Monday, June 10, 2013

Phillies Blew an Opportunity in Milwaukee

Phillies BrewersBy The Greek:
June 10, 2013

Phillies vs. Brewers

After sweeping the lowly Florida Marlins and fueled by the Player of the Month honors bestowed upon Domonic Brown, the Phillies seemed poised to keeping climbing over their newly reached .500 record. But after it was all said and done in Milwaukee, the Phils had lost 3 of 4 to the Brewers, and had fallen to .484. It seems a great opportunity was blown, but maybe we were expecting too much.

Starting Pitcher
5 – 1
W - Cloyd
4 – 5
L - Lee
3 – 4
L - Kendrick
1 – 9
L - Pettibone

After winning the first of four games to extend their season’s longest winning streak to five, the Phillies lost three straight to the Brewers. Let’s face it, at least two of the pitchers who threw in the series were not supposed to be in the rotation this year. Cliff Lee, who did belong, blew a 4-0 lead in his start against the Brew-crew, who won Game 2 on the last minute heroics of Aramis Ramirez. It was not all Lee’s fault, as the Brewers literally chipped away at him until he broke, fouling off a ton of pitches to take his count to over 120 through just seven innings. Still, losing that game in heartbreaking fashion and seeing their streak ended, turned the euphoric feeling in the Phils clubhouse to one of disappointment. Then after losing another close one in Game 3, the Phils just broke in the fourth and final matchup.

Obviously, with Roy Halladay on the DL, and with Cole Hamels struggling for victories, the staff is underperforming. On the batting end of things, the Phillies are slamming the ball and were among league leaders in home run production in May and so far this month. Still, the lineup is far from optimized, with Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hurt, and Delmon Young underachieving.

It’s true that Michael Young has risen to the challenge, being asked to do more for the team while batting some at the leadoff spot. He’s got 10 hits over the last seven games, and is hitting .400 over that span. John Mayberry is batting .368 and slugging .789, with two homers and six RBIs through the last seven. Everyone knows what Domonic Brown has done this year, and he’s kept it going over the last week, with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs, while putting up a .396 on-base percentage to boot. Erik Kratz kept up his very adequate effort in the place of Ruiz, hitting 2 home runs over the past week before he too went down with a knee issue. Even Delmon Young has picked up the pace, hitting over .300 and nailing two homers of his own over the last seven games.

But other guys have let down a bit, including Jimmy Rollins (.200 average over last seven), Ryan Howard (.238 with 5 strikeouts) and Ben Revere (.222). Howard looked awkward in a pinch hit appearance Saturday night, as he was rested to prepare for Sunday’s day game. Though, I noted a glimmer in his eyes after the Game 1 victory, and believe he is in the right mindset.

Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen should simply not be playing as much as they are. The Phils should add some depth to the infield, and they may have something to trade if Delmon Young keeps hitting. They drafted a significant shortstop in Crawford, but he will not be contributing anytime soon.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time before this team is winning consistently and taking the games against the teams that it should beat handily. The Brewers are one of those teams, sitting 12 games under .500 even after taking 3 from the Phils. Miami is the worst team in the National League, but before sweeping them in the previous series, the Phils actually lost 3 of 7 to the Marlins in May.

Until all the cogs are in place, with what certainly is a steep drop-off from Utley and Halladay to their replacements, the Phils just are not the Phils we know. So even while some guys are picking up pace, the music emanating from the Phillies band is not sounding harmonious enough. Even so, there is hope, with young guns like Brown ready and able to contribute, and with old hands like Delmon Young and Michael Young getting their groove back. Sometimes the teams that lose games to the teams they are supposed to beat end up winning the games against the teams that should kill them. Such is the irony of the ebb and flow of baseball’s long season.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Phillies Beat Brewers 5-1 as Bizarro World Rules

Charlie Manuel senile genius
By The Greek:
June 6, 2013

The aging Michael Young batting leadoff; pull-hitter, John Mayberry, hitting in the two-spot; Jimmy Rollins swinging in the sweet spot instead of leadoff; the young Domonic Brown set in the five hole? What is this, Bizarro World?

The only thing that makes any sense is big Ryan Howard batting cleanup. Hey, Charlie Manuel has not lost his mind yet. Poor old Cha’ley is dealing with a lineup absent of the disabled Chase Utley. He can’t bat Freddy Galvis in the two-spot given Freddy’s anemic batting average (.241). So he is making due, and doing what is working, however bizarre that may seem.

Michael Young may not be at his fastest in the fall of his career, but his on-base percentage is the best of the Phillies’ starting lineup. So, batting Young first isn’t all that insane, though it may make one wonder about Charlie’s mental state. In application, it’s uncanny how well it worked out. Young tallied three hits against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, though mostly against a not so wily, Wily Peralta, a young Brew-Crew thrower with just two-pitches (fastball & slider - at least that’s all he had last time out). He showed a bit more in his second outing versus the Phils this year, though ironically with less success.

Batting Mayberry second has more to do with Ben Revere resting than anything else, and also just how the mix seems to work best among the hitters available. When adding ingredients to form a dish, the order in which you add them matters. Charlie looks like a master chef today, since Mayberry had three hits on the evening. Mayberry got on base in his first two at-bats Thursday, driving in a run in the second inning.

Batting Mayberry second versus the Michael Young option seems like it should never be on the decision tree, though it somehow made sense due to Mayberry’s power of late and Young’s OBP. Charlie’s looking smarter with every paragraph scribbled here, so we will likely be officially anointing him a genius by the close.

Placing Jimmy Rollins third works because it works! Jimmy is only hitting .263 in the leadoff slot, but he is working miracles in the third hole. And it seems to me that if Young and Mayberry had failed in their heightened roles, Rollins would likely have picked them up, cause that’s just how Jimmy rolls.

Domonic Brown batting fifth might not have made any sense at the start of the season, but through May this year, no other place will do. Brown hit 7 home runs in the last home stand alone, and leads the NL with 18 on the young season. He got on base three times Thursday night, though all of Philadelphia missed the long ball. The kid is in the hunt to lead the majors in home runs this year; he’s just two back of American Leaguer, Chris Davis (Orioles), who is also having a career year.

Heck, everything Charlie Manuel did worked on Thursday. Even the so-far struggling Delmon Young and his .228 batting average slammed a home run to deep center. Lost in the mix, but not in the box score, the crafty Tyler Cloyd pitched a four-hitter through six and two-thirds, and lowered his ERA to under 4.0, to 3.77 on the season. Cloyd walked five, but it’s forgivable, considering his shutout performance. Mike Adams gave up the only run in late relief.

While everything seemed bizarre Thursday night in Milwaukee, one thing is becoming the norm. The Phillies are winning, adding their fifth straight to their longest winning streak of the season. It’s the right time for it too here, with a full month to go before the All-Star Break. And oh by the way, bizarre works for the Phillies; just recall 1993.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Chase Utley's Hall of Fame Nemesis

Chase Utley Phillies When my girlfriend bought me a Chase Utley jersey, I was ecstatic. You see, it was for my birthday the season just after the Phillies had won the World Series. I wore it all around the enemy territory of New York City where I live, and I appreciated the respect I got for it. People were patting me on the back telling me what a great player Utley is, and my response was a highly confident prediction that he would go down as one of the best hitters in history and make the Hall of Fame. While Utley remains one of my favorite Phillies of all time, he may not retire in league with the game’s greatest of all time.

After a great start to his career, lately Chase has been overcome by something far more imposing than any of the many major league pitchers he’s taken deep with ease. A plague of injuries have haunted Utley over the past couple years, holding up his at bats and severely impacting his production. He broke a bone in his hand, had hip surgery, and most recently, has been plagued by chronic knee pain. It’s a shame, I thought initially, until I got to thinking about the struggles we all face in life that we must push through to make a difference and to be remembered.

The worst enemy of Chase Utley, like many modern day athletes who have enjoyed some degree of success at the professional level, is not his nagging knee pain, which now has some scientific description to make it even more terrifying to Phillies fans who just cannot believe their luck. It’s not tendinitis that’s haunting Chase; it’s the success that he has already achieved. He’s won the World Series, made the All-Star team several times, and he has been a serious candidate for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He’s managed some amazing production and is one of the best second basemen of all time by some measures. But will his final numbers indicate that? It all depends on what Chase wants, and what price he’s willing to pay.

The slugging second baseman’s bad break sucks two times as bad for the Phillies. That’s because just when we solidified our pitching staff to maximize the opportunity of a special lineup, Utley is joined on the bench by Ryan Howard, who was felled by a freak achilles tendon tear on the last pitch of last season.

Jack Youngblood broken leg You know what, though, it’s not about luck. Everybody deals with their share of hard knocks in life. It’s about how we deal with those pitfalls and stumbles that define us. Henry Ford II is attributed for saying, “Never complain, never explain,” but somehow I feel like it better fits some war beaten general who made it through his own personal bloodbath, or perhaps a hall of fame sportsman. Philly’s own fictional hero, Rocky Balboa, said, “…it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”

Remember when Jack Youngblood played through a broken leg? Try to get one of today’s high paid heroes to do that! Except for a handful of guys who still round the bases with a special fire in their heart, you’ll have some trouble. The game has changed since Kirk Gibson’s legendary slam, which was accompanied by a hobbled slug around the base path.

Kirk Gibson World Series Homerun You know who does play through pain today? Chipper Jones, the weather beaten ball player most fantasy owners stay away from because of his propensity for injury; he does. He’s the guy some beer guzzling lug takes a chance on every spring fantasy draft, and gets rewarded with a ton of production at a cheap price. That’s because Chipper plays through pain, and he’ll probably make it into the Hall of Fame because of it. Imagine if Chipper started talking about retirement the first time he got seriously hurt. Think of how many fewer RBIs he would have had in his career and how less competitive the Braves would have been without him over the years.

Heck, if you or I stopped working toward success at the first stumbling block, where would we be today? Thank the Lord for necessity, because it overrules what is plaguing today’s modern professional athletes. They do not have the incentive of an overdue electric bill to pull them back onto the field of life.

Look, don’t get me wrong; there are some injuries you just can’t play through, and there are other injuries it’s not smart to play through if you ever want to recover. Still, today’s ballplayers need to tell their trainer to take a break every once in awhile and get back to work. I hear you though; who can know what Chase is dealing with, because we cannot feel what he feels? And if it were September, you and I both know Chase Utley would be playing.

Yet, we also know that guys who play for free tend to play through pain more often than the guys who are making millions. It’s because we play for the game, that one particular game we happen to be involved in. It seems so important because it is, because we won’t always be able to play in that game and we know it, so we play to win and we play through pain. We play for the respect we earn every single game because it’s fleeting. We don’t have records to look back on or statistics to ride on, or money to spend or trophies to shine. We only have the moments and the memories.

You know, the problem is bigger than baseball. Our society is getting soft. There I said it! History shows that societal decadence signals the end of a civilization. It happened in ancient Athens before the end, and maybe it’s happening here now. I’m not going to lay down the evidence, but I think it’s evident enough for you to fill in. We are not as tough as we once were, given the things we do and how we live in the USA today.

I’m not saying Howard can play through an achilles tear, but there are some injuries that hall of famers play through. For instance, “chronic knee” pain is something somebody who wants to help his team win the World Series plays through instead of watching his team struggle. That’s probably why Utley is fielding ground balls today, because the Phillies are sitting in last place in the N.L. East with him off the field.

These types of injuries are the kind guys remembered as winners played through. And yet, so often today, the same injuries are not the kind ballplayers play through. That’s what bothers me most. That said, I see Utley taking ground balls, and I have a feeling he’s not pain free. I have a feeling he is noticing the necessity of his getting back into the lineup, to give the Phillies back some of their fire. In fact, I think Chase has been thinking about the context of this article even before it was ever written, because he is tough and he is a winner. Chase will lead this team out of its rut if he has to, because his will is stronger than his pain. With regard to the Hall of Fame, the only question is how badly Utley wants it, not whether his body will make easy or not. The same goes for you and I in this hard knock life; all we can do is struggle until the end. That way, maybe, we’ll be remembered by someone for something. More importantly, though, we’ll always know in our own hearts that we were men and we earned that title.

Monday, April 9, 2012

For the Phillies it's One Game at a Time, One Run at a Time

Phillies off balance batting pitchingBy The Greek

The Philadelphia Phillies won their season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, but the way the team won was concerning. While staff ace Roy Halladay, who is arguably the best pitcher in the league, tossed a two hitter, it was only barely good enough for the win. The Phillies, who have underachieved offensively at times, notably in their lost playoff series last year, only managed one run to start the 2012 season. As the rest of the Phils' first series played out, it seemed to serve as an omen.

The Phillies’ offense is relying more heavily on youth and patchwork to start 2012, with its two most important sluggers sidelined. Ryan Howard’s injury was well-noted by Phillies fans, as his achilles tendon blew out on the last pitch of the Phillies season in 2011. It put a poor punctuation mark to the team and the city’s disappointment, as down it fell with its greatest warrior felled simultaneously.

Chase Utley, the team’s slugging second baseman who looked destined for the Hall of Fame not too long ago, has struggled through two injury plagued seasons. This year, his chronically aching knees have once again sidelined him.

Until now and again in their first series of 2012, the Phillies have benefited from the strength of their very special pitching staff, perhaps one of the strongest in history. Courageous and wise, they lead the team through the narrow waters of tight games. But to win it all, which is Philadelphia’s only goal, they’ll need a better balance.

Rather than balance, though, this year the team seems more off-balance than ever. It’s first three starts from Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley produced a most impressive 20 innings pitched with just nine hits against. Yet, the Phillies dropped two of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, including two one run losses.

The offense was pathetic, batting just .204 and .194 with runners in scoring position. The patchwork offense, with Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre and Freddy Galvis getting regular playing time, seems it just won’t cut it. Playing small ball and trying to steal games is a risky ploy that will only waste the Phillies special pitching staff’s production.

Rather, two of the Phillies new hopes with big potential will be called upon to rise up and lead this team. Hunter Pence, John Mayberry and maybe even Jim Thome are going to have to fill the void. But even when Utley and Howard return, they’ll need to return to form to add value. And it’s too much to ask the bullpen to be as good as the Phils’ starters. So with starters’ innings and pitches somewhat limited this spring until arm strength is built up, and at least until Howard and Utley return, it seems the theme for the Phillies will be: One Game at a Time, One Run at a Time.