Saturday, October 30, 2010

End of a (somewhat) Dynasty?

All of the Phillies starting fielders (minus pitchers) will have turned at least 30 years old at the start of next season. Jimmy Rollins has been on a steady decline both statistically and physically in the past three years, Chase Utley has done the same.
Raul Ibanez has had plummeting second numbers the past two years and Jayson Werth will more than likely be sporting a new jersey next season.

So, is the Phillies magical run at greatness over?

My answer to this question, unfortunately, seems to be yes, for right now.

Now this doesn't mean I don't think they won't win the NL East, because with their starting rotation, they should be the favorite to win the NL East if they put high school hitters in at 1-8. But as far as asking, will they be great? I see this year as being the final season of the greatest run in sports the city of Philadelphia has ever seen.

Let's look at the steady decline. Two years ago the Phillies finished 1st. Last year second. This year 3rd or 4th. Steady decline. Look at 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins and perennial all-star Chase Utley's numbers and DL stints. Werth will be gone. Ibanez is now an average platoon outfielder and Dominic Brown, the teams prized young outfielder, is still another left-handed hitter in an already heavy left-handed lineup that hasn't developed much in the past few years.

Look at the farm system. Drabek is gone. Carrasco is gone. Marsen is gone. Taylor is gone But...that shouldn't cause too much panic. With the Phillies success the past few years, they have generated enough revenue to make big trades and signings and develop farm players at a slower rate than say the Royals or Pirates who need a diamond in the rough yesterday.

At the end of the day, the Phillies will be ok. Ruiz is turning into, if he isn't already, a tier 1 catcher and hitter. Howard, although sitting on his fat contract, will still hit 30 HR and 100 RBI. Utley, Polanco, Rollins will all contribute greatly in their own ways. I still think the verdict is out on Victorino. (is it me or does he misjudge a lot of flyballs and make up for it with his speed?)

But the bottom line is this...these will not be the 2008 or 2009 Phillies. With an increase in age comes a decrease in numbers and at the end of the day, no matter how good your pitching is, you need to score runs. Just look at the Phillies this year. And without Werth's right handed bat in the middle of the lineup the team will struggle. Please tell me Amaro doesn't plan on Francisco being Werth's replacement. But on the same hand, please tell me Amaro will do everything in his power to keep Werth. But free agency usually rears its ugly head upon the most honorable of men. And Werth will succumb to more money elsewhere.

Maybe this off-season will produce a big name right-handed hitter. But let's hope Greg Dobbs doesn't even get to sit in a Phillie dugout this year. And let's hope Francisco and Brown don't platoon in right field. And let's hope the Phillies have some magic left in them while H2O is still intact. There might be room for 1 more run at a World Series. But if the off-season produces more Gloads and Contreras', don't count on it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Good win Phils...but do you plan on hitting this series?

First of all, I just wanted to start this blog by saying to ESPN, TBS, FOX and other baseball media outlets over-hyping series: Stop with the "over 50-years of pain crap." We heard it with the Red Sox for what seemed like 12 Octobers, we heard it about the Cubs, we are know hearing it about the Giants and the Rangers. We heard it about the Phillies before 2008 and the White Sox before 2005. We get it. There's a lot of baseball teams that don't win championships. There's a lot of suffering cities. But it's not unique. And it's not newsworthy if you don't stop reporting it year after year. And it's not that dramatic. So let it go.

There, now let's move on.

Most Phillies fans are thinking 'Thank God we won that game." But they have to be a little bit scared. If not extremely scared. Again, the Phillies relied on the opposing teams errors to rally and score runs. Troublesome.Again, produced runs in less than three innings of the game. Worrisome. And again, Ryan Howard hit nobody in. Un?Awe?Some?

But with all of those negatives, the Phillies still won.

But they can't rely on that anymore. It's not a recipe for success.

Which raises the question...Do the Phillies have it anymore offensively?

What happened to Chase Utley? Why and how is Shane Victorino still batting leadoff? Will Howard get an RBI? Will Jimmy Rollins pop out the rest of the post-season?

It's sad to say but it feels as if the offense just doesn't have it's spark. Thank God for Jayson Werth, but he will be gone soon and the once offensive powerhouse Phillies will be a middle, if not bottom, of the pack offensive ball club.

But all that matters is right now. And if the Phillies can somehow muster 3 innings of runs, I like their chances. If Oswalt and Hamels continue on their hot streak, I like their chances. If the Giants offense comes back to reality, I really like their chances.

Right now the Giants are still in the drivers seat. They will be until game 7 (if there is a game 7.) But. If there is one thing baseball gurus have learned in the past two Octobers, it's that the Phillies somehow find ways to win.

But please stop with the 50-years of pain crap. It's not a story to anyone. Not even the fans that show up to AT&T park in the third inning and can't sell out game 3 of the NLCS. May the best team (with the best fans) win.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Charlie Manuel Exposed

Charlie Manuel's faith in his players has always been his upside. Unfortunately, it has also been his downside.

His downside hurt the Phillies greatly yesterday.

The decision to start mediocre-at-best Joe Blanton will haunt the Phillies, their fans and the city for a long time to come, if the Phillies cannot pull off the improbable 3-game comeback. If Charlie knows his players, and he does, Joe Blanton is notorious for giving up first-inning runs. He is also notorious for not going deep in games. His opponents batting average is .311 in his first 15 pitches, and close to .400 in pitches 45-75. It was well known before the series started that the Giants bullpen was superior to the Phillies, meaning the Phillies NEEDED their starters to go deep. But looking at Blanton's stats, it was obvious he wouldn't do that.

So Blanton gives up 1 in the first, thanks to two wild pitches. 1 in the third and as his pitch count gets to that 45 range, and he gives up another in the fifth. Then he's done after 4 2/3 and we still have 4 1/3 of the 'who knows what we're gonna get' Phillie bullpen. None of this is Joe Blanton's fault. He did what he usually does. He even left the game with a lead. But that's not the point. The point is that the Phillies could and SHOULD be at 2-2 right now. Halladay should have pitched (I know damned well Cliff Lee would have pitched, God I miss him) and so what Lincecum has the advantage over Oswalt in game 5, the bottom line is you need to be 2-2 at this point. Halladay would have been on short rest, yes. But this is the time of the year when you have to do what you have to do. And you don't ever HAVE to pitch Joe Blanton in the most crucial playoff game of the season.

With that being said, Charlie Manuel messed up because he trusted Joe Blanton.

Then he messed up again.

The Phillies, for once this post-season, put together a late-game rally. Back-to-back doubles by Howard and Werth tied the game with a runner on second with nobody out. Now is where I seem like I'm going back on what I said in an earlier post, but Jimmy Rollins has to bunt. I know he's on the left side, where is clutch in the playoffs and will pull the ball to move the runner, I know. BUT...the most important thing at that point is getting Jayson Werth to touch home plate. Rollins has been a leadoff hitter his whole career. He knows how to bunt. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But this was obvious from the start. It was even a possibility that Werth should have bunted Howard over because you need to get 1 run, thats all. Then you need to get 1 run, that's all. You don't need hit after hit after hit. You have to score the runners that are on base. But no Jimmy pops out and Werth doesn't move. Bad move Charlie. But then again, he had faith in Jimmy, against probable baseball obviousness, but Jimmy didn't perform.

And my last point. How can Oswalt come in for the ninth and most crucial inning after only 2 days rest yet Halladay can't come in to start on 3 days rest? I know, who would have thought that the game would require Oswalt in the ninth. There's no way of knowing that. But, if it is an option to put him in, wouldn't there be a bigger and more obvious option to just start Halladay and completely avoid this situation in the first place?

Now the series comes down to the Phillies big 3, Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, H20, whatever you want to call them. But what is being forgotten here is that there will be no Oswalt and Hamels if Halladay repeats his last performance. Which means that there would be a waste of two great arms, when at least one of them could have gotten another start if Halladay went game 4. But it's over, nothing to do about it now. And the Phillies might be on the downswing.

Two years ago they finished first. Last year second. This year, 3rd/4th (if they lose the series.) Their core of Howard, Utley (who?!?), Victorino, Rollins, and Ruiz are all a year older. Werth is gone. There's still no bullpen. This could be the end of the debatable 'dynasty.' Sad stuff, but they had an incredible run for the past few years.

Maybe their luck has run out. But it's by no stroke of luck, that the Giants beat the Phillies in game 4 with Blanton on the mound. No that was strategy. Great on one side, bad on the other.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Young James at it again

Not that the Phillies wouldn't have won with three runs, but let's take a minute to thank Bruce Bochy for jumpstarting what could be a rejuvenated Phillies offense.

After three runs the first game and 2 runs through six innings, the Phillies had not been a hitting machine. But Oswalt makes something happen at the plate and the Phils end up loading the bases to bring Jimmy Rollins.

Coming into the game Young James was 1-for-15 in the postseason and dropped to the six hole. In his first three at-bats, Jimmy looked terrible, but managed an infield pop-up hit. All three of those at-bats were from the right side. Jimmy's post-season success last year against Broxton and his two home runs in 2008 NLDS and NLCS clinchers came from the left side. And even though Jimmy has proven to be a hero in the postseason the past two seasons, the feeling inside was much less than enthusiastic that it was him coming to the plate with the bases loaded and 2-out in the 7th.

Enter Bruce Bochy.

After intentionally walking Jayson Werth to get to Rollins, left-handed pitcher Jeremy Affeldt was removed for righty Santiago Casilla, switching Jimmy to his what certainly appears to be more comfortable left side. If you didn't watch the game, (then you shouldn't be reading my blog) Jimmy took a 2-0 low fastball off the right field wall for a bases clearing triple and the finishing touches on a 6-run performance for a previously struggling offense.

If Jimmy comes alive in the sixth spot, this series could turn sour for the Giants who have to face postseason stud Cole Hamels on Tuesday afternoon then the Roys again later in the series.

If the Phillies bats feed off of their game 2 performance and continue to roll the team into the World Series, you can't help but question if Bochy's pitching decision kick-started a sleeping 'Giant.'

Friday, October 15, 2010

Phillies Giants NLCS Preview

For some reason it seems to be the popular choice to pick the Phillies in 7 over the Giants. Jayson Stark from ESPN, who should know the Phillies very well, also picked the Phillies in 7. Tim Kurkjian also picked the Phillies in 7. Those are two pretty big baseball guys but they have it wrong and I don't get it.

For the fourth season in a row, the Phillies are in the postseason after a 14 year hiatus. Their first postseason series against the Rockies in 2007 didn't fare well as they were swept in 3 games.

But then things changed and here is why all the 'experts' always get these things wrong. Under Charlie Manuel, the Phillies have never seen a game 7 or even a game 5. What makes someone think this is the series? If anything the Dodgers series two years ago should have went 7. Or even the Yankees World Series last year. Is this anything to base a prediction off of? Well, maybe not...But something about this club's composition has them either win big or lose big. In their 8 post-season series in the past 4 years, none have gone the distance and none have gone to a game 6 in a 7 game series except for last years World Series.

But...The Phillies are in their fourth straight postseason, after back to back world series, one world title, and coming off of the best record in the NL. Also, they swept the Reds in their NLDS series. And still, underrated. 7 games against the Giants? Don't get me wrong, the Giants are good. They are scary. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner are awesome. But the Phillies are better. Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels are better. Odds are one of them will lose. But I don't see the three of them losing more than twice combined.

The Giants are slumping at the plate. Scoring 7 runs in three wins is rather unimpressive. The pitching is impressive, yes. But the Braves hitters aren't. The NL west hitters aren't (save the Rockies for a month or two.) This will be a true test for the Giants staff.

But if we have learned one thing about the Phillies in the past three years, is that they bring their game in October. Whether its a Joe Blanton home run, a Carlos Ruiz swinging bunt, or a Young James walk-off double off Jonathan Broxton, the Phillies find ways to win. Throw who you want at the Phillies. They win in October. And they win in 5 games.