Thursday, July 31, 2003

Suppan in Red...

...Sox, not pinstripes. Lee Sinins is reporting that the Red Sox acquired Suppan for prospect Freddy Sanchez, likely ending the Phillies trade efforts before the end of the day.

The future

David Cameron has an article on Phillies' prospect Cole Hamels over at Baseball Prospectus. The article is for premium members only, and can be found here.

Rumors and news

There are reports that the Phillies are considering calling up hot-hitting 2B Chase Utley if David Bell's back injury continues to linger. The plan would be to have Utley play 2B and shift Placido Polanco over to third. Complicating this plan is the day-to-day status of Polanco, who missed his second straight game last night with a sore left quad. Utley was sent down to Scranton in early May to get some everyday play, and has had a spectacular season at AAA.

Utley is hitting .314 with 70 runs scored, 14 home runs, 68 RBI, and 10 stolen bases, and could serve as a spark for the Phillies lineup.


Regarding the many trade rumors floating around the Phillies, my gut instinct (an hour before the deadline) is that they do nothing. We'll see if that's true...

A quick recap

It's 20 to 3 now, and if you had wanted a full recap of last night's game, you would have found one by now. So while work has interfered with my blogging life again, I'll keep to the highlights.

What impressed me...

The Phillies offense scored two runs each off of starter Kevin Brown and reliever Paul Shuey. Why does this impress me?

Kevin Brown is one of the tougher pitchers in the NL, opposing batters hit .234 off of him, and his WHIP is 1.10. So what do the Phillies do? Smack nine hits and draw three walks in six innings. That works out to a .333 average and a 2.00 WHIP. And they took advantage of a first inning error by Brown to jump to the 2-0 lead.

After the Dodgers tied the game off of Brett Myers (who went six innings himself and allowed two runs for a no decision), the Phillies had to face the Dodgers' bullpen -- the toughest in the NL. Paul Shuey took over for Brown in the seventh, and the Phillies sent him to the showers with this line:

0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 batters faced

Shuey holds hitters to a .189 average and allows just over one baserunner an inning (1.08 WHIP). So what do the Phillies do? Marlon Byrd greets him with a single -- extending his hitting streak to 11 games -- and Ricky Ledee triples him home. Good night, Paul Shuey. 3-2 Phillies.

So the Phillies face the best pitching staff in the majors and do the following:

  • jump to an early lead

  • after giving up the lead, they immediately rough up the best bullpen in the game

  • Those kinds of things make for a good night.

    What frustrates me... that a night like last night -- where everything goes right -- can come right on the heels of a night where everything goes wrong. My frustrations lie in the lack of consistancy in this Phillies team.

    They come out of the break and take three of four from Montreal.

    Then they drop two to the Mets.

    Then they sweep two from the Cubs at Wrigley.

    Then they get swept by the Marlins.

    Then they come home and take the first two from the Dodgers and their great pitching staff.

    Anyone else getting sick from the roller coaster ride? All I am asking for is some consistancy, and not in the wins and losses. I want that consistancy in the effort. I want to see the same effort, the same energy, the same enthusiasm night after night, and I am not seeing that. It was there in Chicago. It has been there against the Dodgers. It wasn't there against New York or Florida. Wherever the switch is, tape it up in the "on" position for goodness sake!


    Enough of my ranting...

    The bottom line is that the Phillies have taken the first two from LA at a wonderful time. Florida's sweep of the Diamondbacks has the fish nipping at our heels, and the Wild Card lead remains at one game. Tonight's series finale matches up Odalis Perez versus Brandon Duckworth, who is winless in ten starts. As bad as Duckworth has been, Perez has been almost as bad lately. In their last three starts, Duckworth is 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA; Perez is 1-1 with a 6.48. But in his most recent start (7/25 at Arizona), Perez gave up one run on five hits in eight innings, picking up a tough ND.

    Florida has the night off, so the Phillies will enter Friday with the Wild Card in hand, but they hope to extend that lead. It depends on which team shows up: the energetic and excited one, or the one that is there just to clock in and clock out.

    Trade winds

    For some reason, I went through all of yesterday thinking that yesterday was the trading deadline. The light did not come on in my head until late last night... *rolls his eyes*

    So, since the deadline still hasn't passed, there are still rumors floating about. In today's ATM Report, Lee Sinins has the following bits of news:

    6) According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Astros have intensified
    their interest in Pirates P Jeff Suppan. The paper also reports the Pirates
    offered the Phillies Brian Giles, without adding Jason Kendall to the deal,
    but the Phillies thought the asking price of Marlon Byrd, Brett Myers and
    prospect Gavin Floyd was too high.

    7) According to the Philadelphia Daily News, if the Phillies make a trade,
    it will be for Suppan.

    Too high indeed! Including Marlon Byrd -- while I am against it -- would at least free up an outfield position for Giles (assuming that you are not benching Burrell in the process). But including two of the top pitching prospects in the system is insane. That deal will never happen, or else Phillie fans will want Ed Wade's head.

    The Phillies are evidently still in the running for Suppan, but many teams, including the Astros, are hotter on the Pirates' heels about this one.

    Note: I hope to offer a full update, including a recap of last night's game, later this afternoon.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2003

    More trade talk

    "Rumors" from's Page 2 writer, Graham Hays:

    The Phillies are talking to the Tigers about a deal that would send Jeremy Bonderman (4-14) and Mike Maroth (5-15) to the Braves.

    The unfortunate part of this "deal" is this: pitching in front of that lineup, they could both reach .500 before the end of the season.

    Duracell agrees's Jim Caple had ten trade "decrees" he wants put in effect before the deadline, including:

    5. The Phillies trade for J.D. Drew just so we can see how Philly fans react when he homers in the bottom of the ninth to win a crucial game in September. thanks.

    Shall we make it 5 with 10?

    Vicente Padilla got his tenth win of the year last night, giving the Phillies four ten-game winners on the season. Could they have a fifth by the end of today?

    As the trading deadline approaches, GM Ed Wade says he has no deals on the burner, but also will not deny that something could be done before the 4PM Eastern deadline, or during the waiver period. There are a number of reports out there this morning that have the Phillies pursuing Pirates starter Jeff Suppan. Suppan, who in the Pirates' dumping could be had for minor leaguers, is 10-7 on the season with a 3.57 ERA, and has easily been the Pirates' most consistant starter.

    While not denying these rumors, Wade did say that struggling Phillie Brandon Duckworth was not part of any discussions.

    "He's very much a part of our future," Bowa said.

    Said Wade: "He's got a lot of ability. He pitched in a pennant race two years ago and we're prepared to hang with Brandon at this point. We saw his upside before he got hurt in Spring Training before he got hurt. He was the best pitcher we had in camp."

    So expect Duckworth to stay in red pinstripes. But will he be replaced in the starting rotation by Suppan? All we can do is keep our ears open as the trades are starting to come fast and furious -- or at least as fast and furious as baseball deals come.

    Anything but a hit parade

    Let me welcome you this morning with these sad stats:

  • .258 -- Philadelphia's team batting average, good for 12th in the NL

  • .240 -- Los Angeles's team batting average, good for 16th in the NL

  • .413 -- Philadelphia's team slugging average, good for 10th in the NL

  • .356 -- Los Angeles's team slugging average, good for 16th in the NL

  • 497 -- Philadelphia's team runs, good for 7th in the NL

  • 362 -- Los Angeles's team runs, good for 16th in the NL

  • .252 -- Philadelphia's team batting average with nobody on, good for 13th in the NL

  • .235 -- Los Angeles's team batting average with nobody on, good for 16th in the NL

  • .265 -- Philadelphia's team batting average with runners on, good for 10th in the NL

  • .248 -- Los Angeles's team batting average with runners on, good for 16th in the NL

  • .254 -- Philadelphia's team batting average with runners in scoring position, good for 10th in the NL

  • .250 -- Los Angeles's team batting average with runners in scoring position, good for 13th in the NL

  • And now these:

  • 8 -- Philadelphia's team shutouts, good for 2nd in the NL

  • 10 -- Los Angeles's team shutouts, good for 1st in the NL

  • 1.272 -- Philadelphia's team WHIP, good for 2nd in the NL

  • 1.186 -- Los Angeles's team WHIP, good for 1st in the NL

  • Any wonder why there were only two runs, eight hits, or 13 total baserunners last night? Maybe we should be wondering why there was so much offense.

    Yes, the anemic Phillies offense welcomed the National League's worst offense to town last night. Two hours and thirty-seven minutes later (that might include batting practice, I'm not sure), the teams were done for the night. A Bobby Abreu two-run home run in the second was all the offense that was needed last night -- and it's a good thing, because that's virtually all there was.

    Vicente Padilla went eight very strong innings last night, allowing just three hits and one walk; he also hit two batters. On the rare occasions when he did allow a runner to reach base, he was helped by some strong defense. Nick Punto -- starting at 2B for Placido Polanco, who was out with a sore quad -- made a pair of wonderful diving stops: one ranging to his left on a hot-shot ground ball, the other racing out to center on a looping pop fly. Phillies fans were also treated to the rare sight of Mike Lieberthal nailing a runner attempting to steal, when he caught Dave Roberts attempting to swipe second in the fifth.

    Padilla's strong effort earned him his tenth win of the season, becoming the fourth Phillie to reach double-digits in wins. He also allowed the depleted bullpen -- who had been responsible for three of the four losses over the extended weekend -- a little bit of a rest. Dan Plesac and Jose Mesa combined to pitch the ninth, but threw all of ten pitches between them.

    Not to be lost in the Dodgers' loss is the effort of Kaz Ishii, the hard-luck loser. Ishii went six innings, allowing just three hits and two walks -- unfortunately, one of those hits was Abreu's blast. Ishii struck out seven before turning it over to the bullpen, which threw two innings of two-hit baseball.

    The win also kept the Phillies in the NL Wild Card lead. Florida defeated Arizona again last night, keeping the difference at one game. Arizona's loss pushes them to three back; the Cards won to stay 3 1/2 back. The Dodgers' loss takes them to four back, where they are suddenly tied with the "where the heck did they come from?" Rockies.

    Viewers can expect more of the same tonight at the Vet, as the same two anemic offenses take the field. On the mound will be a pair of ten-game winners. Kevin Brown (10-5, 2.12) will go for the Dodgers, while Brett Myers (10-6, 3.65) takes the mound for the Phillies.


  • The last time the Phillies had four 10-game winners was 1993. An omen?

  • Polanco's injury is not considered serious, and he is day-to-day.

  • David Bell left his rehab assignment in Clearwater this weekend when he experienced more pain while taking BP. He returned to Philadelphia to be examined by team doctors. Bell had an MRI and a cortisone shot on Monday, but there appears to be no structural damage to his back. He is expected to be out for another week to 10 days before picking up a bat again. According to Comcast SportsNet:
    Though he says Bell won't admit it, Bowa believes the third baseman has been playing his injury since April.

  • Tuesday, July 29, 2003

    Dodgers come to town

    Jon, over at Dodger Thoughts, has a preview of the Phils-Dodgers series, from an LA point of view. He's very thankful that the Phillies had to "waste the top left-handed pitcher in the National League this season, Randy Wolf, against the Cincinnati Reds."

    Check out what he has to say...

    From Diamond Mind

    ... if Atlanta and Philly were both in line with the pythagorean records, it would be a virtual dead heat for first place in the East.

    Turning Point

    Top of the eighth, two out, no one on. Larry Bowa lets P Randy Wolf hit for himself. To this point, Wolf has thrown 95 pitches over seven innings, but has allowed just four hits since his first inning struggles. So Bowa lets him hit, instead of turning to a pinch-hitter and the overworked bullpen. Wolf flies out to center to end the top of the inning, and Sean Casey greets him in the bottom of the inning with a game-tying home run. End of the day for Wolf; in comes the bullpen.

    Time to second guess? Should Bowa have pinch-hit for his pitcher with two outs? Had Wolf had enough?

    "He had an easy seventh inning," Bowa said.

    "The bullpen is completely exhausted. I don't second-guess it. I thought it was a no-brainer. If the bullpen isn't tired, I might take him out. But right now, our 'pen is spent."

    In hindsight, I agree with the decision. Wolf, despite the four-run first, was still pitching strong. He had allowed a pair of one-out singles in the sixth, but proceeded to strike out the next two batters to get out of the inning. In the seventh, he set them down 1-2-3. With the starters' inability to go deep into games lalety, the bullpen is overworked, and over the weekend, they were inefficient.

    If I am Larry Bowa, I stick with Randy Wolf until he gets into trouble.

    Unfortunately, trouble came quickly. And the game was tied. Rheal Cormier came in and worked two innings of two hit ball. Terry Adams came in to start the tenth, but had nothing. He walked Aaron Boone, gave up a single to Adam Dunn, and intentioanlly walked Ruben Mateo to load the bases. With everyone in, Kelly Stinnett singled in the winning run.

    Should it surprise anyone that Adams had nothing? Not really; this was his fourth straight game. Quite simply,

    "He's tired," Bowa said.

    That about sums it up for the entire bullpen right now.

    The loss is the Phillies fourth straight, and with the Marlins win over Arizona, the Wild Card lead that was a comfortable four on Friday morning is now one. And the pitching-strong Dodgers come to town tonight. Vicente Padilla will try to stop the bleeding. An effective complete game would be nice...but am I aiming too high right now?

    Monday, July 28, 2003

    More of the same?

    After jumping to a 1-0 lead in the first, the Phillies -- as they did all weekend -- immediately gave the lead right back. Randy Wolf got hit hard in the first, and gave up four runs. But he has calmed down since then -- 2 hits since the first -- and the Phillies have scored four runs in the last two innings.

    Phils 5, Reds 4 after five.

    Minor League News

  • P Cole Hamels and his 0.84 ERA have been promoted from Lakewood to high-A Clearwater. Hamels had confounded Sally League hitters to the tune of a 6-1 record, 32 H in 74 2/3 IP, 115 K, and only 25 BB. To make room for Hamels, P Keith Bucktrot was promoted from Clearwater to AA Reading. Bucktrot was 7-7 at Clearwater with a 3.33 ERA and 68 Ks in 110 2/3 innings. In his AA debut yesterday, he went seven innings, giving up one run on four hits, striking out nine, and taking the tough loss.

  • 2B Chase Utley continues to tear up AAA pitching. His line: .318, 67 R, 119 H, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 10 SB in 96 games. I had thought that a Polanco injury might get Utley his call back to Philly, but Polanco (thankfully) is in today's starting lineup.
  • Back to June 15th

    After taking the weekend off -- and you can't prove that they did anything else after the debacle in Florida -- the Phillies head back to June 15th. The June 15th game in Cincinnati had been rained out after one inning and rescheduled for today. So the Phils will complete the Chicago-Miami-Cincinnati trip with a one-gamer this afternoon. The Phillies then get back on the plane and head home for a 7-game, 6-day homestand.

    *lets them do the math*

    Yes, 7 games in 6 days. "How?" you ask. A rare, scheduled doubleheader Saturday night against the San Diego Padres -- that's how. The upcoming schedule will do nothing to help the depleted bullpen, which has been overworked by the starters' inability to get past the fourth inning in four of the last seven games. The Phillies have played 11 games in 11 days since the break, and have eight more over the next seven days before finally catching a little breather. Yet, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan believes that the bullpen will be fine. The Phillies have to hope so, as despite this weekend that never happened, the bullpen is still the third best in the NL.

    Randy Wolf did a good job of resting the bullpen last week, as he threw a complete game shutout against the Cubs last Wednesday night. He goes for the Phillies today in Cincy against Ryan Dempster, and the hope is that he can at least come close to duplicating the feat. Game time is 12:35.

    Random Notes

  • 2B Placido Polanco fouled a ball off of his shin in yesterday's "game" in his at-bat in the first inning. He was removed from the game after running the bases -- gingerly -- in the third. Polanco claims he is okay and plans to play today.

  • Despite having the 4th best OBP in the NL, and having drawn the second-most walks in the league, the Phillies rank first in runners left on base, with a whopping 800.

  • From Sunday's Inquirer:

    The Phillies passed the 100-game mark Thursday. Last year, they were 46-54 after 100 games. This year, they were 57-43. Despite their offensive inconsistencies, the Phils had scored more runs (479 to 451) in 100 games this year. The big difference: The team ERA was down from 4.54 to 3.54.
  • Friday, July 25, 2003

    The Philly Connection

    I know it's blasphemous to mention this with still two-plus months worth of baseball left. But football training camps are starting to open. Opening tomorrow is the Eagles' camp up at Lehigh, and in time for that event is the opening of a brand new Eagles' blog, the Iggles' Nest. Daniel has the site up and running, and takes a close look at some of the Eagles' offseason moves.

    Head on over and check it out, because football is right around the corner...

    A little perspective

    For much of the season, we have looked at Atlanta's large division lead and wondered what was wrong with the Phillies. The Braves current lead is 9 1/2 games; despite that, the Phillies are playing .570 baseball. That's good enough for third-best in the National League, behind just Atlanta and San Francisco, who are each playing well over .600. For some perspective on how well the Phillies are actually playing...

    If the Phillies played in the NL Central...


    If the Phillies played in the NL West...

    San Francisco--

    If the Phillies played in the AL East...

    New York--

    If the Phillies played in the AL Central...

    Kansas City2

    If the Phillies played in the AL West...


    Maybe we should consider Philadelphia to be Central?

    Knocking on Wood

    One day, they do it with the pitching. The next, the offense gets turned back on. Less than 24 hours after Randy Wolf's gem, the Phillies offense pounded out 14 runs on 14 hits in a 14-6 pouncing of the Cubs.

    Through five innings, the Phillies had managed just two hits off of Cubs' pitcher Kerry Wood, one of those being Todd Pratt's solo home run in the third. A Sammy Sosa two-run bomb in the first, and a Kenny Lofton sac fly in the fifth had Chicago in front 3-1. But in the 6th, the wheels fell off...

    The same Wood that had been dominant in the first five innings couldn't get anyone out in the sixth: Marlon Byrd singled, and Polanco did the same. Thome walked, and Abreu followed with a grand slam. Ledee walked, Rollins singled, and Pratt singled in a run. Wood's day was done. Kyle Farnsworth came in and quickly got the first out, but the fun wasn't over. After Perez flied out to center, Padilla walked to load the bases. Byrd walked, forcing in a run. Polanco singled in two more, and Farnsworth hit the showers. Remlinger walked Thome to load the bases -- again -- for Abreu, who with history on the line (two slams in an inning) managed only a sac fly to center. Ledee flied out to end the carnage, but the damage had been done.

    Totals: 9 runs, 6 hits, 0 errors, 5 walks.

    Thome was officially 0-for-0 in an inning in which 14 hitters came to the plate.

    All of this offense allowed Vicente Padilla to pick up his ninth win of the season despite not having his best day. Padilla allowed six runs -- five earned -- on seven hits through six innings. He walked three and struck out three, and may have lost some of what he had in the long top of the sixth. Padilla actually tried to sneak down to the bullpen to throw a little bit in the top of the sixth, only to later find out that it wasn't allowed. Oops...

    So the Phils head out of the windy city with a two game sweep and with the offense running hot. The Phillies finish the season series with Chicago, having taken five of six against a playoff-hopeful team. This morning, the team wakes up in Florida ready to face a team that is just five games behind them in the Wild Card race, and embarrassed them at home two weeks ago with a three-game sweep. The Phillies are primed to return the favor.

    Tonight's game has Brett Myers (10-6, 3.55, 5-0 in his last seven starts) going for the Phillies, who will get their first taste of the latest sensation, Dontrelle Willis (9-2, 2.67). Willis is coming off his worst outing in the majors, but seems to be mystifying opponents his first time through the league. Tomorrow's game sees Brandon Duckworth (3-4, 5.28) -- who may be fighting to stay in the rotation -- against Josh Beckett (4-4-, 3.41). Sunday's game has Kevin Millwood (10-7, 3.77) -- trying to bounce back from a tough start -- against Carl Pavano (7-10, 4.17), who always seems to handle the Phillies well.

    Thursday, July 24, 2003

    Random Notes

  • SS Jimmy Rollins was back in the starting lineup last night, after missing the last handful of games.

  • David Bell will begin a rehab assignment in Clearwater tonight (can I have a rehab there, too?!?). He hopes to be activated when he is eligible on Saturday.

  • C Todd Pratt bleached his hair. His teammates are comparing him to Billy Idol and Eminem. Must make for a pretty picture.

  • From the Doylestown Intelligencer:

    Struggling No. 5 starter Brandon Duckworth tinkered with his mechanics during yesterday's side day. The right-hander worked on slowing down his approach to plate and on throwing with more of a downward angle, corrections he hopes improve his location.

    "It was a good bullpen session for me, and I'm going to take that into the game," he said.

    Duckworth's next scheduled start is Saturday at Florida.

  • And have you noticed...?

  • CF Marlon Byrd is now hitting .297 on the season? He was at .193 on May 30th, then hit .364 in June, and .350 so far in July. He is hitting .368 (21-for-57) in the leadoff spot, with a .410 OBP.

  • RF Bobby Abreu has his own average up to .293? He hit .313 in June, and is hitting .361 in July. Since the break, he is 14-for-26 with a homer and seven RBI.

  • Terry Adams has been almost lights out in the last two months? In June, he had an ERA of 1.50, had 12 strikeouts to only one walk, and opponents batted .203 off of him. July has been even better: 0.96 ERA, 10 Ks, 1 BB, and a .156 opponent average.

  • Jose Mesa has a WHIP under 1.00 since the break?!? *gulp*
  • Bill Giles isn't enough?

    The Philadelphia Daily News' Sam Donnellon has an article applauding Ed Wade for his recent work, most recently his acquisition of former Pirates reliever Mike WIlliams. But he is also hoping that Wade gets right back on the phone to Pittsburgh to acquire one more player: LF Brian Giles.

    Donnellon sees Giles very nicely filling the hole in LF created by Pat Burrell and his lack of hitting. Donnellon argues that Giles is the perfect short-term solution, adding a potent bat to the heart of the lineup and hopefully carrying the team into October baseball. With Pittsburgh in salary dump mode, Giles can probably be had for less than he is worth, and if the purse strings of ownership are still open, he is affordable at an average of $9 million a season.

    But even Donnellon admits this is a short-term solution. Come the offseason, the Phillies would have two top LF, both with contracts that average around $9 million a year, and neither a candidate to change positions. One of them would have to go, and Donnellon knows it wouldn't be Burrell. The organization has already invested too much in both his present and his future to part with him after one bad year. Giles already has multiple teams (Oakland, Seattle) after his services, and the Phillies would probably be able to deal him in the offseason.

    It sounds, hypothetically, like a great idea. But practically, would it work? I am not talking baseball-wise or financially. While there have been rumors that the Phillies should send Burrell down to AAA to work out the kinks, most of those rumors are followed by whispers of "but what would it do to his confidence, his psyche, to be sent down?". The same whispers can be applied here. What happens to his mental outlook if the Phillies were to acquire a top-notch slugger to help the team, and he just so happens to play the same position as Burrell? Does he see it as a challenge? Does he perceive it as a slap in the face?

    And worse, what happens if the Phillies find no takers for Giles in the offseason? What then?

    Donnellon presents a great hypothetical...but that's about as far as it should go.

    A shot in the arm

    Randy Wolf gave the Phillies exaclty what they needed last night: a victory, snapping the two-game losing streak; and a night off for the bullpen. After two straight starts by Brandon Duckworth and Kevin Millwood of less than three and four innings, respectively, Wolf went all nine last night, firing a four-hit, complete game shutout against the new-look Cubbies at Wrigley Field.

    Wolf got the offensive help he needed early on. A solo home run from Ricky Ledee -- playing in LF for Pat Burrell -- in the second gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead, and a two-run bomb onto Sheffield Avenue in the third by Jim Thome made it 3-0. The long ball by Thome allowed him to reach 1,000 RBI for his career, fittingly in the park that he dreamed about playing in while growing up. The two homers would prove to be all that Wolf would need on the night. Wolf threw 131 pitches on the night (some reports have him at 135 or 136), 86 of them for strikes. He allowed just the four hits, and walked only three. He faced some trouble in the first inning, with two on and two out, but got Eric Karros to ground out to end the threat. He allowed only three more base runners to reach scoring position after the first.

    Wolf held the Cubs' new acquisitions -- Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez, acquired from Pittsburgh for a wind machine (Jose Hernandez) and some pocket change on Tuesday -- to a combined 0-for-8, and Sammy Sosa went 0-for-4 with two punchouts. Mark Grudzielanek had three of the Cubs' four hits on the night.

    Wolf had made up his mind before the game that he was going to give the bullpen a night off, and told pitching coach Joe Kerrigan so.

    "I told Joe I didn't want any relievers pitching today," Wolf said.

    As the game headed to the ninth, despite a rising pitch count, Wolf had no doubt that he was going back in to finish things off. Larry Bowa had Jose Mesa warming in the bullpen just in case, but his services were not needed. Wolf got Karros, Ramirez, and Alex (Cubs' version) Gonzalez 1-2-3 in the ninth to cap the night. (Besides, when was the last time you saw Mesa throw a 1-2-3 ninth??) In the process, the members of the bullpen got some much needed rest.

    An extra-innings win by Florida at Atlanta cuts the division lead to 9 1/2 games, while the Diamondbacks loss -- their fifth straight -- extends the Phillies Wild Card lead to three games. While the Phillies' offense continues to sputter along, I have become convinced that I could have the Offensive Slumber tracker in the left column for the rest of the season. Instead, I will take it down, and replace it with the Wild Card standings. Should the Phillies somehow make a run at the Braves, I'll show the NL East race instead. For now, let's focus on the route to October.

    Vicente Padilla goes in this afternoon's matinee, facing Cubs' All-Star Kerry Wood. Padilla has won four of his last five decisions, and four of his last seven starts, lowering his ERA from 4.48 on June 4th to 3.71 entering tonight's game. He hopes to continue to trend, and help the Phillies to a Wrigley sweep.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2003

    More accolades for the pitching staff

    In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Albert Chen has an article on Joe Kerrigan's influence on the improvement of the pitching staff.


    Rob Neyer offers his opinion on what the playoff contenders need for the stretch run:

    The Phillies are in a similar situation [as the Braves], except they don't have a huge lead. Their biggest weakness has been at third base, where David Bell has been atrocious. But he's finally (and mercifully) been placed on the disabled list, and Tyler Houston is an acceptable replacement, probably as good as anybody who's available via trade. The Phillies' fifth starter, Brandon Duckworth, hasn't been good (3-4, 5.28), but he hasn't been terrible, and anyway what do you expect from a fifth starter? Like the Braves, the Phillies, who have the third-best record in the National League, should probably just stay the course.

    I'll agree, with the exception of his analysis on Duckworth. I've written about that the last two days, and I think it's time to find another option. I find it interesting that Neyer does not even mention Burrell and his struggles. I doubt he thinks that a .195-hitting, power hitting LF is acceptable for a playoff team.

    Getaway day

    RON CORTES / Inquirer
    Pretty much sums it all up.

    A day after Brandon Duckworth could not get out of the third and put the onus on the bullpen, Kevin Millwood barely served as an improvement. Millwood gave up five runs on seven hits, threw 99 pitches, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in an eventual 7-5 loss to the Mets. Millwood falls to 10-7 on the year, and the Phillies were swept in this brief two-game series by a team that had been swept in four by the Braves just before showing up in town.

    The Phillies fell behind 6-1 before staging a comeback attempt, but it proved to be too little, too late. Trailing 7-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, Jim Thome laced a two-out RBI double to cut the lead to two. He went to third on a Bobby Abreu single. A stolen base by Abreu put the tying run in scoring position, but Pat Burrell -- who in all fairness had a two-run triple earlier in the game -- struck out to end the game and the homestand.

    So for the second day in a row, the Phillies have failed to complete a comeback. More frustrating is that for the second day in a row, they have been forced to stage a big comeback. Duckworth and Millwood have combined for 6 1/3 innings over two starts, and the bullpen is being taxed. Here are the bullpen numbers over the last two days:

     IPHR# Pitches
    Terry Adams2 1/31044
    Turk Wendell24336
    Mike WIlliams33149
    Dan Plesac11010
    Carlos Silva1 1/31121
    Rheal Cormier10013
    Jose Mesa11025

    No truth the rumor that they will be recruiting arms from the bleachers in Wrigley today, but it's pretty close. Randy Wolf will face Matt Clement tonight, and Vicente Padilla will take the mound against Kerry Wood tomorrow. Win, lose, or draw, these two have to eat up some serious innings and give the bullpen a little bit of rest. The pitch count totals aren't horrible, but another short outing by a starter, and this 'pen might implode. The bullpen has been the second-best in the NL this season, but much of that has been due to the ability to selectively use them. The starters have gone deep into games, leaving the relievers to fill their assigned roles and nothing more, and not asking them to pitch two, three, four days in a row. A stretch like this could cancel out most of the good that has come from the pitching staff this season.

    Yesterday, I mentioned that it might be time to look for an alternative to Brandon Duckworth as the #5 starter. I am evidently not the only one thinking that way. There is one article in the Doylestown (PA) Intelligencer, and another in the Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier Post this morning examining the possibility of dropping Duck. The Intelligencer article points out that "[i]n Duckworth's 14 starts, the bullpen has been used a total of 68 2/3 innings - or nearly five innings each time he starts." Both articles quote Larry Bowa as saying that while a change is not imminent, it could become necessary.

    "If these scenarios keep happening, he'll run out of chances at some point. Saturday, it's not going to be that he has to go five good innings or he's not going to keep pitching. We're not there yet. But he's got to step up to the plate and respond."

    Among those mentioned as possible replacements are Ryan Madson and Amaury Telemaco -- both of whom I pinpointed yesterday -- from Scranton, or possibly moving Carlos Silva from the bullpen to the rotation. Silva has been a starter in the minors and Bowa sees him as a future starter in the big leagues. Bowa says that's not happening right now -- he needs Silva's arm in the bullpen -- but it remains a possibility. The recent acquisition of Mike Williams -- an extra bullpen arm -- may make that choice easier.

    But for now, Duck keeps floating. The question long until he sinks the bullpen?

    Tuesday, July 22, 2003

    Duck, Duck...Goose!

    A walk, a single, and a home run. Four batters, three base runners, and just like that, a 3-0 deficit. Brandon Duckworth had hoped to start the second half of the season off right; he had hoped to work deep into the game, showing some stamina that was lacking in the season's first half; he had hoped to pick up his first win since May 17th.

    Four batters into the game, and those hopes were as crushed as the pitch Cliff Floyd deposited in the right field seats in the top of the first.

    Duckworth lasted just 2 2/3 innings last night, giving up five earned runs on six hits, including home runs to Floyd and Joe McEwing (his first of the season). After giving up the fifth run, Duckworth was yanked.

    As brilliant as Duckworth seemed two years ago, he has struggled that much since. He started this season on the DL, and just hasn't put it together since returning in mid-April. His longest outing of the season is seven innings, in a loss to Seattle on June 5th. Since then, he has lasted 5 1/3, 1 (injury), 6, 3, 5 1/3, and last night's 2 2/3 IP. I realize that we are looking at him as a fifth starter, but we should still be able to expect more than that from a fifth starter.

    On the season, Duckworth has made 14 starts. He has lasted an average of 4 1/3 innings per start. He has thrown an average of 82 pitches in that 4 1/3 innings. Only thanks to the bullpen is the team 6-8 in the games he has started. With the Phillies in the thick of the playoff hunt, we are quickly reaching the point where a decision needs to be made on whether or not Brandon Duckworth can be the #5 starter that is counted on in August, September, and hopefully, October.

    The question becomes, if not Duckworth, then who? Is there someone the Phillies can call up, or do they have to look outside the organization?

    At AAA Scranton, only a couple of names pop out as ready to come up and help out in the rotation:

  • Ryan Madson -- In 18 starts this season, Madson is 11-4 with a 3.25 ERA. He has 86 strikeouts and 29 walks in 110 2/3 innings, and has held opposing batters to a .251 average. Madson is part of the Phillies future rotation. Is that future now?

  • Amaury Telemaco -- Telemaco, who has seen time with the big league club, has made 20 starts for Scranton and has a poor 6-9 record. That record, however, is deceiving. He has a 3.34 ERA, has thrown 129 1/3 innings, striking out 94 and walking only 16. Opponents are hitting just .217 against him. Good enough for a callup?

  • Aaron Myette -- Acquired recently from the Indians organization, Myette has made only three appearances with the Phillies, two of them starts. He is holding opponents to a .194 average (.247 with Cleveland), but has a poor K/BB ratio (43/39).

  • Those are the only starters of interests at AAA. There may be a name or two at AA Reading, but skipping a level and jumping into a playoff race may not be the formula for success. But to whom do the Phillies turn if they look outside of the organization? Here are some names that have been rumored to be on the trading block:

    Jeff Weaver
    Sterling Hitchcock
    Sidney Ponson
    Jason Johnson
    Kelvim Escobar
    Odalis Perez
    Kris Benson
    Javier Vasquez

    Limited choices. Vasquez probably isn't available, unless the Expos fall out of sight in the next week or so. Benson is missing his start today with an injury and has a history of arm problems. Weaver and Hitchcock just throw up red flags for me. Recent reports have Escobar staying in Toronto, and Perez is leaving LA only in the right deal. That leaves the Orioles duo.

    The O's recently made a contract extension offer to Ponson, and are waiting to test his reaction before making a final decision on dealing him. Even if they choose to move him, he won't be cheap. The Phillies have some players in the farm system to deal, but are they willing to move an Utley, a Madson, etc. for a possible two-month rental? Johnson is a decent enough pitcher, but is he any better than what the Phillies currently have?

    The options are few, but they may have to be examined. If Duckworth continues to struggle, and drains the bullpen in the process, an alternative has to be found. For now, the Phillies have to hope that Kevin Millwood can eat up some innings (and gain a win) in this afternoon's matinee. Unfortunately, he has fallen behind 3-0 in the third inning...let the fun continue.

    Monday, July 21, 2003

    In for the long haul...

    ...or at least past this season. GM Ed Wade signed a two-year contract extension last night, taking him through the 2005 season. This signing was expected for weeks, and there was little doubt it would be completed.

    Looking ahead

    For that time in the near future when Myers is the staff ace, here are a few guys that can back him up:

  • Scranton ace Ryan Madson went to 11-4 with the win yesterday. He went seven innings, gave up two runs on two hits, and struck out nine. His ERA is at 3.25 on the season.

  • Lakewood's Cole Hamels brought his record to 6-1 with six innings of shutout baseball. He allowed four hits and struck out seven, lowering his ERA to a ridiculous 0.92.
  • 3 out of 4, and the Phillies pick up an All-Star

    How long now until we refer to Brett Myers as the Phillies' "ace"? The ace of the future threw another gem yesterday, going 8 2/3 innings, striking out ten, and carrying a shutout into the ninth before Brad Wilkerson launched a two-out, two-run home run to spoil the day. (By the way, how many ninth inning homers is Wilkerson going to hit in Philly, anyway?) Myers's victory was his 10th of the season, allowing him to join Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf with 10 wins apiece. The threesome is tied for 4th in the NL in wins -- only Shawn Chacon (COL, 11), Russ Ortiz (ATL, 13), and Woody WIlliams (STL, 13) have more. It was also Myers's fifth straight win since he fell to 5-6 in a loss at Anaheim on June 11th. Myers spread out seven hits on the day, and did not walk a batter; he has allowed just one base-on-balls in his last five starts.

    The Phillies jumped on top quickly yesterday, as Jim Thome doubled with two outs in the first inning, and Bobby Abreu scored him with a single. The one-run lead lasted until the sixth, when Placido Polanco led off with a double. Thome fouled out, failing to move the runner up, and Abreu was intentionally walked to get to Pat Burrell. Burrell, who has been the recipient of standing ovations all weekend at the Vet, has shown improved patience at the plate since the All-Star break. His stats may say that he is only 2-for-13 since the break, but they have been good at-bats. And more of a key are the four walks to three strikeouts -- he had previously had a K/BB ratio of 2 to 1.

    Anyway, Burrell came to the plate with two on and one out in the sixth yesterday, and quickly fell behind 0-2. The first pitch appeared to be a fastball to the outer half of the plate that Burrell took. The second was a breaking pitch that Burrell flailed at...again. At 0-2, he fouled off a pitch before taking ball one. He fought off two more before taking a pitch just off the outside of the plate. Expos' pitcher Claudio Vargas wanted the pitch but got nothing from the home plate ump. At 2-2 and frustrated by the last call, Vargas threw the next one high and away. So Burrell has now worked a full count from 0-2, and the pitcher is a bit rattled. The ninth pitch of the at-bat is again on the outer part of the plate, but caught some of the middle. Burrell got a hold of it, and ripped it to left-center field for a double, scoring Polanco for the second run of the game. If Burrell can continue to have patience and work some more at-bats like he worked this one, improvement might not be too far off.

    The Phillies added a third run in the seventh when Marlon Byrd singled with one out, Polanco followed with a single of his own, and Abreu hit a ground rule double down the left field line, scoring Byrd. It stayed that way until Wilkerson's bomb in the ninth, and Jose Mesa came in to get Edwards Guzman and close out the game.

    Combine yesterday's game with the two 11th inning wins on Thursday and Saturday, and the Phillies took three of four from the Expos. Unfortunately, the Braves took all four from the Mets (including yesterday's ridiculous comeback), and stretched their lead to 9 1/2.

    The Mets come off the four-game beating, and arrive in Philly today. Tonight's matchup is Brandon Duckworth (3-3) versus Aaron Heilman (0-2), while tomorrow afternoon's game has Kevin Millwood (10-6) going against Steve Trachsel (8-6), who the Phillies roughed up just before the break.

    While the Phillies were finishing off the Expos, Ed Wade was working the phones and completing a deal to bring an All-Star to Philly. Wade acquired Pirates closer Mike Williams and cash for minor league pitcher Frank Brooks. Brooks had been 3-4 with nine saves and a 2.30 ERA at Reading, and had recently been bumped up to Scranton.

    Williams was the Pirates All-Star representative this season, a selection that surprised even him. On the season, Williams has appeared in 40 games, throwing 37 1/3 innings, going 1-3 with 25 saves in 30 chances. Those numbers aren't bad. His ERA, however, is 6.27. And he has issued more walks (22) than strikeouts (20). Not good. This is, of course, Williams's second tour of duty with the Phillies. He started his career in Philly back in 1992. In five seasons with the Phillies, he appeared in 99 games (54 starts) and had a record of 13-25. His best season with the Phils came in 1995, when he went 3-3, mostly out of the bullpen, and had a 3.29 ERA. He was moved to the rotation the following season and struggled mightily. He finished 6-14 with an ERA over 5. The next season, Williams found himself in Kansas City.

    He threw a mere 14 innings for the Royals in '97, and resurfaced with Pittsburgh in 1998. He worked in a setup role for much of the season, and finished with a 4-2, 1.94 campaign. The following year, Williams found himself in the closer role. In '99, he had 23 saves and a 5.09 ERA. In 2000, he added a 24th save, and lowered his ERA by more than a run and a half to 3.50. In 2001, he picked up 22 saves (3.67 ERA) with Pittsburgh before moving to Houston at the trading deadline to work setup for Billy Wagner. A free agent at the end of that season, Williams went back to Pittsburgh, where he put together a career year. 2002 found Williams going 2-6 with 46 saves and a 2.94 ERA with a 2:1 K:BB ratio, earning him his first All-Star selection.

    Williams has struggled this season, but still manages to get the job done. That kind of description sounds a lot like someone already in red pinstripes: Jose Mesa. A quick comparison:

    PlayerSvBSK/9K/BBOpp. Avg.

    Both lines make me nauseus. The Phillies have said that Mesa will retain the closer's spot, and Williams will serve as a set up man. Williams may not seem like a great pick up, but for what he cost and the fact that he will serve as an extra arm in the 'pen (and Mesa insurance, with closing experience), it's not a bad move. No word yet on who the odd man out will be...

    Friday, July 18, 2003


    According to Lee Sinins, Rollins is day-to-day with a hamstring injury:

    3) Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins had to leave yesterday's lineup, due to a
    hamstring injury, and is day to day.

    After 0 RCAA/.743 OPS and -15 RCAA/.686 OPS seasons in his first couple of
    years as a starter, Rollins is off to a .386 SLG, .314 OBA, .700 OPS, -11
    RCAA start in his first 91 games. Rollins is leading the league again in
    most outs made and can join Frankie Crosetti (1937-39) as the only players
    in baseball history to do it 3 consecutive years.

    Pitching change

    Randy Wolf's start was moved up from tomorrow night to tonight. I guess the one inning of work on Tuesday wasn't enough to push him back another day. He will face Javier Vazquez (6-6), with Padilla (8-8) facing Livan Hernandez (9-6) tomorrow night.

    Walk off

    Quick question: If a man named "Byrd" hits a walk off, do we consider it a fly off?

    A few pitching lines for you:

    A: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 K
    B: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 5 K
    C: 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 5 K
    D: 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 5 K

    So what are they? A is Kevin Millwood's complete-game shutout of Montreal last Tuesday. B is Tomo Ohka's performance in the same game. The two hooked up for quite a performance that day...and then they went out and did it again last night.

    Line C is Millwood's line for last night; D is Ohka's. A few more hits allowed for each one last night, but the same level of toe-to-toe performance as nine days earlier. Only this time, neither one was around for a decision.

    Millwood went seven innings last night, scattering the nine hits. He allowed more than one hit in an inning only twice, and the Expos scored in each of those. In the fourth, Millwood allowed a one-out single to Wil Cordero, who then scored on a two-out double by Ron Calloway. In the sixth, Orlando Cabrera led off the inning with a double; he then swiped third, and scored on a throwing error by Bobby Abreu. Millwood allowed a pair of singles and a walk after that, but got out of the inning with no further damage. Otherwise, Millwood allowed no more than one baserunner in any of the other five innings.

    Ohka's night was almost as good. He allowed a Marlon Byrd single to lead off the first, only to erase him on a double play. He got in trouble in the second, when Jimmy Rollins singled, Pat Burrell walked, and Tyler Houston doubled to left -- all with two outs. Ohka was spared more than one run of damage when Phillies third-base coach John Vukovich sent Pat Burrell home after Brad Wilkerson bobbled the ball in left. Wilkerson recovered, and nailed Burrell easily at the plate, ending the inning. In the third, Ohka allowed a one-out single to Byrd, who again was wiped out on a double play. He allowed two hits again in the fourth, and again it cost him: a one-out double by Abreu and a two-out double by Rollins put the Phillies second run on the board. But that was all the trouble Ohka would see -- he allowed two hits in the fifth and walked Burrell in the sixth, but neither instance did any damage.

    So the starters left, and the 2-2 stayed until the ninth. So with the game tied in the top of the ninth, Rheal Cormier earned a save. I didn't see it myself, so I have to use someone else's words; from the Inquirer:

    With two outs and Expos catcher Michael Barrett on third - Barrett had hit a leadoff double to start the ninth - Expos centerfielder Endy Chavez threw his bat at the ball. The bat actually left his hands before it made contact.

    The ball found its way into no-man's land. Chavez sprinted toward first as Barrett took off for home.

    It was going to be close.


    But Cormier's toss made its way to catcher Mike Lieberthal, who blocked the plate and tagged out Barrett to end the inning.

    That's how you earn a save without getting a save.

    I finally turned the game on in the bottom of the ninth. The bases were loaded, two were out, and Placido Polanco was at the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Polanco fouled off a dribbler down the third base line. Rollins, who was on third, took off for the plate. When it was called foul, Rollins returned to third and appeared -- to my untrained eye -- to be limping. It did not matter at the time, as Polanco ground the next pitch -- fair -- to third, to end the inning.

    In extras, Jose Mesa pitched a scoreless tenth, and Dan Plesac got through the eleventh. Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the 11th with a really good at-bat. He fouled off three pitches -- two of them down the left-field line -- before finally taking a pitch that way and keeping it fair. He busted hard down the first base line, but seemed to coast into second. WIth no one out, Larry Bowa pulled Rollins for a pinch runner. I am not sure what the extent of Jimmy's injury is, but I can assure you that I never thought I'd see him lifted for a pinch runner.

    Pat Burrell lifted an 0-1 pitch to right center where it got tracked down, but it was far enough to allow Nick Punto to move to third. WIth one out, pinch hitter Jason Michaels line the first pitch in the hole on the left side -- where it was snagged by Calloway at third, who went to first for the second out, holding Punto at third. With two outs now, Tomas Perez was intentionally walked to get to Byrd.

    Byrd already had three singles on the night; one more would win the game. He took the first pitch for ball one, and then swung at the second. The ball jumped off his bat and just kept traveling. It bounced off the 1983 NL Championship banner in left-center while Byrd bounced around the bases. By the time he got to home plate, the entire Phillies team was there waiting for him, waiting to smack him around a bit. They pounded him so hard, I wasn't sure if they were congratulating him, or beating him into submission.

    No matter...5-2 final. Win #53. I'll take it, with or without the bruises.

    Thursday, July 17, 2003

    Who are you?

    I'm struck by curiosity...who are my readers? Who are you? What kind of baseball/Phillies fan are you? Why do you keep coming back? What would you like to see here? I am just trying to get an idea of what type of person I have struck a chord with. Leave a comment (if it's working) or e-mail me and let me know about you.

    Also, if there's something you want to know about me, ask away.

    In a shocker...

    In a news item that should surprise no one, ticket prices will go up next season with the opening of the new Citizens Bank Park. Yet, they will remain reasonable, all things considered.

    There will be no personal seat licenses. No variable ticket pricing by who and when. And the increases are not out of line, considering it's a new park. Quoting the article in the Inquirer:

    Prices for seats in the 200 level in the infield, which list for $28 now, will increase to $35 or $40, depending on their proximity to home plate.

    Tickets in the outfield, where seats will be closer to the playing surface than at the Vet, will fall from $24 to $20 in the equivalent of the 200 level, from $22 to $18 in the 300 level, and from $16 to $15 in the 600 level.

    Beyond that, it's apples and oranges, although the general direction of prices is up.

    The cheap seats will go up from $10 to $15, but the seats will be closer to the field. There will be no general admission seats in the new park, but up to 5,000 seats will be discounted by as much as $5 on the day of the game, making the game a fairly affordable one.

    Two other notes:

    Season-ticket holders no longer will receive discounts, now usually $2 per date, off the list price of their tickets. And the current 16-game plans will become 17-game plans.

    No more will seats be priced entirely by vertical level. On each level, seats in more desirable locations will cost more.

    I have no complaints about this, as I have always thought that seats in one level behind home plate should cost more than seats in that same level tucked behind a foul pole. So, keeping it in perspective, the pricing doesn't seem too bad. That is, of course, until you get inside and head to the concessions.

    Silva out

    The relief pitcher had his suspension reduced from six games to five for his role in the June 13th fight against Adam Dunn in Cincinnati, and will serve it immediately. He will be eligible to pitch again on Tuesday, at home versus the Mets.

    Burrell's struggles

    The Inquirer has another article today on Pat Burrell's struggles in this morning's paper. However, instead of just focusing on his faults and struggles this year, they offer that he is not the first Phillie to have these struggles. The obvious comparison is to Mike Schmidt and his second year in Philly. But Frank Fitzpatrick draws other comparisons, including ones to Del Ennis, Chuck Klein, and Dick Allen.

    Catch the article here.

    Back to work

    After a three-day vacation, the Phillies get back to work tonight against the Puerto Rico Expos at the Vet. Tonight's is the first in the four-game series, games 10-13 in the season series. The Phillies lost two of three to the Expos back in late May, and then swept a three-game set in early June. Philadelphia took two of three in Montreal last week, and lead the season series 6-3.

    Tonight's 7:05 start will feature Phillies ace Kevin Millwood (10-6) against Tomo Ohka (7-9). These two matched up in Montreal last Wednesday, with Millwood getting the better of the matchup in the end. Ohka held the Phillies hitless into the seventh before Placido Polanco managed a questionable infield hit, and Bobby Abreu followed with a two-run homer. Millwood took the runs and ran with them, finishing off the Expos with a complete-game shutout.

    Tomorrow's game matches Vicente Padilla (8-8) against Javier Vasquez (6-6). Padilla is 5-2 in his last eight starts, and has had his ERA fall from 4.55 to 3.81 in that time. Saturday's game features All-Star Randy Wolf (10-4) against Livan Hernandez (9-6), who has been the unexpected "ace" of the Expos staff this season.

    Wolf will bring the Wolf Pack home from Chicago, where Wolf made his first All-Star appearance. Wolf replaced starter Jason Schmidt to start the third inning, and had a decent performance. Wolf struck out the Yankees' Jorge Posada before becoming cautious and walking Ichiro. Ichiro took second on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-out single by RBI machine Carlos Delgado. All told, Wolf pitched an inning, gave up one run on one hit, and struck out two Yankees (Posada and Soriano).

    Sunday's finale features Brett Myers (9-6), going for the tenth win that eluded him on Sunday in New York, versus Claudio Vargas (6-5). These two matched up against one another last Tuesday, with the Phillies lineup touching up Vargas and his bullpen mates to the tune of 13 runs.

    The Phillies hope to do well in this series, as the Braves -- with their 8 1/2 game lead -- head home to take on the New York Mess, who yesterday traded closer Armando Benitez cross-town to the Yankees as they continue their rebuilding process.

    70 games to the finish line. Time to start sprinting...

    Tuesday, July 15, 2003

    All-Star worthy

    From Jayson Stark's Useless Info column:

    Lowest ERAs among qualified starters since last year's All-Star Game:

    RHP: Pedro Martinez 2.02
    LHP: Randy Wolf 2.73

    I told you they were playing over their heads!

    In a follow-up to yesterday's post, Diamond Mind has written on the comparisons from their preseason predictions to the reality at the Break. Here's what they have to say on the NL East battle:

    Atlanta is 12 games ahead of the pace we projected for them, but I wonder if they can sustain that performance. They've won 7 more games than their run margin of +78 would normally produce and 9 more games than their TBW (total bases plus walks) margin of +220 would normally produce. In other words, the Braves are playing great clutch baseball right now. If they keep it up, nobody will catch them.

    Statistically, Philadelphia is running stride for stride with the division leaders. In fact, their run margin (+89) is a little better than Atlanta's. Their TBW margin (+203) is a little worse but still the second-best in the NL by a good margin. (The Giants, at +154, are third.) But Philly is four games behind its pythagorean record.

    See? The Braves are way over their heads. 7 games better than their pythagorian record, while the Phillies are 4 games worse. Correct those 11 games, and the Phillies have a 2 1/2 game lead. So the question remains whether or not the Braves can keep up this pace.

    Also, based on their preseason predictions, the Phillies have the second most disappointing offense in the NL (behind LA), but the second most surprising pitching/defense (again, behind LA), thanks to the great work of the rotation and especially the bullpen. Atlanta, by the way, is the second most surprising offense.

    Any sort of return to the "norm", and we could have a pretty good race on our hands.

    I came in to work...

    I made the long, 60-minute drive into the office today, fully intending to work. I was part of the staff, and I knew it was my job to do my part. But someone obviously had other ideas, as I found out I had been replaced for the day by someone else. Granted, that someone else is a master in this field: more than 300 programs written and 4000 help desk calls answered -- but I am still a little confused.

    My boss and I had a discussion yesterday about how I didn't need to work today. He says that I put in a lot of work yesterday, and he wanted me to take today off; he wants me fresh for later in the week. He also said that our staff had other people available to work on a few projects today, so it would be better if I sat out and picked up the slack for them later in the week. I told him that. despite my workload yesterday, I was willing to field a help desk call or two, if needed. When I left our meeting, I didn't realize that a decision had been made. So I got up, came to the office, and was prepared to put in my time, only to find that my replacement had already been called. I don't necessarily have a problem with that; it was just awkward to find out from the other employees.

    So here I am, at the office, ready to work, but with nothing to do but sit and watch. I guess it was just a failure in communications...

    Monday, July 14, 2003

    Good job...take a few days off

    The Phillies roll into the All-Star break after a 5-2 road trip that saw them take 2 of 3 in Montreal and 3 of 4 in New York. The Phillies had a chance for the four-game sweep yesterday, but after jumping on Mets pitching all weekend to the tune of 21 runs and 42 hits in the first three games, the Phillies managed to convert 12 hits yesterday into just three runs. Despite their inability to get baserunners home yesterday, the Phillies still managed a ninth-inning, two-out rally -- sparked by Nick Punto -- to tie the game, only to lose it in the bottom of the inning. Still the effort was better than we saw in most of the games through June.

    At the break, the Phillies find themselves with a 52-40 record, 8 1/2 games behind the still-scorching hot Braves, who took 3 of 4 from the Cubs in Chicago. This is only the third time that the Phillies have reached the break with at least 50 wins in the last 20 years:

    YearRecordPlaceGA/GBEnd of year result
    199357-321st+5.0Lost in World Series
    200150-371st+1.02nd place, 2 games back of Atlanta

    In the other two seasons in which they had 50+ wins at the break, the Phillies were leading the division at the time. Not so this season. Still they find themselves in a playoff spot, leading the Wild Card race by one game over the charging Diamondbacks.

    The Phillies are playing .565 baseball, which translates to a final record of either 91-71 or 92-70, depending on how you round. I think at the beginning of this season, many of us would have accpeted a 91-win season and thought that such a season would win a weakened NL East. But the Braves have played as anything but weakened, making the task that much more difficult for the Phillies. The Braves (61-32) current .656 pace would put them at 106 wins on the season, a pace which -- if they can keep it up -- is more than deserving of the division title.

    So while the Braves are playing above the level at which many experts and not-quite-experts had predicted -- not to mention probably a notch or two above their heads -- the Phillies, despite all their struggles, are about on par with preseason expectations. The All-Star break leads me to revisit the preseason questions the Inquirer had asked and I had answered back in February. So without any further ado...

    1. What's the batting order going to look like?

    In Spring Training, the lineup looked like this:

    SS Rollins
    2B Polanco
    1B Thome
    LF Burrell
    RF Abreu
    C Lieberthal
    CF Byrd
    3B Bell

    Needless to say, that didn't last long. Rollins hit himself out of the leadoff spot, Burrell hit his way as low as 8 in the lineup, and Lieberthal rose to the cleanup spot. Due to ineffectiveness and injuries, Larry Bowa has rarely been able to trot out the same lineup two days in a row. I read recently (and of course now can't find my source) that the most used Phillies lineup this season had only been used six times. That's sad. At the break, the general makeup of the lineup is this:

    CF Byrd
    2B Polanco
    1B Thome
    C Lieberthal
    RF Abreu
    SS Rollins
    LF Burrell
    3B Bell

    Lieberthal and Abreu switch back and forth depending on who is on the mound for the opposition. The recent injury to David Bell has forced Tyler Houston (who batted fifth on Saturday) and Tomas Perez to jump into the lineup. And Burrell's struggles have led Larry Bowa to pinch-hit/double switch for him late in ballgames in the last few weeks.

    I wrote in February that Rollins in the leadoff hole would be the key to the lineup. His up-and-down times factored into the offense's inconsistancies. Polanco was tried there with no luck, and Abreu's resistance to the leadoff spot led to his struggles. Since Marlon Byrd was moved off to leadoff, it is no coincidence that the Phillies are 5-1, and the one loss came in Byrd's only hitless game at the top.

    Back in Spring Training, Bowa said that he would probably have to tinker with his lineup quite a bit until things got one thought he would still be tinkering.

    2. How is the rotation going to be set up?

    Back in February, it looked like Millwood, Wolf, Padilla, Myers, and a questionable Duckworth. The season started with Roa in the five-spot, while Duckworth was on the DL. Since coming off the DL, Duckworth has re-assumed his spot, and has pitched as you would expect a #5 pitcher to pitch: good at times, awful at others.

    Millwood has been almost all that we expected, rolling into the break at 10-6. He has the no-hitter under his belt, and has accepted a leadership position on the pitching staff. But he may not be the best pitcher on the staff; that distinction may fall to All-Star Randy Wolf. Wolf, who is 10-4 and on his way to Chicago, has been the best and most consistant for the Phillies this year. He avoided his annual April slump, and started the season well. He kept it up through May and June, and found himself with his first All-Star nod.

    Padilla, at 8-8, has been everything a .500 record implies: consistantly inconsistant. He had a very good April, which culminated in a masterful shutout of the Braves at the end of the month. That was followed by a horrible six weeks in which he seemed to lose faith in any pitch that wasn't his fastball. But sometime in the last 3-4 weeks, he has re-found that confidence that led him to the All-Star game last season, and has evened his record.

    The pleasant, if not unexpected, surprise has been the work of Brett Myers. Myers goes into the break at 9-6, just missing the chance to join Millwood and Wolf with 10 wins at the break. He managed to survive an April that saw him get virtually no support and a bad stretch in early June, and surround those with some gems. The highlight, of course, was his 3-hit shutout of the Red Sox in late June. Myers has shown the ability and willingness to learn, meaning the second half of the season and subsequent seasons should be even better.

    3. What about the bullpen?

    Here's what I said in February:

    As the only area that was not significantly upgraded by Ed Wade this off-season, the bullpen is full of "if"s. If Jose Mesa can hold it together for one more year... If Terry Adams can remain comfortable in the set-up role after finishing last year so strong... If Turk Wendell can come back and pitch like he did for the Mets 3 years ago... If Carlos Silva can continue to grow and improve... If Dennis Eckersley of 1989 showed up in the 'pen...

    What a shock they have been. Mesa has increased my Tums consumption, but the rest of the bullpen has been better than could ever be expected. Adams has remained strong, if not spectacular, in the setup role. Wendell has not only returned from injury, he has made the Phillies fans forget the tail end of 2001 -- 34 innings, 25 hits, 1.59 ERA. As good as he has been, Rheal Cormier has been even better. The guy I penned in as the odd-man-out at the end of Spring Training has thrown 47 1/3 innings, has a WHIP under 1.00, and an ERA of 1.52. Anyone who predicted that made a bunch of money off of Vegas. Dan Plesac has filled the specialist role nicely, and while Silva hasn't been as good as last season, the rest of the bullpen has pitched well enough that Silva has been hidden in the long relief/mop-up role. As a whole, the bullpen ranks 2nd in the NL.

    If there has been any segment of the team that has overperformed this year, it has been the bullpen.

    4. What's the plan for Bud Smith and David Coggin?

    I'm not sure the Phillies even know anymore. Bud Smith was set to go under the knife...again...after he recently felt some pain in his throwing shoulder that Ed Wade deemed as -- paraphrasing here -- "more than a normal bump in the road". He is slated for surgery, and will be out for the season. Coggin...he has put in a few decent innings in Single-A Clearwater, but needless to say his recovery has taken longer than the Phillies had hoped.

    5. Can the Phillies win the division?

    In February, I said yes. But no one saw the 2003 Braves being as good if not better than the previous versions. With an 8 1/2 game deficit, the division has become tougher to win, although not yet impossible. A more likely goal is the Wild Card, but these races will flesh themselves out as the season winds down.

    In spite of all of the offensive inconsistancies, the Phillies are about where everyone thought they would be. The offense isn't as good as advertised, but the pitching has been good, with the bullpen sometimes registering as "great" -- see the 16 innings of one-run ball in Baltimore for reference. The record is about where we thought it would be, although it has been a struggle to get there. If it were not for the Braves that will never die -- and even in spite of them -- the NL East race down the stretch could become a lot of fun.

    Friday, July 11, 2003

    Call of the Wolf...unanswered

    When the Phillies were last in New York, Randy Wolf fell in love. Unfortunately, it was with a woman in passing, and he never got her name. Despite full-page newspaper ads and plenty of publicity, Wolf never found his mystery woman.

    The Inquirer's Todd Zolecki followed up with Wolf yesterday, on his return to New York. While his search turned up empty, Wolf holds out hope.

    Yes, Wolf took the same route yesterday as he did in May: the No. 7 train from Grand Central to Shea Stadium.

    No, he never saw the mystery lady.

    You will, Randy...someday you will...

    No slide-stepping the numbers

    In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim Salisbury has a pretty good article on Mike Lieberthal's up and down year. Up and down not in terms of hot streaks and cold streaks; up as in at the plate, down as in behind it. Salisbury examines why Lieberthal has gone from a catcher who nailed almost 35% of base stealers last season, to one that catches less than 15% this season. He points a very big finger at pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who has removed the slide-step from his pitchers' motions and puts his catchers in a very tough position when a runner takes off.

    I touched on Lieberthal's defensive struggles earlier this week when discussing his all-star snub. After looking at his defensive numbers this season, I had meant to take a look at his numbers last season, thinking that maybe his poor defense was due to the knee injury he suffered two seasons ago. But I am not sure his numbers can be blamed on the injury. His 2002 fielding numbers were on par with his 2000 numbers. Now, halfway into this season, he has 2/3rds as many errors as he did all of last year, has already surpassed last season's passed ball total, and has allowed as many stolen bases as he did all last season. To match last season's numbers, Lieby would have to nail the next 21 runners who tried to swipe a freebie, and unless I'm the one running, that ain't happening.

    It is not only Lieberthal's numbers that have slipped. Todd Pratt caught 25% of supposed base stealers last season (6 of 24); this year, that figure is less than 9% (2 of 21). So it appears that while Joe Kerrigan (and the addition of Kevin Millwood) have done wonders for the pitchers' numbers, the catchers' numbers are suffering.

    For more, check out the article.

    Just who is this Aaron Gleeman guy, anyway?

    Have you ever wondered that very question? Well, the answers are here. In his latest post, Aaron has answered some viewer's questions about himself. If you have ever wondered who was on the other side of those mile-long posts he makes on a daily basis, head on over to Aaron's Baseball Blog for the answers...

    Knocked off the Trachs...el

    Okay, that was really bad. But it's on par with what the Phillies did to the Mets and starter Steve Trachsel last night. Trachsel got only five outs, gave up seven runs, and allowed three home runs before being lifted. With an early lead in hand, the Phillies cruised to a 7-2 victory last night at Shea Stadium.

    This was one of those games -- few by the Phillies standards this year -- where it was over early. By the time I turned the game on in the bottom of the first, it was already 4-1. Marlon Byrd started the fun with a single. Placido Polanco followed with an RBI double. Jim Thome followed that with a two-run bomb to center, and Mike Lieberthal tried to match Thome's shot with one of his own. Four batters, four hits, four runs, four-nothing.

    The fun continued in the second, when Nick Punto -- playing for a resting Jimmy Rollins -- jumped on the first pitch from Trachsel and crushed it. 370 feet or so later, Punto had his first career home run. (By the way, the only thing better than a Harry Kalas home run call is a surprised Harry Kalas home run call.) After Vicente Padilla struck out, Marlon Byrd got his second hit in two innings, and Polanco followed with his second RBI double in as many at-bats. Thome was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second. After Lieberthal struck out for the second out, Bobby Abreu singled to load the bases, bringing up Pat Burrell.

    My first thought at that point was this: what better situation for Burrell to break out -- the Mets, Shea Stadium, and the bases loaded -- all things he loves. Well, I wouldn't call it a slump-breaker, but he did manage to draw a walk and bring in the seventh run in two innings. After that, Trachsel hit the showers, and the Mets bullpen kept the Phillies off the board for the rest of the night.

    But by this point, the damage had been done. Padilla gave up a couple of hits and a run in the first, making it 4-1, but settled down and was efficient the rest of the way. He allowed only the one run and six hits through the eighth. Larry Bowa sent him back out for the ninth, but after Jason Phillips led off the inning with a solo home run, Carlos Silva came in to mop up the ninth. Padilla's eight innings of work earned him his eighth win of the season, evening his record at 8-8. No word on whether or not he will be taking part in a Crazy 8's competition this weekend.

    In total, the offense pounded out 15 hits; everyone in the starting lineup with the exception of David Bell got a base hit, and Bell's replacement -- Tomas Perez -- went 2-for-3. Marlon Byrd went 2-for-5 on the night, making him 6-for-15 in the three games since he has assumed the leadoff role. He has scored seven runs and driven in three more in the last three games. More importantly, he has allowed Placido Polanco to slide back down to the #2 spot, where he has a .362 OBP this season. In the last three games, Polanco is 7-for-12, with six runs scored. Byrd and Polanco have set the table nicely, sparking the offense and the three game-winning streak.

    Jim Thome returned to the lineup last night after a night off from Montreal's turf. Jimmy Rollins got a routine night off. And the bullpen should be very rested, as Silva's ninth inning last night constitutes the entire bullpen load in the last two nights.

    Randy Wolf goes for win number ten tonight.

    Thursday, July 10, 2003

    From the notebook of Peter Gammons...

    When Mike Lowell this week found himself surrounded by Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, Larry Beinfest and Mike Hill -- in full view of the media -- and was promised that he would not be traded, cynics believed it to be not only a PR move but a maneuver to put Lowell into a position that if he were to decline a long-term contract offer, he would make himself the mercenary bad guy. That's a rook-to-queen's-three move known in Philadelphia as a 'Rolen.'

    Ouch! True, but ouch!


    Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the recent struggles of Kevin Millwood. The June 24th loss to Atlanta dropped Millwood to 8-6 -- following a 7-1 start -- and bumped his ERA to 4.07, the highest it had been since before his no-hitter at the end of April.

    But last night's 3-hit, complete game shutout against the Expos took his record to 2-0, with a 1.52 ERA in his last three starts. So what caused this turnaround? Some believe it was his decision to postpone contract extension talks until after the season. Millwood had earlier expressed a desire to discuss an extension around the All-Star break, but felt that the impending discussions were distracting him. Shortly after the loss in Atlanta, he postponed the talks. Since then, his focus has been entirely on the mound, and it's showing.

    Another reason for the turnaround may be his battery mate. In each of his last three starts, the Phillies' starting catcher has been Todd Pratt -- not Mike Lieberthal. Before this three-game stretch, Millwood and Pratt had teamed together only twice: April 17, in a 7-3 loss to Florida; and May 7, in a 5-2 at Arizona. One could explain that first start as just a random bad start, or natural difficulties as a pitcher and catcher work together for the first time in a regular season game situation. But in the other four starts, as they have gotten comfortable together, Millwood has gone 3-0, thrown 30 2/3 innings, and given up just six runs on 16 hits. In those four starts, Millwood's ERA is 1.76. Even if you include the first bad start with Pratt behind the plate, his ERA with Pratt is 3.40. His ERA in 15 starts with Lieberthal is 3.66.

    The difference in Millwood's ERA from working with Lieberthal to working with Pratt is about equivalent to the team's difference with the two catchers:

    With Lieberthal3.65
    With Pratt3.35

    So maybe working with Todd Pratt has made a difference in Kevin Millwood's results. Maybe it was the contact talks. Maybe it was a little of both. Who knows? And who really cares? As long as he keeps winning...


    The Phillies will cruise into the All-Star Break this weekend with a four-game set in Flushing against those that have been flushed. After taking all three games in a weekend set in Cincinnati, the Mets went home and got swept by the Braves. During the series, Randy Wolf and Brett Myers will attempt to join Millwood as 10-game winners before the All-Star Break.

    The pitching matchups:

    Thursday, 7:10PM: Padilla (7-8) vs. Trachsel (8-5)
    Friday, 7:10PM: Wolf (9-4) vs. Heilman (0-1)
    Saturday, 1:15PM: Duckworth (3-3) vs. Seo (5-5)
    Sunday, 1:10PM: Myers (9-6) vs. ???

    Wednesday, July 09, 2003

    How good are the pitchers?

    The Baseball Crank takes a look at the DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Stats) in the NL East. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find the Phillies numbers.

    Leading off...



    Notice a correlation?

    Yes, the Phillies turned the offense back on last night, pounding out 13 runs on 16 hits and snapping a four-game losing streak in beating up on the Expos, 13-6. A number of Phillies had a good night at the plate: Mike Lieberthal went 3-for-5 with three doubles and four RBI; Tomas Perez had two hits, a pair of walks, and scored twice; and the top of the order lit things up.

    Marlon Byrd hit leadoff for the first time this season, and collected three hits in five at-bats. Placido Polanco slid back to the number two spot in the order and pounded out four hits in five trips. Between the two of them, they scored seven runs and drove in four -- each homered on the night.

    Brett Myers (9-6) was the beneficiary of this outpouring of support, picking up his ninth win of the season -- his fourth in four starts. He cruised through the first five innings, allowing just an unearned run on two hits. But he began to struggle in the sixth, and was lifted after a Jose Macias RBI double in the seventh. All told, he allowed four runs -- three earned -- on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings of work. The win makes him the third Phillies pitcher with nine victories, joining Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf; not too shappy for the supposed fifth starter.

    To say that the Phillies needed this ourburst last night is an understatement. After winning seven straight and 13 of 16, the Phillies had dropped four in a row. In that time, the Braves had won four straight, stretching a 4 1/2 game lead back up to 8 1/2; the Braves beat the Mets again last night to keep the lead as it is. While the Phillies had finally combined the great pitching they had been getting all season with the hitting we have all expected during the winning streak, the recent losing streak took us back to what we had been seeing all year -- decent pitching being wasted by a lack of offense. In the seven games listed at the top of this post, the five losses combined for nine runs. The two wins: 25.

    Interestingly, the two wins/offensive outbursts have come with Myers on the mound. If you remember, at the start of the season, Myers was among the league "leaders" in lack of run support. Suddenly, that is not the case.

    Hopefully, the Phillies can keep the bats going again tonight: Kevin Millwood (9-6) goes up against Phillie killer Tomo Ohka (7-8) in the series finale.

    Monday, July 07, 2003

    Up and down week

    What a week to go on vacation. When I left, the Phillies had just taken 2 of 3 in Atlanta, and were looking at a 10-game stretch that included three in Baltimore, four at home versus the Cubs, and three at home against Florida. Here's what I said at the time:

    root for the Phils to sweep the O's, take 3 of 4 from the Cubbies, and at least 2 of 3 from the Fish

    So what did they do? They swept the O's, took 3 of 4 from the Cubs, and then tripped coming out of the dugout three days in a row against Florida. A seven-game winning streak through last Wednesday brought them within 4 1/2 games of the struggling Braves; but the weekend washout against Florida, combined with a Braves sweep of the fast-fading Expos, stretches the Atlanta lead back to 7 1/2 games entering games tonight. Even with the three-game losing streak, the Phillies have won six of ten, and 13 of 19 since the blowout and brawl in Cincinnati.

    After Tuesday's win took the winning streak to seven games, Carl -- from Bigfool -- e-mailed me to say that I should take vacations more often. Carl, the streak of losing 4 of 5 started on Wednesday, before I got back to town, so you can't blame the losses on me. But like any good leader, I'll take credit for the wins. I will also take donations to fund my next vacation.

    Will the Wolf Pack show up in Chicago?

    Congratulations to Randy Wolf, who was selected last night to the National League's All-Star team -- the lone Phillies' representative.


    Wolf was more than deserving of the All-Star nod, despite yesterday's loss to Florida. On the season, Wolf is 9-4 with a 3.40 ERA. His 9 wins rank 5th in the NL (behind four other All-Stars), and his ERA is 12th among NL qualifiers. He has been consistant all season, and has been the #1 pitcher on a staff that was supposed to be led by Kevin Millwood.

    Wolf will be one of 31 All-Stars making their first Midsummer's appearance, one of 16 on the NL roster. Other first-time pitchers on the NL staff include Shawn Chacon (who is on the DL and will miss the game), Russ Ortiz, Mark Prior, Jason Schmidt, Mike Williams, Woody Williams, and Kerry Wood. The All-Star veterans of the staff will be Kevin Brown and John Smoltz; each will be making their sixth appearance.

    Congratulations, Randy! I'll be looking for the Wolf Pack in left field.

    All-Star Snub

    The exclusion of Mike Lieberthal from the NL All-Star roster was not surprising, but it is still disappointing. The NL starting nod went to Atlanta's Javy Lopez, and deservingly so. Lopez is having a career year, is hitting .307 (1.019 OPS) with 23 homers and 51 RBI. NL manager Dusty Baker named LA's Paul Lo Duca as the catching reserve, and listed SF's Benito Santiago as one of the five for the final spot, voted on by the fans.

    Lo Duca.305.366.43431530

    Yes, Lieberthal's power numbers are down this season, and the .443 SLG is nothing to write home about. But it is higher than Lo Duca's and just slightly lower than Santiago's. Yet, Lieberthal is 6th in the NL in average, and 17th in OBP. He is also 3rd in runs scored and RBI among NL catchers. By these numbers, Lieberthal is at the very least equal to both Lo Duca and Santiago.

    Offense, of course, does not tell the whole story, especially for catchers. Defensively:

    Lo Duca642.983114.3602.63

    Taking defensive numbers into the equation, and yeah, I can understand the selection of Lo Duca. He is having a good offensive year, while managing the best pitching staff in the majors. So while I didn't have issues with his selection before, I certainly don't now. But I'm still unsure about Santiago's inclusion in the final five, while Lieberthal is outside looking in. The numbers are comparable across the board, yet Santiago is in, and Lieberthal is not.

    This wouldn't be a case of a manager taking his own (or formerly his own), would it? In my mind, Lieberthal deserved the chance to go...but that's why I'm here and not there.