Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lee, Francisco set for debut

Ben Francisco is in tonight's lineup, batting sixth and patrolling center field. Shane Victorino left last night's game in the eight inning with a knee contusion.

Cliff Lee will make his debut Friday night, after the Phillies revamped their rotation for this weekend's series. Joe Blanton was pushed back to Saturday's game and Cole Hamels pitches the finale. Jamie Moyer was set to pitch Saturday but his start will be skipped.

Happ pitches well as Phils fall; Lee not scheduled to pitch in San Fran

J.A. Happ fell on some tough luck last night, losing his second consecutive start as the Phils failed to complete the sweep of Arizona, losing 4-0.

Happ surrendered a two-run homer to Justin Upton in the first inning that just managed to clear the left field wall, but showed his maturity but settling down and keeping the Diamondbacks in check.

In his six innings pitched, Happ allowed just three hits and those two runs; but Yusmeiro Petit was tremendous, picking up his first victory of the season by tossing six scoreless innings.

Happ showed his composure while dealing with adversity for a second straight start, something many young pitchers fail to do. Keeping the Diamondbacks off the bases, and more importantly the scoreboard, was important in allowing the offense an opportunity for a rally. The rally never came.

Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco will join the Phillies in San Francisco for tonight's game. Cliff Lee is not penciled in to start during the series against the Giants, and is unlikely to make his Phillies debut until the team returns home to face Colorado. He could have made his debut on Saturday, when he was originally scheduled to pitch for Cleveland, in could have been an intriguing match-up of 2008's Cy Young award winners as the Phils oppose Tim Lincecum on Saturday.

The Giants acquired durable second baseman Freddy Sanchez from Pittsburgh yesterday, and he could be in the lineup against the Phils tonight as Rodrigo Lopez takes the hill looking to put the Phils right back into the win column.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phillies, acquire Cliff Lee, Ben Francisco from Tribe

The Phillies and Indians have agreed on a deal that would bring reigning American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia for four prospects: Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp.

Carrasco was scratched from his Triple-A start earlier today, and Donald and Marson were held out of the lineup. According to Ken Rosenthal, the deal is pending a review of medical records.

This is an outstanding trade for the Phillies. Lee is not as dominant as Roy Halladay, but he's an excellent pitcher. Francisco fills a season long void as a right handed hitter off the bench. Equally as important, the Phillies managed to keep Kyle Drabeck and J.A. Happ in the organization, a move that will not only pay dividends this season but in the future as well.

Lee was scheduled to start for the Tribe on Saturday, and could make his Phillies' debut this weekend in San Francisco.

Phils win fourth straight behind Hamels' gem

The Phillies remain on fire amid distractions of trade rumors running throughout the clubhouse and the major league baseball community. Last night's 4-3 victory was impressive in many different ways.

Cole Hamels got back on track and threw an absolute gem, and that could not be more encouraging. He pitched eight innings while allowing just four hits and one run, striking out nine. Most importantly, Hamels didn't walk a batter, allowing him to keep his pitch count down and work deep into the ballgame. With August approaching, it's important to have the "real Hamels" back for the home stretch, and last night was a major step in the right direction.

The offense looked great once again, not lighting up the scoreboard but putting together great at bats against one of the best pitchers in baseball in Dan Haren. While only scoring three runs against him, the Phillies were grinding out their at bats all throughout Haren's five innings of work, running up his pitch count and taking advantage of Arizona's mistakes to deal Haren his sixth defeat of the season.

The Brad Lidge experience continued to be a bumpy ride in the ninth, with Lidge needing all three runs of support, allowing a two-run shot to Mark Reynolds which closed the gap to one run, but he managed to hold on and pick up his 20th save of the season.

The Phils look to sweep the Diamondbacks tonight, and they have the right man on the hill to do it. J.A. Happ starts in what could be, but hopefully isn't, his final appearance for Philadelphia. Happ (7-1 2.97) will be opposed by Yusmeiro Petit (0-5 7.68) before the team heads to San Francisco to take on the wild card leading Giants in a four-game set.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Leave Happ out of deal; Phils interested in Sherrill?

The Phillies appear to be calling Toronto's bluff, as they should. The Jays have to trade Roy Halladay before the deadline. Not doing so doesn't make any sense for their organization. They have a depleted farm system, and Halladay's value decreases every day that passes after Friday's non-waiver trade deadline. The Jays likely know they are going to accept less than their initial asking price if they want to deal 'Doc,' but no one can blame them for trying to get as much as possible.

I may be in the minority in not wanting the Phils to give up everything but the kitchen sink to acquire Halladay, but some things just don't add up. The point of being buyers at the deadline is to bolster the major league roster, while trading prospects and sacrificing some potential future studs.

What more does J.A. Happ need to do to prove he belongs in this rotation for the long haul? Sure, Halladay is a much better pitcher than Happ, but subtracting a quality major league pitcher to add one shouldn't be the move at this point. If Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to trade away prospects, then he should have at it.

Kyle Drabeck appears to be the real deal, so if the team really feels they have a chance to win another championship this year, build the deal around Drabeck. Outfielders are probably the easiest players to replace in baseball, so offering Dominic Brown is a no brainer and he will be included in the deal if one comes to fruition.

Lou Marson doesn't appear to have much of a future with this organization, and Carlos Carrasco is struggling in the minor leagues but could still be considered valuable to outside organizations. Those four players should be more than enough to land Halladay, and if they aren't, Halladay probably won't be traded and could be acquired for a cheaper price in the off-season.

A rotation with Halladay and Cole Hamels at the top, Joe Blanton in the middle and some combination of J.A. Happ and Jamie Moyer/ Pedro Martinez/ Rodrigo Lopez at the back seems incredible. The Phillies should be making every effort to keep the major league talent they currently employ, while looking to add a Halladay or a Cliff Lee.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Phillies' scouts watched Baltimore Orioles' closer George Sherrill pitch a scoreless inning in a non-save situation on Sunday. It's still doubtful the Phils would replace Brad Lidge as closer, but an extra late inning arm would be a welcome addition to their banged up bullpen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rollins. bats spark Phils to victory

The Phillies regained their 6.5 lead over Atlanta and Florida after another dramatic come from behind victory.

The game was a bit scary for Phils' fans; after jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, the St. Louis outfield robbed the Phillies of several opportunities to blow the game wide open.

Ryan Ludwick caught a Carlos Ruiz drive with two outs and two on in the first that came just short of the wall, robbing Chooch of a two-run double.

An inning later, Rick Ankiel took an RBI double away from Chase Utley, leaping into the right-center field wall to make a dramatic inning ending catch.

But those were routine in comparison to Ankiel's most dramatic catch of the day. Jayson Werth hit an absolute bullet to straight away center, which appeared it would go for a two-run homer until Ankiel made a spectacular leaping grab, bringing the ball back into the yard.

It started to look like those catches may be the difference when the Cardinals rallied and took a 4-3 lead, but J-Roll continued rolling with a grand slam, followed by Shane Victorino's solo shot and the Phils never looked back.

This team has the best offense in the National League, if not in all of baseball. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels are the only teams in baseball with more runs scored than the Phillies, but consider that the American League's designated hitter helps account for extra hits and runs scored.

The Phillies can certainly hit with the best of them, and their bats have heated up since the start of July. Look for it to carry over into August and for the Phillies to build upon their already solid lead in the NL East.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Phils lose to Cards; Get your copy of Fightin Phillies Magazine now!

Last night was just not the Phillies' night. Joel Pineiro was excellent and every time the Phils hit a ball hard, it was right at someone or fell just short of leaving the yard. Matt Holliday sparked the Cardinals' offense with a four hit night, leading St. Louis to an 8-1 series opening victory.

J.A. Happ lost for the first time since his Major League debut a few years ago; but he pitched pretty well last night. He made a mistake in the second inning, with a runner at third and two outs. He threw a two strike fastball to Rick Ankiel that was supposed to be in, but it ran over the plate and Ankiel smacked it into left field for an RBI single. Happ settled in nicely until the sixth inning, when it became for evident that it wasn't our night.

The Cards put up a four spot against Happ in the inning, with the help of three bloopers that dropped into no man's land. Happ did allow a clean single and a hard double to right-center field in the inning, which came after all the bloop hits. It was tough luck for Happ, but it happens to every big league pitcher and how he handles it is the important thing. He did finish the inning, but limiting the damage as much as possible was crucial with Pineiro on the mound, to which he didn't accomplish.

It's hard to blame Happ, who's been outstanding all season. He still pitched pretty well and didn't issue any walks, and his ERA remains under three. The Marlins and Braves each gained a game on the Phils last night and both sit 5.5 back, while the Mets lost again and remain 10.5 out.

The Phillies need to even the series today with Rodrigo Lopez on the mound against Kyle Lohse.

Be sure to pick up a copy of this month's Fightin Phillies Magazine, created by Rich Baxter with pictures and stories by Rich and myself

Friday, July 24, 2009

Phils still hot, set to face St. Louis, Holliday

I'm back from vacation and the Phillies are still on fire. They're set to open a series against the Cardinals tonight, and newly acquired Matt Holliday will be in the lineup for the Cards tonight. St. Louis becomes the front runner to take the NL Central after trading for Holliday's power bat, giving Albert Pujols some much needed protection in the lineup.

J.A. Happ looks to go 8-0 tonight in a match-up against Joel Pineiro.

Be sure to pick up a copy of this month's Fightin Phillies Magazine, created by Rich Baxter with pictures and stories by Rich and myself.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Phils take first two from Fish, open 6 game lead

The Phils have picked up right where they left off at the break, taking the first two from the Marlins, opening up their division lead to six games. After another dominant outing from Jamie Moyer against the Fish on Thursday, don't underestimate the important of what Cole Hamels did last night.

Hamels has been bad lately. We know it and he'll say it. The games he has won, like the 22-1 victory over the Reds, he didn't pitch in much adversity. Well, last night he did, and Hamels passed the test.

Chase Utley's two-run shot in the first inning gave Hamels a 2-0 lead before taking the mound. That lead quickly shrunk to one run on Chris Coghlan's lead-off homer. Phillies fans thought, 'here we go again,' and Hamels could have very easily become frustrated and flustered.

Instead, he settled in very nicely until the rain delay ended his night too soon. He pitched five innings, allowing just the one run on four hits and one walk, while striking out five. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn't hold the lead but anyone who stayed up late enough saw the Phils rally to score two in the 12th; all starting with a Jimmy Rollins base hit.

Brad Lidge was shaky at best last night, but picked up the save. He did have these less than dominant performances during his perfect season in 2008, but that doesn't allow the fans to take it any easier on the Pepto when Lidge enters a tight game.

The Fish are now tied with the Atlanta Braves at six back, and the Mets are fading fast at eight and a half back. New York has lost their first two after the break, falling to Atlanta 11-0 last night and losing Gary Sheffield in the process. The Mets need a miracle to salvage anything out of this season.

The Phillies need to, at least, take one of the next two from the Marlins; keeping the Fish six games back. Obviously, sweeping them and taking an eight game lead in the division could end Florida's season and put the Phils in a commanding lead. Tonight's match-up of Joe Blanton vs. Josh Johnson should be a good one. Each pitcher has thrown seven shutout innings at the opposite team this season.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phillies vs. Marlins

The Phillies need to get focused for the second half, and quickly. They have a great opportunity to distance themselves from the second place Florida Marlins and the rest of the division this weekend as they open up a four game set at Landshark Stadium. Hmm, that makes me want to have a few Landsharks during the game.

The pitching match ups are in! Jamie Moyer is still set to start the opener against Chris Volstad, who's fresh off a complete game shutout victory. Cole Hamels squares off with Ricky Nolasco on Friday; both pitchers will be looking to rebound from bad starts. Big right handers Joe Blanton and Josh Johnson oppose each other on Saturday in what could be a pitchers' duel. Blanton beat the Marlins the only time he's faced them this season, pitching seven shutout innings; striking out a season high eleven batters. J.A. Happ takes the mound in the finale against Andrew Miller, who had a terrible outing in his last start in Arizona.

Note: Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco could switch places in the series because Johnson did not pitch in the all-star game.

Phils, Pedro agree to one year deal

Pedro Martinez and the Phillies have agreed to terms on a one year contract worth $1 Million with $1.5 million worth on incentives. A press conference is likely to take place on Wednesday before Pedro makes a few minor league starts in preparation to join the big league club. The $1 million contract is less than Martinez was originally seeking, and appears to be a bargain for the Phillies. It did turn into a low risk, high reward situation; as Pedro could have something left in the tank for half of a season after all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Breaking News: Pedro Martinez flying to Philadelphia

Free agent pitcher Pedro Martinez will be in Philadelphia over the all-star break for a physical. It's thought that the Phillies have agreed to terms on a one year deal with Pedro, and he will be in a Phillies' uniform for the second half of the season, pending results of the physical.

This could be a good move; it really depends on how much the Phillies are giving him. Another contingency is that if he struggles and puts a constant strain on the bullpen, the Phillies need to release him. If he fails to go deep into games the bullpen will wear down over a period of time, and become fatigued come September and the postseason.

The Phillies don't have to give up anything to get him though, and he is a veteran presence who knows what it takes to win. Just as long as the salary isn't ludicrous, it's a low risk, high reward situation.

It will be interesting to see if the deal does become finalized, but it appears more than likely.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Great come from behind victory

Don't ever count this team out. I should know better by now, but I was about ready to chalk last night's game up as a loss. The move to pinch hit Matt Stairs leading off the ninth seemed foolish. They had used John Mayberry Jr. in a situation with runners on base earlier in the game, instead of Stairs against a right handed pitcher. Ideally, you'd like Stairs to come to the plate with men on base. Leading off the ninth, the Phils needed someone to get on base and start a potential rally. Stairs did just that with his home run, and the top of the lineup did all you could ask for. They brought Ryan Howard to the plate as the tying run, and Howard delivered with a three run smash.

Raul Ibanez had a successful return, going 2-5 with two doubles and scoring the game winning run. He followed Howard's game tying homer by nearly hitting a walk-off homer of his own. The double put him in scoring position though and proved to be the difference as he crossed the plate on Paul Bako's first real contribution to the team.

What is ailing Cole Hamels? He has the stuff, as we all know. He was terrible through the first two innings last night, but settled down to at least save the bullpen from having a long night of work. The Phillies need Hamels to get it together during the all-star break and come out in the second half having returned to his dominant form.

J.A. Happ looks to give the Phils the series sweep and send them into the break having gone 9-1 on the homestand. The Marlins have cooled off and fell four games back last night, while Atlanta remains five back and the Mets stay in fourth place, six and a half games out.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Werth added to NL all-star team

Congratulations to the Phillies' all-stars! After Shane Victorino was added to the NL all-star team yesterday by winning the final man voting, Jayson Werth has been selected to replace injured outfielder Carlos Beltran. Victorino and Werth join obviously join elected starters Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez, along with Charlie Manuel's selection of Ryan Howard.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Phils give one away to Reds, Halladay a good fit in Philly?

That was a tough loss for the Phillies last night after their 22-1 pounding of the Reds the previous night. The Phils have no one to blame for the loss but themselves, after leaving runner after runner in scoring position. Jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Phillies had a bases loaded situation with no outs. After failing to plate a single run, the game turned downward from there. J.A. Happ pitched well, but allowed two home runs to Brandon Phillips and left the game in a 3-3 tie. Brad Lidge came on in the ninth to allow the losing run. Happ should have been working with a much bigger cushion, but time and time again the Phillies did not come through last night. Carlos Ruiz led off an inning with a triple, and the lineup failed to bring him in. These failed opportunities add up to loses, and that's exactly what happened last night.

Reports surfaced at the beginning of the week that the Phillies were to scout free agent pitcher Pedro Martinez in the Dominican Republic. Ruben Amaro Jr. explained that the team is exploring all options, but a source indicated to Comcast Sportsnet that the Phillies are much more interested than they are letting on.

ESPN's Buster Olney reported on trade rumors surrounding Roy Halladay today. He named the Phillies as the best suitors to acquire Halladay through trade, citing their motivation and the package of prospects they could offer in return. The Phillies would certainly be sacrificing a piece of their future as they would likely lose Jason Donald and Kyle Drabeck, and likely at least one more player, but they'd be primed to make another run at the title this year with Cole Hamels and Halladay at the top of the rotation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Phillies sweep Mets with Rollins, great pitching

The Phillies continued a trend in yesterday's finale against the New York Mets. They got excellent starting pitching, Jimmy Rollins set the table and Brad Lidge finished beautifully.

Rollins' lead-off homer was huge for both the team and himself. With Johan Santana on the mound, to get to him so early was a big boost for the Phils. Joe Blanton was phenomenal yesterday, pitching seven and one third scoreless innings. He worked himself out of the few jams he got himself into, capped off with David Wright's bases loaded, inning ending double play ground out.

Really, just how bad are the Mets? Their leader, David Wright, went hitless during a huge division rival series. He led the Mets yesterday is runners left on base. He made outs and hit into double plays in crucial situations. He was unimpressive in the field. His ninth inning at bat was pretty much perfect. He represented his team as he went down without a fight, as did the Mets. He led off against Lidge, trailing 2-0 and needing to get something started for his team to bring the tying run to the plate. He went down looking at a Lidge fastball on the inside corner. His team followed suit as Lidge struck out the side in the ninth, once again fanning Nick Evans to end the game for the second consecutive game.

It was a tremendous series for the Phillies and they need to keep it going. The Mets fell back into a fourth place tie with Atlanta, four games behind the Phils. The Marlins remain just one game back after taking two of three from the Pirates.

Cole Hamels takes the mound against the Reds tonight in a big start. He needs to bounce back and give the team a good start that he's more than capable and due to give.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Phils take first two from Mets, Moyer dominant

What a game! Jamie Moyer was outstanding, the Phillies put on a clinic in the field and the Mets showed, once again, just how bad they are.

Moyer was pitching to the corners and keeping hitters off balance throughout his dominant six and one third innings. The only run he'd allow, coming on a bloop RBI single by opposing starter Fernando Nieve. If Moyer can emulate this start and turn in consistent good outings the rest of the way, the Phillies will receive a major boost to the rotation.

There were numerous outstanding plays in the field in the game. From Pedro Feliz's barehanded grab and tremendous throw to first and his snag of Gary Sheffield's blast of a line drive, Chase Utley catching David Wright's bullet and doubling Alex Cora up at first, Jimmy Rollins' backhanded stop and throw right on the money or Ryan Howard's stop and diving effort to the bag ahead of the runner, the team backed Moyer up in a big way.

The Mets, on the other hand, looked terrible defensively. David Wright allowed Paul Bako's at bat to continue when he misread a foul pop-up. Alex Cora should have called him off and made the play, but once again, the Mets can't work as a team and blew the play. Bako would end up reaching base with a one out walk. A few batters later, Shane Victorino popped up with two on and two out. Omir Santos had plenty of room in front of the Phillies' dugout, but didn't use two hands and dropped the ball, making Luis Castillo proud. Victorino, and the Phillies, once again took advantage. Shane singled up the middle, scoring Bako, and giving the Phils another insurance run.

Rollins continued along the comeback trail, reaching base three times and delivering the biggest hit of the game, a two-run double in the fourth. He looks better at the plate and needs to continue that trend today against Johan Santana. The Phillies need contributions from any and all right handed batters today with Santana on the mound.

I was in the Bubba Burger row at Citizen's Bank Park yesterday. I've never even seen them given away anywhere near my section before, nor have I been near the Citizen's Seven. I was starting to think they were fake! We received a Bubba Burger t-shirt and a coupon for a free box of burgers, and got on the big screen holding up the boxes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lopez, Phils' bats take game one from NY

Last night's win over the Mets was a big one, no doubt about it. The Phils jumped on Livan Hernandez early and never looked back with a great debut on the hill from Rodrigo Lopez.

Wheels made an excellent point during the game; Hernandez is the type of solid veteran pitcher that can very easily find a groove and settle into a game. Getting on his early is huge, and the Phillies did just that, putting a seven spot in the board in the first three innings.

Rollins looked good at the plate for the second straight night. Whether or not standing closer to the plate is actually helping him, everyone knows his bat is crucial in the lineup and a J-Roll hot streak may propel the Phils into a hot streak.

Now to Lopez. Was he really that good, or are the Mets just that bad? Obviously time will tell, but he looked good last night. He threw strikes and didn't get hit all that hard. If he really was that good, just where exactly did it come from? Lopez is a veteran and had some strong years in Baltimore, but fell off in 2006, his last year with the Orioles. His ERA ballooned up to nearly six, and after a short 2007 with Colorado, Lopez disappeared from the Majors.

He's not exactly the fix the Phillies, or their fans had in mind, but Lopez could bring a certain dynamic to this team. Another veteran presence never hurts, and he appeared to have plenty left in the tank last night. His next start will certainly be something to keep an eye on, and should help in gauging last night's performance.

That really was big last night, as a loss would have put the team into a real up-hill battle for the rest of the series. Jamie Moyer goes today against Fernando Nieve, New York's talented young gun. Moyer has been pretty awful lately and he just hasn't been keeping the team in games. Johan Santana follows in the series finale tomorrow against Joe Blanton. A bounce back start from Moyer today would be huge. Facing Santana in hopes of sweeping the series is a major difference compared to trying to beat him to win the series.