Monday, April 27, 2009

Ibanez, Howard Make a Grand Statement

Coming off a sweep of the division-leading Florida Marlins, one would've thought that the Phillies would handle the hapless Nationals with relative ease. Instead they'd find themselves trailing early and late, due to poor pitching. However it wouldn't matter, thanks to an outstanding offensive performance that included grand slams from Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Ibanez's two-out slam in the eighth inning put the Phillies ahead for good and Ryan Madson closed out a 13-11 win.

The Phillies suffered from another poor outing from Joe Blanton. Blanton lasted just 4 1/3 innings, and gave up six runs, four of the runs coming on homers. Ryan Zimmerman's home run in the fifth inning, his second of the day, put Washington up 6-2, but the Phillies fought back in the bottom of the inning. Philadelphia loaded the bases on three straight singles, then Ryan Howard brought them all home with a grand slam to center field.

The Nats took the lead back in the sixth, with a bases loaded walk, then the Phillies countered with Jimmy Rollins' RBI double. Then in the eighth inning, Charlie Manuel turned to left-specialist Scott Eyre, presumably to handle lefties Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn. However, this plan backfired. Johnson and Dunn would each hit two-run homers and Eyre would leave the game without recording a single out. J.A. Happ replaced him and got through the inning without further harm.

Philadelphia entered the bottom of the eighth inning trailing 11-7, but with their offense the game proved to be far from over. The Phillies quickly cut the lead to two runs on a Shane Victorino sac fly and a Chase Utley single. With two outs and Howard coming up representing the tying run, the Nationals turned to Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan's season stats were not overwhelming, but Howard came into the game 0 for 7 against him with 6 Ks. However, the past success did not hold up and Howard reached on a walk. Hanrahan's control problems continued and he walked Jayson Werth as well.

That loaded the bases for, you guessed it, Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has become a fan favorite in a hurry, especially with his walk-off home run against San Diego last Sunday. He has been excellent this season, so it was too much to ask for him to deliver here, right?

Wrong. Ibanez crushed a fastball just fair over the right field wall and sent the Phillies phaithful into pandemonium with the team's second grand slam of the day. The grand slam gave the Phillies a 13-11 lead, putting them ahead for good. Madson got through the ninth with relative ease, striking out Justin Maxwell (who was brought in to replace Dunn when the Nationals felt they had a comfortable lead) to end the game. It was a weird sort of poetic justice to have the Phillies new left fielder take the lead and then have the Nationals defensive replacement in left field make the last out.

What an end to a thrilling game.

Chance to Win World Series Tickets

Want to see the Phillies in the 2009 World Series? So do we. Well, we can't promise that, but we can help you have a chance to get World Series tickets, regardless of who's playing. Go to the Krylon's Save Our Saturday Contest and participate in their monthly trivia challenge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phils Rout First-Place Marlins to Complete Sweep

After a pair of comeback wins against the division-leading Florida Marlins, the Phillies were able to get ahead early on Sunday, then put the game away late. Jamie Moyer pitched his best game of the young season, as he continued his dominance of the Marlins. Of course the Marlins have been relatively easy to dominate in the past week, losing their sixth straight game, 13-2.

Moyer limited Florida to one run in six innings, while striking out six. He earned his third win of the season and improved his record to 7-0 at Dolphin Stadium. He had some help from the Phillies offense. The Phillies scored two runs in the first inning, off an RBI single from Ryan Howard and a Raul Ibanez sac fly. Later, in the fourth, Utley extended the lead to four runs with a single that scored Moyer and Eric Bruntlett. (Bruntlett started the game for the struggling Jimmy Rollins.)

The Marlins scored a run in the fifth, keeping the game within reach, but in the seventh, the Phillies pulled away for good. The Phillies scored four runs in that inning, highlighted by Shane Victorino's two-run bases-loaded double. That made it an 8-1 game, but the Phillies weren't done yet. They scored another five runs in the eighth inning, which was again capped off by a Victorino double, which scored three runs this time. The Phillies left that inning with a 13-1 lead, leaving the Marlins so hopeless that outfielder Cody Ross pitched the ninth inning.

Florida would add one run in the ninth off J.A. Happ, but it wouldn't matter, as the Phillies closed out the 13-2 victory. The win put their record one game above .500, at 9-8 and put the team just 1.5 games out of first place. Facing the last-place Nationals next, the Phillies have a good chance to further close the gap. We'll see what happens tomorrow, as Joe Blanton attempts to get his season on track.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ibanez Hits Walk-Off, Snaps Losing Streak

The day after the Padres gave Brad Lidge his first blown save as a Phillie, the Phillies exacted some revenge. They entered the bottom of the ninth behind by a run and left the inning winners, thanks to some clutch hitting by Raul Ibanez. Ibanez's walk-off home run snapped a three-game losing streak for the Phils.

Today's game was a showcase of sorts for the Phillies marquee off-season additions, as Chan Ho Park started his first home game for the Phillies. Park fared better than in his first outing, but ran into some trouble in the third, giving up three runs.

Of course two of those runs came courtesy of a triple by Edgar Gonzalez that could arguably have been called an error. Gonzalez hit a liner to left field which Ibanez attempted to play. Ibanez went for a sliding catch, but appeared to misjudge it slightly and the ball landed beneath his glove and past him, rolling to the wall. That drove in a run and then in the next at-bat, Gonzalez scored on a groundout by Brian Giles. Had Ibanez made the catch, the Padres would most likely have only scored one run in that inning. Park gave up a fourth run in the fifth inning on a solo homer from Adrian Gonzalez.

Park only last five innings and was replaced by J.A. Happ. However, in the sixth inning, the Phillies offense woke up. Eric Bruntlett, starting for the struggling Jimmy Rollins, reached on an error with one out and Chase Utley made the most of it with a two-run shot to right. Meanwhile, Happ kept the Phillies in the game, pitching three scoreless innings in relief of Park.

Rollins didn't get the start, but he made his presence felt. Pinch-hitting for Happ in the eighth, Rollins hit a solo home run, his first of the season, making it a one-run game. However, the next three Phillies went down in order. Condrey pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, setting up the bottom of the inning.

Ryan Howard started it with a single to center field; his third hit of the day. Then Ibanez followed with a moonshot to right, giving the Phillies the 5-4 win in dramatic fashion.

Ibanez has been brilliant so far for the Phillies. He currently is batting .386 with 5 HR and 10 RBI. He's slugging an absurd .864, due to his 10 extra-base hits. He's on pace for 74 home runs and, while we know that pace will not hold up for 162 games, it's certainly looking like he is a more than adequate replacement for Pat Burrell. (Burrell, for the record, is batting .225 with 1 HR and 4 RBI.)

The Phillies record now stands at 5-6, so there is still plenty of work to do, but this was the type of come-from-behind win that was typical of last year's team and winning in such a dramatic fashion could light a fire under this ballclub. Let's hope so, anyway.

Phun Phact: (Low) Quality Starts: Part II

As we reported almost a week ago, the Phillies were on the verge of making some dubious history, as they had not had a quality start through six games. That made them the first defending champions to go that many games without a quality start since the 1984 Orioles, who didn't get one until their eighth game.

Well the Phillies finally got a quality start, courtesy of Joe Blanton, in Thursday night's game. Sadly, it wasn't enough to get them a win, as the bullpen collapsed and the Phillies lost 8-2, but it did keep them from making dubious history and passing the '84 Orioles in post-championship quality start futility. Rather, they tied the O's, doing it in their eighth game.

Again, this stat doesn't tell us much except what we already know: the Phillies rotation has been dreadful so far this year. But it is interesting to note just how historically bad it's been, especially considering they have returned 4/5 of a rotation that was considered a strength last season.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Phils Win Game But Lose Legend

Coming into this series, the Phillies had a lot to think about. The early struggles of the starting rotation, the slow start of Jimmy Rollins, the absence of starting catcher Carlos Ruiz were all foremost in the minds of the Phillies and their fans. But not anymore.

The Phillies lost a legend today in Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas, who collapsed in the broadcast booth just hours before he was scheduled to call today's Phillies-Nationals game. Kalas was a Phillies icon just as much, perhaps even more so, than the greats who made their difference on the field. He was present for all of Michael Jack Schmidt's home runs and all of Steve Carlton's Phillies starts. I could go on about Kalas (and you can read more here), but there's little I can say that hasn't already been expressed many times over.

Needless to say, the Phillies entered this game with heavy hearts and, while it wasn't easy, they left with a win over the hapless Washington Nationals (0-7).

Jamie Moyer took the hill against Daniel Cabrera. Both fared poorly in their first starts of the season. Moyer got off to a slow start again in this one, allowing Elijah Dukes to double in Christian Guzman to give Washington an early 1-0 lead. However, Moyer was able to regain his composure and get out of a bases loaded jam.

Cabrera, on the other hand, looked dominant early, setting the Phillies down in order in the 1st inning, then striking out Ryan Howard to start the 2nd. However, he'd soon run into some hard luck. First, Jayson Werth reached on an infield single to short, then Raul Ibanez chopped a grounder to second baseman Anderson Hernandez. It looked like a potential double play ball, but Hernandez bobbled it and both runners were safe.

This seemed to rattle Cabrera, as his control (which is always a major question mark) escaped him. He walked Pedro Feliz to load the bases, then walked Chris Coste to tie the game. Moyer then followed with a sac fly, as Ibanez barely scored ahead of the tag and the Phillies took a 2-1 lead.

However, the game would not be won so easily. The Nationals tied it up in the bottom of the 2nd, then, after the Phillies had taken a two-run lead, the Nats tied it again at 4-4 on a Dukes homer in the 5th.

Despite not having a particularly strong outing, Moyer did pitch six innings and was put in position for the win in the 7th inning, when Howard followed a pair of hit batsmen with a three-run shot to center. Shortly thereafter, Ibanez homered to left and the Phillies held an 8-4 lead. The Nationals fought back in the bottom of the 7th, as Adam Dunn hit a two-run homer off Clay Condrey, but the Phillies tacked on an insurance run in the 8th with a Shane Victorino sac fly.

With a 9-6 lead and Brad Lidge entering the game, it seemed to be over, but on a day like today, nothing would come easy. Guzman led off the inning with a single, making him 5 for 5 on the day, and Ryan Zimmerman followed with a home run to center, making it a one-run game. However, after that Lidge regained his form, striking out Dunn and Dukes, then inducing a Nick Johnson groundout to end the game.

It was a tough day to be a Phillie or a Phillies fan, but at least the team came away with the win. It certainly won't make up for the loss of the franchise's voice but it's about all you could ask for after what transpired.

RIP Harry Kalas - 1936-2009

It was announced today that before today's Phillies-Nationals game Harry Kalas collapsed in the broadcast booth of Washington's Nationals Park. He was taken to the hospital where he then died. For those of you who don't know, Harry had been the Phillies main radio and TV announcer since 1971.

It's no exaggeration to say that Harry Kalas' death will affect virtually every Phillies fan, and each in a different way. Our memories of watching the Phillies's most memorable moments over the years are inseparable from our memories of the voice that was describing them to us. Quite apart from his naturally wonderful voice, Harry's genuine, entertaining, and friendly personality showed through in every broadcast. His easy phraseology has imprinted itself on how generations talk about baseball. He was always fair to our opponants, but always sympathetic, with an unforgettable "Oh, brother!" whenever the Phillies really let one get away.

As a Phillies fan who grew up in New York, my only chance to follow the Phillies live was the pull out the most powerful AM receiver I could find, wait until sundown, and hope weather conditions allowed the crackling signal to come through intelligibly that night. Harry Kalas, calling the middle three innings, was the distinctive, reliable voice I could always hook into for the play before the fading signal merged in and out of another station.

Harry called no-hitters by Rick Wise, Tommy Greene, Terry Mulholland, and Kevin Millwood, Michael Jack Schmidt's 500th home run as well as almost all of his others, nine Phillies division-clinchers, and four pennant wins -- but network deals prevented him from broadcasting the 1980 World Series. It is appropriate that before his death he was able to be in the booth for a World Series victory by his and our beloved Phillies.

It is an understatement to say that he will be missed: perhaps the greatest tribute is that it is absolutely true when we say it will not be the same without him.

Phun Phact: (Low) Quality Starts: Part I

We're through six games in the 2009 season and the Phillies have a respectable 3-3 record. Considering the team's tendency in recent years to start off slow, this comes as no surprise. What has been a bit surprising is the poor performance of the Phillies starting rotation, which was a major strength in '08.

Through the first six games, the Phillies have had zero quality starts. (For those of you not familiar with the term 'quality start', it signifies a start in which a pitcher allows 3 or fewer earned runs in 6 or more innings.) That makes the Phillies one of three teams in the majors without a single quality start at this point in the season.

Cleveland and Washington are the other teams without a quality start, which is unimpressive, but then again they aren't the defending World Champions. The Phillies are the first defending World Champions to go six games without a quality start since the 1984 Baltimore Orioles (who coincidentally beat the Phillies in the 1983 Series).

The '84 Orioles went 1-5 in those games and would not get their first quality start until the 8th game of the season, a 6-5 win over Cleveland, the quality start coming courtesy of Storm Davis.

The Orioles didn't end up having a terrible year, finishing 85-77, but that put them in 5th place in the East Division (remember, back then there were only two divisions in each league, so they were 5th out of 8). Oddly enough, the AL West was so poor that year that the Orioles would have actually finished first, ahead of the 84-78 Kansas City Royals.

What does this say about the Phillies? Probably not too much, but it does seem to drive home the point that pitching wins championships and, thus far, the 2009 Phillies rotation has looked nothing like the pitchers that won it all last year.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stairs, Bullpen Propel Phils to Victory

It's early, but the Phillies are establishing a trend. Falling behind in the first inning. Of course, the Phillies had to rally from their fare share of deficits last year, so it came as no surprise when the Phillies rallied to beat the Rockies 7-5, bringing their record to 3-3.

Chan Ho Park's first start in a Phillies uniform didn't exactly go as planned. After retiring the first batter, Dexter Fowler, Park allowed four straight hits and two runs. A walk to Troy Tulowitzki loaded the bases, setting up a two-out Clint Barmes single that drove in a pair. The Phillies have already had Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton allow two-run first innings, but Park's four-run, 40+pitch first inning was the worst start of a season that has, thus far, been full of poor starts.

Of course, the Phillies got to hit as well. They got on the board in the 2nd inning as Ryan Howard scored from second on a Raul Ibanez double that ricochetted off Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook. That cut the deficit to three runs, but that didn't last as Fowler led off the bottom of the 2nd with a solo home run, making it a 5-1 game.

Park settled down a bit after that, but due to his high pitch count, he only lasted 3 1/3 innings, before being pulled for Chad Durbin. Durbin did his part admirably, pitching two scoreless innings and even recording a single (his 2nd career hit) in a rare at-bat.

Meanwhile, the Phillies offense worked to chip away at the lead. In the 4th, Jayson Werth singled home Chase Utley to get the Phils back within three runs. Werth followed with another RBI single in the 6th, again scoring Utley, bringing the score to 5-3.

That lead held until the 8th inning, when Utley apparently tired of waiting for Werth and instead opted to drive himself in. Utley launched a two-run, game-tying homer off Manny Corpas and, just like that, the Phillies had climbed out of the hole Park dug.

Madson handled the Rockies in the bottom of the 8th and so it came to the 9th. The Rockies brought in their new closer, Huston Street, hoping to keep it a tie game. However, Pedro Feliz led off the inning with a double to left that landed just fair and Chris Coste sacrificed him to third base. With one out and the potential winning run 90 feet away, Charlie Manuel turned to postseason hero Matt Stairs. All Stairs needed was a deep fly ball. He more than achieved that, blasting a home run over the wall in right center and putting the Phillies on top, 7-5.

Brad Lidge entered to close out the game and managed to retire the first two batters before things got interesting. Jeff Baker singled and Ian Stewart walked, putting the winning run at the plate, in the form of Troy Tulowitzki. However, Lidge took care of business, inducing a Tulowitski groundout to second, preserving the Phillies victory.

It was an impressive win for the Phillies, who had excellent performances from the offense and from the bullpen. However, Park's struggles put a damper on the win. The bullpen excelled today, pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings, but they cannot be expected to do that too often. The Phillies rotation has pitched poorly thus far and, at least based on his first start, it doesn't look like Park will be an innings eater.

The frustrating thing about Park's start is that his difficulty didn't seem to have much to do with pitching in a hitter's park. Only one of his four runs came via the long ball. Instead most of the Rockies' hits were well-struck line drives that would have been hits in any ballpark. He also suffered from a lack of command, inflating his pitch count and forcing him to throw strikes in hitter's counts. Maybe the poor command can be corrected easily enough (as it was in spring training), but this was a very discouraging outing, to say the least.

Of course, in the end all that counts is the W and, while Park had to settle for a ND, at least he avoided the L, thanks in part to Utley, Stairs, and the Phillies 'pen.

On further review:
A likely cause for Park's poor outing is the absence of Carlos Ruiz. Park won his spot in the rotation with a strong performance in spring training. However, during the spring he was caught exclusively by Ruiz. As a result, this start was his first time pitching to Chris Coste, and it showed. The two got their signals crossed a few times, leading to a passed ball in the first inning and probably had a lot to do with Park's poor command. It's hard to say what the Phillies can do about this; whether they can hope that Park adjusts to Coste, or whether they should have Park pitch to Lou Marson until Ruiz returns from the DL, but really it's just worth noting that this unfamiliarity with his catcher probably was a significant cause in Park's difficulty in his first start as a Phillie.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hamels Rocked in Season Debut

With the early struggles of the Phillies starting rotation, fans had to be relieved when Cole Hamels took the mound and bucked an early trend by NOT allowing 2 runs in the first inning. The Phillies even took an early lead, as in the 2nd inning a Pedro Feliz sacrifice fly put the Phils up 1-0 in Colorado.

However, just as Hamels arrival to the rotation was delayed, so was his implosion on the hill. Hamels surrendered 5 runs in the 3rd inning, sparked by a game-tying RBI single from Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis. Later in the inning Garrett Atkins would hit a two-run homer to pad the Rockies lead.

Then in the 4th inning, after Feliz scored Jayson Werth for the second time, with an RBI groundout, the Rockies struck for two more runs. This knocked Hamels out of the game and sent the Phillies to the bullpen far earlier than expected. J.A. Happ and Clay Condrey combined for 3 1/3 innings to keep the game competitive, then Chad Durbin aborted that mission, allowing 3 runs in the 8th inning.

Werth hit a solo shot in the 9th, capping off an impressive individual performance (4 for 4, 3 R, HR), but it was entirely meaningless (except for anyone with Matt Belisle on his or her fantasy team. Sorry Mrs. Belisle, tough break).

The Phillies were expecting a dominant outing from their ace, but did not get it. One has to think that Hamels was a little rusty due to his injury-shortened spring training and that he will get his act together soon. That said, the Phillies have sent out 4/5 of their rotation and the results have been appalling.

Perhaps Brett Myers will get straightened out tomorrow night and perhaps Chan Ho Park will deliver a solid outing. But who knows? The simple fact is that 1-3 is nothing to get alarmed about, but it's the way the Phillies have lost (and even the way they got their one win) that merits concern. The Phillies will right themselves, but let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Braves Get Base-on-Ballbusting

The first few innings of today's game were somehow very familiar. The sight of a somnolent Phillies offense seeming to take very little interest in scoring against an Atlanta Braves team that was battering its starter couldn't help but remind one of, well, the previous -- and only -- two other games of the 2009 season. The opening innings, following Philadelphia's last two dismal games were depressing -- but they were followed by an improbable and thrilling comeback. The bats in the Phillies' potent lineup sprang to life as if trying to make up for every scoreless inning these last two games, and if a win like today's doe snot galvanize the team, nothing can.

Before the game, everything bodes well. A ring ceremony for 2008's world champions (with Pat Burrell's presence graciously welcome) has to auger well, and the pitching match-up pits the Phillies' late-2008 hero and hot spring picther Joe Blanton against Atlanta's perennially unreliable Javier Vazquez. Moreover, the Braves' best hitter -- Chipper Jones -- has been scratched from the lineup on account of a sore thumb and replaced at third by Omar Infante.

The Phillies begin another game by generously allowing the Braves their customary two-run handicap today, as Joe Blanton surrenders a two-run home run with two outs in the first that was very nearly a foul ball. He gets through the next inning 1-2-3, however, with an uncomfortably long fly ball the only potentially worrying sign.

In the second we take back our handicap when Ryan Howard doubles to deep center with a misplayed ball that a better-practiced Howard or some warmer weather would have sent over the fence, and Raul Ibanez homers him in with a very deep shot to right field. Welcome to Philadelphia, Raul. We hope that impressive shot can be remembered as the moment a key piece really arrived. He has to make himself a key piece though. Next Feliz and Ruiz walk -- showing some important sometimes much-missed patience at the plate -- and Joe Blanton shows off his baseball fundamentals by bunting the runners over the second and third.

Omar Infante singles to left in the top of the third and is pushed to second on a walk drawn by Kelly Johnson. A sinle almost draws him home but a good throw from Jayson Werth keeps the run from scoring. For naught, though, as Brian McCann moves everyone over one base with an RBI single, and after Blanton manages one strikeout, Jeff Francour bests him with a two-run single to center.It is now 5-2 Atlanta. From here on Philly's game seems to disintegrate. Matt Diaz wins himself two RBIs with another double. 7-2 Braves. Joe Blanton has officially been hung out to dry.

In the third Shane Victorino gets his offensive season started with a triple, and is scored by Chase Utley, but the rest of the Phillies cannot bring Chase home from second.

From here Joe Blanton seems to have settled down seven runs too late, and manages a couple of scoreless innings before J. A. Happ entered the game to relieve him in the fifth. The perfect timing of Charlie Manuel's use of the bullpen is demonstrated once again when Happ walks Diaz and gives up a two-run homer to the brand-new hero of all Atlantans, rookie Justin Schafer. 9-3 Braves.

Happ remains fine until the seventh while Phillie bats remained futile until he is replaced by Chad Durbin, who allows a double and two walks before walking a a run in when he faces Omar Infante. This causes him to be pulled for Clay Condrey. 10-3 Braves.

Just as Phillie-fan heads may be dropping into Phillie-fan hands at the sight of a forced-in run, that particular humiliating play is about to be their salvation. Eric O'Flaherty, first in a carousel of pitchers in the Philadelphia seventh, gets Victorino out, then allows Utley to get his second hit -- a solid single to center field. When he walks Ryan Howard, Pete Moylan replaces him. He too is infected by a similar loss of control, and walks Werth. Ibanez, looking better and better as a new acquisition raps a very solid RBI single which propels his team to a paltry six runs behind. Pedro Feliz, getting hot lately, keeps the rally going with a single of his own. Phillie fans can hope a little bit now. Five runs is a little bit less insurmountable.

Moylan has no control. Matt Stairs pinch hits for Carlos Ruiz and draws a bases-loaded walk. 10-6 Braves. Also walking is Bobby Cox, who approaches the mound and pulls Moylan for Blaine Boyer. Boyer has been drinking the same water as Moylan. He walks Chris Coste, hitting for the pitcher. 10-7 Braves. Fans laugh and cheer with equal enthusiasm. Then Jimmy Rollins comes to bat and things get really absurd: Rollins draws a walk. 10-8 Braves.

Here Bobby Cox walks again to send Jorge Campillo to the mound. Campillo has his work cut out for him following up Boyer's performance and, just as required of him, does not walk the next batter. Instead, he gives up a clean single to Shane Victorino, scoring the slow Stairs. 10-9 Braves. Still one out. Chase Utley up. Wait for it -- he draws a walk. Tied 10-10. Jubilation.

Ryan Howard bats next, and joins the RBI party by grounding a run in. By the time Jayson Werth, who has already batted in the inning, flies out, the Phillies are inconceivably in the lead 11-10.

An amazing diving grab by Ryan Howard with a stunning flip to Ryan Madson starts the eighth inning with a play that will live on in the highlight reels of the future, and in the Philly half of the eighth they add an insurance run on -- by now hysterically -- a walk to Raul Ibanez, a double by Pedro Feliz, and sac fly by the Phillies' only remaining bench player, Eric Bruntlett.

Lights-out Lidge was not quite lights-out today, giving up a solo home run to Matt Diaz, but it didn't matter. The Phillies won 12-11 after trailing 10-3 in the seventh. It was a spectacular comeback, assisted by a spectacular collapse of the Braves' bullpen with a surrender of four bases-loaded walks. There were a lot of welcome good signs from the Phillies' bats today, and it is to be hoped that they stay this alive consistently, but it is equally to be hoped that, as much as this victory electrifies the team, the starting pitching settles into a better rhythm. Though eight-run innings can't bail them out of every game, this one was a thrill to watch on its own -- for those who hadn't already turned it off.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Phils Stymied Once Again by Braves

After suffering a deflating 4-1 loss in the season opener, the Phillies had Monday off to think about the second game of the season. Apparently that was too much time...or not enough. Either way, the Phillies' bats looked rusty once more and the defending World Champions fell meekly to the Braves, 4-0.

While Brett Myers let the Braves get ahead after just a few batters, Jamie Moyer one-upped him (or one-downed him?) by falling behind in just one pitch. Moyer tried to get ahead of Kelly Johnson with a first pitch fastball, but instead fell behind on the scoreboard 1-0 as Johnson went deep.

It didn't get easier from there for Moyer. Chipper Jones would score later in the 1st on an error from Chase Utley and once again the Phillies stepped to the plate down 2-0.

On offense, the Phillies at least seemed to make a little progress from Sunday night, getting runners on base. However, they weren't able to make much use of them. The Phillies put two runners on in both the 1st and 2nd innings, but were unable to bring them home, as Jair Jurrjens got out of the two-out, two-on jams.

Meanwhile, Moyer didn't make it easy for them, as he would give up two more runs, one coming on a Jones solo shot. Moyer wasn't awful, but he gave up 4 runs in just 5 innings and, with the Phillies struggling to string hits together, that was more than the team could afford.

While the loss was frustrating, there were a few good signs. First, the Phillies were able to get on base and make the Braves pitchers work to get them out. This sort of approach worked for the Phillies last year and will work again this year in the long run. Second, the bullpen once again was stellar, even if it wasn't in pressure situations. The Phillies bullpen produced 4 perfect innings. One came from soon-to-be fifth starter Chan Ho Park, two from Jack Taschner (who also pitched a scoreless inning in the opener), and one from Clay Condrey.

The one other bright spot was the play of Raul Ibanez. He went 1 for 4, but the double he had was smoked (even though it bounced off the glove of Garrett Anderson), and he made a couple impressive defensive plays. In the fourth he made the defensive play of the day (with a little help from Carlos Ruiz), gunning down Casey Kotchman at home plate off a Yunel Escobar single. Then in the fifth he got a great jump on a Jeff Francoeur line drive and snared it. Neither of these plays showed outstanding defensive ability (indeed, Pat the Bat might well have made both), but after all we've been hearing about his poor defense, Ibanez has looked very solid in the field thus far. Granted, it's only been two games, but perhaps those accounts of Ibanez stumbling around left field were slightly exaggerated.

Still, while there were some positives, the obvious negative is the Phillies record, which currently stands at 0-2. They will improve (it's not like they're going to go an entire season scoring one run every two games), but it would sure be nice if that could happen sooner rather than later.

Hamels Looking to Adopt

Interesting personal story on Cole Hamels. Here's an article and video clip.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Opening Night: Phillies vs Braves

And we're back! Well okay, we haven't really gone anywhere, but baseball is back, as the Phillies begin their title defense against the Braves.

8:13: The mercurial Brett Myers gets the first two batters (Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar) on a combined four pitches, but then runs into Chipper Jones. Jones hits the 3-2 pitch to left for a single.
8:15: Brian McCann makes him pay for the single, hammering a Myers pitch into the second deck. It wouldn't be Phillies baseball without Myers struggling through the first inning.
8:17: Interesting lineup for the Phillies, with Werth batting second and Ibanez fifth. Now they'll take on Derek Lowe, who gave them trouble in the NLCS as a Dodger.
8:23: Rollins and Werth go down easily, but Utley gives Lowe a scare with a long fly ball to deep right. However, it doesn't have the distance and falls harmlessly into Jeff Francoeur's glove. 1-2-3 inning for Lowe.
8:26: Looks like the bad Brett Myers showed up today. Francoeur homers on the first pitch of the second inning and the Phillies now trail 3-0.
8:30: Well Brett Myers seems to think he's in a home run derby (and if he was he'd be doing great!). Rookie Jordan Schafer homers in his first Major League at-bat. Good for him. Bad for the Phillies.
8:34: Myers finally gets out of the second inning and the Phillies will come to bat hoping to chip into the 4-run deficit. Not an encouraging start to say the least.
8:39: Lowe continues to handle the Phillies, setting them down in order in the bottom of the second. Ibanez had an unremarkable start to his Phillies career, hitting a routine grounder to short.
8:42: Myers narrowly avoids surrendering another home run, as Escobar hits one high off the wall in left center, and with no outs in the second inning, the Phillies already have action in the bullpen. J.A. Happ is warming up...much earlier than Phillies fans had hoped.
8:46: Maybe Happ's bullpen activity got Myers' attention. After the leadoff double, he retires the next three batters and has his first scoreless inning of 2009. Um...better late than never?
8:52: October hero Carlos Ruiz rips a ball just fair down the third base line for the first Phillies hit of the season. A fan gets a piece of it and Ruiz is awarded a double. Myers follows with a grounder to short that fails to advance Ruiz. Now Rollins comes in with a chance to drive in the first Phillies run.
8:54: But he'll blow that chance, hitting a lazy fly-out to left. Inning over, Phils still trail 4-0.
9:03: Myers gets through the top of the 4th unscathed, allowing just a single to Schafer before retiring Lowe to end the inning. He's settling down a bit but with Lowe looking dominant it may be too late.
9:08: Utley hits a grounder to the right side and Kotchman makes a great diving stop, then throws to Lowe from his knees to get the second out of the inning. Howard follows with a grounder into the shift to end the fourth.
9:19: Ibanez Watch: Fifth inning. Ibanez grounds out to short again...That is all.
9:23: Lowe fans Victorino and Feliz to end the inning. The atmosphere in CBP is a little off. It's eerily quiet, as if the fans all want to boo but know they have to wait a while since we're coming off the World Championship. One has to think "a while" might become "a few more innings" if this anemic hitting keeps up.
9:32: With Garrett Anderson on third and two outs, Jordan Schafer (or "Logan" as Jon Miller calls him) is intentionally walked. Lowe battles at the plate, but goes down looking on a 3-2 fastball from Myers.
9:36: Greg Dobbs comes in to pinch hit for Myers, who finishes the night with 4 ER in 6 innings. That won't look terrible on the stat sheet, but it was certainly not the start the Phillies were hoping for from Myers.
9:39: Rollins singles to center for the Phillies second hit of the night. There's still time for the Phillies to rally, but it's starting to run out.
9:42: Werth gets a decent piece of a breaking ball, but it's snared by Lowe to end the threat (if you can call it that).
9:47: Jack Taschner takes the hill for his Phillies debut and gets off to a good start, getting Johnson and Escobar to ground out. But now here comes Chipper.
9:50: Wow. Taschner gets Chipper looking on a 3-2 pitch. Impressive debut. Too bad it's looking like it will be in a losing cause...
9:57: Utley, Howard, and Ibanez go down in order, as Lowe continues to baffle the Phillies. Lowe has a legit chance to throw a complete game, with only 89 pitches through 7 innings.
10:03: Scott Eyre comes in for the top of the 8th and retires the first two batters, striking out McCann and getting Anderson to line out to left. Ibanez makes the catch in left, looking surprisingly competent. Honestly, after all I've heard about his terrible outfield defense, I was expecting him to run toward the ball, then just stare blankly at it until another Phillie picked it up and handed it to him. Good to know he can makes a routine play. With Francouer up, Eyre is pulled in favor of Durbin.
10:07: Durbin enters and gets Francoeur looking, and the Phillies will come up, looking to make a dent in this lead before it's too late.
10:12: Once again, the Phillies can't figure out Lowe. Victorino, Feliz, and Ruiz go down in order.
10:15: It's the season opener and we've already got a confusing Charlie Manuel decision, as Lidge comes to pitch the ninth despite the fact that Durbin only faced one batter and the Phillies trail 4-0. It's not as if this will cost them the game and the Phillies have the day off tomorrow so it's pretty harmless, but still, it is puzzling.
10:18: Lidge retires the side in order, including a Schafer strikeout (the first out of his career), and the Phillies come to bat in the ninth. Can we at least get a run across to make it interesting? The one thing the Phillies have in their favor is that the Braves pinch hit for Lowe, so they'll see a new pitcher.
10:22: And the Phillies have their first extra base hit of the game, as Bruntlett rips a double down the left field line. Looked foul from here but the replay shows it actually hit the line.
10:24: Rollins hits one hard to right, but not hard enough and it's caught by Francoeur, but Bruntlett is able to tag and move to third. Werth steps up and drives in the Phillies' first run of the season, smoking a liner past a diving Chipper Jones. Now the heart of the Phillies order comes up in a 4-1 game. Only problem is, they'll face fellow left-hander Mike Gonzalez.
10:26: Utley walks, putting runners on first and second for Ryan Howard. He'll represent the tying run, but his struggles against left-handed pitching are well-documented.
10:30: Howard goes down looking on a 3-2 fastball right down the middle. Gonzalez seemed to have Howard fooled throughout the at-bat and the only thing that made it competitive seemed to be Gonzalez's wildness. Now Ibanez comes up with the chance to be a hero.
10:32: Ibanez also works a full count, but goes down swinging to end the game.

A frustrating start for the Phillies, who got a poor performance out of Brett Myers and were completely flummoxed at the plate by Derek Lowe. The one positive has to be the bullpen's performance. Taschner, Eyre, Durbin, and Lidge all pitched well and one has to think the bullpen will continue to be a strength. It would've been nice to see a win on opening night, but it's only one game.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

2009 Phillies Season Preview

Tonight the 2009 baseball season begins, as the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies take on the Atlanta Braves. Note that this is Year Two of The People's Phillies Blog and the Phillies are 1 for 1 in championships in that time. Coincidence? You decide.

Anyway, we now present our 2009 Phillies season preview, as only The People's Phillies Blog can bring you. We compiled a list of 16 key questions and each gave our answers.

1. Who was the most important off-season acquisition?

Raul Ibanez. Not because he’s such a great addition for them, but because they will be asking themselves, why did we overpay for an aging left-handed hitter when we could have waited a little longer and signed the right-handed hitting, and loyal (despite his erratic treatment by fans) Pat Burrell for much cheaper? Ibanez is 36, has hit over .300 only once in his career (I make that point because one of his supposed perks is that he’s a contact hitter), had a worse fielding percentage than Burrell last year, and unless Jayson Werth has a breakout year, makes the middle of the lineup all lefties. I doubt the signing will do too much damage in the long run, but it was a curious way to handle the hole in left field.

Park. Ibanez is obviously a big question mark, but on a given day it is doubtful that the Phillies will sink of swim depending on how he does. If he has his usual kind of year it will be a very good contribution, but he won’t be the cornerstone of the Phillies’ strong lineup. If Park has a good year, he’ll be an enormous help, as good starting pitching is like hen’s teeth in today’s MLB. The Phillies won the World Series last season even though Adam Eaton pitched a significant number of games for them. A reliable fifth starter could be a big part of making winning the division a cakewalk. However, if he has a poor season – as he has done before, his famous name might mean he gets left in rotation too long and hurts the team more than he should be allowed to. Either way, his effect on the season will probably be big.


Chan Ho Park. As Pat Burrell’s replacement, Ibanez will garner much of the attention, but Ibanez is just another hitter in an already strong lineup. Park will be taking the hill every five days and trying to give the Phillies a measure of consistency from the fifth slot in the rotation; something they have not had in recent years. One could argue that, as the fifth starter, the Phillies don’t need Park to do that much and that if he struggles early, he can easily be replaced by one of his competitors for the spot (Happ, Kendrick, Carrasco). But the fact is that Park won the job and the Phillies aren’t going to tear it away from him without giving him a legitimate chance. Plus, while the Phillies may have an idea of what they’re getting from Park (Well I have an idea anyway…), Kendrick struggled late last year and in spring training and Happ and Carrasco are basically unknowns. Also factor in how absurdly lucky the Phillies were last year with the health of their rotation and it stands to reason that Park could be starting games for the Phillies for a good while, even if he struggles.

2. How has Ruben Amaro done so far?

Amaro appears committed to making the team older. The youngest player he has brought in was Ronny Paulino at age 27, and then he turned around and traded him for a relief pitcher in his 30's. But that makes some sense, considering that his main goal after winning the World Series should be to keep the team at a championship level, and when most teams are looking to get over the hump into the playoffs, they consider veterans the final pieces. Cutting Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins were gracious moves. He knew the team wasn’t going to need them in a major capacity and it allowed them to seek more worthwhile opportunities. He hasn’t acted like a first-time general manager, and it’s clear that he took knowledge away from working with Pat Gillick.

Well, the Phillies haven’t lost once since he’s been GM! As much as it’s possible to tell before the season begins, Amaro has not been too impressive. He came in with promises of close consultation with Our Hero Pat Gillick, but there have not been too many signs of that. Whether or not you think Ibanez was a good acquisition, you have to admit that Amaro humiliated himself with the deal, overpaying for Ibanez and letting Burrell get away ridiculously cheap. It was mishandled in any estimation. The pickup of Park is the kind of gamble that Gillick might have made on a bad day, but it doesn’t impress me as a serious rotation move; Park’s career has been too spotted. At least he got rid of Adam Eaton. Somebody had to do that.

Obviously it’s not fair to grade a GM before his first team has even taken the field, but hey, this is the blogosphere. It’s an unfair place. Thus far it’s hard to be overly excited by Amaro’s off-season moves. He certainly didn’t make any splashy ones, but then again, when you’ve got the vast majority of the defending World Champions returning, you don’t need to make major renovations. That said the moves he has made have been questionable. Letting Burrell go seemed like the best option at the start of the off-season, figuring he is (or soon will be) past his prime and would have been overpriced…but then Amaro went and signed an even older Raul Ibanez to a 3-year/$30 million deal. Again, this didn’t seem ridiculous at the time, but as the off-season went on and teams were clearly unwilling to spend, it became apparent that the Phillies likely could have made a much more…shall we say fiscally responsible…option. When Burrell signed with the Rays for 2 years/$16 million, Amaro officially looked like an idiot. I didn’t know the economy would affect free agency this much, but shouldn’t the Phillies have seen this coming? I’m also not in love with the addition of Park, a pitcher who has only fared well in Dodger Stadium and was terrible as a starter in Texas. We’ll see what happens, but for now I’m less than thrilled with Amaro’s work.

3. How much better are the Mets?

The Phillies still have a more well-rounded pitching staff than the Mets, especially once they get J.C. Romero back. John Maine and Oliver Perez have shown flashes of greatness throughout their careers, but have never been consistent. Also, while the Mets have improved their bullpen, it still isn’t very deep. Beyond K-Rod, Putz, and Feliciano, there’s not much to be worried about. The Mets still have a great offense, but the only significant change was the recent addition of an aging Gary Sheffield. The only reason it seems they might do better than last year is that Jerry Manuel seems to be a good fit to coach the team.

Considerably. A major problem for New York last year was their terribly unreliable bullpen. Some high-profile additions will almost certainly change that. Their offense will continue to be strong and there will be no slowing down Jose Reyes, but perhaps an aging lineup and fewer players on hot streaks will make them weaker as a team. Their starting pitching will remain strong, but I think that the Phillies will remain a match for them in all important categories. Many don’t believe in chemistry, but if it’s a factor, it has defiantly been missing for New York in the past couple years. If they can pull their clubhouse together more, it could make a significant difference.


Decidedly better. The Mets one major weakness last year was their bullpen and they clearly addressed that, adding K-Rod and Putz. However another issue the Mets have had in recent years was the streakiness of their offense, and that’s not going away. Reyes and Wright could well improve at this point, but the rest of the team is likely to get worse, if anything. Carlos Delgado had an outstanding 2008 season after a lousy 2007, but does anyone really think the 36-year old is going to do that again this year? Even Beltran saw his numbers decline last year. No one is complaining about 27 HR and 112 RBI, but consider the fact that he did that in 161 games last year, when he put up 33-112 the year before…in 15 fewer games. Meanwhile there is not a clear advantage between the Phillies and Mets rotations. While the Mets will be improved thanks to the bullpen, there is little reason to believe they’ll be much better than the Phillies.

4. What other NL East team could pose a threat?

If the Marlins are healthy all year, they could pose a threat, the way the Marlins franchise tends to do every so often. They have a good young rotation, a lot of intriguing players in the offense, including Hanley Ramirez, Cameron Maybin, and Emilio Bonaficio, and even the bullpen has improved and now has some veterans including Leo Nunez, Kiko Calero, and Scott Proctor. I think they’re more likely to be a legitimate threat in a year or two, but they could surprise this year.

The Nationals definitely pose a threat…to do so badly they have to move back to Montreal. I think the Marlins will once again do better than expected and the Braves, though they are not a contender, will be rebuilt enough with their improved pitching to make it much closer to a four-way race this year.


The Marlins could be dangerous, as they led the NL East for a good part of last season, but with such a young pitching staff it’s hard to see them beating out the Phillies or Mets. A bigger threat might be the Braves and their revamped rotation. Derek Lowe was great last season and Javier Vasquez could benefit from a return to the NL. Meanwhile the offense could well improve with better production out of Casey Kotchman and Jeff Francoeur (who had a good September and is due for a bounce-back year), not to mention the addition of Garrett Anderson. I don’t think the Braves are at the level of the Phillies and Mets, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they made it interesting.

5. Is the lineup too unbalanced with all the lefties?

It's only a problem if they’re all in a row, which is a distinct possibility. Without considering what side of the plate they bat from, it would make the most sense to put Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Ibanez in the 3-4-5 spots. But then all a team needs to do is put in a lefty specialist for an inning and the heart of the Phillies order is done for. In fact, the Phillies lineup could be divided into sections: the switch hitting top of the order (Rollins, Victorino), the left handed middle of the order (Utley, Howard, Ibanez), and the right handed hitting bottom of the order (Werth, Feliz, Ruiz). However, if Jayson Werth steps up and becomes a true offensive threat, the Phillies could bat him fifth and Ibanez sixth. Technically, the lineup is perfectly balanced between lefties and righties, but the question is who bats where?

Perhaps a little, but it shouldn’t be a problem unless Manuel and the Phillies make it one. With Rollins and Victorino switch-hitting, Jayson Werth looking like a possibility to be a strong regular, and Greg Dobbs continuing to platoon in for Pedro Feliz, the Phillies should have a varied enough line-up. That said, with the kind of power the Phillies’ lineup presents, they should be able to put enough hitters in the box who can hit lefties or righties that it shouldn’t even be an issue.


Not really. While swapping Burrell for the left-handed Ibanez seemed to make the Phillies far too susceptible to left-handed pitching, it’s easy to forget that the Phillies have a couple of switch hitters in their lineup. Rollins and Victorino both hit better from the right side and Jayson Werth absolutely hammers left-handed pitching. Also factor in right-handed Pedro Feliz, who will likely once again platoon at third with Greg Dobbs. So basically the Phillies have three switch hitters (I’m counting the third baseman as a switch hitter since it’s a platoon), three lefties, and two righties. Against a left-handed pitcher, that comes out to five guys hitting from the right side, so that’s not bad at all. It’s also worth mentioning that Utley has always hit well against left-handed pitching.

6. Which player is the most likely to have a bounce-back season?

Pedro Feliz was a disappointment last season offensively. As was the case with Aaron Roward, it looked like Charlie Manuel was making adjustments to Feliz’s hitting approach to make him less of a free-swinger. Rowand’s second year with the team was much better than the first, and it seems entirely possible that Feliz will respond similarly. If he does, he could become the most dangerous number seven hitter in the National League.

Chase Utley. Chase played much of last season injured and in pain, but he still managed to put up very impressive numbers. After recovering from his operation over the off-season, there is no reason to think he cannot bounce back with an even stronger season in 2009.


Jimmy Rollins. Last year Rollins got injured in April and never seemed quite right after that. He mustered only 11 HR and a .277 BA, after he dominated in his 2007 MVP season with 30 HR and a .296 BA. Coming in fully healthy, one has to think he’ll have a better year. Maybe he won’t go 30-30 again, but he should hit at least 20 HR.

7. Which player is the most likely to regress?

Brad Lidge. Lidge will still be good, and he’ll probably remain one of the top closers in the National League, but the odds of two essentially perfect seasons in a row is extremely slim. He may not regress a whole lot, but he probably won’t be perfect again.

It's true that, technically, Brad Lidge will probably regress in that he is unlikely to be totally perfect again, but in all likelihood he’s still have a very good season. Sadly we’re more likely to see diminishing performances from third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz will turn 34 this year, and already saw his offensive numbers drop last year off from his final season in San Francisco. He defense, while very good, was not the perfect thing that it was made out to be. 2008 may just have been a slump for Pedro – and I hope it was – but we must consider the possibility that we are looking at a declining career.


Chad Durbin. Everyone’s been saying Lidge and it’s true that it’s hard to imagine him having such a great season again, but, while he’ll probably blow a save here or there, there’s little reason to believe his ERA and strikeout numbers will suffer. More likely he just doesn’t catch quite so many breaks in his off-nights (Victorino’s throw sails wide of the plate in Atlanta, Rollins can’t turn the game-ending double play against Washington, etc.) A better candidate for a drop-off could be Durbin. He’s coming off the best season of his career, but he pitched very poorly down the stretch. He posted a 1.72 ERA in July and then began to fall apart, with a 4.32 ERA in August. He then finished the regular season with a 6.94 ERA in September/October. Frankly, even when he was pitching well his numbers always seemed a bit deceptive since he gave up a ton of inherited runs. Did he just run out of gas late in the year due to overuse, did NL hitters figure him out, or did his luck just run dry. Hard to say, but we’ll certainly find out this year, especially with J.C. Romero out for the first 50 games.

8. Who should be the fifth starter?

Chan Ho Park earned the chance to be the fifth starter. Whether or not he is able to hold onto the job is another issue. In spring training, most of Happ and Park’s numbers were comparable. They both pitched about 20 innings, opposing batters hit about .240 against them, and they both allowed about 20 hits. But Park had more strikeouts (25 to Happ’s 14), issued only 2 walks (to Happ’s 6), and had a lower ERA (2.53 to Happ’s 3.15). Given about the same amount of playing time, Park outperformed Happ. But I imagine Happ will get a chance to be in the rotation at some point during the season due to injuries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Park eventually winds up in the bullpen. It’s a very good situation for the team to be in.

In short, the hot arm. Manuel is right to start the season with Chan Ho Park as his fifth starter considering how well he did in spring training. If that translates to his regular-season appearances, the Phillies will have a huge asset on their hands. Of course, as Brian pointed out, it could very well not, considering that a great year from Park would be unusual considering his record and the fact that Citizen's Bank Park heavily favors hitters. What that means to me is that Charlie Manuel needs to be ready to pull Park from the rotation as soon as his pitching performance stops cutting the mustard. That should be true of Park, Happ, Kendrick, or whoever during the course of the season.

J.A. Happ. Based on spring training, Park certainly deserves the honor. That said, everything about his track record suggests that he will struggle in a hitter’s park like CBP. Meanwhile, his performance last year with the Dodgers showed that he can be effective out of the bullpen. Happ, on the other hand, performed fairly well as a starter for the Phillies last year. He wasn’t amazing but he kept the team in games and, while he is inexperienced, it’s not like he’s a kid at age 26. Happ will likely pitch out of the bullpen, which sounds good on paper (especially with Romero out), but he’s never had much success as a reliever.

9. How much will the team miss J.C. Romero?

Ryan Madson had a great year last year, and if he can get through the first 50 games taking on a regular eighth inning role, the team will be fine. Scott Eyre was a great addition for the team late last year and should have no problem being the main left-hander until Romero gets back. He also has the benefit of two other lefties in the pen with Jack Taschner and J.A. Happ. The bullpen is good enough that it should be able to hold up without Romero, but when he gets back, it’ll be a huge boost.

Romero will be missed and his absence will put the pressure on people like Madson and Eyre. The Phillies had the best bullpen in baseball last year, though, and ideally that will mean that it can take a hit like the loss of Romero without collapsing and costing the team too much. Time will tell the true effects, but J. C. Romero is an extremely useful part of the team who we'll want back before we can have him.

Quite a bit. Romero was superb in 2008 and has helped carry the Phillies bullpen in the last two seasons. Last year his job was made easier by the emergence of Madson and the addition of Lidge, but he was still THE guy sent in to deal with tough left-handed or switch hitters (and the NL East has plenty of them). Scott Eyre pitched well for the Phillies last year, but it’s hard to imagine him handling the workload that Romero got. Plus Eyre is strictly a left-handed specialist and won’t be asked to pitch the entire 7th or 8th inning very often. This means that there will be even more pressure on Madson to repeat his 2008 success. Durbin will likely also be called upon more often than many Phillies fans would prefer. The good news is that it’s the first 50 games of the season and not the last, so the guys who will get worked extra hard until Romero comes back will at least be fresh.

10. Can the Phillies left field defense really get worse with Pat Burrell gone?

Ibanez is older and actually had a worse fielding percentage than Burrell last year. They also don’t have a great defensive outfielder anywhere on their roster. Eric Bruntlett and Miguel Cairo are fine, but they’re not outfielders by trade. At least Manuel is more justified in using either one more regularly as a defensive replacement since he has the other to be the backup utility infielder. It would behoove them to acquire a Chris Roberson/Michael Bourn type during the season.

On a literal level, the answer to that question is yes. In fact, I actually noticed that Burrell's fielding seemed to improve last season. Pat's problems in left were that he was very slow and unwilling to take risks to get to balls, but on a technical level he was not actually bad-fielding player. Burrell had good defensive instincts and got good jumps. Ibanez is known for being much faster than Pat, but by reputation and according to defensive statistics (which many choose not to put much stake in), he is not really a much better fielder. That would seem to leave poor instincts and technical fielding skills as the reason, though I can't say that for sure as I have not watched him play much. Given the choice, I'd rather have the reliability of a capable but slow Pat Burrell than the unpredictability of a faster but older and possibly less skilled Raul Ibanez.

A little. There’s been much debate on this issue. Burrell was a very poor fielder, simply due to his speed (or lack thereof) so logic would have it that Ibanez should be an upgrade for that reason alone. However, a large part of defense comes down to instincts and (to Burrell’s credit) he usually got decent jumps on the ball. Ibanez…not so much. Unfortunately there still isn’t that much in the way of conclusive defensive statistics, but a fairly reliable stat is defensive range. Ibanez has an average range of 96 in his career as a left fielder (100 being average). Burrell also has a career range of 96. Of course, Burrell is much younger than Ibanez and Ibanez’s main advantage over Burrell is his speed, which is more likely to regress than Burrell’s instincts. Another potential pitfall is that, with the departure of So Taguchi, the Phillies' only decent defensive replacement is now Eric Bruntlett. Bruntlett was fine in that role last year, but he’s also the only backup middle infielder and worthwhile pinch runner, so Manuel could be hesitant to use him that way.

11. Who will be the Phillies (and possibly the NL) MVP?

While any of Utley, Howard, or Rollins are viable candidates, it always seems to make the biggest difference what Rollins does. Rollins’ production would be the hardest to replace and if he’s healthy all year, could produce the kind of numbers he had in his other MVP year. Rollins is the sparkplug of the offense more than Utley or Howard have ever been (except for a few timely Howard home runs).

Shane Victorino has a huge chance to break out as a major star this season. He's a player in his prime with rising average and power numbers, plus, obviously, first-class speed and defensive skills. Plus, if you believe in clutch, you probably use some of Shane's performances at the end of last season and in the postseason to prove it to people who don't. He could easily top .300 this year with home runs in double digits while chasing 40 stolen bases and playing phenomenally in the field. He might just as easily have on off year, but I think that all makes him a definite player to watch.


Ryan Howard. Howard finally got his contract extension and came into camp slimmed down, but still displayed as much power as ever. He has dominated spring training thus far and with the burden of an expiring contract removed, he is poised to have a phenomenal season. I wrote about this in detail shortly after news broke of his 3-year contract. Here it is again in case you missed it.

12. Will there be a championship hangover?

The Phillies have started off slow in the past few years, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that were the case again. There may also be some lineup tinkering depending on the addition of the left-handed Ibanez and how Jayson Werth responds to increased expectations on offense. Also, they won’t have Cole Hamels and J.C. Romero immediately. They may also be more cautious with Hamels and it may take time before they are comfortable enough to fully use him.

I doubt it. The Phillies are in a competitive division, and by and large are the kind of hardworking team not to let the championship relax them too much. That said, the Phillies have been streaky in the past few years and have a tendency to get off to unimpressive starts. They have to be careful not to let the added pressure of the World Championship weigh too heavily on them.


Depends on what you mean by hangover. The Phillies could easily have yet another slow start, but I doubt it will have anything to do with last year. This is not the type of team to slack off and if anything they should be fired up to start the season due to virtually everyone picking the Mets to finish ahead of the defending champs.

13. How will Howard’s contract extension influence his performance?

He may become pressured to justify it, just as he was pressured to get it. His numbers have been extremely similar the past two years, so even if he was in worse shape in 2008 than in 2007, he seems to produce the same amount. He simply may be a 45 home run, 140 RBI, and 199 SO kind of guy. If Howard’s performance improves this year, it will probably have more to do with him being in better shape.

It's a psychological question so it's hard to say for sure, but Howard seems like the kind of player who is always working -- sometimes a little too hard. The contract extension might be just what he needs to give him enough security so that he doesn't work himself into a rut trying to impress, and his work ethic will keep him from resting too much on his laurels. Howard is an established star, and now he has the freedom to go out on the field and show it without having to prove himself every day.


While plenty of players have been known to struggle after receiving a huge payday, I don’t expect that from Howard. In fact, quite the opposite. As I wrote earlier, Howard has historically struggled when playing for a contract so this should allow him to focus on just being the best hitter he can be, rather than trying to pull home runs all the time and hit the ball a mile. That’s not to say he won’t rack up 150+ strikeouts, but I would expect his batting average to hover around .280 for the better part of the season.

14. Which Brett Myers will the Phillies get?

Myers was remarkably consistent last year and pitched with a different sort of poise than at any point in his career. It really seemed like he figured something out. Myers will also be a free agent and he may have that extra incentive to produce. Myers is in position to have a really good year.

Both -- but I think we'll see more of Good Brett Myers than Bad Brett Myers. Brett is a pitcher who clearly has the skills to be among the top few in baseball, but at looks at this point as if he will never completely eliminate the problems that arise with his mechanics and anger management enough to be completely consistent. However, he's made a lot of progress since the beginning of last season, and I see no reason why he shouldn't continue that and give us a very strong season overall.


There are few players harder to predict than Brett Myers. In the last two years he has been the closer, pitched in the minors, and both dominated and got dominated as a Major League starter, so I’d be lying if I was to say I could tell you what he’ll do this year. But then again, I have to at least try. Myers is coming in healthy, after a full year of starting, and with confidence after a brilliant second half and a solid postseason. With a renewed confidence and in a contract year, Myers should be the #2 starter that the Phillies need him to be.

15. Was Jamie Moyer’s multiyear contract a wise move?

It was a good thing that the team kept him. It’s hard to know how much longer he’ll be pitching effectively, but even if he retires he would be a good person to immediately shift into a coaching job. He has a lot to offer as a mentor to younger pitchers, and if he’s able to pitch effectively for the duration of his contract, that’s great. The only issue with signing him is that it takes a spot in the rotation away from a younger pitcher, such as J.A. Happ or Carlos Carrasco. In a year or two, a rotation of Hamels, Myers, Blanton, Happ, and Carrasco is a very intriguing thought. Kyle Kendrick should be back in the mix soon as well. But having Moyer as a part of the organization is worthwhile.

There is always an element of risk in signing a pitcher Moyer's age to the kind of contract he has received, but if you are gong to sign a 46 year-old, Moyer is about the safest 46 year-old you could possibly sign. He has never been a power pitcher, he's great in the clubhouse (he's been called the Phillies' second pitching coach), and he has only grown more and more consistent as he has accumulated knowledge over the years. Someday Moyer will have to retire, but he hasn't shown any sign of diminished skills yet and he's been a vital part of the Phillies' successful past two seasons, so keeping him in the rotation looks like a smart move.


Yes. Moyer had an excellent season last year and The Man Who Broke PECOTA should be expected to produce yet again this year. His numbers will likely get a bit worse, as far as ERA, but with no injury history and a pitching repertoire that relies almost entirely on guile, there’s little reason to believe he’ll be much worse this year or next year than he was in 2008. Then of course there are his off-the-field contributions. Having Moyer is like having an extra pitching coach and I don’t think anyone can dispute that he’s helped along Cole Hamels’ progress.

16. How much will the Phillies miss Michael Bourn?

As I mentioned with Sheffield, Bourn is exactly the kind of player the Phillies need. Actually, if they still had Michael Bourn, it’s possible that he would have replaced Burrell as the third outfielder and they wouldn’t have had to spend money on Ibanez. Bourn will be always be missed.

In all seriousness, the Phillies don’t have a player like Michael Bourn this year. Not that they’ll need one as much as they need a player like Brad Lidge – but if there’s a way to get him back or someone like him it can only help us when we need a fast man like Bourn.


While we at The People’s Phillies Blog will always miss Michael Bourn, the Phillies could actually really use him this year. Right now the Phillies have hardly any bench speed (the one speedy bench player we have is Bruntlett, who is not an accomplished base stealer). Bourn struggled as a starter in Houston, but he would be a superb asset to the Phillies bench. Of course, we’re pretty happy with the result of the Bourn-Lidge trade.

Jamie Moyer article

To hold our loyal readers over until our 2009 Phillies season preview, here's an article I came across about Jamie Moyer. If you're anything like me, you never get tired of hearing about how ridiculous it is that he's pitching and pitching well at age 46. Click here to check out the article.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Park's Place Should Be the Bullpen

With the regular season nearly upon us, the Phillies finally chose their fifth starter. It's going to be none other than Chan Ho Park, the same Chan Ho Park who was a dominant starter for the his 20's. Now, as a 35-year old, Park returns to the rotation, despite the fact that he has not had much success as a starter since the end of his first stint in LA, back in 2001. That year, Park went 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA and recorded 218 strikeouts.

But that was then and this is Citizen's Bank Park. While there's no doubt Park could (and still can) really pitch, he was putting up those numbers in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. When he moved on to the less friendly confines of the Ballpark in Arlington, things got a little ugly. Park's ERA jumped to 5.75 in 2002, his first year in Texas, and has been over 4.50 every year since then, until last year.

What made last year so special? Well for one, he was back in Dodger Stadium, where all his past success came. Second, he was pitching out of the bullpen, where he did not even have to log 100 innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies have inserted him as the fifth starter, hoping he can give them 200 innings. Considering he hasn't done that since 2001, I wouldn't count on it.

But maybe the real Chan Ho Park is back now. Maybe 2008 was the story of how Chan Ho got his groove back.

Or maybe this is the same pitcher we've been watching for the last 15 years, who's been great in pitcher's parks and not-so-great elsewhere. Just look at his home/road splits from last season. At home, he was dominant, posting a 2.18 ERA and a dominant K/BB ratio of 7/2. However, on the road his ERA ballooned to 4.50 with a K/BB of 3/2. And this was not a new phenomenon for Park. In 2001 his home ERA was 2.36, while his road ERA was 4.83.

Of course this doesn't have much to do with the decision to put him in the rotation. He's struggled outside pitcher's parks both as a starter and a reliever. But making him a starter makes him even more vulnerable to continuing this trend while at the same time making his likely struggles more detrimental to the team.

There's no denying that Park has had a great spring and it's hard to argue that J.A. Happ or Kyle Kendrick would be much better. However, the difference is that with Happ and Kendrick (well, okay, more with Happ) there's a reasonable chance that the Phillies get an above-average performance (or if nothing else there's the thrill of the unknown). With Park, the Phillies know (well, they SHOULD know) exactly what they're getting.

Then again, can he be any worse than Adam Eaton? I'm not looking forward to finding out.