Monday, February 28, 2011

Halladay strong in debut, pitching set through the 6th

Roy Halladay started against his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon. He pitched two strong innings, allowing no runs, two hits, one walk and one strikeout. He departed the game with a 3-0 lead, thanks mostly to a Carlos Ruiz two-run double.

The pitching schedule is set until Sunday. Here it is:

Tuesday vs. Tigers: Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Eddie Bonine, Dan Meyer, Danys Baez and Mike Zagurski.

Wednesday vs. Orioles: Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, Brian Bass, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon and Brad Lidge.

Wednesday vs Blue Jays "B Game": Drew Naylor, Ryan Feierabend, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson and J.C Romero.

Thursday @ Red Sox: Cole Hamels, Scott Mathieson, Brian Schlitter, Michael Stutes, Juan Perez and Michael Schwimer.

Friday @ Pirates: Joe Blanton, Baez, Meyer, Andrew Carpenter, Zagurski and Antonio Bastardo.

Saturday vs Pirates: Halladay, J.C. Ramirez, Madson, Contreras and Lidge.

Sunday @ Tigers: Kendrick, Herndon, Stutes, Perez, Schlitter and Schwimer.

Sunday vs. Rays: Lee, Bonine, Romero, Mathieson and De Fratus.

Hamels has the toughest assignments thus far, making his first two starts against the Yankees and the Red Sox on the road, meaning Boston will likely field their regular lineup as New York did on Saturday.

Francisco impressive early

We're just two games into the spring schedule, but Ben Francisco may have already emerged as the favorite in right field.

After dropping the second half of a home-and-home with the New York Yankees yesterday 7-3, the Phillies are 1-1. But there were some bright spots in the defeat.

Francisco went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and an RBI double, driving in all three of the Phillies' runs. In his debut the debut before, Francisco went 1-for-1 with a triple, walk and a run scored. He's batting .600 in the early going, while Domonic Brown is still seeking his first hit of the spring. Brown went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts yesterday.

Joe Blanton was very impressive in his first outing. Pitching three strong innings, Blanton allowed no runs, no hits, one walk and struck out one.

Brad Lidge did not have a strong debut. He allowed a solo home run to the first batter he faced, and then hit the next. He pitched out of the jam though, without surrendering another hit.

Roy Halladay will make his spring debut today against his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto is 0-2 thus far.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Phils vs Yanks Round 2, Utley has tendinitis

The Phillies and Yankees are less than an hour away from their second consecutive match-up to kick off the spring schedule. Here's the Phils' lineup:

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Shane Victorino, CF
3. Raul Ibanez, LF
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Placido Polanco, 3B
6. Domonic Brown, RF
7. Ben Francisco, DH
8. Carlos Ruiz, C
9. Wilson Valdez, 2B

The five hole is a strange place to put Polanco in the lineup. Everyone in the lineup, with the exception of Valdez, is more likely to hit for power. Polanco is obviously at his best when hitting second, but it's the second game of spring so I may be over-analyzing a bit.

Chase Utley had an MRI which revealed tendinitis in his right knee; just another in the long line of problems preventing Utley from playing at 100%. He'll certainly miss some more time this spring, but the team remains hopeful he'll be ready to go on opening day.

Phils win spring opener 5-4, Blanton to debut today

Strong debut for the Phillies yesterday, who beat the Yankees 5-4 at George M. Steinbrenner field. Cole Hamels looked strong in his first outing, allowing one hit, one unearned run and one walk with two strikeouts in two innings of work.

Ben Francisco made the biggest splash at the plate, leading off the second inning with a triple to right-center field against Yankees' starter Bartolo Colon. He later scored on a Jeff Larish double-play ground-ball. Francisco, who is competing for the starting right field position, walked in his other plate appearance.

Domonic Brown, one of Francisco's competitors, went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout.

Ross Gload, also competing for time in right, started the game at DH and went 2-for-5 with an RBI.

The Phillies will host the Yankees today with Joe Blanton starting on the mound against Ivan Nova. Also scheduled to pitch for Philly: Justin Defratus, Michael Schwimer, Ryan Madson, J.C Romero and Brad Lidge.

Chase Utley is doubtful for today's game. Expect to see Jimmy Rollins get his first spring action.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are you ready for some baseball?

The Phillies are set to kick-off Grapefruit league action today against the Yankees. Here's your lineup:

1. Pete Orr, 2B
2. Ross Gload, DH
3. Raul Ibanez, LF
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Ben Francisco, CF
6. Domonic Brown, RF
7. Jeff Larish, 3B
8. Brian Schneider, C
9. Wilson Valdez, SS

Once again, no Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley. Charlie Manuel said Rollins was scratched because he missed the last two days of workouts. He'll be in the lineup against the Yankees tomorrow.

Utley continues to sit out with "soreness" in his legs and knees. The organization doesn't seem concerned, but Phillies fans certainly are. Utley's had difficulty staying healthy the last few seasons, and the team needs a bounce back year from him. Manuel will look to get Utley into a game this week.

Today's game is being broadcast on the MLB network and on MLB.TV. The Phillies are a featured team on MLB.TV this season. Right now, they're scheduled for 17 games to broadcast online, including both games this weekend.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Phils take care of FSU 8-0, prepare for Yanks

Spring games are officially underway today, but the Phillies kicked their schedule off with an exhibition match-up with the Florida State yesterday, defeating the Seminoles 8-0.

The Phillies' staff of young pitchers allowed just four hits in the shut-out, and the offense did the rest. Drew Naylor started on the hill, allowing just one hit while striking out two in two innings of work.

The Phillies jumped on starter Tyler Everett in the first inning, scoring four runs on five hits and one walk, highlighted by a Ryan Howard two-run double. Brian Schneider also doubled for the Phillies' only extra base hits.

Michael Stutes also impressed on the mound for the Phils. He pitched one perfect inning, striking out the side.

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins sat out against FSU. Utley has "soreness" and Charlie Manuel said if he doesn't play this weekend, he'll get into a game next week.

The Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule tomorrow against the Yankees at 1:05 on the MLB Network. Cole Hamels gets the start against Bartolo Colon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MLB Network's Top Ten: Left Field

Let's not beat around the bush. It's rather surprising to see Raul Ibanez make the top ten list. He barely cracked the list, coming in at number ten, but it's still a surprising choice. Here's the list:

10- Raul Ibanez, PHILLIES
9- Carlos Lee, Houston Astros
8- Jason Bay, New York Mets
7- Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
6- Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins
5- Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
4- Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
3- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
2- Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
1- Ryan Bruan, Milwaukee Brewers

Ibanez is clearly in the down swing of his career and will play in what should be his last year with the Phillies in 2011. After joining in the Phils in 2009, Ibanez jumped out to a red hot, MVP caliber start. After an injury caused him to miss time, 'Rauuuuuul' was never the same after returning to the lineup. He struggled most of the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. He still managed to hit a career high 34 home runs, but his average fell to .272, his lowest since 2000. Last year was the opposite for Ibanez; after getting off to a very slow start, he bounced back to have a solid second half of the season. He still hit only 16 homers though, with a .275 average. Offensively, Ibanez was the 14th ranked left fielder in baseball last season. While not a bad fielder, he's rather slow in the outfield as well. His numbers can't be expected to improve in 2011, and 16 home runs with a .275 average are not indicative of a top ten outfielder.

The top five at this position is absolutely stacked. Any of the top three could easily be switched into the top spot. Bruan has been one of the best outfielders in baseball since he stepped into the league in 2007. His numbers last year, (.304, 25 homers, 103 RBI) were down from his previous season (.320, 32, 114). Still, Braun hasn't had a bad year in the big leagues and is a major threat every time he steps to the plate.

Hamilton bounced back from a tough 2009, in which he hit .268 with 10 home runs and 54 RBI during an injury riddled season, in a big way. He had career highs in average (.359), home runs (32), OBP (.411), slugging percentage (.633), OPS (1.044) and doubles (40). He also drove in 100 runs and scored 95 while capturing his first MVP award. Those numbers speak for themselves, Hamiltion is a beast.

Gonzalez had a tremendous breakout season for Colorado in 2010. Entering the season, he'd amassed just 580 career at bats over two seasons. Gonzo's 587 at bats in 2010 broke his total for his career while he set new career highs in just about every category during a tremendous season. He hit .336 with 34 home runs, 117 RBI, 34 doubles, nine triples, 26 stolen bases and 111 runs scored. Gonzalez finished third in the NL MVP race, coming in behind just Joey Votto and Albert Pujols. While Gonzalez and Hamilton will have a hard time repeating those staggering averages, they should be ranked just ahead of Braun on the list because of what they were able to accomplish last year.

Crawford joins a Red Sox team that made a huge splash during the off-season, acquiring star studded talent in the likes of Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford is the definition of a five-tool player. It will be interesting to see how Crawford acclimates to Boston in the first season of his career away from Tampa Bay, but being such a dynamic talent, Crawford isn't likely to be fazed. He's a career .296 hitter, he just missed his first 20 home run season last year with 19, and is one season removed from stealing 60 bases. He's also a tremendous outfielder and the combination of Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury should cover every inch of left and center field. If Crawford stays healthy, there's an excellent chance that he'll break his previous high 110 runs scored with that loaded lineup in Boston.

Holliday flies under the radar in St. Louis thanks to Albert Pujols after being a star in Colorado, but he is a tremendous ballplayer. He's looking to return to his 2007 form, when he finished just behind Jimmy Rollins in the NL MVP voting. That season, he had 636 at bats, hit .340, 37 home runs, 137 RBI, 50 doubles and scored 120 runs. He's been very good from the Cardinals, but if he finds the stroke he had in Colorado, the National League could be in trouble.

The list rounds out which a bunch of very good players, not quite in the elite status of the top five. Prado had an excellent season last year for the Braves, while Bay and Lee are looking to bounce back from their worst season in years.

Top 100 players in baseball, Chad Durbin

MLB Network ran a series, ranking the top 100 players in baseball. Seven Phillies represent the fightins' on the list:

2. Roy Halladay
25. Ryan Howard
26. Chase Utley
31. Cliff Lee
51. Roy Oswalt
71. Cole Hamels
82. Shane Victorino

Albert Pujols was ranked just ahead of Halladay at number one. Rounding out the top ten are: Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun and Josh Hamilton.

Peter Gammons reported that Chad Durbin could in face rejoin the Phillies on Thursday. It appeared the Philies were content to let the durable reliever go and enter the 2011 season with the squad currently employed. Apparently, the Phillies are Durbin's first choice. He also received offers from the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox. Boston's would like Durbin to be a starter, something he hasn't done since 2007 with the Detroit Tigers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Early Spring Rotation Set

The Phillies posted their pitching schedule for the first four Grapefruit League games today:

Saturday @ Yankees: Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Ryan Feirabend, Brian Schlitter and Mike Zagurski.

Sunday vs. Yankees: Joe Blanton, Justin Defratus, Michael Schwimer, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge

Monday, February 28 @ Blue Jays: Roy Halladay, J.C. Ramirez, Michael Stutes, Juan Perez and Scott Mathieson

Tuesday, March 1 vs. Tigers: Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Eddie Bonine, Dan Meyer, Danys Baez and Zagurski.

Roy Oswalt will like make his debut the following day against Baltimore. If everything stays the same, this sets the rotation up to start the season in this order: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton.

Worley will be someone to keep an eye on this spring. If he can emulate his success during his short stint with the club last year, he could give the Phillies' executives confidence to trade Blanton at some point during the season. If Blanton were to be dealt, they'd need a Worley and a Kendrick to fill out the five hole in the rotation and the long reliever in the bullpen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: Shortstop

This is a continuation of a look at MLB Network's Top 10 by position.

Shortstop is one of the most difficult positions to rank heading into 2011. Many of the elite players at this position are coming off injuries, a down year or both. Jimmy Rollins has to be the most difficult player on the Phillies to rank, as he could fall anywhere from the top three to the middle of the pack. MLB Network placed him sixth, which is fair but honestly, no one knows what to expect from him this season.

10- Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
9- Marco Scutaro, Boston Red Sox
8- Stephen Drew- Arizona Diamondbacks
7- Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
6- Jimmy Rollins, PHILLIES
5- Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
4- Jose Reyes, New York Mets
3- Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
2- Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
1- Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

Where would the Marlins be without Ramirez to anchor that lineup? He's one of the elite players in the league and is a true five-tool player. His defense is much improved, although there is still room for improvement. Hanley is a superstar in every sense of the word though and easily takes the top spot.

Tulowitzki was the man last year. He set career highs in several categories despite playing in just 122 games: average (.315), OBP (.381), slugging percentage (.568), OPS (.949) and doubles (32). He would have shattered more career highs if he'd been healthy all year. A good player for years, Tulowitzki took it up a notch in 2010. If his performance was legit, he could give Ramirez a run for top shortstop entering 2012.

Jeter may have cracked the top three based on reputation. He's aging and declining and his range at short has diminished. He went through a messy contract dispute with the Bronx Bombers before settling because frankly, no one else would give him the kind of deal he was looking for. Jeter hit just .270 last season, his lowest average since he appeared in just 15 games as a rookie in 1995. His numbers in just about every category got worse. The Network may be expecting him to bounce back, but I'm not so sure. He's not getting any younger.

Reyes is difficult to rank because he struggles to stay on the field. When healthy and at his peak, Reyes is a dynamic player and a threat at the plate, on the bases and in the field. In 2007, he hit .280 with a remarkable 78 stolen bases. The following year he posted a .297 average with 56 steals. But in 2009, Reyes appeared in just 39 games. In 2010, he struggled with injuries again and wasn't quite as productive as his past seasons. If Reyes stays healthy, he's a threat to hit around .300, 14-17 home runs and steal 50-70 bases.

Andrus emerged in 2009 with Texas to solidify a shortstop position that's been in flux since the departure of Alex Rodriguez. He's had a solid two seasons for the Rangers, but he certainly hasn't yet reached the pinnacle of his potential. In his rookie season, Andrus hit .267 with six home runs, 40 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Last year, he hit .265 with no homers, 35 RBI and 32 steals. His fielding percentage is rather low at .972. There is also plenty of room for improvement at the plate; his average is low for a guy with little to no power. His ratio of 96 strikeouts and 64 walks last season is something he needs to work on, and a guy with such speed should have more than 15 doubles and three triples. It's a bit premature to put Andrus in the top five at this point, but he's more than capable of proving that he belongs there this season.

Rollins has had some trouble staying on the field since his MVP season of 2007. From 2001-2007, the lowest number of games Rollins appeared in during one season was 154. 2010 was his worst year, as he dealt with foot, calf and hamstring injuries throughout mostly the entire season, limiting him to just 88 games. J-Roll still plays gold glove defense up the middle, and can do it all at the plate but struggles with consistency. Due to his propensity to swing for the fences, many people don't like him batting out of the lead-off spot, but when he's swinging well, Rollins is the spark at the top of the lineup that the Phillies need. He's no longer an MVP candidate, but if Rollins can stay healthy in 2011, expect a spike in all offensive categories, particularly average and stolen bases.

Shortstop is a thin position throughout the league. A player like Scutaro, a solid player but a bit more of a utility man than a top ten performer, would not be able to crack this list at other, deeper positions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: Third Base

This is a continuation of MLB Network's Top 10 by position.

Third base is an evolving position. Typically, the hot corner is considered a position for big, strong power hitters with a cannon for an arm and quick reflexes. But the top ten in MLB features a variety of players with different styles. Some of the players on this list may be a bit misplaced though.

10- Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
9- Placido Polanco, PHILLIES
8- Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals
7- Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
6- David Wright, New York Mets
5- Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
4- Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
3- Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
2- Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
1- Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Ray

It's strange to see someone other than A-Rod in the top spot. But as Rodriguez continues to age and produce less, it's appropriate for him to move down the list. More importantly, Longoria is a superstar. He's a stud at third base and has MVP awards in his future. With just three seasons under his belt, he's already hit 82 home runs and driven in 302 runs. His average has increased every year he's been in the league, going from .272 to .281 to .294. He also hit 46 doubles last year, five triples and stole 15 bases.

Zimmerman's last two seasons have propelled him into elite status. Once a good player with a ton of potential, Zimmerman stepped out of his shadow in 2009 when he hit .292 with 33 home runs and 106 RBI. For his encore in 2010, he hit .307 with 25 homers and 85 driven in despite nearly 100 fewer at bats. He's one of the best in the game and plays in a very large ballpark in Washington.

There's also no argument against Youkilis in the top five. He'll have to transition back to third with the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, but that shouldn't be a problem for 'Youuuuuk'. He's played tremendous defense regardless of position and is one of the toughest outs in baseball. He battles at the plate and is among the league leaders every year in pitches seen per at bat. He's another player in Boston looking to bounce back from injury, but that shouldn't be a problem for the resilient star.

This is where the rankings get a little hazy. Beltre had a tremendous season in Boston last year, but he's been an up and down player throughout his career. His .321 average last season far exceeds his career average of .275 and his 28 home runs and 102 RBI are far greater than his eight homers and 44 RBI the prior season. The last time Beltre had a monster season like he did last year was 2004 for the Dodgers when he hit .334 with 48 home runs. The season earned him a lucrative deal with a new team, the Seattle Mariners. He followed by hitting .255 with 19 home runs. His season with Boston last year earned him a nice contact for the Rangers, but my bet is that he doesn't come close to repeating his 2010 showing. I'd have a hard time putting him in the top five based on one strong season after several average to below average ones.

Reynolds is another player ranked too high. Sure, he's a run producer. Last year, he hit 32 home runs and 85 RBI. But Reynolds hit a putrid .198 and he struck out 211 times! He also hit just 17 doubles. He may be a legitimate power hitter, but there is no way he's the seventh best player at his position. Yes, 1.98 is his career low at the plate, but it's not that much lower than his .242 career average

Which brings us to Polanco. He's an excellent baseball player, but because he doesn't have much power, he is always under-valued. After winning the gold glove at second base, he transitioned seamlessly back to the hot corner where he played gold glove quality defense for the Phillies last season. He's the best number two hitter in the league, he hits for a high average, doesn't strike out, moves runners along and is one of the best clutch hitters in the game. There is absolutely no way he should be ranked ninth. While he doesn't compete with the big boppers like Longoria and Zimmerman, Polanco is on a tier just below those players and far superior to players of Reynolds' stature.

It's worth noting that it's impressive for Rolen to make the list after all these years. While he's mostly hated in Philadelphia, Rolen was always one of my favorites. He played the game the right way and has been a terrific third baseman throughout his career; one of the best defensive players to ever man the hot corner. Sure, he made some mistakes, but it's hard to blame him for wanting out of Veteran's Stadium and that horribly uncompetitive team. It's pretty remarkable that despite all of his injuries throughout the years, Rolen continues to bounce back and is still listed in the top ten at a highly competitive position.

MLB Network's Top 10: Second Base

This is a continuation of a look at MLB Network's Top 10 by position:

Chase Utley has long dominated the category of best second baseman in the game and for good reason. But much to the likely dismay of Phillies fans, Utley was correctly dethroned heading into 2011.

10- Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates
9- Kelly Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks
8- Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles
7- Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
6- Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
5- Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
4- Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
3- Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
2- Chase Utley, PHILLIES
1- Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

The top three on this list are in a different category than the rest. After having a down season in 2009, by his standards, Utley really had a down year in 2010. He hit .275, 16 home runs, 65 RBI, 20 doubles, 75 runs scored, a .445 slugging percentage and an .832 OPS; all of which are career lows for a full season. Yes, Utley missed some time due to injury. But when he was in the lineup, he was still far less productive than he's ever been. He also made eleven errors in the field in 114 games, which is just one error fewer than 2009 when he played in 155 games. Clearly, Utley did not have a very good season.

It is likely that Utley will bounce back in 2011. Even if he doesn't return to his 2007, 2008 form, he'll still be one of the best in the game. But how could Cano not surpass Utley to be ranked number one after these numbers last year: .319 average, 29 homers, 109 RBI, 41 doubles, 200 hits, 103 runs scored, only 77 strikeouts, .534 slugging percentage and a .914 OPS. He also made just three errors all season. That's a spectacular season, certainly even MVP worthy. He is and should be the top ranked at his position entering 2011.

Pedroia is a small man carrying a big stick. After missing a large portion of 2010 due to injury, he's ready to return to a potent lineup in Beantown. A career .305 hitter, Pedroia hit 17 home runs and 54 doubles in 2008, and 15 homers and 48 doubles in 2009. He also stole 20 bags in each of those two seasons. Pedroia also plays spectacular defense; the little man really does it all for the Red Sox. He's the type of player who thrives when motivated with obstacles; he's been doing it his entire life because of his stature. Present him a challenge, and he'll far exceed it. Along with Cano and Utley, Pedroia rounds out three remarkably talented second baseman in MLB.

The Braves acquired a big bat in Uggla, who has terrorized the NL East during his time with the Marlins. Phillies fans were happy to hear Uggla was leaving Florida, until finding out he was only going to strengthen an already outstanding team in Atlanta.

After Phillips and Kinsler, the list drops off once again. The remaining four are good players, but don't compare to those listed above them. This is certainly a three-tier list, but second base is never one of the most stacked positions in baseball.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: First Base

This is a continuation of a look at MLB's Top 10 by position.

First base is a position loaded with talent throughout MLB. It is most likely the most stacked position in the league. Ryan Howard is typically a difficult player to rank. He can go from being the most feared hitter in all of baseball to looking like he couldn't hit a slow-pitch softball in the blink of an eye. MLB network fairly and correctly ranked Howard sixth on their list.

10- Kendry Morales, Anaheim Angels
9- Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
8- Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
7- Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
6- Ryan Howard, PHILLIES
5- Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
4- Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
3- Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
2- Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
1- Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Pujols always tops this list and it seems he may continue to be the best and most productive first baseman in the game for another decade. Cabrera is an absolute beast at the plate; he is one of the best overall hitters in the game and always seems to be in contention for the Triple Crown. He actually out-hit Pujols in several categories last year including average, RBI, doubles, on base percentage and slugging percentage. Pujols, on the other hand, plays much better defense.

Gonzalez is primed to put up a huge season in the friendly confines of Fenway Park for the Red Sox this season. For years, many have wondered what Gonzo could do if he left Petco Park. Finally, the baseball world will get its answer in what could be a career year for Gonzalez, hitting in the middle of a stacked lineup in a small ballpark.

No arguments with Votto (last year's NL MVP and deservingly so) and Teixeira rounding out the top five. Tex has ended up being a God send to the Bronx Bombers. With many of their regulars aging and declining in production (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada to name a few), Tex has been the one consistent dominant force in the Yankees' lineup.

Howard had a strange year for the Phils last season. His average is up, falling just under .280 each of the last two seasons and his strikeouts were down last year, although he got fewer at bats due to injury. While Howard is making more of an effort to put the ball in play, his power numbers have decreased, especially last year. After hitting 58 home runs during his MVP season of 2006, Howard hit 47, 48 and 45 over the next three seasons respectively. Last year, he slugged just 31 long balls. His RBI total was drastically down too; he drove in 108 runs after knocking in 149, 136, 146 and 141 the four seasons prior.

Pitchers are getting more comfortable facing the big man. In 2006, he was intentionally walked 37 times. In 2007, 35 times. Then in 2008, he was intentionally walked only 17 times. Even worse in 2009, while posing a career high 616 at bats, Howard was intentionally walked just eight times. Last year, the number rose slightly to 11.

Pitchers obviously feel more comfortable and confident while pitching to Howard. Those numbers are certain to have something to do with Jayson Werth batting behind him as well, but Howard has shown opposing pitchers how to get him out. Don't expect his walk total to increase this season if the Phillies don't find a suitable replacement for Werth to bat in the five hole.

Friday, February 4, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: Catcher

This is a continuation of a look at MLB's Top 10 by position.

Carlos Ruiz will never be mentioned among the top offensive catchers in baseball. He doesn't stack up with Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. But over the last two years, Chooch is finally getting the recognition he deserves as one of the best defensive catchers and game callers in the league. He's also started producing with the bat, especially in the post-season. Last year, he posted a career high .302 average, and fell just short of his career highs in home runs (8) RBI (53) and doubles (28). His 55 walks were also a career high. Add everything up, and Ruiz ranks seventh on MLB's top ten. The list:

10- Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
9- Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics
8- John Buck, Florida Marlins
7- Carlos Ruiz, PHILLIES
6- Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
5- Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
4- Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
3- Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
2- Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
1- Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

No real surprises in the top five. Mauer is a perennial MVP candidate, Posey burst upon the scene with a tremendous year for the Giants (although it may be a little premature to rank him second already), McCann and Martinez are solid catchers with great bats and Molina is outstanding behind the plate.

Carlos Santana at number six is a surprise. He's appeared in just 46 games in his career and amassed 150 at bats. He hit .260 with six homers, 22 RBI, 13 doubles, 37 walks and 29 strikeouts. He was solid behind the plate as well and is a bright spot on a depleted Indians squad. But number six overall in the league is extremely premature to rank a kid that is still going based mostly on potential. Most people, right now, would take Ruiz over Santana. Talk to me in two or three years, or maybe even in six months, and Santana could certainly prove that he is worthy of the ranking. But at this point, he barely cracks the top ten for my money.

Matt Wieters is somewhat of an anomaly. Loaded with tons of potential, everyone expected huge things from him when he came up for the Orioles in 2009. He had a decent year in a limited number of games (96), but people expected more from him in his first full season. He struggled in 2010, which saw his average drop from .288 to .249. With nearly 100 extra at bats in 2010, he barely eclipsed some of his 2009 numbers; his home runs went from nine to eleven, his RBI from 43 to 55, his hits from 102 to 111 and his runs from 35 to 37. However, he did strikeout 94 times compared to just 47 walks.

Wieters still has a ton of potential, but after his 2010 season, potential has to be just about all he's being ranked on in cracking the Top Ten.

MLB Network's Top 10: Pitchers

The MLB Network, also known as God's gift to man during the off-season, recently ranked the Top 10 at each position in the league. The Phillies fared well, ranking in all by two positions, right field and relief pitcher. Let the analysing begin.

Starting Pitcher: The Phillies are the only team to boast two starters in the top ten, with Roy Halladay ranking first and Cliff Lee coming in at number seven. Some may consider that a low ranking for Lee, but it seems fair in comparison to the names ahead of him. Here's the list:

10- Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins
9- Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
8- Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
7- Cliff Lee, PHILLIES
6- David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
5- Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
4- CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
3- Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2- Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
1- Roy Halladay, PHILLIES

Remember, with the exception of his Cy Young season in 2008, Lee has not been an outstanding regular season pitcher. The post-season is certainly where he's done his real damage. But the top five on that list are absolutely the most dominant pitchers in the league at all times.

It's a little surprising to see Wainwright fall so far. Not that eighth is anything to sneeze at, but in his last two seasons, he went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA respectively with more than 200 strikeouts and less than seventy walks in each season. He's just about as dominant a pitcher there is and could easily be placed in the top five. I'd certainly take him just ahead of David Price.

It's very impressive to see that the Phillies, as we all know, truly do have two aces. Most teams would be happy to have Wainwright, Verlander or Johnson as their top pitcher. The Phillies have two ranked higher. It's absolutely unreal.

The list of the top ten relief pitchers is:

10- Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
9- Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
8- Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
7- Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics
6- Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
5- Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
4- Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
3- Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
2- Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants
1- Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

Pretty remarkable for the Yankees to have two pitchers from this list at the back-end of their bullpen. It's been a disastrous off-season for them, but acquiring one of the game's best closers in Soriano and making him the set-up man is a strong move. Sometimes closers have a difficult time transitioning into other roles though. Watching Soriano attempt to switch to the eighth inning, and if New York's talent as the back-end of the bullpen has many leads to save will be an interesting storyline in 2011.