Friday, October 31, 2008

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

I just want to take a quick moment- before heading to Philadelphia for the Phillies parade- to put my pick out there for Tulane at LSU tomorrow.

Obviously, this rivalry has fallen on hard times. And unlike games of recent vintage, this LSU team is good- but not awesome. Particularly on defense, they have some question marks. And this perhaps is the reason why the Tigers are only -25 over Tulane, as opposed to last year’s whopping 40- in this spot.

Those 40-ish point lines are indicative of a psychology experiment- just how bad a beating does the superior team which to administer? This line suggests that this game figures to be more competitive- and one needs to apply some sort of football based rational to the question at hand.

It isn’t hopeful. LSU seems a little more vulnerable on defense- but with the top back and receiver out, Toledo doing his customary horrid job in preparing the quarterback(s) to play, I’m not sure Tulane can take advantage. Honestly, Bob, we’re eighteen games into your regime, when can we expect you to identify the best quarterback on the roster, then play and develop him?

Frankly, Tulane has gotten a lot of respect from Vegas this month. This line is fourteen better points than last year game with LSU despite Tulane being demonstratively worse. Twenty point faves over Army? Favored over Rice?

I just don’t get it. Basically, the Wave got blown out at home last week by Rice with a semi-settled quarterback situation and their top running back available. That is the very definition of bad. The Green Wave stinks and don’t seem real into playing for their coach right now. So why should they hang in there on the road here? Really, this feels like an outright lay-up. I’ll take LSU to really hammer a Tulane team that has shown little interest in playing two of the last three tilts- and try to run the ATS mark to 6-2 by giving Tulane the 25.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008


At 9:58PM last night, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched their World Series championship- sending the city into a frenzy of joy and excitement. “Everything comes to the waiting heart,” Chris DeBurgh teaches us. That outpouring emotion extended to my living room in Manhattan as well. After pouring most of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot "Yellow Label" I learned a key lesson: Champagne in your eyes hurts bad. My first moment of Series joy were spent calling for a towel to get it off! get it out!

From the slightly opened window- I’m still experimenting with the thermostat this season- a not insignificant amount of cheers floated up from the street. Third Avenue has a lot of bars!

For the seven years I’ve been writing Frank Helps You Think It Out I’ve never had a championship to opine on. The game was thrilling; the decision to start it dumb. Other than that, I have no desire to rehash the events- better done elsewhere. Do take a moment to visit my Phillies links on the right for celebratory news and views. My favorites are Phillies Nation and We Should Be GMs.

I guess I have two things to say. First, it is satisfying to win mostly with guys you’ve seen grow up together in the organization. Hamels, Meyers, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Burrell and Madson are key players. Coste and Kendrick had their moments. Romero was plucked off the waiver wire. I’m not saying that if A-Rod showed up I wouldn’t hand him a glove and show him third base. But it is no band of outside mercenaries; we grew these guys mostly in town, in front of us. It is great fun to watch them come full circle- particularly since Pat the Bat will probably move on.

Second, Cole Hamels deserves his car and trophy as the proverbial MVP. But my vote would have been split between Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. It is a little sentimental— sure. But the Rays were favored here because both Moyer and Blanton were huge question marks- and both turned in gutty performances in the biggest of spots. As a deserved underdog, the Phillies needed someone from the bottom half of the roster to step up and make a giant contribution. Those two guys did- they won a pair of games that the Phillies figured to lose on paper. And that, to me, is the most valuable contribution to the Series.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Greater Doxology

Gloria in excelsis Deo!


No Less Than Nine Patron Saints Of Rain

Have you ever seen the movie Bowfinger? The mantra of that movie is K.I.T.: Keep It Together. And that is what I, and all Philadelphians, find ourselves doing this morning.

Phil Sheridan gets it exactly right:
Imagine if someone came to the Phillies in March and offered this proposition: You can play 31/2 innings, with four times at bat to the opponent's three times, to win the World Series. And if you somehow manage to lose that shortened game, you get two more full games. Win just one of those and you're the champs.
Exactly right, yet a cold comfort.

Now, I am praying for more rain- push this World Series back just one more day- and put Cole Hamels back into his regular window for a seventh game. We might have lost a pair of innings from our lefty on Monday night- but we might get one more whole start if God lets it keep sleeting here in the northeast. This morning it looks encouraging- but I am not neglecting novenas and spiritual bouquets. There are no less than nine patron saints for rain. I’m going with Isidore the Farmer. Feel free to pick another.

Nine outs just doesn’t feel like that many. It is only the magnitude of the nine that is worrisome. The bullpen- specifically Romero, Madson and Lidge- is the best part of this team on a night in, night out basis. And with twelve outs, you gotta figure the Phillies can scratch out a marker or two.

Even the two games back in Florida don’t seem as daunting as they did pre-Series. Last week, it was a total rotation crapshoot going in. Now, well, Meyers wasn’t so bad and there is a decent chance the Phillies might start Hamels in a deciding game.

No house in Vegas would put the Rays up at anything better than 11 to 2. And the Phillies are a solid favorite tonight: bet three to win two. As Sheridan writes, the biggest worry might be if William Penn is still mad about One Liberty Place. So I’m trying to relax and listen closely for the calming sounds of precipitation.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The Proverbial Happy Bubble

Leaving the Linc yesterday afternoon spilled the observer into a world of happy- the proverbial happy bubble. The common areas surrounding the multiple Philadelphia temples of frustration were a sea of green and red: balloons, signs, apparel. It was a perfect weekend in south Philly: the Phillies pull oh-so-close, the Eagles win and someone throws a stink bomb at a Flyers’ game. And of course, remonstrance such as the following:
During Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, Rays family members and employees say they were harassed and abused by Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park to an unacceptable degree.

Children were cursed at, and one 9-year-old boy had beer poured on him. A Rays family member stayed locked in a bathroom stall because, he said, Phillies fans were banging on the walls and threatening him.
I have been skeptical about the Phillies chances in the Series- rating it a stone toss up only if the Phillies managed to get both games Hamels was scheduled to pitch versus the Ray’s number three Scott Kazmir. But I was wrong about the lift the Phillies have gotten returning home to their ball park.

I’m not talking about the fans really. Certainly the Phillies pick up some in front of their own fans. But here, I’m talking about the ballpark itself.

To me, a huge turning point of this series is the homerun Carlos Ruiz hit in the third game- the sort of routine fly ball that gets out in Philly, and few other places. People gripe about Citizens Bank Park as a hitter’s friendly park- but it really isn’t. It is a real good poke to straightaway center to get the ball out. The outfield isn’t big like Shea; the corners are tight and play fair. Particularly for a new ball park, there is a goodly amount of foul ball territory. And poor weather is a factor in April and October.

But the one place it does play a real crazy is from, say, both the traditional power alleys to the foul poles. The fence is in close there- and warning track power gets the ball out in those segments of the ball park. Ruiz’ home run- and Blanton’s and Howard’s first from last night- are good examples. Neither was crushed, neither probably gets out of Shea- and both were well out of Citizens Bank park.

Ever since Ruiz homerun, the Rays have pitched real scared. Andy Sonnanstein never walks anyone- and he was walking and behind guys all night. The Phillies' game three ninth inning rally was part and parcel of the same fear. If you want to know why JP Howel was pitching Bruntlett and Victorino like they were Roger Maris, well, the Rays pitching is pressing. Brunlett may be .217 hitter- but to a Rays reliever, he looks like a guy who can potentially hit a 350 foot routine fly ball into the flower bed.

Psychologically, pitching at the Bank requires a mentality. I forgot this sometimes- as the Mets and Braves and Marlins come in enough to know, hey, homeruns happen. Moyer and Blanton were touched up for close calls and homeruns- and both just asked for a new ball. The Rays have responded by pitching scared- and pitching scared at the Bank means hitting guys with pitches, extra base runners putting pressure on your defense, more guys on base for when Howard does lose one into the ether- and more excuses to press and press.

That being said, it is not done yet. Kazmir is not a chump- and he is left-handed. One could argue that really, all the Phillies have proved is that they can hit RHP in their cozy ballpark- something we frankly know already. If the Phillies lose tonight- and the pressure is squarely back on them with a real shaky Myers and up and down Moyers between them and a collapse on the road. It would behoove Philadelphia to just win this thing with their best option. And thus, I stand by my original forecast- the Phillies need Hamels to win his pair.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rice is Bad Trouble

From the onset of summer, I have had a real bad feeling about this weekend’s tilt with the Rice Owls. Earlier in the week, I was shocked to open the New York Post and find Tulane -2.5 over the Owls. Gosh, one place Tulane gets respect is Vegas: -20 over Army, now a field goal favorite over a team that actually wins conference games?

It isn’t so much that Rice is that much better than Tulane- but rather, this is just a horrid match-up. I mean, Tulane is pretty okay on defense, but Rice can really, really score the ball. So does Green Wave competence really matter here? The Owls are the lights out, score a ton C-USA offense led by a ruthless, low risk high return, mobile machine at quarterback: Chase Clement (27TDs, 5 INT). The Owls scored 45 on Southern Miss last week. They scored 77 versus North Texas, 42 versus Memphis, 56 against SMU. And Rice figures to go for a bunch here.

Sure, by all accounts, the Owl defense is just terrible. And I imagine Tulane will rush the ball at will and could certainly score north of 30. But, with the injuries at wide out and the erratic play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure Kevin Moore will be able to throw it consistently, all four quarters, every possession, like Rice will.

Scarred by last year’s Matt Forte experiment, my rule of thumb in C-USA is that a good running team simply cannot keep up with a good passing team. I can see Tulane defending Rice pretty well, but the Owls still scoring 35+ points. And it is hard to game plan five-six TDs when you are a “run first” offense. To wit, you sacrifice a lot of snaps to get 180 yards of rushing offense- and that sort of yardage per snap total just doesn’t translate to lots of points- or at least not at the rate that devoting a lot of snaps to 400 yards passing does.

No matter how bad the defense you face, it is hard to get to 40 unless you both throw the football efficiently and throw it a lot. Frankly, I don’t think the Wave can throw it efficiently and would prefer to run it a lot than throw it. And the latter fact hurts the Wave here. It is a bad match up where the Wave’s singular strength doesn’t matter as much as most Saturdays.

The Wave probably does gain from the week off- but playing inside on the Dome’s fast track, perfect climate really helps the Owls’ offense. Call the intangibles a wash.

Consequently, I think this game is trouble. Tulane could play well, but probably can’t match the relentless offensive pressure Rice brings each weekend. So we’ll try to raise the ATS mark to 5-2 by taking the points and the underdog Owls.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Must Win Tonight

Tonight the Phillies start the World Series, trying to get this franchise its second championship in its 125 year history. That is some awesome futility- perhaps Philadelphia is owed one?

Frankly, that is about the only argument you can make for the Phillies to win this thing. I’m not optimistic. Neither is Vegas- as the Phillies have slid to a 7 to 5 choice from near even money.

Frankly, it is hard to dismiss that stretch of play in late June where the Phillies got a two week dose of the class of the American League- and were wholly uncompetitive for two weeks: three up, nine down. The Rays are right in that class of those Angels and Red Sox who just buried the Phillies: great starting pitching, maybe not as much pure power as the Phillies but certainly a better hitting grouping.

On paper, the Phillies frankly figure to be narrow favorites only in pair of the potential seven games (ed. note- wrong! tonight’s game is a pick’em): Hamels gets a pair of starts verus Scott Kazmir. Kazmir in a real nice pitcher- a plus number two starter and unfortunately a lefty to boot- but Cole has got it going lately. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Phillies win four games without him getting his pair. Hamels, Madison and Lidge are rested and aligned; the Phillies consequently must win tonight. And it ain’t a sign of strength when you face, for all practical purposes, a “must win” right off the bat.

Past that, the match-ups really tilt in favor of the Rays. For instance, Moyers versus the ALCS MVP Garva? That is not good.

Plus, of the Phillies one, two, four and five hole hitter- you can pretty much pencil in a pair of them to hit .180 with zero HRs. One absolute truism of the 2008 Phillies is that you can pitch to their core hitters- all have holes, all can go weeks without swinging the bat well. If there is a team in baseball more capable of exploiting that weakness: lefties in general and right-handers who can pitch to spots, the Rays are it.

They also have to get the Series quick, a seventh game on the road featuring Moyer or Blandon is not a happy place for me. I would have considered strongly starting Meyers tonight- preserving the two Hamels starts- but having the option to bring Meyers back for game four and seven. But I guess Meyers, even starting game five, could probably go six outs in a seventh game.

I hope Charlie considers DH-ing Howard. These games on turf, which the Phillies have yet to play on, scare me bad

Again, Hamels is hot- and if he can win tonight, the Phillies have a fair chance. Playing three games in our power-friendly ballpark will help negate some of huge advantage the Rays enjoy down the rotation in games three and four. But that is what we’re looking for here at best- a game one win to have a fighting, even-steven chance to upset the Rays. A loss tonight… the Phillies could get swept frankly. Must win tonight!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Miss Food City 2009

This blog is an unabashed supporter of the greatest venue in sports: Bristol Motor Speedway. And to that end, there is an obligation to report the elevation of this year’s Miss Food City- destined to reign over this year’s race activities and ride in the giant grocery cart. We all loved Jennifer- but all things must progress. To that end, Miss Food City is:
When the moment arrived, it was Lindsey Lorraine Blevins of Wise, VA who was crowned 2009 Miss Food City. Lindsey is a 21 year-old student at the University of Virginia at Wise. “It’s an honor to be crowned with such a prestigious title” Blevins commented. “I’ve worked hard for this opportunity and I can now testify that the ‘third time’s a charm’. I am excited and looking forward to spending the next year with Mr. Steve Smith and the Food City family.”

Lindsey will represent Food City during the Food City 500 and the Food City 250 NASCAR events at Bristol Motor Speedway during 2009. In addition to those responsibilities, Lindsey will represent Food City at various other company events.

Lindsey enjoys fishing, running, water and snow skiing, attending church, volunteering, NASCAR racing and UT Football. Her volunteer efforts include helping to raise a great deal of money for the Speedway Children’s Charities. She is the first traditional college student in her family, and is currently completing an internship at Norton Community Hospital. She plans to graduate with honors in May 2009 with a B.A. in Biology and to pursue a second degree in nursing to become a health care provider in the Southwest Virginia area.

Can't wait for August!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

This Week In BlogPoll

The Tampa Rays victory last night has plunged me into the sort of mixture of optimism and ennui that frequently effects Frank Helps You Think It All Out. For example,I'm glad the Rays won because I thought the Sox would sweep the Phillies- whereas Philadelphia might win a game or two versus the Rays.

Anyway, to take my mind off of it- here is my vote in this week's BlogPoll:

1Texas 1
2Alabama 1
3Penn State --
4Florida --
5Oklahoma --
6Georgia 1
7Texas Tech 1
8Southern Cal 1
9Oklahoma State 1
10Boise State 1
11Ohio State 1
12LSU 1
13Tulsa 9
14Utah 1
15TCU 11
16South Florida 5
17Kansas 4
18Brigham Young 6
19Georgia Tech 7
20Ball State 6
21Pittsburgh 5
22Florida State 2
23Minnesota 2
24Northwestern 2
25Maryland 1

Dropped Out: Virginia Tech (#14), North Carolina (#16), Missouri (#17), Vanderbilt (#18), Michigan State (#19), Wake Forest (#20), California (#23).

As to the particulars... I flipped my vote this week between Texas and Alabama. Frank Helps You Think It All Out is long a proponent of the SEC being an almost guaranteed participant and huge winner of the BCS title game- but it is hard to ignore Texas right now. So I'm not fighting the tide here.

I'm moving Tulsa up though. I have come to the conclusion I agree with this guy. And I hated myself for weeks voting for BYU like they were a real good team. So I'm replacing BYU with Tulsa- and as one of few C-USA voters, I'm not apologizing for it.

I'm also leaving Mizzou off. I never liked them- and now, I'm standing up for myself. Plus, now you can add that they're a little soft: you can punch them in the mouth and they don't seem up to punching back. I think they're going to lose to Kansas- and would lose to Texas Tech/Oklahoma. And I'm not voting for the fifth best team in the Big 12. The Tigers are on the road to three-five losses and zero wins over top 25 teams; they don't deserve it. Look, they have five wins- none all that good- three of those wins are SE Missouri, Nevada and Buffalo. Not good enough.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Pennant

When I saw Greg Maddux enter the game last night, the nostalgia washed over me. It is really hard to believe it has been fifteen years since the mighty Micky Morandini smoked a first inning rocket into the leg of Maddux, knocking him off his Hall of Fame game, leading to Darren Daulton’s and Dave Hollins’ mighty blows. Take a minute to remember it all here.

Then turn your attention to the glorious present- you might start here.

In the end, the Phillies have proven themselves a darn good team. While clearly not great- not in the class of recent Yankees and Red Sox teams- they give their manager 27 outs of effort every night. Cole Hamels’ 14-10 regular season mark is indicative of his up and down nature. But he has been a top of the line LHP starter lately. The Phillies biggest day in, day out weakness is their back-of-the-rotation issues (say Eaton, Kendrick)- but they are sort of papered over in this short series format. They’ve played nine play-off games- if you add in Game 1 of the World Series Hamels will have started four of them.

The Philadelphia line-up can be pitched too- but they create a sort of constant pressure. Considering they have some low batting average guys in core line-up spots, they still manage to get on base a lot. The Phillies simply have a lot of guys who get pitched gingerly to- as the low average guys in the one, four and five holes can slug. Up and down the lineup, the Phillies then hit a ton of home runs- generating an oddly consistent ability to generate crooked numbers. The team might always have multiple guys in fearsome slumps- Rollins and Howard and Utley and Burrell are poster children for whole months of hitting .150- but it is hard to get through 40-50 at bats with this collective without someone, no matter how bad they’re going, losing one into the stands.

And the bullpen is really good. They get to play that same game the Yankees did with their great bullpen- play a six, seven inning game rather than nine.

The Phillies will probably be a distinct underdog versus whoever emerges for the American League. But, with Hamels and Meyers pitching the first two on the road- it is hard to imagine them not getting a split. And I’ll take my chances best of five- with three of those games in our cozy little pad- which will help negate the Rays advantage in rotation depth. I missed a little on the Phillies this year- but it feels like a real toss-up World Series to me. And fate owes this franchise one big.


The Phillies Win The Pennant!

The Phillies Win The Pennant!

Praise God- and not our strength for it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Prepare The William Penn Jersey!

Around midnight, satiated by victory, I stirred myself to go through my collection of vintages, then put a bottle of La Grande Dame, by Veuve Clicquot, into the ‘fridge. You see, the Philadelphia Phillies are a mere game from the Pennant.

Now, yesterday afternoon, before Game 4 of the Phillies Dodgers NLCS, I spoke to my youngest brother about the pending game. I remarked that I was feeling a real inexplicable trepidation about the Phillies following their uncompetitive loss in Game Three. He was unsympathetic- pointing out the root cause. “You’ve seen them play all year,” he replied drolly, “you’ve seen them play.”

Still, I guess the one nice thing about an approach to scoring runs consisting of standing around waiting for some guy to launch one is that, indeed, the Phillies are blessed with a plethora of guys who can, in fact, launch baseball outs of ball parks. They can sort of survive months and months of key core players- Rollins, Burrell, Howard, etc.- hitting .150 because they get lots and lots of baseball’s single most determinant factor- the home run with guys on base.

Oddly- outside of their lead-off guy- they have lots of guys who have legit OBP. Other than Ruiz and Rollins, there is no regular who doesn’t hit for some average and/or walks. They get a lot of total at-bats where there is someone loitering on first base- and a ton of hitters who can deposit mistakes into the nether regions of the night. There was a lot of blather last night about the “Phillies don’t quit” and that the “Phillies keep coming”- but really, combine players on base with lots of guys who can hit the ball out of the ball park, and you have a recipe to be in and then win a lot of games you shouldn’t on paper.

Last night was certainly one of those games: indifferent starting pitching, shaky middle relief, down multiple runs late- but guys loitered on base late (Howard is hitting .188 in the series but still scored two runs last night because he loiters on the base paths) and the Phillies produced a pair of guys who could go yard.

There has been good karma too. Readers of Frank Helps You Think It All Out know I have no problem with Charlie Manual. His ability to get guys to play for him every night, week after week, year after year- and manage a roster over the 162-game marathon easily overshadows his absolute bizarre in-game strategic decisions. Victorino bunting? In actuality Charlie, Shane is their number one RBI guy right now- and he gives himself up to get Feliz an RBI opportunity against an RH? An opportunity only gotten after Charlie has to burn a move by removing Dobbs? Heck, I’d rather have Dobbs in there hitting off an LHP anyway.

But the karma comes in the form of Joe Torre- who is doing a terrible job managing the Dodgers this week. I’ll let Greg Doyel re-hash the blunders- but Joe is making Charlie look almost smart.

Bottom line- I went into last night’s game thinking, to win the series, the Phillies had to win a game that Dodgers’ ace Lowe started one more time to get this done. They did last night- and consequently, I think they’re probably home.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Of Interest

Due to my recent vacation, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is a bit behind the curve. So a bit of catch-up is in order.

To wit, CBS Sports has added the BlogPoll I vote in to its site. It is now the coaches, the AP and us. If you click through the “complete poll” link at the bottom of the BlogPoll you’ll see a roster of schools “participating”. Sort of fun.

As to the Poll itself, Alabama remains atop my ballot for three weeks in a row. Look, you can make many cognizant arguments for either Alabama or Texas- no protest from me. Or even Penn State. But I've watched SEC teams dominate National Championship games recently- and until someone can play with them in a giant spot, I'll default to that League.

Nothing else strikes me as crazy. I still think Mizzou will have at least three losses when all is siad and done- and Boise State will have none. Tulsa will always get a vote here- as Frank Helps You Think It All Out is one of two C-USA votes. I'm so down on the Big East- only moderate love for South Florida.

Lastly, the arrows are messed up because, due to my travels, I was unable to vote last week. So- think of oit as a start-over.

1Alabama 25
2Texas 24
3Penn State 23
4Florida 22
5Georgia 21
6Texas Tech 20
7Southern Cal 19
8Oklahoma State 18
9Boise State 17
10Ohio State 16
11LSU 15
12Brigham Young 14
13Kansas 13
14Virginia Tech 12
15Utah 11
16North Carolina 10
17Missouri 9
18Vanderbilt 8
19Michigan State 7
20Wake Forest 6
21South Florida 5
22Tulsa 4
23California 3
24Florida State 2
25Minnesota 1

Dropped Out: