Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Arm Ailing

Continuing a season-long trend of Phillies pitching injuries, rookie Antonio Bastardo made his way to the 15-day DL on Monday night with a strained shoulder. He sustained the injury in the fourth inning of his last start on Thursday against Tampa Bay. Bastardo was brought up when Brett Myers was injured, and his first two starts were very successful. His last three starts, however, have not been as good, and so in five starts, Bastardo was 2-3 with a 6.75 ERA. To occupy his roster spot, the Phillies called up none other than Sergio Escalona.

With the Phillies rotation already suffering, the question is who will be the next pitcher to attempt to fill Brett Myers' spot? They do have a few in-house options. They could call up Kyle Kendrick, though they tried that once this year and it didn't work out so well. They also have former Oriole and Rockie Rodrigo Lopez in AAA, and he has been pretty solid: 5-4 with a 3.91 ERA. They also have stud prospect Carlos Carrasco, who is rumored to be the favorite to come up and take the start. Carrasco was the darkhorse candidate for the last rotation slot this year, but in AAA, he has gone 4-7 with a 4.92 ERA. Kendrick actually has better numbers than Carrasco at this point. Also in the mix could be Gustavo Chacin, a bright spot for the Blue Jays a few years ago, who is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA between AA and AAA. The organization doesn’t feel that Kyle Drabek is ready for the majors. If they have to make an in-house decision, the odds are they'll go with Carrasco.

However, they called up Escalona and they've announced that Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, and J.A. Happ will be moved up in the rotation for the upcoming series against the Braves. This gives the Phillies a little bit of time to make a decision, which brings up the question of whether or not they can acquire a pitcher by the end of the week. For a while, the Phillies have been known to be in need of starting pitching, a need that got much greater when Myers went down and they had that recent extremely painful stretch of home games. Many names have been tossed around as to who is going to solve the problem…

Jake Peavy – Not going to happen – Peavy has a no-trade clause and already rejected a trade to the Chicago White Sox. Supposedly he doesn’t want to leave the West Coast, so if he’s not going to Chicago, he’s not going to Philadelphia. He is also injured and will not be back until probably a month from now, if he comes back at all. However, Chris Young might be a name to watch if he becomes available, which he might, considering the Padres are 15 games back in the NL West.

Roy Oswalt – Not going to happen – Oswalt also has a no-trade clause, and even if he would waive it, the Astros may not be inclined to deal him. They recently committed a lot of money and many years to him. The Astros are also only four games back in the NL Central, and last year, when they were further back than that, they became buyers at the deadline, for example, acquiring Randy Wolf. They’re not ready to sell yet, and even if the Astros would and Oswalt would, the Phillies will probably need to make a deal before Houston can get far enough back in the standings to decide to sell.

Roy Halladay – Not going to happen – The Blue Jays aren’t looking to trade their ace. They’re only four games back in the AL Wildcard race and while they’re in possibly the toughest division in baseball this year, they still have a lot going for them. Young pitchers Scott Richmond and Ricky Romero have been good and many of their hitters have been effective this year. The Blue Jays are quite solid at every position, so there’s no reason to believe they’re going to trade Halladay, especially since as good as their other starters may be, none of them can provide what Halladay does. The Blue Jays won’t be giving him up.

Cliff Lee – Not likely – Lee could only come to the Phillies at a very high price. He’s a cheap Cy Young Award winner, which is not easy to come by. He is also the only positive thing the Indians can say about their rotation, and they don’t seem to have anyone who could come close to anchoring the rotation, especially with the demise of Fausto Carmona. If the Indians do decide to trade him, he would almost certainly become the most coveted pitcher on the market, not unlike CC Sabathia last year (though obviously Lee isn’t Sabathia). Unless the Phillies have a prospect that Cleveland really likes, they might not be able to get him if he hits the market.

Erik Bedard – Not likely – Bedard is currently on the DL, so that may not be such a good idea anyway. But many people on the Phillies staff have experience with Bedard, including third base coach Sam Perlozzo who managed him in Baltimore and Asst. GM Benny Looper who knew him in Seattle, and they’ve implied that Bedard’s character wouldn’t work well in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a notoriously hard town to play in, and neither Seattle nor Baltimore can really compare, so if people who know him have concerns, it might be a good idea to avoid him.

Brad Penny – Not likely – Penny seemed like a possibility a few weeks ago, but with Daisuke Matsuzaka headed for the DL, and Penny’s performance improving, the Red Sox have no incentive to deal him. When the Phillies inquired about Penny, they were told it would take prospect shortstop Jason Donald. Donald is now injured, making a deal even less likely. The Red Sox seem keen on maintaining a deep pitching staff, especially if their pitchers are injury prone. If the Phillies thought he was the answer, they would have made the deal with Donald.

Jason Marquis – Possibility – Marquis almost became a Phillie in a deal that would have sent J.A. Happ and prospects to the Rockies for him and outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. However, the Rockies went 21-7 in June and might not be ready to consider themselves sellers. Also, Marquis has been successful as a Rockie, and Colorado might not be keen on giving up a pitcher who can actually pitch well at Coors Field. If the Rockies still feel they have a chance, Marquis might be harder to get from them. Marquis has only had a couple truly impressive seasons, most notably in 2004 with St. Louis, when he went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA and career high 138 strikeouts. Since then, he’s never had an ERA under 4.00. In my opinion, Marquis is overrated. The best thing for him would be to remain in Colorado where he’s been effective.

Aaron Harang – Not likely – Cincinnati is competing as well as any other team for the NL Central, so they may not be game on trading their workhorse pitcher. Harang has also been much better than last year. He’s already up to 98 innings and has maintained an ERA under 4.00. If the Reds have playoff aspirations this year, and at this point in the season, most teams do, they will need Harang for many of the same reasons the Blue Jays need Halladay. Harang would be exactly what the Phillies need, but it’s unlikely that Cincinnati will make him available.

Bronson Arroyo – Possibly – Arroyo, on the other hand, has already been the subject of trade rumors. Arroyo is not as good as Harang, but he does get a lot of strikeouts and he can throw a lot of innings. He has the same number of innings pitched this year that Harang does. Arroyo is sort of like a poor man’s A.J. Burnett. Some games he looks like an ace, going deep into games and getting a lot of strikeouts. Other games he can’t even get through six innings. Perhaps being backed by the Phillies offense would help him, but he might be one of the better pitchers on the market and could command a decent price. Trading for Arroyo would be similar to when the Phillies dealt for Cory Lidle and Kyle Lohse (not just because both were acquired from Cincinnati). It wouldn’t be the worst deal in the world, but it’s not the heavy impact pitcher the Phillies really need.

Doug Davis/Jon Garland – Possibly – With an up and coming young core of players, being stuck in the basement of the NL West, and especially with Brandon Webb injured, the Diamondbacks will almost certainly become sellers this year. Davis and Garland could both become available since they are veteran pitchers and Arizona can use them to acquire more youth. Neither pitcher has a good record (3-8, 4-7 respectively), but Davis has a 3.28 ERA and Garland has thrown at least 6 innings in most of his starts. However, neither of these pitchers would be much more than a placeholder for the rotation spot, and certainly neither of them are anywhere near that impact pitcher the Phillies are looking for. Arroyo or Marquis would probably be better acquisitions than Davis or Garland, though of the two I would take Davis.

Jarrod Washburn – Possibly – The Mariners know that there is interest in Bedard, or at least there was before he was injured, but they would much rather deal Washburn while his numbers look good. He is currently 4-5 with a 3.22 ERA in 14 starts, but Seattle doesn’t have the most impressive offense (excluding, of course People’s Phillies Blog favorite Russell Branyan). Still, Washburn has never been particularly impressive since his 18-6 year in 2002. He has, however been consistent this year, going either 6 or 7 innings in all but three starts, and only allowing more than two earned runs in four of his starts. He also doesn’t allow too many walks. But he is more of a fly ball pitcher, and that’s never good for Citizens Bank Park. I would put Washburn on the same tier as Arroyo, but Arroyo has more potential for greatness. Washburn’s consistency is appealing, but beyond that acquiring him would simply make me nervous.

Chien-Ming Wang - Possibly - The Yankees currently have a logjam in their rotation, with Sabathia, Pettite, and Burnett locks, Joba Chamberlain a lock for the future with some fans clamoring for him to the bullpen, and the Phil Hughes and Wang. Wang is currently occupying the spot, but he has not been good this year. He had three rotten games in April, spent some time on the DL, and then didn't get back to starting until June. He hasn't exactly been terrible in June, but he hasn't been particularly effective. He's only thrown more than five innings once, in his most recent start. Frankly, he's never thrown a lot of innings anyway. Hughes hasn't been much better as a starter, but he's a lot younger and has shown flashes of his much greater upside. So, I wouldn't be surprised if Wang became available, and the Phillies would surely inquire about him. To be blunt, he's been so bad this year that I can't imagine the Phillies actually justifying this deal. He was great in 2006 and 2007, but last year and this year he's been injured. At least last year he was good and injured. This year he's been bad and injured. The Yankees probably aren't in a rush to deal him, so they can probably command a higher price than would be truly worth it. Will he available? My guess is probably. Would he be worth it? I doubt it.

Dan Haren - Not likely - Haren would be a fantastic fit for the Phillies, giving them a true right-handed compliment to Cole Hamels, but if he becomes available, and I'm not convinced that even the basement dwelling Diamondbacks would be willing to trade him, he would come a huge price. That being said, he could actually be worth it. He's probably got a few good years left in him (he's only 28) and he would certainly help the Phillies immediately, filling that impact pitcher void. He can eat up innings, he strikes guys out, and he's only gotten better as this year has gone on. If both of them become available, Haren would be more coveted than Cliff Lee. But, the Diamondbacks would much rather deal Davis or Garland, and Haren is still young enough that he could help them in the next couple years as they develop their young core, including Chris Young and Justin Upton. I don't think Haren becomes available, but if he does, the Phillies should make a huge push for him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Accentuate the Positive

The Phillies are currently mired in a six game losing streak. It's been fairly pitiful: the offense is more or less absent, the depleted bullpen has been abysmal, and it is now evident more than ever how much they need to add another starting pitcher. However, rather than wallow in the shame that has been Phillies baseball over the past week, there are some positive elements that are worth noting. 

1) It's now very clear that we need a starting pitcher - In the offseason, the team was all excited to have four potential candidates for the fifth slot in the rotation. It's not as if they didn't figure that injuries would be a problem, they just figured they could solve it from within the club. But, once again, those four pitchers were Chan Ho Park, J. A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, and Carlos Carrasco. Of those four, Happ is in the rotation, Park (who won the spot) has since been sent to the bullpen (where he's been effective), Kendrick has struggled in the minors and made one appearance in the majors this year where he was completely ineffective, and Carrasco, a long shot to win the spot in the first place, is in need of and getting more seasoning in the minors. In fact, the fifth spot is now occupied by none of those four players, but rather by Antonio Bastardo, who was effective in his first two starts, but not so effective in his last two. For this team to be a true playoff contender, they need another arm if not two. Cole Hamels is and will be fine, and Joe Blanton is a fine number three or four starter, but Jamie Moyer has not been effective all season and Happ and Bastardo have been inconsistent. This is not a rotation built for a deep playoff run, and the front office will now be pressed more than ever to make a move. 

2) However, there have been signs of promise in the rotation we have - Both of Hamels' games have been quality starts and his last game was stellar - two runs in eight innings with ten strikeouts. J. A. Happ had a quality start as well, and Antonio Bastardo pitched seven innings, which is the most he's thrown in a start since coming to the majors. Blanton has been much better of late, disregarding his last game, but Moyer remains the sore spot in the rotation, sad to say. 

3) Shane Victorino has been on fire - Victorino has been the one bright spot in the lineup. He's currently on a ten game hitting streak, and he's hit .526 in the past six games. His batting average for the season is now up t0 .304. Unfortunately, he hasn't produced many runs (no HR and only one RBI in that span), but that probably has more to do with his place in the batting order, and the fact that no one has been on base for Victorino to score. Well, at least someone is doing well. 

4) They should get their bullpen back soon - They may lose Clay Condrey, but Brad Lidge should return this week and Scott Eyre may not be far behind. 

5) On the road again - The Phillies are 23-9 on the road and 13-22 at home. They head out to finish interleague play against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays and then they go to Atlanta for the first time (both previous series against the Braves were in Philadelphia). 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yet Another Bullpen Blow - Condrey to DL

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, the Phillies bullpen may take yet another hit as RHP Clay Condrey is rumored to be headed to the 15-Day DL. Rumor also has it that Condrey's roster spot will now be taken, at least for the time being, by none other than LHP Sergio Escalona. How long Escalona would remain in the majors (this time) may depend on when RHP Brad Lidge returns. Lidge is scheduled to make another rehab appearance for the AAA IronPigs (Pigs... made of Iron... ) on Tuesday, and depending how that goes, he'll probably be back with the Phillies by the end of the week. Lidge said he felt great about his last outing with AA-Reading, in which he threw a scoreless inning and struck out two in fifteen pitches. Lidge's return could mean a very short stay in the majors for Escalona, but with a depleted bullpen, they could also keep Escalona in the majors and send down C Paul Bako. Condrey is able to throw multiple innings, and with their starters proving unable to go deep into games, they may want all the arms they can get. Neither Escalona or Lidge are multiple innings guys, though getting Lidge back does take RHP Ryan Madson out of the closer position and back into regular bullpen duty. Madson is capable of pitching multiple innings need be. 

The bright side (potentially) in all of these injuries is that if none of the injuries linger, Lidge, Raul Ibanez, Scott Eyre, Condrey, and Ryan Howard (who will most likely be back on Tuesday after his battle with the flu) will all be fresh and at the top of their games. This doesn't solve the problem of the lack of starting pitching (Brett Myers won't be coming back anytime soon), but they could focus on trading for a starting pitcher and not have to worry about patching up their bullpen. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roster Update

It's been a while since we've posted and in the effort to improve a 1-7 homestand and an exhausted pitching staff, there have been quite a few roster changes. 

1) When last we left our celebrity bullpen, RHP Kyle Kendrick had come up after Scott Eyre was sent to the DL. That didn't last long. He had one outing and blew a game against the Red Sox. He was sent down and LHP Sergio Escalona was called up. I told you, Ruben Amaro. 

2) Actually, not such a good call on my part. Escalona allowed two runs in two innings the next day. The next day, he was sent down for RHP Tyler Walker. Walker, a 33-year old reliever has spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants, with whom he had one particularly good year (2007). He also had stints with the New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (before they were exorcised). So far, Walker has been good. No runs allowed in three appearances. They need him to keep that up. 

3) Ryan Howard will not be playing on Sunday. He has been hospitalized with the flu. Replacing him in the lineup is Matt Stairs, playing left field and occupying Howard's cleanup spot. Replacing him in the field is Greg Dobbs, who in 2007 had to fill in for Howard at first base and during his starts there did really well in the lineup. It doesn't sound like Howard will be out long, but hopefully the Phillies won't find themselves in too much trouble with an even thinner bench. 

4) Brad Lidge may be coming back as early as Tuesday. If he's healthy, that is huge for this bullpen. It takes a huge amount of pressure off of Ryan Madson as he gets to return to sharing setup duties with J.C. Romero. Also, as we saw last year, healthy Brad Lidge is as good as they come. Any stabilization this pitching staff can get will be very welcome. It will be a good way to see if the Phillies need to seek bullpen help at the deadline. Personally, I don't think they do. What they need is a starter who can go deep into games so that the bullpen doesn't get overused. None of Antonio Bastardo, J.A. Happ, or Jamie Moyer appear capable of pitching more than 6 innings a game. Joe Blanton has been better of late, and Cole Hamels is Cole Hamels, but Hamels has already had injury trouble this year and the thought of giving him more pressure is worrisome. Hopefully getting Brad Lidge back healthy can lessen the pitching woes. 

5) We still have Paul Bako on the roster. Very nice of Charlie Manuel to give him the start on his birthday. My guess is that he gets sent down when Lidge returns. 

6) Raul Ibanez' groin injury has no additional damage on his latest MRI. It sounds like they got him onto the DL in time. He should be back in the Phillies lineup when he is eligible to come off the DL: July 3rd, against the Mets. Hopefully the time off will allow him to come back with the same kind of offensive prowess he's shown for most of the season. For all of those who think he's on PEDs, his injury is probably more a result of his age, not because he uses PEDs. 

We're nearing the end of June... soon it'll be time to start talking trades... keep an eye on every starting pitcher that could go onto the trading block; that's probably who we'll be talking about. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ibanez Hits DL with Strained Groin

Already struggling a bit, losing 4 of their past 5, the Phillies took another hit today as Raul Ibanez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.

This is obviously a tough loss for the Phillies, as Ibanez is in the midst of a fantastic season, but they should be reasonably well-equipped to weather the storm. They recalled John Mayberry to take Ibanez's roster spot. Mayberry showed flashes of being a productive major league hitter in his debut earlier this year, when he went 2-for-3 with a 3-run homer and a double against the Yankees on May 23rd. Of course, he went 0-for-6 in the 2 games after the debut, before he was sent back down to AAA. Mayberry may not give the Phillies that much at the plate, but he is an exceptional athlete and should improve the Phillies' outfield defense.

Matt Stairs figures to get some starts in the outfield now, as well. He will most likely platoon with Mayberry, unless Charlie Manuel decides that Stairs is too valuable as a pinch hitter and opts to either platoon Greg Dobbs or start Mayberry every day. If the Phillies were losing their #7 hitter, than I would be all for saving Stairs for clutch situations, but they will need another offensive boost with Ibanez out and Stairs has been too good for them to limit his at-bats in this situation.

As for Ibanez, hopefully the injury is nothing serious and the time on the DL will allow him to make a full recovery. He will certainly be missed, but the Phillies have enough offense that they should not be seriously derailed by his absence.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eyre to the DL, Kyle Kendrick Returns

Yesterday, the Phillies placed left-handed reliever Scott Eyre on the 15-Day DL with a calf strain. He injured himself while getting the win on Thursday facing one batter at the end of the ninth and only throwing two pitches. The 37-year old reliever has been fantastic in his first full year with the Phillies, with a 1-1 record and a 2.57 ERA in 25 appearances. While J.C. Romero was serving his 50 game suspension, Eyre became the primary lefty in the bullpen. Luckily Romero is back, so the Phillies will have two lefties between him and Jack Taschner. But the veteran presence of Eyre will certainly be missed. Surely the team will be glad to get both Eyre and closer Brad Lidge back in a couple weeks. 

The curious thing is that they filled Eyre's roster spot by promoting right-handed starter Kyle Kendrick to the majors. The logical thing would have been to call up left-handed reliever Sergio Escalona, who hasn't done any damage pitching for them in three games this year. He has 2 strikeouts in 2.1 innings and a 0.00 ERA. There are other pitchers on the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs (I just like pointing out that there is a team called the IronPigs - I find it confusing and entertaining at the same time) that might make more sense to call up, including relievers Gary Majewski, who was a possibility for the bullpen during Spring Training, or John Ennis, who appeared with the Phillies very briefly last year. Escalona would still have made the most sense, but instead they called up Kendrick. 

One possibility is that the Phillies would like to try Antonio Bastardo in the bullpen and give Kendrick another shot in the rotation. But first of all, Kendrick's numbers on the IronPigs (that's right. Pigs... made of Iron) haven't been particularly impressive. In 12 starts, he went 4-4 and had an ERA of 4.03. Also, Bastardo has been solid for the Phillies. He's currently 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA, and in his last outing he allowed only two runs in 5+ innings against the Dodgers. However, in his start against the Dodgers, it appeared that they were starting to figure him out as they faced him. After zipping through the first six batters in the first two innings, averaging four pitches per batter, he allowed the leadoff man to get on base in the third, fourth, and sixth inning, and couldn't even get an out in the sixth. He had thrown over 100 pitches by that point and was relieved by Chan Ho Park (who, by the way, has been pretty good so far as the long reliever). So it's possible that they'd like to move Bastardo to the 'pen to work on some specifics and then return him to the rotation when Eyre returns. In that situation, why not call up Kendrick, who has been a solid member of the rotation in recent years. 

The other possibility is that Kendrick is in the majors to be showcased as trade bait. The Phillies are looking to acquire an impact pitcher to replace Brett Myers. There have been rumors of their interest in Boston starter Brad Penny, so it would make sense to call up Kendrick as the Phillies face Boston this weekend. Brad Penny seems like a much better idea that it would actually be. He is injury-prone and has only had a couple really good years. He was great in 2006 and 2007 with the Dodgers, both years he was an All-Star, but in 2008 he only pitched in 19 games. Boston was able to get him because people were wary of his injury history, so they signed him fairly cheaply. He's been decent with Boston, though he's gotten off to a slow start. He's 5-2 in 12 games, but he has an ERA over 5.00 and 44 strikeouts in 66 innings (just over 5 innings per game). Supposedly, the original asking price for Penny would have had to include prospect Jason Donald (not an IronPig... yet). Donald could be an important trading chip for a bigger deal. The Phillies might do better to wait and see who else gets put on the trading block. If the Phillies are really looking for an injury-prone pitcher, they'd be better to go sign free agent Ben Sheets. The biggest issue with that is the fact that the team is already over budget, but when Sheets is healthy, he is a better pitcher than Penny. Given the choice, I'd take the chance on Sheets. But it's still possible they could get a better pitcher via a trade. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Kendrick is used in the majors. Who knows - maybe he'll reclaim his spot in the Phillies rotation. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ibanez Downs Mets in Rubber Game

While it wasn't the most vaunted pitching matchup, coming into tonight's game, pretty much everyone knew the rubber game would go down to the wire. Both Jamie Moyer and Tim Redding managed to lower their ERA's. Moyer fell behind early, surrendering three runs and the Phillies trailed 3-1 after five innings. But the Phillies would get to Redding in the sixth and seventh. A Matt Stairs RBI groundout in the seventh tied the game 3-3.

So the game, once more, would come down to the bullpens. The Phillies bullpen faltered in Game 1 and barely kept things under control in Game 2, but tonight they were lights-out. Clay Condrey pitched two perfect innings, then Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre combined for a perfect ninth inning.

The Mets had a little more trouble. Pedro Feliciano got through the eighth unscathed, despite walking a batter. Bobby Parnell allowed a single to Pedro Feliz, but otherwise got through the ninth, but he ran into trouble in the tenth.

After Jimmy Rollins fouled out, Shane Victorino singled to center. That would be all for Parnell, as Jerry Manuel did not want him to face Utley, who belted the game-winning home run off of Parnell last night. With Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez coming up, the Mets turned to their only remaining lefty pitcher, Ken Takahashi. Takahashi started poorly, walking Utley, but then struck out Howard and got ahead of Ibanez, 0-1.

But that was as good as it got for Takahashi and for the Mets. Ibanez belted the 1-1 pitch over the wall in right center and the Phillies took a 6-3 lead. Jayson Werth, last night's hero, struck out to end the inning, but the three runs would be more than enough, as Ryan Madson allowed an Omir Santos single, then recovered to retire the next three Mets, sealing a Phillies victory.

After the Phillies had struggled with the Mets early this season (and throughout last season), it was very encouraging to see the Phillies win this series. However, they will have their hands full when they face Boston this weekend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Utley's Heroics Cap Rally Against Mets

One day after the Phillies knocked around the Mets' ace to no avail, the Phillies countered with their own ace...and to similar effect. Cole Hamels labored through five innings, giving up 11 hits and 4 runs, and was outpitched for most of the game by Mike Pelfrey.

Hamels performed respectably in the early going, but the Mets tagged him for three runs in the fourth inning, with three consecutive bases-loaded singles. Fortunately, Carlos Beltran hit into an inning-ending double play, leaving the game still within reach as the Phillies trailed 4-1.

Things looked bleak through six innings, as the Phillies only run came off a Chase Utley solo home run. Then in the seventh, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Jayson Werth each singled, loading the bases for Pedro Feliz. Werth was awarded a single, but could have easily been out, as his fly ball to deep center bounced off the heel of Beltran's glove, giving him a very long single and spelling the end of the night for Pelfrey. Sean Green took his place and Feliz greeted him with a single to left, scoring a run, then Carlos Ruiz chopped a grounder to David Wright. Wright could have had a routine force out at home, but he couldn't handle the ball and all runners were safe, making it a 4-3 game.

Next, Charlie Manuel made the suspect decision of bringing in Paul Bako to pinch hit for Jack Taschner. Considering Bako's career .231 batting average, it's a bit difficult to justify. Matt Stairs would have been the best option, but Manuel probably wanted to save him for later, especially since he had already used Greg Dobbs. Still, with the bases loaded and not outs, trailing by one run, Stairs should have been at the plate. Regardless, Bako stepped in and struck out, without looking especially competent. Fortunately, Jimmy Rollins came through in the next at-bat, grounding into a fielder's choice that plated the tying run. Shane Victorino then grounded out to end the inning, but the Phillies had tied the game at 4-4.

And so it would come down to the bullpens. Last year this would have easily favored the Phillies, but this year it's much closer. Chad Durbin entered in the bottom of the seventh, and the Phillies were probably hoping to get at least two innings out of him. However, he did not have his best stuff. He let the first two batters reach base and got the first out on a Fernando Tatis sacrifice bunt (his first since 2002). Durbin then intentionally walked Ryan Church to pitch to Omir Santos with one out. Santos couldn't deliver for the Mets, popping out to Utley. Manuel then turned to Scott Eyre to get the lefty pinch hitter Daniel Murphy and Eyre got the job done, getting Murphy swinging to end a trying inning.

Pedro Feliciano did his part for the Mets in the eighth, setting Utley, Howard, and Ibanez down in order, then the Phillies responded with their own lefty setup man, J.C. Romero. Romero struggled with his command, walking Alex Cora and allowing a Beltran single, but he retired Sheffield and Wright to escape the inning.

For the ninth, the Mets turned to Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and the Phillies responded with (gulp) Chan Ho Park. Park looked sharp early on, retiring Tatis and Church, but then he gave up back-to-back singles to Santos and Jeremy Reed. However, Park got out of trouble when Luis Castillo grounded to the mound, sending the game to extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, Chris Coste, in for Ruiz on a double switch, led off with a single. Rollins then followed with a rip to the right side, but it wouldn't get far. Tatis made an impressive snare of the line drive and trotted back to first for the double play. Victorino then grounded out to end the inning.

It seemed unlikely that the Phillies could get one, let alone two, scoreless innings from Park, but once again he looked good, getting Cora to ground out and then striking out Beltran. But then Fernando Martinez, pinch hitting, singled, which brought Wright to the plate. Wright hit a line drive to right-center that looked like a sure hit, and maybe even extra bases. But it was not meant to be. Jayson Werth made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning. It was a ballsy move by Werth, since, had the ball evaded him, Wright would have had extra bases and Martinez could well have scored. (Then again, was it any more risky than letting Park face another batter with runners in scoring position?)

With K-Rod done for the night, Bobby Parnell took the mound for the Mets. Parnell was greeted by Utley, who was responsible for the Phillies first run of the game, which seemed to be eons ago. Utley provided an encore, blasting the 1-0 pitch over the right field wall and giving the Phillies a 5-4 lead. Howard nearly made it 6-4 in the next at-bat, lofting a deep fly ball to the wall in left field, only to be denied extra bases as Reed made a leaping catch against the wall. Parnell would escape the inning without further harm, but the damage was done.

Fill-in closer Ryan Madson came in for the bottom of the 11th, in his first save opportunity since Lidge hit the DL, and he looked every part the dominant closer that Lidge was supposed to be this year, retiring the Mets in order, all on routine groundouts, and sealing a thrilling 5-4 Phillies victory.

As exciting as last night's game was, despite the Phillies 6-5 loss, this one managed to top it. It had a little bit of everything. Home runs, acrobatic plays in the field, and the fire that we have come to expect from this rivalry, which some would argue is currently the best in baseball.

The rubber game is tomorrow night, as Jamie Moyer takes on Tim Redding. The pitching matchup is not the best, but with these two rivals, you know it will be exciting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lidge Hits DL with Knee Sprain

Just a few days removed from blowing saves on consecutive days against the Dodgers, Brad Lidge was placed on the 15-day DL with a sprained right knee. Lidge was brilliant for the Phillies in 2008, but he has had a terrible 2009 season, with a 7.27 ERA, a 1.81 WHIP, and 6 blown saves.

Presumably Ryan Madson will take over the closer duties, making this DL stint a potential blessing in disguise. Madson has been superb in the setup role, and has two saves to his name already this year. On the season, he's got a 2.22 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, plus 13 holds. He's been especially dominant of late, not having allowed a run in 10 straight appearances.

So there's little doubt Madson can handle the closer's role. The question becomes, who will take his place as the setup man? J.C. Romero is the most obvious choice, given his track record. But Romero is far better suited to be a lefty-specialist. In his career, left-handed batters have hit just .212 against him with a .591 OPS, wheras right-handed batters have hit .272 with a .814 OPS.

Romero will undoubtedly take some of the eighth inning duties, but he won't go at it alone. Clay Condrey, who served as a long reliever and mop-up man for much of last season, is probably the best candidate to share the seventh and eighth inning duties with Romero. Condrey is having a career-year, with a 2.17 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, but relying on him in the eighth inning is a little scary, considering that his WHIP has hovered around 1.50 in virtually every other season, so a lapse in his performance could be around the corner.

Another option would be Chad Durbin, but neither his 2009 stats nor his track record suggest he would be the best fit. However, he is now in line to get more work in the sixth and seventh innings than he was before, so we'll see what kind of impact that has.

Scott Eyre should also be expected to get a few more opportunities, especially when the Phillies need him to get one or two big left-handers out. Normally this task would have fallen on Romero more often, but with Romero taking on a more generic setup role, Eyre is now officially the lefty specialist.

One thing the Phillies have going for them is bullpen depth. Durbin, Chan Ho Park, and Jack Taschner make up the back-end of the bullpen, and both Durbin and Taschner have been solid this year. Park has been a huge disappointment this year as a starter, but has shown some decent promise as a reliever and, if nothing else, he should be able to eat a few innings as a mop-up pitcher.

When placing Lidge on the DL, the Phillies made the curious decision of calling up Paul Bako to take his roster spot. This gives the Phillies three catchers, which is all well and good if Manuel wants to have the freedom to use one of them as a pinch hitter, but in this case there isn't much logic to it. Carlos Ruiz has put up superb offensive numbers of late, whereas Chris Coste has not hit very well this year. And it's not as if Bako is going to rake. He's a 36-year old career-backup with a .231 batting average and 21 HR to his name. He's mostly known as a good defensive catcher and game-caller, so there could be some value there, but isn't that what Ruiz was supposed to be even before he become a competent hitter?

This is a situation when calling up Lou Marson would've made sense, since he can hit and the Phillies would have actually wanted to use him as a pinch hitter. John Mayberry would also have been a good fit, especially with Shane Victorino a little nicked up from the Dodgers series. The only reason I can think of for bringing up Bako is that this way the Phillies can avoid wasting options on Marson and Mayberry, while allowing them to play everyday in the minor leagues. Not a terrible decision, but wouldn't any of Andy Tracy, Miguel Cairo, or David Newhan made more sense?

That said, while you never want to have your closer go down, because of the Phillies' bullpen depth and Lidge's struggles, the team may actually get better while he's out. Besides, Lidge has not been himself this year and perhaps the time off will get him healthy and mentally prepared to return to dominance.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Carlos Ruiz is a Hitting Machine. You're Welcome

Carlos Ruiz was named the player of the game in last night's 7-2 win over the Dodgers, after going 2-for-3 with a home run that effectively put the game away. Ruiz's batting average is now up to .309 - not bad for a career .250 hitter. Even more impressive is his OPS of .945, which currently ranks third-best on the team, ahead of Ryan Howard (.915). Granted, Ruiz has played in just 32 games this season, due to a trip to the 15-day DL and to receiving the typical days off given to catchers, but still, the numbers are very impressive.

The numbers particularly stand out when they are compared to his early-season performance. After the Phillies beat the Reds on May 21st, Ruiz's stats were as follows: .236 BA, .373 OBP, and a .327 SLG, combining for a .700 OPS.

But then Ruiz made a trip to the new Yankee Stadium and everything changed. In that game, Ruiz went 3-for-4 with a home run and 2 RBI and led the Phillies to a 7-3 win. The Phillies would lose the second game of the series, as Ruiz sat in favor of Chris Coste, but then in the rubber match, Ruiz went 3-for-4 again and the Phillies won 4-3.

And that wasn't all. Ruiz has been on a tear since then. Here are his numbers from that May 22nd game onward: .410 BA, .521 OBP, .769 SLG. Pretty ridiculous, especially considering Ruiz bats 8th in the lineup, so teams don't even have a good reason to throw him strikes. What's more, his offensive surge is paying dividends for the Phillies. From that first win over the Yankees through last night, the Phillies are 9-2 with Ruiz starting and 1-2 with Coste starting.

One of the two losses with Ruiz in the starting lineup, the Phillies 12-inning loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, featured Charlie Manuel pulling Ruiz for a pinch hitter (Greg Dobbs) in the 7th inning, with the Phillies trailing 1-0. This would have been a good move last year, when Dobbs was tearing it up as a pinch hitter and Ruiz was hitting in the low .200's, but Ruiz has looked better than Dobbs this season.

This was also an exceptionally poor decision because Ruiz was up with runners on second and third and one out, so a good solid piece of hitting would probably have tied the game. Ruiz would have most likely put the ball in play or drawn a walk, being a far more disciplined hitter than Dobbs. Consider that Ruiz has walked 110 times, with only 106 strikeouts in his career (19 BB, 11 K this year), while Dobbs has walked 56 times with 159 strikeouts. Lo and behold, Dobbs popped out on the second pitch of the at-bat. Of course, the next batter, Matt Stairs, delivered with two outs, ripping a double that put the Phillies ahead 2-1. The Phillies eventually lost in extra innings after Brad Lidge blew the save and Chad Durbin let in a run in the 12th.

Since the Phillies took the lead anyway, it's debatable whether or not keeping Ruiz in the game would've made a difference, but there would've been a better chance of tying the game in the first place and then perhaps building on the lead, with Stairs coming to the plate in a tie game, or maybe with the bases loaded (had Ruiz walked). But it's also worth noting that this move used up a pinch hitter needlessly; Dobbs could have been saved for later (perhaps the top of the 12th, when Durbin was forced to bat), the Phillies defense and game-calling would have been better with Ruiz, AND Ruiz would have had the two at-bats in which Coste went 0-for-2 (well technically not because Coste was batting 9th due to a double switch, but you get the idea). So, yes, pulling Ruiz might well have cost the Phillies a game.

Okay, that was an exceptionally long tangent on one game, I admit. But it further hammers home the point that Ruiz has been brilliant and yet has received no recognition for it, even from his own manager. Anyway, back to the original point.

Why, you might ask, has Ruiz transformed into a brilliant hitter? Could it be that Ruiz just loves facing the American League? He was brilliant against Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series, going .375/.500/.688. So maybe the return to an AL ballpark sparked this.

We, here at The People's Phillies Blog, have a far more enticing theory. We did it. That's right. We are responsible for Carlos Ruiz's hitting prowess.

Let me explain. On May 22nd, for the first time this year, two of the founding members of the blog, Jeff and I, attended the Phillies-Yankees game. And wouldn't you know it, Ruiz homers and starts off his incredible streak. (This is not unprecedented. A similar phenomenon occurred last year when we attended the June 3rd Phillies-Reds game. Ruiz got hot in the next 5 games he started, going 6-for-18 with a home run and 5 RBI and the Phillies won 4 of them...and yes, I cherry-picked the hell out of that.)

So now here's the real question. Since we clearly have a profound impact on how Ruiz swings the bat, do we dare make an appearance at this week's Phillies-Mets series? (In case this isn't clear to readers by this point, we are operating out of New York.) Will this ruin his hot streak, or will it propel him further to an MVP-level?

Perhaps our readers can decide. Let us know what kind of impact you think we will have on Ruiz, or any other player (for example, Russell Branyan's career took off not long after we appeared at CBP as Branyan's Companions, and then of course the Phillies won the World Series in the first year of this blog's existence). We are looking out for the best interests of the team and will act accordingly. Just know that powerful forces are at work.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bastardo Wins Debut...with a Lot of Help

For one night, Antonio Bastardo made Phillies fans (well, those who stayed up for the game) forget about Brett Myers. Facing Jake Peavy, who many fans would love to see take Myers' former (and Bastardo's current) spot in the rotation, Bastardo had an impressive debut...and Peavy got shelled.

Wins do not get much easier than they did for Bastardo tonight, as the Phillies took advantage of the flu-ridden Peavy in the top of the first, jumping out to a 4-0 lead on RBI doubles by Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, plus a Greg Dobbs sacrifice fly.

Bastardo had a little trouble finding the strike zone in the bottom of the first, throwing 13 balls out of 23 pitches, but no real harm came of it. He walked Adrian Gonzalez (not a bad strategy, frankly) and struck out two. He would run into some trouble later in the game, but nothing that would come back to haunt him. He looked impressive, sporting a live fastball that reached 95 mph and some decent off-speed stuff. The only run he surrendered was a solo homer to Gonzalez in the fifth.

It didn't hurt that Raul Ibanez had a huge day (though not unusual for him this season), going 3 for 5 with 2 HR, a double, and 5 RBI. Dobbs also homered and Bastardo left the game after six innings with an 8-1 lead.

It would, however, get a little interesting, thanks to one Chan Ho Park. Park entered in the seventh and gave up four runs, including a bases-loaded walk. The Phillies then turned to the more-reliable Chad Durbin to finish off the game. He got through an uneventful eighth inning, but loaded the bases in the ninth with two outs. Ryan Madson took Durbin's place and finished off the game in one pitch, inducing a Kevin Kouzmanoff groundout to give the Phillies their fifth straight win and a 2.5 game cushion over the Mets in the NL East.

While it was only one game, Bastardo was impressive and seemingly lessened the need to make a trade for a big name starter. Still, it's a long season and it will take a few more starts to judge if he really belongs in the majors.