Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lee Takes Center Stage, Phils lead Series 1-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind Enemy Lines

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

Okay, pencils down! Here are the results:

Brandon to Brian - Scouting the Phillies

1. What would you say the Phillies vulnerabilities are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Summarize the Phillies lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian to Brandon - Scouting the Yankees

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Summarize the Yankees lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?

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

8. How about the Yankees bench?

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

Alex Rodriguez

Most Valuable Pitcher
C.C. Sabathia

Alex Rodriguez

Bullpen pitcher
David Robertson. Watch out for him.

Phillies Links - The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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

Vintage 1980 Phillies "Comeback Kids" shirt

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

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

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

If you haven't already seen this...

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phils Power Themselves Back to the World Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillies Try to Finish Dodgers Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

NLCS Tied 1-1, Phils Head Home

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Phillies-Rockies: NLDS Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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