Monday, June 29, 2009

Phils rally to take two, Happ pitches a gem, Pitching problem continues

The Phillies' current mini winning streak was crucial in getting back on track. After dropping the first game in Toronto, the Mets and Marlins were right on the Phils' heels. Fortunately, after winning two straight to take the series, the Mets and Marlins lost two straight, falling to 2.5 and 3 games back respectively.

Despite Interleague Play mercifully ending, the Phillies aren't out of deep water yet. They travel to Atlanta for a three game set with the Braves who inched closer to the Phillies at five games back. The Phillies then find themselves hosting the Mets for three games, and likely facing Johan Santana in Sunday's series finale.

Obviously, it's still rather early and plenty can happen post all-star break, but this could be an important stretch for the Phillies. They need to establish a consistent level of play, and maintain it for an extended period of time.

J.A. Happ was excellent in Saturday's victory, throwing his first career complete game shutout. Happ has been one of the most, if not the most consistent pitcher for the Phillies this season, as apparent by his undefeated record.

News also emerged that Antonio Bastardo will miss his next scheduled start (Wednesday) and that Cole Hamels will pitch in his stead on normal rest. This begs the question, Why? Bastardo can't get major league hitters out with his single quality pitch, and therefore, shouldn't be in the major leagues. Jamie Moyer is already putting the team in a hole, as he did yesterday, just about every time he takes the mound. Bastardo should not be returning to the Phillies, and the team really needs a pitcher. Hamels, Happ and Joe Blanton make-up a solid 1-3 rotation. Unfortunately four and five just aren't getting it done right now.

Big series starting tomorrow in hotlanta, as Blanton looks to get the resumption of National League play off on the right foot. Charlie Manuel announced that Jimmy Rollins will be in the starting lineup.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hamels fired up during another Phils' loss

The Phillies have just been putrid lately. They can't hit, pitch, field or think. They are forgetting how many outs there are, not hustling on routine plays and not realizing which base to throw to. The Mets are just 0.5 games back and the Marlins stand one game behind the Phils. Interleague Play is almost over, great, but these mistakes could easier carry over to games against NL opponents. It was great to see Cole Hamels get fired up last night. It's about time someone did. Jimmy Rollins is supposed to be a leader on this team, but he's been benched and has either been hitting in the cages or just sitting on the bench, rather quietly. Chase Utley appears to be quiet as does Ryan Howard. Charlie Manuel needs to light a fire under his players' behinds, before the find themselves in third place.

Hamels' problem appears to be that he is just trying too hard. He knows his team's struggles, and that they aren't going to put runs on the board. As a result, he's nibbling more and falling behind hitters. This, obviously, leads to walks and fat pitches in hitters' counts. That curveball he threw to Kevin Millar with two strikes and two outs, was a strike. Hamels wanted it, and rightfully so, and he's put his emotions on his sleeve while barking at the umpire with his glove covering his mouth. After Millar's single and his removal from the game, he clearly and demonstratively voiced his displeasure with the home plate umpire. He was tossed from the game, not that it mattered as he was walking to the dugout after getting the hook, and issued one last sentiment to the umpire. Hamels appeared to say, "Yeah? F- you," after his ejection; and yeah, I like it. Finally a little passion shown on the field. Hamels is as much a competitor as anyone in the game, and he wanted to stay in that game and keep his team in it. So he got fired up and his emotions took over. Fine, get fired up, get angry, get pissed off. Just come back strong next time with something to prove.

The team could use some of that fire and passion right now. No more lackadaisical play. The Phillies used to pride themselves in playing the game the right way, but these last few weeks have been the exact opposite. I'd like to see J.A. Happ with some fire on the mound today, as he's struggled a bit lately.

Brad Lidge's first outing since his DL stint was a shaky one last night, giving up some hard hit balls and a few walks, even walking in a run. Hopefully this was a fluke and he can return to form when called into a save situation.

The Phillies' lineup needs to start hitting and scoring runs, and the team needs a few wins. Let's start that trend today.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Well, I never claimed to be Nostradamus

You're welcome for the excellent tip from my last post. John Smoltz just got through the first inning, after giving up four runs, allowing Washington to jump out to an early 4-0 lead. Time to switch over to the Marlins/Orioles game. Go, O's!

Another great first inning for the Phillies tonight, with Ryan Howard crushing a two-run double and Matt Stairs and Pedro Feliz each knocking in a run. Jimmy Rollins was held out of tonight's lineup and Greg Dobbs found himself in the two-hole while Howard is the DH for the third consecutive game.

Antonio Bastardo was given a gift, and he took the mound and walked the lead-off hitter. How does that happen? That's unacceptable. Throw strikes, get outs. Fortunately, B.J. Upton made a bone head play and tried to steal second, trailing by four runs, and was picked off. This lead still doesn't feel safe. The bullpen may be in for a long night; but hopefully Bastard...o comes through.

Phils look for series victory tonight, Lidge returns

Tonight's game is huge for the Phils, as they look for the series victory in Tampa. Last night's game was much closer than the final score would indicate. The Rays fell into a lucky big inning late in the game, with bloopers and walks putting the game out of reach. Matt Garza was excellent for Tampa, and Joe Blanton was equally as good. Blanton's only mistake came in the form of a two-run blast off Pat Burrell's blast. I guess if someone is going to beat us, it may as well be Pat. We'll give him a pass last night, but the Phils need tonight's game.

Brad Lidge is set to return after being activated from the DL today. If Lidge is now healthy and can close out games anywhere near as well as he did last season, the Phillies are in great shape. Ryan Madson is tremendous out of the set-up role, and returns to familiar territory tonight.

What to watch: If you're any MLB.TV subscriber, while watching the Phils on TV, tune into the Boston Red Sox-Washington Nationals game on your laptop. It may seem like an odd suggestion, but John Smoltz is making his long anticipated return to Major League Baseball, pitching for Boston tonight. It should be interesting to see if he has anything left in the tank, and if he does, you may be able to start penciling in a Phillies vs. Red Sox World Series!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Phils offense explodes in Tampa, Moyer strong with cushion

The Phils sure started the road trip off with a bang last night. The Rays were bad in the field and the Phils took advantage. David Price was bad on the mound and the Phils took advantage. The Phillies put a six spot on the board in the first inning, and Jamie Moyer took advantage.

The Phillies, and Moyer could ill afford to come out and let the 6-0 turn into 6-3. Moyer came out strong and finished strong though, never allowing Tampa back into the game.

Jimmy Rollins hit into some tough luck last night. His first at bat should have been ruled a single and an error, not a two base error on Evan Longoria. Sure, a good throw would have retired J-Roll. But the official scorer didn't take into consideration the difficulty of making a good through with a speedy runner, after the fielder made a diving stop, is facing left field and has to spin and throw all in one motion to have time to nab Rollins at first.

In his second at bat, it appeared as though Rollins had a homer off the bat, or at least an extra base hit. He got under the ball just a bit and it hung up for Carl Crawford at the wall in left. Rollins just missed driving the ball out of the park.

"Big Joe Blanton" takes the hill tonight, looking to clinch a series victory for the Phils. Matt Garza opposes him, looking for some run support for a change. His losing record, 4-5, is not evident of how well he's pitched. His era stands at 3.83, and Garza gives the Rays a chance to win with every outing. Antonio Bastard0 (oh how I nearly gave into temptation while spelling his name) will close out the series, looking to emulate his first few starts of the season after a few rough recent outings. An inconsistent Andy Sonnanstine (5-7 6.60) starts for the Rays tomorrow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Road trip should help Phils

Hopefully the road trip the Phillies are embarking on will bring some redemption, as they still hold the distinction of the best road team in the Majors. While they've been bewildered at Citizen's Bank Park this season, especially during that horrendous home-stand which ended yesterday, visiting ballparks have been a safe haven thus far.

The injuries are starting to take a toll on the club, but the regulars aren't doing their jobs either. Losing Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre and Brett Myers is putting a strain on the rest of the team and they are not handling the extra work load as of late. Howard and Lidge could return tomorrow when the trip starts in Tampa Bay, but regardless, this team is too good to not be finding ways to win, especially against their last few opponents.

The World Series rematch should be interesting, and the Phillies need to take revenge against the Blue Jays while visiting Toronto. Fortunately for the Phillies, despite all their struggles, the Mets have been just as bad, allowing the Phillies to maintain the lead in the NL East.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Phils lose to O's, fourth straight

The Phillies still can't win at home, losing their last four and six of seven on this home stand. Something needs to happen to shake this team up, just a little bit. They are losing games in ways that you'd expect the Mets to lose, but not the Phils.

Ryan Madson has started blowing games late in Brad Lidge's absence, the bullpen has struggled in general, Pedro Feliz is making late inning errors in clutch situations and they are uncharacteristically falling asleep in the field.

Marco Scutaro going to second on a walk, and Scott Rolen taking second on a single because the defense wasn't paying attention cost the team a win. Lately, there have been so too many situations and scenarios in which this team is blowing it and not getting the job done. Yes, last season the Phillies struggled in June during Interleague Play as well. But this doesn't quite feel like the same thing. The team has been unable to win at home just about all season. There are problems in the rotation and in the bullpen, especially in the back-end.

Charlie Manuel needs to think of something to get this team fired up again, and it needs to happen soon. He's tried tinkering with the lineup, which hasn't worked. Pedro Feliz and Jayson Werth have been the best hitters in the lineup lately. While it's great that those two are contributing regularly, the team needs Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to start hitting regularly again. Something needs to happen before the lead in the NL East, which is down to two games, disappears.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ibanez to the DL, Mayberry Jr. promoted

Raul Ibanez has been placed on the 15 day DL with a groin strain. John Mayberry Jr. was promoted from Triple-A to replace him.

The team is attributing his recent struggles to the strain, and not the sore left Achilles as a result of some bad shoes. Hopefully Ibanez will have time to recover fully and not miss any more time, and come back in his earlier season form after two weeks.

Mayberry Jr. and Matt Stairs figure to both see time in Ibanez's absence, with Stairs getting a few starts against tough right-handed pitchers. Greg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett will likely also see some time in the outfield.

Moyer roughed up by Toronto; Phils need another starter

Press and deploy the Jamie Moyer panic button. The crafty veteran does not have the stuff he had last season, and he's not locating nearly as well. It's late enough in the season to stop attributing his performance as rust or early season struggles. Moyer has lost some type of edge, and unfortunately, it's not likely he can regain it for any extended period of time.

The Phillies need to pull the trigger on a trade and bring in a top of the rotation starter. Maybe they could even coast into the postseason with the five men in the rotation now, but the playoffs are a different animal. Entering postseason play, as well as he's been pitching lately, Joe Blanton is not a number two starter. The team can't afford to keep playing from behind when Moyer takes the hill and gives up three or four in the first two innings. There are just too many questions for this to be a postseason rotation.

Cole Hamels and Blanton have proven themselves as quality playoff starters, although Blanton is a number three at best. Brett Myers may not be back, and even he's questionable as a number two. No one knows how J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo will handle the bright lights of the playoffs. I simply do not trust Moyer in a clutch situation anymore. He's a great guy and has a great baseball mind, but is obviously aged and doesn't appear to have the stuff anymore. Even if Moyer gets bumped from the rotation heading into the playoffs, not many Phils fans would be comfortable with a rotation of: Hamels, Blanton, Happ and Bastardo.

Bump any of those guys down in the rotation one spot with an added veteran at the top, and they each look that much better. Happ would be a great number four in the playoffs and Blanton would be back in his element. Not to mention how dominant Hamels and say, a Roy Oswalt or Roy Halladay would be as a one-two punch.

The offense is tremendous, but can only play from behind so much. The Phillies need to make a move and bring another established pitcher in for the second spot in the rotation. Our season may depend on it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Phils lose opener to Toronto in tough fashion

The Phils gave that one away last night. It's a shame that Jayson Werth's clutch homer was wasted with yet another blown save. Cole Hamels pitched a good game and deserved a victory. He wasn't great, but he was good enough. Chad Durbin was excellent in relief, and J.C. Romero was wild but pitched around it in tossing a scoreless inning.

Ryan Madson has been excellent but blew his second save of the year, walking in the game tying run. That shouldn't happen. That can't happen. Unfortunately, Clay Condrey was not his typical self, getting rocked for five runs in one third of an inning.

The Phillies don't just rally from deficits in games, but they rally on nights following a tough game. Last night was a tough game; let's hope for a rally.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boston takes two, young guns struggle

Don't be too hard on the young guys in the rotation after struggling in Boston's 2-1 series victory. I mean, we are talking about the Red Sox. That lineup is stacked from top to bottom with world class hitters, and Antonio Bastardo and J.A. Happ are stacked with talent but inexperience. Bastardo was all over the place in his one inning of work, and clearly needs to further develop his off speed stuff to truly compete at this level. There's no question that he has a Major League fastball though, and the potential to develop into a very strong starting pitcher.

Happ got himself into trouble in the second inning, but settled down nicely and kept the Phillies in the ball game, eventually leading to a rally and the Phils salvaging a game in the series. Happ's biggest mistake in the game was not allowing Boston to take a 4-1 lead in the second. It was serving up a lead-off home run to Josh Beckett, immediately following the team's first rally of the day which put them in front 5-4. Happ would settle down once again, albeit briefly, inducing a double play from the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury. Happ is a competitor, has good stuff and a great mentality, and should recover nicely.

Joe Blanton continued his string of strong starts in the first game on the series. He was excellent once again, unfortunately, Jon Lester was even better. The Phillies could have won the opening game, had Greg Dobbs' blast in extra innings not been ruled foul. On television, it appeared to go over the pole, but it's difficult to determine if the camera angle factored into the view. The umpires refused to go to instant replay, which is difficult to understand. If an umpire is adamant that he saw the play all the way, then a replay is not necessary. But in that situation, with a potential game winning home run that close to the pole, it was worth a look. Even if they determined the angle was deceiving, rendering the replay ambiguous, taking an extra look at the play can't hurt. Hopefully the ball really was foul and didn't cost the Phillies a victory, but it did appear to be a fair ball.

Nothing changed in the NL East standing over the weekend, except that the fourth place Marlins went on a minor hot streak, overtaking the Atlanta Braves for third place. The Mets also lost two of three, to the Yankees, in hilarious fashion. They find a different way to lose just about everyday. Luis Castillo's dropped pop-up to end the game was just ridiculous. That can't happen, and yet with the Mets, it does. After bouncing back and tying the series on Saturday with Johan Santana scheduled to pitch the rubber match, Santana was destroyed for nine earned runs in three innings. It's just fun to watch.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Phils take series in New York, Raul is the Man, Pelfrey is a goon

What a great series in New York, culminating with the Phils taking the series after two consecutive extra inning victories. The Phillies showed a ton of heart against the Mets, battling to take two of three.

The team made a comeback in all three games. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit in game one, with Johan Santana on the mound. Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez responded by hitting back to back solo shots, and Jimmy Rollins heard the boos a bit louder after his two run shot but the Phils in front 4-3. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn't hold the lead and the Mets took game one.

The Phillies battled back late in game two, trailing 4-1, rallying to tie the game. Chase Utley's extra innings home run gave the Phils the lead and the win. Utley must have enjoyed this game winner a bit more than usual, following a prior incident between Utley and Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey was on the mound ready to throw, and as soon as Utley started to step into the box, it appeared as though Pelfrey was about to pitch. Utley called time out and stepped out of the box, and Pelfrey threw a temper tantrum like a goon, and threw his arms up in the air and starting yelling at Utley. Utley was not given time to get set in the box, so he stepped out. It's not as though he called time late after being set in the box to throw Pelfrey out of his rhythm. Instead of walking in the direction of his dugout after Utley made an out, Pelfrey walked toward first base and said something to Utley as he passed him.

The Phillies battled back once again last night, tying the game in the seventh after trailing 3-1. Raul Ibanez came through once again, giving the Phils a 6-3 win after his three run home run in the 10th. He really has been the man in Philadelphia all season. Ryan Madson looked great as the closer in the last two games, picking up two saves in the process. The victory puts the Phillies four games ahead of the Mets, entering interleague play.

The Boston Red Sox, fresh off yet another sweep of the New York Yankees, come into town for a weekend series starting tonight. Boston will be throwing their three best pitchers in this series, with Jon Lester on the hill tonight, Dice-K Matsuzaka starting tomorrow and the red hot Josh Beckett closing out the series on Sunday. The Phillies will counter with Joe Blanton tonight, and the young left guns, Antonio Bastardo and J.A. Happ to finish the set. The Mets and Yankees will both be searching for redemption while facing each other this weekend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Get your copy of Fightin Phillies Monthy NOW

Rich Baxter of Fightin Phillies put together an excellent Phillies publication that's currently on sale! It features great photos, and stories written by myself and Rich. Fightin Phillies Monthly is selling for just $4.20! Be sure to buy it here, and pick up the first edition.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Phils wondering what could have been in L.A, begin tough stretch tonight

Heading into a four game set in L.A against the Dodgers, if someone told you the Phillies would split the series, you'd have to be satisfied with the result. But after the 2-2 split, the Phillies are left with a sense that they failed to put a dagger into the team with the Major League's best record. If not for Brad Lidge's struggles, and an uncharacteristic Pedro Feliz error, the Phillies would have swept the series.

Phillies fans know better than any others, you have to get all 27 outs before earning the victory. The Phillies have pulled out more unlikely comebacks than just about any other team in recent history. Maybe we're a bit spoiled with our track record last season, winning games late and going undefeated when leading after eight. But this team doesn't lose games in that fashion and it needs Lidge to be "Lights out Lidge" from a season ago.

Starting tonight in New York, opposing Johan Santana, the Phils begin a very difficult stretch. After three against the Mets, the Phillies host Boston and Toronto for three. Hopefully Baltimore will provide a bit of a break, before the Phils head out to Tampa for a three game set with the Rays and then travel to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays again.

That stretch could make or break the team. If the Phils keep their heads above water, they could very well run away with the division. Sink, and we may see another dog fight late into September.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dodgers rally against Lidge, end Phils' streak

Last night's loss to the Dodgers was a brutal one. The Phillies had no business losing that game, and blew it in a very uncharacteristic fashion. Despite eleven runners left on base, the Phils appeared to be well on their way to their eight straight victory.

The Dodgers were down to their last strike before rallying against Brad Lidge, with a single, walk and rare error by sure-handed third baseman Pedro Feliz. Andre Eithier finished the rally with a walk-off, two-run double.

The team consistently failed to bring in runners throughout the game. They had chance after chance to add some insurance runs to pad the lead but failed to do so, setting themselves up for defeat. Still, Lidge needs to get that final out to end the game. Sure, Feliz made an error, but retiring Casey Blake, James Loney or Andre Eithier would have ended the game.

Unfortunately, Jamie Moyer's great start was wasted; he allowed just two runs over seven innings. Eric Bruntlett should have made that catch in the seventh and prevented the Dodgers' second run from scoring. He's done a fine job, but he's not an outfielder. He can't be blamed for not making a play at a position he's not familiar with. The Phillies only have one back-up outfielder, Matt Stairs, and he's not exactly Mr. Defensive replacement.

The Phillies are short handed offensively, with just a four man bench. With Victorino sitting out, the bench is down to three. One of the three left handed arms in the bullpen should be moved, allowing the Phillies to add another outfielder to the roster. With the return of J.C. Romero, Jack Taschner's role on the team is minuscule. John Mayberry Jr. would be more valuable to this team than a third left handed relief pitcher.

Joe Blanton looks to get the team back on track in L.A. this afternoon. The starting pitching has been phenomenal lately, and Blanton has been pitching much better. If the trend continues, look for the Phillies to start another winning streak starting today.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Phils sweep Padres, head to L.A. for showdown with Dodgers

The Phillies won their sixth straight game last night, 5-1, capping off a sweep of the San Diego Padres. While the offense has been punishing the ball, the pitching staff has been excellent throughout this stretch.

The two young left-handers in the rotation are pitching phenomenally. Antonio Bastardo's Major League debut on Tuesday could not have gone better. Staked to a 4-0 lead before taking the mound, Bastardo used the lead to his advantage by attacking hitters with his live fastball. In his six innings pitching, his only allowed run came on a solo shot from Adrian Gonzalez. He struck out five and walked just one. Bastardo was great, and didn't pitch like a rookie at all. He started the first batter he faced three balls and no strikes. A less composed kid making his debut would likely have become frustrated, but Bastardo threw three consecutive strikes to pick up his first big league strikeout.

Raul Ibanez carried the offense in Tuesday's victory. On his 37th birthday, Ibanez hit an RBI double off Jake Peavy in the first, and then two, two-run home runs, one in the third and one in the seventh. The Phils were cruising with a 10-1 lead until Chan Ho Park entered the game and promptly allowed four runs in just one inning.

Park has no business even being on this team. He was terrible in the rotation and hasn't fared much better out of the bullpen. The scoreboard at Citizen's Bank Park should display his last name backward any time he enters a game: "oh krap." Might as well say it, we're all thinking it.

J.A. Happ was dominant, once again, last night. Ryan Howard's two-run blast in the first inning was all he needed. Happ pitched seven scoreless, allowing just four hits while walking two and striking out four. His era is down to 2.48 and he improved to 4-0.

The Phillies' hot streak has moved them to three games ahead of New York, five and a half past Atlanta and seven and a half in front of Florida. The Phils' .608 winning percentage is second best in the National League, behind only the L.A. Dodgers, whom the Phillies open a four-game set with tonight.

The first two games will be match-ups of lefties, as Cole Hamels faces off against Clayton Kershaw in game one, and Jamie Moyer opposes former Phillie Eric Milton on Friday. Joe Blanton will take on right handed Hiroki Kuroda on Saturday, and Antonio Bastardo's second Major League start closes out the series, against another former Phillie, Randy Wolf.

One would think the Phillies throwing three left handed pitchers at a team would be unmatchable, but the Dodgers are countering with three lefties on the same nights. The Dodgers took two of three from the Phils in Philadelphia last month, but the Phillies are on a hot streak and out for revenge this weekend. Should be a great series, and if the Phillies could manage to take three of four, they'd be in excellent shape.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Phils win fourth straight, Lidge strong again

The Phillies have caught fire a bit as of late. Sure, playing Washington helps; but the Phils continued their winning ways in San Diego last night with a 5-3 victory. Joe Blanton was solid once again, pitching an excellent game minus allowing back-to-back solo jacks in the sixth. The Phillies hit their own back-to-back homers in the fifth, with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each blasting solo shots.

Brad Lidge had another strong outing and is starting to regain his dominant form. That's an extremely encouraging fact for the Phils, as Lidge's success is key to the team's success. Despite his struggles, last night's was his 13th save of the season.

Antonio Bastardo makes his major league debut tonight. Unfortunately for him, he must have drawn the short straw, as Jake Peavy will oppose him. The series closes out on Wednesday with J.A. Happ looking to defend his 3-0 record against Chris Young.