Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Well, after losing 3-2 this afternoon to the Washington Nationals, the Phillies wrapped up a week long home stand at 3-3. Everything that makes them a little better than .500 team, and gives a smart fan no reason to expect better, eventually got on display: increasingly threadbare rotation, Jimmy Rollins, etc. They lost two games to a good team, won two against a bad one. Not good enough to care of the Brewers at home, not bad enough to get the requisite two from the Nats.

And the rotation- minus Leiber and Hamels- does not inspire confidence in this mostly out west road swing. Eleven games. To be honest, real honest, I can’t see them getting five. Maybe. But they are looking at nine starts by Madson, Floyd, Lidle and some minor leaguer. Myers better get his pair- because five is improbable otherwise.

Also, I really, really am going to go crazy if they do not get Rollins out of the lead-off spot. He’s no longer “close your eyes and deal with it”. He’s no longer bad. He’s horrid. And he’s really hurting the team. There were two one-run games this week- today and one against Milwaukee- where he’s absolutely killed them. Enough. I realize he’s got to play- there are no other realistic options- but must Jimmy hit where he can kill the club day-after-day.

My only other thoughts involve the Nationals. I thought baseball was dumb for putting a team in DC- the categorically “most failed” baseball town in America. Washington would have been a nice fit for a classy AAA-franchise. Not this mess. But even I gotta admit, I never thought the Nats would be literally AAA so quick.

The on-field product is horrid- I really doubt they can win 64 with the upcoming fire sale coming in July. Heck, 59 is a real possibility if they deal Hernandez.

And Lord knows how many they'd lose if they didn't get to play the Marlins 18 times. Replace Marlins with Giants (last in the West) and you can make the 64 and 59 above into 60 likely and 55 possible.

55-107. Wow. You know, they're pretty close. Play some bad series in a "big" spot against Florida and they are right there.

Also, they seem to reporting attendance figures at least 10K over actual bodies on week nights. Washington papers suggest the Nationals have had some very near 10K. Put Syracuse or Scranton, as is, in National League East and they'd both draw better and win more than 40 games. And Syracuse or Scranton don't have to share a stadium with a "soccer" team.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Where the Phillies Stand

Well, that was a perplexing series with the Mets. Ultimately, it certainly wasn’t a good one- losing another game to New York and having Atlanta pretty much complete its comeback. But this May schedule looked rough after May 2. Six with the Mets and two with Braves for starters- they got five of those eight. Three at Cincinnati (sweep for) and three with Boston (sweep against). The Giants and the Brewers. Seven straight series against winning teams: twelve up and and eight down, deficit cut to four games. Not bad actually- although somehow inadequate given the great start.

I also wish Philadelphia took advantage of their apparent ability to jump on the bottom end of the Met’s rotation. Boy, that was a crew the Mets ran out there this week. No wonder the Mets are lauding El Duque and his over six ERA as a plus- at least he is a "real" major league player. The Phillies had a ton of opportunity to get that second victory- as the Mets’ starting pitching allowed Philadelphia to hang a crooked number up every single game at the get-go. Instead, the Phils blew every single one of those leads.

The Mets are pretty darn good. Outside the bottom half of their rotation, they have a lot of plus players in the ‘pen and one thru six in the line up. In particular, they have some good core hitters- and they are very capable of putting up numbers and trouble against indifferent middle relief and a uncomfortable John Leiber.

And look, there are problems here. The Phillies are a team with:

- starting pitching featuring a kinda "okay-to-a-little bad" collective 5.00 ERA

- an offense with a horrid lead-off hitter that no one in the organization seemed willing to challenge until yesterday? (Not that I think Victorino is any sort of solution. First, there is no place to play him when Rowand gets back. Second- he’s the sort of player who really helps playing here and there, counted on for a saavy at bat late in every game- but probably gets exposed playing every day.)

- an offense with a line up that, outside of Howard (sort of) & Utley, has no one having a "wow!" season- particularly in an offense friendly park.

- and a bull pen that has been very good at closer- and a gutty Flash was a warrior yesterday without his best stuff- but largely "okay-to-a-little bad" otherwise

Add "okay-to-a-little bad" plus “horrid” plus “no wow! seasons” plus another “"okay-to-a-little bad" and you get, well, "okay-to-a-little bad". A little over .500. Which, I think, if you were honest about this team pre-season, is where you put them: 84 wins- over .500 largely due to the presence of the terrible Marlins and Nats

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jackie Vergerio

You know, I really wasn’t in a foul mood this morning about the Phillies 9-8 defeat in sixteen innings last night. I really wasn't. Sure they blew some leads- but mixingthe Phillies middle relief with the Mets good hitting- and it is gonna happen. Anyway, I was fine until I opened the Philadelphia Daily News and read Rich Hofmann’s moronic sour commentary on horse racing. Nice to see him turn to Jackie Vergerio- who would be a wholly forgettable human- if not for the fact he, or she I suppose, is some sort of PETA official. PETA. I felt ornery until I got an double order of meaty bacon on my sandwich this morning- thinking of Jackie Vergerio.

Therefore, for me, the Phillies’ loss last night was not distressing in and of itself. But put it with the five other losses- six total in the last seven outings- and any idea that this Phillies' team is a threat to win north of 85 games again becomes problematic.

As I have written before, the reason that this win some, lose some, team is so frustrating is that the Phillies are not rotten. They have a real nice corps of young “everyday” players. The veteran core hitters- Abreu and Burrell- are pluses more nights than not with the sticks. And Bell is up from brutal- which is going to bring me to my next point.

Again, any fool- including Jackie Vergerio- knows Jimmy Rollins is categorically failing as a lead off hitter. He’s hitting .242- and an amazing .163 versus LHP. His OBP is .308. That .163 sort of leaps out. I understand- barely- the Phillies' reluctance to move him out of there. They’ve committed dollars and lots of development time to a guy they thought would be their lead-off hitter for half-a-decade. And without the lead-off credential, the Phils are paying an awful lot of money to a guy who seemingly can’t hit .270 and thus be a productive resource in the seven hole. But why not get him out of there, at the very least, against LHP?

The corner outfield defense (Abreu’s curious gold glove aside) is not good- but I guess a lot of National League teams live with that- so I am not going to crazy. They’ve shaved eight digits off the bullpen payroll- which means they are going to both have nights (like yesterday) and players down there that are going to make you nuts more often than they did last year. And obviously, they miss Rowand in actuality more than on just paper. First, with Victorino off the bench (not that he has done anything but a good job filling in)- the Phils are down a centerfielder and a very solid role, bench player. And the bench being better than terrible, like it was last year, is one of the better stories of the season.

I was hoping Madison's return to the ‘pen would straighten out both him and about sixty innings between now and the end of the season.
I hated the Phillies moving him to the rotation- the old adage about never weaken a strength (probably the most consistent pitcher in a goodly sized role last year) to paste over a weakness (honestly, what was his upside as a starter really: 10-8, 4.60 ERA at best??) . But I guess it is back to the rotation for him- sooner or later- as Hamels just doesn’t look like he can be counted on to add even eight wins to this rotation.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wear Shoes- We're Going To Baltimore

There are two ways to play a race like the Preakness today- a race featuring Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro- looming as a very short fave off his sharp destruction of the cream of his generation two weeks ago. Each is dissatisfying. You could play the chalk- and groan inwardly at the short prices you receive in a game that any follower knows is dicey at best. Or you could disdain Barbaro- and wonder just what possible logic has you throwing out the best looking Triple Crown contender in awhile.

I had Barbaro in the Derby- and I really like him. He is a real nice, fast, tactical colt. I didn’t win much at the Derby as I only hit the win “saver” punt- and missed the big play exactas tries. And I imagine that he’ll win today. If he runs his race, he is the best- and not by a little bit- colt out there.

But I’m getting off Barbaro in this spot. I candidly don’t like the prices at all- and I have a few doubts about his capacity to run big again today. And although this is a small Preakness field, there is some sharp talent here- and Barbaro will need his top effort to get the Black-Eyed Susans.

The one hole in Barbaro’s portfolio of performances is that while he always wins, he hasn’t been asked to win all that much. He’s never once been asked to bounce right back from a big spot to another big spot. In horse racing, that is a big angle. Horses are fragile. They really exert themselves. They routinely throw shoes, bleed in the lungs. To avoid this wear and tear, Barbaro has been gently been brought along- like when your dating in your thirties.

Well, the wear and tear begins for real now. Poor Barbaro. Again, he’s been coddled since birth. Ultimately, he’s a horse- so he has no real idea what in heck is going on. And now, as the scene shifts now from the classic Churchill Downs, in genteel Louisville, to Pimilico, a real awful pit in gritty Baltimore, he has got to wonder what on earth he did wrong. Will he “bounce” off his big race in Kentucky? I don’t know- but two huge races in two weeks, a foreign track, lots of travel and a prep career that suggests Barbaro’s connection don’t exactly consider him a rugged three year old… well, if he’s gonna “bounce”, today is good a day an any. And I’m not eager to take 7 to 10 to find out.

Like the Derby, I have some mad money floating around from a good stock pick: Ann Taylor (ANN) blew away earning yesterday. But I can't justify spending it here. Barbaro probably will win- and I am merely suggesting some sort of underlay strategy, hoping to get lucky, so no big wagers here. We’re up $20 on the notional $40 Derby bet- so let’s use that only- get to the Belmont even.

Brother Derek (shown to the right) and Sweetnorthernsaint are two horses that ran decently in Kentucky- and possess the requisite talent and speed figures to get it done here a lot of years. Both had excuses in Kentucky. Bernardini has tons of talent- but has never run close to this far- but wouldn’t surprise if he was somewhere around at the end to pick up a share. Like Now absolutely can pick up his feet.

So I am going to box Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint for $10 all in- $5 each way. Then let’s put them on top of an exacta ticket- and wheel Bernardini and Like Now underneath for $3 each- that is another $12. That is $22- half our Derby wagers- as befits as a more discomfiting competition.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Take A Pitch Jimmy

Could these back-to-back losses to the Milwaukee Brewers might actually kind of necessary for the Phillies? Losing is never “good”- which is why I wrote "necessary". And yes, with Boston and the Mets coming up- a lot of good work could be undone in a little more than week if they keep playing stupid defense and pitch poorly. But the Phillies are plainly not a 95-win team. They need fixes- not just adjustments. Another of three weeks of 65% baseball may have hidden or postponed them.

To me, these past two close losses, versus a not-so-bad Brewers outfit, are more indicative of what the Phillies are against a competent ballclub- than say, the past two weeks. The Phillies can score with anyone in their division- and a lot of nights will score north of four, five runs. But the bottom of the order has some holes- particularly with the centerfielder out. Ultimately, we’ll find the rotation, as constructed, is not something you can hang your hat on week after week. And there are guys clearly pitching over their heads in the ‘pen right now.

One more thing. Is it just me- or is Jimmy Rollins an increasingly overrated baseball player?

Honestly, I increasingly ruminate- and while Rollins is normally not exactly a complete cancer at the top of the order- he isn’t helping either. And frankly, he is a cancer right now. Jimmy is a lead-off hitter that can't get on base anywhere near enough to be a plus at that spot. He strikes out way too much- over 500 for his career. How can the "franchise" lead-off hitter carry 500 punch-outs in less than five seasons?

Gillick has to know this is too many by half- and yet, no one seems to care. There was never any public thought of bringing in a capable top-of-the-order hitter in here. It was the one glaring need the team had in the off-season that no one official cared about. The fact that Rollins swung a real hot bat for six weeks seemed to obscure the fact the guy is 26 years old: he ain’t ever walked, he ain’t ever gotten on regularly, and he ain’t ever gonna learn.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Can the Phils get to 93-69?

Can the Phils get to 93-69?

Last week I came on here, despite praising the Phillies’ week long winning streak, and was a little dubious that the bullpen and timely hitting were really sustainable- particularly with a tough week of Mets (Pedro and Glavine) and a trip to Cincinnati on tap.

Well, the Phillies showed me. Philadelphia went out there and played an even better week- taking five of six from their first division peers. In the process, in addition to “probably unsustainable” bullpen and timely hitting, the club added a strong dose of “probably unsustainable” starting pitching: a solid, pretty complete turn through the rotation- featuring a 0.35 ERA over the past four games.

I really wanted to get excited about the Phillies- but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. They have two weeks of great success predicated on consistent offense, opportune hitting, great bullpen, three solid turns through the rotation and a willingness to play hard every single day for the old man in charge- a fact no doubt very galling to those calling for Manuel head a month ago.

The Phillies ought to continue to hit and play for Charlie. But I dunno about the other factors. For example, the one thing the fan categorically knows about the Phillies’ line-up is that collectively- Utley (who is a good situational hitter) and Howard (who categorically is not being asked to be) aside- they are emphatically not a good situational hitting outfit. They haven't been for five years at least. Its gonna take more than a few key hits over a dozen games to overturn that impression.

The starting rotation of Leiber, Meyers, Lidle, Floyd and Hamels has some nice components- a couple of developing young arms and some veteran ones. But outside of Myers, all of these guys would be a huge surprise to hang up fourteen wins. And I can’t see them winning the division, say 92-93 games, without a second guy having a real good, 15-8 year. The math doesn’t work.

And Flash has been super- but he’s appeared in fourteen save situations- and the Phillies have gotten every one! That can't continue, can it?

Just feels like oh-so-much still has to go right for this team to get from 85 wins (my pick) to the low 90s.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dominant? Dominant!

Front page of Baseball America!

"Whenever he's been healthy, Cole Hamels has arguably been the minors most dominant pitcher. After three spectacular starts at Triple-A, the Phillies have seen enough to call him up. Hamels will make his first start for the Phillies on Friday against the Reds."

Most! Dominant! Pitcher!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Meet the Mets! Beat the Mets!

Much like the blog mastered the Kentucky Derby over the weekend, the Phillies went and won their ninth in a row last night- with "Frank Helps You Think It All Out" in attendance. A goodly smattering of Mets fans were there too- having managed to navigate their four cylinder Ford Focuses (Focii?), grimly clutching their free maps from Lukoil, down the New Jersey Turnpike. At Pat’s Steaks, they were quiet and respectful- as befits boosters of a team that both ruined a nice comeback by being unable to execute a fairly routine infield play and saw their catcher get buried at the plate by Shane Victorino. It is so calming to be able to count on Aaron Heilman to come up small in big spots- especially since the Mets and Phillies seem increasingly likely to fight this out for a goodly portion of the summer.

I must admit, it is heartening to see that the Philies have managed to crawl back to within three games of the New York Mets. Philadelphia got off to a brutal start- swept by the Cardinals at the get-go- followed by two weeks more of real soul-sucking ugliness- particularly at home. But the Mets obviously were unable to turn their great start and the Phillies limpid awfulness into an early seven-eight game burial of the Phillies. And the Phillies, to their credit, have turned a hot two weeks into National League East relevance.

This string of good results has not been exactly the result of great play- or even consistent good play. For instance, they still aren’t getting great production out of the lead-off spot or Abreu. But they are scoring a goodly number of runs (mainly by hitting a lot of home runs): seven or more runs four times, never fewer than four. The starting pitching- while better at times, and Myers was very good last night- has been okay. The top end of the Phillies' rotation hasn't been close to lights out- and the back end has been bad frankly. They’ve allowed thirty runs over this streak- which is again, pretty good- but certainly not the number you’d associate with nine straight wins.

But until Flash Gordon’s performance last night, the bullpen has been strong. Both Gordon and Rheal Cormeir has done a great job. Gordon has more saves, fewer blown saves and a lower ERA than Wagner- all, according to my back of an envelope calculation, for sixty percent less of the guaranteed dollars than they’d have had to pay Billy.

And yes, I am decidedly neutral on Charlie Manuel- who leaves a lot to be desired as an in-game manager. But these guys, since last year’s all-star break, play for the guy real hard- and don’t seemingly get down on themselves. Confidence oozes from that clubhouse- which admittedly makes one crazy when they're 4-9. But while that confidence level means no one ever doubts their approach (keep swinging Jimmy! and Bell must play every day and accordingly construct our roster that way!), it means guys like Myers finally seem to believe in what they are doing.

Mix a consistent five run offense with decent healthy starting pitching and good late relief work and you can win a lot of games in this division.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lemons & Mint

Lemons Forever (look just left) lit up the tote board yesterday in the Kentucky Oaks- the Kentucky Derby for girls as it were- paying her backers back at a rollicking 47-1. Gosh- what a gorgeous girl, right? I see that as a sort of omen- and not just because Lemons Forever compassionately describes my Derby selections* of the past decade. Instead, the big Churchill Downs’ events scream “play for value” rather than “pick the winner”- and Lemons Forever embodies that approach.

Last year, I confidently identified the best three year old in the country- Afleet Alex- and the entire season established he probably was. Unfortunately, the Kentucky Derby did not. I went to my first Derby three years ago- and the number one lesson I took from the experience is that the Derby is not really a thoroughbred horse race. It is an exercise in traffic management. Afleet Alex rallied too soon- starting earlier than normal in order to circumnavigate his fading peers- and was caught at the wire by the useless Giacomo (class compells me to gracefully grant kudos to the S. marriage of DC for holding that winning ticket at 50 to 1).

Okay, I like horse racing a lot. And not just because it gives America something to do between the NFL Draft and the start of football season. For one thing, I spent last year’s Derby laid up with bronchitis- so this year’s affair almost has to be better from a health perspective. And man, the race is loaded with talent- an outstanding "on paper" field. Two undefeated contenders, four undefeated this year. Just about every major prep winner stayed healthy and is in attendance.

Pace is not gonna be a problem either. All kinds of talented front-runners. Dad likes Sinister Minister- and there is a lot to like there. The inside post means he is the one front-runner who ought to be able to get to the front for sure- and his prep at the Blue Grass was a frightening display of power. Sinister Minister's Beyer of 116 is also the best of the field.

And there is a ton of speed to go with him. Lawyer Ron cruised in the Arkansas Derby, the Southwest and Risen Star- and was picked by OJ Simpson in the paper today- a telling angle we probably ought not ignore. Barbaro looked real sharp and determined digging in to score in Florida. AP Warrior and Sweetnorthernsaint won from up top- representing good races in California and Illinois respectively. And there is a real good group of second tier, want to go to the front, racers in here too: Sharp Humor, Keyed Entry, etc.

The popular take is that, much like last year, this outstanding crop of "runners from the start" will go out and beat on each other. It only takes two of the dozen go-getters to set suicidal initial fractions- setting the race up for the closers- as the exhausted pace setters collapse. As the morning drinking cognoscenti in Kentucky say: a race that falls apart.

Who will emerge- swerving their way up the stretch to immortality at Churchill Downs? Beats me. There is no Afleet Alex- a horse that leaps out wit hthe ability to take advantage of the collapsing field. And since it is a crapshoot, I want to drive a little value into the selection- try to chase that 40 to 1 score.

AP Warrior (picture to the right- morning line 15 to 1) will be around the pace- not on it- thus close enough to take advantage of the collapsing leaders without having to navigate through the whole field. He has the Beyer number- and Corey Nakatani up- who can ride with the best of them. Barbaro (6-1) and Point Determined (9-1) have a pretty short prices- but again feature those triple digit Beyers'- and also ought to be close to the leaders should they go bust. Normally you need around a 110 Beyer to win this thing, plus a little luck. Any of three just need to improve a titch to get that 110- and they got as good a chance at the "luck apple" as anyone.

As a proud shareholder inCHDN, its recent performance has given us some extra funds to burn. So for a realistic $54 shot, let’s play AP Warrior, Barbaro and Point Determined as an exacta box ($4 x 6 combinations) and $10 on each to win outright.

Now I’m off to the track to try and find a place to park the car. The best mint juleps are pre-10AM mint juleps. And yes, I will be looking to buy a "luck apple".

* normally you "pick" the winner- but for the Kentucky Derby one makes “selections”

Friday, May 05, 2006


All right, Peter Vescey made me laugh this morning:

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the Empire State Building. "It's old and just stands there," Isiah Thomas marveled. "Can I sign it?"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Thank Heavens That Ended

Ugh. That wasn’t pretty, was it? To be honest, I’m kinda glad it is over- and I’m pretty sure the Flyers “defense” is too. Whoosh! Heads up Rathje and Desjardins- here the Sabres come again- swarming the Flyers goal like tie-fighters buzzing the Death Star. So yes, Buffalo is better than the Flyers- and yes, not by a little bit either. I give. Accordingly, a fifth beating will not be necessary people.

I can’t really kill the Flyers here. This defeat is ultimately a result of their approach- as opposed to effort, players or coach- that I ringingly endorsed the entire time. When the Flyers announced Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje as the two big pre-season signings- and then added Denis Gauthier as the big in-season acquisition, the organization gambled.

The gamble was that this “new NHL” was an invention, a figment if you will, of the regular season. That the team to be worried about was not swift Ottawa and skilled Tampa Bay- but the nasty New Jersey Devils. Once the play-offs started, the league would revert to the lax enforcement of Rulebook C. Let the players decide who wins the Cup- not obstruction fouls.

I was wrong. That doesn’t matter. Consequently, the Flyers were wrong too- and that unfortunately did matter. Hatcher, Rathje, Gauthier and Desjardins struggled- and the Flyers never once featured consistent, orderly play in their own end. They really missed Johnnson- the one truly world class defensemen on the roster. He could have defended and provided order, sweet order, for 28 minutes a game, aided in transition play for guys outside the top line, and added some offensive confidence and ability at even strength & on the power play. Johnnson is a really good player- and the A-level defenseman is really missed in the play-offs.

So the Flyers were then forced to try and steal the series. For the most part, Esche was pretty okay- but the Flyers realistically needed “amazing” play in goal to win four here. The top line provided good offense in the games the Flyers were in- but the younger players were pretty bad frankly. Dimitrakos, Carter, Richards, Umberger, Savage and Radivojevic played a total of fifteen games and got not insignificant ice time- and contributed three goals and a combined minus 19. Throw in Eager’s and Kapanen’s combined minus eight- and pretty much the Flyers entire forward corps, outside the Forsberg line, was literally an inoffensive disaster.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Could Anthony Cannon Wear White and Meet the Pope?

I must admit I did not know this. Who doesn’t like and respect tradition, right?

It was a semi-bleak weekend here at “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”: Flyers routed. Talladega rained out. But Tulane fans were cheered to see Anthony Cannon- a consensus free agent- go and get himself drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round. The Lions might not value football talent- but they have started to admire character. And frankly, anyone who played defense for four years at Tulane deserves lots of good things.

Anthony Cannon was such a dependable I-A player- a real joy in a program that struggles to produce them- particularly on defense, particularly against the run. Sometimes you can look at linebackers and get myopic. You know, this ‘backer runs real well, moves laterally like a champ, gets off blocks or has great one-on-one cover skills.

Cannon suffered from this. For one thing, he clearly lacks the ideal height/weight body the Day One linebackers possess. We could argue about his singular attributes- like the ones itemized above- which suggests there is no consensus about what exactly he does NFL quality-wise.

But, at Tulane, we knew one thing for sure. Cannon undoubtedly possessed the most significant linebacker skill: flat out tackle people. This manifests itself in one of two ways: all the guys you get to go down- or you get to a lot of ball carriers but miss a couple. Cannon is the latter; he may miss a couple- but he is around the ball an awful lot and consequently makes a lot of plays- particularly for a guy you know opposing defenses were totally able to go out of their way to block.

I don’t have this year’s numbers but look at 2005. Eleven tackles at MSU and Houston. Eight stops against ECU. Sixteen(!!!) against USM. He was unreal that day against the Golden Eagles in the Dome. Again, this is particularly impressive in light of the fact that no one ever rushes the football at Tulane without making sure someone is assigned to block him.

It was re-assuring to know Cannon was out there every game- contributing. We’ll miss him. Heavens- can you imagine his joy when he sees those pro defensive linemen keeping offensive linemen off him? Tear’em up!