Thursday, July 31, 2008

Topping Out

Today in Manhattan, from my 25th floor perch, I am witnessing a “topping out party" across the street- complete with tree. Another urban success story.

Speaking of urban success stories, we must now turn our attention to the Phillies- who regained first place in National League last night. Beats me if they can hold on to it. Watching the Marlins outfit up close this week versus New York, I can assure you that outfit is potential trouble. If they’ve "added" the previously disabled Josh Johnson- who sure looked like a quality arm last night stifling the Mets- and add a bat here at the trading deadline, a blanket finish is in order.

But, via four straight wins, the Phillies seem back to relevance too. I never believed for a minute the Phillies swoon nonsense (an idiocy exposed here and here). Their “poor” play was largely a function of an unreal schedule and a healthy dose of real quality American League teams.

Post all-star break, the schedule has gone back to featuring all National League, all the time. The Phillies have spent the last 200 or so games playing a shade under .600 ball versus the National League- and, now that the schedule has lightened up the last two weeks, they’re right back to their normal level.

Will it be enough? Well, they’ve weaved a story compatible with 89 wins for a long, long time now. It is up to the Mets and Marlins to prove themselves at that level too. We know the Phillies can do it- notsomuch the other two- so, like last month, I figure the Phillies rate an edge.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Not So Small Disappointment

This weekend found some disappointing news in this small corner of the world. My favorite college football blog- Sunday Morning Quarterback- is pulling the plug and moving to greener pastures. He’ll probably get paid too.

Aside for the fact that SMQ had the best blog tagline going: Second guessing college kids under extreme duress since 2005- it was a joy because it actually gave pithy, witty, knowledgeable insights to mid-major programs. It was unique- not LSU and Florida and USC all the time. For the C-USA fan, "Mid-Major Monday" was the must-read of the weekend news and analysis. A reader of SMQ would know about Matt Forte and our pathetic "Signing Day Blog".

As a good example, here is his Tulane assessment from last year- written with his trademark insight & cynicism that only a semi-rival (Southern Miss) can generate:
As a partisan of a school that can almost count Tulane as a sorta de facto rival, grudgingly, when we think about it, SMQ can attest that there is no joy in beating Tulane. From a Conference USA perspective, there is only that relief when the light is on - the game is done, victory in hand - and of course Tulane was no match and the world remains in its recognizable order. Regardless of your experiences with Tulane in the past, there is that constant apprehension that the worst is possible. Because that actually happened, once, a long time ago, an undefeated season so weird it's almost a myth. The deal here is that, once in the career of every player who redshirts and hangs around Tulane long enough, the team manages to scrape together enough wins to deem itself mediocre, and no fate could be worse than victimhood on this path. This is what makes Tulane in many ways the most pitiful program in any sport SMQ can think of. Not pitiful in the sense that it's inept - though it almost invariably is - but that it's rarely so inept in its own way that it might reach that rarified level of complete, utter, hopeless futility, when the concept of defeat at its hands becomes too impossible even to manifest itself as a nagging doubt. No team with the slightest self respect can consider the possibility of losing to Tulane under normal circumstances, but only the biggest, baddest kids might dare deep down to actually laugh the Wave out of the stadium before the deed is done without risking debilitating hubris.
Anyway, he was also the only C-USA voter (representing Southern Miss) in the BlogPoll besides myself- and basking in his reflected glow, listed next to him on many blogrolls, was something I never tired of. Anyway, check out his last few posts. I’m sure there will be a C-USA preview before he goes next month. And enjoy for free for a few more weeks some of the best college football writing going.


Friday, July 25, 2008


Panic sweeps the streets of Philadelphia today- as the Mets completed their fourth series win of this rapidly maturing campaign. And it does feel like bad news. It is hard to argue that the Phillies are better than the Mets today- when Philadelphia both trails New York in the standings and has lost all four series head-to-head this year.

But, well, relax. I’m not saying the Phillies are making the play-offs. Candidly, if the Mets go on from here and win 95 games, Philadelphia can't match that number. But equally honestly, the Phillies are hardly done.

For the last 200 games, the Mets are a .500 team plus one recent eight game winning streak. Heck, since the break, they’re a mere 4-3 facing this "juggernaut" slate: three at home versus the Phillies and four versus a notsogood Reds team.

So how about the Mets play one complete month, post-all-star game, at say something like three over .500- before we quit?

Even the Phillies supposed swoon is probably more a function of their schedule than anything. Back in early June, I wrote that I would be surprised if the Phillies maintained any lead in NL East over, back then, the next forty games. I think that was a good observation.

Since June 10th, Philadelphia has played 37 games- 31 versus winning teams (only losers were Atlanta and Arizona (currently a mere one game under). This period included some brutal good clubs. For example, seemingly every good outfit in the American League.

That is your swoon right there. An 88-win team simply isn’t going to play .500 ball against that slate. But the corollary of that observation is things ought to pick up now that nightmare portion of the schedule is over.

I bet it does. 22 of the Phillies next 28 are against teams w/ losing records: Atlanta, Washington (twice), Pittsburgh, LA (twice), San Diego. The only “winners” are a decent Florida club and a quality St. Louis Cardinal outfit. I bet the Phillies “look” a whole lot better four weeks from now.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Back To Complain

If the first game with the Mets showcased all that was right with the Phillies: a team that plays hard for its leadership, a consistent 27-out effort, strong bullpen, a line-up littered with RBI bats- last night illustrated an awful lot of what is wrong.

Part of why Manuel is a players’ manager, why guys play for him, is his never ending confidence in them. Howard can hit .190 for half a season- and there is no thought of moving him out of the clean-up spot til he gets going.

But, concerning Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins, enough is enough.

The Phillies have managed to take Rollins, a very good player having an admittedly iffy year, and turned him into a run-eating cancer. Last night was yet another1-for-4 night, no walks. You could survive his not so good .333 OBP as a lead off hitter when he was having an MVP year. But when he’s hitting .270 with a few HRs, you frankly can’t- particularly when there are options available with better OBP who aren’t currently trying bat after bat to set the table. Werth (.357 OBP) and Victorino (.350). Heck, just lead Werth off against LHP (.380)

Even worse, Rollins doesn’t have to be a cancer. He is hitting a decent .270, with some consistent extra-base pop, and a good RBI bat… he is a very credible six hitter in a line-up that needs one, or even the two-hole. I understand the loyalty to Rollins, I fully supported giving half-a-season to get his stuff worked out. But enough is enough- out of the lead-off spot he goes until he starts to hit again.

Second is Myers. You can’t give up on Myers. He has major league stuff- and the Phillies can start all over with him in the bullpen next year as a whole new official chance.

But these arguments that he has to be allowed to pitch through trouble to “find out what we have” are done, over. We know what we have for 2008- an AAA-level starter with confidence issues. If the Phillies want to run him out there a few more times- a tacit admission that the fifth rotation spot is held by an AAA-level pitcher with some ceiling (which admittedly is true a lot of the time in baseball, even on good teams)- I’m fine.

But this pro-baseball. If he walks three guys in an inning, etc.- he’s out. Myers is not an experiment any more- with an eye toward sacrificing two-three starts in May for two dozen quality efforts down the road. Frankly, Eaton is just hanging around right now, they have many credible long relief guys that- as the season winds down, no longer need to be saved for 162 game marathon. Have some one ready when Myers starts. If we’re going to carry twelve pitchers, have one dedicated to supporting the emotional cripple that is currently Myers.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh My Goodness Mets Fans

Last night, after the Phillies regained first place in NL East via hanging a ninth-inning six-spot on the Mets to complete a thrilling 8-6 win, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is not assigning style points. No way. I was at Shea last night- saw the vacant, stupefied faces of the denizens- and what we collectively viewed defies explanation. It was better than a Toby Keith concert.

Not that Mike Vaccaro won’t try to provide illumination- picking up the ninth inning:
The part that would have been funny, if it weren't so galling, was with Jimmy Rollins at the plate. The game was already tied. The feel-good, everybody-loves-everybody atmosphere that had ruled the night at Shea Stadium had already evaporated.

And there stood Rollins, smiling right through the soul of each of the 55,081 people who booed him so relentlessly all night. He was struggling, and it didn't matter. He was behind in the count, 0-and-2, and that didn't matter. It was like the scene in every bad horror movie ever filmed: You know what's coming. You know it will be bloody.

And still it lifts you out of your seat. Still, as Rollins drilled a Pedro Feliciano pitch down the left-field line for the fourth and fifth runs of a six-run ninth inning, Shea Stadium sounded surprised, even though there is nothing that should surprise them now. Not after last autumn. Not after this.
We know the Phillies are a good, but flawed team. They lack real quality starting pitching- and they don’t hit consistently.

But last night’s game was a nifty composite of why, ultimately, they are closer to good than mediocre. Philadelphia has a lot of quality relief pitching. They have a lot of nights where they don’t do much offensively, but still score five runs or so- mostly cause they hit a lot of homeruns (one mistake equals a crooked number) and they have three-and-a-half very good RBI-style bats: Utley, Howard, Burrell and Rollins. (Rollins only counts for a half because the Phillies stupidly insist on batting him lead-off. His two big RBI via extra base hit in the ninth is proof positive he should hit second or sixth. With Rollins’ OBP, he brings nothing as a lead-off hitter- but his consistent flashes of power ought to be used with guys consistently on base. Wouldn’t be nice to have his bat consistently in situations like last night- two guys on- by design rather than chance?)

And of course, the Phillies really play for Charlie. Like all citizens of Philadelphia, Charlie makes me crazy with his x’s and o’s. For example, I’m still crazy that Hamels will purposely miss the Mets again. But the Phillies play darn hard for him.

I mean, Pat Burrell reads and knows the scouting report: can’t play outfield! But the Mets hit the ball in corner, he hustles after it. He throws a strike to the right guy- a hustle play combined with a smart play- and the Phillies cut off a big inning with an out at the plate.

Did you notice? The Phillies made a ton of opportunistic defensive plays last night- two outs at the plate, Rollins snags one up the middle, Utley stabs a line drive diving- all four examples here made by guys who aren’t “great” defensive players. That is what Charlie brings- alert, if not good, defense and relief pitching and good at-bats even when you’re down four runs on the road. Guys play for him- and play hard and chippy. Three Mets, including Santana, were hit by pitches last night. And that has been true his whole managerial career.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Horse For All Courses

There is always lot of wailing about quality thoroughbreds retiring the minute they show a degree of competence. So I want to take a minute to throw a shout out to Curlin.

The casual sports fan remembers Curlin as the beaten morning line favorite, and actual second choice, in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He wrapped up the classics with a win in the Preakness and a thrilling loss to the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont. My take on that Belmont is here.

Well, he has been a tear since then. Last autumn, he won the richest North American race, the Breeders Cup Classic in the slop- and followed that up with a crowning, dominating win over the best the world had to offer in the Dubai World Cup.

Curlin is the consensus best dirt horse in training. But rather than retiring to the breeding shed, his connections have sought out new challenges- which they ought to be commended for. His last start was last week in the Man O' War Stakes- taking him off dirt and onto grass- with an eye toward taking on the world’s most prestigious grass race: Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris,

Curlin finished second- an impressive achievement considering the last two Breeders Cup Turf champions- Red Rocks and Better Talk Now- were running too.

Anyway, the NYRA is very frugal with video- so I can’t find the Man O’ War- but here is the Dubai. "From the red, white and blue corner....":

... and the Classic. Frank Helps You Think It All Out loves the slop!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are the Phillies a John McCain Type Situation?

The latest rage in Philadelphia is to pound the drums to make a move- as the surging Mets have pulled within range, and Florida never really left.

But I think the Phillies are right not to panic. The Mets and Phillies have followed different paths to their current .540 winning percentages. The Mets have played .500 ball forever- and coupled it with a recent week and a half of 1.000 ball. I’m not exactly ready to dismiss the Mets of last year for the Mets of the last two weeks. Yes, it was disappointing to drop the recent three-of-four to New York. It let them back in. But this month’s 6-0 stretch against the Braves dismissed that club. I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t rather have the Mets, rather than the Braves, a half game out.

The Phillies path to .540 seems to be more "sustainable". They were utterly destroyed versus the American League. But that is over. Against the National League they are a re-assuring 48-33. That is exactly half a season- and projects to an outstanding 96 wins. You know, that is really good. The Phillies are going to get to 89 wins. They’re in the mix.

But it is not a lay-up. The Mets have a distinct payroll advantage. Put it this way: they probably pay Santana more than the Phillies do their existing rotation of Hamels, Moyers, Kendrick, Happ and Eaton. So, any realistic plan for Phillies “success” at least partially rests on the Mets multiple $10M+ payroll players underachieving like they have the last year or so.

If the Mets go on a tear and win two-thirds of their remaining games, there is no single trade the Phillies can make to keep pace. At their fundamental core, the Phillies are 88-win good- but not great. That has been true for half-a-decade now- and again, one big shake-up move probably isn’t going to change that. Being honest, other than throwing $15M at a Santana like figure- what obvious moves to get better have they missed?

The only one I can think of is burning their one quality minor league starter option (J.A. Happ) to replace Myers rather than Eaton. For the next dozen or so starts- plus a potential Game Three- there is no doubt in my mind who has more upside in those 100 innings. And it isn’t Eaton.

Look, if the Mets can get to 93 wins- or Milwaukee or St. Louis can in the wild card- we’re probably out. I doubt that will happen though.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Selection

A re-occurring feature of this blog is an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: do you have a pick for tonight?

Absolutely. This rabbit loves the underdog tonight: give me that National League +140 over the American League.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

So Many Finks

It is interesting how many people think this guy is a real fink:
We now know Rodriguez to be a serial job-shopper. His agent, Mike Brown, had pitched Rodriguez’s services to Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana State in recent years before pursuing Michigan.

We now know Rodriguez doesn’t believe in contracts. He signed an amended contract with West Virginia just four months before he left. He then claimed that the signed contract was not as important as a verbal agreement that preceded it — a laughable legal argument.

Rodriguez said in December that he was battling the buyout because “we have to do what we feel is right.” He meant right for him, not the school.

Michigan is just a name to him. The school is just a platform for winning championships. This is evident in everything Rodriguez does, from his abandonment of a century-old captains tradition to his bristling at the notion that Michigan holds itself to a higher standard.
I know nothing about Rich Rodriguez and his past Tulane situation myself. But the guy makes a ton of enemies. He better get to the Rose Bowl real quick- cause a lot of folks seem ready to kick him when he's down.

He clearly is a serial job shopper. Add "jerk"... I wonder if that had any bearing on why he did not get the job at Tulane?


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ask Mr. B!

A re-occurring feature of this blog is an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: what exactly is the story with the Philadelphia Phillies?

It has been a hard month- a calendar month where the Phillies have officially been a sub.500 team. The difficult schedule aside, the Phillies are five games under break-even since June 7th. Remove the troubled Braves from the equation and the Phillies are a whopping eleven games under facing the duress of the four weeks or so. They were called on to face a difficult test- and really, really struggled.

This rabbit is inclined to give them a semi-pass. The Phillies entered this brutal month of eighteen road games and a small home slate populated with the Angels, Red Sox and Mets up 3 games- and exit it up 1.5 games. They let the Mets back in- but kicked the Braves back out. And let’s not mark down the Braves too much- if this division is going to be won at 87 wins, the Braves were capable, prior to their six to love beat down by the Phillies, of getting to that number.

My problem lately with the Phillies is the utter arrogance with which they have approached this slide- like they’re a 98-win team that can afford to tinker with an eye toward the long-term.

Let’s start with Myers’ demotion. I mean: that is arrogance, right? We have surplus major league starting pitching that the Phillies can afford to remove Myers for a month? He’s pitched worse than Eaton?- a guy who hasn’t pitched like a major leaguer in two years? Myers is the candidate for psychological rehab? Myers hasn’t been great- but demoting him while Eaton is in the rotation is a luxury. Get rid of the worst, low ceiling rotation option- survive now- and engage in experiments some other time.

Rollins is still batting lead-off. We all know he’s totally miscast as a lead-off hitter- not enough OBP and his power bat is wasted by zero consistent RBI opportunities. This is a tolerable situation when Jimmy is putting up MVP numbers and his fragile psyche needs stroking. But the team is struggling, he is struggling, his OBP is down to .337 (Brunlett is .320). The Phillies can’t afford this luxury anymore. It is a three year experiment experiment, an agenda we all know doesn’t work. Change it. Get Werth, Dobbs in there. Now.

Ryan Howard. Fine- his power numbers and RBIs obviously justify his everyday presence in the line-up. But must he hit clean-up against left-handers? Or even quality lefties? Hit him fifth or sixth- and put Burrell in there fourth. He’s having an all-star season, with as many dingers as Howard. Again, forget the agenda. Reward production.

We all know Gordon is not the second best reliever in the ‘pen. Why does he, other than arrogance and an agenda, get he ball in big spots? His ERA is over five, in the best bullpen in the National League- and he has 33 appearances? including a big one against the Mets?

That is four key guys- Myers, Gordon, Howard, Rollins- who are doing things they shouldn’t be doing due to hubris. And I haven’t even started on Jenkins and Victorino. This division is probably gonna come down to a game or two either way- and the Phillies have six guys they’re trying to string along in positions of responsibility they don’t deserve at the expense of guys who would be adequate replacements until they start hitting/pitching again: Madson/Durbin for Gordon, Burrell clean up for Howard versus LHP, Werth leading off for Rollins, etc.

They’re damn complacent for an outfit that is rapidly approaching a month and a half of losing baseball. Rolling Happ out there was a nice story, beating Santana was fortunate- but who in heck are the Phillies to be surrendering games to the Mets? Philadelphia is not some juggernaut. The Mets played these four games like it was a fifth game in October; the Phillies were engaging in rotation experiments. These were important games… division rivals, and we were running a Happ out there.

It worked- but what does it, and this weekend say, about the intensity, win today mentality? It needs to change with 70 games left- particularly since the Mets can boast a rotation seemingly a whole notch over Philadelphia.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy July 4th!


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Phillies Swoon: A Big Bunch of Nonsense

The bottom part of the rotation- Kendrick and Eaton- turn in back-to-back very passable starts (for their rotation positions) against the Braves. Add these pair of wins, and the Phillies latest road trip is all square at four, with the rubber game for the trip tonight. For the Phillies going forward, I forecast the NL East will be a constant source of replenishment.

The Phillies appear to be a Cole Hamels’ led win from dealing a real blow to this “swoon” nonsense. A win today would sandwich that disappointing 1-5 homestand against the Red Sox and Angels between a pair of winning 5-4 very tough road trips. Even with a loss today, these last eighteen road games will finish dead even. And, assuming a win today, a pair of road trips adding up to 10-8- with lots of west coast travel, division rivals and the pretty good Cardinals- really is proof of a 90 win outfit, not a swoon.

Basically, the swoon was a bad week, six games, against two clubs clearly better than the Phillies. That is it. A 90-win team is still here- and will spend the rest of the summer taking six-of-ten from NL East rivals.