Gameday: Phillies (94-64) at Nationals (68-90)

Philadelphia Phillies (94-64) at Washington Nationals (68-90)

NationalsJoe Blanton (8-6, 4.94 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (1-2, 2.52)

Time: 7:05, Nationals Park
Weather:
Rainy, 66
TV: CSN
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Nationals Park is where it all began this season, where the division was won, and, tonight, the Phillies will say goodbye to Washington until next spring. That is, if the rain holds off.

With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs sewn up, the Phillies can afford to take their ease a little bit, as Charlie Manuel proved last night. Last night, Adam Dunn’s walk-off homer helped the Nats to a 2-1 victory over the Phillies’ reserve squad. Tonight is no different, as the Phillies make seven changes from their Opening Day lineup. John Mayberry gets his first start of the year, and Hero of the People Wilson Valdez returns to the lineup in relief of Chase Utley.

That patchwork squad will face lefthander Ross Detwiler, a 24-year-old making his 19th career major league start. Detwiler was picked 6th overall in 2007. In recent years, the Nats have done well drafting pitchers in the high rounds, netting Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Chad Cordero, and Jordan Zimmermann in recent years. Detwiler has not been so fortunate, struggling with his control this year. At his best, he’s a finesse lefty in the Cole Hamels mold, mixing in a decent fastball with a change-up for an out pitch, but so far, despite a nearly-even K/BB ratio, Detwiler’s gotten away with it, posting a 2.52 ERA in 25 innings. Pay attention to this guy, because when the Nationals finally put it together in a couple years, Detwiler could be one of their good young arms, along with Zimmermann and Strasburg.

There’s not a whole lot else to say about tonight’s game. Hardly anything is on the line, so sit back, relax, and be glad you’re not out there in that rain.

Today’s lineup: Rollins SS, Valdez 2B, Victorino CF, Sweeney 1B, Francisco LF, Mayberry RF, Dobbs 3B, Hoover C, Blanton P

Nugget NectarYour Gameday Beer – Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest

Today is the 60th birthday of Milwaukee Brewers owner Ken Macha, and in his honor, we’ll give you a seasonal beer from the best of the Milwaukee brewers, Jacob Leinenkugel. Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest is not as highly-touted as, say Sam Adams, but it’s a malty beer that makes you think of football, terrible weather, and pumpkin pie. Enjoy. -Michael Baumann

GO PHILLIES!



Rotation is Set; Who’s Excited?

A week or so ago, Dave Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News mapped out the Phillies possibilities for the NLDS. Open door #1 and you’ll start the divisional series on Wednesday October 6 with two off days during a five game series. Door #2 gave you a later start, but with less off days in between. The choice was clear.

We now know that Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee, among others, have chosen to go with the early Wednesday start. It’s was really the only call because it allows the Phillies to use Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt throughout the five games without using a fourth starter. Manuel has said all along that his strength is pitching, so he’ll ride with what got him here.

Here is a look at the schedule from here until the postseason. How can that not get you excited? Three pitchers who combined to go 20-7 in 33 starts since Roy Oswalt’s acquisition in July get to pitch over and over and over again.

NLDS

Oct. 6 – Game 1 – Halladay
Oct. 7 – Off
Oct. 8 – Game 2 – Hamels
Oct. 9 – Off
Oct. 10 – Game 3 – Oswalt
Oct. 11 – Game 4 – Halladay (Normal Rest)
Oct. 12 – Off
Oct. 13 – Game 5 – Hamels (Normal Rest)

NLCS

Oct. 16 – Game 1 – Halladay
Oct. 17 – Game 2 – Hamels
Oct. 18 – Off
Oct. 19 – Game 3 – Oswalt
Oct. 20 – Game 4 – Blanton
Oct. 21 – Game 5 – Halladay
Oct. 22 – Off
Oct. 23 – Game 6 – Hamels
Oct. 24 – Game 7 – Oswalt

World Series

Oct. 27 – Game 1 – Halladay
Oct. 28 – Game 2 – Hamels
Oct. 29 – Off
Oct. 30 – Game 3 – Oswalt
Oct. 31 – Game 4 – Blanton
Nov. 1 – Game 5 – Halladay
Nov. 2 – Off
Nov. 3 – Game 6 – Hamels
Nov. 4 – Game 7 – Oswalt

It also appears that we’ve seen the last of the Big 3 in the regular season. Halladay last pitched on Monday in the clincher meaning he’ll get eight days to rest. You have to wonder, and this is not a push of the panic button by any means, but will that throw Halladay off kilter? He’s a creature of habit, perhaps more than any other Phillies player. Will an eight-day layoff hurt him or help him? Just playing devils advocate.

If you watched any baseball last night, you’ll know that the Cincinnati Reds are now in after their division-clinching victory. San Francisco also won to take a two-game lead in the NL West over the Padres. In the race for second place, the Giants are a half game up on wild-card leader Atlanta. Cincinnati is a game back.

So, if the playoffs ended right now, the Reds would be the Phillies first round opponent. During the regular season, the Phils went 5-2 over Cincy, including a four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park in July.

Cincinnati or San Francisco? Who would you rather see? The Reds have a potent offense with a middle-of-the-road rotation. The Giants have great arms at the top – one of the only teams that can rival the Phillies – but lack offense.

UPDATE, 9:25 am: A comment from a Phillies Nation fan on twitter sparked this. If Hamels were to pitch Game 2 of the NLCS, he would be doing so on short rest. If Oswalt were to stay in the Game 3 NLCS slot, He’d be pitching on eight days rest. The solution: flip Hamels to a possible Game 3 start in the NLCS and Oswalt to Game 2. However, that point would be moot should the Phillies wrap up the opening series in less than five games. This layout is simply to say that each pitcher could get a maximum number of starts throughout the postseason.



Phils Lose to Nats on Hangover Day

There was a game played today? How dare they. After the champagne was cleaned up (although Matt Gelb of the Inquirer said there was a candle lit in the clubhouse and it still smelled of bubbly and stogies) the Phillies and Nationals got together for game two of a now-meaningless series. The Nats won 2-1 tonight on an Adam Dunn walkoff blast in the ninth, causing a celebration of sorts for the cellar dwelling neighbors to the south.

Roy Oswalt got the start and didn’t last very long before Charlie Manuel pulled the plug on his outing. He was stopped at just 66 pitches in an effort to keep him fresh for either Game 1 or Game 2 of the National League Division Series which begins next Wednesday. The over/under set by myself was at 70, so whoever had the under won nothing. For the playoffs, Slot #1 is reserved for Mr. Halladay, but beyond that, the order is not known.

Anywho, Oswalt was nice again tonight, throwing five innings and allowing no earned runs. Washington scored in the first inning after a Jimmy Rollins error on an attempted run-down play. Rollins threw the ball past Greg Dobbs as they tried to get Nyjer Morgan between second and third. Morgan would score a batter later on a ground out by Dunn.

Dunn would strike early and then again late with his 38th home run off Jose Contreras, an absolute missile well into the second deck.

Now on to more important things, such as the health of their shortstop Jimmy Rollins. J-Roll made his return to the starting lineup for the first time since September 8, going 1-for-3 with a few weak ground outs to first base. He said later that he probably wouldn’t be healthy until February, noting that legging out infield singles will have to wait until then. But as long as Rollins can maneuver in the field and give the Phils some clutchness in the postseason, it’s all you can ask for.

Few other notes: Dom Brown stole two bases tonight, flashing some speed that we hope to see next year. Placido Polanco got the night off and likely will have every night off until next Wednesday. He’s expected to have another cortisone shot in his bad elbow, which should help him get through October. Greg Dobbs went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts – he did not make a case for a spot on the postseason roster with another ugly performance. If it comes down to Brown and Dobbs, who do you take?



Gameday: Mets (74-79) at Phillies (93-61)

New York Mets (74-79) at Philadelphia Phillies (93-61)

Atlanta BravesDillon Gee, RHP (1-1, 1.80 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick, RHP (10-9, 4.78 ERA)

Time: 7:05, Citizens Bank Park
Weather:
Clear, 80
TV: CSN
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It doesn’t seem that long ago when beat writers and reporters were using words like ‘must-win’ and ‘crucial’ when describing upcoming Phillies games.  Now while the crown is still up for grabs, the Phillies are on fire.  Their magic number to clinch the NL East is two and they are showing no signs of slowing down.

It was hard to even think the Phillies would have a magic number back in July when they were seven games back behind the Atlanta Braves in the division.  However, the Phillies have completed flipped those numbers going 45-15 since July 22 and have built a 6.5 game lead heading into the last week of the season.

The Phillies can come one game closer to clinching by knocking off the Mets in the second game of this three game series tonight.  They will be looking to Kyle Kendrick (10-9, 4.78) to get the job done.  Kendrick could be making his last start of the season, depending how Charlie Manuel sets up his rotation for a likely playoff berth.

Kendrick has been your typical 5th starter all year long.  Inconsistency has troubled the young right hander in his last couple of outings.  He only has three wins in his last seven starts going an average of 5+ innings and giving up a little over three runs a game.  The offense will once again be asked to pick up the slack.  Something they have had no problem doing over this current 11 game winning streak.

Shane Victorino is hitting .385 against the Mets in 13 games collecting 12 hits and three homeruns.  However, those stats won’t mean anything going into tonight.  The Phillies will be facing Mets’ rookie pitcher Dillon Gee (1-1. 1.80).  Gee is making just his fourth start of his career and faces probably his toughest opponent yet.

The Phillies have the best record in all of baseball and have won 20 of their last 23 games.  They are streaking to a fourth consecutive NL East title and looking to represent the National League in the World Series for a third straight year.

Today’s lineup: Victorino CF, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Werth RF, Ibanez LF, Ruiz C, Valdez SS, Kendrick P

Your gameday beer: Yards Love Stout
Victory LagerAnything from Yards is a friend of mine. They just make damn good beers. My favorite is Yards ESA, but this Love Stout is intriguing. Right now, it’s cask conditioned at Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philadelphia, another enticing factor. Since I’v never tried the Love Stout, I can’t say first hand how it looks or tastes. But by all accounts, it’s a very dark beer with a dark head that has a chocolate and coffee aroma. For you java lovers, this could be gold. If your in Philly, get down to the Grey Lodge and order a burger med-well with one of these and enjoy the game. -Pat Gallen

GO PHILLIES!



A few too many for The Doc?

Is there such thing as too much of a good thing? When it comes to Roy Halladay’s performance on Tuesday, there is sure to be some debate.

Halladay went the distance in a 2-1 loss to the Pirates, throwing 132 pitches in the process. The pitch count was the highest of any pitcher in the majors this season.

On one side, Halladay is still better on pitch 132 than anyone Charlie Manuel has waiting in the bullpen. On the other, it’s still May and a 50 degree night hardly seems like the ideal time to stretch out the most important part of your rotation.

I have always thought that pitch counts are overrated, but personally I wouldn’t have brought Halladay in to start the 9th. He was pitching to keep the Phillies’ deficit at one, rather than to protect a lead. If the Phillies were winning 2-1, I would be much more supportive of the move.

But I’m not managing in the big leagues. Manuel has said in the past that there isn’t much difference in one of his guys throwing 105 pitches and 120, so I guess he doesn’t view 132 as much higher than, say, 110.

I’m sure Manuel was banking on the fact that Halladay has proven to be one of the most durable pitchers in the game. That hasn’t changed as he has aged so there is no reason to start thinking it will now. Of coarse if Doc leaves his next start early with elbow stiffness the media will be all over Manuel’s decision.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.



Take it away Tom Hanks

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel earned some points from fans this week, telling the Rockies to stop crying about his team stealing signs. Now the Rockies and their manager are fighting back.

Bellow is an excerpt from an Associated Press report:

Rockies manager Jim Tracy is still fuming over the Philadelphia Phillies using binoculars in the bullpen.

Before Colorado played Washington Thursday, Tracy took exception to a comment he read in which Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was quoted as saying “keep crying.”

Tracy said: “We don’t cry here. I want to make that clear right now. We work very hard.”

The Phillies insisted Wednesday they weren’t trying to steal signs when bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was caught on camera peering through binoculars from the bullpen bench at Coors Field on Monday.

Asked what he considered crossing the lines in baseball, Tracy said, “using binoculars, that’s crossing the line.”

This story is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Unfortunately there means there will likely be more crying on the way. And we all know how Tom Hanks feels about crying in baseball …



Reasons to care about Wednesday’s exhibition game

Are you are having a tough time getting pumped up for the Phillies first Spring Training contest tomorrow?

Well, lets fix that.

Sure we might not see Ryan Howard hit any bombs or Roy Halladay throw a few flame balls, but there is still enough going on to keep the attention of hardecore baseball fans.

Philly.com Phillies beat writer Andy Martino points out several things of interest heading into Philadelphia’s clash with Florida State. Bellow are his thoughts:

Points of interest for the exhibition include J.A. Happ’s new two-seam fastball.  The lefty is playing with the sinker to augment his four-seam fastball, cutter, change-up and curveball. As with all spring training pitch additions, he will work it in for a while before deciding whether to take it north.  So that’s something to watch.

–Phillippe Aumont, the centerpiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle last winter, is also among the scheduled pitchers. The 21-year-old righthander said that he would focus on honing his mechanics and pitches.  Aumont is known for a power sinker; he also throws a four-seam fastball, curveball and change-up.  He considers the curveball a strength and the change-up a work-in-progress.

Aumont also said that he would try to develop those pitches without feeling pressure to succeed immediately, despite his importance to the organization and role in the controversial Lee trade.  “The know what I am capable of,” he said.  “They know what I need to work on.  Obviously, though, you could have fans or other players saying, ‘oh, look at this guy. This guy got traded for Cliff Lee, he’s not worth it.’ Whatever.  There are others who are going to understand that I’m still pretty young and trying to learn.”

–Charlie Manuel said that center fielder Shane Victorino would not play tomorrow. Victorino has mild soreness in his shoulder.  He played long-toss at 120 feet this morning and worked in the batting cage. Manuel said that he considered using Victorino as the designated hitter, but decided to grant a full day’s rest instead.

It may not be able to compete with World Series action, but it’s enough to get my blood flowing. Baseball will once again be underway.



Gearing up to go for 4 in a row

Thank God, baseball is back ! 

Pitchers and Catchers reported a day early as the Phillies get geared up to try to make it 4 in a row.  The role that used to belong to the Atlanta Braves as the perennial team to beat seems to have been handed over to our Phitens.   The Braves and Marlins both made off season moves that indicate the team in their sights is in fact the Phillies.  The Mets also signed Jason Bay for 66 million for four years to improve their chances at being competative.  They may finish 15 games out instead of 24, but will never seriously challenge.

I believe this year the race is a two team one.  The Braves and the Phillies, although unlike most of the late eighties through early this century, the Phillies are the team with the slight edge prior to the start of the season, thanks in part to their off season acquisition of Roy Holliday, the pitcher many expected them to sign when they ”settled on” Cliff Lee last year.

I LOVED Lee.

I respect the man as a pitcher and a player, and think he did amazing things for the Phillies, especially in his first 6 starts after the trade, and through the 2009 playoffs and World Series.

But seriously, as good as he was, the Phillies are markedly better with Halliday in the rotation.

The Phillies finished the season last year first in runs, and slugging, second in stolen bases and on base percentage.  They hit a team record 224 home runs as well.  They finished 6th in ERA.  So the obvious place for manager Charlie Manuel to focus on improvement was at pitcher. 

Some improvement may have occurred without management intevention, one thing in particular being right knee surgery to 33 year old closer Brad Lidge.  He may startle some with a year closer resembling his stellar 2008 after a lackluster 2009.  He contributed to both the Phillies 3rd straight National League East title as well as their World Series loss.  He has been quoted as saying he wants to end the season on Broad Street again, obviously with different results.  A repaired right knee may allow him to complete his follow through more quickly as well as hold runners on base better, two things he was unable to do at his normal level of competance at the close of last season, when it mattered most.

 So it is starting to take shape here, the 2010 pitching rotation.  Cole Hamels as the throwback Ace.  Roy Halliday as the entering Ace.  Jose Contreras as the Ace in waiting.   J A Happ as the rookie phenom.   Joe Blanton as the workhorse.   Madsen and Baez as middle relief.   Romero, Kenrick and Durbin as the bullpen crew.  Brad Lidge as THE CLOSER (Goat or hero, depending on which Lidge we get apparently)

With much of the offense returning intact, notable exception being the addition of Placido Polanco, these Phillies should once again chase the 100 win mark.  I, for one, can hardly wait for opening day.  Unlike last year when I was exiled to the deep south, this year, I will be there in person to watch my favorite sports team of all time take to the field.



Road to a Dynasty is going to cost $$$

If the Phillies want to become a dynasty, I offer 5 suggestions to send them on their way. They have a good balanced ball club, one that has won the National League east three times in a row, been to 2 World Series and won one. That is a good 500 or so games for the team. But to truly become a dynasty, they need to sustain this level of play for 1000 or so more games.

That is tough in an arbitration filled, salary capped, league unless they plan on spending half a billion dollars each and every off season like the Yankees seem to do. Frankly, as much support as the Phillies get, I still  don’t think they can afford to do this, and I doubt the fans will support them spending that kind of money in the city of brotherly love unless they become perennial champions first.

But short of spending billions there are a few steps they can take to ensure success for years to come, simply by adding the right pieces to the existing nucleus of this years club and securing the worthy pieces they already have in the fold to make sure they don’t find greener pastures elsewhere.   Chase Utley was ranked the 6th best player in baseball, Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard should be in the top ten as well. Cliff Lee is a top five pitcher, and Cole Hamels is probably a top ten pitcher, JA Happ is the runner up rookie of the year.  Beyond that, the team is really a group of utility players, position players, run producers and role models.

In addition to this strong nucleus, now that trading season has begun, here is what I would do if I were Ruben Amaro.

1.) I would do whatever it takes to sign Placido Polanco to play third base next year.  5 years for $40 million perhaps.

2.) I would sign Omar Vizquel to replace Bruntlett as the end all-be all utility middle infielder.  4 years for $10 million.

3.) I would sign Ryan Howard up for the rest of his career, with a rich contract full of performance bonuses and incentives, this is the guy who hits 40 homeruns, drives in 140-150 runs, scores another 100 and has a strikeout total that is dropping and a fielding percentage that is rising.  This is a motivated player, 2005 rookie of the year, 2006 MVP, and in my opinion 2008 MVP as well; we CANNOT let him go.  He has three years secured right now, that leaves him a 32 year old in his prime either arbitrating or shopping himself as a free agent.  Wrong !!  He should get something in the 9 figure area now that he proved himself for the fourth straight year, remember he was asking for $18 million a year, before accepting a three year buyout deal in February for $54 million, but is entitled to  Texiera/ARod/Jeter type money and will go get it elsewhere in 2012 if he doesnt get it here.   Figure 5-6 more years at $130 million.

4.) I would sign Jimmy Rollins for another 5 years, slightly sweeter than his previous 2005 deal, to keep him in the leadoff role through 2015.  Figure $40 million here.

5.) I would sign Victorino to a long term contract as well.  Shane and Rollins are looking to be perennial run scoring gold glove machines, and having them 1-2 or 1-3 or whatever in the lineup in front of Utley, Howard and Werth means opposing pitchers dont stand a chance.  You can lock down Shane for $10 million for 4 years.  $40 more million.

Also, I would tie up Chan Ho Park with a multi year deal.  Park is by far the best deal for the money, and a known prospect who performed as well as any other bullpen hopefuls the Phillies are looking at.  $10 million ?  It seems a lot but in baseball salary terms, a drop in the bucket !

Think of it, Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Polanco, Ibanez, Werth, Ruiz, with Francisco, and Vizquel occasionally spotting the starters makes one hell of a lineup.   Everyone of those guys could score 100, drive in 100, hit 30 doubles, 20 homeruns,  steal 20 bases, and have an OPS  between .600 and .900.

Then you have Lee, Hamels, Blanton, and Happ as a four man rotation with Park, Madsen, Eyre, Durbin and probably Lidge since Charlie loves the guy in relief. Who thinks that group WON”T win 100 games next year ? And using these numbers plus those already signed onto contracts, that still places you around 8th in the league in overall payroll.

Because I can sense a dynasty in the making, I only hope Amaro and Manuel sense the same thing and are committed to spending the resources to make it happen.  It won’t be billions but it WILL be $250,000,000 +.   But think of it, $250 million is less than the largest contract in baseball for one person, and it secures a championship caliber TEAM potential through 2015 or so !!  The key is to do it now, and get it done, and then reap the rewards for the next 5-8 years to come.   The fans in Philadelphia are long suffering and certainly deserve it !



Phillies win Game 5, keep title hopes alive

Even with six run lead heading into the eighth inning it wasn’t easy for the Philadelphia Phillies.

In the end, though, Philly got exactly what it needed. Game Six is on the way.

Chase Utley pounded two home runs and Ryan Madson pitched a shaky ninth inning to close out an 8-6 victory for Philadelphia.

The Phillies offense got going, pounding out six runs over the first three innings off New York starter A.J. Burnett.

Phils’ ace Cliff Lee was in control until the eighth, when the Yankees knocked him out by plating three runs and making it an 8-5 game.

With the lead at three Charlie Manuel opted to stay away from struggling closer Brad Lidge and go with Madson. Although it wasn’t easy, Madson did the job and the World Series is going back to New York.

Tuesday will be an off day as Game 6 s slated for Wednesday night.

The Phillies are still down, but are very much alive.

This World Series isn’t over by a long shot.

Game Highlights:

-      Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning, Utley hit a three-run home run that electrified the Citizens Bank Park crowd and gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

-      Philadelphia kept the offense coming in the third. After  Utley and Ryan Howard walked to lead off the inning, Jayson Werth ripped an RBI single that plated Utley. Raul Ibanez followed with an RBI single that chased A.J. Burnett after just two-plus innings. Carlos Ruiz then added an RBI groundout, giving the Phillies a 6-1 lead.

    Utley and Ibanez each hit a solo home run in the eighth inning to push the score to 8-2.

-     Cliff Lee pitched seven strong innings, but faltered in the eighth, allowing three runs, two of which came on a Alex Rodriguez double.

-      In the ninth, Jorge Posada greeted Madson with a double and Hideki Matsui to put runners on the corners. Representing the tying run, Derek Jeter bounced into a 4-6-3 double play that plated Jorge Posada, but put a big dent in the Yankees rally. With two outs Johnny Damon singled up the middle, bringing Mark Teixeira to the plate. Mired in a slump all World Series, Teixeira struck out to end the game.



No one is laughing at Charlie Manuel now

It wasn’t so long ago that Charlie Manuel was looked at as a laughing stock in this area.

Manuel, the Phillies skipper, seemed to know nothing about National League baseball after spending his entire career in the American League as the manager of the Cleveland Indians.

Two years into his term with the Phillies it looked as though Manuel still didn’t understand how to properly execute a double switch – something Little League managers could figure out.

Manuel’s speech was Southern and slurred he had trouble putting two sentences together and hardly seemed like a motivator.

It got so bad that 610 jockey Howard Eskin nearly got in a fight with “Uncle Charlie” during a press conference halfway through the 2008 season.

People laughed at Manuel.

No one is laughing any more.

While he is still much the same coach he was when he came to Philadelphia after the 2004 season, Manuel has led the team to consecutive World Series appearances. Beginning Wednesday, Manuel and the Phils will face either the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Angels in what they hope will be the first of four necessary wins to become two-time World Champions.

Charlie has always been loved by his players, even when he wasn’t by the fans. You see the players talking and joking with Manuel in the dugout during the game, something you would never see with some of the stricter managers such as Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, both of whom are back home watching.

It is hard to say exactly what Manuel does as a manager. In fact, baseball managers as a whole are tough to figure out. They don’t design plays like basketball or football coaches and they don’t shuffle lines like a hockey general.

Pitching coaches deal with issues that come up with the rotation and bullpen and base coaches deal with the tough decisions of when to send a runner. Sure some baseball managers call signs for pitches (most leave that to the catcher) and put on calls such as bunts and hit-and-runs.

But maybe the biggest responsibility of a baseball manager is controlling the clubhouse and making sure everyone on the team is on the same page.

In that area, Manuel excels.

You hear nothing but good things about Manuel from his players. The coach is willing to listen to his players at any time and they are willing to listen to him. Manuel doesn’t care about the spotlight; he leaves that to the players. When it is time to celebrate, Manuel shakes a few hands, gives a few hugs and goes back to his office.

Manuel is far from perfect. He makes mistakes from time to time like he did in NLCS Game 2, when he decided to take out Pedro Martinez after seven dominant innings that produced a 1-0 lead, which turned into a loss.

Manuel had a plan that game and he was going to stick to it. He didn’t want Martinez to go past 90 or so pitches and he wasn’t going to change that, no matter the circumstances.

But that’s Charlie. He’s the same guy who wouldn’t replace Brad Lidge when 99 percent of the fan base and media thought it was the right thing to do. He understands things the rest of us don’t.

Manuel may never be the best tactical manager in baseball and he certainly won’t become the greatest speaker.

Instead he will continue to be the same laidback, friendly guy that puts out a plan and stays with it.

In other words, he will continue to be the perfect manager for the Phillies.



Phillies and Dodgers set for NLCS showdown

Tonight begins the next step in the Philadelphia Phillies quest to repeat as World Series champions. The Phils take on the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight at 8:07 p.m. in the first game of a best-of-seven NLCS series. Last year the Phillies beat the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, but how will they fair this year?

 He is a breakdown of how the match up:

 Phillies Pitching:

Game 1: Cole Hamels: The lefty has had his ups and downs this season and was less than stellar in his outing against the Rockies. Against the Dodgers, however, he has been dominant. In his two starts against them this season, Hamels posted a 1-0 mark with a 0.56 ERA. He also struck out 14 while walking just one. And who can forget last year’s NLCS where Hamels went 2-0, including winning the series clincher in Game 5 and being honored as the series MVP.

Game 2: While it has yet to be confirmed by Charlie Manuel, Phillies.com is reporting that veteran Pedro Martinez will get the nod. It is hard to predict hat Pedro will do in his first playoff outing since he was in a Red Sox uniform.

Game 3: Cliff Lee will return to the mound on his regular day of rest and look to continue what has been a marvelous postseason. Lee has allowed just two earned runs in 16-plus innings of work this postseason and is making it clear that he is indeed an ace.

Game 4: The Phillies will trot either J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton out to the mound. Manuel’s decision may come down to which of the two he needs to use out of the bullpen in the first three games of the series. Blanton has the experience of pitching against the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, but my guess is that Happ will get the nod here.

 

Dodgers pitching:

Game 1: Clayton Kershaw: One of the top young pitchers in the game, Kershaw has the kind of stuff that can cause nightmares for hitters. Against the Phillies, that has yet to be seen though. He has a 5.23 ERA in two starts against the Phils this year.

Game 2: Vicente Padilla: The first of the two former Phillies pitchers to take the mound in the series, Padilla has done surprisingly well with the West Coast squad. Acquired in a midseason trade with Texas, Padilla has pitched eight games for L.A., going 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA.

Game 3: Hirokia Kuroda: Kuroda was the only Dodgers pitcher to record a win against the Phillies in last year’s NLCS. He was mediocre this season going just 8-7.

Game 4: Randy Wolf: It is hard to believe that Wolf has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Dodgers, going 12-7 with a 3.23 ERA. A left-hander, Wolf could be a dangerous pitcher in this series.

Phillies lineup:

There are no surprises when Charlie Manuel brings out the lineup card during the postseason. Just as was the case in four NLDS games, the Phillies will go with Jimmie Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. It is a lineup that as worked for the Phils for the majority of the year.

While Rollins has had a down year by his standards, the career years from Ibanez ad Werth have easily offset that. Werth has joined Utley and Howard to become one of the most feared middle-of-the-order trios in all of baseball.

Philadelphia’s lineup showed in Game 4 against the Rockies, that trailing in the ninth inning on the road is not anything its lineup can not overcome. Despite the team’s strikeout tendencies, one would be hard-pressed to find a better lineup in the National League.

Dodgers lineup: Joe Tore likes to play with the lineup from time to time, but for Game 1 the Phillies will see Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Casey Blake and Russell Martin.

Like Werth, Ethier had a breakout season, posting 31 homers and 106 RBIs. He has been the type of hitter that when paired with Ramirez can bring flashbacks to the Many-Big Pappy years. You don’t want to face that part of the order with the game on the line. Kemp has also been solid, providing great defense in centerfield, while hitting .297 with 26 home runs.

The big letdown for the Dodgers has been the downfall of Martin, who even until last year was one of the top hitting catchers in baseball. This season, Martin’s power disappeared and he hit just seven home runs and limped to a .250 average.

The rest of the Dodgers lineup is solid, although the Phillies should certainly be happy not have to see Jeff Kent anymore.

The Bullpen:

The Phillies: This has been a sore spot for most of the season and has been predicted to be the reason the Phillies don’t repeat as World Champions. The good news is that closer Brad Lidge showed signs of finding his old form, picking up two saves in the NLDS (even if one of them was of the one-out variety). Also promising is that left-hander Scott Eyre appears to be fie after his stumble in Game 4. The bullpen still leaves much to be desired, though, as Ran Madson continues to be hit and miss and it is still impossible to know what can be expected of Brett Myers.

The Dodgers: A team strength all season, the Dodgers’ bullpen really became solidified when the team acquired left-hander George Sherrill from the Orioles at the trade deadline. Sherrill has been remarkable since the trade, posting a 0.65 ERA in 20 appearances. He has also yet to allow a home run to a left-handed batter. Expect to see him in each game this season. The Dodgers have several other quality arms to go to in late innings as they look to get the ball to hard-throwing Jonathan Broxton. The Los Angeles closer had 114 strikeouts in 72 innings, but the Phillies have had success of him in the past, including last postseason.

The Bench:

The Phillies: While there has been little to celebrate about the Phils bench this year, it is impossible not to think of Matt Stairs’ eighth inning, two-out, two-run home run that beat the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2008 postseason. The Phillies know what they get when they send Stairs up to the plate and they will deal with his well-below par .194 average. The rest of the bench doesn’t offer much as Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo and Paul Bako leave a lot to be desired. Ben Francisco is a wildcard, as he has pop in his bat and his late-inning defense is valuable, as evidenced by his diving catch late in Game 4 of the NLDS.

The Dodgers: Like the Phillies with Stairs, the Dodgers have a long ball threat in Jim Thome. Though he is not the player he once was, the Thome can still hit the ball out of the park. Orlando Hudson may also come off the bench from in a couple games as Torre has been giving more starting time to Ronnie Belliard at second than expected. The Dodges also have veterans Juan Pierre Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus.

Prediction: While the Dodgers have the better bullpen and better depth, the Phillies have a better rotation and a more dangerous lineup. A lot of people see this series going all seven games. The two big factors for the Phillies in this series will be the performances of Hamels and Pedro. Can Cole continue his dominance over the Dodgers and can Pedro muster up one more gem? If they can this series could be short. My guess is that one of them slips up but the Phillies have more-than enough to close out the Dodgers in six games.



Phillies beat Rockies, advance to NLCS

It was everything that October baseball is supposed to be.

The Philadelphia Phillies showed once again why they are “Must See TV” pulling out a dramatic victory that sent them back to the NLCS and put them one step closer to repeating as World Champions.

After giving up three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and facing the prospect of coming home for a Game 5, the Phillies staged one of the greatest ninth innings in team history, coming back to defeat the Colorado Rockies, 5-4 at a chilly Coors Field. With two outs and two on Ryan Howard sent a Houston Street offering to the right field wall, scoring Shane Victorino and Chase Utley with the tying runs. Jayson Werth followed with a bloop single to right center, which plated Howard and gave the Phillies a lead that seemed so improbable just minutes earlier.

All that was left was the save, and as is always the case, it wasn’t easy. Scott Eyre record two outs, but allowed two base runners, prompting Charlie Manuel to go to Brad Lidge for the 27th out.

Lidge got the dangerous Troy Tulowitzki swinging and yet another celebration was on.

Monday’s contest was a game that showed everything that is great about baseball and great about the Phillies. Even after Ryan Madson wasted a great performance by starter Cliff Lee by allowing three runs to score in the eighth, the Phils refused to go down.

Ryan Howard told his teammates to get him a chance to hit in the ninth because he would deliver. Then he came out and did it.

Lee again showed that h is capable of delivering in the postseason, throwing 7 1/3 innings, allowing three runs, though just one scored while he was on the mound. His stuff kept Rockies hitters off-balanced all game. If Lee continues to pitch this well and the Phils continue to win, Ruben Amaro Jr. may bring home an Executive of the Year award for landing Lee instead of giving up the farm for Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay.

Of course the job is not finished yet. As great as Monday night’s win was, its historical impact will only be great if the Phillies can get back to the World Series and compete for another ring.

That brings us to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies opponent starting on Thursday. The Dodgers thought they were destined to win a title last year, but the Phillies got in the way. Now they will be looking for revenge.

They won’t have to look far, though. The Phillies are a team that will not be intimidated. They provided evidence of that last night by winning on the road when trailing in the ninth inning.

This series has all the makings of a classic and Phillysportsblogs will be here to break it down for you over the next few days.

Monday marked the second time this month the Phillies got to celebrate in grand fashion.

Let’s hope for two more.



Phillies starting pitcher report card 2009

The Phillies and Rockies are deadlocked at 1-1 after the first two games at Citizens Bank park, and now they are off to chilly Colorado.   The talk this year has focused on the Phillies pitching.  Everyone seems to agree the offense and defense are good enough to repeat as World Series champions, but the jury is still out on the pitching staff.  On an off day with no game scheduled, I am taking this time to review the Phillies pitchers; today the starters get their grades for the regular season.

It was a strange year.  Only four Phillies even qualified as starters.  Two midseason pickups have to be factored into the mix.   Two of last seasons standouts made no difference on the 2009 season.  Last years heroes are potentially this years goats.  So here we go.

Definition of starters.  For purposes of this evaluation, we can consider 6 Phillies pitchers as starters this year.  Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton were the only two that started start to finish, had 30 or more games played with 150 innings or more.  Jamie Moyer started off as a starter and ended in the pen, JA Happ started in the pen and ended as a starter. Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez arrived in midseason and started all the games they appeared in the regular season with decidedly mixed results.

Hamels was the best pitcher on the team last year finishing 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA and the much talked about WS MVP award.  Jamie Moyer was a close second, actually leading the team in wins but with a slightly higher ERA and less impact in the post season, finishing 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA.   Both saw their numbers drop off this year, Hamels finishing below .500 at 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA and Moyer finished in the bullpen with an overall record of  12-10 and an ERA of 4.94, but some of those statistics were accomplished as a reliever.

Happ and Blanton pitched little in the championship year, but finished tied for the team lead in wins along with Jamie Moyer this year.  Happ only started 4 games late in their championship run, was officially a rookie in 2009 and starred at 12-4 with an ERA of 2.93, to lead all starters.  Blanton started all year this year after being the Phillies mid season acquistion last year and starting in 13 games, this year finishing 12-10 with an ERA of 4.05.   Both these pitchers showed remarkable improvement over last years statistics. 

Brett Myers and Adam Eaton both factored in 2008, Myers was a non factor in 2009 and Eaton is no longer on the team.  These two were effectively replaced in the line up by Martinez and Lee.   Pedro is still a cypher, starting 9 games and going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA but leaving three games very early and only pitching 44 innings for the Phillies this year.  Lee was more productive, but even more confusing as he went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA; at first unbeatable, then going to average and returning to very good to close the season.  And we all saw what he did in his first postseason start pitching a 6 hit complete game for the victory but that doesnt count toward his regular season grade.

So that’s their numbers.  Now, how to grade their productivity and effectiveness ?  The overall staff needs to have a high B grade in my opinion to make a concerted World Series run.  So how do this years Phillies starters, hopefuls, and part timers stack up?

I think we all have to agree Lee gets an A.  he showed us something in his first few starts after the trade and didn’t back down when he saw his stats tail off in late August, probably the result of a tired arm.

Happ has to get an A.  As a rookie, he did something no Phillie starter has done in 50 years, win 12 games; and he started in the bullpen, so he accomplished this feat in 3/4 of a season.

Blanton gets a B, finishing 4 games above .500 but with an ERA over 4.  to get the A grade, I really think your ERA needs to be in the low to mid 3′s. 

I give Hamels a B-, if his W/L percentage had dropped and he had maintained last years ERA I would grade him higher, but he seemed much less effective in the big games this year and he too finished with an ERA above 4.

Moyer gets a B- as well, and this grade would have been lower if he had not led the Phillies in wins (or co-led) for the second straight year, combined with his professional attitude when he was demoted to the bullpen after being plagued with  a 5+ ERA most the year.

Martinez is the hardest to grade, and I would have to give him a C+, only because his grade really should be an incomplete, with 44 innings pitched and only 3 quality starts in half a season with the team. 

This puts the Phillies 6 supposed starters at a cumulative grade right around a B.  Maybe good enough to do it, but I would feel better if the newest Phillies were either more tested in the postseason (Lee) or more proven in their starts this year (Martinez)  Without a lot to go on, it is hard to tell how they will perform when the pressure is on, but it looks like Manuel may start Pedro in game 3 tomorrow so we will get a chance to see if he shines as well as Lee surprised everyone after being awarded the Game 1 start earlier this week.

Expect a review and grades on the Phillies middle relief and closers in an article to follow in the next few days.  They are an enigmatic group, even harder to evaluate, and with a lot more up and down and movement in and out of the core group than the starters, if that can be believed !  I look forward to watching the rest of the NLDS and feel confident the Phillies won’t let us down on their brief trip to Colorado.   Go Phillies !



Post Party Blues

The past two nights the Phillies are looking like a team that gave it’s all to clinch the division and are not all that concerned about home field advantage for the championship series.  With the exception of another towering homerun by Howard in the bottom of the first (his 44th) the Phillies offense was flat.  Joe Blanton looked equally flat as he allowed 5 runs in 6 plus innings and never seemed to be on top of his delivery. 

Charlie Manuel rested Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino took over the leadoff spot for the night and went 1 for four.  Tracy got his 4th pinch hit in the 7th inning, but was stranded on base as were all the Phillies that reached base after that one blast from Howard.  The real story was the bullpen auditions that occurred after Blanton handed it over and took a seat.  

All the writers on this blog have commented time and time again about the dire situation looming in the Phillies bullpen that will almost certainly factor into whether this team can repeat as world champions this year.  We know they can hit, and we know there are at least four quality starters, and we know they are an experienced, good fielding team. 

One also can not help but notice that the relief pitchers loaded the bases two innings in a row, and gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk.  If not for several good fielding plays, this game would have been a rout.  As it was the 7-2 final score hardly made the Phillies appear to be a 92 win team poised to go to the playoffs.    

The bullpen has had a revolving door on it this year, after being one of the primary reasons for the Phillies success last year.  The only reason they were able to clinch the division was due to the strength of the offense. 

Tonight the Phillies utilized Eyre, Condrey, and new call up Escalona, and finally Durbin, once the game was out of reach, even for our hard hitting Phillies.  None of them were particularly effective in doing their job.  It is hard to say who can provide middle relief and who can close for this team at this point.   I do know the combination of a slow offensive start with a weak bullpen as was evidenced the past two nights can only spell disaster for the Phillies playoff hopes. 

Tomorrow I will be reviewing all the remaining ptichers statistically, how they match up against right and left handers, and give you my vote for middle reliever and closer.  I must say, with the loss of Moyer and Romero in the past week, the pickings will be slim.   It is almost a sure thing that Happ will have to play some sort of role in the post season, and it is possible that his move back to the bullpen, if it happens, could prove to be the action that propels him to a possible MVP with a Phillies series victory. 

When was the last time a rookie won MVP ?  Has it ever happened ? Wouldn’t that be the follow up to last years championship run, to do it again with the help of a young, untested rookie pitcher who steps in at the last minute to carry the closer load on his shoulders ?  I have to admit, although I have been lobbying for Happ to get his chance starting in the post season,  I would be equally interested in seeing him back in the bullpen, but in a closer role.  He has certainly proven himself to me this year, and I believe he has earned the right to show the team if he can hold down a larger role now that the overall roster depth has so drastically changed.

Well, one thing is for sure, no matter if we play the Rockies or the Dodgers, we are going to be in for one wild ride.  I am just glad that for a change, we can actually sit here in October and talk about this and that, instead of the usual “what if”, or “if onlys” that I am used to from most of my late season Phillies watching days !  Let us give credit to this team, for all they have been through, they are one of only four teams in the National League still standing, and who knows how far they can go ?  That is why we play all these games !  I will be rooting from the front row, every chance I get !