Saturday, May 31, 2008

Phillies Schooled by Fish

Perhaps the Phillies' bats were simply spent after bringing them to victory in so many consecutive high-scoring games, but for one reason or another they remained relatively quiet in Saturday's 7-3 loss against the Marlins. This combined with a mid-game collapse on the part of starter Cole Hamels that yielded a number of opposition long-balls gave Phillies fans a frustrating loss to sit through, after gorging themselves on the wallopings their team had regularly been delivering for the past week or so.

Cole Hamels looked reasonably on form, and the game began propitiously enough, proving itself one of the few in recent days in which Philadelphia has not been saddled with a three-run defecit in the first inning. Maybe they needed the challenge. They took advantage of the opportunity to score in the bottom of the inning. Shane Victorino, whose bat has been very productive lately and who proved to be the only Phillie who would really impress offensively today, hit a convincing single to right. A stroke of luck moved him to third when Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco was caught in a balk (which batter Chase Utley could be seen gamely drawing to the umpire's attention), and the Marlins made the strategic mistake of walking Ryan Howard intentionally to get to Pat Burrell. Burrell made them feel it by singling and driving Victorino home.

In the third the Phillies produced another run in an similar fashion -- spurred on by inertia after a well-struck double off the bat of Shane Victorino. This time Utley advanced him on a fly-out and Ryan Howard scored him on a ground-out. The two-run lead was tenuous, though, and in the next half-inning the Marlin's wasted no time in dissolving it. After Hanley Remirez and Jeremy Hermida both hit, the spectators at Citizen's Bank Park got to see Wes Helms demonstrate -- a little too late for thier liking -- that he knew how to hit, by doubling them both in. The deal was sealed when he in turn was scored on a Luis Gonzalez home run.

Hamels showed signs of settling down after this, delivering a 1-2-3 inning, and Charlie Manuel decided to bet on that lasting and bat him in the bottom of the fifth. Charlie's habit gambling on allowing pitchers who are performing shakily to stay in the game through potentially important at-bats sometimes pays off and sometimes does not. In this game it did not, and Hamels allowed the Marlins to score three runs on two homers in the top of the sixth.

That was enough. The score was now 7-2, and the only further resistance the Phillies offered was a Chase Utley solo home run in the eighth. Even a club's ace will get hit hard some nights, and a club's bats can't stay absurdly hot forever. Losses like Saturday's of 7-3 will happen, but the Phillies need to put it behind them on Sunday and take the series.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Phils Reel In Marlins; Move Into First

Brett Myers got off to a terrible start in tonight's game, giving up three runs in the first inning to the NL East-leading Florida Marlins. However, after that he settled down and was flat-out dominant, throwing seven scoreless innings after the first. The Phillies offense was no slouch either, giving Myers a lead with a seven-run second inning and from there the Phillies coasted to a 12-3 win, moving into first place in the process.

The Phillies have been phenomenal of late, but it looked like their four-game winning streak would come to an end when Luis Gonzalez singled in two runs in the first to make it a 3-0 game. It didn't help that the Phillies hitters went down in order in the bottom of the inning. However, it was a different ballgame after the first.

Philadelphia's bats went to work in the second, tearing into Marlins starter Mark Hendrickson. Chris Coste hit a three-run homer to tie the game, Shane Victorino doubled in two runs, including Myers, and Chase Utley followed up with a two-run shot, his eighteenth of the season. The second inning outburst allowed the Phillies to take a 7-3 lead.

The offense struck again in the fourth. Jimmy Rollins hit an RBI single and, two batters later, Utley singled to put runners on the corners and chase Hendrickson. Burke Badenhop replaced him and Ryan Howard gave him a Phillies welcome with a three-run homer. Pat Burrell grounded out to end the inning, but the Phillies had built up an 11-3 lead. They would tack on one more run in the seventh, when So Taguchi walked with the bases loaded.

While the offense was impressive yet again, Myers did his part as well, after the poor start. He allowed only four baserunners after the first and his final statline was 8 IP, 3 runs, 6 hits, 3 BBs, and a season-high 11 Ks. It was a very encouraging outing for Myers, who improved his record to 3-6 with the win. He had failed to pitch seven innings in his last four starts, which were all losses. In fact, tonight's win was his first since April 17th when the Phillies beat the Houston Astros 8-2.

However, it should be noted that Myers had suffered from poor run support of late. Only once in his last six starts (all losses) had the Phillies scored more than three runs. Fortunately the Phillies brought their bats to the park today and Myers earned an elusive win as a result.

The bats have been showing up en masse in the Phillies five-game winning streak. The Phillies have outscored their opponents 60-19. While three of these wins came against the battered Rockies (which made the Phillies the second team ever to sweep a team in the season-series the year after that team swept them in the playoffs), the wins against Houston and Florida are notable, considering how well both teams have played.

This is a very important homestand, as the schedule gets a little tougher. June will feature series against the Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox, Angels, and A's, plus a two-game set in Florida. It won't be easy to stay atop the East with that kind of schedule, so the Phillies will have to take advantage of the current homestand. Charlie Manuel must have told them as much, as they are off to a 5-0 start.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phun Phact (5/29)

The Phillies finished up a 5-0 season-sweep of the Rockies with their 6-1 win on Wednesday, May 28th, exacting revenge on the team that swept them out of the playoffs last season. In doing so, the Phillies became the second team ever to sweep a season-series against the team that swept them in the playoffs the previous year.

The only other team to do this was the 1998 San Francisco Giants. After the eventual World Champion 1997 Florida Marlins swept the Giants 3-0 in the NLDS, the 1998 Giants went 9-0 against the Marlins in the regular season. Interestingly enough, this was the only team that the Giants went undefeated against that year.

Of course, it didn't hurt that the Marlins won only 54 games in 1998 and failed to win a game against the Reds, Brewers, and Yankees, as well as the Giants.

But the '08 Phillies and '98 Giants could have to make room for one more soon, as the Cubs are currently 3-0 against the Diamondbacks this year, after Arizona swept them in last year's NLDS. The Cubs and D'backs have three games remaining (July 21-23), so the pressure's on them to join this elite (or at least, selective) club.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phillies Sweep Up the Rocks

The Phillies continued to get revenge for their early playoff exit last year as they completed a three game sweep of the Rockies with a 6-1 win.

The Phillies took an easy early lead as Rockies starter Greg Reynolds walked Geoff Jenkins with the bases loaded to score Shane Victorino in the first inning. Reynolds walked eight batters throughout the night. In the fifth inning, Chase Utley and Jenkins each homered for a total of five RBI. Adam Eaton allowed only one run in six innings, striking out four and allowing only four hits and got his first win of the season. Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin didn't allow a run in the last three innings, though Durbin put runners on second and third before finishing out the game, and Madson saved himself a run by salvaging a throwing error by Jenkins and throwing out Ryan Spilborghs at home plate.

There is no reason that the Phillies should have had any trouble sweeping the Rockies, and they didn't. The Rockies have a number of key players on their disabled list, including MVP-runner up Matt Holliday, rookie sensation (though sophomore disappointment) Troy Tulowitski and his backup, one-time hitting machine Clint Barmes. Brad Hawpe and pitchers Luis Vizcaino and Kip Wells are injured as well. The Phillies also got lucky in facing the 3-4-5 starters, which included dreadful performances by Jorge De La Rosa and tonight's starter Greg Reynolds, who didn't get obliterated in the way De La Rosa did, but this is a team with a lot of guys who know how to draw walks and Reynolds was hurt by that. The Rockies look fairly similar to a couple years ago when it was pretty much the Todd Helton Kiddie Show, where Todd shows his young buddies how to play baseball. Nowadays I suppose it's him and his friendly sidekick Garrett Atkins.

With that in mind, it's not clear whether or not the quality starts by Moyer, Kendrick, and Eaton really were breakthroughs in their seasons. Moyer had a particularly nice game, and he might be on to something though he certainly won't start to dominate, even in his own sneaky way. Kendrick and Eaton will also more likely than continue to do what they've been doing for most of the season: somewhere on the spectrum between satisfactory and abysmal. Half of the outs that Adam Eaton got tonight were fly balls. On a more threatening team, some of those fly balls would probably travel farther and cause more damage. That's the main problem with Adam Eaton in the Phillies ballpark. His most successful seasons came in the pitcher-friendly Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park in San Diego. It would be one thing if Eaton suddenly figured out how to control his pitches and strike guys out, but tonight he was able to win by doing what he'd been successful at before. This will not work with the better teams in the league. But with all of his mediocre starts this season, it's about time that they amounted up to a win.

The Phillies should not, however, take Eaton out of the rotation, especially to replace him with Chad Durbin. The Phillies have one of the best bullpens in the majors, and Chad Durbin is an extremely versatile pitcher and a huge asset to them. Eaton hasn't been particularly good, but in his 11 starts (yes - he's 1-3 after 11 starts), he's only allowed more than 3 earned runs in 3 of those games. If he was supposed to be the number three starter in the rotation, then it might be cause for concern, but he's the number five starter. Even on some of the better teams in the league, who does that put him up against? Claudio Vargas on the Mets; the Marlins don't really have any great pitchers, but it would be Burke Badenhop; Sean Gallagher of the Cubs; Chris Sampson of the Astros; Randy Johnson of the D'backs, but they have a particularly strong rotation. Most of these guys aren't mediocre veterans like Eaton, but they're not particularly good either. They're number five starters - mostly young players who might eventually become number three or maybe even two starters. If the Phillies come across a way to get a starter who is a vast improvement into the rotation, then Eaton should be the first to be kicked out. But Durbin isn't a big enough improvement, and there's no one in their current system who merits a starter role over Eaton. He won't have too many more starts like tonight, but as long as he remains fairly steady, he should be fine.

Shane Victorino had his 12th stolen base tonight. That's pretty good. But, Michael Bourn has 23.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phillies Get After Rockies Early in Win

After two straight games in which the Phillies piled on runs late, abusing the Houston and Colorado bullpens, they got an earlier start tonight, going after starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez surrendered seven runs, all of them earned, in the first two innings, allowing the Phillies to coast to a 7-4 victory.

The Phillies loaded the bases with one out in the first for Greg Dobbs, who filled in for Pat Burrell in left (Burrell took the game off with a stiff neck). Dobbs singled to right, scoring Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and then a throwing error by Yorvit Torrealba allowed Howard and Dobbs to advance to third and second, respectively. Howard was thrown out at home on a fielder's choice, but Pedro Feliz came through with a two-out double to left that scored Dobbs and Geoff Jenkins. After one inning, the Phillies led 4-0.

In the second, the Phillies built onto their lead even further. Chase Utley hit a two-out double to score Rollins, then Howard drove in Utley with a single. Then, after a Dobbs singled, Jenkins ripped a double to center field to bring Howard home. Feliz struck out to end the inning, but it was 7-0 after two.

That would be all the offense the Phillies provided, but it was more than enough as Kyle Kendrick put together his best start of the season. Kendrick went a career-high 7 1/3 innings, and allowed just two runs, earning his fourth win of the year in the process. The Phillies bullpen was less impressive. Tom Gordon gave up a two-run shot to Ryan Spilborghs after replacing Kendrick in the eighth that made it a 7-3 game.

In the ninth, Brad Lidge allowed a run on a walk and one hit, though it should be noted that the run scored when Willy Taveras came home from second on a Todd Helton single. Taveras had singled and then taken second on fielder's indifference. In other words, there's a good chance he would not have reached second base if it had been a closer game and the Phillies were remotely concerned about holding him on first base. In other words, there's no cause for concern about Lidge's second earned run of the season.

The bullpen "struggles" aside, this was a very encouraging performance by the Phillies. The offense gave them an early cushion and has continued its ridiculous surge (42 runs in three games), but more importantly Kendrick pitched an excellent game. He doesn't need to be this good every night for the Phillies to win, but if he can make quality starts with consistency, he should improve upon last year's ten-win total and will take some of the burden off Cole Hamels' shoulders.

The Phillies can complete the sweep tomorrow night when Adam Eaton faces Greg Reynolds. This match-up appears to favor the Rockies, but Eaton is coming off a strong outing against Houston (strong by his standards at least) where he allowed three runs in seven innings and was in a 1-1 duel until late in the game. He should have an easier time tomorrow, facing the injury-ravaged Rockies lineup rather than the powerful (and healthy) Astros. There's no way to know how the Phillies will fare against the 22 year-old Reynolds, who the Phillies have not seen before. They are 2-1 against rookie starters this year (defeating David Purcey and Max Scherzer and losing to Edwin Volquez) and the team's plate patience tends to play in their favor against pitchers they haven't seen before. Reynolds has more to worry about from the Phillies then they do from him.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Against Phillies, Rockies Come Up Very Short

The Colorado Rockies came to Citizens Bank Park today, and lost to the Phillies by a score of 20-5. That's right, the Rockies were playing in Philadelphia. One shudders to think what this game's score might have been had the home and away teams been reversed.

It was one of those occasional blowouts that any baseball viewer will come across every once in a while, but to the Philadelphia fans, watching their team play the squad who kept them from advancing in last season's playoffs, it felt good. It's just as pointless to speculate whether the win should be credited to the Phillies' remarkably productive batters, to the Rockies' execrable pitching, or to (most reasonably) a combination of the two as it is to say that the Phillies only six runs in order to secure a win. They clobbered 'em.

The game was actually rather a tense one through its first three innings or so, Jamie Moyer allowing four earned runs, which were matched inning for inning by his team's production against Colorado's Jorge de la Rosa. De la Rosa was pulled after he allowed another run in the fourth, whereas the famously rather venerable Mr. Moyer was allowed to pitch all of seven innings.

The real fireworks began in the fourth, when the Phillies effectively put the game away by batting around in a six run inning. They repeated the feat in a sixth inning highlighted by a home run off the bat of catcher Chris "Cinderella" Coste. Chase Utley, who also had a homer in the first inning, drove in six runs on his three hits, the best of his career. Ryan Howard, though scored with another fielding error at first, drove in three himself. The only Phillie non-pitcher without a hit, in fact was Pat Burrell. Maybe he was saving his for the clutch.

Despite allowing the four earned runs that he did, Jamie Moyer largely demonstrated himself to have settled down after his three-run first. His seven strikeouts were a season high.

The Phillies haven't scored so many runs in a game since 1999. Watching them do it is sweet, even if the Rockies they were playing against were too debilitated by injuries to be thought of as substantially the same team from last season's NLDS. The fans can only hope, however, that Philadelphia batters don't fall into the all-to-common baseball pattern of having a quiet night after blowing out an opponant. A sweep of Colorado would only be more perfect if it began with a 20-5 rout.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phillies Lift Off Against Astros Bullpen

Coming off two straight losses, the Phillies were in dire need of a strong pitching performance from ace Cole Hamels. They didn't get it, but they got something even better: an offensive explosion in the late innings. Huge innings off the Houston bullpen allowed the Phillies to not only come back, but blow out the Astros in a 15-6 win.

Hamels, the only Phillies starter who could be deemed "reliable," snapped his streak of nineteen consecutive scoreless innings in the first, when Carlos Lee hit a three-run home run. (So much for a run at Orel Hershiser) However, the Phillies bounced back in the second off Houston starter Chris Sampson, as the suddenly-hot Geoff Jenkins hit a two-run shot to bring the Phillies within one run.

Hamels helped his own cause in the top of the third, starting off the inning with a single and eventually scoring on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. While that tied the game, it was the only run the Phillies would score that inning, despite putting runners on second and third with no outs and eventually loading the bases with two outs. But then it was Hamels on the mound, so even four runs should be enough, right?

Wrong. Hamels gave up two more runs in the bottom of the third, then another in the fourth, though he did help himself again by driving in Carlos Ruiz on a single in the top of the fourth. That said, the score was 6-4 in the Astros favor and Hamels had been more effective at the plate than on the rubber. He would leave the game after four innings, his shortest outing of the season.

Not exactly lights-out himself, Sampson departed after the fifth, and that's when the fun began. Fernando Nieve replaced Sampson and Pat Burrell welcomed him with his thirteenth home run of the season. Jenkins and Pedro Feliz followed with a single and double, respectively, and then Ruiz scored Jenkins with a single. After giving up four straight hits, and the lead, without recording an out, Nieve was pulled in favor of Wesley Wright. Wright wasn't much better, walking the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett. Next up was Jimmy Rollins, who hit an RBI ground-out to second to give the Phillies a 7-6 lead. Then Shane Victorino doubled to left, bringing two more runs home. Wright managed to get Utley and Ryan Howard out, but left the inning trailing 9-6. It was a five-run inning, four of which were charge to Nieve, who allowed a grand total of five runs on one out in this series.

With the lead now in the hands of the Phillies bullpen, the game was all-but-over for Houston. J.C. Romero proved this point by pitching a scoreless sixth inning. Of course, after suffering close losses the last two days, the Phillies weren't playing around in this one. Dave Borkowski entered in the seventh, hoping to at least keep it close. The Phillies had other ideas as Burrell doubled, Jenkins singled, and Feliz singled in pinch-runner So "long Pat" Taguchi. After Ruiz bunted out, pinch-hitter extraordinaire Greg Dobbs hit a triple, plating two more runs. Victorino drove in Dobbs with a single and Utley followed up with a two-run homer. Howard struck out to end the inning, but the score was now 15-6 (and Borkowski's ERA had jumped more than two runs).

That would be all the scoring, as Ryan Madson and the Garbageman, Clay Condrey, combined for the last three innings, while Oscar Villarreal became the only Astros pitcher not to give up a run in the game. It was a very impressive game for the Phillies offense, as pinch-hitter T.J. Bohn was the only Phillies who failed to reach base. Hamels had his worst outing of the year, but it seemed like an off-night and not much else. These nights will happen to even the best pitchers and, while frustrating, they are easily forgettable when the offense steps up like it did tonight.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Howard Produces, but Not Quite Enough

Ryan Howard had an RBI double in the first and hit a two-run home run in the third. However, thanks in large part to Houston defensive replacement Darin Erstad, those were the only three runs the Phillies would score as the Houston Atsros had another 4-3 victory over the Phillies.

In the ninth inning, Shane Victorino hit a fly ball to Erstad. Pedro Feliz tagged up at third base and went to score, but Erstad nailed his throw to home plate to get the last out of the game. Phillies starter Brett Myers, who has gone 0-5 in his last seven starts, allowed four runs in six innings. Myers let by two runs in the first, a run in the fifth, and a run in the sixth. Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings in relief, but it turned out not to matter.

There's not a whole lot one can do about Myers except hope that he figures out how to pitch. It's not as if he got completely rocked in this start, he only allowed four runs, but he hasn't won a game in his past seven outings and that's not exactly good for a guy who's supposed to be the number two starter. His control seemed a bit off tonight, and it seems like that is the key to how he needs to pitch. This is a team that should supply more than four runs a game, but the offense was fairly absent tonight as starter Brian Moehler allowed only four hits in six innings.

On the bright side, Ryan Howard is producing offense, hitting his 14th home run tonight. Also, People's Phillies' Blog favorite Michael Bourn had his 22nd steal of the year.

Werth Hits DL, Bohn Recalled

Jayson Werth was placed on the 15-day disabled list after last night's game against the Astros, due to a strained right oblique, according to the Phillies website. T.J. Bohn will take Werth's spot on the roster.

Werth will be greatly missed, though outfielder is perhaps the position that the Phillies can best afford to lose, as Pat Burrell has had a strong season and Shane Victorino and Geoff Jenkins have been hot of late.

Hopefully Werth can return quickly, as he is in the midst of a career year. He is slugging a career-high .519 and has hit nine home runs through forty games. Werth has never hit more than 16 home runs in a season, though it should be noted that he has never gotten as consistent playing time as he has this year. He made headlines on May 16th with a three home run, eight RBI day against the Toronto Blue Jays, one of his former teams. He has also had a strong season defensively, playing mostly center field and right field.

Werth's trip to the DL will have a huge impact on the team's bench production. With four outfielders capable of starting, the Phillies had a dangerous bat looming on the bench, whether it was Werth, Victorino, Jenkins, or even sometimes Burrell, who hit a pinch hit home run Thursday night. Now T.J. Bohn joins the bench (again), but it's unlikely he'll see much time, save as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. While this injury is hardly as detrimental as the one that sidelined Jimmy Rollins for a month, it will undoubtedly have an impact, especially in late-game situations.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Phillies Hit Valverde, But Not Hard Enough

Adam Eaton must be wondering at this point what a guy has to do to acquire a win in Major League Baseball these days. Making it as far as being a starting pitcher on a Major League Baseball team hasn't got him any farther than you or me this season, and neither did the Phillies' 4-3 loss in Houston last night, although Eaton pitched quite credibly for most of the game.

Nobody expected the game to be much of pitchers' duel, as neither Eaton nor Houston's Brandon Backe had been performing especially spectacularly of late. Nonetheless, the game remained tied at one into the seventh, a tense situation any fan that knew Adam Eaton for the not-always-lights-out starter that he is knew it couldn't last.

The Phillies' early run, which gave them a slim lead for a while, was provided by a solo home run off the bat of Pat Burrell, who also delivered a double later in the game. At this point in the season he is not as absurdly hot as he was earlier on, but it is only fair to apply the word "consistent" to somebody who has been delivering as regularly as he has. Congratulations Pat. Listening to the Houston announcers' coverage of the game I found it laughable when the suggestion of intentionally walking him with men of second and third was raised. Howard himself called his supposed recuperation into question, going 0 for 4 and striking out in his typically frustrating fashion in a number of key situations.

However, the biggest thorn in the Phillies' sides was not the dreaded Lance Berkman, but rather Hunter Pence, whose two home runs gave the Astro's what they needed for a win.

Philadelphia mounted what looked like it could have developed into a comeback in the ninth; Pat Burrell scoring on a ball off the bat of Pedro Feliz that seemed to have hit Houston closer Jose Valverde. For a while the game lost importance as it appeared that Valverde may seriously have been hurt, but it turned out that in fact he was only grazed, and he wound up saving the game after surrendering an RBI double to Jimmy Rollins. In all, a near miss. A good performance from Adam Eaton was not quite enough to stop Hunter Pence on a good day, and the Astros, a strong team this year, took home the win by a 4-3 margin.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lidge Notches Save Against His Former Club

The first time Kyle Kendrick faced Roy Oswalt, the two dueled for seven innings apiece and the Astros ace got the better of the Phillies sophomore in a 2-1 game. This game was a duel, but not between pitchers. Instead the hitters took control and the Phillies triumphed 7-5.

It didn't look to be Kendrick's day from the start, as Michael Bourn led off with a single. Bourn would get out on a Miguel Tejada fielder's choice, but Tejada scored on a Lance Berkman double off the left field wall. Left fielder Greg Dobbs, taking the place of the slumping Pat Burrell, made a valiant leaping effort at the wall, but it was all for naught as it bounced a few feet beyond his reach, allowing Tejada to score easily.

In the top of the second, the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs for Dobbs, who was unable to deliver once again, but Carlos Ruiz came through with one out and singled in a run. Kendrick and Rollins each grounded out to end the threat, but the Phillies had tied the game 1-1. However, in the bottom of the inning the Astros struck again as Brad Ausmus brought in Hunter Pence on a sacrifice fly and the Astros took a 2-1 lead.

But in the third the Phillies offense went to work. Shane Victorino singled and Chase Utley walked, bringing up the suddenly red-hot Ryan Howard. Howard doubled to left, scoring Victorino and tying the game. Pedro Feliz singled in Utley and Geoff Jenkins' fly ball scored Howard. The Phillies left the third with a 4-2 lead, and for a while the lead looked fairly safe.

Kendrick held the Astros scoreless for three straight innings (despite allowing a hit in each one) and Howard crushed an Oswalt pitch over the left field wall to extend the lead to 5-2. However, the sixth inning was anything but kind to Kendrick. He started off by hitting Carlos Lee with a pitch, followed by a Pence single. Ty Wiggington took advantage, bringing both the runners home on a double.

That sent Charlie Manuel scrambling to the bullpen, bringing in Ryan Madson to face Ausmus. (The fact that a new pitcher had to be summoned to face Ausmus and his .210 batting average shows just how much Kendrick had unraveled.) Ausmus greeted Madson with a sacrifice bunt, moving Wiggington to third with one out. With that, Madson's night was over as left-handed Geoff Blum pinch hit for Oswalt and Manuel countered with his own lefty: J.C. Romero. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Blum got the better of Romero, hitting a single to score Wiggington and tie the game, 5-5. Romero got the next two batters to keep it tied and end the inning.

Neither team could score in the seventh, though the Astros came close against Chad Durbin, as Berkman hit another double. Wesley Wright had set down the Phillies in order in the top of the inning. Then came the eighth and Astros manager Cecil Cooper opted to keep Wright in the game with Dobbs due up first. However, Manuel countered by bringing in the struggling Burrell to pinch hit against the lefty reliever and, wouldn't you know, it paid off. Burrell sent Wright's 3-2 pitch the wrong way, blasting a solo shot to left which put the Phillies up 6-5.

Fernando Nieve came in to replace Wright, but ran into trouble of his own, walking Ruiz and allowing a Jimmy Rollins single. Cooper then turned to Tim Byrdak to get out of the jam, but Utley gave the Phillies an insurance run with a two-out RBI single.

After that the game was in the hands of the surprisingly reliable Phillies bullpen. Tom Gordon pitched a perfect eighth, setting up Brad Lidge for a save opportunity against his former team. Lidge got the first two outs with relative ease, but then things got interesting. Tejada singled, bringing up the white-hot Berkman, representing the tying run. This was the first time the former teammates had squared off and it showed, on Berkman's part, as he flied out to left on a single pitch, ending the game.

Once again the Phillies won with their hitting and their bullpen, and did so despite mediocre starting pitching. The team now stands 27-22, still 1.5 games out of first place and one has to wonder whether they can win the division unless the starting pitching is significantly improved. They won today, but did so despite Kendrick rather than because of him. With the firepower in their lineup, they will win a lot of games on offense alone, but even that offense is bound to have some cold stretches. The last series with the Nationals is evidence, as they scored one run in the first two games, before exploding for twelve last night.

It's going to be very hard to go on any sort of winning streak unless the starters (Cole Hamels excluded) give a more consistent effort, or one or more of them are replaced by more reliable pitchers. Of course, it's hard to know where replacements would come from. Starting pitching is at a premium these days and the Phillies don't have much to offer in the way of prospects. Indeed, the best bet might be to gamble with minor league call-ups when they have finally seen enough of Kendrick or Adam Eaton. It worked with Kendrick last season, so perhaps they can catch lightning in a bottle once more. Of course there is no guarantee that J.A. Happ or Carlos Carrasco or whoever might get the nod would be any sort of upgrade, so for now the Phillies will have to make do with the rotation they have.

Kendrick was coming off four consecutive quality starts before his rain-delayed one inning start on May 18th, so perhaps he can turn it around. Meanwhile, Eaton's last start was a good one, so let's hope he can build on that in tomorrow's game. It's not as if the Phillies have much choice but to hope. Still, if the offense can click like it did today on a regular basis, then they can get away with sub-par outings from the 4th and 5th starters.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Howard Homers Twice as Phils Crush Nats

It looks like the Phillies finally figured out how to hit at Nationals Park. After scoring a grand total of one run in the first two games (and zero in the first 17 innings), the Phillies pounded the Nationals for twelve runs, six of which came off reliever Jesus Colome in an eight-run sixth inning that cemented a 12-2 Phillies win.

After they were dominated by such household names as Tim Redding and Jason Bergman the last two days, the Phillies were in no mood today. They got on the board against Nats starter Matt Chico in the first inning, as Ryan Howard doubled in Shane Victorino. Then in the second inning, Pedro Feliz continued his resurgence at the plate, belting a home run to left center to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

All was quiet for the next two innings as the Phillies bats stalled and Jamie Moyer quietly shut down the Nationals. Then in the fifth, the Victorino-Howard tandem struck again, as each launched a solo home run, putting the Phillies ahead 4-0. That would spell the end of the night for Chico and the beginning of a nightmare for Colome. Some Phillies fans might remember Colome from the season-opening series against Washington, when he gave the Phillies their first win by walking Jayson Werth with the bases loaded in the tenth inning.

Colome was equally kind to the Phillies tonight. He quickly loaded the bases as he gave up singles to Feliz and Chris Coste, let them advance on a wild pitch, and then walked Moyer. Jimmy Rollins singled in a run, then Victorino brought in three more thanks to a single and a Dmitri Young error. Chase Utley doubled in Victorino and that was all for Colome. Chris Schroder replaced him and was greeted by Howard's second home run of the night. Coste drove in one more run before Moyer struck out, ending an eight run inning in which the Phillies took a 12-0 lead. Colome was credited for six of those runs, while recording only one out, sending his ERA from 3.38 to 5.82.

With the game effectively over by the seventh inning, Utley took a seat in favor of Eric Bruntlett and Moyer was replaced by Clay Condrey (who should really be called "the Garbage Man" at this point). Condrey gave up a pair of runs in the seventh, but managed to successfully take out the trash, pitching the final three innings for the "save."

This was an excellent win for the Phillies, as Howard flexed his muscles and appears to have his confidence back and Moyer pitched six shutout innings. The only downside is, on a day when everyone seemed to be crushing the ball, Pat Burrell's May struggles continued. After showering in hits and RBIs in April, Burrell's bat has been pushing up daisies in May. He hit .326 in April with a 1.135 OPS, but in May he's down to a .190 BA and .707 OPS. He's still getting on base at a reasonable rate (.358 OBP), but his power seems to have abandoned him as he is slugging only .349. One has to think this will correct itself in time, as Burrell has always been a streaky hitter, but it has to be cause for concern.

That aside, nothing else was concerning about this game for the Phillies, who thoroughly dominated a weaker opponent and won the series and remained within 1.5 games of the division-leading Marlins.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dobbs RBI Enough For King Cole

Cole Hamels dominated the Nationals with seven shutout innings. However, so did Jason Bergmann of the Nationals. It took an RBI single from pinch hitter Greg Dobbs in the ninth inning to score pinch runner Eric Bruntlett to get a run in the game, and that would be the only run of the game as the Phillies beat the Nationals 1-0.

Hamels was left with a no-decision despite a stellar performance, allowing only four hits and striking out 11, matching his season-high. Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge pitched shutout eighth and ninth innings, though Lidge had a little trouble in the ninth. He didn't allow a hit and struck out two, but with two outs, he walked Elijah Dukes, who proceeded to steal second and third base, putting the tying run in scoring position. Pinch hitter Rob Mackowiak was then walked, but with runners on the corners, Felipe Lopez grounded out to Utley.

Jason Bergmann wasn't particularly dominating on the mound, allowing five hits and striking out five, but the Phillies left ten players on base and kept flying out. The only extra base hit was a double by Chase Utley. The Phillies seem to have a lot of trouble hitting the Nationals pitching. Ryan Howard, supposedly emerging from his slump, was the cause for three of the six strikeouts on the night, and the two most productive players in the lineup were six and seven hitters Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz with two hits apiece. The offensive threat at the bottom of the lineup was one of this team's strengths, but it doesn't do a whole lot of good unless the top of the lineup hits as well. Jenkins now has a higher batting average than Pat Burrell. If it were any other starting pitcher, the Phillies would most definitely have lost this game. Even with Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer, the team has to assume that the offense will need to score more than three runs. But luckily, tonight King Cole reigned supreme. Hamels now has pitched nineteen scoreless innings. He laughed at the notion of chasing Orel Hersheiser's record, but if he continues to pitch like this, maybe it won't be such a stretch.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Phils Can't Swat Nats, Lose Third Straight

Even with all their bats back in the lineup, the Phillies could not figure out Tim Redding. Redding pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings and the Washington bullpen finished the job, as the Phillies were shut out 4-0.

It's not like they didn't have chances. In the top of the first, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley hit back-to-back singles with one out. But neither Ryan Howard nor Pat Burrell could reach base and the opportunity was wasted. In the bottom of the inning, the Nationals took a 1-0 lead, off a sacrifice fly from Dmitri Young, and never relinquished it, as Redding stymied the Phillies.

The top of the third was like deja vu, as Jimmy Rollins got out, Victorino and Utley singled, but once again Howard and Burrell failed to produce. The Nats responded by tacking on two more runs in the bottom of the inning, off a perfectly-placed bases loaded double by Lastings Milledge.

The second and fourth innings were also eerily similar for the Phillies as in each inning Geoff Jenkins doubled and the next three batters were retired. However, once the Phillies bucked the trends with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth inning, they stopped threatening. They would put two runners on in the seventh, chasing Redding in the process, but Saul Rivera entered and neutralized the threat. The Phillies went down in order in the eighth and ninth as the Washington bullpen did not allow a single baserunner.

Brett Myers recorded his fifth loss of the season, though he did not pitch a bad game. He allowed three runs in six innings, which was easily his best outing since May 3 against San Francisco, when he gave up two runs in seven innings. Myers certainly could have been better against a Nationals team not known for its offense, but it's hard to pin the loss on him when he gave the Phillies a quality start.

Rather it was the offense that failed to produce. Though it wasn't a total lack of hitting as much as untimely outs that sunk the squad tonight. Victorino and Utley gave Howard and Burrell two chances to drive them in, but both sluggers went hitless on the day. Jenkins gave the bottom of the order two opportunities to drive him in from second base, but they were not up to the task.

Even more frustrating is the fact that the Phillies had a number of hard-hit balls that were caught. Burrell hit a sharp ground-out to third in the first inning that would have scored a run had it gotten through, Feliz hit a hard ground-out to third in the second, Howard hit a fly ball to the warning track in the third, etc. The Nationals deserve credit for their fielding (Ryan Zimmerman in particular), but there was also an element of luck involved and tonight it did not go the Phillies' way.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Werth the Price of Admission

When Jayson Werth popped out foul in the seventh inning, he received a standing ovation from the Phillies faithful. Phillies fans are notorious for their short-term memories, as Mike Schmidt would surely confirm, but today Werth delivered an unforgettable performance, cranking out three home runs and driving in eight runs, both career-highs, as the Phillies downed the Toronto Blue Jays 10-3.

It started in the second inning, when Werth stepped to the plate with runners on first and second in a scoreless game. That changed in a hurry as Werth launched an opposite field bomb off Toronto starter David Purcey to give the Phils a 3-0 lead. Purcey got the next three batters out, but the nightmare wasn't over for the Blue Jays rookie.

In the third, after a Ryan Howard RBI single, Pat Burrell walked to load the bases. It was deja vu all over again for Purcey as Werth delivered once again, pounding a grand slam over the right field wall. That made it a 8-0 game and, for all practical purposes, secured a Phillies win.

Toronto struck back in the fourth as Alex Rios and Scott Rolen each drove in a run off of Jamie Moyer, but the Blue Jays still trailed 8-2. Oh, and Werth wasn't done yet. In the fifth, he hit a solo shot, his third home run in as many at-bats, that tied a Phillies single-game record for RBIs and earned Werth a well-deserved curtain call.

Each team would tack on another run to make the final score 10-3, but the late runs were inconsequential as Werth effectively beat the Blue Jays by himself. It didn't hurt that Moyer had one of his better outings, allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings, but today was clearly the Jayson Werth show.

Werth's pop-out in the seventh denied him the chance to tie the major league record for home runs in one game, but he still became the first Phillie to drive in eight runs in a game since Mike Schmidt in 1976. Today's outburst gave Werth nine home runs on the season; not bad for a guy who was in a platoon before Shane Victorino's DL stint. Even disregarding today's game, Werth has had an excellent season, both at the plate and in center field, where he has supplanted Victorino.

While Geoff Jenkins will have to get a few starts here and there, it's going to be awfully hard to remove Werth from the lineup. He's currently sporting a .932 OPS and he is on pace to more than double his career-high in homers (16). To put it in perspective, Werth hit only eight home runs all of last year in 255 at-bats. This year he has nine HRs in 118 at-bats.

It's always hard to take away a player's starting job due to injury (especially when you weren't the one who got injured. Victorino's injury effectively cost Jenkins his job), but Charlie Manuel has clearly made the right decision in sticking with Werth as the primary starter in center field. After today's explosion, there's no questioning Jayson's worth.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hamels Shuts Down Braves

In the ninth inning: With Jeff Franceour on first, Mark Teixeira hit a ball which put Jimmy Rollins on his back. Rollins then threw Franceour out at second base from his back, and Utley fired the ball to first to get Teixeira. Cole Hamels then struck out Brian McCann to end the game and prove exactly why he is the ace of the Philadelphia Phillies as he threw a complete game shutout and the Phillies won 5-0.

Hamels allowed only four hits and struck out six in his first career complete game shutout. Hamels also helped himself out by getting two hits, though he almost didn't need to as the Phillies offense was productive. Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino all hit home runs and Atlanta starter Chuck James only pitched four innings.

This is the kind of game that this team needs from their ace given the inconsistency of the rest of the rotation. There's not a whole lot to say except that Hamels simply looked fantastic. He had good defense around him, he struck out six batters and looked dominating doing so, and no one on the Braves was able to get anything started off him. It probably helped Hamels to be facing a lineup without Chipper Jones, and even Mark Kotsay was taken out of the lineup early, but even with Jones in the lineup, maybe the Braves would have scored one run and in the end it wouldn't have mattered.

The offense continues to produce and it's looking like Ryan Howard and Pedro Feliz are hitting better. Hopefully, Shane Victorino's first home run of the year is a sign of good things to come in the near future, because right now he has put a hole in the two-spot. Victorino was actually more productive as a leadoff hitter than batting second. Not that it makes sense for Rollins or Victorino to be hitting in different places, but If Victorino has trouble performing as a two-hitter, it will eventually raise some questions. More likely than not he'll pick up his performance, and if everyone else around him produces consistently it may not matter. His home run tonight was encouraging, though there could have easily been a few more runs scored, not just in this game but through this three game series with the Braves, were it not for his lack of production where he is in the batting order.

Taking two of three from the Braves was extremely important for the Phillies at this point in the season. Once everyone in that offense becomes an evident threat, which should happen in the coming month, the Phillies won't have to re-establish themselves as a dominant force in the division. They've already proven that they plan to keep and are capable of keeping the division title that the Braves have missed in the past couple years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Phils Unable to Complete Rally

Shane Victorino hadn't had a hit all night. Down two runs with two outs and two men on, Victorino hit a ball to the warning track, but it was caught by Jeff Franceour to end the game as the Phillies lost to the Atlanta Braves 8-6.

The Atlanta offense got to work immediately against Brett Myers as Yunel Escobar led off the game with a home run. Chipper Jones added another solo shot in the first and Kelly Johnson made it 3-0 in the second with another solo home run. Myers would give up eight runs, six earned, through less than five innings. Ryan Madson, Clay Condrey, and Rudy Seanez prevented the Braves from increasing their lead, but the damage had already been done. Tom Glavine was stellar for the Braves in the first five innings, allowing only one hit and completely shutting down the Phillies offense.

But once the Braves finished their scoring, the Phillies decided it was their turn, as they pounced on Glavine with a four-run sixth inning, which included Chase Utley's MLB-leading fourteenth home run of the year. Ryan Howard put the Phillies within three with a solo shot to left field in the eighth, which seemed like a positive sign for the slumping slugger but the rest of his game was less than impressive, including a bobbled double play ball at first that could have saved Myers some grief early on. In the ninth, Chris Coste, who was 4-4 on the night, got on base with two outs, and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs followed suit. Jimmy Rollins got a single that scored Coste and moved Dobbs to third. With Victorino up, Rollins stole second base early in the count, putting the tying run into scoring position. However, Victorino continued to struggle as he had all night and the Flyin' Hawaiian flew out to right.

Brett Myers had an extremely bizarre outing in that he either looked horrible on the mound or completely dominating, as he struck out six batters. At first it looked as if Myers had figured out how to deal with the short temper that landed him in the bullpen last year, but as the lead kept increasing, his composure seemed to dwindle. But when Myers was on, he looked fantastic. Unfortunately the Braves hitters kept hitting him. It seemed more like the Braves having a good night offensively than Myers being so horrible on the mound. Either way, Myers, like the rest of the Phillies rotation (sans Hamels) needs to find consistency.

It's hard to judge the offense tonight as they were mostly stymied by Glavine. Chris Coste has a .339 average on the season and always seems to produce when he's in the lineup. Pat Burrell seems to be dropping off in production. His batting average is .298, which is obviously still quite good, but it's the first time he's been under .300 in a while. Hard to know if this is cause for concern, he could certainly be entering a slump. If Burrell does slump and Howard continues at this pace, it might be worth re-examining the idea of switching their spots in the batting order. Rollins has been good upon his return and Utley continues to make an early case for the MVP, though if Chipper Jones can perform this way all season it will be hard to ignore him. The offense did perfectly fine tonight, especially considering most of the key members had off-nights, but the Braves struck early and hard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jayson Proves His Werth

Jayson Werth continued to impress as he had four RBIs, tying his career total, and led the Phillies to a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Kyle Kendrick put the Phillies into a hole early on, allowing three runs in the first inning, but after that he pitched five scoreless innings. In the fourth inning, Werth scored Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with a double. In the fifth inning, Howard scored Shane Victorino and Werth scored Howard again, and in the seventh, Werth then hit Eric Bruntlett (tonight's defensive sub for Pat Burrell) home. J.C. Romero and Tom Gordon pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings, and Brad Lidge got his tenth save, despite giving up his first earned run of the year, which was partly the fault of tonight's hero, Jayson Werth, mistiming a fly ball.

This was an extremely important game for the Phillies to win, being the start of a six game homestand and against a division rival. The NL East has the potential to be an extremely competitive division, and the way the Mets and Braves have played thus far, they're not too far behind the Phillies (or...the Marlins?). The Braves have had some injury issues, and with tonight's loss have a .500 record, but Bobby Cox is always a threat to work some kind of voodoo magic to make the Braves succeed.

This year they have a lot going for them, but in particular a very productive Chipper Jones. Chipper went 3-4 in his ongoing success against Phillies pitching. The Braves rotation is less than stellar once you get past Tim Hudson. Tom Glavine has not been impressive and Chuck James and tonight's pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes don't strike fear in the hearts of their opponents (I have a hard time imagining anyone named Jo-Jo accomplishing that. Jo-Jo is a character from a Dr. Seuss book.). John Smoltz moving to the bullpen doesn't help matters, nor does Mike Hampton's injury, but we never expected to see him back anyway. The Mets will probably present more cause for concern than the Braves, but the Braves can never be counted out.

Kyle Kendrick seems to remember how to pitch once he gives up three runs. Once Kendrick gets past that point, he pitches similarly to last year, which really just means aiming to get the hitters to ground or fly out rather than dominating. This is all well and good, and especially if he's up against the back end of the other team's rotation and the offense should easily be able to accumulate more than three runs. Still, it would be nice if Kendrick could skip that step. The bullpen continues to be effective despite Lidge's first earned run of the season. Honestly, he was due and it didn't even matter. Ryan Howard went 2-4 with a double and an RBI single today, and it appears as if he might be starting to heat up. He's actually getting hits now rather than giving himself the classic power hitter choice: home run or strikeout. He's notorious for starting out slow, but that seems to be starting to turn around *knock on wood.* But tonight's hero was Jayson Werth, who has cooled off since the beginning of the season, but is still a perfectly good bat in the lineup, as tonight proved.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Phils Drop Two Straight to Giants

Jimmy Rollins provided an immediate spark when he made his return on Friday, but they struggled in the next two games, losing to the San Francisco Giants 8-2 on Saturday and 4-3 on Sunday.

Saturday's game got out of hand in a hurry, primarily because of Jamie Moyer, who had his worst outing of the season. He gave up six runs and nine hits in only four innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies' bats never got going due to a dominant start from Tim Lincecum. Lincecum went eight innings and allowed only two runs, and with the win improved his record to 5-1.

The Phillies were able to defeat Lincecum when he faced them in Philadelphia on May 4th, when he surrendered four runs, but none of them were earned. His ERA against the Phillies is 1.29 in two starts; phenomenal considering he is a right-handed pitcher and the Phillies are loaded with left-handed bats.

The one encouraging sign for the Phillies was the performance of Ryan Howard. He went 1 for 4 with a solo home run. On its own that sounds unremarkable, but two factors make it a promising day. First, he did not strike out once on a day when Lincecum struck out eight. Second, and more important, his home run went over the left field wall. That's right, Howard displayed his vaunted opposite field power for the first time this year. As Jason Grey of wrote, Howard's pull tendencies were a major problem for him in the minor leagues and it was not until he taught himself to hit to the opposite field more frequently that he became a dominant major league hitter. However, other than Howard's home run, there wasn't much to be happy about for Phillies fans on Saturday.

Sunday was a little better, but not the end result. Adam Eaton had a solid outing, by his standards anyway, allowing only two runs in five innings. He struggled in the sixth and left the game with runners on second and third and no outs. Chad Durbin entered and, amazingly, got out of the inning unscathed. Durbin, after hitting John Bowker with a pitch, got Jose Castillo to line out into a double play to first base. Durbin then intentionally walked Omar Vizquel and struck out pinch hitter Ray Durham to retire the side.

With the game in the hands of the Phillies bullpen, the win seemed fairly secure (which, at the start of the season, I never thought I would be able to say). However, the usually-reliable J.C. Romero gave up Steve Holm's first career home run -- a two run shot -- to put the Giants on top 5-4. The Phillies were unable to recover and would lose the game by the same score, as Jimmy Rollins ended the game by grounding into a double play.

Losing a series to the sub-.500 Giants is somewhat alarming, even on the road, and especially with Rollins back. The Phillies are now three games out of first place and tied with the Mets for second. The Braves are only one game back of Philadelphia and they'll have a chance to pull ahead, with a three-game set starting on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The Phillies will have a challenge, facing three left-handed starters, but with Brett Myers and Cole Hamels pitching the final two games of the series, the Phillies should be able to bounce back and take the series from Atlanta. The Phillies certainly won't be taking the Braves lightly, which will be good to see after they dropped two of three to an inferior team.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rollins Proves Value in Return from DL

Jimmy Rollins must have been itching to return to play from his stint on the disabled list, as he drove in three runs to power the Phillies 7-3 victory in San Francisco. Coming just a triple short of hitting for the cycle, Rollins showed absolutely no rust in his return.

The strength of his performance upon his return might have to cast some doubts upon the wisdom of placing him on the disabled list in the first place. If he could have been ready to return earlier, it might not have been worth the extra roster spot not to have had him back as quickly as possible.

Phillies fans have to greet this with a sigh of relief, as Rollins' presence in the lineup had been sorely missed, both in terms of the production that he brought to the table and the balance he provided. One can only hope that his return restores some stability to the largely inconsistent rest of the lineup and takes some pressure off the badly-slumping Ryan Howard; perhaps less dependence upon his performance from the rest of the batting order will give him the opportunity to relax and find his swing.

The only other notable offensive story of the day was the return to San Francisco of Pedro Feliz, who seized the day by going two for five with an RBI double.

The four runs over seven innings that Cole Hamels surrendered look sub-par, but after surrendering most of them in the fourth he buckled down and held the Giants scoreless for three more innings. Every pitcher will suffer from weak moments, but it is the mark of the really talented ones that they can recover quickly and return to form.

Today's game was strongly encouraging, considering that the Phillies had managed to stay only a game behind first place in their division with their biggest slugger failing almost entirely to hit and last year's MVP on the disabled list and out of commission. If Rollins lives up to the standard that he has been, the rest of the season look bright for his team.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Phillies Acquire Randolph

The Phillies acquired lefty reliever Stephen Randolph from the Houston Astros for a player to be named later. 


The 34 year old Randolph has actually been quite good for Houston's Triple-A affiliate, with a 1.23 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 14 innings. He's also walked 11 batters. He pitched about 14 innings in the majors in 2007, but didn't do anything of particular note. Randolph will start with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. 

...Iron Pigs?

The Phillies search for another left handed option in the bullpen continues. Steve Kline hasn't done well in the minors and as good as J.C. Romero has been, who knows when he may get worn out. It would be nice to have him available as the main setup guy rather than the left-hander in the bullpen, though Tom Gordon has been quite good of late as the setup guy. 

...We'll see what happens with Mr. Randolph.

Phils Caught in Arizona's Webb

Today's game was to be a duel of staff aces, as Brett Myers took on the undefeated Brandon Webb. Someone must have forgotten to tell Myers, as he laid an egg and wound up on the wrong end of a 8-3 ballgame.

The start to the game was reminiscent of last night's, as Shane Victorino reached on an infield single, took second on an Eric Bruntlett groundout, took third on a passed ball, and scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly. Victorino had burned the Diamondbacks with his speed once again and the Phillies took a 1-0 lead after the top of the first.

But the lead would not last long. In the bottom of the first, Chris Young took Myers deep for his eight home run of the season, bringing in Augie Ojeda as well. Myers got the next to batters out to get out of the inning, but Arizona had a 2-1 lead at the end of the first.

After the first, it began to look like a pitcher's duel, as both teams were held scoreless until the fourth. That was when Myers' control departed (perhaps heading for San Francisco a little early) and the Diamondbacks capitalized. Myers walked Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, then allowed an infield single to Mark Reynolds to load the bases. Chris Snyder then delivered a two-run double and Chris Burke (who, at .149, is one of the few hitters with a lower batting average than Ryan Howard) drove in another run on an infield single. Webb finally recorded the first out of the inning, but, after an Utley error that loaded the bases, Ojeda hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring another run. Myers finally escaped the inning once Young popped up to Bruntlett, but the damage was done and Arizona led 6-1.

It was only the fourth inning and on most days the Phillies would not be out of it. But with Webb on the mound, this was not 'most days.' Webb shut down the Phillies offense, holding them to one run until the ninth inning. In the ninth, Bruntlett and Howard each had RBI singles, but by then Arizona had put up two more runs of their own and the Phillies lost by a final score of 8-3, with Webb pitching a complete game.

This was not a game the Phillies were expected to win, regardless of Myers' performance, as Webb has yet to lose a game this season. He improved to 8-0 with today's win. The Phillies offense was severely lacking, but that's a common symptom of those caught in Brandon's Webb. It did not help that Pat Burrell was out of the lineup, getting a day off due to a slump, but odds are it would not have mattered today.

Despite today's disheartening loss, splitting a four-game series in Arizona isn't bad at all and things should only get easier in the next few weeks. The Phillies head to San Francisco next for a three-game set, then go home for series against Atlanta and Toronto. More importantly, Jimmy Rollins is expected to return tomorrow, or at least sometime during the Giants series, and the Phillies should have their thunderous lineup intact for the first time since April 8th. The Phillies have fared well without Rollins, as they will remain tied for the NL East lead with a Marlins loss tonight. With the MVP returning, the sky's the limit and the expectations will be raised. However, if anyone can handle the pressure it's Rollins.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Collision Leads to Phillies Win

What did Shane Victorino get Conor Jackson for his 26th birthday? How about a good ol' smack in the face.

In the top of the eighth inning, with the Phillies trailing 4-3, Victorino swung at strike three, the ball skipped away from catcher Chris Snyder, and Victorino sped down the first base line. He then ran right into Conor Jackson, Victorino's helmet hitting Jackson's face and Jackson's arm hitting Victorino. Both fell to the ground. Victorino was fine, but Jackson was down for a while. He eventually did get up and was fine, but came out of the game anyway. Eric Bruntlett then doubled, and Victorino scored to tie the game. Chase Utley then singled to score Bruntlett, giving the Phillies a 5-4 lead, and that would be all they'd need, as Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings.

For most of the game, the Phillies were stymied by Arizona starter Micah Owings, who went seven innings and struck out seven. They only had four hits off of him, but managed to get three runs from them, two of which came from a two-run home run by Pedro Feliz. The other run came on an RBI single by Victorino to score Carlos Ruiz. Kyle Kendrick was decent enough for the Phillies, allowing three runs in six innings. Ryan Madson was brought in for the seventh, but could only get one out before allowing a run and being replaced by J.C. Romero, who got through the rest of the seventh without any further damage. Kendrick, however, allowed ten hits in those six innings. Chris Young got a home run, and Stephen Drew and birthday boy Conor Jackson got RBIs off him.

The truth is that Kendrick never looked particularly good out there. It seemed like any minute he would give up another run and it was a wonder that he only gave three. It looked like it would be a long night after he gave up the RBI hit to Drew in the first. Kendrick has never been known to dominate in the way a Cole Hamels or Brett Myers is supposed to, but he's known for giving solid outings and keeping batters off the bases, mostly by being a ground ball pitcher. Today he got very lucky. If Kris Benson does pitch for the Phillies at some point this season, Kendrick could well be the guy they remove from the rotation. That being said, Kendrick is still very young, and it's not surprising that he's having a bit of a sophomore slump. But the way he pitches shouldn't result in a sophomore slump as much as it might for a young flamethrower (Johnny Cueto after his first few starts). The back end of the rotation needs to pick it up if this team is going to be a major contender this year.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Eaton Melts Down in the Desert

Adam Eaton has had some good starts this year. This wasn't one of them. Stephen drew hit a three-run homer as part of a five-run fourth inning from which the Phillies could not recover, losing to the Diamondbacks 6-4.

Eaton was shaky from the very beginning, giving up a double to Chris Young to lead off the game. Young would score on a Conor Jackson single, but Eaton worked out of a jam and only gave up one run. The Phillies would respond in the third inning, when Eric Bruntlett scored Eaton on a two-run shot to left off Diamondbacks starter Randy Johnson. This put Philadelphia on top 2-1. Eaton followed up with a 1-2-3 bottom of the third.

Then came the fourth inning. Eaton walked Justin Upton then surrendered a double to Mark Reynolds that was nearly caught at the right field wall by Jayson Werth. Miguel Montero walked to load the bases, but Eaton got Augie Ojeda (who filled in at second base for the injured Orlando Hudson) to fly out to shallow center. With the pitcher coming up, it looked like Eaton might wriggle his way out of another jam. However, his control left him and he walked Johnson on four pitches, bringing in the tying run. Young put the Diamondbacks on top 3-2, grounding into a fielder's choice, then came Stephen Drew, brother of the much-despised J.D. Stephen gave Phillies fans good reason to loathe him as well, as he crushed a 1-2 pitch into the seats. That made it a 6-2 game and spelled the end for Eaton.

The Phillies chipped away in the fifth and sixth. Bruntlett doubled to score Shane Victorino in the fifth and Werth hit a solo shot in the sixth to make it a 6-4 game. Philadelphia had a chance in the ninth inning against closer Brandon Lyon. Carlos Ruiz and Victorino had back-to-back two-out singles, but Bruntlett ended the game with a fly out.

There isn't much to take from this game except that Eaton had a miserable outing. He pitched two good innings and two bad ones. He was lucky to escape the first inning with only one run to his name. He was not so lucky in the fourth. The offense was solid, despite an 0 for 4 day from Chase Utley and a day off for Ryan Howard.

Benching Howard seemed an odd move, considering yesterday he went 1-4 with a walk and 2 RBI. Most likely the idea was to get another right-handed bat in the lineup against the left-handed Randy Johnson, as Howard is batting .132 against lefties this year, but Charlie Manuel might have been better served to keep him in the lineup, in the hopes of building of yesterday's solid outing. And it's not like they added a powerful bat in his place. Rather it was Brad Harman, who went 0 for 3. Howard entered the game later and struck out in his only plate appearance, so there's little evidence that he would have saved the Phillies today.

The good news for Phillies fans is that Jimmy Rollins should be back by Friday's game. Rollins hopes to return on Thursday, but the Phillies may play it safe and give him one more day to recover. If his rehab starts are any indication, the time off hasn't affected his swing. He went 2 for 4 with a home run tonight, after going 4 for 4 yesterday. The Phillies will no doubt be thrilled to have the reigning MVP back, even though they've done just fine without him. Even with today's loss, they are tied with the Marlins for first in the NL East.

The one guy you have to feel for is Eric Bruntlett. He's been playing very well of late, but he'll be relegated to the bench when Rollins returns. As the only backup middle infielder (once Harman is sent down), Bruntlett won't be the first pinch hitting option. Though, frankly, if Howard keeps struggling and draining Manuel's confidence, he could see some time at second base with Utley shifting over to first, as in today's game.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Moyer Demonstrates Success to Scherzer

The big story surrounding this game was the first major league start for Arizona's stud prospect, 23-year old Max Scherzer. 45-year old Jamie Moyer decided to show him what it takes to last as he allowed two runs in seven innings and the Phillies won 11-4.

Scherzer fell into an early hole, as Shane Victorino led off the game with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Howard. The hole filled pretty quickly, as Chris Snyder scored on a Stephen Drew triple in the second, but the Phillies made sure that wouldn't last for long by scoring four runs in the third, including an RBI double by none other than Jamie Moyer. Moyer had already singled back in the second, giving him the first multi-game hit of his career.

As if enough damage weren't already done, Eric Bruntlett hit a bases clearing triple in the seventh, and Ryan Howard singled Bruntlett home, making the score 9-1. In the bottom of the seventh, Moyer's last inning of work, Chris Snyder hit a solo shot, but the Phillies got that run back in the top of the eighth as Pedro Feliz scored on a Greg Dobbs sacrifice fly. The Phillies would get one more run in the ninth as Chase Utley scored on a throwing error by Mark Reynolds to first base. The D'backs started off looking like a rally might be possible in the ninth as Miguel Montero, Justin Upton, and Reynolds would lead off the inning with hits, but they would only get two more runs off of Clay Condrey as Montero scored on a throwing error by Geoff Jenkins, and Reynolds scored on a fielders choice grounder by Chris Burke. The Phillies avoided giving up a third run as Pedro Feliz threw out Upton at home plate.

Moyer had his longest outing of the season and struck out five batters. His opponent, nearly half his age, allowed five runs in four innings, also striking out five. Scherzer looked like he had some pretty good stuff, not to mention he threw as high as 98 mph, but as soon as he got to the second and third time around the batting order it looked like the Phillies had figured him out. Meanwhile, Moyer only threw as high as the low 80's, but the D'backs never quite figured him out, except Chris Snyder seemed to get him a little. Once again, Moyer was able to prove that craftiness can always work whether or not the speed is there. Scherzer should be an interesting player to see develop, but he's got a lot to learn.

What was good offensively for the Phils is that the bottom of the lineup became very scary, something that was supposed to be a strength for the team all year. the 6-7-8 hitters (Jenkins, Feliz, Carlos Ruiz) scored as many runs as the 1-2-3 hitters (perhaps slightly less impressive considering that Bruntlett was number two, though Bruntlett has been quite good as of late). If the bottom of the lineup can produce like that then the team will be even scarier offensively than they were last year. The only player who seemed unable to figure out Scherzer was Pat Burrell, but the way he's been hitting, he could afford to take a night off. As long as it doesn't lead to the start of a slump.

This game (minus Clay Condrey's ninth inning) seemed like the realization of this team's potential. Everyone in the offense was dangerous, the starting pitching was good, the bullpen (minus Condrey) was lights out, and they simply crushed the other team. The rest of this series against the D'backs should be much harder, as they have to face Randy Johnson, Micah Owings, and the seemingly unbeatable Brandon Webb, but to beat the Snakes at home is no small feat.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Skill and Luck Both Contribute to Phillie Victory

In baseball, unpredictable errors are going to happen no matter what, and that's a fact that is far more pleasant to contemplate when they go your own team's way. A wild pitch and a defensive error allowed to Phillies to take this one 6-5 from behind from San Francisco, but it wouldn't have happened if they hadn't been able to turn luck to their advantage. In fact, none of the four runs that the Phillies scored off of San Francisco's starter Tim Lincecum were earned.

The winning run was scored by the Phillies' large first baseman Ryan Howard, who somehow managed to reach home plate on a ground ball that Giants second baseman Egenio Velez failed to reach. He's been slumping embarrassingly at the plate all season, and if he can't find a way to hit, then winning games with his baserunning is an unexpected but welcome way to try to atone. Howard may not look fast, but he's demonstrated on a few occasions that when nobody stops him he can build up some momentum. It's a good illustration of the principle that as important as being fast is being just a bit faster than they think you are.

Carlos Ruiz's solo home run was also instrumental to the win. The catcher has what's known as occasional power, and easy-to-overlook as that might be on a stat sheet, it comes in handy in a one-run game such as this one. Pat Burrell produced again with two runs batted in on as many doubles. Whether it's because it's his contract year (doubtful in view since he usually freezes under pressure), because his foot has finally stopped giving him trouble (which would also account for his improved fielding), or due to some small adjustment none of us can see, Pat Burrell has found a way to be "Pat the Bat" consistently this year, and it's been tremendously important. I never thought I'd say it, but maybe Ryan Howard could use some of his advice.

This 6-5 win, giving the Phillies their third series win running, was the 500th victory of manager Charlie Manuel's career (against 428 losses). In that regard, perhaps it's appropriate this time that the Phillies got their share of assistance from blind chance.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Offense Falters Behind Impressive Myers

Another Phillies game was decided in extra innings, as Phildelphia lost this effort 3-2 on a home run that Rudy Seanez surrendered in the tenth. The blame for this loss, however, shouldn't go principally to Seanez. The Phillies' offense was given a fine opportunity by Brett Myers and largely failed to take advantage of it against Giants starter Matt Cain.

Myers surrendered two earned runs, one a solo home run on a mistake he dealt to Randy Winn. On the whole, Myers had clearly found his good fastball (and pickoff move, gunning down Aaron Rowand), and seemed to be far more in control of the situation that earlier this season. It was wonderful to see, and a fantastically important development if he can keep it up.

Behind him, however, the Phillies' bats were quiet. Geoff Jenkins and the seemingly-inexhaustible Chase Utley each delivered a solo homer. The only other hit was also Utley's. Nobody hit after the fifth inning. Philadelphia left three men on base to San Francisco's eleven. You can't bring them in if you can't even get them on.

The Phillies have a tremendously talented offense at their disposal, but when it goes quiet it can be infuriating. Maybe fate has declared that when a pitcher who has been struggling finds his A-game, the batters have to lose theirs, but here's hoping they both manage some consistency in the future. If they had today, the Phillies would have had a win.

Phils Won't Let Ex-Teammate Be Hero in Come-from-Behind Win

The Phillies pulled off a dramatic 6-5 win against San Francisco, Pat Burrell making himself the hero of the day with a dramatic two run home run in the tenth inning off of the Giants' formidable closer Brian Wilson to allow his team to come from behind and walk off with the win. Victory was only made sweeter by the fact that the lead that the Phillies had to come from behind against was created by their own erstwhile center-fielder Aaron Rowand, whose tenth-inning solo home run against J. C. Romero -- a chink in otherwise almost spotless armor so far this season -- gave San Francisco a 5-4 advantage.

Rowand had received an ovation at the beginning of the game, but his offense later proved that returning players on new teams are appreciated only as long as they don't contribute to a home-team loss. Burrell's homer was his first walk-off since 2002, and might cause Charlie Manuel to start to question his usual policy of removing Burrell from the game in later innings to be replaced by a stronger defensive player. This is especially true since Burrell's defence seems to have improved lately, and this games proves as well as any that a powerful bat is a valuable commodity late in the game.

Kyle Kendrick pitched acceptably, giving up three earned runs in six innings, and Charlie Manuel chose an appropriate time to pull him. Kendrick will probably continue to give the Phillies decent but unremarkable starts, and they need to capitalize on these chances to win.

In other non-news, Chase Utley continued producing like mad, with two runs and two RBI on two hits, and Ryan Howard continued slumping horribly. One can only hope that he's been starting to take his lack of production as seriously as the fans are at this point, as his low numbers are starting to stretch disturbingly past the normal mark for a slump.

While it was a game of mixed feelings that saw an early lead seem to slowly slip away, tonight's game had one of the most exciting finishes in a long while and did a lot towards proving Philadelphia's tenacity this season.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Howard Lifts Phillies to Win

It's the top of the first inning and Adrian Gonzalez is at the plate with a runner on base. Gonzalez rips a ball out of the park, and the Padres have a two run lead in the first. Sound familiar? This time, those were the only two runs the Padres would score as the Phillies beat the Padres 3-2. 

After Gonzalez hit his first inning home run, Adam Eaton pitched five shutout innings, and the bullpen, once again, kept the Padres off the scoreboards. Former Phillie Randy Wolf also pitched six innings, also allowed two and, unlike Eaton, struck out eight. In the third inning, Shane Victorino, who started for the first time since coming off the DL, doubled. After Jayson Werth and Chase Utley struck out, Ryan Howard doubled, scoring Victorino, and Burrell followed suit with a double, scoring Howard. The game was locked at 2-2 until the eighth inning, when Howard hit a solo home run off Joe Thatcher. Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth for his seventh save, and Howard's home run turned out to be all the Phillies needed to win the game. 

Once again, Adam Eaton left the game before he would have been able to get the decision. In six starts, Eaton has yet to receive a decision. It's hard to know whether or not that means anything. Theoretically, it indicates how mediocre Eaton has been. After his first outing where he went 7 2/3 innings, he's never gone more than six. He's got a 4.72 ERA and 19 strikeouts on the year. Allowing 2 runs in this game has been his season low, but his season high is only four. The good news is that in his mediocrity, he's been quite stable, and while his numbers aren't terrific, it's certainly not the 6.29 ERA he had last year. Eaton and Jamie Moyer seem to be operating this year under the same basic principles: Allow about three runs in about six innings. With the Phillies offense and bullpen, that should be enough to win games. So it could be just fine in the long run. But today did look different for Eaton. He never looked particularly dominant, but the only problem he had was the home run by Gonzalez. Perhaps he'll be one of the Phillies who benefit from leaving behind the month of April. 

It's time for some "Questionable Decisions from Charlie Manuel." The score is 2-2 and it's the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, the pitcher was due to come up. Adam Eaton was already over 100 pitches, so it was likely that he was going to come out, so So Taguchi was brought in to pinch hit. However, Eaton was coming off a very quick 1-2-3 inning and could have been able to pitch the seventh. Also, Eaton batting would not have been the end of the world as he was likely to get out anyway, and the next inning would have led off with the top of the order. 

Then in the seventh inning, Ryan Madson was brought in. He got the first two batters out and then walked the next batter on four pitches. With Brian Giles coming to bat, Manuel pulled Madson for J.C. Romero. Romero struck out Giles. Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge pitched a perfect eighth and ninth respectfully.

At first glance, that all sounds logical and fine... except that the game was tied. Luckily, Howard hit his home run before Lidge was brought in, but what if the game had gone into extra innings? Madson, one of their long relief pitchers was already used and their lefty out of the bullpen had already been used. The game was managed as if the Phillies had a lead to protect. Once again, it turned out not to matter, but either way it seemed as if Manuel misread the scoreboard when he made those decisions.