Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giants-Rangers, Game 1 Tonight

I've heard a lot of chatter about how this World Series isn't interesting and will suffer from lower-than-usual ratings. On the latter point, I agree. The San Francisco and Dallas markets are large, but they aren't as expansive as say, New York and Philadelphia. On the former point, however, I strongly disagree. This World Series is a battle between two moderately-financed clubs enjoying dividends from good scouting, strong coaching, and shrewd trades. Much as I wish this series included the Phils, it could be good for baseball.

We've been hearing about the strong Rangers' farm-system for some time, and now we're seeing it develop. Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter are young, homegrown guys that made the Rangers a much better club. Enter the Josh Hamilton trade, the cheap Nelson Cruz pickup, and of course, the Cliff Lee deadline move, and you have a contending team. Give John Daniels, their 33-year-old GM, a lot of credit.

The Giants, for many years, did quite a bit wrong. They declared a youth movement in the shadow of Barry Bonds, but went ahead and signed Edgar Renteria, Aaron Roward, and Barry Zito to some of the worst contracts in MLB. But since those moves, the front office deserves credit. During the course of the season, it has built at least a league average lineup by calling up Buster Posey, signing a seemingly-washed up Pat Burrell, claiming Cody Ross off waivers, and replacing Rowand with Andres Torres in center. Combine this with the best pitching staff in baseball --- almost all home grown by the way --- and you have a 92-win team.

In this interesting match-up of two teams never to win the World Series (at least in their current cities), I am rooting for the Rangers. I typically root for the NL team if it isn't the Phillies, but a few factors have altered my calculus:

1. I have a man-crush on Cliff Lee. Recently, Lee was criticized for saying he "kind of" enjoyed watching the Phillies lose the NLCS because they got rid of him. I don't find this offensive at all. Lee was treated poorly after pitching his lights out in last year's playoffs, and he ought not to like our franchise too much. The feelings, however, are not mutual. I would love to see him win.

2. Tim Lincecum is a d-bag. And, yes, so is Pat Burrell. And so is Jonathan "I can't hit water when I fall out of a f&%kin boat" Sanchez.

3. I love the Rangers line-up. And in the end, I'll take mashers over pitchers.

4. The Giants just beat us! Yeah, I'll admit it. I'm bitter. I watched them celebrate at CBP (on TV, at least). I'd like to see them dejected.

Anyways, that's my take. Enjoy the Series --- it should be a good one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Report: Werth Wants 6 Years, $108 Million

It was reported earlier by a Daily News writer that Jayson Werth appears to be seeking $18 million/year for 6 years. While this cannot be verified, it isn't too surprising of an ask for a Scott Boras client.

Yesterday, Ruben Amaro said that Werth had "a good year," but wasn't as good as he had been in the past. With all due respect, I don't think the numbers back that statement up --- Werth had a career-high OPS and played a stellar right-field. Nevertheless, it's the right posture for Ruben to take. If I were him, I'd play the RISP card as much as possible.

All signs indicate that Werth is going to sign with the highest-bidder. Generally, you don't hire Scott Boras to sign for a hometown discount. Also, when asked about the situation yesterday, Werth reminded us all that baseball "is a business." The best he could do for the Phils, the team that gave him his shot, was to say that they're "on the list."

If the highest bidder turns out to offer $108 million over 6 years, then I hope it isn't the Phillies. I love Jayson Werth, but he isn't worth it. It's too long of a deal for a 31-year-old and frankly, it's too much money. I'd rather take my chances with Dom Brown, Ben Francisco, and a cheap, right-handed bat (I still like Marcus Thames) that we can sign this winter.

Update: Also, the Phils today declined their $4.5 million option on J.C. Romero, instead paying him a $250,000 buyout. I'd be in favor of bringing Romero back at a reduced rate if he'd accept. I don't believe, however, that he is suited to be our best left-handed option in the bullpen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Jayson Werth Situation, Part One

I imagine that the Jayson Werth situation is something that’ll get a lot of attention over the next month or so. So lets get our discussion started on this site.

Several reports over the past few days have noted that many Phillies players expect Jayson Werth to sign elsewhere. This is not terribly surprising; the consensus opinion has figured as such for quite some time. The Phils have about $140 million committed to less than 20 players in 2011, and it’s unlikely that they’ll wish to commit another $15-$20 million/year to Werth (who, much like their other commitments, is on the wrong side of 30).

I understand this, though it’s not going to be pretty. Make no mistake, Werth was the best offensive player on the Phils this season. Yes, he hit below .200 with RISP, and that’s a problem. But in my view, that’s mostly random and could improve from year to year --- for his career, Werth has an .816 OPS (on-base plus slugging %) mark with RISP, which is pretty good.

Werth had the 6th highest OPS in the NL this year, and was the only Phil over .900. He continued to play a strong outfield and run the bases well. Finally, he’s basically the only right-handed power source in a lineup full of lefties. Anyone who saw the Giants use Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Madison Baumgartner to chew the Phils’ offense apart this past week should be weary of swapping Werth for Domonic Brown, yet another lefthander.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Dom Brown and I think the Phils need to start adding youth (and some cheapness) to their lineup. I just think they need to make another move in the meantime. Given his performance this year, I don’t think it’s responsible to pencil Raul Ibanez into left-field in 2011. He’ll be difficult to trade, but I’d try. I’d even be willing to eat $3-$4 million of his $11.5 million salary. And even if they can’t move him, I would like to see them add a right-handed bat to take some ABs from Raul in left. It doesn’t need to be a long-term, expensive bat, but just somebody who can produce against left-handed pitching. A quick glance at the upcoming free agent list indicates that options are limited, though there are some possibilities. Depending on what the Yankees do, Marcus Thames might be a fit. You know who else is a free-agent left-fielder who can still hit? --- that’s right, Pat Burrell. I don’t see that happening. Burrell is a very serious liability in the field and has a deeply schizophrenic bat --- something we certainly don’t need.

Given that Brown is no guarantee in right, and Ben Francisco has not upped his game to earn more time, I think it’s essential that we add depth to the corner-outfield positions.

More generally, however, I wish this wasn’t necessary. Had the Phils not 1) prematurely picked up J-Roll’s 2011 option, 2) signed Joe Blanton for 3 years/$24 million, and 3) given Ryan Howard one of the worst contracts in baseball, they’d have a lot more payroll flexibility and signing Werth would be very doable.

In my view, it makes much more sense to keep Werth for the long haul than Howard. First, Werth is a better VORP player, which is to say that the difference between him and an average right-fielder is greater (more positive) than the difference between Howard and an average first-basemen. Also, he’s a much better defensive player, a better and faster base-runner, and finally, he’s leaner and likely to age much better than Howard.

Nevertheless, the Phils can’t go back and undo past moves. Given their current situation, I would like to see a move for a relatively cheap right-handed bat in left-field. If they are able to trade Ibanez, so much the better.

Source: Photo from AFP

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A (Sometimes Cruel) Game of Inches

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants, who have won the 2010 NL Pennant. They’re a good team with incredible pitching and in my view, a great manager.

Much will be made of the Phils’ inept play in key moments of this series. They were deplorable with runners in scoring position. They made serious mistakes in the field. And at times, they weren’t managed all that well. They certainly did not earn the National League pennant.

All of these items will, justifiably, receive significant attention from writers and fans everywhere. In a few days, I’ll be right there with them. But tonight, allow me to take a different angle. Baseball, like any sport, is truly a game of inches. This was never more evident than in Game 6 on Saturday night. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Jayson Werth just missed a homerun that would have given the Phils a 4-0 lead. In the bottom of the 5th, Ryan Howard doubled to the gap in left-center, but the ball careened directly to Giants center-fielder Andres Torres. This forced Jimmy Rollins to stop at 3rd base, where he was stranded. In the top of the 8th, Juan Uribe homered to right field on a ball that landed about a foot over the wall. But in the bottom of the 8th, when the Phils had 2 runners on base with one out, Carlos Ruiz hit a rope directly at Aubrey Huff, forcing a double-play.

This is not an exhaustive list. And of course, many such plays affect both teams on any given night. But on this night, and in this series in general, it sure felt as though these bounces more times than not went against the Phils.

This is baseball. This happens in a short playoff series when the N (number of events) is not large enough to ensure than these bounces cancel one another out --- or even come close to doing so.

If you dominate a team, then these bounces are irrelevant. Dominant strikeout pitchers and huge innings at the plate can make this happen.

But in the absence of dominance, you must depend on some help from the stochastic world. And sometimes, in baseball, luck just doesn’t go your way and it makes a difference. Go back and watch the tapes of the 2008 playoffs and you’ll see a lot of bounces going the Phils’ way. Remember Game 3 of the World Series? We won on a hit that went 15 feet.

It’s fascinating how much attention goes into every transaction and play over the course of a baseball season (and offseason). When it comes to making the postseason, the long season usually ensures that the best teams are part of the final 8. But in terms of winning a championship, you need talent, timeliness, and yes, luck. In the end, all of the maneuvering and speculating about every player and every play comes down to a handful of short series at the end of the year. Each team participating in these series --- whether it’s the LDS, LCS, or the World Series --- is a good one. Therefore, anything can happen. Ask the Braves, who won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005 and only came away with 1 World Series championship. On the flip side, ask the Marlins, who won 2 championships in the same time frame despite making the playoffs only twice.

It hurts that the Phils had the best record in baseball this year --- for the first time in franchise history --- but failed to advance, let alone win, the World Series. But we should recall that the 2008 team was 92-70, good for just the 5th best record in baseball. The 2009 club won 93 games, several less than the Dodgers, whom them defeated in the NLCS. This is the first time since 1976-78 that the Phils have been on the wrong side of this cruel reality. But we should remember that as bad as it hurts to lose when you feel as though you should win, it’s even more exhilarating to win when you’re supposed to lose.

The Phils built a strong team this year and made the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year. In a short series against the Giants, however, they came up small in some big spots and didn’t get the bounces they needed. This is the nature of baseball

I’ll need a few weeks to shake this loss off; it sure was a tough one. But soon I’ll be ready to again agonize this franchise’s every move --- every signing, every trade, every top draft pick, every game --- with the hopes that we can make the playoffs again in 2011. I will do this even as I wholly recognize that winning it all, in spite of everyone’s efforts, will come down to a handful of games in that will be decided on talent, timeliness, and yes, some luck.

In a way, it’s truly absurd.

But more so, it’s quite gripping.

I, for one, can’t wait. Go Phils!

Tomorrow Begins Today for Phils

To quote from the ill-fated 2008 campaign of John Edwards, tomorrow indeed begins today for the Phils. Two wins and we return to the World Series for a 3rd straight year (where Cliff Lee, amazingly enough, is waiting). For now, all attention must be on tonight's match-up. Roy Oswalt will need to be on his game. He'll need those extra couple MPH on his fastball that the crowd should help him get. He'll need to hit the corners and stay away from BBs.

The Phils offense will face Jonathan Sanchez, a tough lefty. The key, I believe, is Ryan Howard, who did OK with him in Game 2. I think Howard needs to be aggressive early in the count. When he gets down 2 strikes to guys like this, he inevitably strikes out on an off-speed pitch. I say come to the plate ready to swing. And he absolutely needs to go the other way, something he did effectively last time he faced Sanchez.

Bill Conlin wrote a piece today in the Daily News arguing that Howard should be benched tonight for Mike Sweeney. I do not agree. Howard hasn't been a run producer this postseason, but given his success against Sanchez in Game 2, I think that'd be an extreme move. He is still a guy who can change a game with one big swing. We may need that tonight and/or tomorrow.

Ideally, the crowd will rattle Sanchez early, forcing him to give up a few runs and raise his pitch count. If the Phils can get a lead and force him out of the game early, they can tire the Giants bullpen before a decisive Game 7...

For all of those attending the game, follow the advice of Jimmy Rollins: “Be out there, let ‘em have it. LET THEM HAVE IT. All of ‘em. For real."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halladay, Bullpen Force Game 6

It was clear that Roy Halladay didn't have his best stuff yesterday. He had a lot of trouble getting ahead in counts, and even more trouble putting hitters away. To top it off, he wasn't getting much love from home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Nevertheless, he stayed out of big innings and got outs when he needed them. He was at times helped, and at others hurt, by an inconsistent Phillies defense. After the game, we learned that Doc was pitching with a mild groin pull. Manuel asked if wanted to leave the game, but Halladay refused. Great story. Hopefully, though, Doc is healthy and ready to go should we need him again --- including, perhaps, in Game 7 out of the bullpen.

Some other interesting notes from the game:

1. The bullpen looked great, even better than Halladay. Ryan Madson, in particular, was having huge success with his change-up.
2. Nice to see Jimmy steal two bases on that hamstring.
3. The blown call by Nelson on Halladay's bunt is one of the worst calls I've ever seen in the post-season (and that is saying something). He was literally standing in front of the plate and missed the fair/foul call.
4. The Phils left two runners on 3rd with less than two outs. Very frustrating and not acceptable. One was a Howard strikeout. The other, though, was tough luck on a Ross Gload line-drive hit to Aubrey Huff.
5. Pat Burrell and Tim Lincecum reinforced their douchebag images. Burrell started screaming at Halladay when it was clear Doc was staring down Jeff Nelson after the 1st inning. And Lincecum yelled "You stay there" to Rollins after he stole 2nd and 3rd on him, but was stranded by the Phils. How about looking back the runner, Tim? How does it feel to give up two steals to a guy with a bad hammy on the wrong side of 30? Also, newsflash, Ross Gload smoked the hanger you left in the middle of the plate. If not for Huff holding Ruiz on, it's a 5-2 game.

Go Phils!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't Let Us Win Tonight

I've decided to be that guy; the one who keeps the faith. Echoing Kevin Millar before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, my message to the Giants is clear: Don't let us win tonight.

It's been a tough series for us. Bad managing. Bad hitting with RISP. Less-than-dominant starting pitching. Meanwhile, the Giants are hot and hungry. They have a patchwork team with a lot of talent (underrated actually), plenty of experience, and probably the best 1-2-3-4 rotation in baseball --- yeah, I said it. I thought this series would be tough and never really understood why the Giants were being presented as a cakewalk.

But with all of that said, if we can win tonight, we can do it. We'd have Games 6 and 7 in Philly with our backs against the wall. The crowd will be loud, distractive, supporting, etc. We'll have Oswalt and Hamels on the hill. We'll have stopped the momentum by beating the Giants in San Francisco. We won't have to face Lincecum again. We'll be the 2-time defending NL champions on our own turf, daring the opposition to take the crown from us.

I waited too long to see the Phillies play competitive baseball. I became a fan in 1990 and saw 2 winning seasons in my first 13. Not 2 playoff seasons. Two winning seasons. It was rough caring so much about a team that drew 12,000 fans to an astroturf-laden dump of a stadium. It was hard being out of the race by June 1. It was tough being that told that Chad Ogea was an acceptable #2 starter, or that Rex Hudler was our big off-season acquisition.

My point is simple. It isn't hard for me to stay upbeat. I know how bad things can get for a baseball fan --- and this ain't it. So to all of you who have forgotten or simply didn't care enough when the going was tough, I'm pulling rank. I'm tired of the head-hanging and the bitching. To our fans, keep the faith. To the team, relax and stay poised like experienced champions should. To the Giants, don't let us win tonight.

In the best and worst of times, Go Phillies!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vindicated (Game 4 in Progress)

Well, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 5th, Charlie Manuel just pulled Joe Blanton. Not surprisingly, Blanton pitched like Joe Blanton tonight, giving up at least three runs in less than 5 innings. After finally having a strong offensive inning, the outcome of this game is very much in doubt. The Phils will need 4 solid innings from the bullpen. It sure would've been nice to have Doc on the mound right now. It sure would've been nice, Charlie.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roy Halladay Should Start Game 4

It looks like Charlie Manuel has decided to go with Joe Blanton tomorrow in Game 4. It may very well be the right call, but I don't think I'd make it. Given the way the Phils offense is performing, I expect very little from it tomorrow against a tough lefty, Madison Baumgartner. Joe Blanton (4.72 ERA) is a slightly below-average major league starter who is almost never dominant. This is what happens when you have average velocity, slightly above-average location, and below-average movement. The Phillies can't afford a run-of-the-mill barely-quality start tomorrow (which is a good day for Joe Blanton). They need a big, big start. They paid Roy Halladay to be the ace, they're built to win now, and he needs to be on the hill to save the season. A loss tomorrow would pit the Phils against Tim Lincecum in Game 5 (at home) in an elimination game. This scenario is worth taking a gamble to avoid.

I've heard the argument that starting Halladay tomorrow would force Oswalt and Hamels to pitch on 3 days rest as well. So what. Oswalt has done it before with success and Hamels hardly threw out his arm today (6 IP). It's the postseason, they're all veterans, and they can handle it.

If the season is to end at the hands of the Giants, then let it be because they beat the best we have. Don't let this run stop prematurely because the Giants were able to beat Joe Blanton, who by the way, hasn't pitched in 3 weeks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cliff Lee, Dominant Again

My position on Cliff Lee's departure from the Phillies is well known and need not be rehashed tonight. I just wanted to take a minute and comment on yet another amazing Lee start for the Rangers. To be clear, Lee dominated the Yankees tonight in a way that I've never seen this lineup dominated. Over 8 innings, he gave up only 2 hits, a seeing-eye single to Brett Gardner and a looper to Jorge Posada. He struck out 13 Yanks and walked only one. During the post-season, he has now recorded 34 strikeouts and only 1 walk. Facing the Rays and Yanks, long thought to be the two best clubs in baseball this year (until the Phils September surge), that's simply remarkable.

Ata-boy, Cliff.

Oswalt the Key to Game 2 Win

I had the pleasure of attending last night's game. Yes, I drove the long distance. The key to the game was clearly the man on the mound, Roy Oswalt. Unlike his sub-par performance against the Reds last week, Oswalt had command of his pitches (esp. his fastball). Other than a mistake to Cody Ross, who now has 3 HRs in this series, he really gave the Giants little to hit. Oswalt also helped himself at the plate, singling and scoring (despite running through a stop sign!) in the 7th. And in the 8th inning when Charlie Manuel came out for the ball, Roy convinced him he could get one more out, which he did.

Other encouraging signs were evident. Jimmy Rollins broke the game open with a 3-run double, his biggest hit in a long time (Jonathan Broxton?). Further, Ryan Howard handled Jonathan Sanchez (surprisingly) well, doubling and walking. Both bats will be needed in San Francisco this week.

Looking ahead, hopefully Cole Hamels can guide the Phils to victory in Game 3 against Matt Cain, but it won't be easy. Hamels has struggled in San Francisco in his career, going 2-1 with a 6.12 ERA in four starts at the 11-year-old ballpark. He's allowed at least four runs in each of his starts.

Should the Phils lose Game 3, they may be left with a tough decision regarding Game 4. Do they start Joe Blanton down 2-1, or go with Doc Halladay on short rest? Tough call. I think they'd go with Blanton on a short leash, but I'm not yet sure I agree. Thoughts?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Phillies Lose Game 1; Offensive Struggles Continue

A very tough loss tonight in Game 1. A battle of two of the league's best pitchers ended in a 4-3 Giants victory. Roy Halladay didn't pitch poorly, but was unfortunately punished for a few mistakes over the middle of the plate --- twice to Cody Ross and once to our old pal Pat Burrell, who hit a big double in the 6th to give the Giants a 3-1 lead.

In the end, however, the story of the game is an offense that failed to get (enough) big hits. Too many strikeouts. Too many guys LOB. You know, basically the same troubles that always define the Phils' offensive slumps. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino looked particularly over-matched at times.

For those who have been watching closely, this isn't a new development. The Phils haven't been hot at the plate for a while. The Reds actually handled them pretty well. Thankfully, they also committed a number of untimely errors. For the Phillies to win this series, their run-producers must have more productive ABs.

Things will not get any easier tomorrow. The Giants will send lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the hill against Roy Oswalt. Sanchez is a sometimes-dominating lefty that is well-suited to handle the Phillies. Howard, Utley, and Ibanez will most certainly have their hands full. Howard, in particular, will need to stay aggressive early in the count. Down two strikes to Sanchez, he's almost certain to whiff...several times.

Let's hope for a better tomorrow.