Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Phillies Shaping Up

The Phillies are shaping up to not only be just contenders in 2011, but will enter the season as the favorite to reach the World Series from the National League, if not the favorite to win it all.

Over the years, the face of this franchise has changed so drastically. As the team transitioned into a winning ball-club, they mostly got it done with their bats. During 2006 when Ryan Howard won the MVP, 2007 when Jimmy Rollins took home the award and even in 2008 when they captured their first World Championship, the offense was potent and the pitching was certainly secondary. The team watched the top of their rotation change so drastically, from Kevin Millwood to Jon Lieber, none of whom lived up to expectations. But the offense was among the top of the league every year, producing enough to make up for the lack of quality arms in the organization.

Things are shifting once again. The team went into a prolonged offense slump last season. They still finished among the top of the league in offense, but just about every regular player had a down season. Rollins is aging and has trouble staying healthy and consistent, Howard and Chase Utley struggled through long stretches and Jayson Werth had his struggles while striking out at a very high rate. The only consistent offensive contributors were Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz.

Now that Werth is gone, the Phillies' offense stands to be much less effective. Werth's departure not only forces the Phillies to be adequate players in right field, but Charlie Manuel is going to have to figure out a way to protect Howard in this lineup. If someone like Raul Ibanez or a struggling Rollins bats fifth, Howard may not see a fastball all season.

The Phillies still have a potentially potent offense. They can still score runs in bunches. But one has to think that with the Cliff Lee signing, Ruben Amaro Jr. figured they might not need to score too many runs to win ballgames.

Call them what you want: R2C2, the Philthy Phour or just simply Four Aces, but we should be treated to something unprecedented in Philadelphia. Not only have the Phillies been acquiring good pitchers, but the three and four spots in their rotation are occupied by men who would pitch one or two on another team. Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels could be talked about as one of the best rotations of all time.

Sure, they look great on paper, but we know that things don't always go according to plan. They'll have to stay healthy and focused to pitch anywhere close to expectations. No one will be concerned about Halladay, but the other three have some question marks. Lee has gone through some bad stretches in his career, especially during the regular season. He wasn't tremendously impressive last season, and after dominating the Yankees in the ALCS, he got hit by the Giants in the World Series. Oswalt is aging but still appears to be close to top form, and Hamels seems to alternate between good and bad seasons. He was very good in 2008, horrendous in 2009 and back to dominant in 2010. Hopefully, that doesn't make him due for a clunker.

The bullpen didn't get any better, in fact, to this point they've gotten worse. Chad Durbin, one of their most consistent arms the last two seasons, remains unsigned.

People will speculate about this team like crazy leading up to the season. Everyone is excited and full of anticipation. But, no one can really predict how this season will unfold. It has the potential to be a fun ride with the quality arms the Phillies will put on the mound in 2011, and for most, it can't come fast enough.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shocker: Lee back to Phils

The Phillies shocked all of MLB by sweeping in and signing Cliff Lee to less money and fewer years than he'd be offered by New York and Texas, the two considered contenders.

Lee really fell in love with Philadelphia during his time here, and jumped at the opportunity to come back in agreeing to a five-year deal in the area of $100-120 million with an option for a sixth year.

His signing forms the best rotation in the league, which could even be entered into conversations of the best rotation in the history of MLB.

Yankee fans treated Lee's wife poorly while he was in attendance of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium by spitting, pouring beer and verbally abusing her. Lee and his agent claim this had no bearing on Lee's decision, but that's a bit hard to believe.

New York is in a bit of panic today. The Yankees aren't used to failing to sign all of their targets (Carl Crawford signed with Boston). They're still sure to try to acquire someone to improve an aging team that was knocked out of the post-season by Lee and the Rangers last season.

The Phillies and Giants would have been considered favorites in the NL heading into the 2011 season if not for the Lee deal. The Phillies now should be considered the clear favorites again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 awards not kind to Phillies

The Phillies aren't making much of a splash in the awards department. Shane Victorino captured his third consecutive Gold Glove award, the only Phillie to take down the hardware. Former Phil Scott Rolen beat out current third baseman Placido Polanco for yet another Gold Glove in his trophy case.

Shockingly, the Phillies don't have a single Silver Slugger award winner this season. There are four first time winners: Dan Uggla, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzales and Yovani Gallardo.

Usually a category the Phillies thrive in, their inconsistent offense throughout the regular season which continued into the postseason led to the Phillies coming up blank for the award this year.

Roy Halladay is still the favorite to land the Cy Young award, and Charlie Manuel will contend for Manager of the Year.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phils trail 3-1 after Game 4 loss

No one saw this coming. After last night's devastating 6-5 loss, the Phillies have their backs against the wall, trailing 3-1 in the NLCS. A third consecutive trip to the World Series is unlikely, but if there is a team that can comeback, it's this one.

The bats finally woke up a little last night, although they still aren't swinging particularly well. Bringing in Roy Oswalt for the ninth was a bit strange, but he doesn't have to pitch until Saturday so it shouldn't affect him too much. Was it a bit of over-managing by Charlie? That's open for debate.

If the Phillies can win tonight, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. San Francisco would be disappointed that they didn't close it out in front of their home fans, and that they have to fly across the country. Philadelphia would have an opportunity to take care of business in their home park, but they obviously have to win tonight.

Roy Halladay must be chomping at the bit to get out there tonight. Coming off a Game 1 loss, Halladay is looking for redemption and that should be a scary thought for the Giants.

But Tim Lincecum has a chance to push his team into the World Series in front of his home crowd after he wasn't particularly sharp in Game 1. The Freak has plenty of motivation entering this game which should be a scary thought for the Philly faithful.

If nothing else, Game 5 could have one hell of a game. If the Phillies take it, hopefully they'll pick up some momentum heading home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bats go cold in Game 3, Blanton in Game 4

This is not where the Phillies expected to be. With all of their post-season experience the last few seasons, this is rather uncharted waters.

The only time they've trailed a series 2-1 the last few seasons was last year's World Series against the Yankees. That was their first series loss since 2007.

But this series has a different feel. Cliff Lee pitched the Phillies to a Game 1 victory in last year's World Series, seemingly putting them in command. But, it's the Giants who have taken control of this 2010 NLCS, forcing the Phillies to try to fight, scratch and claw their way back into this series.

The Giants took Game 1; the Phillies' first Game 1 loss since 2007's Colorado sweep. After bouncing back in Game 2, the Phillies lost 3-0 to Matt Cain and the Giants yesterday to fall behind in the series again.

This is the first time the Phillies have repeatedly tried to play catchup while another team plays the role of the rabbit.

The offense was horrendous yesterday and wasted a good performance from Cole Hamels. Hamels' line was a bit skewed after a poor decision to change Chase Utley's obvious error into a hit, adding an earned run to Hamels' line. Utley was awful in the game. He made two defensive blunders, one of which was and should have been ruled an error until the change. He also seemed to come up with men on base in just about every at bat, and he couldn't come through once. The offense was bad in general, but he had more chances than anyone and couldn't produce.

Entering the series with H2O, not many people who have envisioned so much riding on a start from Joe Blanton. That's exactly what tonight's game represents.

The Phillies can ill afford to fall behind 3-1 in the series. While it's not impossible, it's unlikely that the Phillies would win three straight. A loss tonight would give Tim Lincecum a chance to clinch the NL pennant in front of his home crowd in Game 5. I don't want to see him with any extra motivation.

This is the biggest swing game of the series. Win, and it's even with both aces on the mound in a big Game 5. Lose, and the Phillies are really fighting for their lives.

This is Blanton's biggest start for the Phillies. Bigger than his World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Bigger because their entire season is riding on his performance.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Phils take Game 2 behind Oswalt, Rollins

The Phillies and Roy Oswalt were both looking to rebound in different ways. The Phils had just dropped their first series opener since 2007, and they did so with their ace on the mound.

Oswalt was looking to bounce back from a NLDS loss to the Reds. It was his first post-season start with the Phillies and he struggled from the onset.

They bounced back in a big way, taking Game 2 6-1 to even the series at one. The Phillies got to Jonathan Sanchez in the first inning, well, sort of. They waited him out and made him throw pitches. He eventually walked Jimmy Rollins to forced in a run. They left the bases loaded, but took a 1-0 lead without picking up a hit.

Oswalt was a force out of the gate. He stepped up and proved to be the pitcher that everyone already knew he is, but were waiting to see. Cody Ross broke up his no hitter in the fifth with, you guessed it, another solo home run. It tied the score at one at the time, but the Phillies got it right back in the bottom of the fifth.

The lineup manufactured a big run. Shane Victorino led off with a double, Chase Utley moved him to third and Placido Polanco's sacrifice fly drove him in.

Oswalt got fired up at the plate in the seventh. After using Utley's bat his first time up, Oswalt asked Rollins for one of his. Word of Oswalt's single made its way to Rollins in the batting cage, which he said inspired him.

That gave me confidence tonight, actually," Rollins said. "See, the bat still has hits in it. It's just the person using it."

After a sac bunt moved Oswalt to second and an intention walk to Utley, Polanco singled up the middle. As Oswalt rounded third, third base coach Sam Perlozzo held up the stop sign. Oswalt was already at least fifteen feet past the bag, so he turned around to find the ball. He kept right on running through the stop sign and scored with a nice slide at the plate.

A few batters later, Rollins showed up. He smacked a bases clearing double high off the right-center field wall, putting the Phils up 6-1.

Oswalt took care of the rest, finishing with eight strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits and three walks while striking out nine.

Ryan Madon got into some trouble in the ninth with a walk and a hit, but he closed out the game with a scoreless frame.

Tuesday's Game 3 is a big swing game in the series. The Phillies would hate to lose it and need to rely on Joe Blanton in Game 4 to avoid falling behind 3-1.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phils vs Giants in NLCS, Halladay vs. Linecum

The Phillies are back in the NLCS for the third consecutive year. For the first time, their opponent won't be the Dodgers.

The Phils will square off against the San Francisco Giants starting Saturday at Citizen's Bank Park. This series has several underlying story and could be primed for an extended series. The longest series the Phillies have played during their post-seasons the last few years is six games, in last year's World Series.

Game one is an epic match-up of two of the most dominant pitchers in baseball as Roy Halladay faces off with Tim Lincecum. Game two is likely to be Roy Oswalt against Main Cain, a battle of tough lefties in game three with Cole Hamels vs. Jonathan Sanchez. Game four is where it gets interesting.

Last night, in game four of the NLDS, the Giants used Madison Bumgarner and he pitched very well. San Fran will likely go with a four man rotation in the championship series as well, setting up Linecum for game five, Cain in six and Sanchez in seven.

The Phillies will have a decision to make. They were setup for a three man rotation in the NLDS, but only because the schedule allowed them to pitch H2O all on regular rest. If Charlie Manuel wanted to bring Halladay back in game four, he'd be pitching on three days rest. Expect Joe Blanton to get a start at some point in this series.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Polanco in for Game 2. Victorino back at the top

Tonight's lineups for Game Two are in:




Game Two preview

The Reds are in a must win situation tonight. Even if they win tonight, they'll still face a tough road to the NLCS. But the Phillies are clearly in the driver seat.

The Reds must either find a way to beat Roy Halladay; first they should worry about trying to get a hit against him. Or, they have to beat Roy Oswalt twice and Cole Hamels. Both scenarios: unlikely.

Oswalt makes his Phillies post-season debut tonight. He's 23-3 with a 2.81 ERA in his career against the Reds. Two of those loses came this year though, when he was with Houston. On April 29, Oswalt took the loss after pitching seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out seven.

In his final game with Houston, the Reds once again beat Oswalt after he lasted just five innings, allowing six runs on nine hits and one walk with three strikeouts.

Oswalt became a different pitcher since joining the Phils though, reverting back to his previous dominant form.

He's 4-0 in his post-season career with a 3.66 ERA.

Bronson Arroyo starts the crucial game for Cincinnati. He's the only Reds pitcher with post-season experience. In his 17 playoff innings, Arroyo is winless with a 7.41 ERA.

In his career against the Phillies, Arroyo is 1-5 with a 5.54 ERA in eight appearances. He'll need to pitch one of the best games of his career tonight.

Orlando Cabrera is sure to receive plenty of boo's from the Philly faithful tonight. He was the only Reds player to take credit away from Halladay following his no-hitter. He said they had no chance because he was "basically getting every pitch" from the umpire.

Cabrera's teammate Jonny Gomes disagreed. "I think Doc actually took the umpire out of the game by just throwing strikes. I really didn't have any questionable strikes on me. I'm not really worried about the umpire too much. I'm worried about the guy on the mound. He did a great job; all four corners, down and in, up and in, down and out. He threw all four pitches in all four corners."

Halladay was getting every pitch, because they were strikes. reviewed the game through Pitch F/X to determine the location of each pitch. They found just two questionable calls on Halladay pitches in the entire game. Neither came against Cabrera.

Sorry Orlando, but your conspiracy theory is debunked, and you sir, are a jackass.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Doctober starts with a no hitter

Roy Halladay waited his entire life for yesterday. Day after day, game after game, year after year in Toronto and every time it ended the same: done after 162 games.

Halladay made his long anticipated post-season debut last night and he did the unthinkable. No one could have predicted he’d throw the second no hitter in post-season history. Not in his first career playoff appearance, not in hitter friendly Citizen’s Bank Park, not against the NL’s best hitting team during the regular season. But Roy Halladay is a special pitcher.

Following his spectacular performance, in which he was one walk on a 3-2 pitch to Jay Bruce from being perfect again, Halladay once again credited Carlos Ruiz and the team. He would have been justified to bask in the glory that is his tremendous right arm. But that’s just not Halladay’s style.

The Reds were over-matched. The closest they came to a hit was pitcher Travis Wood’s line drive to right in the third inning which Jayson Werth was positioned perfectly for.

“It’s no fun out there,” Cincinnati MVP candidate Joey Votto said. “It’s like trying to hit nothing. He’s an ace among aces.”

An excellent quote from Votto with so much talk of Phillies starting pitchers all year. Roy Oswalt, who takes the ball on Friday, is an ace. Cole Hamels could be an ace. Fans were enraged when Cliff Lee, another ace was traded away in the off-season. With all those names and pitchers and arms, Halladay stands above the rest.

The Doc threw just 104 pitches, 79 for strikes and struck out eight. He also hit an RBI single in his first career post-season plate appearance, on the very first pitch he saw.

The lineup was unspectacular but they got the job done early. Edinson Volquez is the kind of pitcher teams need to get to in the first few innings and they did. Shane Victorino had a great at bat, ending in a double down the left-field line. He got a walking lead on Volquez and stole third easily, and Chase Utley knocked him in for a first inning 1-0 lead.

Volquez seemed to be cruising in the second, retiring Werth and Raul Ibanez for the first two outs, although having to throw a few pitches to do so. Carlos Ruiz worked a walk and Wilson Valdez hit a bouncing ball up the middle. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera fielded but had trouble getting it out of his glove before making a backhanded flip to Brandon Phillips at second base. The toss was errant and both runners were safe, setting up Halladay’s two out, RBI single to left. After Jimmy Rollins worked a walk, Victorino delivered a big two run single to center for a 4-0 lead.

Halladay didn’t need so much run support.

Cincinnati’s bullpen shut down the Phillies the rest of the game, but Halladay was the ultimate shutdown pitcher in this game.

Placido Polanco hopes to be back for game two on Friday after his back tightened up. The bullpen and Oswalt will be very well rested heading into Friday’s start; Halladay made sure of that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

NLDS vs. Reds likely

The Phillies have clinched the top spot in the National League and selected the series starting on Wednesday, October 6. This longer, eight day series, allows the Phils to go with their big-three on the mound for the entire series. They're expected to start Roy Halladay in Game 1, Roy Oswalt in Game 2 and Cole Hamels in Game 3. That's a dream setup for any team, to start with those three and follow with Halladay in Game 4 and Oswalt in Game 5 if necessary. There won't be a baseball writer in America who could pick against the Phillies in the five-game series against a NL team with that setup.

It looks as though the Phillies will square off against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. The Reds have clinched the NL Central with 89 wins and have nothing to play for this final weekend. San Francisco leads the NL West with 91 wins, but have yet to clinch their division. Their magic number is one. It's possible, but unlikely that the Reds will catch the Giants for the second best record in the NL. Unless San Diego catch the Braves, who hold a two game lead in the Wild Card, the Phillies would face the Reds. If San Diego catches Atlanta, the Phillies would face the Padres.

This could give the Phillies some incentive to win against Atlanta this weekend. Odds are, they'd much rather face a struggling Padres team than the Reds. The last time the Phillies faced San Diego was on the road, and the Phillies swept them when they were the best team in the NL at the time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oswalt dominates in 1-0 victory as Phils sweeps Braves

The Phillies' magic number is down to four after their sweep over the Atlanta Braves all but secured the NL East for a fourth consecutive year.

Tommy Hanson showed up for the Braves, shutting the Phillies down and holding them to no runs on just two hits, three walks and four strikeouts. But a recurring theme was present: Roy Oswalt was better.

Oswalt allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

In the bottom of the eighth in a scoreless ballgame, Brad Lidge was warming up and primed to enter the game in the ninth. Little did he know, they'd need him to convert his third save of the series.

After a Ryan Howard double play erased Chase Utley from the base-paths, Jayson Werth walked with two outs. Jonny Venters fell behind Raul Ibanez and left a pitch up which Ibanez smacked down the left field line. It landed just fair and when Nate McLouth's throw missed the cut-off man, Werth scored easily from first. It'd be the only run support Oswalt, Ryan Madson and Lidge would need in a 1-0 victory.

The Braves are left scrambling for their playoff lives. They hold a half game lead in the Wild Card race over the Giants.

The Phillies shuffled their rotation again, deciding to pitch Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Hamels in the upcoming series against the Mets.

With nine to play, losing a six game lead would be a monumental collapse. But that's not in this team's makeup.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Halladay wins 20th as Phils take 5 game lead

This whirlwind season is reaching its finale. It appears to be a happy ending.

After last night's 5-3 victory over Atlanta, the Phillies have taken a five game lead in the NL East with ten to play. It'd take a nearly monumental collapse for them to miss the post-season, let alone lose the division. Roy Halladay became the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games since Steve Carlton in 1982.

The Braves, meanwhile, are scrambling. Not only are they in a free0fall out of the division race, but their lead in the Wild Card is down to one. They'll need to find a few victories in their last four contests against the Phils.

The Phillies look to sweep the Braves tonight and give themselves a nearly insurmountable six game lead. They have the man for the job on the mound.

Roy Oswalt is 7-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his last nine starts. He'll face Tommy Hanson, the best pitcher Atlanta will throw in this series. Still, Oswalt is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball since landing in Philadelphia and the Phillies have gotten to Hanson before. You'd have to favor the Phillies in this match-up as they go for the sweep.

An interesting thing to consider; if the Phillies have the division wrapped up before their season ending seres in Atlanta, they could have some decisions to make. Naturally, they'd want to rest their starters and some of their bullpen as they head into the playoffs. But if the Braves are fighting for their post-season lives, wouldn't the Phillies want to squash their playoff dreams? It's unlikely that they'd stretch out their starters to do so, but I'm sure the Phillies would love to knock the Braves out of post-season contention.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hamels, Lidge dominant in 3-1 win over Braves

Cole Hamels was spectacular once again last night as the Phillies took Game 1 from the Braves, 3-1. They've extended their lead in the NL East to four games. One would imagine that if the Braves don't take the next two, the division race is all but over.

Stranger things have happened as well all well know, but if the Phillies split the next two, Atlanta will have a hard time gaining four games on the Phillies in the last nine games. They'd need some help, and to sweep the Phillies down in Atlanta. An unlikely scenario.

So, the Phillies need to win one of the next two. If they could manage to sweep, the division race will be unofficially officially over. This would be huge in allowing them to rest some players before the post-season begins.

Roy Halladay takes the mound against Mike Minor tonight. Hallday has a 4.41 ERA in his last five starts, but he's been getting the run support that failed him earlier in the season.

Minor hasn't pitched deeper than six innings this season, and has lasted five or less in his last four starts. He's allowed 14 earned runs in his last three starts. He could, however, find some success against the Phillies' left handed lineup. It'll be interesting to see if Charlie Manuel shakes up the lineup a bit to include maybe a Mike Sweeney or Ben Francisco.

Last night, the Phillies won their biggest game of the season. Tonight, they'll look to repeat the results in their most important game of the season.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Phils vs. Braves, Jurrjens scratched, Beachy to make debut

The Phillies open their biggest series of the year tonight against the Braves at Citizen's Bank Park.

Cole Hamels, who's been lights out in his last five starts takes the ball for the Phillies. The Braves have scratched Jair Jurrjens from making the start tonight. He tweaked his knee during a bullpen session last Friday and will be replaced by rookie Brandon Beachy.

Beachy is making his Major League debut which could spell trouble for the Phillies. They've struggled in the past against young pitchers whom they've yet to face.

According to Braves blog Talking Chop, Beachy is "a standard three-pitch pitcher, with a plus fastball, plus curve and an above average change-up."

After another dramatic and improbable ninth inning comeback, the Phillies remain three games up entering the series. Fortunately, Atlanta's best case scenario would still leave the Phillies in a first place tie upon the end of the series.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Phillies 2010 Team Awards

Phillies 2010 Team Awards: In my Opinion

MVP: I'm excluding pitchers from this category because they have their own. This is just too tough to call. Co-MVP's: Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz.

It's been an up and down season for the Phillies, with injuries and inconsistent play at the plate. But two men stayed rock solid despite a few minor injuries.

Polanco is currently hitting .300, down from the area of .320 where he hit most of the season. But Polanco has been consistent at the plate and in the field. He puts the ball in play, comes up with clutch hit after clutch hit, leads the team in batting average and has made just four errors at third base, none at second. He answered all concerns that the transition from second to third wouldn't be a smooth one by playing a gold glove caliber hot corner.

Ruiz, or choooch as he's affectionately known by the fans, is a rock behind the plate. He handles the pitching staff to perfection, and comes through time and time again by blocking the plate, throwing out runners or blocking that famous Brad Lidge slider in the dirt. But Ruiz, who's flourished at the plate in the post-season the last few seasons, transitioned his consistent bat into a full year. Batting a career high .299, Ruiz has also been one of the team's best clutch hitters. Charlie Manuel gains more confidence in Ruiz at the plate everyday after he used to pinch-hit for Ruiz in key spots.

While Polanco solidifies the top of the order and the infield, Ruiz does the same with the bottom of the order and the pitching staff. The team would not be in first place right now if not for their co-MVP's.

Cy Young: This couldn't be more obvious. Roy Halladay not only unanimously takes the title here, he may win the NL Cy Young as well. Halladay is currently tied with CC Sabathia more most wins in Major League Baseball at 19. He leads the NL in strikeouts. His ERA (2.49) is as low as it's been to close a season since 2005. He's likely to reach 20 wins for just the third time in his career. Halladay has been as dominant as they come on the mound this season, and easily takes the Cy Young award while many would consider him the team MVP as well.

Comeback Player of the Year: Brad Lidge. After a horrendous 2009 campaign which saw him blow 11 saves and post a career high ERA over seven, Lidge is back to form on the mound. He's lowered his ERA to 3.49 and has saved 22 out of 27 situations. After getting off to a slow start this season, Lidge has summoned the demons of his dominant 2008 year. He's saved 12 of his last 13 opportunities while posting a .052 ERA during that stretch. If the Phillies look to make another deep post-season run, Lidge will need to retain the form which earns him the Phillies Comeback Player of the Year.

5 Tool Player: I made this one up, but it goes to the player who best exemplfies all five tools. Shane Victorino has done it all. He's third on the team in home runs (17), fourth in doubles (24), first in triples (10), fourth in RBI (65), sixth in walks (46), first in stolen bases (32), first in fielding percentage (.994), first among outfielders in assists (8) and first among outfielders in putouts (329). He's done it with the bat, his legs, his arm and his glove and that's why Victorino has been best at using all five tools.

Unsung Hero: Wilson Valdez has been called upon much more than anticipated. In a season decimated by injuries for Jimmy Rollins, Valdez has filed in admirably. He's played 48 games at shortstop, 39 at second base and 6 at third. He's made just two errors at short, one at third and none at second. Rollins has impossible shoes to fill in his ability to play shortstop, but Valdez has come just about as close as possible while fielding tremendously in the infield this season. Anything he's done at the plate has just been a bonus, but Valdez is hitting .253 with a career high four home runs (he'd hit one in his career prior to 2010), 31 RBI, 12 doubles and four stolen bases without being caught. He's helped fill the gap left by Rollins' absence and has contributed to this team's success beyond what shows up in the box scores.

Gold Gloves: A number of players could win the NL gold glove, but let's pick the three best: Victorino, Ruiz and Polanco.

Silver Slugger: Ryan Howard is most likely the only silver slugger award winner from the Phillies this season, and even he may not win it. Utley is usually a perennial winner, but at just .274 with 15 home runs, he's not at all likely to repeat his crown.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Halladay wins 19th in sweep over Fish, Phils 3 games up

The Phillies completed the sweep over the Marlins last night, finalizing their record against Florida this season at 13-5. More importantly, the Phillies moved three games ahead of Atlanta.

Roy Halladay picked up his 19th victory which ties him for the Major League lead with CC Sabathia. He wasn't as sharp as he's been, but he was still overall very effective in shutting down the Marlins.

The Braves are now holding just a half game lead over San Francisco in the wild card race.

The Phillies are set for a three-game series against Washington, who played the role of spoilers effectively in taking two out of three from the Braves this week. The Phillies will send Roy Oswalt, Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton to the mound.

More good news for the Phillies: it appears as though they won't face Tim Hudson in the upcoming series vs. Atlanta. Hudson will pitch Saturday against the Mets and Derek Lowe pitches on Sunday.

That sets up Jair Jurrjens to face Cole Hamels in the series opener, Mike Minor vs. Halladay on Tuesday and Tommy Hanson against Oswalt in the finale.

The Phillies would be more than happy with those match-ups, missing two of Atlanta's best starters.

The primary focus this weekend should be at least staying three games ahead of Atlanta. It'd be great to gain ground, but if they maintain their three game lead, the best Atlanta can hope for is a tie after next week's series.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hamels, Lidge shutdown Fish, Phils move two games ahead of ATL

Cole Hamels' 25 consecutive scoreless innings streak ended when he allowed a first inning run against the Marlins last night. Then, he started a new one.

Behind a once again dominant Hamels, the Phillies beat Florida 2-1 and moved two games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East.

Hamels threw a career high 127 pitches over 6.2 innings in which he struck out 13 batters; the most strikeouts for a Phillies' pitcher since Hamels struck out 13 Marlins in June, 2008.

Brad Lidge pitched a perfect ninth inning to notch his 22nd save on the year. He's converted 12 of 13 save opportunities with a 0.52 ERA since July 31.

The Phillies have a sweep being served to them on a silver platter tonight, as Roy Halladay faces relief pitcher Jorge Sosa. It's likely he'll be held to three innings of work before turning it over to several different members of the bullpen. If the Phillies complete the sweep tonight, they'll be 13-5 against Florida this year, with a 8-1 record at Sun Life Stadium.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Big 3 to face Atlanta twice, Phils remain in 1st after 11-4 beatdown

Rich Dubee said there is a "good chance" that Roy Oswalt will start Friday's series opener against Washington rather than starting on Saturday as he would following the normal rotation. This sets up the Phillies to throw Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Oswalt against the Braves in both of the three-game series.

"I don't think there's any downside to pitching Oswalt, Hamels and Halladay," Dubee said. "They are our front three starters. I would think if you have two series with the Braves, you'd want the best guys available, if possible."

With Joe Blanton pitching much better of late, there is no downside. The only potential downside would have been two struggling starters, Blanton and Kyle Kendrick, pitching in back-to-back games. But, Blanton pitched very well against in last night's dominant victory over the Marlins, and sending the big three against Atlanta bodes well for Philly's postseason hopes.

Speaking of last night's 11-4 victory in Miami, the Phillies are now 11-5 against Florida and 6-1 in Florida this season. Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and even Greg Dobbs homered for the Phillies as part of their 15 hits on the night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Phils Remain atop NL East, A Look Ahead

The Phillies exit this weekend the same way they entered: with a one-game lead in the NL East. The Phils will open a three-game set with the Florida Marlins tonight, while Atlanta is set to square off against Washington. Here's a look ahead:

The Phillies will send Joe Blanton to the mound tonight against Andrew Miller. Blanton is 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA since the all-star break and is 1-0 in his last three starts. Miller is win-less in his career against the Phillies with a 6+ ERA. In his last start, the Phillies touched him up for seven runs on 11 hits in four innings. They'll look to repeat that effort down in South Florida tonight.

Derek Lowe takes the hill for Atlanta tonight against Yunesky Maya. Lowe's had an up and down season, overall at 12-12 with a 4.42 ERA. In his last start, he defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing just one run. Maya made his Major League debut for the Nationals on Tuesday. He allowed four runs in his first two innings, but responded by retiring 11 of 12 batters. Maya took the loss and his ERA stands at 7.20.

Cole Hamels takes his 25 consecutive scoreless innings streak to the mound tomorrow against the Marlins. Hamels made his last start against the Marlins, obviously not allowing a run. The Marlins send Adalberto Mendez against the Phils. Mendez made his Major League debut against the Phillies last Monday in the only game they'd win in the series. Mendez shut the Phillies out, allowing just one hit over six shutout innings.

The Braves start Jair Jurrjens against Livan Hernandez. Jurrjens has been largely inconsistent this season. He allowed seven runs in two of his last four starts, but possesses some quality stuff. Hernandez is a solid veteran pitcher with a solid ERA and a losing record on a losing team. He's always capable of pitching deep into any ballgame.

Roy Halladay pitching the finale against TBD. The pinnacle of Halladay's illustrious career came this season when he threw a perfect game against the Marlins. His only loss to the Fish this year: a 1-0 loss to Josh Johnson. TBD has struggled for the Marlins.

The finale between the Braves and Nats features Mike Minor (3-0 5.63) vs. John Lannan (7-7 4.69). Minor admitted he's fatigued as of late; his velocity is down and he's had command trouble. Lannan is an enigma. He's capable of pitching a solid game at times but usually gets roughed up and some point during the game.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Phils a full game up, Rotation down the stretch

The Phillies moved a full game ahead of Atlanta last night without lifting a finger, thanks to the Cardinals shellacking Jair Jurrjens for seven runs in less than four innings.

We're knee deep in the stretch run, leaving an interesting thing to ponder: how to set up the rotation.

The Phillies could re-work the rotation so that the big three (Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels) all pitch against Atlanta on regular rest in both series. That sounds great, except, once against the Mets and once against the Nationals, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley would start in back-to-back games.

The six games remaining with the Braves are of utmost importance. But, one could argue that the Phillies are best setup to win every series and avoid losing two games in a row the rest of the season. If they won every series the rest of the year, they'd win the division.

Of course, if they take four of six or better from the Braves, they most likely win the division. Pitching the big three against Atlanta every time gives you the best chance to do that.

We should find out on the 17th what the team plans to do. Roy Oswalt is pitching Sunday against the Mets. There is an off-day on Thursday the 16th. The series opener on the 17 against Washington is where the Phillies will make their first decision. It would be Kendrick/Worley's spot in the rotation. If the Phillies moved Oswalt up to the 17th, on full rest because of the day off, he'd be set up to pitch against the Braves. Then they'd have to hope that Kendrick/Worley and or Joe Blanton could beat Washington in hopes to not drop that series.

It will be very interesting to see which way the Phillies decide to go. For now though, the Phillies have very favorable pitching match-ups this weekend in Halladay and Oswalt's starts, and are in position to at least take two of three.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Phillies lead NL in victories

On Tuesday, the Phillies became the first team in the National League with 80 wins while moving into first place past Atlanta.

After last night's victory, the Phillies took over the top NL spot. The win, combined with a Reds' loss propelled the Phillies to the best winning percentage in the NL at .574. San Diego and Atlanta are just behind the Phils at .572 and .571 respectively. The Reds dropped to .568.

The bats are hot again for the Phillies. After scoring just one-run in the first game of a day-night doubleheader on Monday, the Phillies took the next three from the Marlins, scoring 25 runs in those victories.

The Marlins came into town with nasty plans of playing spoilers. They left two games further behind Philly than when they arrived.

The Mets are next on tap after a well deserved off day, with Roy Halladay taking the mound in Friday's opener. The Phillies have yet to announce a starter for Saturday, but most of the Delaware Valley is likely hoping to see Vance Worley get the nod ahead of a struggling Kyle Kendrick.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Phils split double header, 0.5 GB

The Phillies' up and down season continues, but after splitting yesterday's double header against the Marlins, they find themselves just a half game behind the Braves.

After a 1-0 victory on Friday, the Phils wrapped up yet another series behind Roy Halladay on Saturday in a 5-4 victory. Halladay allowed a career high four home runs in the game.

Then, the bats went quiet again; scoring a total of three runs over the next two games, both losses. Last night, the Phillies rallied against the Marlins and Anibal Sanchez by staying patient and hitting line drives. The 7-4 victory puts the Phillies just behind the Braves and leaves them a game and a half in front of the Giants in the wild card race.

The Phillies have been winning lately, but they still don't look quite right. With the exception of Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz, the offense is still struggling and every other player in the lineup could be considered as having a down year. Ryan Howard has hit a few home runs here in September, but thus far is not having nearly the month he typically produces this time of year.

Getting hot at the right time is the key to postseason success though. If they can stay afloat down the stretch and beat the Braves, they'll make the postseason for a fourth consecutive season and then it's anyone's game. Things are coming down to the wire and the significance of each game increases every time the calendar turns a page.

Joe Blanton looks to bounce back from him rough outing against Colorado tonight against Chris Volstad. Volstad beat the Nationals in his last start, and was involved in that benches clearing brawl with Nyjer Morgan.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hamels' gem puts Phils 1 GB ATL. Extends WC lead to 3

The Phillies remain red-hot here in September, a month in which they've thrived in recent years. After winning five of six on the west coast, including a sweep over the Padres, who possess the NL's best record, the Phillies continue to show they can win games in any fashion.

The Phillies have closed to just one game behind the Braves in the NL East, and hold a three game lead in the wild card.

Stopping briefly in Colorado for a make-up game against the Rockies, the Phils added another come from behind victory to their resume in a wild affair. Joe Blanton had a bad start and put the Phillies in an early 4-0 hole.

In the top of the sixth, the Phillies cut the deficit to 6-3. Recently recalled lefty Antonio Bastardo took the mound in the bottom of the sixth and this is when things really started to get crazy. Chris Nelson hit a lead-off bloop single to center and Eric Young followed with an oddly placed bunt near the second base bag which put the first two runners aboard. Dexter Fowler followed with a bunt and was called safe on Ryan Howard's throw to Chase Utley at first. Replays indicated that Fowler should have been out. The bases were loaded after a pop-up and two bunts.

Bastardo, though, mostly pitched out of trouble. He struck out Carlos Gonzalez, and should have induced an inning ending double play from Troy Tulowitzki, but Bastardo deflected the ball away from Jimmy Rollins for an infield single, scoring the only run of the inning.

The Phillies immediately went to work in the a nine run seventh, taking a 12-7 lead. They would need all 12 runs, as they held on for a 12-11 victory. Here's a brief and simple recap of the spectacular inning: Polanco single, Utley single, Howard home run, Werth home run, Ibanez fly out, Victorino single, Schneider single, Francisco single, Rollins single, Polanco strike out, Utley grand slam, Howard line out.

Brad Lidge held on by the skin of his teeth for his 19th save of the season.

The Phils returned home last night to open a set against Milwaukee. Once again, the Phillies played an unlikely game and proved that they can win games in any fashion. After the slug fest the previous night, the Phillies took the first game from the Brewers, 1-0.

Cole Hamels was the story of this one, throwing seven shutout innings of three hit ball. He struck out seven and walked three. He was lifted in the eighth for Jose Contreras after throwing 103 pitches, 70 for strikes. Contreras fell behind two batters 3-0, but pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out two. Ryan Madson picked up his fifth save of the season after a perfect ninth.

The Phils only mustered four hits against Milwaukee starter Chris Capuano, and none off the Brewers' bullpen. Carlos Ruiz knocked in the only run of the ballgame on a ground-out in the second inning.

Roy Halladay takes the mound tonight against Dave Bush. Halladay looks to get back on track; he's lost his last two starts after winning his previous six.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nyjer Morgan is bad for baseball

Nyjer Morgan , you are an idiot. Morgan is a little punk and his behavior in Major League Baseball should not be tolerated. He should be suspended for the season, before he injures a player who actually has a chance to go to the postseason.

Morgan is currently appealing a suspension for drilling a fan with a baseball in Philadelphia. He had an ongoing war of words with a heckler in the stands. After an inning, he fake tossed the ball and and threw it at the heckler, missed him (big shock), and hit an innocent bystander in the head while injuring him. MLB handed down only a seven-game suspension instead of pulling the clown off the field longer for the incident which could have killed someone.

On August 28, in a route over the St. Louis Cardinals (a playoff contender) Morgan was coming in to score without a throw. He charged full speed at St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson, who was standing well in front of the plate. Morgan crashed into Anderson from behind, jarring him and knocking his glove off of his hand. Morgan, the genius, missed the plate and was called out on the play when his teammates had to grab him and physically push him back toward the plate behind he had no sense to touch the plate himself. Anderson remained shockingly calm during the incident.

On August 31, Morgan was trying to score against the Marlins when the throw easily beat him to the plate. He drilled into Florida catcher Brett Hayes. Hayes now has a separated shoulder.

Last night, Chris Volstad retaliated by hitting Morgan. Being the cocky player he is, Morgan stole second and third and eventually scored. His next time up, Volstad threw behind Morgan and he charged the mound. He got in one punch to the back of Volstad's neck somehow (Morgan is about 5' 10", Volstad is about 6' 7") before Gaby Sanchez came in from first base and drilled the (expletive deleted) to the ground. Benches and bullpens obviously cleared and as Morgan was escorted off the field, he raised his arms to the crowd like he's done anything respectable all year.

He's horrible for baseball and should be suspended for the season. Morgan is an absolute joke. The Washington Nationals should be embarrassed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Phils sweep Pads, set to face LA

The Phillies bounced back from a horrid stretch that saw them lose four straight to the Houston Astros the best way possible: by sweeping the NL's best team on the road.

Pitching led the way in San Diego as the Phillies swept the Padres behind great starts from Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels.

Oswalt pitched eight strong innings on Friday but failed to pick up the win when Brad Lidge balked in the tying run in a 'here we go again' moment. But Jimmy Rollins scored on a terrific slide when Placido Polanco singled in the 12th and Chad Durbin was excellent out of the 'pen as the Phils took game one 3-2.

Blaton was very strong in a 3-1 victory on Saturday when Shane Victorino played hero both at the plate and in the field. Cole Hamels threw eight shutout innings in last night's 5-0 victory. After the sweep, the Phillies will start a series in LA against the Dodgers tonight.

The Dodgers are unlikely to have the services of Manny Ramirez. It's expected that the White Sox will acquire him through a straight waiver claim after Manny's bonehead ejection yesterday.

Ramirez sat out of the starting lineup for a fourth straight game as talks between Chicago and LA continued. He was brought in as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded against Colorado yesterday. After the first pitch was a called strike, Manny argued and got tossed from the game, forcing the Dodgers to send another pinch hitter to the plate in an 0-1 count. That idiotic ejection seems to not only have ended his Dodgers' career but also inspired LA to let him go for nothing.

Roy Halladay takes the mound in tonight's opener against Hiroki Kuroda. You may remember Kuroda for throwing over Victorino's head in Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS, prompting both benches to clear and Victorino to tell Kuroda to throw at his body not at his head. Kuroda picked up the victory in that game, the only game of the series the Dodgers would win.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happ out-duels Halladay, Phils lose series to Houston

Once again, the Phillies struggle against Houston and fail to gain any ground on teams in the race. Yesterday, Atlanta, San Francisco and St. Louis all lost. Of course, so did the Phillies.

J.A. Happ was excellent in his return to Philly, out-dueling Roy Halladay who had a six-game winning streak snapped with the loss. Houston continues to give the Phillies fits and add to their NL best record at Citizen's Bank Park.

Of course, there was more umpire controversy last night. Down by a run with one out, Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch and proceeded to first base. But Victorino was called back and it was ruled that he turned into the pitch. He clearly pulled his arm and elbow back, but didn't jump out of the way, a very common occurrence in Major League Baseball that goes uncalled nearly every time. He didn't push his arm into the pitch, but he didn't try his hardest to avoid it either. It's a play that will be ruled a hit batter 99 out of 100 times. Nevertheless, Victorino atoned for the call and singled a few pitches later.

Ben Francisco was picked off at third base by the catcher, another bonehead play on the base-paths. He represented the tying run at the time. It appeared to be more umpire controversy but upon review, the correct call was clearly made.

The Phillies desperately hope to avoid a four-game sweep this afternoon at the hands of the lowly Houston Astros. Their hope now rests in the right arm of Kyle Kendrick, and hopefully the bats.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Myers beats Phils

Brett Myers was excellent in his return to Philadelphia, beating the Phillies 3-2 at Citizen's Bank Park last night. Myers said he wanted to stick it to the Phillies after they decided to cut him loose after the 2009 season. That he did, throwing seven solid innings, allowing two runs and striking out nine.

Myers had departed the game for the pinch-hitter on the hook for the loss after Joe Blanton countered with seven innings of one run ball while also striking out nine. But Ryan Madson allowed two runs in the eighth, giving Myers the victory over his former club.

After the strange site of watching Myers take the mound at Citizen's Bank Park in an opposing uniform, it will be just as weird on Wednesday when J.A. Happ squares off against the Phils.

It feels as though the Phillies have been 2.5 games behind Atlanta for weeks now. It seems that every time the Phillies win, so do the Braves. When the Phils have a chance to gain some ground after a Braves' loss, the Phillies seem to lose too. Fortunately, the Phillies are in the division and Wild Card race.

The Phillies will look to secure a victory tonight against Houston who have been a thorn in the Phillies' side. It was announced last night that Houston, surprisingly has the best record at Citizen's Bank Park of any opposing NL team. Cole Hamels is looking to bounce back from a rare bad start tonight.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Phillies seek sweep of Giants, Hamels seeks support

The Phillies are red hot and now have a stranglehold over the NL Wild Card. After two impressive victories over the Giants to start the series, the Phillies are seeking a sweep tonight. They've guaranteed that they will lead the Wild Card after the series against the team that's now chasing the Phils.

Last night was impressive on so many levels. Joe Blanton, who typically gets off to bad starts, put the Phillies in an early first inning hole. But the Phils rallied behind Jimmy Rollins who was a double shy of hitting for a cycle and hit a big three-run home run in the fourth. Domonic Brown also hit an absolute blast into the upper deck as the Phillies continued to tack on late runs in an 8-2 victory.

Now, with a two game lead in the Wild Card, the Phillies send Cole Hamels to the mound. Hamels has lost two consecutive 1-0 games and ranks 47th out of 50 National League pitchers in worst run support. In his last seven games, he's allowed just ten earned runs. In those games, he's earned just one victory.

Hopefully this trend starts to turn around tonight and the Phillies continue to put runs on the board as they have.