 victory.

For the first eight innings it seemed as if Adam Eaton would get his first loss of the season thanks to a total lack of run support. Eaton had his third straight quality start, going six innings and allowing three runs, but Astros starter Shawn Chacon pitched a gem, tossing eight shutout innings. Chacon stifled the Phillies, who were still without Jimmy Rollins in the starting lineup. Through the first eight innings, the Phillies only had four hits, two of which came from Feliz. Chacon held Philadelphia's 2 through 6 batters hitless. Meanwhile, the Astros put three runs on the board with two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly.

The offense has been up and down for the Phillies this season, especially with Rollins out of the lineup, and it seemed like just another one of those days when the hits wouldn't come, but then a pinch-hitter changed all that. No, it wasn't Rollins, who pinch hit in the eighth inning (wearing Jackie Robinson's #42 no less). It was newcomer Chris Snelling. Snelling set the tone in the ninth inning by crushing the first pitch he saw, a Jose Valverde fastball, over the right field wall. That made the score 3-1 and energized the Philadelphia crowd, which had gone as silent as the Phillies' bats until that moment.

The next batter, Chase Utley, was hit by a pitch, which brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. Valverde showed signs of recovery, striking out Ryan Howard on three pitches, but then came the resurgent Pat the Bat. Burrell sent the second pitch of the at-bat into the seats in right field to tie the game. Next up was Geoff Jenkins, who worked a full count before striking out swinging. However, Brad Ausmus couldn't handle the pitch and it skipped away from him, allowing Jenkins to take first base. Feliz followed with his third hit of the game, a double down the third base line. The hit was perfectly placed and allowed Jenkins, not known to be especially fleet of foot, to score from first base, sliding in safely in front of the throw.

It was an unbelievable win and the kind of game that should give the Phillies a huge confidence boost. Rollins should be back any day now, though there's no way to know for sure when that will be, but it's clear that, at least so far, Pat Burrell is the Phillies' MVP. The home run gave him five on the season to go with 15 RBIs, tying him for the National League lead in both categories. He is currently on pace to hit 58 HRs and drive in 174 runs. It's only April and no one is expecting him to hit at this level for the entire season, but it just shows what an incredible start he's had.

On the pitching side, Eaton's start was solid, though he has regressed in each of his first three starts. Still, he only walked two and kept the ball in the park, so it's hard to be overly critical. He is sporting a 4.12 ERA, which is not at all bad for a #4 starter. It'd be very good for a #5 starter, but that is no longer Eaton's role as he switched spots with struggling sophomore Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick will face Roy Oswalt tomorrow night. The bullpen once again did its part. Chad Durbin pitched a pair of scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 0.75, and Rudy Seanez threw a shutout inning, despite issuing two walks. He also recorded his first win of the season.

Durbin has been a major asset to the Phillies bullpen and has been very effective in middle and long relief, but one has to be concerned about how heavily he's been used thus far. He has pitched twelve innings in eight games, putting him on pace to pitch nearly 140 innings if Manuel continues to use him at this rate. This is especially alarming considering that he is not pitching so much due to a bullpen injury or anything of the sort. Unless Ryan Madson shapes up, it appears that Manuel will be content to use Durbin relentlessly.

Of course, if that's all the Phillies are worried about right now, then they are in much better shape than the Astros, who have to wonder whether their trade for Valverde was really worth it, now that he's blown two saves and sports a Tom Gordon-esque 11.37 ERA. Tonight he had the dubious distinction of striking out two batters while recording only one out. They could have kept Brad Lidge and presumably none of this would have happened. Although, Lidge enabled them to get People's Phillies Blog favorite Michael Bourn, who in his first game back in Philadelphia went 1-4 with a stolen base (while wearing Robinson's #42), his league-leading seventh of the season.

It was nice to see Bourn in Philadelphia again, but the story tonight was the ninth innings rally sparked by Snelling and ended by Feliz, with a whole lot of Burrell in between. Snelling's Salts woke up the team...and might have just become our newest fan group.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Phillies Come Up Short Against Cubs

In their first game without Shane Victorino and (hopefully) their last game without Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies fell to the Chicago Cubs 6-5 in ten innings. With two outs and runners on first and second, So Taguchi grounded out to second base to end a wild game.

Playing without two of their regulars, it looked like the Phillies just might get away with a sweep of the Cubs. In the third inning, Victorino's absence was felt, as Derrek Lee hit double over now-center fielder Jayson Werth's head for two RBIs. That made it a 3-1 Cubs lead, despite the struggles of Chicago starter Jason Marquis. Marquis loaded the bases in each of the first two innings, but the Phillies only managed one run.

Werth hit a solo home run in the fifth inning to make it a 3-2 game and help fans forget the misplay on Lee's double. But in the top of the sixth Mark DeRosa would get the Cubs lead back to two runs with a home run of his own to left field, thanks to a little help from third base umpire Adrian Johnson. DeRosa's blast clearly went left of the foul pole, but it was ruled a home run even after protest from Pat Burrell and Charlie Manuel. Manuel was livid and must have said more to the umpire than "Yo, Adrian!" as he was subsequently ejected from the game. Bench coach Jimy Williams took over.

The Phillies seemed to take the ejection to heart, as they rallied in the bottom of the sixth. The much-maligned Eric Bruntlett ripped a solo shot for his third hit of the day, then three batters later, Werth tied the game with an RBI single to right field. In the next at-bat, Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to score Geoff Jenkins and give the Phillies a 5-4 lead.

The score held until the top of the eighth, when Tom Gordon put two runners on with one out. J.C. Romero replaced Gordon and promptly gave up a check swing game-tying single to Geovany Soto. Romero retired the next two batters to end the threat.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella made an interesting move in the bottom of the eighth, bringing in closer Kerry Wood, despite the non-save situation. Wood held the Phillies scoreless in the eighth and the ninth, though not without difficulty. In the ninth, the Phillies had runners on first and second with one out. Wood struck out Bruntlett, then induced a Carlos Ruiz ground-out to Lee to keep the Cubs alive.

By the tenth inning, it seemed the Phillies' luck had run out. Rudy Seanez walked the first batter he faced, Ronny Cedeno, then walked Soto with one out. With the pitcher's spot due and no hitters left on the bench, Piniella turned to Carlos Zambrano to pinch hit. Zambrano hit a weak grounder to Bruntlett, who tossed the ball to Utley for the second out. Utley fired to first, going for the inning-ending double play, but the throw was off-line and Ryan Howard couldn't scoop it for the out. As a result, it sailed into foul ground, scoring Cedeno and giving the Cubs a 6-5 lead. Alfonso Soriano hit a fly ball for the third out, but the damage was done.

Bob Howry retired Jenkins and Werth in order in the bottom of the inning, putting Utley at the plate with two outs. Utley hit a long fly ball to deep right field, carried by the wind much of the way. Kosuke Fukudome attempted a leaping catch at the wall, but it bounced off the top and appeared to hit Fukudome in the head before landing on the warning track, allowing Utley to stroll into second with a double. Howard was predictably given a free pass, which arguably should have brought Burrell to the plate with the winning run on base. This being the Phillies, Taguchi stepped into the batter's box and grounded out to DeRosa, ending the game.

While it's never a good thing to lose at home in extra innings, the Phillies can put a positive spin on this game. Fill-ins Werth and Bruntlett performed admirably, hitting a combined 5-9 with 2 HRs, 3 runs scored, 3 RBIs, and 2 steals. While Bruntlett will return to his role as a bench player, Werth will see regular time as a starter now that Victorino is on the DL and today's game was an encouraging start.

The bullpen gets a mixed review. Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings and Brad Lidge shut out the Cubs in the ninth. Gordon, however, struggled with his command, giving up a walk and a hit to go with only one out. Romero was unable to get out of the jam, earning himself a blown save, though it was on a rather fluke-ish hit. Seanez had a poor outing, walking two batters, although he would've survived had Utley and Howard been able to complete the double play, or perhaps if Howard had at least blocked the ball and held Cedeno at third base.

Of course, it would have been a completely different ballgame if DeRosa had not been falsely awarded a home run, but there's nothing to be done about that except perhaps suggest that baseball implement instant replay for fair-foul home run debates. Something tells me Manuel wouldn't want such a change, he'd simply prefer better officiating.

The Phillies take on the Houston Astros next, starting Tuesday, and they should have their MVP shortstop back in the lineup, and not a moment too soon.

Victorino Hits DL, Replaced by Snelling

Under eerily similar circumstances, Shane Victorino was placed on the 15-day disabled list following last night's 7-1 defeat of the Cubs. He left the game in the seventh inning and was replaced by Geoff Jenkins. Victorino was diagnosed with a strained right calf; the same injury he suffered last year against the Cubs in late July. After a slow start, Victorino had picked up his hitting of late, so it's quite frustrating to see him go down in the midst of a hot streak.

To fill the void, the Phillies called up outfield Chris Snelling from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The 26 year-old Snelling has played sparingly in the majors. He logged 30 games in 2007 with the Oakland Athletics and the Washington Nationals, 24 of which came in Washington. In that time he hit .246 with 1 HR and 7 RBIs. He did however show extraordinary plate patience, posting a .395 OBP.

Snelling will most likely be used primarily as a corner outfielder and pinch hitter. He's never been much of a base-stealer (only two career stolen bases) and he has only logged six games in center field in his career. With Jayson Werth and So Taguchi on the roster, there shouldn't be any need to utilize Snelling in center and there's a good chance he'll see some time in left field as Pat Burrell's defensive replacement.

One has to wonder how long Snelling's stay will be. Victorino's 2007 injury kept him out of commission for about three weeks, and he wasn't the same player after returning. Looking to avoid that this year, the Phillies will most likely exercise extra caution. If the injury lingers, Snelling could be replaced by one of the Phillies minor league prospects, such as Greg Golson, who would make up for some of the lost speed. However, for now it will be Snelling trying to find a niche in the majors.

Meanwhile, we'll have our work cut out for us coming up with a Chris Snelling-themed fan group. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Phils Win Game but Lose Victorino

The Phillies took home a decisive 7-1 victory of the Chicago Cubs today, with ace starter Cole Hamels once again demonstrating exactly why the praise that is heaped constantly on him is so well-deserved. That, however, might not be the element of the game that has the most lasting impact on the season. Center fielder Shane Victorino was placed on the disabled list after straining his right calf scoring on a wild pitch. This is not what Phillies fans want to hear just as they ready themselves for Jimmy Rollins' return to play. Injuries are unpredictable, of course, but some of us had dared to hope that the 2008 season would not be quite so injury-riddled as the previous two.

Victorino suffered the same injury last year and missed considerable time. It it troubling to think that "The Flyin' Hawaiian" might be particularly susceptible to calf strains, or that repeated tweaking of the muscle might come to damage the speed that might be his greatest asset.

Victorino will probably be replaced in center most regularly by bench player Jayson Werth, who will do a competent job but who puts up numbers which lag far enough behind Victorino's to make his absence felt.

In the game itself, however, the Phillies scored a decisive victory. Hamels never quite looked like a pitcher who was giving a lights out performance, being saved by good defense on a number of well-struck balls (in one case by the temporarily-departing Shane Victorino himself, whose injury in the fifth might never have had a chance to happen had he mistimed his wall-crash in the second), but all that really matters in a pitcher's performance is how well he holds back the opposing offense from scoring. Hamels pitched seven one-hit innings, so by any standards he did an excellent job. After a shaky Spring he now has a 0.82 ERA in three starts. Bravo. If Hamels can stay in the same ballpark for most of his starts this season he will be indispensable.

The statistical majority of the offense was accounted for a pair of two-run homers from the infielders. It's good to see Pedro Feliz displaying the power that along with his steady glove made him such an attractive player for the Phillies' wide-open hot corner position, and it's somehow even nicer to see Ryan Howard, well, do what he does best.

An unforeseen but not insurmountable misfortune was visited upon the Phillies in tonight's game; fortunately, they were able to display in a 7-1 win that they should have the offense, defense, and pitching to win convincingly -- Shane Victorino or no.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Myers Keeps Cubs Under Control for Phillies Win

Last year's closer pitched eight innings tonight, as the Phillies defeated Chicago 5-3 at Citizen's Bank. It means he's pitching more like a starter, showing endurance and stability over the course of the game. It means he pitched well enough for even Charlie Manuel to leave him in the game that long. Most importantly, though, however counterintuitively, it means he is pitching more like a closer. Myers admitted that he knew the approach he had taken in his previous two starts this season had, rather worryingly, been ineffective. Whatever he did to adjust his attitude seems to have worked. He pitched aggressively and with less finesse, but aggressive pitching is his strong point. Trying to pitch more strategically to last the long haul only got him into more trouble.

Invariably an aggressive style will lead to some mistakes. Opposing batters won't be able to take advantage of all of them. Some they will -- notably the three solo home runs that accounted for all of the Cubs' scoring tonight. The mere fact that Myers didn't let the back-to-back homers that came in the first inning divert him from the task at hand augers well for his management of his much discussed temper.

Jimmy Rollins was once again missing from the lineup due to his sprained ankle, replaced at short by versatile defender and offensive nonentity Eric Bruntlett. It's not a situation that bodes especially well for the Phillies' theoretically-powerful offense when most of the people that make it up are slumping to some degree or other. It was (and I had come to think I would never write these words) the hottest player on the team, Pat Burrell, who picked them up this evening. His well-timed home run (an achievement he rarely seemed to produce in years past) and RBI double were the difference in tonight's game. Greg Dobbs showed signs of offensive life with an RBI double of his own.

There were big questions marks at the start of the season over the performances that we could expect from Brett Myers and Pat Burrell. After two frustrating losses to New York, their play helped the Phillies to a much-needed win and boosted confidence in what they can do this year. However, Myers won't be pitching every day, and he still needs to demonstrate consistency. Burrell and Chase Utley (who hit again today and picked up his first stolen base) can't carry the entire offense on their own. Tonight's 5-3 victory was satisfying, but it did little to calm worries about problems that could develop into troublesome holes in Philadelphia's game.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Phils Fall to Mets in 12

The Mets had made sure to storm the field before Charlie Manuel and Chris Coste could argue the close play at the plate between Coste and Jose Reyes. It had already taken twelve innings and nearly four hours for the Mets to win, 4-3.

In the bottom of the twelfth inning, New York's Angel Pagan hit a single off of Tom Gordon, and Reyes raced from second, around third, and was able to sneak in a run. Jayson Werth threw the ball to Coste, who blocked the plate, but Reyes was able to get his hand around before the tag.

Adam Eaton had another solid start, allowing three runs in six innings while striking out five, but the offense was unable to support him. The runs came on RBI singles from Ryan Church and Carlos Beltran in the fourth inning. The Phillies didn't score any runs until Pedro Feliz homered off John Maine to start the seventh inning. In the eighth Ryan Howard hit another homer off Aaron Heilman, and Feliz grounded out to score So Taguchi in order to tie the game 3-3. It took until the twelfth for either offense to secure the game.

The Phillies really felt the loss of Jimmy Rollins in the lineup. Eric Bruntlett was completely ineffective batting second, going 0-6 and leaving seven men on base. However, the Phillies' other two MVP caliber players were unable to fill the void, each going 1-5 (despite Howard's 1 being a home run). Pat Burrell was able to walk three times, but he was taken out in the eighth for So Taguchi. Normally, this would be an extremely upsetting move, but Taguchi scored the tying run after going first to third on a Geoff Jenkins single, so it's hard to argue with Manuel's decision this time. It's not even that John Maine dominated them. Maine was simply effective as a fly-ball pitcher. More than half of the outs he got were fly outs, and only one was a strikeout.

On the bright side, the bullpen looked very promising today. Ryan Madson came back, J.C. Romero, Brad Lidge, Rudy Seanez, and Tom Gordon were each able to keep the Mets from scoring for an inning, letting by only four hits in six innings, two of those hits being the ones that won the game for the Mets. Normally, Gordon wouldn't be put in for that second inning, so it's not something to be concerned about. Since that first debacle of an appearance at the beginning of the year, Gordon has looked quite good in his appearances. Were Clay Condrey more trustworthy or had Chad Durbin not pitched over three innings the day before, Gordon may not have been used at all in this game.

The game wasn't too poorly managed. While they missed Burrell's bat in the long run, it was Taguchi's speed that tied the game. The only thing that was weird was not allowing Greg Dobbs to pinch hit in the seventh in order to get a slightly more favorable matchup with Jayson Werth when the Mets changed pitchers. They could have used Dobbs' bat in the long run, as Cole Hamels had to eventually pinch hit. The biggest issue was that the offense was lacking. Burrell was constantly walking to first, and there were a couple long balls, but Utley has apparently cooled off and Howard hasn't been able to really get anything started. Once the offense remembers what it's doing, it's comforting to know that Adam Eaton is able to be solid in his outings. Hopefully he can keep that up.

Phillies Sign Kline to Minor League Deal

The Phillies added another arm today, signing Steve Kline to a minor league contract. The 35 year-old lefty will report to AAA Lehigh Valley in a week, according to the Phillies website.

Like recent acquisition Rudy Seanez, Kline was cut at the end of Spring Training by the team he pitched for last season. Last year, as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Kline pitched 46 innings and recorded a 4.70 ERA.

Since posting a 1.79 ERA in 2004, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Kline's performance has declined. His 4.70 ERA of 2007 was the worst since his rookie year as it appears his age is catching up to him. Nonetheless he would not be asked to do much as a member of the Phillies' bullpen. One would have to assume he'd be used primarily as a left-handed specialist.

There is no guarantee he will be brought up at all, save perhaps as an injury replacement. If he was to supplant any member of the current bullpen, one has to think it would be Clay Condrey and his 9.64 ERA, but such a move would have significant consequences. Condrey is a long reliever and can go multiple innings, whereas it is unlikely that Kline would ever be asked to pitch more than one. In fact, last year he only pitched more than one inning in one game. Of course, with Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson, both former starters, Condrey might not be greatly missed.

The other potential advantage to swapping Condrey for Kline is that it would give the Phillies another left-handed reliever. Having Kline available as a lefty-specialist could mean that J.C. Romero, the team's best set-up man, could be used more liberally. Granted, Romero has pitched almost every game anyway, but perhaps adding Kline would facilitate moving Romero into the 8th inning role.

Of course, this is nothing more than speculation for now. Kline won't even pitch to minor league hitters for at least a week and there's no way to know when (if) he'll actually get the call-up. Still, like the Seanez signing, it can only help.

Also, here's a little-known fact: In 2001, Kline finished 24th in NL MVP voting, just ahead of then-Phillie Scott Rolen. Now he'd be happy just to be the 25th player on the Phillies' roster.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sloppy Fielding Dooms Phillies

Jimmy Rollins finally missed a game and the Phillies felt it more than ever. The Phillies committed four errors, including three in the third inning that led to six Mets runs. Philadelphia never recovered, falling to the Mets 8-2.

Kyle Kendrick had the shortest start of his career, surviving through only 2 1/3 innings. He surrendered seven runs, though only one was earned, but he didn't do himself any favors, walking six batters. He might have gotten away with the walks, but the team completely unraveled in the third inning. Rollins' replacement, Eric Bruntlett, made two crucial errors that led to Mets runs and when Ryan Church finally struck out to end the inning, the Phillies were down 7-1.

After that, the team looked flat and never mounted any sort of comeback. Mike Pelfrey gave the Mets five quality innings, allowing only two runs. The Mets bullpen, with a much bigger lead to work with than last night, held the Phillies scoreless through the final four innings.

The Phillies bullpen was also reasonably effective, though there was no real pressure due to the score. Chad Durbin replaced Kendrick in the third and pitched 3 2/3 hitless innings, allowing only one walk. Clay Condrey surrendered a run in the 7th and Rudy Seanez pitched scoreless 8th. Of course, because of the poor fielding none of it mattered.

Rollins' ankle injury does not appear to be terribly serious, but it is unknown exactly when he will return. He was a game-time decision today, so it's quite possible he returns for the rubber game of the series tomorrow. Unfortunately it's not soon enough to keep his consecutive games played streak alive, which ended at 230 games (third longest among active players). More importantly, it wasn't soon enough to save the Phillies (and Eric Bruntlett) from a humiliating defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Phils Rally Against Mets in Shea Opener

It was a rough game for Chase Utley, but not in the conventional sense. He was hit by three pitches, plus an errant throw. The throw came in the 7th inning and allowed the Phillies to tie the game at 2-2. Shortly thereafter they would take a lead and never relinquish it, defeating the Mets 5-2 in the final season opener at Shea Stadium.

Jamie Moyer gave the Phillies a solid six innings, allowing only two runs and four hits, but he was outdone by Mets' starter Oliver Perez, who held Philadelphia scoreless over 5 2/3 innings. Perez has yet to allow a run in two starts this season, but poor control forced him to leave the game in the 6th inning, leaving the game up to the Mets bullpen. They had a 2-0 lead to work with, thanks to a Carlos Delgado home run, his first of the season, and a Ryan Church RBI ground-out.

Apparently some things never change. As it was so apt to do late last season, the Mets bullpen collapsed today, with much of the blame lying squarely on Scott Schoeneweis' shoulders. Brought in to face the Phillies' left-handed hitters in the 7th inning, with Pedro Feliciano apparently unavailable, Schoeneweis surrendered consecutive singles to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino before hitting Utley with a pitch. It was the third time Utley had been hit in the game, tying a Major League record.

Despite loading the bases with only one out, Schoeneweis stayed in the game to face Ryan Howard. This proved to be a wise decision from manager Willie Randolph, as Howard grounded to Delgado for what looked like an inning ending double play. However, Delgado's throw to second base bounced off of Utley's back and into the outfield, allowing Rollins and Victorino to score. With the game tied at 2-2, Pat Burrell flied out to right field to advance Utley to third, then Jayson Werth followed with an RBI single, giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead, their first of the day. The Phils would tack on two insurance runs in the 8th inning, as Rollins hit an RBI single past Delgado and then Utley avoided a record 4th HBP by smacking an RBI double over Church's head in right field, making the score 5-2.

Unlike their New York counterparts, the Phillies' bullpen took care of business, though not without difficulty. Chad Durbin allowed two hits in the 7th, but, thanks to an Endy Chavez double play, the Mets were unable to take advantage. J.C. Romero needed 25 pitches, but he held the Mets scoreless in the 8th, despite allowing a Carlos Beltran double with one out. Then Tom Gordon [shudder] came in to pitch the 9th. To the surprise of more than a few Phillies fans (myself included), Gordon had an easy time of it. He downed the Mets in order and required only 11 pitches (9 for strikes) to do so, recording his first save of the season.

This was a very encouraging game for the Phillies, who were coming off a somewhat disappointing series in Cincinnati. The pitching match-up seemed to heavily favor the Mets, especially considering Moyer's disastrous debut against Washington, but the Phillies were able to work Perez hard enough that he was gone before the 7th inning. Because their hitters are so patient at the plate, with a few exceptions, the Phillies should be able to consistently tire out opposing starters and get to the other team's bullpen.

Victorino showed some good signs today, going 2-4 with a walk and making a couple impressive catches in the field. Most notable was the Phillies' pitching. Moyer pitched like his old (or maybe young) self and the bullpen held the Mets scoreless. While Durbin and Romero did just enough to keep the Mets off the board, Gordon worked an excellent 9th inning. It was a bit of a surprise to see him out there, but apparently Charlie Manuel is trying to ease Brad Lidge back into the closer's role. Considering the three-run lead and Lidge's 24-pitch outing yesterday, utilizing Gordon was not a bad idea. If Gordon can recover his control and his confidence (and both seemed to be there today), the Phillies could have a very impressive bullpen.

The Phillies are now riding a nine-game winning streak against the Mets, dating back to last season, but as they would be quick to admit, last season is old news. All that matters right now is they are 1-0 against the Mets in 2008.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Burrell and Friends Power the Phils

Pat Burrell was determined not to waste another good start from Cole Hamels as he hit two of the team's four home runs in a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Jimmy Rollins started the game with a spark by leading off the first inning with a home run, his 27th career leadoff homer. Later in that inning, with Ryan Howard aboard, Burrell hit his first of two home runs on the day, giving the Phils an early 3-0 lead. After the Reds scored two runs off of Hamels, Burrell came back in the third with a solo shot. Geoff Jenkins followed with one of his own.

Hamels had another solid start, going seven innings with four strikeouts. He had a bit of a rough start, throwing about 20 pitches in the first inning and allowing two runs, only one earned, and eventually walked pitcher Bronson Arroyo in the second. After that, he settled down, and the overall effort was another quality start from Cole Hamels.

Tom Gordon, still attempting to reprieve himself for his acts as the closer, pitched a perfect eighth, and though Brad Lidge did get his first save as a Phillie, it took him a while to get there. It took loading the bases -- partly due to an error by So Taguchi ... Charlie Manuel's defensive replacement for Burrell -- and letting by an unearned run.

One has to start wondering whether we're going to see this kind of Pat Burrell all season, or if it's just another hot streak. He's looking a lot more aggressive overall at the plate, which is what made the difference last year. It may also help to have slugger Geoff Jenkins behind him as opposed to last year when he was hitting in the six spot and either Wes Helms (recently traded to the Marlins for cash, by the way) or Greg Dobbs was hitting behind him. But while all the home runs are great, everyone else needs to start hitting in general. If Shane Victorino can start hitting or getting on base somehow or other, it would give Utley, Howard, Burrell, or Jenkins another guy to cross the plate when they do homer.

At least Lidge seems to be providing some order and logic to how the Phillies' bullpen will work, which is exactly what he was brought here to do. So even if a guy like Jamie Moyer or Adam Eaton can only last five or six innings, they've got a couple guys who could be used in the sixth or seventh, Gordon can take the eighth (as he showed today... we think) and Lidge will take the ninth. Manuel will still have his fun with substitutions, mostly revolving around refusing to play Burrell beyond the seventh inning, though if Burrell keeps hitting as he has, Manuel may have to leave him in despite whatever he's convinced will happen if he does. Today, the defensive replacement idea didn't work out so well.

Today we saw the importance of an ace pitcher. He didn't have he greatest game, but he was solid and most things fell into place. But Pat Burrell learned from Hamels' first start that King Cole can't do it alone.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Phillies Drop Second Running in Cincinnati

Brett Myers still has yet to prove himself as a starting pitcher this year, and the four earned runs he surrendered over the five innings he pitched this afternoon in Cincinnati didn't do much to recommend him. Myers didn't seem to be losing his control today. He didn't obviously lose his temper or his composure. He didn't make a lot of obvious mistakes. Today was a day when the Reds were just hitting him -- and that might be a greater cause for concern than if any of the other problems had occurred. Myers has shown the ability to be a lights-out pitcher, but when there's nothing tangibly off about his performance except that opposition seem to be hitting him, it's worrying.

Brett Myers did achieve today the minor historical distinction of allowing Ken Griffey Jr.'s 594th home run, a position that only drew some attention today to his lackluster performance as the one-ring media circus, not nearly so elaborate as during last year's Bonds chase, waits for his 600th.

Clay Condrey had an embarrassing outing today, allowing four earned runs of his own in two innings. The Phillies can't afford to have a bullpen this inconsistent, or to allow games in which they trail by a few runs in the middle innings to get out of reasonable grasp in the late innings. That's what loses teams those extra games that they will need in the long haul.

The offense was relatively unproductive today as well. Chase Utley continued to be impressive, but, unappreciative as I may sound in saying it, that's what we've come to expect from Chase Utley. Pat Burrel hit again today, and it's beginning to look like he's on a hot streak that hasn't been interrupted since last season. That was one hopeful sign in the middle of an otherwise disappointing game.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Offense Unable to Back Eaton

Everyone was wondering what kind of Adam Eaton the Phillies were going to get this year. At first it didn't look promising; his first pitch of the game didn't even reach the catcher and the result was issuing a walk to Corey Patterson, who would eventually score that inning. But after that, minus a few mishaps here and there, Eaton was quite good. He wound up throwing 95 pitches in 7 2/3 innings and allowed only three runs. He left the game only after giving up a homer to Patterson that tied the game. Chad Durbin let the winning run by in the ninth and the Phillies lost 4-3.

Mostly what happened is that Aaron Harang, one of the most underrated pitchers in the National League, quieted the offense. There was a spark of hope when Ryan Howard hit his first homer of the season, but no one else was able to get the offense started, as only Chase Utley had more than one hit on the day. The lineup was often caught with the bottom of the lineup leading off the inning, and despite Eaton being a fairly decent hitting pitcher, it complicates matters when Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino is at bat with two outs.

But Eaton even backed his solid pitching effort by saving a few hits on some great fielding plays. He can't be expected to go for that long in every start, but he has the potential to be solid in every outing. That's how Kyle Kendrick solidified his spot in the rotation last year. All Eaton had on his side was his contract. Who knows - maybe this year he'll show he deserved it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Phillies Cruise Behind Utley Homers

First it was rain, then it was Fogg, but it was Chase Utley providing the thunder, as the Phillies defeated the Cincinnati Reds 8-4.

After giving up five runs in the first inning to the Nationals yesterday, it was the Phillies in attack mode from the start today, after a 1 hour and 40 minute rain delay. Pat Burrell blasted a Josh Fogg fastball into the upper deck for two runs and the Phillies gave Kyle Kendrick a 3-0 lead to work with. In Kendrick's first inning of the season, he gave up an RBI single to Ken Griffey Jr., then loaded the bases with two outs before a Joey Votto ground-out ended the threat.

That seemed to be the trend for Kendrick tonight. He flirted with disaster in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th innings, but let up only 4 runs. While giving up four runs in five innings is nothing to write home about, Kendrick exercised good damage control considering all the trouble he created and he never surrendered the lead.

Of course, the Phillies bats had a lot to do with that aspect. Chase Utley gave Kendrick two more runs to work with as he launched a two run shot off of Fogg in the 3rd, then hit another, his second of the game and third of the young season, against Jeremy Affeldt in the 5th. That gave the Phillies a 7-4 lead. Shane Victorino drove in So Taguchi with an RBI single in the 9th for the final run of the game.

Kendrick's start was less than impressive, but it was good to see him pitching under control in the tight spots. Granted, it would be preferable for him to avoid such situations in the first place, but nonetheless for a young pitcher he showed very good poise. The bullpen excelled, as the Phillies got two scoreless innings out of Ryan Madson and a perfect inning apiece from Rudy Seanez and J.C. Romero.

While it may not matter for long with Brad Lidge supposedly returning on Saturday, it was notable that Charlie Manuel turned to Romero in the ninth inning. It was no longer a save situation because of the Victorino RBI, but the fact that Romero came in could signify a change in the bullpen pecking order. Romero faced the 8-9-1 hitters, so if Manuel was just looking for someone to eat the final inning, he could have gone to Chad Durbin. For most managers, a four run lead will be treated about the same as a three run lead, even if it's not a save situation, so this may mean that Romero is now the backup closer.

It's also possible that the only reason Tom Gordon didn't pitch tonight was because he threw 34 pitches last night, potentially having nothing to do with either the fact that it took him 34 pitches to get through one inning or the poor quality of those pitches. With Lidge joining the team tomorrow, there's no way to know who Manuel assigns to the role of backup closer, but it will be interesting to see who gets the call in the 8th inning, now that Romero was entrusted the 9th, if only for one game.

All that said, the offense, Utley and Burrell in particular, was the key to tonight's win. Hopefully they saved some of it for tomorrow's game, as Adam Eaton will likely need all the help he can get.

Lidge Set to Return Saturday

Brad Lidge faced six batters on Thursday for Single-A Clearwater in his final rehab outing. He didn't fare particularly well, giving up two hits, one of which was a home run, in the first inning, but he also struck out two batters.

According to the Phillies website, Lidge will likely be activated in time for Saturday's game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Phillies will be happy to have him back (well, all but Tim Lahey who is the most likely roster casualty) as temporary closer Tom Gordon is sporting a 33.75 ERA. Granted he's only appeared in two games, but Phillies fans want nothing to do with him in a save situation. Despite Lidge's somewhat troubled past, he will be a welcome addition.

One has to wonder what will happen to the structure of the bullpen when Lidge assumes the closer role. Last year, when Brett Myers was the closer, J.C. Romero took the 7th inning and Gordon took the 8th, but will Charlie Manuel continue to give Gordon the 8th inning? Considering his age (40) and his early season struggles, it would seem more logical to use Romero in the 8th inning and turn to either Gordon, Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson, or maybe even Rudy Seanez in the 7th. Of course logic has never held Manuel back before, so it wouldn't be a total shock to see Gordon trot out of the bullpen in the 8th inning on Saturday.

The best option would probably be to use Romero as the primary set-up man in the 8th, and perhaps use Gordon there every so often (so Romero's arm doesn't fall off), while switching between Gordon, Durbin, and Madson in the 7th, based on match-ups and who is well-rested.

The real story, however, will be how Lidge reacts to the Philadelphia crowd. He comes in with high expectations and suspect confidence. He won't have the chance to close out a game in Philadelphia until Friday April 11th, at the soonest, as the Phillies hit the road for a four game series in Cincinnati and then a three game set against the Mets, before returning home to face the Cubs. Hopefully Lidge can notch a few saves before then and get his confidence up in that time.

Lidge is the biggest X-Factor to the Phillies' season, so all eyes will be on him when he makes his 2008 debut. Will he be the next Billy Wagner, or another Jose Mesa?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phils Walk to First Win

The Phillies notched their first win of the season, defeating the Nationals 8-7 in 10 innings. It wasn't easy, well at least not until the very end. The Nationals loaded the bases in the 10th inning, intentionally walking both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with Jimmy Rollins on third base with 1 out. That brought up Jayson Werth with the game on the line. Fortunately for Werth, Jesus Colome threw four straight balls, giving the Phillies their first win of the season on a walk-off walk.

It was a bizarre game to say the least. It looked to be an easy Nationals win at the start, as Jamie Moyer and some sloppy fielding let up five runs in the first inning. Moyer would give up 6 runs, 3 earned, in 3 2/3 innings. It was surprising to see Moyer struggle so much as he had fared well against Washington last sesaon, but the fielding was a big part of the problem. The Phillies committed four errors in the first four innings. If the fielding doesn't improve (but it should) it's going to be a long season for Moyer, who relies on inducing hitters into ground-outs.

By the sixth inning, the Phillies were down 6-1 (the lone run coming off a solo shot from Chris Coste on the first pitch he saw in 2008) and it was looking like they would start the season getting swept by an inferior Nationals team. But in the bottom of the sixth, the offense came alive. With one out, Chase Utley singled to right field, starting a trend. Six consecutive singles would follow, the last of which came courtesy of pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs who drove in two runs to tie the game at 6-6. Jimmy Rollins would break the streak (though really Nats reliever Ray King broke it for him) as he was hit by a pitch. Then Shane Victorino singled for his first hit of the season, driving in Coste and giving the Phillies their first lead of the game.

Leading 7-6 after six innings, it was up to the Phillies bullpen. Ryan Madson pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and the Phillies looked to tack on some insurance runs in the bottom of the inning. A Howard single and a Pat Burrell double put runners on second and third with no outs. Then Manuel made an unwise (but classic Charlie Manuel) decision and brought in Adam Eaton to pinch run for the slow-footed Burrell. Jayson Werth would later take over in left feld. Removing Burrell had no real impact in the 7th, as the Phillies recorded three straight outs and stranded Howard and Eaton, but it would come back to haunt the Phillies later.

Madson came back to pitch the top of the 8th and ran into a little trouble, putting two on with one out. Manuel turned to J.C. Romero to get out of the jam, but Christian Guzman's hit bounced off Rollins glove and tied the game at 7-7. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies looked to retaliate and reclaim the lead. Eric Bruntlett led off with a pinch hit single and then advanced to second base off a Rollins ground-out. After Victorino recorded the second out, Nats manager Manny Acta made the unorthodox decision to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard to get to, guess who, Jayson Werth. Werth hit into a bases loaded inning-ending fielder's choice.*

In the 9th, Tom Gordon did everything but give up the lead, loading the bases with a hit and two walks, but finally inducing a Willie Harris ground-out to keep it a tie game. Jenkins doubled for the Phillies to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but after a Pedro Feliz pop-out and a Coste walk, pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz grounded into an inning-ending double play.*

After Clay Condrey pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the inning with an infield single that bounced off of Ronnie Belliard's glove. Next up was Victorino, who laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of home plate. Randy Flores scooped it up and fired to first, just in time to nail Victorino, but by then Rollins had rounded second and was in a race with Christian Guzman to third base, as Ryan Zimmerman had charged the bunt. Nick Johnson turned and fired to third, but not in time as Rollins took two bases off one well-placed bunt. That led Acta to call for the double intentional walks once again, this time with only one out. To the plate came Werth with the game on the line (again).* This time Werth had it easy. Colome threw four balls and the Phillies had a semi-dramatic walk-off walk.

A win's a win, but once again Charlie Manuel's strategy has to be brought into question. The * indicates a situation where the decision to remove Burrell proved costly. Had Burrell been in the lineup, it is unlikely that the Nationals intentionally walk both Utley and Howard in either the 7th or the 10th, and if they do, they bring up Burrell, who is considerably better at the plate than Werth. In addition, keeping Burrell in the game would have saved Werth for later and he could have come in to pinch hit in the 9th in place of Ruiz. This would have given the Phillies a better pinch hitter at that time, while saving their only backup catcher.

Despite their difficulties, what the Phillies proved today is that no lead is safe, especially with the lineup they trotted out this afternoon. The 6-7-8 of Jenkins, Feliz, and Coste is phenomenal and should continue to give opposing pitchers nightmares. The bullpen also showed some positive signs. Durbin, Romero, and Condrey kept their ERAs perfect, though Romero was credited with a blown save, and Rudy Seanez made his debut and pitched a perfect sixth inning. Madson gave up another run and Gordon barely escaped the 9th, but when Brad Lidge gets back, the bullpen could be a real strength, based on what we've seen so far out of Romero, Durbin, and Seanez.

For now, we'll see if the Phillies' extra-inning win can give them some momentum as they head to Cincinnati for a four game series. And, if there's time, Charlie Manuel might want to send Jesus Colome a gift basket before they leave.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Nats Edge Phillies 1-0

The Phillies wasted an excellent start by Cole Hamels, as they dropped to 0-2 on the young season. Hamels worked his way out of a bases loaded jam in the first inning, but settled down afterward. He made two bad pitches all night, both to Ryan Zimmerman. One was knocked down by the wind in the 1st and the other was carried out by the wind in the 6th. Despite the home run, Hamels pitched brilliantly with only 1 earned run in 8 innings pitched.

Zimmerman's home run gave the Nationals their only run of the game, but it was all they needed, as the Phillies were shut down by Tim Redding and the Nationals defense. Redding went 7 innings and only gave up 1 hit and 3 walks and the bullpen finished the job, with perfect innings from Luis Ayala and Jon Rauch.

But it was the Nationals fielding that saved the game. Zimmerman snared several sharply hit balls and the one he misplayed bounced right into the glove of Christian Guzman for a force out. Nick Johnson halted a potential Phillies rally in the 9th, when he picked up a ball smashed down the first base line by Jimmy Rollins. Rollins would have had at least a double had the ball gotten through and the Phillies would have had a great chance tie the game.

It was that kind of game for the Phillies. They didn't hit many balls hard, and when they did it was right at a fielder. It was frustrating to say the least, but with the high-powered offense that they possess, these games should be few and far between.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Phillies Sign Rudy Seanez

Immediately after Pat Gillick was reminded how many bullpen pitchers Charlie Manuel likes to use on a daily basis, he went out and got another one.

Rudy Seanez, cut in Spring Training by the Dodgers, has supposedly signed with the Phillies. Seanez had a solid 2007, pitching in 73 games, going 6-3 with a 3.79 ERA and a strikeout per inning. However, there were reasons he was cut: he's 39 years old and had a 7.71 ERA in Spring Training. This is a strangely similar move to the signing of Jose Mesa last year, without the reminder of horrible memories of yore. In 2006, Mesa had a 3.86 ERA with the Rockies, and after not performing well with the Tigers early last year, the Phillies picked him up and he actually wasn't too bad for the team last year. Though you'll notice, Mesa's not back this year. It's hard to imagine them having the same kind of success with Seanez. At the same time, the veteran presence in the bullpen can certainly help for now until they get a better option.