Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Phillies Edge Back to First in Washington Win

The Phillies offense finally got back to playing on all cylinders, the way it theoretically should be the vast majority of the time, tonight. If Brett Myers had finally seemed to show signs of successful comeback last night by returning as a pitcher who was now vaguely Jamie Moyer-ish and shutting down the Nationals, the combination of that extremely weak-hitting team with the genuine Jamie Moyer looked extremely promising for the Phillies.

The first inning bore this out, as Shane Victorino singled (extending his hitting streak to ten games), Chase Utley followed, Ryan Howard singled on a ball that was hard hit but luckily bobbled in the outfield, then Pat Burrell collected two RBI on his single when Utley seemed to read the ball supernaturally well on contact and ran hard from second. Everything off of Washington's Tim Redding was hit hard.

Moyer, however, made a couple of mistakes in his half of the first, allowing a double to Austin Kearns and homers to Willie Harris and young catcher Jesus Flores to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead, and subsequently both pitchers seemed to settle down for a while. It wasn't until the fifth when a rare hit by Carlos Ruiz and a walk issued to Moyer heralded another Phillie rally -- hits by Jimmy Rollins and Victorino were topped off by Chase Utley's second home run in two games (following a long dry spell of lowered production from the second baseman), putting Philadelphia ahead 7-3.

The Phillies increased their lead and Shane Victorino extended his recent offensive tear with a solo home run in the seventh, and the two RBI that Lastings Milledge and Ryan Zimmerman collected for Washington against Ryan Madson in the seventh were not enough for them. Brad Lidge collected the save on the 8-5 win.

New York lost to Florida, putting Philadelphia a half game ahead of them to top the division standings. The Phillies have a right to be satisfied that the Mets' shot at uncontested first has not lasted long. With the Mets not playing tomorrow and the Phillies taking on the weak Washington Nationals for another game, its important that they take this opportunity to shore up their lead to an entire game.

On the Eve of the Deadline...

'Twas the night before trading, 
When all through the (club)house
Not a rumor was stirring, 
Not even Manny Ramirez.

In all fairness, the Phillies did fill their biggest need in patching up the rotation with Joe Blanton, but for a team in a three-way division race, it's surprising that there's nothing happening on the trade front. There was talk about an outfield bat such as Casey Blake, Matt Holliday, and very briefly Manny Ramirez, and also about acquiring a left-handed reliever such as Brian Fuentes, Ron Mahay, or Damaso Marte. At the same time, the team has one of the most potentially devastating lineups in the majors, the best bullpen in the majors, and they dealt with their rotation as best they could. They made their second-half starting pitcher deal and all that remains to be seen is whether they can repeat the second half success they've had in the past year. So it begs the question: should they make a deal or not? Looking at both sides of the argument...

The team needs something to get it going. They ended the first half on the slow side and they've been mediocre starting the second half. They've looked slightly better in the last few games, with the offense coming through when it needs to rally and an encouraging start from a recently recalled Brett Myers. If the team is starting to warm up, this would be a good time to add another piece and build the momentum. There isn't a specific piece that the team needs; they filled their one gaping hole with Joe Blanton, though it remains to be seen what to expect from him. But imagine improving the bullpen that is already the best in the majors, or adding a bat to an already nasty lineup suffering from inconsistency. 

At this point in the season, the Phillies have been unable to separate themselves from the Mets and the Marlins and now is the time to make an addition to create that divide. If they could acquire a great right fielder, that'd be a good move, though most of the outfielders available would hurt the defense, already hurt by Pat Burrell. Acquiring another utility guy would make a lot of sense if Feliz is going to have some trouble, to spell Bruntlett, and if they get a guy with speed, he could take the place of So Taguchi, who has not been particularly useful this season. Another left-handed bullpen pitcher would also be a nice move. They don't necessarily need to tinker with the bullpen, but it would be nice not to be stingy with J.C. Romero for fear of overusing him as the sole lefty in the pen. With Chris Coste slumping offensively, and Carlos Ruiz doing nothing offensively, even getting a catcher would be a decent idea. Whatever it is, the team needs to make a move in order to boost the team and reestablish themselves as, in Jimmy Rollins' words, the team to beat in the NL East. 

Or, as my good friend pointed out to me today, "Everybody likes deals."

The biggest problem with the Phillies making a trade is figuring out what they have to give up. Their farm system is not particularly strong and they already used two of their major chips to acquire Joe Blanton. Their most highly sought-after prospects, Carlos Carrasco and Lou Marson, are a part of the Phillies' near future and they could both help the major league club as early as this year. They have a few intriguing prospects lower in the system, such as Jason Donald and Greg Golson, but to acquire a supplementary piece with one of those guys would be a waste. Does it really make a lot of sense to trade shortstop Jason Donald for left-handed reliever Ron Mahay? In a year or so, Donald could be a major trade chip. 

Bearing that in mind, what position would the Phillies acquire that would justify giving up one of their few good prospects? The team solved its one major issue in the Joe Blanton deal, and if that doesn't work out or Myers doesn't work out, they could give J.A. Happ another crack at a starting slot, and see if Adam Eaton or Kris Benson prove themselves rotation worthy in the minors. They already have the best bullpen in the majors and will be getting Tom Gordon back at some point in the season which, if he's healthy, would be just as good as getting any pitcher they could acquire at this point. So Taguchi has been a little better of late, and once Pedro Feliz comes back, he should be better in theory, and quite frankly he's been exactly what the team was expecting him to be when they signed him: a great fielder with a little bit of power. In September, they'll probably call up Lou Marson or Jason Jaramillo to help with the poor production at catcher, though there was never a lot of talk about them getting a catcher anyway. 

Lastly, with the team's reputation for having better second halves in recent years, the fact that they were far better in the first half than they had been the past couple years, it's worth it to see what they do with an improved roster from the division winning team last year. 

It might be worth it to get a supplementary player, but it's highly unlikely that they'll make a deal. They don't have the trading chips to make it happen in a way that would be truly worth it. But if either the Mets or Marlins make a deadline deal, the team could be fighting an uphill battle.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Myers' Return: Take Two (Live)

Tonight the Phillies begin a three-game series in Washington. Brett Myers gets the first start, facing rookie Colin Balester. Myers' control was nowhere to be seen last time out against the Mets, but, on the bright side, he did not allow a home run. We'll see if he can shut down the light-hitting Nationals.

7:08: A look at the Phillies' starting lineup. Once again, Greg Dobbs gets the start at third, despite the fact that he's a terrible fielder and is far more valuable as a pinch hitter.
7:16: Balester's off to a good start, putting the Phillies down in order in the 1st. Now let's see which Brett Myers shows up.
7:22: Myers works an 0-2 counts before Willie Harris grounds out to the mound. Ronnie Belliard follows with a fly out to Geoff Jenkins. Ryan Zimmerman is watches strike three go by to end the inning. So far so good. In fact, Myers only threw one ball that entire inning.
7:25: Howard goes down swinging, but what else is new. Can't complain when the guy has 30 homers and 90+ RBIs in July. Burrell follows with a single for the first hit of the game.
7:26: Despite his best efforts, Jenkins can't ground into a double play. Felipe Lopez flips to Belliard, who tries to barehand it, but instead drops the ball and both runners are safe.
7:29: Belliard can rest easy as the Phillies fail to capitalize on his error. Dobbs pops out in foul ground and Chris Coste flies out to left.
7:32: A look at the home runs allowed leaderboard shows that Myers is now second in home runs allowed. Perhaps some celebration is in order. Let's hope no one tells Myers. Don't want him getting any ideas.
7:34: Six batters faced, six outs for Myers. He's throwing that fastball for strikes; something he couldn't do against the Mets. No strikeouts this inning, but a pair of pop-outs and a hard hit grounder were all the Nats could muster.
7:40: Chase Utley launches a home run to right, scoring Jimmy Rollins. I think it's safe to say he was due. Phillies lead 2-0.
7:49: Myers breaks up the perfect game by grazing Paul Lo Duca with the first pitch of the Nationals third inning. However, his stay on base isn't long, as Lopez grounds into a double play. Howard tags first for the first out and then Lo Duca is caught in a rundown. Lanester, of all people, gets the first hit of the game, slapping a single up the middle off a Myers fastball.
7:54: Balester's hit won't matter, as Harris pops to second after running a full count. Myers has a shutout through three innings. It's only the Nationals, but still. Baby steps.
8:00: Balester retires the Phillies in order, capped off by an impressive scoop by Zimmerman, who throws out Coste to end the inning.
8:02: Myers starts the bottom of the third by running a fastball in on Belliard and hitting him. Belliard's pain-induced cry can be heard across the stadium. Although that might just because no one is at the game.
8:04: Myers gets out of trouble yet again. Zimmerman hits into a 6-4-3 double play and Austin Kearn grounds to short for the third out. Through four innings, Myers has thrown just 39 pitches, 27 of them for strikes. I'm starting to believe...
8:07: If the Nationals wanted to retaliate for the hit batters, they missed their chance, as Myers goes down looking for the first out of the fifth.
8:08: Rollins gets a hold of one, drilling it to deep right field, but Kearn tracks it down and it's just a long out. Victorino follows with a single and here comes Utley with a chance to drive a few more runs in.
8:11: Scratch that. Utley won't get much of a chance as Victorino is gunned down trying to steal second. It's none too wise to take the bat out of a slugger's hands like that, but considering how rarely the Phillies are caught stealing, it wasn't a bad gamble. Didn't work out this time, but the Phillies still hold a two-run lead.
8:15: Jesus Flores leads off the inning with a single up the middle, right after nailing Victorino at second. That guy always seems to have an impact. This brings light to the fact that Lo Duca is playing first base, instead of Dmitri Young or Nick Johnson. Technically this makes Myers' start that much less impressive, but like I said, baby steps.
8:19: Lopez grounds up the middle and Rollins makes a great throw on the run to retire the side. Five scoreless innings for Myers on 52 pitches. He could well go the distance.
8:22: Utley comes close to hitting his second homer of the night, but doesn't quite get enough on the ball. Kearns catches it on the warning track. Howard follows with another near-home run, caught by Harris in deep left.
8:26: Burrell hits a two-out single, but Jenkins strikes out for out number three. Give credit to Balester, who's looked good tonight, only really making one mistake.
8:32: Another 1-2-3 inning for Myers, who has taken a page from Jamie Moyer's playbook, mixing speeds and getting contact outs rather than trying to strike everyone out. The result? Sixty-five pitches threw six shutout innings.
8:37: Dobbs strikes out, once again proving that he should be relegated to the bench. Granted, the Phillies are in a bit of a bind at third base with Pedro Feliz now on the DL, but wouldn't they be better served to start Eric Bruntlett?
8:43: Eric Bruntlett comes in as a defensive replacement at third base. I feel slightly responsible for complaining about Dobbs. (Does Manuel read this blog? I'm both flattered and frightened by the prospect.) It seems a shame to waste him as a pinch hitter, but with Myers pitching well and having just hit, they probably won't need more than one pinch hitter, so it's not a bad move. Meanwhile, Myers starts the inning with a walk to Zimmerman.
8:50: After getting the next two hitters to fly out, Zimmerman is tagged out at second base to end the inning. Myers catches a break, and he hasn't needed many tonight. We're now through seven, still with a 2-0 score.
8:55: Yet another near-home run, as Victorino hits one hard to deep right. Harris makes an impressive jumping catch, slamming into the wall for his trouble. Great catch, tough break for the Phillies.
9:02: After a very long Utley at-bat results in a single, Howard flies out to retire the side. It's a good thing Myers has been lights-out tonight because the offense hasn't given him much help.
9:07: Lo Duca leads off with a single up the middle and Lopez follows with a potential double play ball. Unfortunately, Utley bobbles it and all runners are safe. The tying run is on base with no outs. And here comes Manuel. That'll do it for Myers, who had an outstanding start. Looks like J.C. Romero will come in and try to preserve the win.
9:11: Ryan Langerhans bunts to the right of Romero and nearly beats it out, but Romero makes a strong throw to get him at first. That advances the runners, putting the tying run in scoring position.
9:14: Harris breaks up the shutout, chopping a grounder to third. Christian Guzman (running for Lo Duca) scores as Bruntlett fires to first. Desptie Bruntlett's efforts to hold him, Lopez takes third on the throw. With that, Manuel goes to Chad Durbin who will face Belliard with two outs and the tying run on third.
9:18: Durbin does his part, getting Belliard to ground out to second, and the Phillies escape...for now. The heart of the Nationals' order is due up in the ninth. Fortunately for the Phillies, that means Zimmerman, Kearns, and Flores. That doesn't sound like a very healthy heart to me.
9:26: After Joel Hanrahan strikes out Burrell and Jenkins, Bruntlett laces a single into left field. Now Coste gets a chance to give the Phillies a little insurance with two outs.
9:28: So much for that. Coste grounds to first, ending the inning, and in comes Brad Lidge with a one-run lead. Come on, Brad, do it for Brett! He deserves it (for once).
9:33: Lidge is looking like...well, himself. He gets Zimmerman to ground to third for the first out.
9:36: Kearns works a full count, but it's all for naught as he fouls out on the first base side. Howard runs it down and the Phillies are one out away from Myers' fourth win of the season.
9:38: And there it is. Flores flies out to right to end the game. Lidge has his 25th save and Myers his 4th win. Final score: 2-1 Phillies.

It's a little concerning that the Phillies could only muster two runs off the Nationals, but first things first: Brett Myers had a great outing, pitching into the eighth inning and allowing just one (unearned) run. He only recorded two strikeouts, but he did a tremendous job of keeping hitters off-balance and making them beat themselves with pop-ups and routine ground-outs. This was one of his best starts of the season (which isn't saying much, I know) and it might be his most important start. Yes, it was against the hapless Nationals, who didn't even have all of their top hitters available, but Myers needed a dominant outing to get his confidence back up.

The question now is: Is this the Brett Myers we'll see from now on, or was it just luck combined with ineptitude on Washington's part? There's no way to tell at this point, but this was a very encouraging outing, and not just because of the end result. Myers was extremely efficient, throwing only 88 pitches through seven innings and two batters in the eighth, and he pounded the strike zone. Sixty-three of his 88 pitches were strikes; a stark contrast to last week's start against the Mets when he threw only 49 strikes out of 95 pitches.

Myers had thrown his share of strikes earlier in the season, but he threw a few too many, as a lot of them landed in the outfield bleachers. One could argue that a better hitting team would have made Myers pay for throwing as many strikes as he did tonight. While that may be true, the Nationals didn't hit many balls hard at all. While the Phillies had at least three hard hit outs, caught at or near the warning track, not one Phillies outfielder had to step on the warning track all night. In fact, the Nationals didn't have one extra-base hit.

Ultimately, this was just one start and Myers could struggle again next time out, but suffice it to say, this was a very encouraging outing and bodes well for future success. We'll just have to wait and see, but for now, I'll gladly take the win.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Phillies Hit Five Homers in Comeback

After a short outing from Joe Blanton, a two hour rain delay, and a rocky outing from Adam Eaton, the Phillies had two five-run innings and five home runs and rallied to a 12-10 win, continuing their success over the Atlanta Braves.

Joe Blanton allowed two runs in the first inning, but settled down for a 1-2-3 second inning. However, after a two hour rain delay Blanton was lifted for Adam Eaton. Eaton proved why the Phillies had to trade for Blanton by allowing three runs on two home runs in two innings of work. In the bottom of the fourth, the home run parade started with a two-run shot by Chris Coste followed by a Shane Victorino three-run shot to tie the game. Clay Condrey and J.C. Romero shut down the Braves while the Phils scored six more runs including home runs from Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, and Jimmy Rollins. Rudy Seanez allowed the Braves to come within three runs, partly due to a mistimed dive by Jayson Werth, and Ryan Madson allowed an RBI double to put the Braves within two. But Brad Lidge kept his perfect save record alive and clinched yet another series against the Braves, who have beaten the Phillies only twice in 2008.

Before last night, the Phillies hadn't scored 10+ runs since May. To see them do it two nights in a row is encouraging, especially with a home run from Jimmy Rollins. The 1 through 4 hitters in the lineup each had two hits, and every spot in the lineup had at least 1 RBI except for Eric Bruntlett, starting again for Pedro Feliz, and Chase Utley. (The suddenly useful So Taguchi drove in a run for the 9 spot.) It's hard to know from his first two outings what to expect from Joe Blanton for the remainder of the season. The two-run first was discouraging, but he recovered in the second. We already knew what to expect from Adam Eaton. But the Phillies' ability to rally was a big reason they were successful last year, especially in the second half.

Also worth noting was the beating Atlanta catcher Brian McCann took. McCann was 1 for 2 in plays at the plate. The first was with Chase Utley, who was thrown out, and the second was a literal head to head collision with Shane Victorino, who was safe but briefly knocked out McCann before he was able to get up and led off the field by the Braves head trainer.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Phils Rally For Much-Needed Win

After three straight games of frustration that saw them fall out of first place, the Phillies' bats finally showed up. Behind 9-3 in the fourth inning, the Phillies put up seven runs in the fifth inning, chasing Mike Hampton and hanging on for a 10-9 win. This, coupled with the Mets 14-inning loss, brought the Phillies back within a game of the division lead.

Early on, it looked like Cole Hamels would play his role as a stopper admirably, shutting down the Braves over the first three innings. Of course, Hamels had done his job over his last few starts as well, but had received hardly any run support. Today, the Phillies were more inclined to help him. Chris Coste delivered a pair of RBIs in the second inning and Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly in the third, giving Hamels a 3-0 lead. The way he's pitched lately, that could have been more than enough.

But not today. When the fourth inning rolled around. Hamels quickly loaded the bases, on a single and two walks, then Omar Infante doubled in two runs. Jeff Francoeur recorded the first out of the inning with a fly out to left, but Brian McCann tagged up and scored to tie the game. That was when things got ugly. Martin Prado reached base on an Utley error, then Mark Kotsay singled to give the Braves a 4-3 lead. Hampton reached on a Hamels error and another run scored. Gerry Blanco would also drive in a run, before Hamels got the second out of the inning, as Yunel Escobar flied out. That brought Mark Teixiera up for his second at-bat of the inning, and he made it count, blasting a three-run home run to left center and chasing Hamels. Rudy Seanez entered and got McCann to pop out, ending a disastrous nine-run inning. With their ace on the hill and a three-run lead at home, the Phillies had fallen behind, 9-3.

That score held for one inning, highlighted by Adam Eaton's first relief appearance since August 4th, 2005. Eaton threw a scoreless inning, but it seemed inconsequential at the time. However, the Phillies offense begged to differ.

The Phillies recorded three straight singles to start the bottom of the fifth and chased Hampton in the process. Royce Ring replaced him and gave up a two-run single to Ryan Howard. That would be all for Ring, as Blaine Boyer replaced him. Pat Burrell greeted him with a fly out that scored Utley. Then, after a Jayson Werth single and an Eric Bruntlett fly out, Coste came through again, scoring Howard on a single. Greg Dobbs then came in to pinch hit, needing one more pinch hit to tie Doc Miller for the Phillies' franchise record for pinch hits in a season. He did so in a big day, launching a three-run homer to right that gave the Phillies a 10-9 lead. Jimmy Rollins ended the inning, getting out on a bunt attempt, but the Phillies had retaken the lead with a seven-run inning.

From there, the Phillies bullpen held on, despite some shaky innings from Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin, and it came down to Brad Lidge in the ninth. No one had scored since the Phillies' seven-run outburst and the Phillies were still clinging to a one-run lead. With their All-Star closer in the game, who has yet to blow a save in the Phillies uniform, on paper this seemed like a sure thing. Of course, anyone who saw last night's game knows better. In that game, Lidge entered with the Phillies trailing 1-0 and gave up five runs without recording a single out. Considering Lidge's history, Phillies fans had every reason to be concerned today. However, Lidge displayed no lingering effects of last night's meltdown. Instead, he delivered a 1-2-3 inning, putting the Braves away and sealing the 10-9 win.

Ironically, on a day when the Phillies' ace had his worst outing of the year, the Phillies worst (former) starter got the win, as it was Eaton who was awarded the victory. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moyer Faces the Mets - Live Blog

We pick up our live blog in the bottom of the second. No score and Jamie Moyer has been looking good. Jimmy Rollins is out of the lineup with no explanation. Presumably he's getting a rest day after slumping a bit. Bruntlett made a good play in the first to prove his worth. 

12:39 - Tatis breaks up the no-hitter. Like all out-of-town announcers, the Mets team is stunned that Moyer is both old and competent. Odd that the Mets and Phillies seem to be fielding some B players -- even in a day game -- considering its importance.

12:45 - We see Rollins' name literally scratched out of the line-up card. That's for not running out grounders in batting practise. 

12:47 - Bruntlett singles. There is now no justification for criticising Charlie Manuel's decision to bat him lead-off. Now, why DID he bat him lead-off?

1:02: Burrell makes history's worst throw from the outfield. An attempt to throw the runner out at home by getting Ryan Howard to tag him out at first. A run scores and Burrell gets the error for letting a  runner reach third. 

1:20 - Moyer throws his bat at Carlos Delgado. Is this a strategy for getting a brushback in without giving him first? Delgado tosses the bat back. We are told this is impolite. 

1:21 - Oliver Perez has a season-high nine strike outs. This means that, somewhat unusually, he has thrown at least 27 strikes. 

1:29 - Bruntlett doubles. Jimmy who?

1:31 - Burrell's fly is not deep enough to score Bruntlett. He's can't afford to remind people of throws from left. 

1:34 - Ryan Howard gets help from the third base umpire to find new ways to strike out. He may have held up, but a man needs help when he is going for a record. 

1:39 - Hostilities build between Moyer and Delgado - seriously. It is also apparantly impolite to... bunt? Delgado courteously ends the at-bat by flying out to left. 

1:42 - Werth homers to deep centre! Tie game. Only the home run hitters are not hitting the home runs now. 

1:58 - Bruntlett doubles again. Shot of the dugout: Howard shouts and punches the air, Rollins grimaces. 

2:00 - Utley strikes out looking terrible. Can we have only the bench guys playing tomorrow?

2:01 - Burrell walked to get to Howard. That's the trouble with hitting in front of the RBI leader. You get no protection. 

2:04 - Howard is hit on a 3-2 count to load the bases. Just our luck he is taken out of the game just when he turns back into Oliver Perez. 

2:17 -Intentionally walking Wright to get to Delgado. J. C. Romero has not been looking at the "who's hot" lists lately. 

2:23 - Delgado puts the Mets ahead 3-1. Yeah, he was the one you wanted to pitch to. 

2:28 - As Ruiz comes in to pinch run (the perfect role for your catcher) Rollins pinch hits to make the final out. No injury then. 

The Phillies lose first place and waste a great start from Jamie Moyer. They can certainly climb back, but they'll need to bring their big bats back to life consistently - for the first time in about a month. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Myers Returns Against the Mets (Live)

Coming off an emotional win last night, the Phillies' most emotional player, Brett Myers, makes his return to the big leagues tonight, as the Phillies take on the Mets. We'll be providing live coverage.

7:09: SNY (yes, we're in New York) gives us the Phillies starting lineup. It's loaded with lefties, including Greg Dobbs at third. I know Pedro Feliz isn't hitting lately, but starting Dobbs at third seems like a bad idea considering how much the Mets like to bunt for base hits.
7:15: Burrell flies out to center, completing a 1-2-3 first inning for John Maine. Not a great start for the offense but they made Maine work a bit.
7:18: And here...we...go. Myers throws two straight balls before throwing a strike, then inducing a Jose Reyes routine grounder to second. So far so good.
7:20: So much for the perfect game. Myers walks Endy Chavez on four straight balls.
7:25: Ball eight. Ball twelve. Myers has now walked the bases loaded. He's had no luck locating his fastball. Now Carlos Beltran steps in with one out and the bases loaded.
7:30: Ball sixteen. Myers walks in a run. Pretty pathetic. He had a 3-2 count on Beltran and threw a low breaking ball. We all know Beltran doesn't swing on 3-2 counts, so why not throw a fastball? Maybe he's a little too self-conscious about his home run totals. Marlon Anderson follows with a grounder to first that is bobbled by Ryan Howard. Chase Utley wisely backs it up and throws to Myers for the force at first, but Wright scores on the play. Damion Easley then grounds to third to end the inning. Mets lead 2-0
7:35: We are graced with an interview with the Geico caveman. You can't make me hate baseball, SNY! Stop trying! Shane Victorino rekindles my love of baseball with a home run to right. That's more like it.
7:38: Another home run, this time from...Geoff Jenkins?! No, that's not a typo. So we've got Myers walking everyone and Maine serving up home run balls. Are we sure Myers and Maine didn't switch places? Remember that movie Face/Off, with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage? Something like that may be at work here.
7:40: Myers is down on strike to end the inning, but back-to-back home runs by Victorino and Jenkins (I can't believe it either) have tied the game at 2-2.
7:46: Maine rips a ball to the left side of the infield, but Rollins makes a great snare and a strong throw for the second out of the inning.
7:48: Reyes fakes a bunt down the third base line, then decides to swing instead, grounding out to Rollins a few pitches later. Should've stuck with the bunt idea. There's no way Dobbs throws Reyes out. Wait, did Myers just have a 1-2-3 inning? Granted, he faced the 8-9-1 hitters, but still.

Well, this was as far as I got before my internet went out. Suffice it to say, the Phillies lost. Myers didn't pitch well, but he wasn't a total disaster either. In the end, the bullpen blew it. Namely, Ryan Madson, who surrendered a three-run shot to Reyes in the sixth.

Blanton's Debut - A Report from the Game

(Your humble blogger can be seen here, center, outside Shea Stadium before the game. "Moe Loogham is coming" is the slogan of the upstate New York radio station that gave him a free ticket to the game. When a passer-by misread and asked him why his shirt said "Mo Vaughn is coming," though, he decided it might be canceling out the effect of his Phillies hat).

I suspected coming into last night's big game between the Mets and Phillies that I might be the only member of the phaithful politely asking to be heckled for my Phillies hat, but coming in I felt I was seeing almost more red-and-white than blue-and-orange. Eleven-year-olds tipped their caps and grunted at me in a sign of solidarity as I walked to my gate. Who could resist reciprocating? It was nice to know we were countering to some degree the Mets fans who attend the match-ups at Citizen's Bank.

My probable last ticket ever to old Shea Stadium - for which I paid the princely sum of nothing (let it never be said that connections with community media in Binghamton, New York will get you nowhere) - were in the upper deck and adjacent to first base. The view was good, as if to spite sports broadcasters for all the lines they have been asked to read about bad views at Shea Stadium in order to build unbearable excitement for the upcoming debut of Citi Field (which itself was admittedly looking pretty impressive and near-complete over the center-field wall).

As the Phillies were introduced the Shea crowd booed Jimmy Rollins loudly enough to compete with a Citizen's Bank assemblage, and I had to be the one to remind my Met-fan friend of Jimmy's "team to beat" comment when he asked why he was booing so hard. When Chase Utley got a similar reception I was left with "Him they're just booing because he's good." As expected, the crowd was excited by the Mets' recent gains in the standings and the growing rivalry.

Joe Blanton, in his first start as a Phillie, was given the trial-by-fire assignment of pitching in a vital division-rivalry game on the road against for Cy Young winner Johan Santana. None of the Met fans nearby had heard anything about him beyond, "didn't he have a terrible record with some other team?"

Fortunately, the Phillies gave him a one-run handicap in the first inning on consecutive singles by Pat "Met Killer" Burrell (eventually scoring a rare run from second), Ryan "Rally Killer" Howard (failing to live up to his nickname), and Jayson "Cold-Blooded Killer" Werth (being slandered for no discernible reason on a blog the next day). Santana settled down after this, though, and even though, and even though Blanton was looking impressive in his opening innings, everyone knew the Phillies would need more than a one-run lead. In the third the Mets' chance came and David Wright tied the game with a double, but Endy Chavez out at home on an accurate throw and a good play by Carlos Ruiz to keep the game tied. Before Blanton could escape the inning, however, Carlos Delgado homered to the right field corner. I missed it at the time, but Milt Thompson and Charlie Manuel were ejected from the game for contending that the home run should not have counted, as a checked swing at a previous pitch had really represented a third strike, leaving bench coach Jimmie Williams to manage.

Thus far both pitchers could be said to be pitching to their reputations, and the game sped by until the sixth when Blanton started to show signs of losing control. Blanton was due to bat in the next inning, though, and Williams left him in to surrender a walk, a home run to Ramon Castro, and a walk to Santana before escaping the inning. Shane Victorino cut the Mets' lead to 5-2 in the next inning, but it already felt a little futile.

The next inning, pitched by Rudy Seanez and J. C. Romero, saw the Mets threaten again, but it was diffused when Endy Chavez was satisfyingly thrown out at home for the second time in the same game. In the seventh, an amazing play by Chase Utley to save two runs received a gasp of admiration even from the home crowd. After the top of the order failed to achieve anything in the eighth inning, the other Phillies fan in our entourage wanted to leave early and avoid crowds on the subway, but I convinced everyone to stay the course.

Billy Wagner was unavailable for New York, but our Met-fan friend explained his absence at the time by saying the game wasn't close enough to need him. Duaner Sanchez finally relieved Johan Santana, and after Jayson Werth singled Greg Dobbs maintained his reputation as "pinch-hitter extraordinaire" by doing likewise. A third single by Shane Victorino loaded the bases. At this point the Met fans were getting restless, but the cognoscenti were not ready to gloat yet. At the plate in the bases-loaded, no-out situation was the Phillies resident master of hitting into double-plays, Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz's weak grounder would usually have resulted in another demonstration of his specialty, but somehow the Mets miraculously failed to field it. It bounced, and Jose Reyes tried to take it to second, but Shane Victorino was running and "The Flyin' Hawaiian" reached the bag first. The umpire's "safe" sign was fleeting, but Victorino aped it in excitement. The crowd briefly assumed an out, but was consumed with confusion and then frustration at the call. The run scored and the bases remained loaded.

Here we knew something was keeping Wagner from entering the came, as Pedro Feliciano came on in relief. We knew we had the top of the order soon, but first the last spot had to be navigated. Williams pinch-hit with So Taguchi, who ran counter to his unproductive year with a double. Silence in the stadium as the score is tied. Even more silence when Rollins doubles and puts the Phillies ahead. When Burrell came up, we got a demonstration of the one problem with hitting him ahead of Howard. The Phillies intentionally walked him. The run that scored on his groundout made it 8-5.

The Phillies had THEIR star closer available, and the one run that Brad Lidge surrendered did not make a difference. It was hands down the most exciting game of the season for this author, not least for having seen it next to two Mets fans and one occasional baseball viewer who would root vociferously for any team which happened to be behind at the moment. I certainly got the maximum value for my $0. Do the math on that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Phillies-Mets Preview

For everyone who believes in intangibles such as momentum and confidence, this is a huge series. Sure it's only July and even if one team gets swept, they can't wind up more than three games out of first place (and if we've learned anything from the NL East, three games is nothing), but it's still pretty important.

On paper, the series doesn't bode well for the Phillies. The Mets have the clear advantage in two of the three pitching match-ups and the third one, at best, breaks even. Looking beyond the overall season statistics, however, the Phillies have a decent shot to win the series.

Tuesday, July 22
Joe Blanton (5-12, 4.96) vs. Johan Santana (8-7, 3.10)
As mentioned, on paper, this heavily favors the Mets. Santana is one of the best pitchers on the planet, even if he hasn't quite dominated the way he was expected to this season. Blanton has had a poor season and would probably not have been considered an upgrade had the Phillies not been sending a certain Adam Eaton out every fifth day for the past year and a half.

That said, Blanton will have an advantage here. He'll be facing a team that has seen him twice in his career. He'll also get his first taste of the National League and can enjoy that (usually) automatic pitcher out, rather than the DH. (Santana is a good pitcher to start against, in that regard, as he's batting .128 this year.) Furthermore, in his two starts against the Mets, he was dominant, throwing a total of fifteen scoreless innings. Last time, on June 23, 2007, he scattered five hits and one walk over eight innings in Shea Stadium, but Orlando Hernandez pitched seven shutout innings of his own and the Mets scored in the ninth off the A's bullpen. This was not a particularly lucky game for Blanton either. He avoided walks and allowed 13 ground balls to only 6 fly balls. Blanton has been very successful in the past as a groundball pitcher, for the most part, his best starts this year came when he kept the ball down.

While Santana is as intimidating as they come, he is coming off a very poor start. The last time the Phillies saw him, he looked great, allowing two runs over eight innings, but the Phillies won the game anyway thanks to timely hitting and a lights-out bullpen. In his two starts between then and now, Santana has pitched five and four innings, respectively. The five-inning start is a bit deceptive, as he left a game against San Francisco after five scoreless innings due to a rain delay. He had thrown 78 pitches by that point, so he most likely would have gone another 2-3 innings were it not for the poor weather. However, he struggled mightily in his most recent start, against the Reds. He allowed five runs over four innings, all of which came in the fourth. The Mets won the game anyway, rallying against the Reds bullpen. Still, Santana has pitched very well against the Phillies in two starts this year. In fact, he has yet to walk a single Phillie.

As mentioned, this match-up bodes well for the Mets, but not as well as one would think. Santana is the Cole Hamels of the Mets in more ways than one. Besides being the staff ace, he has also suffered from criminally poor run support. Through June and early July, the Mets lost six straight Santana starts, despite the fact that he put up quality starts in five of them. In addition, Blanton has the advantage of starting this game on the road. That may not sound like much of an edge, but considering the reputation of Philadelphia crowds, he should be under less pressure on the road. The last thing he needs is to get booed at home during his first start for his new team.

Wednesday, July 23
Brett Myers (3-9, 5.84) vs. John Maine (8-7, 4.22)
This match-up also looks quite good for the Mets. Maine has been one of the Mets' best pitchers this year and has always fared well against the Phillies. In eight career starts, he's gone 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA. Meanwhile, Myers has a career 5.18 ERA vs. the Mets and, though he hasn't faced them this season, has been awful in general. He'll take on the Mets after trying to regain his focus in the minors for a few starts.

Maine has a clear advantage, taking the season as a whole, but looking at recent trends, the Phillies have a decent shot. While Myers was honing his skills in the minors, Maine has been struggling. In his last start, he couldn't get through the fifth inning, giving up five runs in 4 2/3 innings, as the Mets lost to the Reds. While Maine has put up solid numbers on the season, in some ways he's been the anti-Joe Blanton, averaging 5.65 innings per start. To put that in perspective, that's just a shade better than Eaton (5.47), worse than Myers (5.98), and considerably worse than Blanton (6.35). In fact, Maine has only had one start all season in which he's pitched 7 innings or more.

His control has been the main issue. He is on pace to walk 84 batters, which would be a career-high. His pitches per plate appearance are up to 4.20 (from 4.04 last year) and his pitches per inning are up to 18.3 (from 17.1). These may not seem like major increases, but they add up, as evidenced by Maine's unimpressive number of innings per start. This also plays into the Phillies hands quite well. The Phillies are at their best when they can stay patient at the plate and draw walks. In addition, the Mets bullpen is less than impressive and the longer the Mets have to rely on it, the worse their chances become.

Of course, this all assumes that Myers can pitch a half-decent game. It's quite possible that he'll implode yet again, give up multiple home runs, and give up a lead that even the Mets 'pen can't blow. The Phillies have to hope he can return to form and keep them in the game.

Thursday, July 24
Jamie Moyer (9-6, 3.90) vs. Oliver Perez (6-6, 4.36)
This is the one match-up that appears to favor the Phillies on paper, but in some ways it seems the least likely for them to win. Moyer has had a very impressive season and is coming off two strong starts against good offenses (Florida and St. Louis). All three starts against the Mets have ended in quality starts, but only one resulted in a win. In addition, pitching in Shea should help Moyer.

However, all Moyer's success won't matter if the Phillies can't score. Thus far, against Perez, they haven't. In three starts, Perez has thrown 18.1 shutout innings (though only one win to show for it). Perez is known for some wildness, but he has yet to show that against the Phillies this year. Basically, if he's hitting his spots, the Phillies aren't hitting him. If he comes back down the earth, the Phillies can give him fits (as in April 2007, when he walked seven in 2 2/3 innings), but if he's on, this game is as good as lost.

This will be a trying series, as every one against the Mets has been the last two years, but the Phillies have a shot to take it. In fact, with the match-ups favoring the Mets so heavily (on paper), if the Phillies can take it, it will be a major blow to the Mets confidence. Here's hoping.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moyer Fends Off Fish

It was getting awfully tight at the top of the NL East and the Phillies needed some breathing room. Tonight, Jamie Moyer gave it to them, allowing just two runs over six innings and leading the Phillies to a 4-2 win.

Moyer has always pitched extremely well against Florida and tonight was no exception. He didn't allow a baserunner until the fourth inning and was able to win his ninth game of the season. The win also gave him his tenth in ten starts against Florida.

Despite his early dominance, he did run into some trouble in the fourth. Moyer put runners on the corners with none out, then allowed a Jorge Cantu RBI single. Mike Jacobs, who homered twice off Moyer in their last meeting, singled to load the bases. The Phillies entered the inning with a 4-0 lead, thanks in part to home runs by Ryan Howard and Geoff Jenkins, but with the lead down to three runs and the bases loaded and no outs, things were beginning to look grim.

Fortunately, batting for the Marlins was the now-famous, or perhaps infamous, All-Star, Dan Uggla. While Uggla's fielding gaffes may not have carried over from the All-Star Game (he retired the first two Phillies batters of the game on routine grounders and received a hearty ovation as a result), his hitting apparently did. Uggla chopped a grounder to Jimmy Rollins, who turned the 6-4-3 double play. Jeremy Hermida scored on the play, but it was a phenomenal job of damage control by Moyer (with a little help from Uggla, of course). Josh Willingham fouled out to Howard in the next at-bat, ending the inning with the Phillies still in front, 4-2.

After the fourth inning scare, the Marlins were unable to threaten. They put a grand total of two runners on over the last five innings. Moyer went another two innings, then the bullpen took over. Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero combined for two scoreless innings and Brad Lidge showed no ill effects from losing the All-Star Game, gunning down the Marlins in order in the ninth. Fittingly, Uggla popped out to second for the final out.

This was an encouraging way for the Phillies to start the second half. Moyer had another strong outing and the bullpen was dominant once again. While the scoreboard might not reflect it, the offense looked good as well. Though they only had four runs to show for it, all the Phillies' big bats produced tonight. Howard homered and Rollins, Utley, and Burrell all doubled. Even Jenkins got into it, going 2 for 3 with a home run and 2 RBIs. (The one notable exception was Pedro Feliz, who achieved the golden sombrero, going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts.)

The win, coupled with the Mets' loss to the Reds, returns sole possession of the NL East to the Phillies, if only for a day. It also pushed the Marlins to 2.5 games out of first. Next the Phillies take on Scott Olsen, who shut down the Padres in his last start, allowing one run over eight innings. Of course, the last time he faced a good offense, he received no decision in the 18-17 slugfest in which Colorado came out on top.

The Phillies send out Kyle Kendrick, who hasn't lost a road start since April 9th. Tomorrow's game is a big one for the Phillies, as a win tomorrow would make the sweep very likely, with Cole Hamels taking on Josh Johnson on Sunday.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Phillies Acquire Joe Blanton

Just as I made a post about him, the Phillies went out and made a deal to get him. The Phillies have acquired Joe Blanton from the Oakland A's for prospects 2B Adrian Cardenas, LHP Josh Outman, and OF Matthew Spencer.

The biggest concern in acquiring Blanton was that the team might give up too much for a player whose numbers have been up and down in his career and not particularly good this season. But the Phillies seemed to get Blanton at a good price. Cardenas was a top prospect lower in the organization, but being a second baseman with Chase Utley in the majors means you may as well be trade bait. Outman has looked very good this year in AA ball pitching relief, going 4-2 with a 3.22 ERA. He could have been a solution in the search for a second left hander out of the bullpen, but it's unlikely they'd have used him this year. He's looked good, but you have to give something up to get something obviously, and better Outman than Carlos Carrasco. Spencer doesn't seem particularly interesting.

As for Blanton, despite his sub-par statistics he doesn't have much of an injury history and he throws a lot of innings. He was a good guy to acquire as he'll take some of the pressure off the bullpen. Also, he'll be surrounded by a great offense, better fielders, and he'll be in the National League facing mostly players who haven't seen him before. Considering the other available starting pitching options, for this price Blanton was probably the best move they could have made. Hard to say if the acquisition truly elevates the team over the Mets and Marlins, but the entire team has played better in the second half in recent years, so this could be a good foot to start the second half out on. Also, if Brett Myers has magically sorted through his issues in the minors, that would be another boost. If nothing else, Blanton patches up one of the few holes in this team.

Interesting comparison:
Kyle Lohse pre-trade, 2007 - 6-12, 4.48 ERA
Joe Blanton pre-trade, 2008 - 5-12, 4.96 ERA

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good Idea/Bad Idea Continued

Another name has come up in the Phillies' search for starting pitching so I thought it deserved an entry:

Joe Blanton, A's - Bad Idea - First of all, dealing with Billy Beane is always dangerous. Look at what he was able to get from the Cubs and Diamondbacks for Rich Harden and Danny Haren. Beane likes to pillage farm systems, and the Phillies have a weak farm system to begin with. Blanton himself isn't terrible, but has yet to live up to the hype surrounding him. He pitches a lot of innings and hasn't missed a whole lot of time due to injury, but he's on his way to career highs in most of the major pitching categories. He would be a decent secondary option, and probably be a more intriguing option than say, Bronson Arroyo, but Beane will want to trade him for a lot more than he's worth, and good pitchers from Oakland going elsewhere have a mixed success rate. Yes, there were Tim Hudson and Danny Haren, but there were also Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. It remains to be seen how Rich Harden will fare. Even trading one of the second-tier prospects such as Greg Golson or Jason Donald might look foolish just to get Blanton.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Live From (Watching) the All-Star Game

Just like every other baseball fan, we're watching the All-Star Game tonight. We'll be giving you our thoughts LIVE.

8:02: The Chicago Cubs...I mean National League All-Stars are introduced. Now let's go to the AL All-Stars locker room where George Brett gives a stirring speech that included the word 'diddly.' (Can they say that on TV??) It's the last season of Yankee stadium and they couldn't get a former Yankee to give a speech?
So that's how you say Justin Duchscherer's name. I've been calling him "douche-erer" for the better part of a year now.
8:12: A slew of Hall of Fame pitchers are introduced, highlighted by Rollie Fingers' mustache.
8:15: Chase Utley! Followed by Ian Ki--oh never mind. Look, it's cool and all that they got all these Hall of Famers to be here, but...this is taking forever. Even for an All-Star game, this is ridiculous. What a slap in the face to Paul Molitor to put him at DH. Couldn't they at least pretend he could field a position?
8:22: Wouldn't it be great to hear a conversation between Willie Mays, Josh Hamilton, and Kosuke Fukudome? Shockingly, Hamilton's name has been mentioned without the word "heroin." Of course, these are only introductions. I'm setting the over/under at 35.5 mentions tonight.
8:30: Sheryl Crow sings the national anthem as a stealth bomber flies...somewhere nearby...for some reason. Maybe it's just to make sure Crow doesn't ham it up.
8:39: Joe Buck thinks the NL is "in position to score some runs." Thanks, Joe. While we're at it, let's go out on a limb and say Tim McCarver is in position to be incoherent tonight.
8:48: Chase Utley is called out on strikes in his first at-bat. Nice pitch, but it should've been a ball.
8:53: How could the Brewers in good conscience let Ben Sheets start the All-Star Game? It's just another chance for him to get injured. I think they're getting cocky now that they have Sabathia.
8:56: Josh Hamilton is down on strikes, but not before Buck could bring up his problems. Oh, and don't worry, Buck promises more on his story. Thank God.
8:58: A-Rod pops out behind the plate to Soto for the third out. Soto slips on a stray bat and nearly falls over. You know it was a maple bat. Those things are deadly.
9:09: In the words of Joe Buck, Manny "pops it" for a near home run. Good call.
9:11: Buck admits his mispronunciation of Duchscherer's name. Hah! I knew it! Brian 1, Joe Buck 0.
9:13: As wholesome as they want this broadcast to be, they still give us a close-up on Sheet's face as he walks his first hitter. He said "Fudge!" right?
9:17: Looks like Rudy Giuliani has a front-row seat. He's protecting us from the stealth bomber.
9:23: Tim McCarver brings famous fellow incoherent catcher Yogi Berra into the booth with him. Perhaps they should have a ramble-off.
9:25: They give Fukudome's name in Japanese. They've learned their lesson about words like that from Ben Sheets.
9:28: Utley grounds out out to first. He's saving it for the clutch.
9:33: Josh Hamilton's life sucked before he straightened out and found God, or a good rehab clinic. Just goes to show that if you're a professional athlete you can do whatever you want and still become a multimillionaire. A true American hero.
9:39: Pujols is thrown out going for a double. He's good at a lot of things, but running isn't one of them. To be fair, Ichiro made a great throw.
9:44: Apparently Zambrano lobbing a breaking ball over Manny's head is just "Carlos being Carlos." If you say so, Joe.
9:49: The Miller High Life guy just took a bunch of Miller beer out of a hotel. Are we sure he works for Miller? Oh well. Now here comes Santana to pitch. No, not Johan.
9:53: Matt Holliday takes All-Star Santana deep. NL leads 1-0. About time someone scored.
10:10: Derek Jeter works a full count with two runners on and two outs. Wouldn't it be fitting for him to deliver here? The baseball gods say "no" as Jeter grounds to Danny Haren.
10:13: Yankee Stadium just morphed into an ad for Fringe, thus guaranteeing I never watch that show. Way to go, FOX.
10:17: Utley finally makes his mark on the game with a nice line drive single to right field. Hamley Ramirez goes first to third and the NL should be able to tack on some insurance...and they do. Berkman hits a deep fly out to center and Ramirez tags and scores. 2-0.
10:27: Hamilton singles, giving Buck the perfect chance to tell his life story. Unfortunately it hasn't changed since earlier in the game...or yesterday...or any time since he was reinstated.
10:45: If the AL is going to come back, this is the inning. Edinson Volquez is a great young pitcher, but not the guy I'd want pitching to a bunch of All-Stars with the game on the line.
10:52: Yup, I called it. Volquez gives up a game-tying two-run home none other than J.D. Drew. I just threw up in my mouth.
11:01: Tejada takes off and gets two bases for his trouble, as Dioner Navarro skips a throw wide of the bag. Adrian Gonzalez takes advantage, hitting a fly ball to left that's just deep enough to score Tejada and give the NL a 3-2 lead. All off Papelbon. I don't think those "overrated" chants are going away. Even after he strikes out David Wright to end the inning, he's serenaded with boos.
11:07: Brian Wilson is in to pitch the eighth. But...why? Wouldn't Billy Wagner be the logical choice here. I think the NL is still operating under the belief that this game's outcome has no effect.
11:12: Two quick outs for Wilson, and now here comes Wagner. Better late than never. To his credit, Wilson looked pretty good out there.
11:18: Wagner gives up a hit to Sizemore, who proceeds to steal second (which surprised absolutely no one), then Evan Longoria ties the game with a double. Never trust a Met.
11:24: Francisco Rodriguez comes in to pitch the top of the ninth and walks Aramis Ramirez. Shouldn't Rivera be in here? There's no chance for a save situation and if the NL pulls ahead or the AL wins in the bottom of the ninth, he doesn't come in at all.
11:27: Terry Francona read my mind. Here comes Rivera. Is it just me or is this game heading for another horrible tie? There are still a few pitchers left on each side, sure, but call it a hunch.
11:32: Rivera gets a strike-'em-out throw-'em-out double play to end the inning, which begs the question...why the hell was Ramirez running?
11:41: I can't say I was too confident with Ryan Dempster pitching the ninth, but kudos to him. He just struck out the side, getting Drew looking to end it. Well done. FOX heads to commercial playing what sounds an awful lot like the Jurassic Park theme. Ohhhh. That stealth bomber makes perfect sense now. It was warding off pterodactyls.
11:50: Russell Martin slaps a base hit into right field. Could Rivera actually blow THIS game? That would be a crappy way for Yankee Stadium to go out. Of course, you know Yankee fans would still cheer him (and rightly so). Thinking about it now, what would Rivera have to do to get booed in this game? Rape? Child rape? Murder Yogi Berra in cold blood? Well, it's a moot point now. As I typed this, Uggla hits into a double play with runners on the corners and one out. Rivera escapes.
11:55: Uggla's not done sucking. He follows up the double play by misplaying a grounder and putting a runner on with no outs. And...a hard hit grounder goes through his legs. First and third now with no outs. Hate to say it, but Chase Utley makes both of those plays.
12:01: Sizemore grounds to first with the bases loaded and Gonzalez throws home for the force out. Martin fires back to first and a great scoop by Gonzalez saves the game. Longoria follows with another grounder and force at home. Can the NL actually get out of this??
12:04: Well, despite Dan Uggla's best efforts, the NL lives on. The AL collectively sucked more than Uggla could on his own. That's the power of teamwork.
12:07: Joakim Soria gives up a Gonzalez single to lead off the 11th. Gonzalez is everywhere all of the sudden. He's like the anti-Uggla. Meanwhile, if I'm an AL fan I'm less than thrilled about the game being in the hands of the Kansas City Royals' closer. Though he does have a lot of experience pitching in games that don't count. Yes, this game means something now, but not for any member of the Royals.
12:12: Soria get out number three and we're getting dangerously close to a tie. What would they do? Buck suggests a dance-off. I'd prefer a competition between him and McCarver. Whoever talks first loses.
12:17: Russell Martin finally figures out how to throw, gunning down Kinsler on a pitch out. Tejada didn't quite figure out how to tag, but Kinsler is called out all the same. Aaron Cook follows by walking Navarro to bring up Drew. Drew singles and that brings us to Michael Young.
12:21: Wow. The game should've ended just now. Young shoots a single up the middle, but the NL plays it perfectly. McClouth makes a brilliant throw home and Martin blocks the plate, tagging out Navarro.
12:23: Carlos Quentin grounds to Christian Guzman for the final out. How does the NL do it? This is just ridiculous.
12:27: Soria's back for another inning. The Royals will be furious! He walks Ludwick and McClouth beats out a bunt for a hit. Martin then sacrifices and moves the runners to second and third. Good old-fashioned National League baseball.
12:30: Rather than let Miguel Tejada hit with one out and runners on second and third, the AL opts to walk him intentionally to guessed it...Dan Uggla. Kill me now.
12:32: True to form, Uggla strikes out on a half-hearted check swing. Come on Uggla! Whatever Francona paid you, I'll double it. Just stop this.
12:36: The AL pulls Soria and turns to George Sherril with the bases loaded and two outs. Semi-savior Adrian Gonzalez can't come through, as Sherrill strikes him out.
12:38: FOX brings us back just in time to see Carlos Guillen just miss a home run. Instead it goes off the wall and Guillen has a no-out double. Sizemore hits a grounder to Uggla, who drops it but recovers just in time to get the out.
12:42: Longoria grounds one down the third base line and Guzman makes a perfect throw home that would've gotten the lead runner...had the ball not gone foul. Cook strikes out Longoria on the next pitch. Despite there being two outs, Morneau is intentionally walked to face Kinsler.
12:45: Once again, the AL can't capitalize. Kinsler grounds out to end the inning. As FOX goes to commercial, we get a shot of a very concerned Bud Selig. Pretty sure he knows that if he calls this game a tie, he will not get out of New York alive.
12:49: David Wright gets a broken bat bloop single. Damn those maple bats! Guzman tries to bunt Wright over in the next at-bat, but Sherrill nails Wright at second.
12:54: Corey Hart (in place of Pat Burrell) strikes out and Ludwick pops out to end the inning. Sigh.
12:57: Carlos Marmol enters the game and gets Navarro to ground out to Uggla, who draws some sarcastic cheers as he makes a routine play. Welcome back to Little League, Dan.
1:00: Dan Uggla does it AGAIN. Another routine grounder. Upon further review, it took a funny hop at the end, but still, you've got to get that.
1:04: Young strikes out and Drew is nearly thrown out running on the full count. However, Martin's throw skips up and all Uggla can do is catch it and apply a late tag. At this point, not even that was a given. Quentin then strikes out to end the inning and here comes the fourteenth.
1:07: McClouth gets everyone's hopes up with a deep fly ball to right field, but Drew camps under it and catches it at the warning track.
1:09: Martin follows with his own deep fly out to right. Meanwhile, we see Scott Kazmir and Brandon Webb getting loose, just in case. Tim McCarver reminds us that "this time it counts." No kidding. That's why Bud Selig's on suicide watch right now. Tejada grounds out to end the inning.
1:13: Webb enters the game despite having thrown 100+ pitches on Sunday. I've never been more glad that Cole Hamels didn't make the All-Star team. Guillen hits a liner up the middle that's snared by Tejada. Webb then strikes out Sizemore.
1:17: Longoria waves at strike three from Webb, who's looking great even as he terrifies every baseball fan in the southwest.
1:20: Uggla strikes out. Nothing more to add at this point. McCarver tells us that David Letterman did NOT ask Selig about the tie game issue when Selig was on last night. Thanks for that. Meanwhile, Kazmir gets his second out as Gonzalez flies out to left.
1:24: Deep down, Francona has to be thinking about keeping Kazmir in the game for the long haul. How great would it be for the Red Sox if Kazmir got hurt? No way Francona is entertaining this thought, but it must have occurred to him. After Wright walks, Guzman grounds out and Kazmir's arm is spared...for now.
1:29: Morneau greets Brad Lidge, the last available NL pitcher, with a single to center field. Kinsler follows with a liner to left, but Ludwick robs him of a hit with a great diving catch.
1:35: Lidge gives up a hit to Navarro and then walks Drew. Bases are loaded now with one out. However this ends, I'm just glad Drew wasn't the one to end it.
1:36: Young hits a fly ball to right. Hart catches and throws home, but not quite in time. That's the game, the AL wins 4-3. It was a very close play at home and one has to think that the umpire calls him safe no matter what, for the sake of the game. It's a shame that Lidge winds up the loser, but we all know who the real loser is. Dan Uggla.

Well that'll do it. Uggla is the All-Star Game MVP. I mean, not really, but he might as well be.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Burrell Charms Snakes' Bullpen

After seven innings, the Phillies big bats (Utley, Howard, and Burrell) were all hitless, having been shutdown by Arizona ace Brandon Webb. Whether they discussed this in the dugout, or it was a simple coincidence, they changed that in the bottom of the eighth. They each recorded consecutive hits, capped off by a Burrell three-run homer that proved the difference in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Diamondbacks.

On paper, this looked to be a pitcher's duel, and, on paper, it delivered. Brandon Webb did his part, allowing two runs on seven hits and no walks in seven innings. Cole Hamels only allowed two runs himself, but he was not nearly as dominant. He allowed baserunners in all but the first inning, surrendering eleven hits in all, but managed to keep it a close game.

Arizona struck first, as Chad Tracy homered to right in the second inning. Then in the fourth, they extended their lead to 2-0 on a two-out single from Robby Hammock that scored Chris Young. Meanwhile, the Phillies' offense lay stagnant, bested by the former Cy Young Award winner.

Hamels may not have a Cy Young Award, but he aided his case for a Silver Slugger in the fifth, as he delivered a double to right center that scored Pedro Feliz. That was all the Phillies could muster that inning.

A few innings later, Arizona almost made Hamels' RBI irrelevant. Webb got a hit of his own and Stephen Drew had an infield single. Conor Jackson attempted to sacrifice the runners over, but his bunt was a little long and it rolled right to Feliz for a force out at third. Orlando Hudson followed with a deep fly ball to right field. Geoff Jenkins tracked it and appeared to catch it, but lost it at the wall. Because of the near-catch, the runners held up and when the ball returned to the infield, Hudson got caught between first and second with nowhere to go. Despite an attempt at misdirection in which Hudson pointed toward Webb at third to distract the Phillies infield, Howard applied the tag for the second out. Hamels then struck out Mark Reynolds, ending the threat.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies offense rewarded Hamels for his efforts...sort of. With pinch runner Carlos Ruiz on second base, Jimmy Rollins lined a double to right field, tying the game 2-2. In the process, Greg Dobbs pinch hit for Hamels, ending his outing. Hamels was no longer at risk for a loss, but wasn't getting a win either.

For the eighth inning, both teams turned to their bullpens. The Phillies brought in Ryan Madson, who pitched a scoreless inning. The Diamondbacks went with Chad Qualls -- a decision they would soon regret. Qualls allowed singles to Utley and Howard, bringing up Burrell with the winning run in scoring position. But one run wasn't enough for Burrell. Instead he opted for three, as he reached for a low-and-away pitch and sent it over the left field wall. Two batters later, Feliz followed with a solo shot to make it a 6-2 game. That would be all for Qualls, who had a disastrous outing, allowing four earned runs and retiring just one batter. (Perhaps the Mets should trade for him. Let's just change his name to Chad Quallez. How could Omar Minaya resist?) Brad Lidge pitched the ninth, despite the non-save situation, and allowed a run (albeit a fluke-ish one) before shutting the door.

Today's win was a crucial one. It clinched the Arizona series and guaranteed that the Mets have to spend at least a few more days staring up at the Phillies in the standings. New York overtaking Philly on the last day of the first half would have been symbolic of a role reversal (even with a whole second half to go) and this win should keep the Phillies' confidence high, regardless of what the Mets do tonight.

Good Idea/Bad Idea - Starting Pitchers

For most of the season, the one thing keeping the Phillies from being acknowledged as a top team in the league is their rotation. The team was in the running to acquire CC Sabathia, but lacked the major league ready prospect that Milwaukee was able to offer in Matt LaPorta. With Sabathia and Rich Harden off the market (not that the Phillies were interested in Harden), these are some of the remaining starting pitchers the Phillies are/might be interested in. Bear in mind, that most teams would be asking for one of catcher Lou Marson or pitcher Carlos Carrasco, along with other prospects. Some of these pitchers would be better ideas than others:

Bronson Arroyo, Reds - Bad Idea - Arroyo has only had one particularly impressive full season. In 2006, his first season with the Cincinnati Reds, he went 14-11 with a 3.29 ERA and had 184 strikeouts. Batters hit .296 against him that year and his WHIP was 1.19. This is a career best in every single one of those statistics, except for losses as he had 10 the previous year (huge difference, I know). He usually puts up a decent number of strikeouts: he's had at least 100 every year since 2004, and he hasn't been injury prone like most of the pitchers on this list. Beyond that, there's no reason to believe that he would improve the rotation. If he can be acquired for a very cheap price it would be better than nothing, but beyond that it would be a bad idea.

Erik Bedard, Mariners - Good Idea - Seattle looks incredibly foolish in many ways right now, but one of the biggest is the trade to acquire this pitcher, who was supposed to be the stud ace to put the team over the hump into contention. Now, Seattle's new general manager has a lot of house cleaning to do in order to get this team back on track, and a part of that is figuring out what to do with the bigger contracts. The Phillies could take on Bedard's contract while offering players who are lower in the minor league system, which makes sense for a team that needs a few years to rebuild. Bedard has not been happy in Seattle and could use a change of scenery. He might also thrive in the shadow of Cole Hamels. If the Phillies can get him, he would probably be worth a Carlos Carrasco, injury notwithstanding. There was a good reason the Mariners made the trade they did.

A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays - Bad Idea - Burnett is the player that had generated the most hype regarding a Phillies trade. Pat Gillick is apparently overlooking a lot of things if he's seriously considering dealing a top prospect for Burnett. If interest in Erik Bedard disappeared once he hit the DL, then why is he ignoring the fact that Burnett has started more than 25 games only three times in his career. He's never had more than 12 wins and never had fewer than 8 losses in seasons where he did manage to start 20 games or more. The only things he has going for him are that when he is healthy he gets a decent number of strikeouts, striking out over 100 in every year he made more than 15 starts and he's finished all but three seasons with an ERA under 4.00. Burnett might have more success coming into in the National League and he'd be reunited with former Florida pitching coach Rich Dubee, but there's too much of a injury risk with him. Burnett is a good pitcher when he's healthy, but even then he would not be worth a Carrasco or Marson.

Aaron Harang, Reds - Good Idea - It would be very hard to convince the Reds to trade Harang, but if the Phillies can pull it off, it would be great. Harang's current injury isn't too much to worry about and despite his poor numbers this year, he would be a great right-handed co-ace to Cole Hamels. Harang has been a workhorse for the Reds, pitching over 200 innings since 2005 in over 30 games and has had over 200 strikeouts the past two years. Even if this turns out to be an off-year for him, it would give the Phillies one of the best top of the rotation duos for the next couple years. If Harang were having shoulder problems or an injury that could keep recurring, then it would be a waste to get him. The forearm injury could be a convenient excuse to get him off the field and give him a break from his poor numbers.

Derek Lowe, Dodgers - Good Idea - It would be very surprising if the Dodgers dealt Lowe, but he's a solid veteran who is used to being at the top of the rotation on a team near the top of the division. The only potential downside is that he's 35 years old, and with a team that is already one of the oldest in the majors, Lowe isn't going to help the team in the long run. But with their main offensive weapons in their primes, it would be a good time to acquire a finishing piece like Lowe. More than likely, he won't be dealt anyway.

Greg Maddux, Padres - Good Idea - Maddux would essentially give the Phillies mentors from both sides of the pitching rubber. Maddux knows how to deal with contention and would be a fantastic presence and influence on the rest of the team. Even if he is not quite the pitcher he used to be, he is still a solid pitcher and could probably be acquired for slightly less than Bedard or Harang. He doesn't throw as many innings, which would mean more work for the bullpen, but that's not too different from the rest of the staff behind Hamels. The Phillies' aren't likely to acquire a workhorse since there aren't many available. Maddux would be a good, relatively cheap option who would make the Phillies' rotation look scarier than it would actually be.

Jarrod Washburn, Mariners - Bad Idea - Washburn has not been a good pitcher in years. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys, his ERA has been below 4.00 once in the past five years, and there's not a whole lot to say in his favor except that he's not particularly injury prone. The Phillies might be able to get him for dirt cheap due to his large contract and the Mariners more than likely being willing to dump him. But Washburn has only had one great year: 2002. In 2002, the Phillies were still playing in the Vet, still had Scott Rolen, and Jose Mesa managed to record 45 saves. Not to mention Jamie Moyer was under 40 years old.

Randy Wolf, Padres - Bad Idea - As much as I would love to see the return of the Wolf Pack, trading for Wolf wouldn't do a whole lot of good. Every time Wolf is talked about during the offseason, there's a huge question mark surrounding his health. Rightly so: he hasn't started more than 20 games since 2004. He also has had an ERA lower than 4.00 twice in his career. Wolf has always had the potential to be extremely good, but if he hasn't achieved that potential by age 32, there's little reason to believe that he's ever going to. If the Phillies were in need of a left handed starter, then acquiring Wolf would be a decent idea. He's a solid left-handed pitcher, but he's not what the team needs to put them over the hump, even if he does stay healthy.

As far as pitchers to acquire, there is one more whose name has come up a bunch of times. The Phillies are also in search of a left-handed reliever, so it seems reasonable to talk about this guy as well:

Brian Fuentes, Rockies - Bad Idea - It's not that Fuentes isn't good - he is. However, he is certainly not worth one of the Phillies' better prospects, and with a lot of teams interested in acquiring him, it would not be worth it to enter a bidding war. If the Phillies are dying to put another left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, they could probably find someone else, though they've been just fine so far without having to worry about it. When Gordon comes back, who can you take out of there? Seanez or Condrey most likely, but they've been very good even if they are the dregs of the 'pen. Just as Manuel didn't want to alter the bullpen by taking Chad Durbin out of it, there's no reason to touch it in terms of Seanez or Condrey. There is no way they could win the bidding war in a way that would be worth it to fill a need that doesn't really need to be filled.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Howard Powers Phillies to Series Win

If Chase Utley wants to prepare for the Home Run Derby, he should take a few tips from Ryan Howard. Howard had his own personal derby today, belting a pair of home runs and providing the bulk of the offense in the Phillies 4-1 win over the Cardinals.

Of course, Utley did his part as well. In the first inning, he grounded to second with Shane Victorino on first, but hustled down the first base line and beat out the potential inning-ending double play. Howard made the most of Utley's efforts as he hit a sharp line drive home run to left-center, putting him ahead of Utley in that category. That put the Phillies up 2-0 and would be all the run support Jamie Moyer would need.

Utley gave the Phillies a three-run lead in the third as he lined a two-out RBI double to right field, scoring Jimmy Rollins. However, in the top of the fourth Yadier Molina singled up the middle for an RBI that negated Utley's insurance run. The score remained 3-1 until the sixth inning, when Howard struck again with a towering solo home run to left. It was his 27th of the year. (Just for the record, Howard had 28 in the first half of his MVP season of 2006.)

Meanwhile, Moyer was his usual self, working around seven hits and two walks and allowing only a single run in the process. He went seven strong innings and the bullpen did the rest. Ryan Madson pitched 1 1/3 innings, but ran into a little trouble in the ninth. Madson allowed a single and walk in the ninth, putting the tying run at the plate. With one out, Charlie Manuel turned to J.C. Romero, giving Brad Lidge the day off (perhaps to celebrate getting Albert Pujols out last night for the first time in more than a year). Romero did his part, getting Aaron Miles to fly out and then inducing a Brendan Ryan pop-out, after he ran the count full. That gave Romero his first save of the season and gave the Phillies a much-needed win.

Winning the rubber game meant that the Phillies won a series against a team other than Atlanta for the first time since they took three of four from Cincinnati in the beginning of June. It also allowed the Phillies to maintain their now-slender lead on the NL East. Fortunately, they now face the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks, who lead the NL West, despite being a game under .500. (Is anyone else jealous?)

When today's game ended, there was a new league leader in home runs. The Phillies will have to make sure that when the first half of the season ends, there's no change in the pecking order in the NL East.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Phun Phact: Lidge vs. Pujols

Brad Lidge made progress toward exorcising his demons on Wednesday night, when he retired Albert Pujols in a save situation, which helped secure the Phillies' 4-2 win over the Cardinals.

Pujols' home run off Lidge in the 2005 NLCS and Lidge's subsequent struggles have been well-documented, so it was great to see Lidge get the big out in Wednesday's game.

It had, in fact, been quite a while since Lidge got the better of Pujols. The last time Pujols failed to reach base against Lidge, before last night, was on September 22, 2006, when Pujols struck out looking against Lidge. Since then, Pujols had reached base in six consecutive plate appearances.

Since the 2005 NLCS, Lidge and Pujols have squared off nine times. In those meetings, Pujols went 2-5 with 2 RBI and walked four times. Only one hit was for extra bases (a double) and two of the walks were intentional. One of the (unintentional) walks came with the bases loaded.

So for those of you keeping score at home, Pujols has hit .400 with a .667 OBP, slugging .600, for a 1.267 OPS.

But maybe Lidge has turned over a new leaf. Since he joined the Phillies, Pujols is 0-1 with an intentional walk against him. Not bad.

Phillies Win Behind Fine Performance from Happ

In flashes the Phillies offense seemed to have come alive for their 4-2 win against the Cardinals last night, but it was really pitching which was key to the game. Rookie J. A. Happ pitched well enough in his first start this season that he was deemed worthy of a second, though his spot in the rotation was by no means secure. He faced off against another unsure starter, Mark Mulder, who has been regularly troubled by injuries. It was a diagnostic start to see how far he could go and how well he could do.

After Happ got through a scoreless first despite surrendering two walks, Mulder came to the mound. He made Jimmy Rollins look bad, striking out flailing at a pitch he was nowhere near, but then walked Shane Victorino and Chase Utley on eight consecutive balls. A visit from the trainer made it clear that Mulder did not feel up to pitching the rest of the night and Brad Thompson, very likely prepared to be the long man in just such a case as this, came in and induced Ryan Howard to ground into a double play.

From then on both teams regularly drew walks and got occasional hits (including a single from Pat Burrell to extend his ten-game hitting streak), but it very much seemed like an unlikely pitchers' duel was in progress, neither team pulling together enough to score a run -- until the fifth inning. Then a Carlos Ruiz single -- shocking everyone by putting his impressive twenty-odd ofer to an end -- and a Jimmy Rollins triple put the Phillies on the board first. Although Rollins was out for running on contact when Victorino hit an easy grounder, the Phillies added another run on a single by Chase Utley and another by Ryan Howard, extending his own hitting streak and ever-so-slowly creeping his batting average up to more respectable levels and inducing Tony LaRussa to replace Thompson will Russ Springer from the bullpen.

Charlie Manuel, however, is not so easily swayed towards removing his pitcher, even in the late innings. J. A. Happ batted for himself in the bottom of the sixth, then arrived to pitch the seventh. He allowed a single to Cesar Izturis, then a Skip Schumaker hit that sailed over Shane Victorino's head and lodged under the centre-field wall. Victorino immediately threw his arms in the air Wrigley Field-style and after the umpires had examined the situation to determine that the ball was legitimately lodged and Victorino was not simply trying to prevent Izturis from scoring on the play (ah-hem), the two baserunners finally stood at second and third on the ground-rule double.

This was, however, enough to prompt Manuel to remove Happ and bring in Chad Durbin as his replacement. Durbin allowed the two runners that were Happ's responsibility to score on a sacrifice fly from Albert Pujols and a Troy Glaus single, tying the game at two and preventing Happ from accumulating a win despite a very fine pitching performance.

Clay Condrey pitched the eighth without incident and in the bottom of the inning the Phillies took back their two run lead on separate solo home runs off Kyle McClellan from Ryan Howard and Pedro Feliz. This proved to be the game, as despite allowing a couple of baserunners Bard Lidge collected his save and gave the Phillies the game.

J. A. Happ almost unquestionably deserves another start as in the two that he has had this season he has been for more impressive than Brett Myers was proving before his assignment to the minors.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Live Blogging Phillies vs Mets

Today, instead of our traditional recap, we'll be bringing you live updates from today's Phillies-Mets game. This is perhaps the hardest game of the series to predict, with Kyle Kendrick and Oliver Perez starting. Perez is as erratic as they come and Kendrick, while he's pitched well of late, had one of his worst outings of the season when he faced the Mets early in the year. (We got off to a bit of a late start and didn't catch the entire Top of the 1st.)

Bottom of the 1st
0 on, 0 out
Today, Chase Utley is batting second and Jimmy Rollins is batting third. Charlie Manuel is continuing to tinker with the lineup in the hope of getting those two players going. Has anyone suggested trying Rollins in the two-hole?

Oliver Perez walks the first batter he faces (Jayson Werth). Shocking.

1 on, 0 out
SNY shows us the Mets defense. Marlon Anderson gets the start in left field. Left field? All Phillies fans know that his natural position is short right field. Get with the program Jerry Manuel.

1 on, 1 out
Rollins hits a ball that knocks off Perez' foot. Could there be bizarro injuries to Mets starters two days in a row? No, not quite. He's fine. Rollins at first with a single and Werth goes from second to third.

2 on, 1 out
Brian Schneider makes two consecutive snap-throws back to third...for some reason. Hate to break it to you, buddy, but I don't think Werth is stealing home. The second throw could cost the Mets, as Rollins makes a heads-up playing, stealing second on the throw to third.

Ryan Howard strikes out. What else is new?

2 on, 2 out
Burrell falls behind Perez 0-2. Really? You would think Burrell would be the perfect weapon against an erratic lefty like Perez. Apparently not. Burrell pops out, leaving two in scoring position.

Top of the 2nd
1 on, 1 out
Kendrick walks Anderson after giving up a single to Damion Easley. Apparently he's allergic to washed-up second basemen. Let's see if he can get Brian Schneider. Tom Gordon couldn't last night.

2 on, 1 out
Schneider delivers again...sort of. He singles up the middle, but with Victorino throwing, Easley gets a late stop sign. Scary moment as Howard considers throwing to third to try to get Easley.

3 on, 1 out
Perez can't deliver, as he pops out. Reyes follows with a pop-up of his own. Kendrick escapes unharmed.

Bottom of the 2nd
0 on, 0 out
Feliz hits a ball hard to deep left field. Marlon Anderson camps under it and...misses it entirely. Wow. We weren't kidding about his belonging in short right field. He went for the basket catch and came up completely empty. If only Major League manager Lou Brown was here to stop him. Feliz gets a "double" out of it.

1 on, 1 out
Endy Chavez robs Carlos Ruiz of an extra-base hit with a ridiculous catch. Ridiculous on two levels. 1) He reached over his head, over his shoulder to grab it. 2) If he had better instincts and ran a proper route, it's not nearly so impressive. Either way, it's an out and odds are the Mets are out of danger here as Kendrick comes up with two outs.

1 on, 2 out
Kendrick strikes out to end it. During the commercials we learn that Kevin Garnett likes to torment cable guys by showing them how much more money he has than them. Nice work, KG.

Top of the 3rd
0 on, 2 out
Carlos Beltran finally gets a hit that matters. He hits a line drive home run to right field on a 3-2 count. Mets lead 1-0.

Delgado follows with a grounder to the left side that Rollins can't quite track down. Easley then lines to center for the third out.

Bottom of the 3rd
0 on, 0 out
Werth walks again, this time on four pitches. He may not have to swing at all today.

1 on, 0 out
Utley smashes one to deep center, but not deep enough, as Beltran tracks it down.

1 on, 1 out
Rollins grounds into a 6-4-3 double play after getting ahead in the count. Should've stuck to the Werth strategy of not swinging.

Top of the 4th
1 on, 1 out
After Schneider draws a four-pitch walk, Perez successfully sacrifices him to second.

1 on, 2 out
The sacrifice proves pretty inconsequential, as Reyes singles to left field but Schneider is held at third.

2 on, 2 out
Reyes steals second easily, but it doesn't matter as Chavez chops a grounder to Kendrick on the next pitch.

Bottom of the 4th
0 on, 0 out
Howard strikes out again. Swung at every pitch he was given. That's 121 on the year.

1 on, 1 out
Wild pitch gets Burrell to second. The ball basically went behind and around Schneider. Perez still manages to strike out Feliz. Victorino fouls out to end the inning. Manuel keeps putting Victorino lower and lower in the lineup.

Top of the 5th
1 on, 0 out
Wright singles and Beltran follows up with a grounder to short. Rollins gets the fielder's choice at second, but Beltran beats the throw to first.

1 on, 1 out
Delgado strikes out on a 3-2 slider as Beltran takes off. Ruiz throws to second but Beltran is safe.

1 on, 2 out
Beltran then steals third without a throw. Seems an unnecessary risk with two outs. Running on contact, Beltran almost certainly scores on a single from second anyway. Kendrick walks Easley, bringing up Anderson with runners at the corners.

2 on, 2 out
Kendrick lulls Anderson to sleep (not that hard to do) with three straight balls, then gets him to ground out to second to end the inning.

Bottom of the 5th
1 on, 1 out
After a Ruiz single and a Kendrick strikeout, Perez finds the strike zone against Werth. With a 1-2 count, he crushes one foul to left field, then reaches for a foul line drive. After all that, he flies out to right.

1 on, 2 out
Utley grounds out to Delgado for the third out. Once again, the Phillies bats are falling silent.

Top of the 6th
0 on, 0 out
The Phillies finally manage to keep Brian Schneider off the basepaths. That took a lot longer than it should have.

1 on, 2 out
Chavez grounds out to Howard as the Mets continue to strand baserunners.

Bottom of the 6th
0 on, 1 out
The Phillies are warming up Clay Condrey in the bullpen. Condrey is the one pitcher who the Mets haven't seen yet in this series. That's the only justification for bringing him into a 1 run game.

1 on, 2 out
The Mets are warming up Aaron Heilman. They're hoping he'll build off his one pitch wonder outing last night. Given an 0-3 record and a 4.67 ERA, odds are against that.

Pat Burrell flies out to Beltran. Pedro Feliz gets a hit... but it's caught by none other than Endy Chavez to end the inning.

Top of the 7th
0 on, 0 out
Clay Condrey is indeed in the game. Kendrick leaves after 6 innings, 1 earned run, 8 hits, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 112 pitches.

0 on, 1 out
Beltran singles to center field. Suddenly he seems to remember how to play baseball.

1 on, 2 out
Ruiz tries to snag Beltran at first, but Howard misses the throw and it sails into right field as Beltran goes to second base. Howard's defensive woes continue. It wasn't even a bad throw by Ruiz, Howard just...botched it. Turns out not to matter as the Phillies finally get Easley out on a ground ball to Utley to end the inning.

7th Inning Stretch
With the All-Star rosters announced today, we figured we would make our pick for Most Undeserving All-Star as there is undoubtedly at least one. Our pick this year is...

Jason Varitek, C, BOS
There is no reason for Varitek to be at this game. Boston is sending five other players and would have been sending six if David Ortiz weren't injured. Luckily Joe Mauer got a late surge of votes and is going to start the game, but his .219 average is hardly worthy of an All-Star nod. A.J. Pierzynski has the same number of home runs as Varitek (7), but is batting .299, has more RBI than Varitek and even has a stolen base. Even Ivan Rodriguez would have been more derserving (.282/3 HR/28 RBI/6 SB). Hometown stalwart Jorge Posada is about as deserving too (.282/3 HR/22 RBI).

The Phillies end up with two All-Stars in Chase Utley and Brad Lidge. No Cole Hamels or Pat Burrell, though Pat Burrell is a candidate to get the Final Vote. He goes up against former Phillie Aaron Rowand, Carlos Lee, David Wright, and Corey Hart.

Bottom of the 7th
0 on, 0 out
Jose Reyes' throw beats out Shane Victorino in a race of speedsters. Turns out to be a 1-2-3 inning for Perez as the two catchers, Ruiz and Coste get out.

Top of the 8th
0 on, 0 out
J.C. Romero is in to pitch for the Phillies. Hopefully he's got his control issues solved so that there isn't a repeat of last night's debacle. The rain is starting to fall...

0 on, 2 out
Romero was off to a good start, getting the first two batters out, but then walks Chris Aguila to bring up Reyes. Romero redeems himself by picking off Aguila.

Bottom of the 8th
0 on, 0 out
Duaner Sanchez in to pitch for the Mets. Hopefully he'll look more like he did two nights ago than last night.

0 on, 1 out
Chase Utley finally gets on base as Sanchez bobbles a ground ball. The ball just slipped out of his hand, when he should have thrown it to Carlos Delgado as soon as he got it. Utley takes advantage of his recent minimal time on the bases by stealing second with Rollins at the plate. Sanchez walks Rollins and with Howard coming up, Jerry Manuel decides to go to Pedro Feliciano.

2 on, 1 out
As Pedro Feliciano warms up, the ground crew begins rolling out the tarp as a rain delay is called. The Mets would be extremely lucky if the game is not resumed as they are now in a difficult position with two men on and Howard and Burrell coming up. In the meantime, CW11 will show us an episode of "The Odd Couple." Apparently hilarity ensues when they discover that Oscar's father tried to kill Felix' father.

After the Rain Delay
I wasn't able to live blog the rest of the game after the rain delay, so I'll revert to a standard recap.

When we last saw the team, Ryan Howard was up with two men on. Nothing came of that situation and the game went to the top of the ninth, which brought a very happy Brad Lidge, with a place on the All-Star and a three-year extension. However, Lidge gave up a rare run as Carlos Beltran continued his productive day with a single to score Jose Reyes. In the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies managed to get past Billy Wagner again as Jayson Werth hit a two run home run. The game then went until the twelfth when Fernando Tatis hit a two run homer off of Chad Durbin in his second inning of work to make it 4-2 Mets. Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the inning with a single, stole second, and got to third on a Geoff Jenkins ground out. However, none of Ryan Howard, Jenkins, or the hero from two nights ago, Pedro Feliz, were able to capitalize and the Mets held onto a 4-2 victory.

The team has a lot of trouble when its stars aren't hitting. Chase Utley wasn't effective for them and Jimmy Rollins couldn't come through at the right times. It seemed as if the top of the lineup was easier to get through than the bottom. It was uncharacteristic of the team not to back up Kyle Kendrick with at least six runs. Batting Rollins third hasn't seemed to help and it's hard to tell how much of the lack of offense is related to players being in slumps or the fact that Charlie Manuel is constantly changing the lineup. Shane Victorino toward the bottom of the lineup is a bizarre because he is often able to spark the team into big offensive innings. Jayson Werth is having success hitting leadoff, so that's all well and good when he's in the lineup. Pedro Feliz also looks comfortable hitting sixth, so that's something else that these experiments have revealed. But the four main hitters in the offense aren't producing right now and they need to find a solution. If Jimmy Rollins is having offensive issues, bat him seventh. I would be interested to see the following lineup:
Werth/Victorino/Utley/Burrell/Howard/Feliz/Rollins/Coste or Ruiz/pitcher.

In other news, it looks like C.C. Sabathia is headed to Milwaukee, though the Phillies had supposedly been involved in trade talks for him. They don't have a great deal of Major League-ready talent, but they have a bunch of interesting prospects lower in the system such as Greg Golson, Jason Donald, Josh Outman and Carlos Carrasco. We'll have to get used to J.A. Happ unless the Phillies try to play the same game for Erik Bedard or Aaron Harang. Seattle might be interested in prospects further away from the majors since they're probably going to start rebuilding under their new management, which could take a while considering the amount of contracts and veterans they'll have to slog through and deal with over the next couple years. Toronto's A.J. Burnett and current Padre, former Phillie Randy Wolf are other options, though both are injury prone and might frustrate the team more than help them. Hoping J.A. Happ can be this year's Kyle Kendrick might be the best solution.