Another extra inning affair.

What next for the Phillies ? 

Much has been made of Ryan Howard’s performance since his return from the disabled list, and now sources are saying there may still be something wrong with the big man preventing him from playing at 100%.

Last night, the first 6 innings were relatively uneventful as the teams played to a 1-1 draw.  The Phillies looked lifeless after being swept by the Astros in a 4 game series that included losses to former Phillies pitchers J A Happ and Brett Myers as well as a 16 inning heartbreaker that saw some offensive players go 0-7.   Happ, two years ago the team’s ace of the future, outlasted Halladay in the third game to really rub it in.  Of course, for the Astros, this series against last years NL champion and 2008 World Series champion was their post season.  At 12 games below 500 and 16 games out with less than a month to go, the Astros are not playoff bound. 

The Phillies probably are, which makes the 4 game sweep so confusing and upsetting.  They have more to play for but seem to be manuevering into position to win the wild card, instead of pushing the Braves to take the National League East for the third year in a row.  At least we aren’t trailing the Mets, that would be TOO much to bear !

Rollins had a good night, going 3-5 with a double, a walk and a run scored.

Ryan Howard did provide a single in the 7th, sandwiched by walks to Utley and Werth, that may have been the catalyst behind the Phillies go ahead score.   If Howard’s single was the catalyst, Raaauuul Ibanez came through with the clutch hit, a one out single to right that scored the run.  Gregerson came in in relief and got Victorino into a double play fielders choice then struck out Ruiz to end the threat.

Oswalt pitched a masterful game, with 6 strikeouts versus five hits allowed through the first 8 innings.  He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the ninth as the Phillies looked to build on that scant one run lead.  The Phillies however went down one, two, three, and Lidge came in for the bottom of the ninth with a one run lead.

He pitched a typically ugly half inning, with a single, sacrifice, groundout, intentional walk, hit batsman, than the piece de resistance, the balk to push the tying score across the plate.

Oswalt can’t win a game, no matter how well he pitches !

Maybe Charlie will consider letting him keep pitching next start if he has the same stuff.

Rollins doubled to lead off the 12th inning. Polanco singled to center to score Jimmy and put the Phillies up  3-2.  The Phillies FINALLY took advantage of an Atlanta loss and picked up a game on the NL East lead.

When will the Phillies offense return?

There are slumps and then there is what the Phillies offense is going through right now.

Things got no better yesterday when the Phillies wasted a great start by Cole Hamels in a 3-1 loss to the Padres. Hamels took a no-hitter into the seventh, but allowed a pair of solo home runs and the Phillies offense had no answer. It was a continuation of what has been a putrid three weeks that has seen the team relinquish first place.

Here are a few of the scary numbers:

The Phillies, figured to be among the top home run hitting teams this season, have belted just 53, good enough for 12th overall. That’s not terrible but not nearly good enough for a team that relies on the longball so much.

• Philadelphia has been held to two runs or less in eight of its last 15 games, including being shutout five times.

• Their .258 team batting average is 16th in baseball. Who knows where they would be without Polanco’s .320 average.

• Chase Utley average has dipped to .260, the lowest it has been since the 2004 season.

• Raul Ibanez is hitting .230 with just three home runs. Dominic Brown’s footsteps get closer every day.

• Joe Blanton has the third best average of the team. He is hitting 308. We will overlook Nelson Figueroa’s .500 average in two at-bats.

• Jayson Werth is hitting .143 so far this month with six hits in 21 at-bats. Over that time he has as many strikeouts (7) as he does hits.

It has been bad, to be sure. Yet here the team sits, still in second place just two games behind Atlanta. The hope is that the worst has already arrived and that the team will straighten itself out and get back on top in the East.

But the question is when? When does the team find the offense that made them the most exciting ticket in town the last three years?

The fall of Pat Burrell

When Raul Ibanez got off to such a poor start on the heals of a bad second half last season chatter began about whether or not the decision to sign him to a three year deal was a mistake. There is still fear that Ibanez’s contract could be one of the factors that keeps the team from re-signing Jayson Werth at season’s end. Time wll tell if that holds true.

There is one thing we know for sure, however.

The decision to sign Ibanez was a lot smarter than bringing back Pat The Bat.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays shipped the slumping Burrell down to the minor league’s today, a move that could in no way have been envisioned when they signed him last offseason.

This season he is hitting a measly .202 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. You can read the report here.

What a downfall for a player who got to leadoff the Phillies World Series parade.

Phils win home opener, now 6-1.

The Phillies won their home opener 7-4 behind Cole Hamels to run thier National League leading record to 6-1.    They dealt Marquis his second loss of this young season.  Hamels and Halladay are now both 2-0 and the Phillies bats are smoking hot.

Jimmy Rollins was a late scratch due to a calf injury but his replacement, Castro, was 1-4 with a double and an RBI.   Rightfielder Jayson Werth left the game after the fifth inning due to a sore left hip.   Chase Utley ripped a two run homerun with one out in the fifth.

Ibanez and Victorino are the only two starters who have not hit their stride as yet, with the remainder of the starting lineup batting above .290.  The team as a whole continued their torrid hitting. They’re averaging 7.1 runs and 11 hits per game.

The fans showed up in force for the home opener, giving the Phillies their 43rd consecutive sellout at home dating to last season.

Game 2 of the series is tomorrow night, and the Nationals have got to be searching for answers after dropping 3 of their first 4 games against the defending NL champion Phillies.  Even the new pitcher signed for 15 million after an All Star year with Colorado last year was unable to keep the Phillies hitters in check.  Our team now leads all of baseball in hitting.

I limited myself to 2 hotdogs and four beers and had a great time rooting for my Phillies.  For some reason a Mets fan sat behind me and booed every time the Phillies had a good play, but after checking the standings, I refrained from comment, the poor guy already has enough going against him and the Mets season is only going to get worse once they starting playing Philadelphia !

I think I will have to get tickets in my normal spot on April 30th and see if he shows up again to watch the Phillies play the Mets for the first time this year.  Maybe I will buy him a beer.  Who says Philadelphia fans are horrible ?

The extra bad news for my friend in blue; it is likely Halladay will have the start on that Friday night game, in which case, the Mets, who will arrive at Citizens Bank sporting a 6-16 record or so, don’t have the faintest chance !

The best and worst of Spring Taining

How do you view spring training numbers?

Spring Training is the time of year where all kinds of opinions get thrown out. A young player who comes up and gets six hits in their first 10 at-bats is referenced as the next Mike Schmidt.

Veteran players who struggle for a couple weeks get titles such as “washed up” and “over-the-hill”.

It’s all part of the baseball landscape. Judgments are made at a time of year when the players aren’t even judging themselves. A pitcher could give up six runs a 3 1/3 and be quoted afterwards as saying “It was a good day. I got my pitches over strikes and I think my command is coming along.”

But maybe you are a stat guy and Spring Training numbers matter to you. If that’s the case, here are the numbers that are the best and worst from Clearwater with 11 days to go until the real baseball starts.

The Best

Roy Halladay — 3 games, 10 innings 1-0 record, 0.90 ERA. He has been everything he was advertised to be. His 14 K’s have given fans a reason to be excited about Doc’s arrival.

Danys Baez — 7 games, 8.2 innings 6 K’s, 1-0 record, 1.04 ERA. The Phillies bullpen has been the most questioned aspect of this team this Spring. Baez was the only big acquisition to the group and could be the man in charge of the 8th inning. He could also close if the 2009 Brad Lidge shows up.

Placido Polanco — 39 at-bats, 16 hits, 1 SO and a .410 average. Like the two before him, Polanco is new to the team and has started strong. His ability to put the ball in play in 38 of 39 at-bats is just what the Phillies offense needs.

The worst

Cole Hamels — 14.2 innings, 10 runs, 8 earned, 4.91 ERA. Hamels hasn’t technically been the worst pitcher in camp, but he also hasn’t shown much to show he will bounce back from a bad 2009.

Raul Ibanez — 37 at-bats, 4 hits, .108 average. Ibanez insists he is fine and there is no reason not to believe him. This guy has been around long enough to know Spring Training stats are worth nothing. That said, fans would feel a lot better if he started swinging the bat like he did in the first half of last season.

Chase Utley
— 31 at bats, .258 average, 0 extra base hits. Utley was not himself the second half of last season as an injury held down his power. So far that power has not shown its face this Spring. Thirty-one at-bats is a long stretch for a player of Utley’s quality to go without an extra-base knock.

So there you have it, the best and the worst with 10 days to go. Do of it what you want.

Just remember, on April 5, everyone’s stats go back to zero.

Whiz Kids or the New and Improved Phitens, who is better ?

 From 1976 to 1980 they won 4 NL East titles, 1 National League Pennant and 1 World Series.

 From 2005 to present they have won 3 National League East titles, 2 National league Pennants and 1 World Series.

The first team included the group known as the Whiz Kids, with nearly every member of the team either in the hall of fame, or close to it, and known nationally as household names due to the exposure they recieved during their dominance.  The second team is still playing so does not have the advantage of securing a historical place in our minds and memories as of yet, but may equal or exceed the ability and statistics of the first group of Phillies superstars. 

This article will attempt to compare the two squad’s core group of players, then and now to determine which team is truly the best Phillies team of all time.  It might be noted the first team played just prior to the advent of steroid allegations and performance enhancing drugs becoming the norm, whereas the second group has played and does play in “the steroid era” of baseball with equal or better statistical results, yet has received no substantiated press regarding the use of these illegal and banned substances.  That by itself in this modern era of sports is remarkable, but what this group has acheived in a short period of time may be more so.

The first group-of Phillies included; Michael Jack Schmidt, Pete Rose, Bob Boone, Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, Tim McCarver, Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox and was led by pitchers Steve “Lefty” Carlton, Tug McGraw and Larry Christensen. 

The current group of 21st century Phillies includes; Ryan Howard, Jaysen Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, and has had Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, JA Happ and Brad Lidge leading the way from the mound. 

For purposes of a direct comparison, I am not selecting players that only played 2 years or less with either team during the peak, hence the noticable lack of names such as  Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Juan Samuel, Pedro Martinez and the like.

The 1976 to 80 team, over their five seasons averaged  747 runs, 113 Homeruns, 696 RBI’s, 136 stolen bases and a .270 batting average while the pitching staff posted an ERA of under 3.50 for the span.   The two offensive leaders would have to be Rose and Schmidt, with Rose batting .291 with 390 runs and 255 RBI and Michael Jack posting over 200 homeruns, 600 RBI and 600 runs scored over the same 5 year span.

The leaguewide change of focus from defense to offense over the ensuing 30 years is evident when one realizes the Whiz Kids pitching staff ranked 7th league wide with an ERA around 3.00 while the 2008 staff was ranked 4th league wide while the ERA had risen to 3.88.

The offensive numbers of todays Phillies correlate to this change.  The current team is averaging 837 runs scored, 207 home runs, including a team record 224 last year, 706 RBI’s and 120 stolen bases.   Todays squad is led by Ryan Howard, with 220 homeruns, 630 RBI’s, and 460 runs scored over his first 5 full seasons.

The Phillies offensive output has increased by 30-40% while the team ERA has risen by 20% at the same time the league ERA has risen accordingly.   Between the Phillies dominance in the late seventies and early eighties and the current Phillies rise to prominance, the National League East was owned by the Atlanta Braves.  But those Braves dominated by virtue of their excllent pitching staff led by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.  There has not been a National League team that has ever had the dominant lineup from 1st to 7th position that the current Phillies possess.

Last years Phillies saw 4 players hit 30+ homeruns and drive in 90+ runs, as well as six players score 90+ runs and 8 hit 25 or more doubles.   They also had 4 players steal 20 or more bases.  This is the most balanced team to play in the National League in 50 years.  The Whiz Kids were famous simply because the perennial basement dwelling Phillies went to and won the World Series.   The current club should be afforded more respect because they are a better rounded and higher achieving team, and I for one, can not wait for them to close out the National League for 2010 so they can return to the World Series and go 2 for 3 as they take the championship away from the hated NY Yankees and return it to it’s rightful place, in Philadelphia.  This is a team that could easily win 3 or 4 of the next 5 World Series and establish itself in history as a baseball dynasty.

Based on these numbers, I would have to state, the current Phillies ballclub is the best statistical team ever to play baseball in Philadelphia, and I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

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.

Lights out on Philadelphia?

It wasn’t a blown save, it was something much worse.

Bard Lidge allowed three runs in the ninth inning and the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-4, to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series, Sunday night.

Pedro Feliz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 8th off Joba Chamberlain to tie the game at 4-4 and give the Phillies the momentum heading in to the ninth. Lidge came in and got the first two hitters out, as it appeared his postseason reconciliation was going to continue.

Then it all fell to pieces.

Johnny Damon hit the blooper of all bloopers to keep the inning alive. Damon, not the fastest runner these days, stole second and third on the same play as the Phillies were playing a shift against Mark Teixeira, as no one was covering third.

This was Lidge’s first big mistake. With Feliz accepting the throw down to second, there was no one to cover third except for Lidge who never even attempted to get over there. From there he hit Texeiria, let up a double to Alex-Rodriguez, a single to Jorge Posada and it was all over.

While Lidge will take most of the heat for this loss, there is plenty to go around.

-         The Phillies hit two home runs, again solo shots, as the team had trouble getting men on base.

-         In the fifth inning Chase Utley tried to toss the ball to Rollins with his glove in an attempt to start a double play instead of taking his time to transfer the ball and just get one out. As a result he got no outs and the Yankees would score two runs that innings.

-         Joe Blanton pitches OK, but took the crowd out of the game early by allowing two runs in the first inning.

-         What is going on with Raul Ibanez?

-         Ryan Howard had a broken-bat single, but again looked helpless against the breaking ball.


It is now desperation time in Philadelphia as the Phils must win three straight to defend their World Series title. It can be done, certainly, but the Phils will need to play a lot better than they have through four games. Cliff Lee takes the ball tonight against A.J. Burnett.

The Phillies have been a team that plays well when their backs are against the wall, but this is bigger than any test they have had this season.

We will see if there is any magic left, or if it is “lights out” for the Phils.

World Series offensive breakdown

We are now just one day away fro Game 1 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. There promises to be plenty of drama as these two teams face off in the World Series for the first time in 50 years.

Bellow is a breakdown of how the teams match up position-by-position.

 First Base: This would be the marquee position with two players who are not only of All-Star caliber, but MVP worthy. Ryan Howard has been a monster year after year, producing 40-plus home runs and 140 RBIs a season. His defense has improved and he defines the word clutch. Most people credit Jimmy Rollins for being the engine of the team but it became clear this season that the Phillies would go as far as Howard takes them.
On the other side, Mark Teixeira has been as good as advertised. The Yankees paid him big money in the offseason and he delivered with 39 homers and 122 RBIs. He has also delivered Gold Glove play at first base. Howard’s knack for getting the big hit gives him a slight edge on offense, but Teixeira seems to save a run a game with his glove, making this a toss up.

Verdict: draw

Second base: Robinson Cano has developed into the type of players that could be a cornerstone for the Yankees for many years. He hits for average (.320) and power (25 home runs).
Chase Utley also had a strong regular season, though his average dipped to .282. Something just doesn’t seem quite right with his swing right now and he only has two RBIs in the postseason. Utley may just be the hardest-working player in baseball and if there is something wrong there is a good chance he will fix it.

Verdict: Slight edge Yankees

Shortstop: This was nowhere near Jimmy Rollins’ best year, but his second-half was certainly acceptable. Rollins is hitting just .244 in the postseason, but it was his two-run double in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS that all-but finished off the Dodgers.
Meanwhile Derek Jeter is having a career year, which is saying something given his track record. He hit .334 during the regular season and his playoff performances in the past have been well-documented. If Rollins was having a typical year this would be a tough call. Since he has struggled, the check mark has to go to the Yankees’ captain.

Verdict: Edge Yankees

Third base: Alex Rodriguez finally learned how to hit in the postseason. Like Howard, A-Rod has been an RBI machine with 12 and is hitting .438. Clearly he is making up for lost time.
Pedro Feliz has been a great defensive presence throughout his career and even with his age creeping up continues to play the position well. Offensively Feliz is not a big cog, but had a three-run homer against the Dodgers in the NLCS and has given the lineup great depth.
He’s just not A-Rod.

Verdict: Edge Yankees.

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz or “Chooch” has been a monster this postseason, both behind the plate and as a hitter. Ruiz is hitting .346 and has driven in seven from the eight-hole. His pitchers love throwing to him and he has become one of the best in the league when it comes to throwing out base stealers.
Jorge Posada is not the player he once was. He still had good numbers with 22 homers and a .285 average, but his shortcomings defensively have led to the Yankees using Jose Molina more than anticipated. In fact, the Phillies will likely see Molina in games that A.J. Burnett pitches.

Verdict: Edge Phillies.

Left Field: The Phillies could not have asked for more than what Raul Ibanez gave them this season. He was an NL MVP candidate the first half of the year and hit a career-high 34 home runs. Even at 33, his defense is not a shortcoming. “Rauuuul” instantly became a fan favorite and remains one.
The Yankees counter with Johnny Damon who can still swing the stick, but has nothing in terms of an arm in the outfield. He is a liability out there and is usually replaced in the late innings.

Note: Ben Fransisco will star in left field on the road and Ibanez will DH. We still list Ibanez as the left fielder because he will play there during the home games.

Verdict: Edge Phillies

Center field: Shane Victorino made the first of what is likely to be many All-Star game appearances this season. He led the team in several offensive categories, including hits (181), average .292 and steals 25. He also provided Gold Glove defense. Last season he introduced himself to all of baseball. This year he announced that he isn’t going anywhere.

Melky Cabrera didn’t quite meet the expectations he ha set for himself with a big 2008 season, but still hit a respectable .274 and is an outstanding defender. Cabrera has good speed, but can not compete with Victorino in that department. In fact, there is not one part of his game that is clearly superior to Victorino’s.

Verdict: Edge Phillies

Right field: What a player Jayson Werth has become. Finally healthy, Werth had a huge season and has kept it up in the postseason. Werth is the team-leader in home runs during the playoffs, knocking five out of the park. He is making opposing pitchers pay for pitching around Howard.

Few people would have predicted that Nick Swisher would be starting for the Yankees in the playoffs when the season started. Xavier Nady was the opening day starter but an injury erased his season after seven games. Swisher stepped in and stepped up. He is not the player Werth is, but the pop in his bat still makes him a threat.

Verdict: Edge Phillies

Designated hitter: Ben Fransisco is the extra bat added during games in New York. Seen as a throw-in in the Cliff Lee trade, Fransisco has been solid in limited action. He hit .278 on the year and is 0-for-4 in the playoffs. Matt Stairs could also see a game in this role with Ibanez playing left.

Hideki Matsui is on the south-side of his career, but can still come up with the big hit. He hits lefties and righties about the same and finished with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs.

Verdict: Edge Yankees.

There you have it, a pretty even matchup on paper. The Yankees get the edge of the infield, mostly due to A-Rod at third, while the rest of the infielders are pretty similar. The Phillies get a big edge in the outfield in both fielding and hitting. There is a reason all three players were All-Stars.


Check back later for the breakdown of the pitching matchups.

Chan Ho Park plays role of hero for Phils

In Game One of the NLCS it was Chan Ho Park that got the big outs, not George Sherrill.

And as a result, the Phillies have a 1-0 series lead.

Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez each hit a three-run bomb to help lead the Phillies past the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-6, in a slugfest, Thursday night.

The much-maligned Phillies bullpen was good enough as it allowed two runs over four innings to hold the win for an OK Cole Hamels.

The biggest performance was turned in by Park, who entered the game with Adam Either on second an no outs in the seventh and the Phillies protecting a 5-4 lead.

Park proceeded to get Manny Ramirez to ground out, struck out Matt Kemp and finished the inning by getting a groundout off the bat of Casey Blake.

It was clutch in every sense of the word – something fans never would have called Park in the early stages of the season when he struggled as a starter.

Insert Sherrill in the top of the eighth. The star lefthander who had a 0.56 ERA in his 20 appearances with the Dodgers was expected to be a major key in this series. His ability to get lefties out is well documented, as is the Phils reliance on their left-handed hitters.

Sherrill struggled with his control, walking Howard and Jayson Werth to bring up Ibanez. Like he has so many times this season, Ibanez came up with a big hit, a home run to right field that gave the Phillies some much-needed insurance.

Ryan Madson made the game interesting in the eighth, allowing two runs on four hits, but with runners on the corners, he got Ramirez to ground out and end the threat.

Brad Lidge got around a hit and a walk to record his third postseason save in as many chances.

Games like Thursday night’s are why we love sports so much. It was as unpredictable as can be. Who would have thought that given Cole Hamels dominance over the Dodgers (4-0 in six starts) that he would be nearly squander a 5-1 lead and would be lifted in the sixth?

Who knew that while Manny came up with a two-run home run in the fifth, he would fail to come through in big spots in the late innings?

And who knew Park would be the game’s biggest reliever?

If the umpires continue to call the game the way they did Thursday, fans will be treated to some more high scoring games in this series. The strike zone was small giving the hitters an advantage. The hitters on the Phillies and Dodgers are too good to not take advantage of that.

There is little rest for the teams and fans as Game 2 is set for 4 p.m. today. This is likely the game that will determine if the Phils will waltz to the World Series or be in for a dogfight. Look for the Dodgers to come out firing as they can not afford to go in a 0-2 hole. If Pedro Martinez can weather the early storm the Phils have a great chance to come home up 2-0, with three games to be played in The Bank.

The question is who will be today’s hero?

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, 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 going back to the show

The Phillies left no doubt about it tonight as they clinched their third straight division title for the second time in franchise history.

They set various benchmarks, had virtually every starter contribute to the 10-3 score, in a game featuring a rejuvenated Cy Young award winner, an early appearance by a middle reliever who pitched 3 scoreless innings and a beleaguered closer who came in and got the final out in a non save situation.  This team appears to be ready for the post season.

The Phillies played small ball, long ball, and all ball as they pounded a home run, two triples and three doubles.  They scored in 4 of their 5 final at bats to put this one away and leave no chance for a late inning collapse preventing them from winning the National Laegue eastern division.  They still have a shot at home field advantage so there is still some incentive to win their final four games.  Unlike last year, the Phillies established themselves early leading the division every day since May 30th.

Rollins and Victorino both scored their 100th run of the season, joining Howard and Utley.  This marks the first time the Phillies have had 4 100 run scorers since 1932.  Howard drove in his 138th run, to maintain a share of the league lead in that category. Victorino hit his 13th triple to lead the league in that category.   Rollins hit his 43th double good for third in the league.   Ibanez hit his 34th homerun, a personal career high for him. The Phillies become only the third club in history to have 4 players score 100 runs and 4 players hit 30 home runs in the same season.

The Phillies raised their record to 92-66 to guarantee at least an equal record to their championship season.   Manuel may rest some starters, but if the Dodgers lose another game, the Phillies can get home field advantage with best National League record.  The Phillies joined the Pirates and Braves as the only two other teams to win three NL titles in a row two times or more.  The Braves of course won 14 in a row before the Phillies rose to dominance in the NL east.  

The final week of the season will be interesting.  The three division winners are set, in the Phillies, Cardinals, and Dodgers, and the Rockies are all but a lock to be the wild card seeing as the Braves lost to Florida after the Phillies had eliminated them.  The question is who will play whom ? As it stands right now, the Rockies and Cardinals are tied with 90 wins, the Phillies have 92 and the Dodgers 93, but the Phillies have a game in hand on LA with an equal number of losses, so if they win out, they could equal or surpass the west coast club. 

The next few days will certainly be interesting as the managers work on post season matchups and lineups. 

The Phillies honored Harry Kalas, who broadcast for the team for over 40 years in the midst of their title celebration.   

Now it is time to see if we can add to the three straight division crowns, and add the NL championship and MLB championship to the trophy case.  The Phillies are no longer the league laughingstock  as perennial losers.  Those of us who have been fans for decades with the 1980 whiz kids as the only bragging point can now point to the current team and say with pride, ”These are OUR champion Phillies !”


National League East Winners 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1993, 2007, 2008, 2009

National League Champions  1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, 1993, 2008.

World Series Champions  1980, 2008, ??

Phillies get split in Florida Magic # is 5

The Phillies traveled to Florida to play the Florida Marlins a rare double header. Joe Blanton came out and threw another quality start in the first game pitching 7 innings of shutout ball. The Phillies offense secured the win with an assortment of seeing eye hits, good fielding, baserunning and steals.

Ibanez did hit a late home run but that only accounted for 1 of the 9 runs the team scored in the first game, the rest came on singles and groundouts, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly as the Phillies scattered 11 hits overall to beat Florida 9-3 in the opener.

Blanton has had 15 quality starts in his last 16 games, allowing 4 runs or less and raising his record to 11-7. In his last two starts he has pitched 13 consecutive shut out innings and lowered his ERA to 3.82. The Phillies reduced their magic number to clinch to 5.

Howard and Werth both had RBI singles and Jimmy Rollins continued his recent offensive upsurge with a sacrifice fly that scored a run as well. Despite 16 strikeouts and going 2-11 with runners in scoring position and having a lone 1 run home run, the Phillies made the victory look easy.

As the season winds down, the Phillies have little left to prove. The Braves and Marlins who both could have challenged for a wild card spot have all but vanished in the past few weeks when facing the NL East leading Phillies who improved their season record to 88-62 which represents their best winning percentage since 1993.

Jamie Moyer returned from the bullpen to get a rare late season start, but you can be sure Manuel was aware of his numbers in Florida. Moyer had a career record of 13-3 against the Marlins and a 8-0 record with a sub 1.00 ERA at their ballpark. Moyer had a strong outing, allowing 3 runs in 7 innings with 5 strikeouts and a walk, but the Phillies bats fell uncharacteristically silent as Florida rookie Anibel Sanchez pitched a masterful 2 hit shutout through 8 innings and the Marlins dealt Moyer his first loss in their home stadium.

The Phillies evening loss was also the first team loss in Florida all season. Their magic number remains 5, but we all know it is only a matter of time.

Still no closer or closure for Philadelphia

Jamie Moyer was back in a familiar role for the Phillies today. He stepped back on the mound as a starting pitcher for the first time since his demotion to the bullpen. It definitely showed that he was a little rusty, but the oldest player in baseball shook off the cobwebs after allowing hits to the first five batters he faced and got back in the starting rhythm. After falling behind 4-0 in the first inning, Moyer promptly dispatched the next 14 takers with line out, ground out, foul out, pop up, over and over. While Moyer was getting his groove back, the Phitens began earning their nickname by getting the veteran those runs back.

They did it in their usual manner. Howard singled in the second, and Feliz homered him in for the first two runs. The Phillies scored on the home run again in the third with both Ibanez and Utley hitting their 31st of the year, marking the third time in the past week the Phillies have had 2 or more home runs in the same inning. All of the sudden, Moyer was pitching for the win. In the fourth they scored an insurance run the old fashioned way, with a walk, sacrifice and single to drive home the run. Yes, these Phils score a lot of the time on the home run, but they know the fundamentals of the game, and can score in any fashion they want to for the most part.

Home runs however are so much more fun ! This may be why the Phillies have sold out 165 games in a row. The average attendance at Phillies games jumped to 40,000+, good for second best in the National League, when they opened their new stadium in 2004. Last year’s World Series team averaged over 42,000 fans per home game, and this year’s club is averaging over 44,000 fans per game. Other than the drop off after year one when the new stadium novelty had worn off, they have increased their fan attendance and support for the last five years running. Incidentally, for the last three years they have also led MLB in home run production.

Moyer did not allow another hit until the top of the sixth, when Tatis legged out an infield single. The Phillies immediately returned to the offensive in their half the inning and added an additional 2 runs with a single, double, triple, and, talk about getting back to the basics, a sacrifice by none other than wily veteran Jamie Moyer ! Moyer did allow a run in the 7th on a double and some good basic baseball by the Mets, but at this point he appeared to be tiring and had a 4 run lead on the Mets.

Brett Myers came in the 8th and promptly gave up a 2 run home run to the Mets, the Phillies still can’t seem to figure out late relief or closing pitching. Manuel pulled Myers and got Chan Ho Park on the mound in time to preserve the lead at 9-8 and Park closed the 8th. Manuel continued to rely on Madsen, this time bringing him in for a 9th inning that found the Phillies clinging to a 1 run lead. Madsen got two quick outs, then surrendered a run to the pesky Tatis, who seems to always hit Phillies pitching no matter who is on the mound. Wright then came in and gave the Phillies a taste of their own medicine, belting a 2 run home run to give his Mets the lead and end any hopes Moyer had of securing a win. I mentioned yesterday that Madsen is unproven in the close game, and it appears the Phillies closing pitchers woes are far from over.

The revolving door that leads to the 8th and 9th inning pitchers mound for this team has got to be secured, and soon. This team can NOT enter the post season with this position still unresolved. Charlie Manuel has got to get busy and do what he is paid to do, figure out who on his staff is capable of coming in late under pressure and preserving a win. It is not fair to the rest of this ball club that they are unable, so far, to do this consistently. If they don’t resolve this issue and find “the guy” in the next few weeks, winning the National League East and hitting 1,000 home runs during the regular season will not help them to their ultimate objective, which is, and should be, repeating as World Series champions.