Thursday, August 25, 2005

Frank Goes On Vacation

The blog will take a brief hiatus for just a week- as I am going on vacation. Of course, the blog will return in time to de-construct Tulane and the Golden Eagles.

By winning last night, taking two of three from the Giants, the Phillies trip is off to a good start. They are now 11-5 over their last sixteen, the lead is 1.5 games over Houston- and the Magic Number is 34

They head to Arizona now to play a Diamondback team that looks officially more and more in full quit-mode. Another good chance to add two of three.

I watched most of the game last night. It had a certain feel about it- like a train wreck- that made it hard to turn away. The Phillies played from in front most of the night- but Lidle and the outfield defense were bad enough to allow the Giants back in it time and again. Lidle simply struggled with the battalions of left-handed hitters San Francisco ran out there. Fortunately, he got hurt after four frames- and was forced to leave before he could do any more damage. That forced Mauel to finally pitch the guy who should have been starting from the get-go: Tejade. Tejada promptly entered, restored order and got the win. Only Manuel can see the wisdom in benching your most consistent starter for the past 75 days. Hopefully, Lidle will be forced to recuperate now for a turn- and Tejada will get the ball next time through.

Now, I am off to the Bristol Motor Speedway for the Sharpie 500. Sadly, since Robbie Gordon is scheduled to appear, there will be many yellow flags indicating danger. Yellow is the true color of sadness. Watch out for Kevin Harvick. He could sweep the weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pre-Season BlogPoll is Out

The prestigious pre-season BlogPoll is out.

What is the BlogPoll? "It's like the coaches' poll except with actual thought put into it."

Tulane got a vote! Now who could have done that? You can also see a list of the 48 voters and the schools they represent. I finished fifth for "Mr. Bold"- the ballot most divergent from the poll at large- but most of my changes were in the bottom ten- where I think it is pretty reasonable to disagree.

My ballot was as follows:

1 Southern Cal
2 Miami (Florida)
3 Tennessee
4 Oklahoma
5 Ohio State
6 Texas
7 Georgia
8 Louisville
9 Florida
10 Iowa
11 LSU
12 Florida State
13 Virginia Tech
14 Michigan
15 Auburn
16 Purdue
17 Texas Tech
18 Virginia
19 Boston College
21 Penn State
22 Kansas State
23 Georgia Tech
24 Utah
25 Tulane

Tulane Pride!

Take that Washington & Lee!

I have no clue who the two people are below- but they clearly are en route to the dome. You need the comforts of booze to watch our football team's defense year after year.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Fretful Week

I suppose you cannot complain about the Phillies 4-3 mark on this homestand. For instance, on the right, Jason Michaels and Pat the Bat seem pretty darn pleased that Manuel has not yet managed them out of another win. 5-2 is an aggressive mark in baseball- and asking for it is perhaps medacious. After all, the Phils are only nine games over .500 for the season- so maybe asking for three over in a week is a little rough. Philadelphia did make up 1.5 games on Atlanta, all the ground on Houston and knocked another week off the schedule. And the Phillies lead the wild card this morning- and thus all Phillies’ blogs are still entitled to post the Magic Number: 38

Still, it was a exasperating week at Citizens. You can’t help but think they left a game or two on the table. All three losses were very winnable games beforehand.

First, they played two series- and then lost the first game twice- despite having big advantages on paper on the mound, in each one. Consequently, all week it felt like they were traveling uphill- having to win multiple games in a row, having already surrendered a game they should have won- to get just the split (Nationals) or series win (Pirates).

Second, they sort of lost the game Lidle started against the Nats twice. The first attempt to play it got rained out, with the Phillies smacking the Nats’ starting pitcher around, up 1-0, two guys on base and one out. The came back two days later to try again. For like the fourth time this year, the utter idiocy of manager Charlie Manuel outright cost them a game. He called Urbina in, to make his third appearance in a game in less than thirty hours- and Urbina looked it. The Phillies surrendered the remnants of a four-run lead to a team that cannot hit- and that loss was both totally unnecessary and rotten.

And of course, there is always worry about the Phillies starting pitching when they come out and tank one. The Phillies had two starters- Meyers and Tejada- come out and be rotten this week. Since the Phillies feature few innate advantages in this stretch drive: tough schedule, lots of travel, lots of divisional games against decent to good teams, etc.- they absolutely cannot afford to have anyone, other than Lidle, come out and tank three or four of their remaining eight starts.

Meyers came back promptly and was wonderful. Tejada gets his chance tomorrow. I sure hope the rookie is good- as the Phils can’t win this with only three productive spots in the rotation.

The Phillies head out west for the beginning of a twelve-game stretch away from Philadelphia. Two weeks ago, I broke the season down into a pair of 25 game segments- and postulated Philadelphia needed fifteen wins in both portions to advance to the post season. The first segment is off to a solid start: nine up, four down. Accordingly, they need to play .500 ball on this grueling trip to get to fifteen first segment wins.

I’ll stick with that. Play .500 through here, they probably are just a game or two back of the Marlins or Astros- and still ahead of the Mets and Nats- with lots of head-to-head games left with each (three at home versus Houston). Fifteen wins then, with a majority of games in the second segment either inter-divisional or versus Houston, gives them an excellent shot to get it done. Even Atlanta is only 3.5 ahead- and that is no super team. A 7-5 trip sets the Phils up to play Atlanta for real in Septemeber.

RIP Coo Coo Marlin.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Don't Despair People

Bad loss for the Phillies last night- particularly since the bullpen blew an 8th inning lead. Manuel is making me utterly crazy. I love Urbina- jumped for joy when he arrived. But even I wouldn't pitch him in three games in two days. Seriously, that is just stupid.

Regardless, the Phillies still lead the Wild Card. With a Phillies win and a Houston loss, the Magic Number falls two. It is now 41

The line on the Tulane at USM game has fallen a field goal plus this week. I am not really even sure if it is based on the recent suspensions at USM or just a sort of a general revaluation of Tulane's prospects. There are rumors floating around Tulane today of a player with a big injury. Apparently it is Fred Smith- but I have not seen that confirmed by grown-ups.

That would be a shame. I love Fred- he is pure excitement on kick returns. Here's a guy a little small for BCS-level ball, but who fits in nicely at a mid-major program. They'll miss Fred- he gives them field position at least once or twice with his returns almost every game- which protects the defense.

I give Fred love here.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Change in Approach

Obviously, due to the circumstances surrounding yesterday’s events, this blog will have to take a series of important, shall we say, itemizations- to ensure its continued relevance and complete, total loyalty.

Because, you guessed it, the Philadelphia Phillies lead the chase for the National League Wild Card. Of course, the Phillies effort requires the requisite acknowledgment- just completed- and a resolute commitment to stay informed. To that end, the information is as follows:

With a degree of humility, the Magic Number is 43

43! It almost seems do-able, as the glow washes over.

The Phillies have managed now to put together six weeks of solid starting pitching, superior relief work and kind of okay offense. They have made up about five games on Houston and a staggering nine on staggering Washington. That is more than pretty okay- and ought not to be dismissed cynically. There is still a long way to go. I still lean toward the Marlins, also finding themselves, in the end right now. But, it is to the team’s credit they have come all the way back from their tribulations.

Today they have a day-night situation with the Nationals- and are pretty substantial favorites in both games. It is a big day- a potential two game swing. If they can sweep the pair, Washington will have for the first time lost immediate contact with the play-off race. Having a two or three game lead on the Nats would insulate the Phils from the Nats at least- even if the Phils struggle a bit on this upcoming four-city road trip.

Lastly, I have little productive or useful to say about the Eagles’ exhibition game against the Steelers. To me, when you are a good team not looking to make wholesale changes to personnel or philosophy, these games are a complete success if no one gets hurt. So that blocked was checked.

Sure, the Eagles looked horrible on special teams- and McNabb’s first throw was probably the worst pass he’s thrown in three years. But who cares really? Two things you know about the Eagles. The first is they’ll cover kicks solidly all year. Second, well frankly, McNabb doesn’t force enough balls. It is almost a relief to see #5 try to do something stupid. It was nice to see the offense- after that first drive- move the ball efficiently, distribute the ball consistently to guys who need to prove they can play skill positions and score some points. Westbrook ought to be encased in bubble wrap until Atlanta- the guy is ready. The defense looked just fine.

TO is in camp. Here’s hoping both sides have realized that the best upside to both camps is for him to shut up, play- and get paid next year by the Rams.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Signs of Autumnal Pleasures

The signs that summer is nearing an end are increasingly at hand. As the picture shows, the stars of the nextel Cup are testing at Thunder Valley- prepping for the night showdown at Bristol.

And Tulane has been in camp for almost a week. And, okay, I admit it. Every time I listen to Clay Walker sing "Chain of Love", I start believing just maybe the Wave can get seven! But in my brain, I don’t believe it.

I’m stuck on five wins right now. Now, I get a decent amount of e-mail from folks saying I am under-estimating the Wave. I put them in two categories: the Tulane football team is better than I think- doubtful- and the schedule is much worse than I anticipate. I am coming around on the latter- willing to consider six.

Frankly however, I don’t appreciate why anyone thinks four I-A wins- or five overall- is all that outrageous for this team. Look here- the consensus forecast for Tulane:

The press consensus is seemingly third, some say fourth, in our division- which seems indicative of .500 in C-USA play. I would assume that projects to winning one or two of our I-A “out of conference” games- and a resultant total of six wins.

And I am one game under that consensus- five- which seems more grounded in consensus reality than the folks picking the Wave to win eight or nine. You can argue that those ten press samples are wrong. However, also be fair: realize that you are the crazy person now- not me.

There is a lot of crazy optimism in New Orleans about the football team. And you can certainly believe in eight/nine, with this pitiful slate, if you believe the quarterback, Lester Ricard, is going to both be healthy and explode- despite the fact that just about every skill position on offense is a question mark. It is also not exactly fair to pound the blog about being dubious on Ricard: the quarterback was hurt, and also bad to awful in most of his starts.

If you are being unbiased, you simply cannot count Ricard as an unqualified plus. The defense is simply not a very good outfit- and hasn’t been for years and years, right? Is it really crazy to be very dubious of their ability to play at a level- starting this year, and all of a sudden- that is helpful?

I think where a lot of people are going, well, candidly wrong assessing this team is they are mis-reading the true nature of last year’s club. Tulane is not really a team "coming off a five-win season".

Instead, I would argue the 2004 Tulane was rather a "two-win team”- that got to five by rolling out an amazing three-double digit underdog upsets (to their great credit), plus a win over a I-AA program. Tulane over-achieved and got a little lucky in three games they normally should lose: UAB (clearly better than Tulane), TCU (a career game from a qb no longer attending Tulane), and Navy (Tulane is just not five scores better than the Midshipmen). You can obviously dispute any given game- or argue they were better than ECU- but you cannot deny that five wins probably was not indicative of the Wave’s true level.

But people are “supposing” off that 2004 “five-win” level- when really they ought to be “supposing” off a 2-3 win level.

Still, even discounting SE La, the Green Wave really could be "better" than 7-8 teams on their schedule. That is why to me the Mississippi State game is so important. Get the squad to 1-1- and there are absolutely enough winnable games to get you 7-8 wins. Lose it: fall to 0-2 with eight I-A games to go- including Houston and UTEP... that is trouble. Then they gotta go 6-2 just to finish over .500 in their I-A games. I find that doubtful.

It is do-able, yes. But again, the idea of our defense playing consistently well seven or eight times out of nine games in a row in order to make it happen is troubling. When was the last time that occurred? Throw in an all new wideout situation in a "have to pass offensive philosophy", an consistently erratic quarterback coming off an injury- and I think 4-4/5-3 is more likely than 6-2 in their last eight I-A games.

So you could make an argument that the schedule offers a lot of sorry outfits- but the corollary of that argument doesn't exactly mean Tulane is all that good. Also, the other league members benefit from the same in-league schedule too.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Watch Out Atlanta. Here Come the Phils!

The Phillies and Tony Stewart “smoked” there way through mendacious and desultory opposition. Get out of our way! Okay, San Diego doesn’t hit much and Jeff Gordon got a flat tire. But the Phils outstanding 5-1 trip- marked down only a bit because neither Los Angeles nor San Diego is exactly good- pulled them with ½-game of the Astros. See- the Astros also don’t hit much.

The Phils jumped on two less-than-pedestrian outfits. It is a pretty easy game when you both have four guys going good in the rotation and score eight-plus runs three times a week.

No real tremendous insights frankly. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Phils are an easy team to read. Since just before the all-star break, the Phils have steadily given themselves a chance to win most nights.

True, they haven’t ripped off any six game win streaks. They just aren't that good. However, they come to the ballpark predictably expecting, and then giving themselves a dependable chance from the mound, to win more often than not. The rotation cycles as expected, the bullpen frequently dictates- and with Howard in there, the core of the line-up is a decent plus- rather than a frustrating minus. Manuel, after months of idiocy, has begun to read my blog and do some little things that help: find excuses to play Michaels and Pratt, the civic population should be given every opportunity to see Urbina daily, etc. And since the Phils are only being asked to win 90 games, rather than 97, that is all they are being asked to do: win a little more than you lose, get your four games a week.

So through this first of two segments of 25 games to finish the season, Philadelphia starts 5-1. The Nats come in now- followed by Pittsburgh. The Nats have picked themselves up off the deck- after laying there like gut fish for almost a month. Washington has played okay for about five/six days- not long enough to determine if their turnaround is legit or merely a “dead cat” bounce. The ballpark is also not a friendly one to the Nats. You need to score, and can score against good pitching, at Citizens. But the Nats just don’t hit much. Unlike the flush Phillies, the Nats are completely devoid of guys with warning track power- i.e. the type of player Citizens Bank Park justly rewards.

Why yes Nationals fans! You do get Meyers tonight! During this seven-game homestand, with Meyers starting the first four-game set, Lidle only pitching once, followed by an immediate 12-game road swing- you’d like to see the Phils get both series outright. But, 5-2 is an aggressive mark in baseball. They probably have to win tonight- Meyers v. Hernandez (who has been frankly a sort of a mess lately)- to have a realistic shot at five. But if they can get there, they probably lead the wild card race heading out west again.

Friday, August 12, 2005

TO Needs Help

Before training camp, I believed TO & Westbrook would be in camp pretty much from the start- and that Simon would use his “veteran’s prerogative” to miss some of the innate cruelty of summer camp in August before coming to terms. I still think my read on Westbrook and Simon will prove largely correct- but yesterday, I backed off TO.

Boy, that was some crazy, stupid interview TO administered last night. I watched it in its entirety and left with three conclusions.

First, the Eagles clearly are going to get a pass from everyone- no matter what they do. TO is so lost, so visibly lost, that it is almost sad. There is no dealing with the guy from a rational standpoint- and as long as that is the status quo the Eagles get a pass.

True, this won’t help the 2005 on-field product. But the experiment was a free one- the Eagles gave nothing to get TO and underpaid him immensely while he was here. They got to a Super Bowl. The roster spot he took would have been filled by a receiver worse than Mitchell- no loss of future potential there. They might yet turn the zero investment into something good for the future. A decent wide out and a first round pick was a proposed trade on NFL Tonight last night.

Second, the zenith of Drew Rosenhaus as a force near term in the NFL has been reached. He might still be powerful, etc.- but he has managed to steer his prestige client into a situation where the only question is how much money, face or respect TO stands to lose- and he stands unabashed as the architect of it all. If you can’t get along with the classy Eagles’ organization, if your desire to publicly humiliate a guy like Joe Banner currently stands to cost your client a $9 million team option- well, I guarantee other agents can do better. This is not the NBA. Player reps don’t make trades. Smart teams hold the hammer here: not agents, not players.

There will always be moronic front offices- like Washington and Cincinnati- but fewer and fewer for bullies like Rosenhaus. Teams want to emulate the Eagles' and Patriots' front office. A key portion of the formula is saying "No to Drew" and his ilk.

Third, this is not funny anymore. Look, we’ve all seen TO. He’s nuts, a spazz. But he was always a like-able guy if you didn't have to actually deal with him. He undoubtedly loved to play, loved the fans. But clearly, this is something else- like he could be manic-depressive- or simply depressed. Just watching him on television, you could tell something was different. Honestly, something just isn’t right with the guy: the paranoia, the creation of alternative realities, bizarre “facts”.

Still, today I am still standing by yesterday’s speculation: TO is probably done in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, the upside to both the Eagles’ on field product and TO’s future bottom line are so far in the “TO plays and plays great in Philly” camp that, well, they probably both got to try one more time.

Anyway, enough TO. To cheer everyone up, I am including a link of my favorite painting and artist. As artchive writes:

"Jan van Eyck was the greatest artist of the early Netherlands school. He held high positions throughout his career, including court painter and diplomat in Bruges. So outstanding was his skill as an oil painter that the invention of the medium was at one time attributed to him, with his brother Hubert, also a painter. Van Eyck exploited the qualities of oil as never before, building up layers of transparent glazes, thus giving him a surface on which to capture objects in the minutest detail and allowing for the preservation of his colours. Nowhere is this better displayed than in this portrait of Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini, a merchant from Lucca and a frequent visitor to Bruges, and his wife Giovanna Cenami. The signature on the back wall - 'Jan Van Eyck was here, 1434' - and his reflection in the mirror has led many to believe that he was a witness to their marriage. The carving of Saint Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth, on the bed, and the presence of the dog - a traditional symbol of faithfulness - accentuate the marital theme."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

TO is a Fink

TO is a fink.

But he sure can play.

For that reason alone, the Eagles really ought not pull the plug on this experiment yet. Other than the Patriots, the Eagles are the most adult organization in the NFL. If the quarterback and head coach cannot deal with this maniac- no one can. So, since Owens is awesome-possum, they ought to trust themselves as an organization to handle him. At least give themselves every single possible chance to make TO heel- much like a misbegotten pug puppy. Or Joe Gibbs. Gosh, remember when the NFL respected that old fool. Now the Linc mob pillories Gibbs like a pug- who has wet the rug despite his incontinence medication.

That being said, for the first time, I tend to think the TO experience in Philadelphia is probably over. Philadelphia is generally so proficient in controlling the team’s external presentation. The very fact that TO was oh so publicly dismissed suggests the Eagles were looking for an excuse to make this dispute a civic priority.

Not that Reid and Banner want this- both are not so foolish as to ruminate the football team is better off without this dope. However, if the braintrust have decided TO has got to go- they have set themselves up where it does certain damage, but the least damage, to the team.

Again, I sort of think they have given up. One problem with this whole situation is goes right at two of the Eagles’ organizational blind spots. One, the Eagles really prize order above talent. Two, they believe that wide out is not an important position in a capped league- that you can win with marginal talent out there.

Now, I prize order too. I get it. But the one thing about order, one of the reasons you demand it, is it allows you to keep a guy like TO without eating at the team’s foundation. The second point, well, Reid is wrong. He’s not perfect.

So Owens’ potential departure hurts- yes. Though the Eagles have insulated themselves probably the best they can:

1. They have successfully made Owens out to be the bad guy. Admittedly, this was not hard. But the fans and media aren’t going to go crazy if he leaves- as they would do if they thought the Eagles were dismissing TO solely due to money issues. The team will rally around the popular quarterback and coach.

2. Imagine if Owens pulled this nonsense with, oh, say a Brunell type contract. Remember, it cost nothing to bring him here. Further, TO is right about one thing, the Eagles woefully underpay him. It costs pretty much nothing to cut him- or they might get a decent draft pick if they can trade him.

3. He might even play again. Remember, TO is not like the rest of us humans.

These problems have swirled around him constantly- albeit not this bad- and it has never affected his production. Frankly, the Eagles have never had a problem with his on-field performance. The guy has been a warrior- pure and simple. He plays with determination and guts and skill. The problem is just everything else: sideline behavior, his mouth, etc. But you know what, if he catches two touchdowns Monday Night against the Falcons, this situation largely goes away.

The question is can the Eagles put up with this for five months. And gosh, I’d still like to see them try. TO is really good. I would put up with a lot of negatives- and I think McNabb and Reid can handle them- to put him out there on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Pat Hits A Bomb or Start the Clock

Pat the Bat! Goes Deep! Phils win- and get this mini-trip off to a good start.

Tonight’s game has an important feel to it- a prototypical swing game. Although narrow, the Phillies are a rare road favorite tonight. They got their best pitcher going: Meyers. The Dodgers are a pretty bad baseball team. The Phils won one of the three very losable games on this trip last night- and a win tonight turns almost any result, short of a sweep, in San Diego into a good trip out west. This game has real upside- and is totally there for them tonight.

I think this trip is key- as it kicks off an intriguing pair of hard stretches for the Phils. Counting last night, the Phils had fifty games left, that sort of neatly dovetail into two 25-game stretches. These games to close out the season are tricky- two big road trips, a lot of Atlanta, Washington, Houston and Florida. Pedro probably at some point- maybe even twice.

This stretch of 25 games, eighteen on the road, is a pitiless one- particularly for a semi-capable team like the Phillies. Starting this stretch 3-3 would be huge- cycling competently through the rotation again- and knock this first stretch down to 19 games with 12 road affairs. A nice plus, they would probably pick a game up on both the Astros and Nats.

True, they probably can’t fall out of it altogether with their starting pitching going darn good right now. But if the Phils can hang around- two or so games back- through this stretch of 25 or so games- and then bring Houston into Citizen’s for the return set… well, that seems a lot more manageable than the slogging, travel-filled climb they face now.

I sort think this stretch of 25 is going to ultimately be harder than the final 25- if just because the Braves will have checked out at that point, and the Nats will have ceased playing for this year. Normally, you’d take .500 ball through this first stretch- but the Phils trail two clubs, are being chased strongly by two others and have that rough finish. I still think 88-90 wins is still the standard- which means the Phils need 29-30 more victories- or about fifteen in both sets of 25 games. Very aggressive facing this schedule and travel. Doing it twice seems hard frankly.

But the Phils would take a huge step in that direction by winning tonight and getting two in San Diego. Near .500 ball (11-8) would then get them there in the first segment.

Georgetown v. Catholic

Amy Welborn and her contributors write today on the difference between Washington DC's two premier Catholic universities- which is interesting if you care about this sort of thing.

I did like this one comment- which is why I am including it. I feel obligated to share all inside curial jokes:

Years ago I attended Dean Jude Dougherty's lecture for the One Hundredth Anniversary of the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America.

Afterwards he took questions from the floor, and someone asked, in essence, do you really think you're doing any good?

His reply was patient, that a thousand years from now people will still be reading Aristotle, and moreover, that a thousand years from now people will still be reading Aquinas on Aristotle. The Dean said he and his colleagues try to do their best.

After a brief pause, he added, "and Ratzinger recommends us". At the time it was just a Catholic, curial in-joke, but now it's even more of a point of pride.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wasting Time

Let's just all bask in his gentle nature for a bit. Hard to imagine Smoke not winning the Nextel Cup right now. The Chase races shape up well for him- and Jimmie Johnson seems increasingly a bit- a small bit to be sure, but definitely present- behind. Soon, I will be at Bristol Motorspeedway- to see him in person. And I hope he rubs Jeff- rubs him real good.

And probably the most disturbing thing I've seen in quite a while. If Tulane has not offered this guy a scholarship, they ought to.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dog Days

Doesn't watching David Bell play third base every single freaking night really drive home the concept of what "dog days" are all about?

Really, the best part about the Phillies is they are not schizophrenic at all. They totally are what they are- a pretty okay team made up of enough good parts that nothing can ever go too wrong. That was on display yet again during this week’s homestand- a completely typical split of six games. This was made wearisome only by the fact that if the Phillies could only do just a bit better- say, gone 4-2 on the home stand and now rip off a solid west coast swing- they really, really could be in this to win this.

For instance, they are only 2.5 games back from Houston. And if you hadn’t noticed, the Phillies have crawled back in this due to, gulp, their starting pitching. Four guys going pretty okay. Tejada and Meyers are having very good, consistent years. After a brutal start, Padilla has six consecutive quality starts- and he's allowed just 10 earned runs since July 6th- really just about the time I began musing about the benefits of his outright release. If you take the game in Colorado out of the recent equation, Lieber is 1-1 with a 1.63 ERA in three of his last four starts. Even Lidle has been pretty okay for a fifth starter.

If they can keep pitching like that- and that is a huge if- well, you know something, the Phils are a hard-wearing club. As the Inky wrote yesterday, “every time it looks as though they have faded, they do something to stay in it.” Fuse this competent rotation on to an outstanding bullpen and make, say, 87 wins the standard. Well, in that scenario, they are going to be a tough nut.

The funny thing is the real cringing problem is now the hitting. They hit pretty okay in Philadelphia- the short porches transform guys with warning track power- Utley, Leiberthal, Bell, Rollins- into “better” offensive players. But on the whole, particularly on the road, you can candidly get the Phillies out. The lead-off guy simply does not get on near enough. There are too many easy outs: Leiberthal, Bell, the pitcher’s spot and- correct me if I’m wrong- but doesn’t seem like one of the core hitters (Thome, Abreu, Burrell) is always slumping badly? The experiments Manuel likes to run out there are largely stupid: Utley is a plus hitting sixth- but third? Worse, they can’t sort of "get by" at times- like the Braves do and Nats did- as they frankly don’t run effectively, hit “situationally”, play “small-ball” or hit left-handers well.

That lefty thing is huge- because a lot of times it does not help the Phils to get into other team’s bullpen. Instead of the normal resulting anarchy of middle relief, teams roll a mediocre situation left-hander out there- and the Phillies promptly surrender three to six outs late in games.

In short, they are an easy team to pitch against. Warning: If you are a student of the Phillies you will totally get my meaning, but this next sentence is going to sound ridiculous. Because you can get the Phillies out, I think that is why Philadelphia really seems to disproportionately struggle against quality starting pitching. They can’t generate any offense whatsoever against solid pitching because they can’t get guys on base cheap- or move’em once they get on.

The message of the week is clear! Follow the advice of the guy on the right: despite the Eagles being in camp, you still can’t run up the white flag on this bunch. Right now, the rotation, plus bullpen, is the best it has been all season. If you could add six weeks of solid production from Abreu, Utley and Burrell- I imagine the Phils are in this march to 88 wins with the rest of the mob.

Finally, I stole the pictures from a blog on the Phillies. Check it out.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Peter Forsberg!!!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Prepare to be Clutched

The Flyers added three new names to the defense: Derian Hatcher from Detroit (4-years at $14 million), Mike Rathje from San Jose (5-years at $17.5 million) and Chris Therien (1-year at the veteran minimum).

Are these guys an upgrade from Marcus Ragnarsson, Mattias Timander and Vladimir Malakhov? Honestly, I am not so sure. To me, other than the elite guys, NHL defensemen are in one of two buckets: can't play and can play. If Hatcher is healthy, he is the aforementioned elite player. The money they are paying Rathje- more than Hatcher- suggests someone in the Flyers' organization thinks he can potentially really play.

But Ragnarsson, Timander and Malakhov were all guys in the "can play" bucket. You could run each out there, shift after shift, and not worry about them. Not you gotta worry: is Hatcher healthy enough to get through a deep play-off run? and just where is Therein's head at today? in the "can't play" bucket? Rathje admittedly seems like an upgrade.

Regardless, the Flyers like their veterans- particularly on the blue line. And, well, they are bigger on "D" anyway. One thing these signings prove- Clarke believes the commitment to the new "clutch, grab and obstruct" rules will mean nothing come May 1st or so. Mind you, I agree with that myself. The best part about the NHL play-offs is that tackling becomes allowed in the third period of one-goal games.

Still, I don't mind Hatcher honestly- seen here playing for his country- the United States of America. Clearly the upside to this sort of signing is tremendous- although being yoked to this guy until he is almost 38, in a cap environment, is sort of scary. He was never exactly mobile pre-injury- and maybe he was one of those guys two full years away from the grind of hockey will really help. I actually sort of like the fact he's only played 15 NHL games (and some minor league games) in two years. And if he's healthy, he's a no-doubt about A-level defensemen.

Therein? In the picture to the right, we see him cringing to avoid contact with a small-ish Ottawa winger. Also, all readers must shotgun a Molson- as I have forced you to look at that fink "Czech-magic"! Gosh, I dunno- isn't he an experiment the Flyers really tapped out? Didn't he play an awful lot of games with the Phantoms before being traded out of here? I guess at $500,000 he provides NHL-quality depth- as I'd hate to see a legit run at the Cup foiled by having to play Kapenen back there again. But I've seen this guy a lot- ugh- really... there is nothing better in his price range?

I don't know much about Rathje- including his first name candidly- those guys out west might as well be on another planet. But again, the money suggests the League thinks the guy is a player. And in the East, you cannot go wrong having lots of mature vets play the shifts that count.

Bottom line- the Flyers defense now consists of the three guys above- plus veterans Desjardins and Johnsson and the developing Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg. Pretty good. Hatcher on your second pair is probably a real plus- and saves minutes on those legs. Johnsson is a bonafide world class player. Good veteran depth. Not much offense- the power play will still be problematic- but size and that key competence in consistly getting the puck out when the Devils-do you think the Flyers really consider Tampa their rivals to win the East?- pitch it in.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ave Maria!

Now this, this, is the sort of thing that makes me twitch. I am increasingly ready for game day. Tulane football rocks- and rocks hard. But the Irish play for the Glory of Our Mother.

Pawlus does seem to have fleshed out a little- but you know, even today, Northwestern would want no part of him.

Credit: The Blue-Gray Sky

Monday, August 01, 2005

We Love You Phillies!

Relax. First, anytime you feel frustrated as a Phillies fan- remember you are one day closer to the richly deserved termination of Ed Wade. Second, there is nothing the GM can do about the sun coming up and setting each and every 24 hours. Other good things are a day closer too: Leiberthal’s and Bell’s contracts rolling off, the “disappearance” of Padilla, Billy Wagner’s “surprise” re-signing with the Phils. I mean- where else is he going to get $21 million over 2 years? Maybe Boston, but that is even a worse, more filthy east-coast city in an inferior pitcher’s park. It is weird, but when you are an eight-digit closer, you have few options. Are you sure, say, even the Cubs could afford him?

This was a frustrating road trip for the Phils. They did not play all that badly- taking three out of seven on a swing that featured Houston and Colorado. Most times, you’d take that trip- and I wrote last week three would be acceptable.

But the one caveat I did throw in there was that 3-4 was okay- if the Braves only picked up a game. Instead the Braves went crazy- feasting on the Nats and Pirates.

Boy, the Nats have really undone some of the good feelings they generated. There is more than a little quit in that club right now. I don’t know if Robinson’s pressure, “I’m such a genius and good soldier that it must be the players’ fault”- style is such a plus now. Another problem the Nationals face is that “pitching & defense” concept, that was so effective for them, particularly in their ballpark, is such a tenuous model. If the pitching does falter, even for a pair of rotation turns, you’re abruptly stuck with a situation where your defense cannot help you. They can’t keep balls in the ballpark or out of the gaps- much. And unlike, say, Robby Gordon, the Nats simply don’t hit. That is how a once good team can go 3-13 or so real quick-like.

The Braves’ lead is now seven- and although the Phillies have lots of head-to-head games left- I imagine the Braves will continue to briskly check out. Seriously, complete this sentence: running "#1 starter" Leiber out there every five days is a plus when trying to make up seven games because….

That leaves the Phillies chasing Houston- another less than inspiring prospect. But they are only 2.5 games back- so they gotta try.

I think we all understand now Larry. But I actually think the Phillies more or less pursued the right strategy at the deadline. Only 2.5 games back, with two months to play, they couldn’t package Wagner or Lidle and effectively surrender. Plus, even if they had gotten a starting pitcher- who would you have removed from the rotation? Tejada is the easiest answer. But honestly, who has been the Phillies best SP lately? Tejada is the easiest answer. What starting pitcher was available that was going to win, guaranteed, say two-three more games than Lidle over twelve starts?

Wade couldn’t realistically justify moving multiple young players either- even if you could put a Zito-style pitcher on this team, it ain’t a given it’ll make the play-offs. Plus, I just don’t trust Ed Wade in this spot. Some guys have a knack for this sort of thing- and the Phillies’ GM candidly just doesn’t.

One thing the deadline taught yesterday was that teams are loathe to give up even unestablished talent. Young, ergo cheap, players are so much more important in roster formation now than even a decade ago- particularly on the “bottom-half of revenue” teams. Those teams will never afford the Thomes and Wagners- so they simply cannot even entertain moving young players who are near MLB ready. It would be impossible for, say, Minnesota or Oakland to move prospects for rented players- as the effective 25 year old player is their only chance for success. And if the Phils want to continue this strategy of having half their payroll in four-five guys- then realistically they need to keep other guys who can play in the big leagues on their first contracts.

"I'm renting Charlie- are you renting? I sure hope you're renting."