Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are Two Aces Really Better Than One?

Well, it's official. Cliff Lee is leaving town and Roy Halladay is taking his place. The jury is still out on this trade, but the consensus among Phillies fans is that the Phillies should have dealt their prospects for Halladay and retained Lee, at least for 2010, The idea being that Halladay and Lee would form an unstoppable duo (and having Cole Hamels are the 3rd starter wouldn't hurt either) and would virtually guarantee, barring injuries of course, that the Phillies take home the 2010 crown.

That all sounds great on paper, but is it really true? Does having two legitimate "aces" really lock down anything? Common sense would say that it does. After all, what team would want to face two elite starters in a playoff series, especially a best-of-five? And yet, thinking about it, it seems like almost every year there is a team with a couple elite starting pitchers who supposedly no one wants to face in October...but not many of those teams actually won anything.

That got me thinking today and I have done some research on the subject. Obviously it's a bit tricky because, after all, what defines an "ace"? Cole Hamels was considered the ace of the 2008 Phillies but there's no doubt that Cliff Lee was the ace in '09 and that Roy Halladay will be the ace of the 2010 team, despite Hamels' continued presence. It generally means the team's best pitcher, but clearly a team can be considered to have two aces, as would have been the case if Halladay and Lee were paired. There's no surefire answer, but it seemed to me that the best way to pick out teams with multiple aces was to find teams that had two or more pitchers finish in the top five of the Cy Young Award voting. It's not a perfect system, but it at least provided a basis for the discussion.

Since 1995, the first year when the wildcard was implemented and the playoffs had three rounds, there have been eighteen teams with two or more "aces", by my definition. Four of these teams won the World Series: the 1995 Braves, 1998 Yankees, 2001 Diamondbacks, and 2004 Red Sox. So of the teams that sported multiple aces, 22 percent won it all. That doesn't sound too good on its own, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

For starters, only one of these eighteen teams did not make the playoffs. The lone exception was the 2002 Red Sox, who finished 2nd in the AL East and missed the wildcard, despite getting brilliant seasons from Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. That team won 93 games (the same number as the 2009 Phillies) so it's not like they were a terrible team, but then again it's a bit hard to say they were simply unlucky as their record would not have won them any division or wildcard in either league that season (though perhaps not having to play the 103-win Yankees so many times would have helped). Based on that it is fairly safe to say that having twin aces gets you into the playoffs.

But making the playoffs is not really the point. First, the Cy Young voting often comes down to who has the best win-loss record (or that at least plays a major role), so the pitchers in contention for the award are going to be on good teams the vast majority of the time. Second, making the playoffs has to be considered a given for this study. Had the Phillies ran out Halladay and Lee in 2010, missing the playoffs would not have been a valid option. Besides, the purpose of that deal would have been to lock up a World Series, not another division title. It is worth noting, however, that if you are of the persuasion that the MLB playoffs are basically random, due to the small number of postseason games in comparison to the 162-game regular season, then you could argue that just getting there is good enough, that the titles will happen, given enough opportunities. But try telling that to the Braves, who won fourteen straight division titles and just one World Championship.

As for the teams that did make the playoffs, as mentioned, only four out of seventeen won the Series. However, it's not entirely fair to say that the remaining thirteen teams blew it. If the argument to be made is that teams with one ace (or perhaps no ace) are better than those with two, then the two-ace teams that lost to other two-ace teams cannot be counted. There are only two examples: the 2001 Mariners and the 2001 Yankees. The Mariners lost to the Yankees, who went on to lose to the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. So they don't count.

All of the sudden, we're down to eleven two-ace teams that were unable to defeat teams with fewer aces in the postseason. That would mean that 36 percent of the playoff teams that employ two aces and don't run into other two-ace teams, win the World Series. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, not so fast. If look more closely, a lot of these teams really did have an ace, even if they had more than one great pitcher.

The 2004 Red Sox had Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, who finished 2nd and 4th, respectively, in the Cy Young voting. However, this was Schilling's team. He had the more impressive stats, took a bigger role as a team leader, and was the unquestioned choice as the #1 starter in October. Martinez actually had a down year (by his standards) with a 3.90 ERA.

The 1998 Yankees had David Wells and David Cone and it is hard to argue with their two-ace credentials. However, this was the Yankees at their finest, a team that won 114 games and was dominant in all aspects. They were in no way carried by two starting pitchers. In fact, Andy Pettitte started Game 2 of the ALDS that year, ahead of Cone. This was one of the greatest teams of all time and it's difficult to attribute that success to having multiple aces.

The 1995 Braves are a more interesting case. They won behind stellar pitching from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. They would be among the first teams that come to mind when supporting the theory that multiple aces equals playoff success. However, this is, in a way, the exception that proves the rule. True, the Braves won in '95, but that was the only time they won despite fourteen straight division titles.

And then there's the most obvious example, the 2001 Diamondbacks, who sported Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, forming one of the best 1-2 punches in history. But this example is also a bit flawed. First of all, Arizona beat the Yankees in the series, who, as previously mentioned, also had two aces (Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina). And second, this is in a way similar to the Braves issue, in that if this was such a successful formula, then why weren't they able to win a single playoff game outside of 2001? Johnson and Schilling teamed up from mid-2000 through 2003 and they only made the playoffs one other time (2002), at which point they got swept in the NLDS.

But why is it that these multiple-ace teams don't seem to dominate the playoffs the way logic suggests they should? That was always the question with the Braves of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz or the A's of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. I can't definitively answer that question, but if I had to guess, I would say it's psychological.

A baseball team functions on routine, on structure. When that is disrupted, teams can collapse. Why is it that teams need to have specific pitchers assigned to the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings? Wouldn't it make more logical sense to use the pitcher who has the most favorable matchups than to use a guy just because he has the label of "closer"? For example, utilizing a left-handed specialist when two of the three batters due up are left-handed, instead of a right-handed pitcher who happens to have more saves. It sounds good, but it doesn't always work that well. Just look at the 2009 Phillies bullpen. Brad Lidge had a terrible season, but it wasn't until he hit the disabled list and Charlie Manuel started leaning on Ryan Madson to close out games did Madson really start to struggle. Does that mean that Madson doesn't have the "closer's mentality" or does it just mean that he was well-adjusted to his 8th inning role?

Just as a bullpen lacking a closer can fall into disarray, so can a rotation without a defined ace, at least in October. During the regular season, the "ace" status isn't as big a deal. Everyone is pitching regularly and, over the course of the season, pitching matchups get mixed to the point where it's little more than coincidence when two ace pitchers face off. It's just as likely that Cole Hamels will face Tim Lincecum as it is that Joe Blanton faces him. And whoever faces him, it's because it's his turn, not because the manager selected him for that matchup. In the regular season, a team can't lean on its ace too heavily. Having one supposed virtual lock for a win every five games is nice, but a team can't think that way over 162 games.

The playoffs, however, are a very different story. When the ace pitches, it becomes a must-win game. The expectation is that whoever has the better ace will take it, regardless of the offenses involved. The offense doesn't feel added pressure because they are confident the ace will keep the opposing offense in check. Obviously this doesn't always happen, but for the great teams it usually does. That's what the Yankees had this year with C.C. Sabathia and what the Phillies had with Hamels last year. Having the best pitcher in a series is a tremendous advantage because, although no pitcher can win a series by himself, the idea that one team has a win practically guaranteed every three or four games presents a tremendous psychological advantage.

One would think this advantage would be built upon for teams with multiple aces, but that doesn't seem to be the case. From a psychological standpoint, it seems to be a classic case of having too much of a good thing. If one kid gets ice cream every day and another gets ice cream once a week, obviously the once-a-week kid is going to be much more excited about ice cream. It's much easier to rally around the idea that your ace is pitching and you have to win for him than it is to do that for two or three guys. Likewise, it waters down the intimidation on the opponent. Instead of having one guy in the rotation that they dread facing, there are now two or three and unless the team is going to throw in the towel and give up, they can't be that greatly intimidated by both pitchers.

Not to mention the effect this can have on the pitchers themselves. As mentioned, baseball players (pitchers especially) thrive on routine and structure. So is it any wonder that Cole Hamels struggled last October after having effectively been demoted to #2 starter? Or that the rest of the Phillies rotation was spotty when they didn't even announce who would start Game 3 of the NLDS until after Game 2 had been played? Another example would be Pedro Martinez in 2004, who was supplanted by Schilling as staff ace and saw his ERA jump for 2.22 in '03 to 3.90 in '04.

So there you have it. Is this indisputable evidence that teams with multiple aces are worse in October? Not really, it's too small a sample size. But it is interesting to look at it in a different light and try to get a handle on the psychological implications that these kinds of roster decisions have on a team.

For the record, I'm still not thrilled about the Roy Halladay trade and would love to have taken a chance on the Halladay-Lee-Hamels tandem, despite my research. But if there's any truth to my theory, than perhaps Ruben Amaro made the correct decision in effectively swapping Lee for Halladay...even if it may not have been for the right reasons.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Halladay Shopping

It looks like the 4-team mega-trade is finally complete and Roy Halladay will be a Phillie. Yesterday's write-up was premature, but now the pieces seem to be in place. So here's the breakdown:

Phillies get:
Roy Halladay (from Toronto)
Phillippe Aumont, RHP (from Seattle)
Tyson Gillies, OF (from Seattle)
Juan Ramirez, RHP (from Seattle)
$6 million cash (from Toronto)

Mariners get:
Cliff Lee (from Philadelphia)

Blue Jays get:
Travis D'Arnaud, C (from Philadelphia)
Kyle Drabek, RHP (from Philadelphia)
Brett Wallace, 1B/3B (from Oakland)

A's get:
Michael Taylor (from Philadelphia via Toronto)

So there it is. The Phillies give up Lee and three of their top prospects in return for Halladay and three of the Mariners' top prospects. It's an interesting trade. Getting rid of Lee is a tough sell after he was so dominant in a Phillies uniform; especially considering that the Phillies could have conceivably dealt prospects to Toronto and kept Lee, perhaps dealing Blanton to save some money. But the goal was to maintain the present and secure the future.

By making this trade the way they did, the Phillies will have an elite pitcher through 2013, as Halladay agreed to a 3-year extension, and they will do so without depleting their farm system. The general consensus seems to be that the prospects the Phillies acquired are not quite as good as the ones they gave up, but they are still legitimate prospects. (I would like to point out this quote from ESPN's Keith Law in his breakdown of the deal: "Tyson Gillies is among the fastest men in baseball and has a decent approach at the plate." Hmm, does that scouting report remind you of anyone? Oh, perhaps, PPB favorite Michael Bourn? Just saying...) So instead of depleting their farm system they may have just downgraded it slightly. And they did manage to keep Dominic Brown, their top hitting prospect.

The one thing I don't get is that I kept reading that the Phillies' refusal to keep Brown out of the trade was the primary stumbling block in keeping the Phillies from trading for Halladay straight out, without dealing Lee or involving other teams...but all Toronto got was three Phillies prospects not named 'Dominic Brown.' Maybe that trade could have been worked out once the Blue Jays agreed to send Taylor to the A's, but the Phillies stuck with this plan as not to devastate the team down the road.

I also find it very interesting that the Phillies were suddenly willing to include Drabek in the deal. Wasn't this the guy the Phillies outright refused to trade last summer? Considering that they had no problem giving him away now, that Brown had gained the status of #1 prospect, and considering Drabek's injury history, it makes me wonder whether the Phillies brass knows something about Drabek that we don't. Just putting that out there...

In the short term, it's hard to say what kind of impact the trade will have. Halladay is a great pitcher, but so is Lee. It's certainly safe to say the team is shaping up to be better than last year, as a full season out of Halladay/Lee should make the rotation much more daunting. And one would hope that Halladay can have a positive impact on Cole Hamels (and that Hamels' psyche isn't damaged by the constant 'ace' talk that he hasn't been a part of).

Overall I'm not thrilled with the trade. It seems like a waffling sort of move for a team that can't decide whether to go for it all now or to stay competitive for longer. I'm all for multiple division titles a la the '90s Atlanta Braves, but being consistently 'very good' doesn't tend to win you as many titles as having a couple years of being 'great'. Just ask the Eagles. Personally, I would've gone for broke while the team's core is still in its prime.

However, if nothing else, the trade maintains the status quo for 2010 and allows the team to retain a proven ace through 2013. It may not make us a virtual lock for the World Series this year, but then again, in October there really is no such thing as a 'lock.' It's pretty much a crapshot. So if this helps us get to the playoffs for the next 3-4 years, perhaps that's the best we can hope for.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trading Aces: Phils To Swap Lee For Halladay

According to a report from, the Phillies are close to acquiring Roy Halladay in a 3-team trade that will send Cliff Lee to Seattle. It's unclear at the moment who else will be involved in the trade; presumably Seattle will be sending prospects to Toronto and possibly to the Phillies as well, but all that's come out so far is Lee is heading to the Mariners and Halladay to the Phillies.

This comes as an initial shock, as the Phillies seem to be accomplishing little by swapping aces, especially after Lee was so dominant in October. But the deal is contingent upon Halladay signing a contract extension, so this is not merely a rental. The Phillies had tried to work out an extension with Lee but had not made any headway, so after the 2010 season they would have either lost him to free agency, or had his price driven up in a bidding war.

It's difficult to see Lee go after witnessing his brilliance in a Phillies uniform, but ultimately Ruben Amaro has to be commended for this trade. Halladay, after all, was the Phillies' initial target when they sought an ace to bolster their rotation last season, but the price was too high. There's no question that if they could have gotten Halladay for the package that landed them Lee, they would have done so in a heartbeat. And now, several months later, they have effectively done just that.

As good as Lee was, Halladay should be a better fit. He is an excellent groundball pitcher and he also generates more strikeouts than Lee; both of which make him a better fit in Citizens Bank Park. He's also a right-handed pitcher, which should help balance out the rotation a bit. Not to mention his superior track record to Lee, who has had a few outstanding seasons, but his overall resume pales in comparison to that of Halladay. Based on last season's stats there appears to be minimal difference between the two, but on a career level, Halladay is clearly superior.

Just look at their pages on Cliff Lee's Hall of Fame statistics give him a Hall of Fame monitor score of 39 (the average Hall of Famer finishes with a score of about 100). Meanwhile Roy Halladay's Hall of Fame monitor score is 80, meaning that he's got a legitimate shot at the Hall if he finishes his career strong. The similarity scores are also worth noting. Out of the top ten pitchers who compare the best to Lee through age 30, there are some quality names: Denny Neagle, Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter. But Halladay's top comparisons through age 32 are a bit more impressive: Mike Mussina, Dizzy Dean, Don Newcombe, Andy Pettitte, Jim Bunning. So debate all you want who was better last year, but Halladay's track record is far superior, and thus a better indicator of future success.

The ultimate question, however, is just how much better (if at all) does this make the Phillies? Halladay is a slightly better pitcher right now, but he'll have even more pressure on him than Lee did, seeing as he'll be expected to mirror or even top Lee's 2009 output. We'll have to see how the trade shakes out before making final analysis; if the Phillies score a nice prospect or two in the deal, for example, that would solidify this as a wise decision. Ultimately, however, this move wasn't made for 2010 as much as it was for the next several years. The Phillies are in win-now mode, but that doesn't mean they are sacrificing the future.

While this seems like an intelligent trade on the whole, the Phillies still have some work to be done. The bullpen needs upgrading (John Smoltz wouldn't be a terrible option if they are looking for a bargain) and another quality starter would be nice. As it stands, our rotation will feature Halladay, Hamels, Happ, Blanton, and an unknown fifth starter (probably either Kendrick, Moyer, or perhaps even Kyle Drabek). Hamels and Blanton weren't able to get the job done last October (though one has to hope Hamels can turn things around in 2010), but perhaps having Happ in there over Pedro will improve things.

There is still tweaking to be done, but the 2010 Phillies have a chance to be even better than the 2009 edition. Of course, that was the case before this trade, figuring that a full season of Lee would be a major upgrade, but now things are looking up for the 2011 Phillies as well; something we could not have said yesterday.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gloading over our acquisitions

The Phillies have picked up another acquisition to strengthen their bench: 33-year-old veteran of eight Major League seasons Ross Gload, who signed a two-year contract as a free agent after declining an offer from his team of last year, the Florida Marlins. He was a small contributor to the White Sox's championship season in 2005, but did not play in the postseason.

Gload has played first base more than anything in his career, but with Ryan Howard rarely missing a game at his position its more likely that if the Phillies ever use to start it will be in the outfield, where he can play all three positions. However, there has been talk of increased rest for members of the Phillies' core -- now mainly composed of players past thirty -- and Gload will be a good option to play first if Howard needs to be rested for a day.

Gload has a strong career batting average of .283 and OPS of .736. He has a reputation as a very strong pinch hitter, and that's why I like this acquisition. Greg Dobbs couldn't repeat his pinch-hitting success from 2008 in 2009, and the Phillies will want somebody to fill that role. That is most likely how he will be used by the Phillies, especially since he has a reputation as a below average defensive outfielder.

This is a good pickup that should give the Phillies a strong bat to go to off the bench. GM Ruben Amaro says his next priorities are to pick up a starter to compete for the fifth spot and some relief pitching, so we'll keep up on further developments.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welcome Back, Placido!

The Phillies have signed free agent Placido Polanco to replace Pedro Feliz at third base next season. Polanco played for the team from 2002-2005. Polanco has primary been a second baseman in his career, but he's been a very slick and adaptable fielder, and has also started 267 games at third base. Many of those were with the Phillies in 2002 after the tumultuous departure of the disgruntled Scott Rolen left a hole at the position, and he played very well. Especially since some analysts have shown a decline in Pedro Feliz's range at third, Polanco should not represent a downgrade defensively.

He's also a solid and reliable hitter for average -- batting over .300 for his career and in three of the last five years -- steadily hits a good number of doubles, and doesn't strike out much. Polanco has been signed for three years - until he is 37 - so it is good that he seems like the kind of player who would age well. The fact that he's already been a Phillie starter for a considerable amount of time means that the fans will already know and like him, and that he will know important, longer-serving Phillies such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, as well a lot of people in the organization, and this should help the transition go smoothly.

Overall, I like the signing a lot; it brings back a welcome familiar face who should keep up our high standard of defense at third and add a bat to the lineup that hits for high average and works pitchers.

Unknown as yet is whether beloved fan group Lake Placido will make a reappearance, but the People's Phillies Blog will strive to keep you updated.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lee Takes Center Stage, Phils lead Series 1-0

This was supposed to be a hitter's series. Cliff Lee was supposed to come back to Earth against the highest scoring offense in baseball. He was supposed to feel the pressure.

Well, re-write the scripts. Heck we might have to re-write the history books at this rate. Lee, once again, was absolutely brilliant in a 6-1 Phillies win, stealing homefield advantage from the Yankees.

Lee took on oneC.C. Sabathia in a match-up of former AL Cy Young Award winners, which could only be dubbed as the Thank You Cleveland game. Sabathia, of course, struggled against the Phillies last October as a member of the Brewers, but for the most part he looked solid against the Phillies tonight. He basically made two mistakes the whole night. Unfortunately for him, both were to Chase Utley, who would've been the player of the game if Lee hadn't gone Jack Morris on the Yankees. Utley belted a pair of homers, which gave the Phillies their only runs off Sabathia.

While the rest of the Phillies' bats didn't contribute on the scoreboard during Sabathia's 7-inning stint, they did their part at the plate, working counts and driving up Sabathia's pitch totals. That allowed the Phillies to get to the Yankees bullpen and add four insurance runs in the last two innings.

The insurance was certainly appreciated, but the way Lee was pitching, it wasn't necessary. He mowed down the Yankees, allowing zero earned runs in a complete game, the only Yankees run coming on a Jimmy Rollins error in the 9th. Lee's final statline: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 0 ER, 10 K. Not too shabby. Especially when five of those strikeouts came against Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera. And while Sabathia appeared to labor at times, Lee made it all look so easy. Perhaps the play that summed up the game came in the sixth inning. Johnny Damon popped up to the mound and Lee made a ridiculously nonchalant basket catch. Nice and easy, just like every pitch he's thrown this October.

In the ninth inning, one of Lee's pitches showed up on the radar gun as 99 mph, at which point Joe Buck commented that the gun probably malfunctioned. Frankly, at this point Lee hitting triple digits wouldn't surprise me. In fact, forget the radar gun, let's get Lee's pulse up on screen.

Suffice it to say, it's an excellent start for the Phillies. They won the battle of the aces and have wrested homefield advantage from New York. The offense did what it always does, wearing down the starter and taking advantage of mistakes. The Phillies have a chance to take control of the series with a win tomorrow night.

The pitching match-up in Game 2 makes it fairly unpredictable. Pedro Martinez was brilliant against the Dodgers, but this is a more dangerous lineup and this isn't pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile A.J. Burnett is erratic from start to start. The Phillies roughed up Burnett in May, scoring five runs on him in six innings in a 7-3 win, so hopefully history repeats itself.

Whatever happens tomorrow, the win tonight is a great start for the Phillies' bid to make history as the first NL team to repeat as World Champions since the Big Red Machine.

Behind Enemy Lines

Just like every other Phillies fan, we here at The People's Phillies Blog are gearing up for the Fall Classic. And what better way to prepare than to get a look inside the mind of a Yankees blogger. We did a Q&A session with Brandon of The Pinstriper (who you can follow on Twitter) where we each answered several questions about our respective teams.

Okay, pencils down! Here are the results:

Brandon to Brian - Scouting the Phillies

1. What would you say the Phillies vulnerabilities are?

The bullpen. Their bullpen struggles have been well-documented, particularly those of Brad Lidge. And Ryan Madson hasn't exactly lit it up this October. However, they've gotten the job done thus far and are more than capable of stepping up. That said, no Phillies fan will feel completely safe with a slender lead and the game in the bullpen's hands.
2. What player on the Phillies will be the X-Factor for whether they win or lose the series?

Cole Hamels. The 2008 World Series MVP hasn't looked like himself for much of the season, but everyone knows he's capable of dominating a game. He had a solid start against the Yankees this year allowing 2 runs in 6 innings at Yankee Stadium. He'll have an easier time in Game 3, since he won't have to face a DH. It's also worth noting that Hamels has had difficulty with left-handed hitting this October and the Yankees are a better right-handed hitting team.
3. Jimmy Rollins has begun the trash talking process. Do you feel that this will help or hurt the team in the longrun?

Rollins has a history of trash-talking a certain other New York team and it's worked out pretty well for them. Will it help or hurt? Ultimately I think it's irrelevant. Rollins and the Phillies have earned the right to talk trash, as the reigning World Champions. They are extremely confident, as they should be, and know how to win in hostile environments.
4. If you had a big game situation, who would you want on the mound?

Adam Eaton. Oh wait, I thought you meant who I want on the mound for the OTHER team. Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with Cliff Lee. He's the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and has been nothing short of brilliant in the postseason. Upon further review, it's a question worth considering. Not because I have any doubts about Lee (though his history against the Yankees is mediocre) but because the Phillies also have the Hamels and a future Hall of Famer in Pedro Martinez at their disposal. I'd still have to go with Lee, but I wouldn't feel terrible about going into a Game 7 with Hamels or Pedro taking the hill.
5. At the Plate?

This is a much tougher choice. But again, it's because the Phillies have so many proven clutch performers. I'll have to go with Chase Utley, since he's our best all-around hitter, but you really can't go wrong. Ryan Howard has been a hitting machine this October, just as good (if not better) than A-Rod. Jayson Werth has had a great year and slays left-handed pitching. Victorino, Feliz, and Ruiz have all had their share of clutch hits this year and last. Ibanez hasn't gotten much press, but he has 9 RBI and 9 games. Two weeks ago I would have left Rollins off the list, but after witnessing his NLCS Game 4 heroics in person, I'll never doubt him again. As I said, I'll take Utley, as he's the best overall player, but lucky for me and Phillies fans everywhere, I don't really have to choose.
6. Do you think the Phillies bullpen will step up or step down? Why?

I wouldn't be much of a fan if I said "step down," would I? Seriously though, the Phillies bullpen has been impressive this October and there's reason to believe it could step up and be even better in the World Series. Brad Lidge appears to have his confidence back. Chan Ho Park is well-rested and got some good work in during the NLCS. Brett Myers, who had an impressive start against the Yankees in May, is back and (hopefully) healthy. Madson hasn't looked good lately, but there's no questioning his talent or his track record. The question with this bullpen all year has not been ability, it's been composure, and they look plenty composed right now.

7. Summarize the Phillies lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?

American League-esque. This is a lineup that has no real weaknesses, up and down the order. The Phillies' 2 through 6 hitters made the All-Star team, and deservedly so. Rollins was left off but he's improved in the second half and is a former MVP. Feliz and Ruiz don't scare anyone, but Feliz has been good in the clutch (.879 OPS with 2 outs and runners in scoring position). Meanwhile, check out Ruiz's postseason numbers. His career playoff OPS is .838. His OPS in last year's Fall Classic was 1.188 and in this year's NLCS he posted a 1.271 OPS. And it doesn't hurt that he's a career 6-for-8 with a home run and 3 RBI against the Yankees. And then there's Ben Francisco, who will almost certainly get some at-bats, either as a pinch hitter, or as left fielder while Ibanez starts at DH. Francisco is great against left-handed pitching and he has a .928 OPS in 10 games against the Yankees.

As far as weaknesses, the one thing the Phillies have going against them is their tendency to leave runners on base. The Phillies have a lot of big hitters who take big cuts, and that can lead to strikeouts and pop-ups, so it's not altogether uncommon to see the Phillies come up empty, despite having 1st and 3rd and no outs. That said, they can just as easily crank a 3-run home run. Critics lambasted the Phillies last year as well for leaving runners on, but the important thing to remember is that if you're leaving runners on, that means you're getting runners on to begin with. It means you're working counts, tiring the starting pitching, and giving yourself the opportunity to blast those 3-run shots.
8. How about the Phillies bench?

The bench is one of the Phillies' great strengths. As mentioned, Ben Francisco is a very good right-handed bat and he's also a good baserunner and strong fielder. When the Phillies employ him in their outfield, they've essentially got 3 center fielders. Matt Stairs finished the regular season below the Mendoza line, but he posted a .357 OBP and cranked 5 home runs. As any Phillies (or Dodgers) fan can tell you, he's a home run threat every time he's at the plate. Greg Dobbs was arguably the best pinch hitter in the league in 2008. Eric Bruntlett isn't great, but he's a solid utility player and a good baserunner, with good playoff experience. Paul Bako is nothing special, but he's a veteran catcher with good defensive ability. If he had to step in for Ruiz at some point, the Phillies could do worse.
World Series winner
Phillies in 6

Jayson Werth - Let's face it, this is going to be a hitter's series. And with the Yankees' left-handed starting pitching, the Phils may not get the kind of production from Howard as they did in the first two rounds. Werth can hit with the best of them, and even when he's not mashing home runs, he works counts better than anyone in baseball.

Most Valuable Pitcher
Cliff Lee - If the Phillies are going to win it, it will have a lot to do with Lee. If his 0.74 ERA against the NL's 2nd and 4th best offenses was any indication, he can win a game or two for the Phillies against the Yankees.

Werth - Like I said, Werth will need to have a good series to neutralize the Yankees' left-handed starters, but frankly there's so many good players on this Phillies offense, there's no wrong answer here. Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Ibanez have shown they are capable of carrying the offense for stretches. Victorino is no slouch either and I already talked about Ruiz's playoff resume. I'm fairly confident Feliz, Bruntlett, and Bako won't be tearing it up, but otherwise, all bets are off.

Bullpen pitcher
Chan Ho Park - the obvious answer is Lidge, but the truth is, the Phillies already know who they're going to in the 9th inning. The 7th and 8th innings, however, are a tougher call. Park was the Phillies' best reliever this season and will be looked upon to get big outs, especially if Madson continues to look shaky.

Brian to Brandon - Scouting the Yankees

1. What would you say the Yankees vulnerabilities are?
I say the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen has the capability to be amazing or terrible, depending on the day. We've seen Alfredo Aceves pitch like an ace, but we've also seen him pitch like a AAA pitcher. David Robertson has been great getting out of jams, but he also got himself into those jams. Then theres Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Can you trust them in the 7th or 8th innings? It's becoming questionable with their rocky ALDS and ALCS performances.
2. What player on the Yankees will be the X-Factor for whether they win or lose the series?

I wanted to say Phil Hughes and even originally typed that as my answer, but I'm going with A.J. Burnett. The all-important Game 2 is a must-win game if the Yankees lose game one. Which Burnett will show up? Game 2 of the ALDS (which I was at) or Game 2 of the ALCS? He is a rocky pitcher that when he is on, hes ON, but when he is off, he is OFF.
3. Does C.C. Sabathia's 2008 struggles against the Phillies in the playoffs concern you?

No. I am biased in saying that, but I truly do believe it. When CC Sabathia pitched against the Phillies last year he was coming off a streak of many, many 3 days rest starts. This season he has only started on three days rest once. He can be the workhorse that they need, but they haven't needed that yet.
4. If you had a big game situation, who would you want on the mound?

Easy, Mariano Rivera. Rivera is the only pitcher in the MLB that I would trust in this situation. If you give me a bases loaded nobody out tie game in World Series Game 7 situation I would not even hesitate to pick Rivera. Not only is he the all-time postseason saves leader, but he has also had a very good postseason this year.
5. At the Plate?

Hmmm I'm going to go with Nick Swisher and his .125 Batting Average. Actually, never mind I think I'm going to pick Alex Rodriguez and his .438 Batting Average, 5 HR and 12 RBI this postseason. The fact that he has tied two games in the 9th inning or later this postseason just shows on its own how dependable in the clutch situations he has been.
6. Do you think the Yankees bullpen will step up or step down? Why?

This was a very hard question for me. I think that Phil Hughes will step down and Joba Chamberlain will step up. I think in at least one of the games Hughes will blow the lead in the 7th or 8th innings and then Joba Chamberlain will come in, shut the Phillies down and then the Yankees will go on to win that game. They will win that game because the rest of the bullpen will step up as well. Watch out for David Robertson. He could even take over the set-up role if he pitches well enough.

7. Summarize the Yankees lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?

Top to bottom I would not take any lineup in baseball over it. There have been struggles with Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, but I am confident that Teixeira at least can break ouy of it. Otherwise you have Mr. November (Derek Jeter), Mr. October of this year (Alex Rodrgiuez) and other proven postseason players (Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada) within the lineup.

8. How about the Yankees bench?

If the rumors are true, Eric Hinske and Brian Bruney (pitcher) will be added to the roster over Freddy Guzman and Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli was used as the third catcher this postseason and came in handy when needed. If Posada gets hurt now in game 2 (if Molina catches that game) then Jerry Hairston Jr. will be the 3rd catcher. Hairston hasn't ever played catcher in his career. Hairston himself can be used to pinch-run or even pinch-hit if neccessary. Hairston had never played a postseason game in his career going into this year. Of course there is Hinske who Phillies fans know for making the last out of last years World Series. He has been on the AL Champions three years in a row now and can provide some pop off the bench. Brett Gardner rounds off the bench as the big speedy guy. Fans enjoy calling him Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner (or GGBG for short) because of his instincts and base-running abilities.
World Series winner
Yankees in 6. I tell you though, if this series was in Philadelphia I would probably pick the Phillies in 7. I think home-field advantage will be the deciding factor in this series.

Alex Rodriguez

Most Valuable Pitcher
C.C. Sabathia

Alex Rodriguez

Bullpen pitcher
David Robertson. Watch out for him.

Phillies Links - The Gift That Keeps On Giving

If you're not already psyched up for the World Series, here are some links to get you going:

Vintage 1980 Phillies "Comeback Kids" shirt

Philly Phaithful - Original Philadelphia Sports Apparel
-and this fantastic Cliff Lee shirt, which is especially apt for tonight's game

Use Stairs in Case of Emergency
-we already put this link up, but it's just too great not to put up again

Fightin Phils 2009 Song (Repeat Mix) by Philly Pop Artist Richie Rosati

If you haven't already seen this...

And in case you're suffering from amnesia and can't remember 2008, here's a little reminder.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phils Power Themselves Back to the World Series

The last time an NL team got to their second consecutive World Series, Tom Glavine was leading the way as the Atlanta Braves destroyed the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff in a 15-0 rout. One of those Cardinals pitchers: L.A. Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Tonight his pitching staff followed suit, giving up four home runs in a 10-4 win for the Phillies, which advances them to the World Series for the second consecutive year.

The Phillies countered with their own homegrown left-hander, Cole Hamels. Hamels didn't give quite the performance Glavine gave; Hamels went 4 1/3 innings and allowed 3 solo home runs to Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Orlando Hudson. But Hamels was supported early on by a three-run home run in the first by Jayson Werth, and a solo shot in the second from Pedro Feliz. Shane Victorino added a two-run home run in the sixth and Werth added another solo home run in the seventh.

Hamels didn't give quite the performance one would have hoped for. He hasn't returned to the dominant form he assumed in the playoffs last year, but he did show flashes of dominance, retiring eight straight batters at one point. After the Hudson home run and Rafael Furcal hitting a subsequent double, Charlie Manuel began to go through his bullpen, looking to ensure that the game would be won tonight. Hamels was followed by J.A. Happ, Chad Durbin, Chan Ho Park. In the last two innings, there was a refreshing flashback to last year, with Ryan Madson getting out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth and Brad Lidge having a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The entire offense continued to be productive. The only player in the starting eight not to score a run was Carlos Ruiz, who despite posting monster numbers in the playoffs, is still the number eight hitter.

Much like last year, the Phillies' powerful offense and solid late-inning pitchers have brought them to the World Series.

Now it remains to be seen who they'll be facing. Tomorrow, the Yankees will look to pull off the same feat as the Phils, winning the Championship Series in 5 games. Aside from the 10-1 rout of the Angels on Tuesday, the series has been fairly close, with the Angels being unable to over-power the Yankees. The Angels' one win in the series was in extra innings at home. My guess is that the Yankees will win the series in six games, it all depends on which A.J. Burnett shows up at the ballpark.

But whoever it is, they will be facing the defending champions as they defend their championship.

Phillies Try to Finish Dodgers Tonight

Coming off one of the most dramatic wins in franchise history (if not THE most), the Phillies take on the Dodgers tonight in Game 5 of the NLCS, looking for their second straight trip to the World Series.

There will no doubt be a tremendous energy in the dugout and in the stands, after Game 4's incredible finish. This blogger was lucky enough to be in attendance and witness Jimmy Rollins' heroics, and after seeing the crowd erupt like that, I do not envy the Dodgers, who have to endure that crowd once again just two days later.

With a 3-1 series lead, the odds are in Philadelphia's favor, but this is still a pivotal game. A win here would allow the team to rest and get its rotation in order for the World Series (where they would most likely face the Yankees). A loss would hardly be devastating, as the Phillies would have two more chances to win the series, would it could potentially swing the momentum, as the final two games of the series would be played in LA.

This is also an important game for Cole Hamels, who has hardly been the pitcher who dominated last October. Pitching at home with a chance to close out the series, Hamels has a good opportunity to bounce back and get himself on track for the World Series.

The Phillies will have to hope he can do so because, aside from Cliff Lee, there are question mark in the Philadelphia rotation right now. Pedro Martinez was fantastic in his Game 2 start, but is he going to be able to do that against a more potent Yankees/Angels offense? Can he do it against an AL lineup, DH and all? Meanwhile, neither Blanton nor Happ were dominant in their starts, not that they were terrible either.

The Phillies have the offensive firepower to beat any team on a given night, but a dominant Cole Hamels could make the team a shoo-in to repeat as World Champions. We'll see if Hamels can get back to form tonight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

NLCS Tied 1-1, Phils Head Home

Rough game for the Phils tonight (at least by their standards). After seven brilliant innings from Pedro Martinez, the team turned to its biggest question mark -- the bullpen. Sadly a combination of Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson, and J.A. Happ, couldn't preserve the Phillies' 1-0 lead in the eighth inning and the team fell to the Dodgers, 2-1.

It was a surprising pitcher's duel, as Pedro took on former Phillie Vicente Padilla. Padilla, after bombing as a Texas Rangers starter, has rebounded as a key member of the Dodgers' rotation. This afternoon he was nearly flawless, making only one mistake, which resulted in a Ryan Howard solo shot. Other than that he was fantastic, allowing just the one run in 7 1/3 innings.

Pedro, however, was dominant in his own right, allowing just two hits over 7 innings. He threw just 87 pitches and one has to wonder why Charlie Manuel made the decision to remove him for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, as it looked like he should have been able to go at least one more inning. least no one can accuse him of having a Grady Little moment.

The Phillies also suffered from a bit of bad luck, as a Chase Utley throwing error allowed Juan Pierre to score in the eighth, tying the game. Maybe it's wrong to call it luck, as it was a poor throw, but it feels weird to blame Utley for a loss, considering what he's meant to this team. Either way, it's just one throw and one game and the Phillies head home, having wrested home-field advantage from the Dodgers' grasp. With Cliff Lee going in Game 3, one has to like their chances to at least take a 2-1 series lead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Phillies-Rockies: NLDS Game 1

The Phillies begin their quest to repeat as World Champions tomorrow afternoon, taking on the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series. This is, of course, a rematch of the 2007 NLDS, in which the Rockies swept the Phillies before advancing to the World Series. Since then the Phillies are 9-2 against Colorado.

For Game 1, the Phillies will send out Cliff Lee and the Rockies will counter with Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez, as fans may remember, started Game 3 in 2007 against the Phils and pitched 6 1/3 innings, while allowing only one run. He dueled Jamie Moyer to a standstill, but eventually the Rockies won 4-2, completing the 3-game sweep.

While his postseason history against the Phillies is impressive (though it was only one start), he has had less success in the regular season. He last faced the Phillies in May 2008, in Citizens Bank Park, and was lit up for 7 runs in 4 innings. His one other regular season start was in September 2007, in which he allowed 2 runs over 6 innings. So in three career starts against the Phillies, he has a 0-1 record with a 4.91 ERA. Not all that impressive, but then again it's a very small sample size.

Cliff Lee has no significant history against Colorado. His only start against them came this year and it was a good one. Lee allowed 1 run over 7 innings while striking out 9 in a 3-1 Phillies win. This certainly bodes well, but then again it's only one start.

The Phillies should have a clear advantage in starting pitching, but the bullpens are more evenly matched. Huston Street has been good, though not dominant, for the Rockies, with a 3.02 ERA and 35 saves. Rafael Betancourt has been a valuable mid-season acquisition for the Colorado bullpen, but after that there isn't a whole lot.

Not that the Phillies bullpen is scaring anyone right now. Brad Lidge's abysmal play has been well-documented so there's no need to go into it here. Ryan Madson has been the team's best reliever, but he has looked shaky when asked to close and moving him to the ninth inning just opens another hole in the seventh and eighth innings. Scott Eyre has been effective when healthy, but that's very much in question right now, so the Phillies may have to rely on J.A. Happ to be the primary left-handed reliever. Brett Myers is expected to be available but he may not be fully healthy and hasn't looked especially good in relief. The Phillies might want to look to Kyle Kendrick, who has looked good in his five September appearances.

On paper it's not a good bullpen, but it is something of a wildcard. While Eyre may not be able to pitch and the Phillies will miss J.C. Romero, this is largely the same bullpen that was lights-out a year ago. It's not inconceivable that the pitchers, Lidge in particular, could return to form. It's not as if Lidge doesn't have his stuff anymore, he's just struggled with confidence. Perhaps Charlie Manuel's continued support will pay off and Lidge will get his act together for some more October magic.

On the offensive side, the Phillies should have a slight advantage. They led the NL in runs, but the Rockies were 2nd. The Phillies are loaded with left-handed bats and switch-hitters, which should help against right-handed starters such as Jiminez. The Rockies' offense also relies heavily on left-handed hitters, highlighted by Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, though the best offensive performance came from right-handed Troy Tulowitski.

However, left-handed pitching can clearly exploit this team, as evidenced by their 27-26 record vs left-handed starters (compared to 65-44 vs RHP). The Phillies have played about equally well against both left and right-handed starters. Homefield advantage should also be key. The Phillies' home record (45-36) isn't overwhelming, but CBP should be an intimidating place to play in October, especially considering the Phillies didn't lose a single home game in the '08 playoffs, and the Rockies aren't a great road team (41-40). The Rockies have played extremely well at home (51-30) but the Phillies have been great on the road (48-33).

Going into October, these Phillies don't seem to have the same swagger as last year's team, but, aside from the bullpen, they are a decidedly better team than last year. Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino have improved, Raul Ibanez is a clear upgrade (on offense and defense) from Pat Burrell, and Cole Hamels-Cliff Lee (in any order) is a much better 1-2 punch than Hamels-Myers, not to mention the back of the rotation where the Phillies have rookie sensation J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton, and Pedro Martinez to use as they see fit. The bench also looks improved. Matt Stairs remains an intimidating presence, Greg Dobbs is still a solid left-handed bat, and Ben Francisco is the best right-handed pinch hitter the Phillies have had in a few years.

This is a tough series to call, but I like the Phillies' chances. I think their surplus of left-handed starters and homefield advantage should make the difference, which is why I'm picking the Phillies in 4.

I'll be at the game tomorrow and will make an effort to post updates via Twitter.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Phils Clinch NL East!

The Phillies are you National League East Champions for the third straight year. This year's clincher lacked the drama of the last two, but it feels pretty sweet all the same.

The game itself didn't start out that well, as Pedro was tagged for three runs in just four innings of work. But Kyle Kendrick pitched three scoreless innings and the offense did the rest, highlighted by a four-run fourth inning, back-to-back triples in the fifth by Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and a towering two-run shot by Raul Ibanez.

Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre combined for 1.2 innings but when it came time to get the last out, Charlie Manuel went with a symbolic move, bringing in Brad Lidge. This decision was purely symbolic, as the Phillies had a comfortable 10-3 lead, but it was a very nice gesture to the much-maligned closer. Lidge made the most of it, using just one pitch to retire Lance Berkman, who grounded to first to end the game.

Ironically, just before Lidge sealed the win, the Braves lost in dramatic fashion, as Matt Diaz was picked off third to end the game; a 5-4 Marlins win. So the Phillies actually had already clinched by the time Ryan Howard stepped on the bag to end tonight's Phillies game.

So now the Phillies have secured a playoff spot with four games remaining, a nice improvement from the last two years when they took the division on the last (2007) and second-to-last day (2008). However, there's still motivation to win the last few games. The Phillies are two games ahead of the Cardinals and one game behind the Dodgers. If all goes well, they could get homefield advantage through the NLCS. If things go poorly, they could have to face the Dodgers or Cardinals on the road in the first round.

Most likely, whether they have the best record in the league or not, they'll wind up facing the Colorado Rockies in the first round. The Rockies, of course, swept the Phillies in 2007 in their run to the World Series. However, since then the Phillies have posted a 9-2 record against Colorado in the regular season, including a sweep in 2008.

The main question for the Phillies now is how they'll set up their postseason rotation. Obviously Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are the 1-2, probably in that order, but after that it gets tricky. Joe Blanton has been solid for the Phillies all year and was a key part of the rotation last October, but doesn't overwhelm anyone with his 3.95 ERA. J.A. Happ has been arguably the best Phillies starter all year, with a 12-4 record and a 2.95 ERA, but he is still a 26-year old rookie. And then there's Pedro Martinez, who gave the Phillies a lift with some strong outings (most notably throwing 8 shutout innings against the Mets), but has pitched just 7 innings in his last two starts.

In my opinion, the best bet is to make Happ and Blanton the 3 and 4, since we have a good idea of what we can get out of them, and move Pedro to the bullpen. There has been talk of making Happ the closer, which is not a terrible idea, since he'd probably do better than Lidge and Ryan Madson has been shaky in the role, but Happ is too valuable as a starter and an innings-eater to relegate him to the 'pen. One has to think he would give the Phillies a considerable advantage as he is better than most team's 3rd or 4th starter.

All in all, it's a good problem to have, and one that the Phillies will have some time to think about for a change. Here's hoping this is just the start of another World Series run!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Greatest Shirt in History

We here at The People's Phillies Blog felt we had to share with you the fact that we've recently discovered the greatest of all possible shirts. We'll let it speak for itself:

Needless to say, this is a must for every true Phillies fan, or at least every true Phillies fan who wants to own this shirt.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pedro Wins Debut with Plenty of Help

It wasn't vintage Pedro Martinez, but with the Phillies offense backing him, it didn't need to be. Pedro won his Phillies debut handily, defeating the Cubs 12-5.

It's always nice to start out with a lead and Pedro had that in his favor. The Phillies scored two runs in the top of the 1st, as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each drove in a run. Shane Victorino hit a two-run homer in the 3rd to give the Phillies four runs.

Then came the 4th inning. Carlos Ruiz drove in a run and, after Pedro grounded out, Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija was pulled for Sean Marshall. Jimmy Rollins greeted Marshall with a three-run shot, then got to coaching. After Rollins gave Raul Ibanez some sage advice, Ibanez hit a three-run homer of his own. Pedro Feliz drove in the Phillies' final run of the inning (and the game), giving the Phillies 12 runs.

For his part, Pedro was solid. He only had one 1-2-3 inning (the 4th) and got into trouble a couple of times; most notably in the 5th inning, when he gave up two runs. He showed impressive breaking stuff and his fastball, while typically hovering in the high-80's, touched 92 mph once or twice. All in all, he allowed 3 runs in 5 innings, allowing 7 hits, 1 walk, and striking out 5 batters.

After one start, it's unclear whether or not Pedro is any better than Jamie Moyer. However, for his first major league start of the season, it was somewhat encouraging. Both his control and his stuff is better than that of Moyer and one has to think he'll have similar success against the teams Moyer typically fared well against, while standing a better chance against the more disciplined teams that hammerred Moyer.

It's unfair to grade Pedro on one start, but, if nothing else, he seemed to fire up the Phillies, who backed him up with one of their better offensive performances of the season. We'll see how it lasts, but at the end of the day, Pedro is 1-0 as a Phillie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pedro to Rotation, Moyer to Pen

After weeks of intrigue, the Phillies finally decided on how to deal with their excess of starting pitching. The team announced today that Jamie Moyer would move to the bullpen to make room for Pedro Martinez.

On the surface, this is the most sensible move for the Phillies to make. Moyer, despite his 10 wins, has been the Phillies worst starter all season, with a 5.47 ERA. The only reason he has a winning record (10-9) is that he's gotten excellent run support.

Not that there's any guarantee Pedro will be any better. He posted a 5.61 ERA last year with the Mets and he's gone 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA in three minor league starts this year. However, one has to think he'll be at least as good as Moyer, if not better. He'll most likely be a replacement-level player (in other words, a Rodrigo Lopez), statistically, but that would still be better than Moyer.

In a way this is a unique opportunity for this Phillies team because they get to upgrade the rotation by replacing their worst starter, and doing so in a way that won't rile up the fan base. The only way the team could justify pulling Moyer (to the fans AND the clubhouse) is by replacing him with a future Hall of Famer.

While this move shouldn't upset the clubhouse, one does have to wonder what it means for Moyer. Do the Phillies honestly think he can be an effective bullpen pitcher? Unless they think his 82 mph "fastball" can serve as a super-changeup of sorts, to throw off opposing hitters' timing (which is a possibility, especially if he follows or is followed by a guy like Lidge or Madson), it's hard to see his value as a reliever. He doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff anymore (if he ever did).

One has to hope the team at least has the sense to keep him in the dugout when he's not being called to warm up so he can continue to impart his knowledge on the younger pitchers (i.e. everyone). It's hard to see Moyer getting much use out of the bullpen, but now perhaps the Phillies can start to seriously groom him as a pitching coach.

We'll see how it plays out, but for now it seems like the right decision, if a difficult one. Kudos to Moyer for having the professionalism to handle this move. Few in his position would take it so well in stride.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pedro Belongs in the Pen

While neither of them would ever admit to thinking of it this way, Pedro Martinez and J.A. Happ were dueling last night. With Pedro about ready to complete his rehab and return to the big leagues, the Phillies can't stall much longer in making a decision about how the back-end of the rotation will look.

On paper, it's a duel that Happ clearly won. He dominated the Colorado Rockies last night, pitching a complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory. Martinez, meanwhile, had a solid outing of his own. He struck out 11 in six innings against the Yankees AA affiliate. However, he did give up three runs.

That clearly seems to favor Happ. He had the better game and did so against better competition. But this is not an even playing field. For Happ is but a 26 year-old rookie and Martinez is a three-time Cy Young Award winner who will have a plaque in Cooperstown in the next ten years.

Despite Martinez's credentials, this start should convince the Phillies that Happ needs to stay in the rotation. Happ is now 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA. He is a NL Rookie of the Year candidate and has been the Phillies' most effective starter this year. Martinez, on the other hand, struggled in the majors last year and has not been overly dominant in the minors. This last start was encouraging, but aside from the strikeouts, it's no more than a quality start.

But the Phillies signed Martinez to be a starter and it's hard to imagine him accepting a spot in the bullpen. The real problem may be Jamie Moyer, who is complicating this decision with his continued struggles. In most cases, the worst starter in the rotation would be jettisoned -- end of story. But that's not a viable option with Moyer, who is a fan favorite and an essential part of the locker room. Not to mention that it's hard to picture him pitching effectively out of the bullpen.

With that in mind, the best option for the Phillies would be to try and coax Pedro into the bullpen. He's not the dominant ace he used to be, but he still has the stuff to get hitters out. If he could strike out 11 in six innings yesterday, why can't he dominate for an inning or two of relief? Better to experiment with that than to remove a starter who ranks 6th in the NL in ERA and 7th in WHIP and who has pitched 6+ innings in each of his last nine starts.

Unfortunately, it's hard to see Pedro putting his ego aside and taking a seat in the bullpen, which means we may have seen the last of Happ in the rotation this season. If that's the case, it would be a bit of an outrage. It's one thing to pull a solid fifth starter, but in this case, Happ figures heavily into the Phillies' postseason plans. Not just in helping them make the playoffs, but if the playoffs started today, Happ would have to be the fourth starter, or maybe even the third starter. I don't think there's any question that everyone, from the fans to the front office, would feel more comfortable with Happ pitching Game 4 of the NLCS than Martinez or Moyer.

Here's hoping all involved come to their senses and send Pedro to the bullpen. Hell, let him close if that's what it takes. Just don't pull the likely Rookie of the Year for an aging starter who hasn't pitched a complete game since 2005.


This afternoon, Ruben Amaro announced that Happ will not be removed from the rotation. It's unclear what will happen, but there was mention of trying out a six-man rotation. Not sure how I feel about that, as it takes starts away from Hamels and Lee during the stretch run, but maybe it's a good move. They can get a good look at Pedro and, who knows, maybe he'll light it up and beat out Happ/Moyer to be the fourth starter in the playoffs. Plus it ought to ease the burden on the rest of the rotation, and Hamels could probably use the rest. Not to mention it would simplify matters in the event of a doubleheader (i.e. no more Andrew Carpenter spot-starts), and the Phillies already have two doubleheaders scheduled for September (9/13 vs Mets, 9/22 vs Marlins).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lee Dominates in Phillies Debut

The Phillies wanted an ace and, after last night's start, it's clear they got him. Cliff Lee was brilliant in his first start as a Phillie, pitching a complete game against the Giants while allowing just one run and four hits.

Lee struck out Randy Winn for his first out with his new team, and it got better from there as he carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning. He looked sharp the entire night, both on the mound and at the plate. Entering the game batting a career 2-for-32, Lee doubled his career hit total with a pair of hits. That included his first career extra-base hit and run scored, as Lee doubled to lead off the top of the 8th, then scored on a sacrifice fly from, rather fittingly, Ben Francisco.

For a while it looked like the Phillies were content to sit around and watch their new ace perform, without providing much offensive help. Through six innings, the only run scored by either team came by way of a Jayson Werth solo homer. However, the Phillies tacked on some insurance in the seventh. Rollins and Utley walked and Howard was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ibanez then drew a walk and Werth followed with a single to center that scored two runs. That put the Phillies up 4-0. Lee's run in the eighth made it 5-0 and, though the Giants would score on a sac fly in the bottom of that inning, the outcome of the game was never in doubt.

Coming into the game there were questions regarding whether this trade would be enough to put the Phillies over the top as favorites to win a second straight NL pennant. Now the only question that remains is "Roy who?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phils Trade Successful-Lee

After talks to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays fizzled in the past week, the Phillies went out and made a deal with the Cleveland Indians to acquire reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. They sent Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald in exchange for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco.

The fact that they were able to acquire Lee without giving up any of the three players Toronto insisted on is impressive, especially since Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro was taking a similar stance on his approach to trading Lee as Toronto did with Halladay. The biggest difference between the two situations is that Toronto is looking to compete much sooner than Cleveland. The Indians are entering a rebuilding stage and so they are willing to take players that still need time to develop.

Knapp was, along with Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown, an untouchable player in the Phillies' system. He's 18 years old, six-foot five, and already throws a fastball in the upper nineties. In two or three years, it's very possible that he would have been as highly sought as Drabek was this year. Carlos Carrasco has been a highly touted prospect in the organization for a while, he's still only 22, and while he's struggling in AAA at the moment, he still has the potential to put it together and be an effective major league pitcher.

I would have liked to see the Phillies hang on to Marson, especially since good, young catchers are hard to come by and while Carlos Ruiz and Paul Bako handle the pitching staff well, Marson could have been a great final addition to that lineup. Also, back in spring training Jamie Moyer was complementary of how Marson handled the pitchers. Coming from Moyer, that means a lot. I think he should have been in the Phillies lineup this year.

Jason Donald came at an unfortunate time for the Phillies, with a middle infield set in stone with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Donald has also struggled this year and fought injury problems, but he's a great fielder, and the Phillies were somewhat lucky to have a really good prospect at a position they didn't need. If we had a good young catcher, I'd feel less attached to Marson. But the Phillies making this deal without having to give up J.A. Happ or Drabek (or Brown, but he's a few years away) is great.

First of all, the Phillies were looking for a right-handed bat off the bench and they got one in Cleveland's starting left fielder, Francisco. Having Francisco allows the team to send John Mayberry Jr. back to the minors where he can continue to work on the holes in his game.
Lee has had an erratic career, but last year he was nothing short of superb and very deserving of his Cy Young Award. This year, he is 7-9 with a 3.14 ERA, but wins/losses can be deceiving. He should benefit from having the Phillies lineup and he can throw a lot of innings. I'm not a huge fan of Lee, but in this deal the Phillies filled two holes that they were looking to fill, and they didn't have to give up Drabek or even Happ.

However, since they didn't give up Happ, what happens with the rotation? For now, Lee takes over the Rodrigo Lopez slot (Thanks Rodrigo, your service is appreciated), however that's the same slot that was being saved for Pedro Martinez. Also, they have Lee through 2010, so what happens if Kyle Drabek is deemed ready for the majors next year? The Phillies may now have too much starting pitching.

It's possible that Happ is on his way out in a deal for a reliever (George Sherrill?), but getting a reliever would only clog up the bullpen when Clay Condrey, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin return. If they do keep Happ, the Phillies now have a rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton, Happ, and Moyer, with poor Pedro Martinez, who signed with a spot in the rotation in sight, waiting in the wings. Happ could go back to the bullpen, if the Phillies are indeed looking for bullpen help. I'd actually rather see that than them make a trade. They may also have bullpen help on the way in the form of Brett Myers, who is recovering quicker than the team thought he could (apparently it's a miraculously speedy recovery, the trainers are astounded).

For now, the best solution may be to keep Pedro in the minors in case of injury. J.A. Happ is probably now worth more than any reliever they could acquire, and he's been fantastic in the rotation. For that matter, Blanton and Hamels have both pitched remarkably well in recent games, and even Moyer has looked good, not to mention that Moyer belongs in the rotation as a beloved clubhouse figure, unofficial player-coach, and elder statesman, so to speak. While Steven Register may not be the most exciting name to see on a major-league roster, I'd rather let him be the garbage man until the rest of the DL denizens return than go out and make trades simply because the team can. Lee and Francisco were good pieces to acquire. Beyond that, they already have what they need in spades to go after another championship.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Halladay Watch Continues

After the Phillies rejected the Blue Jays' initial trade offer for Roy Halladay (Halladay for J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown), the Phillies countered with an offer that the Blue Jays rejected. The Phillies offered Happ, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Taylor, and Jason Donald. The Blue Jays seem to really want Drabek, and the Phillies don't want to give up both Drabek and Happ. The Blue Jays may be waiting to see if another team is willing to go all in and give them the monster deal they're looking for before they choose a winner, if they do at all. The Angels rejected their first offer from the Blue Jays, the Dodgers won't trade Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees don't want to trade both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, and the Brewers and Red Sox are also supposedly in the mix. Two more days...

ESPN reported that the Phillies are also looking into Cliff Lee, Zach Duke, and Jarrod Washburn. Lee will probably be overpriced and Washburn is an interesting option if they can get him cheap, but perhaps they should think more about trading for Zach Duke. Duke is 26, he's been an ace, even if it's been for a struggling franchise, he can throw a fair number of innings, and what a fantastic young rotation the Phillies would be developing if they can make the deal without giving up Happ. Hamels, Duke, Blanton (who looked stellar in the Phillies' 9-2 victory today against St. Louis - eight innings, and six strikeouts, including striking out Lugo-Pujols-Holliday in the eighth), Happ, and whoever in the back, at this point Moyer/Pedro. There would probably be a pretty sizable price tag for Duke, but it can't be as much as Halladay. I would trade two top prospects (Not Drabek or Brown, but the next tier) and maybe another player for Duke. Getting Duke would be similar to the smaller scale deals that Philadelphia has made in the past few years - Blanton, Kyle Lohse, Cory Lidle, etc., most of which turned out well. We could have King Cole and The Duke. And we could have them for years to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Roster Shuffling

Just as soon as it looked like the Phils' bullpen was back in place, in the past few days it has collapsed all over again:

1) On Thursday, J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin were both placed on the 15-Day DL. Durbin strained his right latissimus while Romero strained his left forearm. This is Durbin's first trip to the DL this year, I suppose all his bullpen mates recommended getting some time off, and it came the day after a poor outing against the Chicago Cubs in which he couldn't record an out, allowed two hits, three walks, and three earned runs. In his defense, two days before he pitched three scoreless innings. Durbin has been a workhorse for the bullpen this year and last year, though this year he's had the luxury of handing off some of the long-relief duties to Chan Ho Park. Still, with a rotation that typically doesn't eat a lot of innings, Durbin has pitched 48 2/3 innings. by this time last year, he had pitched 55 innings. Romero has already missed time this year, though not from injury. He missed 50 games due to a suspension for substance abuse. He's been good in his time back, with a 2.87 ERA in 20 games. He's also taken pressure off Ryan Madson. Romero missing time could be a huge blow if it results in added pressure for Madson, Scott Eyre, and Brad Lidge.

1a) The first question I had was what about Sergio Escalona and Jack Taschner. Supposedly, neither had been pitching that well. Apparently, the Phillies are going back to the one lefty in the 'pen philosophy that they employed in 2007 and most of 2008.

2) Romero and Durbin were replaced on the roster by Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter. Both have been on the major league roster already this season. Walker came up in June replacing Sergio Escalona who had replaced Kyle Kendrick who had replaced Scott Eyre when he hit the DL. Walker has done well in limited innings with the Phillies. He now has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings. He allowed two earned runs in his first outing since being recalled, but it's possible that the 33 year-old veteran will step up with more outings. Carpenter had an unsuccessful start in May, in which he allowed 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings. This time, they were hoping he could eat up a lot of innings. Also, if he did well, the 24 year-old prospect might become trade bait for a deadline deal. Not Roy Halladay caliber, but perhaps a lesser-scale deal.

3) Today, Clay Condrey was placed back on the 15-Day DL with a left oblique strain, and Carpenter, after allowing runs in both games he appeared in, was optioned back to Lehigh Valley. They were replaced with former rotation member Kyle Kendrick and 26-year old Steven Register. Kendrick had a couple unsuccessful outings as a member of the major league bullpen earlier this year. However, he's been more successful in the minors of late, bringing his ERA below 4.00. All of his time in the minors has been as a starter, but the logic is probably similar to that of bringing up Carpenter. One of Kendrick's problems was a smaller arsenal of pitches, which might make him better suited to the bullpen. Steven Register was acquired off waivers from the Colorado Rockies organization back in May. He appeared briefly with the Rockies in 2008, and this year for the IronPigs, he's been 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA. I'm skeptical, but with those kind of numbers, it's understandable why they would give him a shot.

So, as of now, the Phillies bullpen consists of:
Brad Lidge
Ryan Madson
Scott Eyre
Chan Ho Park
Tyler Walker
Kyle Kendrick
Steven Register


While up until now, it seemed silly for the Phillies to look into acquiring bullpen pitchers, now they may need to consider it more seriously. The team scouted Arizona closer Chad Qualls recently, and could also look into Baltimore's George Sherrill and Danys Baez among others. However, it might give them more incentive to deal for an ace starting pitcher in the hope that he would take some of the load off the bullpen.

On the starting pitching front, the primary option appears to be Roy Halladay. The Phillies recently turned down the Blue Jays' first formal trade proposal, in which the Phillies would send J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown for Halladay. The Phillies don't want to trade both Happ and Drabek and are reportedly hoping to keep Drabek and send another player or two, perhaps Carlos Carrasco. While Ricciardi doesn't seem to think a deal will get done, with this as the first proposal it seems like the teams aren't that far off from an agreement. My guess is that a deal gets done in the next couple days. The Phillies are also looking into Cleveland's Cliff Lee, who GM Mark Shapiro is asking the same price for as the Jays are for Halladay. Lee is good, but if I don't pull the trigger on a Halladay deal, I certainly don't make a similar one for Lee. Personally, I wonder about Cincinnati's Aaron Harang. Recently, it's looked like the Reds may be thinking of becoming sellers, since they're seven games back in the NL Central. The Reds have a good young pitching core and are developing a young offensive core, and so they might be interested in dealing away some of their veterans. While Harang is not of the caliber of Halladay or Lee, he has been able to provide a lot of innings, and he might benefit from the run support that the Phillies offense could provide. He also wouldn't cost as much as Lee or Halladay. There have also been rumblings about Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. I'm skeptical of both, but Washburn has actually been fantastic this season, and appears to get better as it goes. If Seattle decides to sell, Washburn could be another cheap solution.

At least by July 28th, we should have an idea of whether Roy Halladay will be a Phillie.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bullpen Takes Another Hit - But Phils Keep Winning

The Phillies bullpen suffered a 2-for-1 special yesterday, as both J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin were placed on the 15-day DL. Both pitchers were intrical in last year's playoff run and they won't be easy to replace.

Romero has had a tough year, missing the first 50 games of the season due to a banned substance suspension, but had been a solid contributor since, with a 2.87 ER7. Losing Romero means that Scott Eyre will be the only left-handed reliever on the team. Fortunately for the Phillies, Eyre has been brilliant this season, with a 1.77 ERA. However, some of that has to be attributed to luck, as his WHIP is 1.32, compared to last year's 0.77 in his Phillies' stint.

Durbin has struggled this year, after a breakout year in 2008 (though really just a dominant first half), posting a 4.62 ERA in 48.2 innings pitched. He got shelled on Wednseday against the Cubs, surrendering 3 earned runs without getting a single out, effectively ending the Phillies' chance of coming back and earning their 11th straight win.

With Durbin out, Chan Ho Park figures to see a lot more action in middle and long relief. This would have made Phillies fas cringe earlier in the season, but it may not be a bad thing at this point. After bombing as a starter, Park has lit it up in the bullpen, posting a 2.78 ERA. He's been on fire this month, with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings. One just has to hope he doesn't wear down from the extra innings he'll be asked to pitch. Clay Condrey also ought to get some more run. He's been improved this season, but still seems best-suited to be used sparingly or in a mop-up role.

Replacing Romero and Durbin on the roster are Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter. Carpenter got into last night's game, but only recorded one out (giving up a run in the process) before he was pulled for Park. He probably won't be good for much more than garbage innings. Walker, however, could be an asset. He looked good in his first stint with the Phillies, posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. It's a small sample size to go on, but as a veteran reliever, at least he's a known commodity.

At least more help could be on the way, as Brett Myers is expected to return in a bullpen role in mid-August. It's hard to know what to expect from Myers, but he excelled in his relief role in 2007, so he should prove to be an asset.

Despite their ailing arms, the Phillies put together a strong win yesterday, beating the Padres 9-4. Cole Hamels had a solid start, allowing 3 runs and 7 innings and the offense looked good once again. Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz each had 3 hits and Carlos Ruiz hit his 5th home run of the season. The win was the Phillies' 15th in 17 games and they'll hope to carry that success into their next series, as they take on the Cardinals.

The brilliant play really brings into question whether or not the Phillies need to make a deal for Roy Halladay or another starter. Halladay would undoubtedly help the Phillies, as he'd give them a true ace. Much as I love Hamels, he's been very erratic this year. I certainly trust him to get the job done in the playoffs, but he has not been the dominant starter that the Phillies had hoped for (most likely due to the high volume of innings he pitched last year).

But is it really worth giving up Happ, who has been arguably the Phillies' best starter this year and is a strong Rookie of the Year candidate? The question is whether Happ is legit or whether he's the next Kyle Kendrick. However, from what I've seen I think Happ has a chance to become a very good major league starter. He's not the next Cole Hamels, but there's reason to believe he can be a good #3 starter for years to come.

Trading Happ for Halladay would be beneficial, but not nearly as beneficial as trading for Halladay would seem on paper. Yes, they'd be adding a bonafide ace, but the pitcher he'd be replacing was already giving them dominant outings. It would make much more sense to try and hang onto Happ, thus giving the Phillies a rotation that includes Hamels, Halladay, and Happ. (Would we call it the Triple H Club?)

Of course, that's not to say they couldn't try to make a deal for Halladay that doesn't involve Happ. They could instead trade Kyle Drabek. This is where things get tricky. Drabek is the Phillies' top pitching prospect and looks like he could be a great top-of-the-rotation pitcher down the road. BUT this Phillies team is built to win now...or in the next few years. If the Phillies think that Drabek will be ready to contribute in the next year or two, then they should hang onto him and see if he can help them to another title. If not, they should deal him for Halladay and get a title while the window is still open.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sell, Sell, Sell!

While this isn't directly related to the Phillies, as the power balance in the NL East shapes out, here are my thoughts on the Phillies' main rival, the New York Mets.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Mets haven't given any indication about whether they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. Being a New York franchise, selling doesn't seem like much of an option for the Mets, but this year, they should seriously consider it. First of all, nearing the trade deadline, the Mets are ten games back of the division leading Phillies and they would have to overcome the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies in order to win the division. While I don't think much will come of the Braves this year, the Marlins are due for one of their unexplained second-half surges, and if the Phillies can solidify their rotation with the likes of Pedro Martinez or Roy Halladay, the division title this year could become a dogfight between Florida and Philadelphia. Also, the Phillies may run away with the division, especially if they get a pitching boost. My point is, the Mets probably don't stand much of a chance this year.

The smartest thing for the Mets would be to start building toward 2010, when they might actually be able to compete. For that to happen, everyone on their DL needs to get healthy - Beltran, Reyes, Wagner, Putz, Maine, Delgado, and so on - and they might need a couple other pieces. However, their minor league system is kind of depleted as a lot of their major prospects have been called up due to all those injuries. The ones who have performed well will probably remain with the Mets and the others who have been busts now have less value. If there are any veterans that they can trade this year in the hope of getting someone better on the free agent market or the trade market next year or to restock their minors, it would be a good idea to do so. They don't need to have a firesale - Santana or Wright shouldn't go on the market or anything like that - but if they give their injured players ample time to get better, and shed some age in preparation to try to dominate next year, they'll have a much better chance of doing so. If they can find a trade partner for Luis Castillo, it would be a good idea to move him. They can sign someone like Felipe Lopez in the offseason. Even someone like Elmer Dessens or Fernando Tatis might be appealing to a playoff contender looking for the last pieces of the puzzle. For the Mets to add at this point would be silly. Let their guys heal, come back next year strong and in position to make a big deadline deal with prospects, and they'll have a much better chance of winning.

Or at least of winning the wildcard - No reason the Phillies can't take the division next year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pedro Signs with Phils; Halladay to Follow?

The Phillies' season just got a little more interesting. While five Phillies were taking part in another disheartening NL loss in the All-Star Game, Ruben Amaro and the front office were hard at work. The result of that work is a new addition to the Phillies rotation: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro will head to the 15-day DL with a mild shoulder strain (not a promising start) but this may be primarily so the Phillies can get him a few warm-up starts before he joins the rotation.

On the surface, it's a questionable move. The Phillies are asking a 37-year-old pitcher who hasn't thrown 200+ innings since 2005 to shore up the back end of their rotation. Based on that there is little reason to believe he'll be any better than the Phillies' in-house options (Rodrigo Lopez, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, maybe Antonio Bastardo again). Especially considering Pedro's unimpressive 5.61 ERA in 2008.

But the thing to remember is that the Phillies' expectations for Pedro are low. They know they're not getting the Pedro Martinez that was, in his prime, the most dominant pitcher on the planet. They don't need him to pitch 200 innings and amass 200 Ks. They just need him to go out every five days for the next three months and give them quality starts. If Pedro gives the Phillies six innings and allows three runs (the definition of a quality start) in every start for the rest of the season, this will have been a rousing success. If, in addition, he can summon some of his old magic and provide a few dominant outings, even better.

So all in all this has to be considered a good move. The Phillies aren't paying much, in fact it's only a $1 million contract (with up to $1.5 million in incentives), so there's very little risk involved. If Pedro struggles and/or gets injured, the Phillies can cut him loose and continue to shuffle in the Rodrigo Lopez's of the world into the fifth rotation slot. But if he is good (and based on this season, a Phillies starter posting a 4.50 ERA would, in fact, be pretty good), the Phillies will get a huge lift to their postseason aspirations.

In all likelihood, this move in itself will not have a huge impact on the season, seeing as most projections suggest Pedro will be about a league-average pitcher. Even if he exceeds that, we're most likely talking about a Joe Blanton-style acquisition, where we add a solid 4th or 5th starter, not an ace.

That said, this could greatly impact the Phillies' ability to trade for an ace. One of the stumbling blocks in the Phillies quest to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays is that it might require giving up J.A. Happ. Happ is a very valuable asset, and not just because he's a promising 26-year-old pitcher, but because he's become a key member of the rotation. Frankly, either Happ or Blanton has been the Phillies' best starter this season (depending on whether or not you want to give Blanton credit for getting a lot more starts), as Hamels has been fairly erratic.

A few days ago, trading Happ (and others) for Halladay meant mortgaging the team's future AND its present, to a degree. While Halladay would surely be an upgrade over Happ, the Phillies would still have been left with a hole in the 5th slot in the rotation. But now, with Pedro in place, the Phillies can seriously consider trading Happ and trying to ride a rotation of Hamels, Halladay, Blanton, Moyer, and Martinez to the World Series. With that group, I would like their chances.

Of course, given the choice, I would still opt to deal prospects from the minors (even the great Kyle Drabek) and retain Happ, if for no other reason than he's proven that he can be effective for the Phillies and they are already a very old team. The Phillies will need starters next season too and, as it stands, they can only be sure about having Hamels and Happ. Myers is a free agent and Blanton is arbitration-eligible. Moyer has another year under contract, but he has really struggled this year and one has to think he'll consider retirement. Even if Pedro fares well in the second half, he'd half to really dominate for the Phillies to consider bringing him back at age 38. And then there's Halladay, who will be a free agent in 2011 and may or may not be interested in signing an extension with the Phillies. So trading for Halladay but retaining Happ would give the Phillies an excellent 3rd or 4th starter this year and a guy they can count on for the next few years as well.

There is one catch to making such a deal. Trading for Halladay and keeping Happ would crowd the Phillies' rotation and one has to think that would force Moyer out. They certainly won't send Pedro to the bullpen after all that work to sign him and Moyer's 5.99 ERA does not exactly inspire confidence for the stretch run. So Moyer would have to head for the 'pen, where it's unclear whether or not he could be of any use. Moyer has appeared in 654 games and 601 of them have been starts, with only one relief outing since 1997 (and that outing came in the 16th inning of an 18-inning Mariners loss to the Rangers in 2004, so it wasn't exactly by design).

Frankly it's just hard to see the Phillies doing that to one of the best-liked players on the team and the premier elder statesman of the game. It just seems like bad karma. But most likely it will not be an issue, as trading Happ for Halladay makes a lot more sense now than it did a week ago. We'll see if it happens, but at least for now we can be pleased that the Phillies revolving door of #5 starters has come to a halt.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Live from (Watching) the 2009 All-Star Game

Following the rousing success of last year's inaugural People's Phillies Blog All-Star Game coverage, we're back once more. Last year we were treated to a thrilling (and at times embarrassing) game that seemed like it would never end. Of course, the result was familiar with the American League winning yet again. Not that it saved them in the World Series. (Eat it, AL elitists!) Still, it's safe to say it would be considered an upset if the NL won, even in a National League ballpark.

As we go through the introductions, there's a horrifying shot of Ryan Franklin's beard/goatee/whatever. Can we censor that or something?
8:15: Josh Hamilton is introduced. I'm still mad at him for skipping the Home Run Derby. Seriously, how boring was that yesterday? No exciting storylines (even if Hamilton's story was WAY overdone) and Prince Fielder was the only one worth watching at the plate.
8:18: I still can't believe Shane Victorino is an All-Star. Not that he hasn't had a great season, but would anyone really have predicted that? And now he's starting. Crazy world.
8:20: Now the "all-stars among us" are trotted out. I'm sure they're all great people and it's a nice gesture, but I'm none of their moms so I don't really care.
8:27: And now all the players close in on the "all-stars among us" for some kind of super group hug. That just looks awkward. Okay, now that that's done with, can we have some baseball please?
8:31: The Jurassic Park-style theme music! It's back! Oh, how I missed it.
8:47: Is it just me or is there something really weird about the All-Star Game being sponsored by that Orphan movie.
8:48: Apparently Tim Lincecum is sporting a "bionic arm." Sweet, we've got a cyborg on our team. Who knew?
8:52: Not a great start for Lincecum. Ichiro nearly homers on the first pitch, before it goes foul, then he lashes a single to right. Derek Jeter steps in next and gets hit by a pitch. Now Joe Mauer comes up looking to give the AL an early lead.
8:56: Mauer hits the ball less than a foot, as it lands directly in front of the plate. Molina fires to third for one out and David Wright's throw to first was off the mark, so Mauer is safe.
8:57: Teixiera grounds one to Pujols, but he can't handle it. Utley gets to the ball but not in time to stop a run from scoring. AL leads 1-0. Isn't Pujols supposed to be the best fielder on earth? That's what ESPN told me. The error is unacceptable.
8:59: Lincecum finally gets out of the inning, but not before the AL adds another run, making it 2-0. Not a good start if the NL wants to break their all-star slump.
9:05: Halladay faces Utley in a matchup of potential future teammates. However the result is fairly mundane as Utley grounds to first. Now Pujols steps in, hoping to make up for his error.
9:07: Pujols smokes a grounder to third, but Michael Young picks it and throws to first, giving Halladay a 1-2-3 inning. Take notes, young Lincecum.
9:12: Nice battle by Halladay at the plate, but Lincecum strikes him out looking.
9:21: The NL finally gets a hit off Halladay, as Wright gets a broken bat bloop single to center field.
9:22: And Victorino follows with a "real" hit, lining a single to right. Great scoring chance for the NL here, with Molina up now and likely a pinch hitter on deck.
9:23: Molina hits a single up the middle. Wright comes around to score and the throw from Hamilton goes to third, but the throw ricochets off Victorino and he'll also score. Tie game, 2-2. Now Fielder steps in to pinch hit with a runner on second. Fielder slices a ball just barely fair and it bounces into the crowd for a ground rule double. Good thing too because Molina is no guarantee to score from second on a base hit. And with that the NL takes a 3-2 lead.
9:32: Ryan Franklin gets through a scoreless inning and America survives his brutal facial hair...somehow.
9:38: Easy inning for Buerhle, as we're through three innings.
9:52: The pitchers have dominated the last few innings. Zach Greinke just finished off Victorino in a perfect bottom of the fourth inning.
9:59: Crawford singles off Chad Billingsley and Ichiro slaps on to the right side of the infield. Rather than take the easy out at first, Utley turns and fires to second to JUST get Crawford. Heck of a play.
10:01: Now Pujols flashes the leather. He makes a diving stop of a Jeter ground ball and then fires to second for the second out of the inning. Jeter is in safely at first so now Mauer comes up with two outs and one on.
10:04: Mauer rips a double down the left field line and Jeter comes all the way from first to score. Tie game, 3-3.
10:05: Another diving stop by Pujols gets the NL out of the inning, as Teixiera is retired. Great defense by the NL in this half-inning, but it wasn't enough to hold the lead.
10:14: Another inning and another double switch by the NL. It just occurred to me that Charlie Manuel is the perfect manager for the All-Star Game since wasting an entire bench by the ninth inning is a specialty of his.
10:25: Pujols gets a nice ovation as he's pulled for Adrian Gonzalez. After all the hype, Pujols really did nothing at the plate, but at least he made some great plays in the field.
10:35: Brad Hawpe nearly gives the NL a 4-3 lead, ripping Papelbon's first pitch to left, but Crawford snares it, preserving the tie. Great catch. Tejada follows with another first-pitch deep fly ball that is caught at the warning track. Now Jayson Werth steps in for his first action of the day.
10:39: Werth battles but strikes out swinging on a full count, ending the inning.
10:44: Curtis Granderson hits a deep fly ball over Justin Upton's head that bounces off the base of the wall and past Upton, into center field. Werth fields it and fires to third, but not in time, as Granderson slides into third with a one-out triple. Heath Bell is then ordered to intentionally walk Victor Martinez, setting up the double play. However, it won't be an easy one to turn with Adam Jones at the plate.
10:48: Jones hits a long fly ball to right and it's more than deep enough to bring Granderson home, giving the AL a 4-3 lead.
10:52: Heath Bell strikes out Ben Zobrist to finally get out of the inning. We'll see if the NL can rally.
11:01: After Gonzalez draws a 2-out walk off Joe Nathan, Hudson grounds a single up the middle. It skips off Bartlett's glove and Gonzalez makes his way to third. And that brings up St. Louis' own Ryan Howard with a chance to tie the game or give the NL the lead.
11:06: Howard works a 2-2 count but goes down swinging to end the inning. Lame.
11:12: K-Rod gets a 1-2-3 inning thanks to a tremendous running catch from Werth. How about a Phillie and Met teaming up. Doesn't feel right, but I'll take it.
11:20: Tejada pops out to end the game and Rivera gets his record-setting 4th All-Star Game save. Another disappointing performance from the NL, but clearly we don't need homefield advantage to win the World Series, so it's no big loss.