Sunday, June 29, 2008

Phils Lose Sixth Consecutive Series

Tonight's game marked the end of interleague play, which the Phillies can only be grateful for. They celebrated by dropping yet another game to an American League foe, falling to the Rangers 5-1.

Texas took an early lead against the Phillies, scoring a run in the first inning as Ian Kinsler tripled and Michael Young scored him on a groundout. The Rangers would score another run in each of the next two innings to take a 3-0 lead.

Meanwhile, the Phillies were unable to respond against Texas rookie Eric Hurley. Hurley held the Phillies scoreless until the sixth inning, when Ryan Howard drove in Chase Utley on an RBI single. Playing it safe, Texas then went to the bullpen and Jamey Wright retired Greg Dobbs to end the threat. Hurley only lasted 5 2/3 innings, but in that time he held the Phillies to just one run on five hits and two walks.

From there, the Texas bullpen took care of business, as Wright, Eddie Guardado, and C.J. Wilson threw 3.1 near-perfect innings, the only blunder being an error by Kinsler that allowed Shane Victorino to reach base. Meanwhile, the Phillies bullpen stumbled, as Ryan Madson allowed two runs in the eighth inning that put the game out of reach.

Hurley picked up his first major league win and the Phillies left Texas with plenty of questions and a slim division lead. Perhaps there will be some comfort in returning to the National League, but the schedule doesn't get any easier. The Phillies head to Atlanta next for a three-game set, then go home to face the Mets, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks.

Florida is breathing down the Phillies' necks, but they have more than the Marlins to worry about now. The Braves and Mets are within four games of first place. The only bright side to this is that the main problem hasn't been the pitching. The offense has been slumping badly (though Utley seems to have broken out of it) and even when the starters do throw a good game, they haven't gotten run support. Take Jamie Moyer, tonight's starter. He had another solid three earned run or fewer start, but has now lost three straight games.

Fortunately for the Phillies, the next two series are against teams with starting pitching problems. The Braves and Mets rotations could certainly help jump-start the Phillies offense. At least they had better hope it does.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Howard and Utley Back Hamels

Last night, Brett Myers was unable to hold the lead when the Phillies came from behind. Tonight, Cole Hamels was as the Phillies beat former Phillie Vicente Padilla and the Texas Rangers 8-6.

Michael Young put the Phillies in an early hole when he hit a two-run home run off Hamels, but in the second inning, the Phillies got three runs back, with a two-run single from Jayson Werth and another on a wild pitch by their old friend Padilla (of Padilla's Flotilla fame). If that wasn't enough, in the third inning Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hit their respective 23rd and 20th home runs to give the Phillies a 6-2 lead. The Rangers got two more runs in the fifth, but a Jimmy Rollins triple in the sixth and an Utley double in the seventh gave the Phillies enough of a lead for the Phillies to hold on. The Rangers scored two unearned runs in the eighth thanks to a catcher interference call on Chris Coste.

Cole Hamels went seven innings, allowing four runs and striking out eight. Chad Durbin got two outs in the eighth, but after the second run scored he was replaced by J.C. Romero, who eventually struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the inning. Brad Lidge got into a little trouble in the ninth, allowing a double to Ramon Vazquez and a single to Michael Young, but was able to strike out All-Star candidates Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley to end the game.

Considering the slump the Phillies have been in, this was an important win. Chase Utley's three hits is a good sign and the team's ability to back Cole Hamels is key. The recent problems had been in the starting pitching and the lack of offense. The entire offense has been cold recently, but if Chase Utley can start to produce, the players around him should be able to support him. Howard has been on and off all season, and Burrell has been steady, though rarely the backbone of the offense. Speaking of those two, despite Burrell going hitless tonight, the switching of spots for Howard and Burrell should prove beneficial, as Howard's two-run homer showed. It will put Burrell in fewer two-out situations and also allow his .409 OBP to be put to use. The only issue will come when Manuel inserts his defensive replacement for Burrell. Eric Bruntlett or So Taguchi hitting cleanup leaves a lot to be desired. Putting in Greg Dobbs as the replacement would make some sense if Burrell hits cleanup, though it would give the Phillies three straight left-handed hitters. Toward the end of the game, that might not matter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Myers Collapses; Phillies Can't Recover

The Phillies' losing continued on Friday with an agonizing 8-7 loss to the Texas Rangers. Facing mediocre pitcher and infrequent starter Kason Gabbard the team looked poised to return to form. The Rangers are not renowned for challenging pitching this season. The Phillies bats did indeed come alive to a certain extent, but Brett Myers was unable to hold the Rangers off enough to get his teammates a win.

The game began ominously with a one-two-three inning for Gabbard and Ian Kinsler hitting a lead-off home run. After this Myers showed signs of being the skilled pitcher that he sometimes can be, but the Phillies had to hope their offense would not remain as quiet as that of their opponents. In the third inning, they seemed to get their break. Eric Bruntlett walked to lead off the inning, Jayson Werth reached first on an error, and Chase Utley, finally seeming to regain his poise at the plate, drew a walk of his own, loading the bases with no outs.

The revamped lineup brought Jimmy Rollins to bat in the fourth spot, and even though he could only manage to ground out, he did even the score by scoring Bruntlett and moving Werth and Utlley to second and third. Pat Burrell batted next, Charlie Manuel having finally seemed to come to the conclusion that he is having a better year that Ryan Howard and perhaps ought to hit earlier. There is a logic to this. However, in this case it meant that Burrell got the intentional walk so that Gabbard could pitch to Howard. Howard contributed to his own record-breaking season by striking out.

The intentional walk did come back to hurt though, as Burrell being on base did mean another run against them when Pedro Feliz hit a home run the next at-at bat. The grand slam put them ahead 5-1, and it was just the kind of boost the Phillies seemed to need top refresh their hitting.

However, Myers could not hold their lead. In the home half of the inning he seemed to fall apart. Three hits in a row scored the first run. A walk to Milton Bradley loaded the bases. He seemed to have lost any sense of control, and walked David Murphy, generously giving Texas a free run. This was the final straw for Myers, who was pulled in the third. Clay Condrey replaced him, inducing Marlon Byrd to ground out (scoring another run). Chris Davis hit a two-run home run before Condrey could finally escape the inning.

When the dust settled the Rangers had the one-run lead back, and even when Chris Coste re-tied it with a solo home run in the top of the fourth, the Phillies must have felt deflated. Josh Rupe came in to pitch for Texas in the fourth and pitched effectively; they meant this game to be a collaborative job. Bradley homered again in the fifth, and from then the Phillies could never again even the score (despite a Jayson Werth solo homer later on).

It was a game the Phillies could have won had it not been for the inconsistency of Brett Myers; their losing has continued, but this time instead of failing to hit behind a good pitching performance, poor pitching spoiled a day on which they hit. One can only hope they find a way to recapture the happy medium.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Phillies Eaton Humble Pie

The win that the Phillies recorded Tuesday began to look like only a blip on the radar, as once again a reasonable performance from a Phillies starter failed to overcome the handicap of a sleeping lineup when the Phillies were shut out yesterday afternoon by a score of 5-0.

Phillies starter Adam Eaton, who has been inconsistent this year, did not begin the game encouragingly. He allowed a leadoff walk, then two runs came in on a double and single by Ryan Sweeney and Jack Cust before he could escape the inning.

Starting with the second, Eaton settled down stopped giving up runs, but it began to seem as if, once again, this would not be enough. Oakland's starter, the talented but injury-prone Rich Harden, pitched superbly. He epitomized "painting the corners," consistently throwing strikes that no Phillie could seem to get good wood on. In fact, it can be said that through the first half of the game he literally could not have pitched better. It was only a Shane Victorino single in the fifth that broke up a budding perfect game and drew a round of applause from the small crowd.

Victorino, in fact, was the only Phillie who was capable of getting a hit off of Harden. His second single in the seventh and the triple that Pat Burrell managed in the ninth off of Alan Embree were Philadelphia's only two other hits. The triple barely missed clearing the wall to give Burrell another home run and put his team on the board; he legged his second triple of the season (ironic in the ninth inning since he is usually removed for a pinch runner by then) and could not be driven in.

Eaton's pitching after giving up the initial two runs was generally good, and he showed the ability to work out of a couple of jams. However, he gave up a solo home run to Carlos Gonzales in the sixth. Charlie Manuel had enough confidence in his recovery to pitch him through seven, but when Tom Gordon relived him in the eighth, he allowed two runs, essentially driving the nail into the Phillies' coffin.

Rich Harden deserves a lot of credit for an excellent pitching performance in this game, and Adam Eaton gets tough-luck loss. The Phillies, however, haven't been scoring runs lately, and this game was just yet another demonstration. The sooner they can see a way out of this funk, the better off they will be.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kendrick Dominates and Phils Snap Skid

For the first time in what felt like ages, the Phillies got a strong pitching performance and some offense in the same game. Chase Utley went 4 for 5, falling a home run short of the cycle and Kyle Kendrick threw eight scoreless inning, allowing the Phillies to snap their six-game losing streak and beat the A's, 4-0.

The Phillies offense got going early, behind a new batting order. Jayson Werth started the game with a walk and Utley, hitting second for the first time this season, followed with a single. After Jimmy Rollins popped out, Werth and Utley executed a double steal and now-cleanup hitter Pat Burrell brought Werth home with a sacrifice fly to center. In the third inning, Utley doubled with two outs, setting up a Rollins would-be RBI single. But Ryan Sweeney made a perfect throw home and Kurt Suzuki applied the tag and foiled Utley's attempt to jar the ball loose with a head-first collision.

The lead was only 1-0, but tonight that would have been enough. Kendrick stymied the A's offense, putting together his best start of the season. Oakland failed to record a hit until the fifth inning, when Jack Hannahan hit a ground-rule double with one out.

By then, the Phillies had increased the lead to 3-0. Both runs came in the third inning, one coming off a Pedro Feliz triple and the other from a Chris Coste sac fly. Coste tacked on another RBI in the sixth inning on a single to center that scored Shane Victorino.

While the A's never really threatened, the Phillies missed a chance to blow the game open in the eighth inning. The Phillies loaded the bases with no outs against A's reliever Santiago Casilla. Eric Bruntlett (playing first base, as Howard DH'ed) hit a sharp grounder that was snagged by Bobby Crosby, who fired home for the force out. Werth then struck out looking and Utley followed with a line out, failing in his bid for a five hit game. It was a frustrating outcome, but, thanks to Kendrick, it is no more than a footnote.

Kendrick ran into a little trouble in the eighth, as the A's put runners on first and second with one out. However, he worked out of the jam, striking out Mark Ellis and getting Sweeney to ground out to the mound. That would be all for Kendrick, as J.C. Romero came in and threw a scoreless ninth, sealing the victory. The eight innings pitched marked a career-high for Kendrick, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Perhaps more encouraging than Kendrick's performance was Utley going 4 for 5. He had been mired in a well-documented slump, but seemed as locked in as ever tonight. The new batting order looked good as well. (For the record, tonight's batting order was Werth, Utley, Rollins, Burrell, Howard, Feliz, Victorino, Coste, Bruntlett.) Werth is a good fit for the lead-off spot, especially against left-handed pitchers, and this puts the Phillies' most dangerous hitters all in a row. It's only one game (and the offense didn't exactly dominate), but the new order appears to be an improvement on the old one. We'll see how it plays out in the long run, if Manuel sticks with it, or at least a slight variation.

Moyer Done in By Long Ball

The Phillies hoped that a day off and a vacation away from home would help with the recent struggles. Despite a strong outing from Jamie Moyer, they were unable to turn the tables and fell to the Oakland A's in a 5-2 loss.

Moyer completely dominated the A's, as much as 45-year-old, soft-tossing Jamie Moyer can. Moyer pitched six scoreless innings, and struck out a season-high nine batters. Pat Burrell hit a solo home run to give Moyer just enough offense to get a win. But when Moyer got to the seventh inning, he had a little trouble. With one out and two men on, Emil Brown launched a pitch to left-center to make it a 3-1 game. Moyer was taken out not long after that and a great start would essentially be for nothing. Chad Durbin finished the seventh.

In the eighth inning, Shane Victorino got a chance to show his speed. He hit a ball to Bobby Crosby who was barely able to get to it and as a result was unable to throw Victorino out at first. Victorino stole second and was able to score on a Ryan Howard single. Howard was able to reach second on a passed ball, but Pat Burrell struck out to end the inning.

J.C. Romero was brought in to pitch. He got the first two batters out, but walked Ryan Sweeney and then allowed a home run to Jack Cust, all but securing the win for the A's. He was immediately replaced by Ryan Madson who was able to get them out of the inning, but it didn't matter as Jayson Werth, Geoff Jenkins, and Pedro Feliz went down in order to get a save for Huston Street and a win for the Oakland A's.

Normally 3 runs in 6 2/3 innings is a fine stat line for a starter. The problem is when the offense doesn't back it up. The team only had six hits on the night, two of which were from Shane Victorino. Neither Jimmy Rollins nor Chase Utley had a hit in this game, though Utley did walk twice. Howard and Burrell were able to give the Phillies two runs, but that was it, and the normally dangerous bottom of the lineup was also ineffective. The good news is that the team isn't striking out a whole lot, except for Geoff Jenkins who struck out three times. Jenkins has been in a huge slump and hasn't had a hit since June 16th.

It was surprising that Pat Burrell did not start at DH for the Phillies, though according to Charlie Manuel, Burrell struggles when he's not moving around. Manuel could also have taken Jamie Moyer out after the sixth inning. With six shutout innings under his belt, his pitch count just under 100, and no pitcher's spot to worry about, the Phillies should have been overly cautious about winning this game and let their bullpen handle the last three innings. Anytime this bullpen allows runs it seems like a fluke, so even if Madson or Durbin had to pitch two innings, it would have been worth it to get a win. There was no way to know that Moyer would fall apart in the seventh, but when he allowed those two runners, normally Manuel would have made the pitching change (for Chad Durbin, who always inherits runners) before the home run. There was no way to know, but Manuel should probably have played it safe.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Angels Win Twice to Complete Sweep

The offensive lethargy that the Phillies have been displaying of late has continued, causing them to lose two more games to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and bringing their losing streak up to five games.

Saturday's game began as a scoreless pitching duel between Brett Myers and the Angels' Joe Saunders. It was good sign for Myers, who had broken a string of impressive appearances with his previous start. When Vladimir Guerrero made the best of a rare interleague opportunity to maintain his reputations for hitting the Phillies hard by hitting a solo home run in the fourth, Myers recovered well.

The Phillies, had no reason to lose faith in this one-run game, but they missed their much-needed opportunities to seize the lead. By the seventh Myers could not prevent the Angels from scoring a second run, which they did in exactly the same manner as the first, making Guerrero's reputation more secure than ever.

The Phillies got their chance in the bottom of the inning. The later part of the order came through with two out as Jayson Werth hit a home run, Chris Coste walked, and Pedro Feliz scored him with a double, tying the game at 2-2. This brought Eric Bruntlett to the plate with Feliz on second. Bruntlett, hitting .252, was in the game to play second because Charlie Manuel had wanted to give Chase Utley a day off, hoping the rest would help him break a developing ofer. Manuel elected not to pinch hit with Utley even in this potentially vital situation, and Eric Bruntlett seemed to bear him out by hitting to center field. As Feliz ran, from second, however, Steve Smith held him at third. Bruntlett did not see this and assumed that Feliz would try to score and the the throw from the outfield would come home. He tried to make his hit into a double, but was called out when the throw came into second.

This baserunning mistake and the Phillies' consequent failure to score would prove to cost them the game. Charlie Manuel left Myers in to pitch the eighth, as the only runs he had surrendered had been on possible flukes off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero, a hitter notorious for hitting pitchers' pitches.

However, Myers couldn't keep it a close game any longer. An Erik Aybar home run gave the Angels a 4-2 lead, which the added to against Chad Durbin in the next inning to win 6-2. So Taguchi, who had entered for Pat Burrell, failed to prove himself useful when he badly misplayed a ball in left field.

The prospects for last night's game looked better. The Phillies had their ace going in Cole Hamels against the mediocre Jered Weaver. Hamels' performance was perfectly adequate, but still not sufficient for a win without much run support. The only flaw in his night came in the second, when Vladimir Guerrero continued to hurt the Phillies by scoring on a Gary Matthews, Jr. single, and Casey Kocthmann hit a two run home run.

The Phillies were never able to make up the three-run deficit. An encouraging third saw Chase Utley break his slump with a double and Ryan Howard drive him in, and the game went quickly until Jimmy Rollins picked up an RBI double in the seventh. Greg Dobbs got another start at third, a move that may have been to rest Feliz but which doesn't make much sense to make with any frequency. The Phillies dropped the game 3-2.

Philadelphia has looked very unimpressive against its American League opponents so far, and the results are starting to look more like a team slump than the expected results of an interleague matchup.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Phillies Stumble Again in Interleague

The Phillies got behind early in last nights 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and they never picked up the runs they needed to make it a close game. Adam Eaton allowed twelve hits while the Phillie offense slept, and the result of such a combination was as could be expected.

The damage began early when Garrett Anderson doubled and Vladimir Guerrero, perhaps on the rebound after a subpar personal performance this year, scored him with a home run. The next inning was marked by further damage when Chone Figgins singled, Eaton moved him to second by allowing a base on balls, and Anderson drove him in.

All the while, the Phillies were busy being confounded by Angels starter Ervin Santana, who is having an impressive year. After Shane Victorino singled in the first, Santana seemed to shut down their batters, and the three-run lead loomed ever-increasingly large. Despite the lack of run support, Madson settled down a bit after the second, working out of some jams and not allowing any runs until, on a short leash, he let Guerrero single in a fourth Angel run and was replaced by Ryan Madson.

This failed to stop the bleeding, however. Madson allowed two more runs on hits by Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick before getting out of the inning. Despite the six run defecit they now faced, the Phillies threatened in the sixth. They manufactured a run when Jimmy Rollins walked, stole second, reached third on a throwing error, and scored on a Chase Utley sac fly. Shane Victorino also walked and stole second, but a potential rally was killed when Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell both demonstrated their respective well-precticed strikeout skills one after another.

It was all they would get. Clay Condrey allowed the Angels yet one more insurance run, and they took it home 7-1. It has come to be expected that for whatever reason American League teams will, on the whole perform better than National League teams in interleague play. Even taking that into account, however, the Phillies have been unimpressive against their American League opponants so far. The Red Sox and Angels aren't the only challenging teams they will have to face, an dit is important that they are better prepared to create close contests when they meet that challenge -- especially if they want to keep playing after the season ends.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kendrick Lasts Only Three Innings in Loss

Kyle Kendrick has had some great starts lately. This wasn't one of them. Kendrick gave up six runs in three innings before leaving the game. The three innings was long enough to earn him the loss, as the Phillies fell to the Red Sox 7-4.

Kendrick started off about as poorly as one can. He gave up a pair of singles and then a pair of home runs, giving Boston a 4-0 lead in the first inning with no outs. The Phillies responded with a run in the bottom of the first, off an RBI single from Ryan Howard, and one had to think there was a chance the Phillies would chip away and make a comeback, as they so often have this year.

But not this time. Kendrick made sure of it. In the third inning, Brandon Moss singled with the bases loaded to drive in two more runs, and the game appeared out of reach. That was Kendrick's final inning, though his replacement, Clay Condrey, didn't fare much better. Condrey gave up an RBI single in the fourth, making it a 7-1 game.

The Phillies made a dent in the lead in the fifth, when Jayson Werth scored Greg Dobbs on a fielder's choice. Then in the seventh, the Phillies made things interesting when Pedro Feliz singled in a pair of runs, bringing the Phillies within three. Jimmy Rollins then walked to put the tying run at the plate with no outs, but neither Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, or Howard were able to bring any more runs in, and that was effectively the game.

Feliz's single was the last Phillies hit of the game, as they would not threaten again. They lost 7-4 and have now lost three series in a row. All three series were against very good teams, but the Phillies are supposed to be a very good team themselves and they have to do better than 3-6 in such difficult stretches. A big part of the problem was Utley, who is in a hideous slump, going 0 for his last 20 at-bats. To Utley's credit, he hit several balls hard in the last few days, but right at fielders, so there's an element of luck in play. He'll turn it around...hopefully sooner than later.

The Phillies now get a much-needed day off before they square off against the Angels. The Angels are on a bit of a slide themselves, losing their last two series to the Mets and Braves, both at home. That should bode well for the Phillies, as the last thing they need is a red-hot team coming into town.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lester's More Against Philly Offense

This humble blogger returned to Citizen's Bank Park last night for the first time since it was changed forever by the glorious sight of Snelling's Salts, only to see his team shut out in a 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

For the first time, and at the prompting of the people with whom I was seeing the game, I sat at Harry the K's Bar and Grill for the first couple of innings. Harry the K himself was not in evidence, as I think he is typically busy during the games. I'd seen this restaurant every time I'd been to the park, but it had never even remotely occurred to me to try to get into. I had vaguely assumed that some sort of special reservations were required, or at least a monumentally long wait. In fact, it was only a twenty minute line, and the entrees were only ten dollars or so (I'd expected it to have prices converted to the ballpark economy and charge around $45).

The view of the field from there is not bad, but from where we ate the outfield, especially right, was obstructed and we had to guess based on crowd reactions what a couple of balls did. It looked to be a good matchup with the Sox's no-hitter luminary Jon Lester facing the Phillies' pitcher of a three-hitter in his last outing, Jamie Moyer. Moyer allowed a walk and a single (which only a very nice play on the part of Jimmy Rollins kept from being a double) in the first and got out of it, but it didn't look as if his control was at his best on this particular start. That was a bad sign since as a pitcher Moyer depends on pinpoint control. The booing for J. D. Drew was even louder and more vehement than it seemed on television; maybe it had a psychological contribution to his 0-4. In the bottom of the first Shane Victorino showed his exceptional speed by achieving the rare feat of bunting a single down the first base line, and reached second on a poorly-handled pitch in what was scored a stolen base, but nothing came of it.

It was in the second that the Red Sox drew first blood, as Moyer's second lead-off walk in a row, to Jason Varitek, was driven in on a Coco Crisp home run. Moyer would get into more trouble in the inning, delivering walks to Julio Lugo and Dustin Pedroia, who stole third and second respectively on at least one very questionable call. It didn't matter in the end, though, as Drew struck out to end the inning. After Carlos Ruiz grounded into a double play to end the second and I had finished my "Schmitter" sandwich (quite tasty) I was glad to escape the missing right field and obstructive head of a fellow diner to take a seat. We had had to buy an extra ticket when another person joined our party and picket up a fourth-level seat from a scalper, but the ticket was never checked when we went to our first-level left-field seats and found an unoccupied chair. The People's Phillies Blog takes no responsibility for what should happen to you if you try this trick yourself.

The third was fairly quiet, with Moyer seeming to settle down and Jon Lester allowing only a Rollins single in what seemed to be shaping up to be a very tough pitching performance. Twin one-two-three innings in the fourth showed Jamie Moyer's remarkable ability to right himself after he starts poorly, and he looked again like the same man who was pitching in Miami last week. As I observed this improvement, however, I also observed Rudy Seanez warming up in the bullpen to my right.

Moyer pitched well in the top of the fifth as well, but in the bottom of the inning Charlie Manuel pinch hit for him with So Taguchi, who hit a hard line drive into a glove. The bullpen did not end up doing badly on the whole, but I do wonder about Manuel's decision to take Moyer out so early, when seemed to have recovered so well. The only further damage Boston was able to inflict came in the next inning. Ryan Madson allowed Coco Crisp a single. He then stole second, clearly stealing off of Madson, as Ruiz's throw was, as usual, excellent. Far from being made extra wary, Madson allowed him to steal third, from where he was driven home by a Julio Lugo double.

The Phillies threatened in the seventh when Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz both singled, but weak-hitting Carlos Ruiz couldn't continue the two-out rally. It was satisfying to see Jacoby Ellsbury caught trying to steal third after the Sox had swiped so many base in this game. Seanez and Clay Condrey did not allow any runs in their appearances from the bullpen, but neither did the Red Sox's Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon. It was fine pitching on the part of Boston which did the Phillies in last night, in a game that was essentially a pitchers' duel to which one of the pitchers happened to show up late. It's important for the Phillies to recover from this 3-0 loss and take the series in the next game.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Howard and Hamels Take Down Red Sox

The Red Sox came into tonight's game with confidence, fresh off a 9-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds. Meanwhile the Phillies just had a pair of one-run losses to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, any nervousness the Phillies might have felt coming into a series against the reigning champions was quelled by the knowledge that Cole Hamels was pitching.

The Phillies seemed as relaxed as ever and dominated this game from the start. Jimmy Rollins belted a lead-off home run in the bottom of the first, then Ryan Howard followed with a two-run shot, and the Phillies took a 3-0 lead.

Hamels did his part, keeping Boston off the board early, thanks in part to a pair of inning-ending strikeouts from Red Sox starter Bartolo Colon. Howard connected for a second home run off Colon in the third inning, his nineteenth of the year. The Red Sox showed signs of a comeback in the top of the fourth, as Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew hit back-to-back home runs off Hamels, cutting the lead to two runs. But that was all the offense the Red Sox had in them.

The two-run lead would have been enough, but just to be safe, the Phillies broke it open in the sixth inning. Mike Timlin entered the game and the Red Sox fans in attendance probably wished he hadn't. Timlin walked Pedro Feliz on four pitches (a feat in itself), then allowed a Carlos Ruiz single. Hamels then sac bunted to move the runners over, which set up a two RBI single for Rollins. Shane Victorino then singled to right and Chase Utley grounded into a fielder's choice that scored Rollins. Howard nearly hit his third home run of the day, but instead the ball bounced off the wall and as Jacoby Ellsbury and Drew chased it down, Howard lumbered around the bases, sliding head first into third for a triple. Geoff Jenkins grounded out to end the inning, but the score was 8-2 and the game was effectively over.

Hamels pitched his best after allowing the home runs, setting down eight straight Red Sox, before allowing a walk to Drew to start the eighth. With his pitch count at 110, Charlie Manuel brought in Chad Durbin to finish the game. Durbin got Manny Ramirez to hit into a double play and coasted from there, nailing down the Phillies win.

It was not Hamels' most dominant game. Even without the home runs, he gave up five hits and walked a pair, but the Red Sox were unable to get anything going against him. The Phillies, meanwhile, hit Colon hard and Timlin even harder. They had twelve hits, half of which were for extra bases.

That the Phillies won was no surprise. Hamels is the staff ace and Colon is not the same pitcher that won the AL Cy Young in 2005. The biggest shock was a pair of triples coming from the most unlikely sources. Howard and Pat Burrell tripled thanks to strange caroms off the wall and unimpressive fielding by Ramirez and Ellsbury. It was Burrell's first triple since 2006 and Howard's second on the year. It also marked the first time ever that the two of them tripled in the same game.

If those triples had proved essential, one would have to chalk this win up to luck, but Burrell's triple didn't lead to any runs and Howard's scored the eighth run, but the game was already out of reach by that point. So clearly the Phillies were the better team last night. The pitching match-ups will get tougher from here, but in Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick, the Phillies are also well-equipped.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Phillies Commit a Cardinal Error

The short story is that the Phillies lost yesterday afternoon, 7-6 to St. Louis. The long story involves a bizarre and unlikely combination of baseball events leading to a Philadelphia loss that has to be considered far more attributable to chance -- or to fate -- than anything else.

The Phillies started the inconsistent but sometimes brilliant Brett Myers, who had generally good of late but had been hurt by home runs in his previous start; the Cardinals, rookie Mitchell Boggs. With these two not-entirely-known quantities on the mound, the first inning made it look as if this game might turn into another high-scoring contest. The Phillies began the game with Jimmy Rollins scoring on a Ryan Howard double, and the Cardinals countered with two runs on the three doubles in the bottom of the frame.

After this, the starting pitchers seemed to settle down somewhat and scoring abated for a while, but when two home runs in the bottom of the third put St. Louis ahead by 4-1, it seemed to wind might have been knocked out of the Phillies' game. Not so. They stayed true to their come-from-behind reputation, and in the fifth, after Brett Myers let off with a single and Jayson Werth walked, Howard and Pat Burrell joined forces to clear the bases with RBI singles and make it a game again, with the Phillies trailing only 5-4.

As usual, Charlie Manuel allowed Ryan Madson to bat for himself in the top of the sixth even though he would only pitch for another inning -- an inning in which he allowed Rick Ankiel to lead off with a triple. He would then score an unearned run, coming home when Chris Duncan's ground ball couldn't be fielded.

The outlook, then, wasn't especially promising for the Phillies, who ended up down two runs in the bottom of the eighth. When Chris Coste struck out and Shane Victorino, entering the game as a pinch hitter, popped up, they Phillies had only four outs remaining. However, this turned over the order, and Jimmy Rollins restored some hope with one of the speedy shortstop's characteristic triples. When Jayson Werth drew a walk, the Cardinals took out pitcher Chris Perez and replaced him with Randy Flores. This would prove to be a mistake on their part, as Flores then proceeded to walk Chase Utley and load the bases. However, with that he was just warming up. For his next trick he went on the achieve the nigh-impossible task of walking Ryan Howard, allowing Rollins to score. Tony La Russa must not have been entirely impressed with this difficult feat, so he took Flores out for Russ Springer. Springer fell into the common trap of walking Pat Burrell, which of course allowed Jayson Werth to score. The game was now tied 6-6.

Charlie Manuel then took the dubious step of removing Pat Burrell from the game so that So Taguchi could run for him at first base. Of course, it wasn't as if it was there were runners at second and third blocking Pat's path to home plate. Or as if games tied in late innings ever go into extra innings and managers need to have bench players. Or as if when the Phillies are tied late in the game they would want a hot hitter like, say, Pat Burrell in the game in order to help them score some. Certainly not.

In any case, Geoff Jenkins broke the string of four walks with the strikeout, and J. C. Romero shut the Cardinals down in the bottom of the inning. In the ninth, Greg Dobbs singled and Manuel asked catcher Chris Coste to bunt him over to second. This is a smart move in a close game when a player with a horrible batting average -- such as Coste's abysmal .311, I suppose, -- comes to the plate. In any case, Coste did as he was ordered, even when there were two strikes.

Manuel's shocking next move was to remove Greg Dobbs from the game so that Eric Bruntlett could pinch run for him. Of course, it isn't as if games tied in late innings ever go into extra innings and managers need to have bench players. Or as if when the Phillies are tied late in the game they would want... Oh, forget it.

However, Brunlett's relative speed did come to play a part in the rest of the game. Shane Victorino singled to move him to third base. Next Jimmy Rollins came to the plate and hit a grounder towards first base. Bruntless came flying home, and so did the ball. Desperate to help score a run, he charged into the plate and barrelled through Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina without even sliding; he just tried to run through him like a bull. Unsurprisingly there was a collision at the plate. Bruntlett was called out. The call was a doubtful one, since although the ball had clearly reached the plate before him , it was uncertain whether he had actually been tagged. Charlie Manuel rightly emerged from the dugout to argue the call.

However, nobody could direct their attention there. The Cardinals had all gathered in a rough circle around home plate. Yadier Molina was lying on the ground completely prone and motionless. There was sense that his injury could be extremely serious, and the stadium was enveloped in complete silence, broken only by solemn applause when Molina was moved onto a stretcher, and when that was wheeled off of the field. Instant replays showed that he had been thrown by the force of Brunlett's body and his head had banged powerfully into the dirt. As Jason La Rue entered to play for him there and everyone had to shake into their heads that there was in fact a baseball game going on, it felt almost as if the fates would want St. Louis to win this game for sentimental reasons.

The next batter was Jayson Werth. He was hit by one of Ryan Franklin's pitches. Nobody knew if this was intentional, but, if it was, nobody was going to call him on it.

Chase Utley made an out with the bases loaded and the inning ended; we went into extra innings. The tie held, and in the bottom of the tenth Manuel brought in usual set-up man Tom Gordon to try to keep back the Cardinals. After he retired two, Rick Ankiel hit an easy ground ball to Chase Utley. Utley, however, made a bad throw to Gordon, covering the bag, and allowed Ankiel to reach first safely. Gordon, though forty years old and a seasoned veteran, seemed rattled. He went to 3-0 against Troy Glaus, who took advantage of the hitter's count by singling and putting Ankiel in scoring position.

When Chris Duncan came to the plate Gordon bore down and induced a grounder. Again he left the mound and went to cover first. Again Utley tossed to him. This time Gordon missed it. In a fury, he slammed his glove into the ground. Rick Ankiel ran home, and the Cardinals won 7-6. Maybe it was fate.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ex-Phillie Shuts Down Offense

Kyle Lohse was a big part of the Phillies success in the second half of last year. Tonight, he reminded the Phillies why, as he pitched eight innings and led the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory.

Lohse wasn't exactly dominating; he only had three strikeouts on the night, but he only allowed four hits and walked two over the course of the game. The only runs he allowed were the two runs scored with Pat Burrell's 18th home run of the year. So of those four hits, Burrell had one, Ryan Howard had one, putting him on base for Burrell to hit home, and the other two hits came from none other than starting pitcher Adam Eaton. Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz had a walk each, and everyone else was kept off the bases by Lohse. Ryan Franklin, another former Phillie and now the Cardinals' closer, pitched the ninth for his ninth save.

Adam Eaton, once again, got into an early hole, giving up a two run homer to Adam Kennedy in the first inning. However, he was able to keep his composure and went 6 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, he gave up an RBI single to Ryan Ludwick, and that would be all the Cardinals needed to win the game. J.C. Romero pitched the remaining 1 1/3 innings.

Adam Eaton did his job. Kyle Lohse was simply better.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Howard Makes Himself at Home in Phillies Rout

Todd Wellemeyer missed his last start due to a minor elbow injury. The Phillies ignored the elbow and instead went to work on his pride, scoring eight runs off Wellemeyer and demolishing the Cardinals 20-2.

This has been a strange season for road teams, as Jayson Stark reported, with only three teams able to boast winning road records. The Phillies and Cardinals are two of those teams and the Phillies seemed to benefit from being the road team tonight. They got the first chance at the plate and certainly made the most of it. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell put up back-to-back-to-back home runs in the first inning, giving Kyle Kendrick a 3-0 lead before he had to step onto the field.

That would have been enough for Kendrick, who pitched one of his best games of the season, scattering eight hits over seven innings and allowing just one earned run. While Kendrick may not have needed extra help, the Phillies were happy to provide it.

In the fourth inning, Kendrick hit a ground rule double, Jimmy Rollins walked, and Shane Victorino singled to set up a two RBI single from Utley. That chased Wellemeyer and made it a 6-1 game. Ron Villone replaced him, but didn't fare much better. The Phillies kept slugging and piled on seven more runs before Howard struck out to end the nine-run inning. Kendrick even got an RBI single later in the inning. The Phillies severely tarnished the ERAs of both Wellemeyer (who came into the game with a 7-1 record) and Villone. Wellemeyer's ERA jumped from 2.93 to 3.67 and Villone's went from 3.91 to 5.67.

And yet, the Phillies offense wasn't quite done. Howard, playing in his hometown, launched a three-run shot, his second home run of the day (and 17th of the year), in the sixth inning. That put the Phillies up 17-1. Charlie Manuel had already declared the game won by that point. He pinch hit for both Utley and Burrell in that same inning. Amazingly, even with the substitutions, only Jimmy Rollins and pinch hitter Greg Dobbs went hitless in the game. Rollins went 0 for 4, but still walked three times.

Despite the blowout, there was some late-inning drama. In the top of the eighth, Russ Springer hit Ryan Howard with a pitch. Home plate umpire Larry Vanover deemed it intentional and ejected Springer, drawing a long argument from Tony La Russa that ended in La Russa being tossed as well. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Rudy Seanez threw a pitch that went behind Brendan Ryan. Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo argued it was a retaliation pitch and Seanez should have been ejected as well. Vanover felt differently and instead it was Oquendo who hit the showers early.

By that point the score was 20-2 and Seanez's ejection would have been no more than a minor nuisance for the Phillies anyway. Condrey pitched the ninth inning to finish off the game. Tonight's win was extremely impressive. The Cardinals may have been missing Albert Pujols, but even his bat would not have saved St. Louis tonight. The Phillies got hitting from the usual suspects (Utley, Howard, Burrell) but also from several unlikely candidates. Carlos Ruiz went 4 for 6 with 4 RBIs, both career-highs, and Kendrick got two hits of his own.

Also impressive was Kendrick's pitching performance. It's certainly easier to pitch a good game when you have a huge lead, but, despite the eight hits, Kendrick did his part to keep this one a blowout and his seven innings allowed the Phillies to give the bullpen regulars a well-deserved rest. The win put Kendrick's record at 6-2, which is partly due to his recent success and partly a result of excellent run support. In fact, the Phillies have won 10 of Kendrick's last 11 starts, and the one loss was a one-inning "start" that was cut short due to a rain delay.

The next game will feature Adam Eaton and former Phillie Kyle Lohse. Both were ineffective for the Phillies last year, but have turned it around in 2008. Eaton is 2-0 in his last three starts and has had four straight quality starts. Meanwhile Lohse has won four straight and sports a 7-2 record. Will the Phillies get the Lohse they remember from last year, or the revamped version?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Moyer the Merrier

Jamie Moyer started last night against Scott Olsen, and after the Phillies had been edged out in two close contests, few, probably were expecting a pitchers' duel between the middle-of-the-road Marlins starter and the oldest active player in Major League Baseball to last very long in Miami's summer heat. Moyer, however, the consummate slowballer, seems to be affected by the passage of time in that it affords even more pitching experience from which to learn -- as this 3-0 Phillies win helped to demonstrate.

When he has his good control he's as tough a man to hit as any in baseball, and he proved it last night. He had his good control. This made for a tense matchup, as Olsen also seemed to have brought his. After Chase Utley lined a well-fielded single that could have been a double in the first inning, nobody at all reached base until the fourth, when the perfect game that some had already noted that Moyer had going was ended by a walk he surrendered to Jeremy Hermida. Hermida knew every base would count in a game like this one and stole second, but this meant nothing after Moyer had retired the rest of the side.

As the innings flew by and no player from either team managed to step across home plate, the pressure mounted on the Phillies not just to win but to give their starter some breathing room in the potential no-hitter that was beginning to shape up. Olsen was pitching them well, however, and sometimes when a team can't break through another's pitching, all it can do is wait for a break.

For the Phillies, that came in the sixth inning. Moyer himself, leading off the inning, got the Phillies their second hit of the game by poking a line drive to left. Jimmy Rollins, taking timely advantage of the fact that the pitcher had not made the first out of the inning but had reached base instead, moved him over to second with a ground ball single. The Phillies were threatening for the first time in the game, but soon they looked about to squander their opportunity, as Shane Victorino and Chase Utley made outs (albeit outs that moved the speedy Rollins to third and put the even speedier Victorino on base instead of the rather infrequent baserunner Jamie Moyer) , and slumping Ryan Howard came to the plate.

That's when luck kicked in. A wild pitch allowed Rollins to score, then a bad throw let the ball get away and allowed Victorino to come home and join him. Ending the inning in signature fashion, Ryan Howard struck out.

In the bottom of the seventh, Scott Olsen singled off Moyer to give the Marlins their first hit of the game. Turnabout is fair play.

The Phillies would tack on another insurance run when Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, and Jayson Werth all singled in the eighth, but they wouldn't need it. Charlie Manuel allowed Jamie Moyer to keep pitching through the eighth inning, and he finished the evening with only two hits and a walk to his name, to go with the eight shutout innings. Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth for his eighteenth save to keep the Phillies from being swept, despite another fine pitching performance from a Marlins' starter.

Moyer's start was a gem, and just the kind of win the Phillies needed after losing two in a row on this important road trip. It's a competitive division, and the Phillies will need to work if they want to stay on top of it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Phillies Fall On Walk-Off Slam

With the bases loaded and a 3-1 count to Dan Uggla, Tom Gordon had little choice but to throw a strike. There must have been a sense of relief when the ball sailed toward the strike zone, as Gordon had struggled to find that region the entire inning, throwing only six strikes on nineteen pitches. This pitch found the plate to make strike #7. Only problem is, Uggla was ready for it. He crushed Gordon's fastball over the left field wall for a walk-off grand slam and the Marlins got a dramatic victory (final score 6-2) that put them within two games of the division-leading Phillies, with a chance for a sweep tomorrow.

The final score does not indicate how great of a game this was. For eight innings, the starters dueled. Cole Hamels was his usual self. He shut down eight of the Marlins hitters for eight innings, walking one and striking out a season-high thirteen. The only man standing between him and a shutout was Jorge Cantu, who, for whatever reason, had Hamels' number tonight, belting a pair of solo home runs. Still, those were the only runs Hamels would allow.

Normally that would be enough for the win, but Marlins starter Andrew Miller was equally dominant. Miller went seven strong innings, surrender just one run, a Chase Utley RBI single in the seventh, and left the game in line for the win.

And so it would come down to the bullpens. Justin Miller held the Phillies at bay in the eighth, retiring the side on three pitches. Then came the ninth and Kevin Gregg, who the Phillies seemed happy to see. Pinch hitter Greg Dobbs led off the inning with an infield single and was promptly replaced by Eric Bruntlett. Gregg then walked Jimmy Rollins.

With Shane Victorino coming up and runners on first and second, the sacrifice bunt seemed not only likely, but inevitable. But the Phillies seemed to have their signs mixed up, as Victorino took the first pitch and Rollins put his hands up, as if to say "Hey, wha' happened?" Rollins seemed even more confused when Bruntlett took off for third in what may have been designed as a double steal. Bruntlett did his part, sliding into third, but Rollins didn't see him take off and remained at first. Victorino then struck out looking, on a questionable call that had him livid. Instead of one out and two runners in scoring position, the game-ending double play was still in order.

Fortunately, future MVP Chase Utley was due up. Utley came through once again...sort of. He grounded to Uggla, who tossed to Hanley Ramirez at second for one out and prepared to fire to first and end the game. However, he had a hard time getting the ball out of his glove and the delay was enough for Utley to make it to first in time. Meanwhile, Bruntlett crossed home plate without a throw and the game was tied 2-2.

Gregg then seemed to fall apart. His first pitch to Ryan Howard was wild and allowed Utley to advance to second, causing the Marlins to intentionally walk Howard. This was an odd move considering Howard's .208 batting average and the fact that there were already two outs in the inning. Not to mention, it brought up the surprisingly clutch Pat Burrell. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, Gregg was too wild at this point to give Burrell a chance to add to his 2008 highlight reel. Gregg's first pitch to Pat the Bat hit him on the arm and Burrell took first, loading the bases for Jayson Werth.

Considering Gregg hadn't thrown a called strike since Victorino's at-bat, this would have been a good time to take a pitch or two, just to see if he still had his control. Werth, or perhaps Charlie Manuel (whoever made the decision) had other ideas and Werth bunted on the first pitch. This would have been viewed as very clever had it been a good bunt, as there's no way the Marlins were expecting it, but it was not a good bunt. Gregg ranged a few feet to his right and was able to field it and throw out Werth by a couple of steps.

So instead of a one-run lead and Brad Lidge on the mound, the Phillies got The Setup Man, Tom Gordon. Gordon started out with an ominous four-pitch walk to Ramirez. The Phillies caught a break when Jeremy Hermida popped up a bunt for an out, but that was the only thing a Phillies fielder would catch this inning. Cantu struck again with a single and former Phillie Wes Helms got to passively observe Gordon's work, as he too walked on four pitches.

That brought up Uggla with the bases juiced and no more room for baserunners. Gordon seemed not to realize this at first, running a 2-0 count, before getting Uggla to foul a pitch off. Then Gordon threw another ball, putting the Marlins one ball away from victory. Determined to make the Marlins earn it, at least a little, he fired a strike that never made it to Carlos Ruiz. Instead it met Uggla's bat and left the field, ending the game in the Marlins' favor.

One has to wonder in all this, where was Rollins in the bottom of the ninth? Last time Gordon struggled like this, he came out and calmed him down, but he didn't even approach the mound this time, or even make eye contact with Gordon so far as I could tell. Is it Rollins' responsibility to make sure the Phillies bullpen is focused? Hell no. But it would've been nice. Of course, the real question is, where was Rich Dubee or Charlie Manuel...or even Carlos Ruiz. Not one Phillie, player or coach, went to the mound to talk to Gordon.

Of course none of that would have mattered if the Phillies had scored one more run in the top of the ninth. Despite tying the game, so many things went wrong in that inning. Victorino not sacrificing the runners over (whether he was supposed to or Rollins just thought that was the call) and Rollins failing to recognize Bruntlett taking off for third both nearly ended the game, when Utley just beat out a double play ball. Then came the inexplicable decision to bunt with two outs and the bases loaded. That was a terrible decision for many reasons, most of which are fairly logical and need not be explained here. Bunting with two outs is generally a poor decision, but doing so against a pitcher who has thrown a wild pitch and hit a batter in his last two real pitches (not counting his intentional balls to Howard) is just ludicrous.

It's unclear who made the decision to go for the bunt. It could have been Werth's idea, or it could have come from the dugout, but one way or the other, it was an awful decision and likely cost the Phillies the game. Obviously there's no guarantee that Werth reaches base if he doesn't bunt, but there would certainly have been a better chance.

So now tomorrow's game becomes something of a must-win for the Phillies. With a loss, the Marlins can move within one game of the division and the Phillies lose all the momentum from their impressive Atlanta sweep, that is if all of that didn't leave with Uggla's walk-off slam.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Myer-ed in Defeat

Brett Myers can be virtually unhittable when he's on his game. However, he usually seems equally unmissable when he's off his game, and that's what he was for a good portion of his match up against Florida's Ricky Nolasco tonight. The Phillies put up a good fight against Florida's attack, but in the end they couldn't plug the hole in their game created by Myers' uneven pitching performance, and lost the game by an agonizing score of 6-5.

There seemed to be almost as many Phillies fans as Marlins fans in attendance (which is not an uncommon occurrence in Florida, the home of Spring Training and countless transplanted Northern retirees). They had reason to hope for a good performance from Myers, who in his last few starts had begun to look quite convincingly like the intimidating early-rotation starter it has always been said that he could be.

Things didn't start promisingly for him however: he allowed a lead-off home run to Hanley Ramirez. He then proceeded to continue the inning by walking Jeremy Hermida so that he could score on the two-run homer that Jorge Cantu would hit in the next at-bat. This inauspicious start looked unpleasant but not insurmountable. The Phillies, in fact have acquired something of a reputation this season for winning games when down by three in the first. Nolasco, however, was impressive, and the Phillies' offense was significantly held at bay for a number of innings. It was not until the fourth that they hit (an ultimately fruitless Pat Burrell double).

The encouraging sign was that although Nolasco was pitching effectively, Myers seemed to have settled down to match him. In the fifth the lethargy lifted, and it became a game again when Brett Myers reached base on an error and Jimmy Rollins drove him in with a two-run homer.

It was now only a one-run contest, but this state of affairs would last only until the next inning, when Mike Jacobs mirrored Rollins' achievement and took Myers deep for the third time in one game. 5-2 Marlins. The Phillies couldn't make up the difference, despite inching to within a run on two runs scored by Pat Burrell who was driven in by Greg Dobbs after reaching on an error, then hit a solo homer, his sixteenth on the season, in the eighth.

Although Brett Myers can't be said to have had an especially effective start, one encouraging sign that comes out of it is that he seems to have displayed a lot more poise in the face of frustrating circumstances than before. Nobody, can pitch perfectly in every outing, but the conventional wisdom had always held that Myers' greatest weakness was his temper, and if he has conquered that then perhaps we can see today's game as more of a blip than a sign of long term trouble for his performances.

Charlie Manuel's decision to start Greg Dobbs instead of Pedro Feliz paid off with an RBI hit in an important spot. Dobbs is having a great season, but his supernaturally high value as a pinch hitter and Pedro Feliz's superb fielding at third means it isn't a novelty that needs to happen every day. Pat Burrell had another excellent day (two hits with a homer, ten bases, two runs scored) and Ryan Howard an another unimpressive one (0 for 4 with two strike outs), casting doubt on how long Manuel can keep posting his current lineup.

The pieces were in place for a Phillies win last night, with some nice tenacious baseball, good offensive and defensive plays, and improved recoverability on the part of Brett Myers. If only he hadn't allowed those three home runs, it would have worked perfectly.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Braves Bullpen Falters Again as Phillies Sweep

When Chase Utley strolled to the plate with runners on second and third and one out in the ninth inning of a one-run game, Braves manager Bobby Cox was forced to pick his poison. Should the Braves pitch to Utley, the current favorite for the NL MVP, or go after former MVP Ryan Howard with the bases loaded? Cox opted for Howard and his low-.200's batting average. Howard responded with a double to deep left field that scored two runs and dashed the Braves' comeback hopes.

On paper, today's match-up appeared to favor the Braves. Atlanta starter Jorge Campillo entered the game with an impressive 1.79 ERA, compared to Adam Eaton's 4.63. If the Phillies were impressed by Campillo's numbers, they didn't show it. They scored two runs in the first inning off a Howard double and a Geoff Jenkins RBI ground-out and it looked like they might coast to another blowout win.

Also playing in the Phillies' favor was the fact that the Braves lineup was thinner than usual. Chipper Jones and his absurd .420 batting average took the day off due to a strained right quad and Brian McCann got a regularly scheduled day off from his catching duties. Early on, the Braves didn't seem to notice. After Eaton got a pair of easy outs, Yunel Escobar, hitting in Chipper's customary spot, doubled and Mark Teixeira tied the game with a blast to center.

The Phillies got the lead back in the third on another Howard double, but that too was short-lived. In the bottom of the fourth, Josh Anderson tied the game with a single to center field that plated Omar Infante. The 3-3 score would remain until the ninth inning.

Eaton flirted with disaster the entire game, allowing at least one baserunner in every inning except, oddly enough, his final one. It was still enough to keep the game tied and earn him a quality start, his fourth straight. Campillo had a decent outing as well, lasting 5 1/3 innings and surrendering just the three runs. However, the game became a battle of the bullpens; a contest that heavily favored the Phillies.

Chad Durbin replaced Eaton and pitched two scoreless innings and the Braves got 2 2/3 out of Buddy Carlyle and Will Ohman before the decisive ninth. With an uncertain closing situation, Cox turned to Blaine Boyer to pitch the ninth. After getting Chris Coste to foul out, pinch hitter Eric Bruntlett and Jimmy Rollins singled, putting the winning run in scoring position for Shane Victorino, who has played as pivotal a role in this series as anyone on either team. Victorino delivered once again, hitting a single up the middle to score Bruntlett. Boyer then intentionally walked Utley, loading the bases for Howard, who sliced a double, his third of the game, to left field. Rollins and Victorino scored and the Phillies led 6-3.

The extra two RBIs helped, but one was all the Phillies really needed, as Brad Lidge notched his seventeenth save with a perfect ninth inning and the Phillies completed an impressive three-game sweep of the Braves.

Did Cox make the right decision when he decided to load the bases for Howard in the ninth inning? Probably. But with the way the Phillies are playing now it just didn't matter.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Victorino is Sweet for Phillies

Tonight's 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves didn't begin especially auspiciously. After the Phillies didn't score in the first, first-baseman Ryan Howard bungled a simple toss to the pitcher and allowed the first Atlanta batter to reach base. It looked like it could turn into just the kind of festival of missed opportunities that the previous game almost was, but a perfect throw from Carlos Ruiz caught him stealing only a few pitches later.

Kyle Kendrick, who has been successful lately, in part due to the excellent run support he has received from his teammates, looked fine but not unstoppable early on -- likewise his opponent Jo-Jo Reyes. Both men allowed baserunners a number of times while still managing to pull themselves out of trouble before a number of innings came to a close. In the fifth, however, the pattern on zeros on the scoreboard could finally be disrupted as one of those occasional home runs that will come off the bat of the Phillies' wildly free-swinging catcher Carlos Ruiz took place with nobody on.

The lead was augmented during the Phillies' next inning when Pat Burrell delivered with a solo home run of his own (his fifteenth in what is turning out to be a very impressive season), but the Braves equalized when Kendrick allowed a two-run homer to (guess who) Chipper Jones shortly before being pulled from the game to make way for Ryan Madson, who escaped the inning without further damage.

In a dubious move, Charlie Manuel allowed Ryan Madson to bat for himself in the top of the seventh, only to ask him to pitch to a single batter -- Yunel Escobar -- in the bottom of the inning before J. C. Romero came into the game. Needless to say, it is important to take opportunities to score runs in a tie game, and letting Greg Dobbs hit is far more likely to do that. However skillfully Madson induced Escobar to ground out to the mound, it is doubtful whether it would match the sacrifice of the offensive chance on the Phillies' part.

In the next inning the Phillies managed to take the lead rather spectacularly anyway, as Shane Victorino walked, then amply demonstrated the advantages of his famous speed (and his number two spot in the order), scoring from first on a Chase Utley hit that turned into a triple when the fielders' attention turned to Victorino. Ryan Howard, getting his first clutch hit in what seems like months, drove Utley in with a single, and the Phillies took a 4-2 lead.

Although Romero had been performing well (assisted by an astounding play on the part of Chase Utley, who dove for a ball that looked surely bound for right field), Manuel saw no need to abandon loyalty to his famous formula. Romero came out of the game so that Tom Gordon, The Set Up Man, could come in. Gordon ran into some trouble with men on first and second, but worked out of it. In the ninth the Phillies drove the nail into the coffin when Jimmy Rollins scored Ruiz on a two-run home run, and Brad Lidge was asked to close, despite the relatively comfortable four runs by which the Phillies now lead. He struck out the side.

Tonight's was a satisfying win, with meaningful contributions from the whole top of the lineup (Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, and Burrell were all instrumental). Jayson Werth, in his first game back from the DL, got two hits, and Kyle Kendrick had another good outing. If the Phillies can keep up this level of play, which has given them a comfortable lead in the division, they have little to worry about.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Johnson's Bobble Allows Comeback

With two outs in the ninth, men on first and second, and the Phillies down 2-1, Chris Coste hit a pop up down the first base line. It looked like the game was over, but Kelly Johnson bobbled the ball in his glove and Eric Bruntlett scored from second base to tie the game. After two more Phillies runs, Shane Victorino nailed Gregor Blanco at home plate in the bottom of the tenth to end the game and the Phillies won 4-3.

Most of the game was a pitching duel between Jamie Moyer and Tim Hudson. Hudson went 7 2/3 innings and allowed only one run - an RBI single by Chase Utley to score Victorino in the first. Jamie Moyer went 5 1/3 innings and didn't allow a run until Brian McCann's two run home run knocked him out of the game. The game remained 2-1 until Kelly Johnson's bobble in the bottom of the ninth allowed the game to be tied.

Once the game was tied, Tom Gordon pitched the ninth and didn't allow a run, but allowed a double to Johnson and intentionally walked Chipper Jones. He then struck out Mark Teixeira and got Jeff Francoeur to pop out to Ryan Howard. In the tenth inning, Manny Acosta was brought in to pitch for the Braves. The inning started off with a double by People's Phillies Blog favorite Chris Snelling, a sac bunt by Jimmy Rollins, and a triple from Shane Victorino to score pinch runner So Taguchi. Acosta was taken out and lefty Royce Ring was brought in to face Utley and Howard. Utley hit a double, scoring Victorino, but Howard flew out and after an intentional walk to Pat Burrell, Bruntlett popped out.

Brad Lidge was brought in to secure the win for the Phillies, and struck out the first batter, McCann. Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco then got on base and Greg Norton came to bat with men at the corners. Blanco stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position. Norton struck out, bringing up Yunel Escobar. Escobar hit a single into center field, Anderson scored, and it looked like Blanco was going to as well. However, Victorino's cannon of an arm fired the ball to Chris Coste and nailed Blanco at the plate, winning the game.

The Phillies offense was unable to capitalize on the eight men that were left on base, but the Fightin' Phils were able to come back when they had to. For most of the night, the lack of offense was no issue as Jamie Moyer shut out the Braves through five innings, continuing the streak of good Phillies starting pitching. The bullpen was good once again, not allowing any runs except for one by Brad Lidge. At this point in the season, every part of the team seems to be working well. At the beginning of the season, while the bullpen was good, the offense took a while to wake up and the rotation was inconsistent. Now, the offense is more active, with 5 starters hitting above .280 and Burrell and Howard making up for lower average with a great deal of power and clutch hitting on Burrell's part. The starting pitching is the last piece to fall into place, not having allowed more than 2 runs in the past four days. Cole Hamels is King Cole as we were reminded of by yesterday's complete game shutout, Brett Myers is figuring out how to be an ace, and Eaton, Moyer, and Kendrick have been solid all season. The team has won ten of its last twelve games and the two losses were Hamels' off-night when he allowed seven runs, and the 2-0 pitchers' duel between Myers and Edinson Volquez. If the back end of the rotation can continue to pitch well, this will continue to be one of the best teams in the league.

Phillies Draft Analysis

The Phillies have had a lot of success through the draft in recent years, as a large portion of the current team is home-grown. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell were all drafted by the Phillies. So what future stars did they take in this year's draft?

With the 24th overall pick, they selected Anthony Hewitt, a high school shortstop from Connecticut. Hewitt is a five-tool talent with tons of upside, but a fair amount of risk involved. First off, he has committed to Vanderbilt and the Phillies will have to talk him out of going. If they can manage that, there are still some issues to work out. For example, what position does he play? He's played shortstop in high school, but scouts believe that he projects as more of an outfielder in the majors, as he lacks the instincts to be a major league infielder. While he is an excellent athlete with good speed, his fielding is not what got him drafted in the first round. He has the potential to be a superb hitter, particularly in the power department. The main knock on him, offensively, is his poor plate discipline. That could change as he develops in the minor leagues, but more likely he projects as another strikeout prone hitter. The Phillies have plenty of those guys already, but it hasn't exactly worked out badly for them. Hewitt is a risky pick, between his signability issues and his need for further development, but if he lives up to that potential, he can be as good as just about anyone in the draft.

The first supplemental round landed the Phillies Zach Collier, a high school outfielder from southern California. Collier played right field for his high school team, though he has the range and instincts to play center. More likely he projects to a corner outfielder. Like Hewitt, he is a five-tool player, though not as raw. He has good power at the plate and it appears that he can improve as a home run hitter, as he has primarily looked to make hard contact, rather than drive the ball out of the park. Collier appears to be a fairly similar prospect to Hewitt in that he has tremendous upside but needs a lot more experience and polish.

With their first pick in the second round, the Phillies took another outfielder (that's three in three picks, if you count Hewitt as an OF). Anthony Gose, another high school outfielder from California, was the pick. Gose is an interesting pick because it is unclear what position he will play. The Phillies appear to have drafted him as an outfielder, but he has also gotten some looks as a pitcher, with some scouts believing he has a better future on the mound. As a pitcher, he boasts an excellent fastball with good movement and a developing curveball. Also, he is left-handed, which would help him on the mound more than it would at the plate. As an outfielder, he projects as a good defensive center fielder with a nice line drive swing. He has yet to show a great deal of power, but that might develop in time. Once again, the Phillies have taken a player with great upside but who has a long way to go before he's major league ready. Should he struggle as a hitter, the Phillies could move him back to the mound, but he may not be very receptive to the idea, as he has insisted on being drafted as a position player.

With their later second round pick, the Phillies added Jason Knapp, a high school pitcher from New Jersey. Knapp has good velocity on his fastball, with decent movement. He projects as a setup man or perhaps a 4th or 5th starter. The main knock on him is his lack of a consistent secondary pitch. As with the three previous picks, he is a high risk/high reward prospect. Because he's so young, there's reason to believe he can develop another pitch or two, but as he is now, his reliance on the fastball makes him a better fit as a relief pitcher.

In the third round, the Phillies finally drafted a college player, selecting Vance Worley, a pitcher from Long Beach State. Worley struggled a bit in his last season as a starter, but he could be an effective relief pitcher (so says Keith Law, anyway). He's good a decent four-seam and two-seam fastball, but got better velocity in '06 pitching out of the bullpen.

Three of the last four picks on the day were pitchers, as the Phillies took Jonathan Pettibone, Trevor May, and Colby Shreve, plus first baseman Jeremy Hamilton. Pettibone and May were high school prospects, continuing the Phillies' trend of the day: taking raw players with high upside.

On the whole, it seemed as if the Phillies had a strong Day One of the draft. It's always risky to take players based heavily on potential and less on performance, but with their raw ability, one has to think most of the early picks project to at least be productive major league players, even if they don't exploit their star potentials.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hamels Shuts Out Reds

Cole Hamels entered the game on a cold streak, having surrendered thirteen earned runs in his last two starts. Meanwhile the rest of the Phillies rotation had stepped up, as both Adam Eaton and Brett Myers were coming off excellent starts. Not to be outdone, Hamels alleviated concerns that had arisen over the past two weeks and dominated the Reds, pitching a complete game shutout. The offense backed him up, in part thanks to some sloppy Reds fielding, and the Phillies came away with a 5-0 win.

The Philadelphia fans finally got their wish as Ken Griffey Jr. started the game in right field, batting third. However, he wasn't able to do much damage against Hamels, going 1 for 4 with a double. Griffey grounded out to end the first inning, in which Hamels had no trouble, retiring the Reds in order. But the second inning was a bit nerve-racking, as the Reds loaded the bases on a walk, a double, and an intentional walk to bring up the pitcher, Homer Bailey. Bailey failed to live up to his name and popped out to end the threat. After the second, Hamels went on cruise control, allowing only three Reds to reach base the rest of the way.

Bailey, in his first start of the season, handled the Phillies for the first two innings before running into a little trouble in the third. Carlos Ruiz singled with one out and Hamels sacrificed him to second. Jimmy Rollins hit a pop-up to shallow left field that bounced off the glove of Reds shortstop Paul Janish, allowing Ruiz to score and giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead. That would be Rollins' final contribution of the day, as Charlie Manuel benched him in the top of the fifth, frustrated that he did not run out the pop-up and as a result was only on first base. Eric Bruntlett would replace him. The next batter, Shane Victorino, popped up to shallow left and Janish made an impressive running grab to, at least partially, redeem himself for the error.

The Phillies offense would be held at bay again until the fifth inning, when poor defense got him into more trouble. Pedro Feliz started out the inning by beating out an infield single and then taking second on a throwing error by Bailey. Next Ruiz walked, but Hamels flied out to center and Bailey had a chance to get out of the jam. Bailey did his part, getting Bruntlett to hit a fly ball that was, at least momentarily, tracked by Griffey. However, Griffey lost it in the lights and it bounced off his glove and allowed Feliz to score. Victorino made it a 3-0 game with a single to right and Chase Utley hit a long, hard out to end the inning.

The Phillies would tack on two more runs. One on a Geoff Jenkins home run and another on a Ryan Howard RBI single. Those would be the only earned runs of the game for Bailey, who had a solid, if unlucky, outing, going 6 1/3 innings, but allowing five runs, thanks in part to three errors.

But there was zero margin for error today against Hamels, who now has a 3-0 record and 0.60 ERA in four career starts against the Reds. After the second inning, the closest the Reds came to scoring was in the ninth, when Griffey tattooed the ball to deep center. It looked like 600 off the bat, but it didn't quite have the distance and Victorino snared it with a leaping grab on the warning track. As Griffey walked back to the dugout, the Philadelphia crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Griffey's show moves on to Florida now, as the series wrapped up today, with the Phillies winning 3 of 4. While many of the fans came to see Griffey make history, it's hard to be disappointed after seeing four games of excellent baseball, including two one-run games, a near no-hitter for Myers, and Hamels' superb performance today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Myers' Bid for History Slain in Pitchers' Duel

It was no secret coming into tonight's game that a pitchers' duel was a definite possibility. The two teams had already chosen their weapons. The Reds were sending young phenom Edinson Volquez to the mound, who in his first full year of Major League pitching has accrued a 1.32 ERA in twelve starts. Pitching for the Phillies would be the erratic and temperamental Brett Myers, who, when he is on, has a tendency to become miraculously unhittable. In his last start he looked like he was starting to come back on. Both pitchers were masterful, but in the end it was Cincinnati who scored a couple of late-inning runs to edge a 2-0 victory.

From the start, neither offense seemed to be able to make much of a dent against either Volquez or Myers, who both combined speed and movement with rare ability all night. The Phillies managed a few baserunners, with Ryan Howard and Geoff Jenkins acquiring promising singles, and Chris Coste reaching base twice, on a hit-by-pitch, then an error. However, Volquez, managed to keep his opponents closely enough at bay that none of the baserunners were ever allowed to come home.

However, as the game unfolded a certain amount of tension beyond that normally created by a 0-0 tie began to make itself felt. It slowly became impossible to ignore that Brett Myers, though he had surrendered a few walks, had not yet allowed the Reds a single hit. Each out he recorded began to get applause, and each hitless half-inning a loud ovation. Even as his pitches sometimes acquired too much, movement, such as in his somewhat wild-looking fifth inning during which two Reds walked, he consistently managed to keep the ball away from solid conact with Cincinnati bats.

However, it was not to be Myers' day to join the exclusive list of no-hitter pitchers. In the seventh inning Joey Votto managed a double off of him. That scored Brandon Phillips from first base, which he had reached on a walk. It would be the the only hit he would allow.

In fact, Charlie Manuel showed his continued confidence in Myers by allowing him to bat second in the home half of the seventh inning, despite needing runs when down by one late in the game. This move now looks questionable, as Myers would only pitch another third of an inning before being replaced by J. C. Romero -- but not before pitching to Ken Griffey Jr, the veteran star who, sitting on 599 home runs, once again sat out of the lineup but contributed a late-innings pinch-hit appearance. For a few picthes the drama of the situation increased once again, but Myers dealt Griffey a walk; he then did the same for Jerry Hairston, prompting his removal from the game.

The Phillies threatened once again in the eighth as Bill Bray came into the game to relieve Volquez, with Chase Utley. In another trademark move, Charlie Manuel removed Pat Burrell (who had drawn one of his supernaturally-frequent walks) from the game for pinch runner So Taguchi. In a game where the tying run was ahead of Burrell, some would argue that it would be more important to keep his bat in the lineup.

In any case, the Phillies failed to capitalize, and their fate was sealed when Votto drove Phillips in for the Reds' second run in the top of the ninth, and the Phillies had to face the rarely-fallible closer Francisco Cordero in the bottom of the inning.

Tonight's game saw Brett Myers' team lose what was probably among the best-pitched games of his career, but it was one of those rare games that even as it disappoints people as Phillies fans, will still be admired by them as baseball fans. Rarely does the phrase "pitcher's duel" much much more than "neither offense was especially impressive" these days, but in this case two stupendous pitcher performances really did happen to appear in the same unremittingly dramatic game. Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, they got the short end of the stick in the 2-0 loss.