Tuesday, September 30, 2003

My Worthless Playoff Predictions

These have no reasoning...just my gut feelings. I try not to guess how many games it will take, because I will undoubtedly be wrong. So here we go:

Yankees over Twins
Red Sox over A's

Braves over Cubs
Marlins over Giants (Upset Special)

Yankees over Red Sox

Braves over Marlins

World Series
Repeat of '96 and '99: Yankees over Braves

Side note: Braves' RF Gary Sheffield will hit .538 with 4 HR and 13 RBI in the 7-game series, winning the MVP for a losing team. George Steinbrenner will become so enthralled with the free-agent outfielder that he will offer him a 5-year deal worth $16 million a season, access to his owner's box, a new car, and half of Manhattan.

That's what I think will happen. What do I want to happen?

Twins over Yankees
A's over Red Sox

Cubs over Braves
Marlins over Giants (Upset Special)

Hmmm...don't really care on this one, but we'll go with A's over Twins

Cubs over Marlins

World Series
A's over Cubs

That said, it will probably end up being Giants over Red Sox. My predictions are known to fail...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Officially done

Well, that's it. Last night's loss to the Marlins officially eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention, although I stand behind my statement that they were done following Conine's home run Tuesday night. The Astros won to stay alive, but Florida's magic number is now one, and with the Mets coming to town, they need just one win in three games to clinch the spot. It's all but theirs.

The loss puts an unofficial end to the Phillies season -- a season that was exciting, no doubt, but also a bit disappointing. Not as disappointing as a 90-loss season, but more heartbreaking. This is a team that did a lot right this year (signing Thome, sticking with Byrd in center, keeping Cormier, hiring Kerrigan), but also failed in a lot of key areas. Does the blame fall on Ed Wade? Does it fall on Larry Bowa? Does it fall on the players? You could probably answer yes to all three, but I am not ready to look back on the season and figure it all out yet.

Players say the long season, and more specifically a good pennant race, can take a lot out of them; the same can be true for the fans that follow them faithfully. A baseball season can be a grind. 162 games. Three to four hours of tension and turmoil night after night. It can wear at you...

In the coming days and weeks, I will look back on this season. I'll try to figure out what went right for the Phillies, as well as what went wrong. We'll see if they answered the questions they had back in Spring Training, and we'll figure out what questions they face for next season. I'll look into my crystal ball (okay, it's a Magic 8 ball) and figure out what moves the Phillies will make in the offseason, and maybe we'll critique the moves they didn't make this season. But we have five months to take care of all of that.

For now, we can sit back, stress-free, and watch The Final Innings play out at the Vet. The Braves come to town for three, and neither team has anything on the line. It will be a weekend to celebrate and remember the history of the Vet -- both good and bad. The final Vet Fireworks spectacular is tonight after the game. Tomorrow, the All-Vet Phillies team is announced before the game; and Sunday's post-game festivities will celebrate the best moments that the Vet has had to offer. It should be a wonderful weekend to sit back and enjoy.

As for the present...well, you know what, you are out of the race Larry Bowa. For the hell of it, I would love to see an infield tonight that consists of Chase Utley, Anderson Machado, and Travis Chapman. Put Michaels out in the outfield and let him play a full nine. Let Thome go after one or two more, and let Marlon Byrd -- who started the season with a disasterous .193 average through May -- fight it out to finish over .300.

Let the kids play and have some fun. And while we embrace the past, let's look to the future.

In the meantime, I want to hear from all of you. What went right this year? What went wrong? What was the best move the team made? What was the worst? What could they have done differently? And most importantly, do you leave the 2003 season disappointed, or excited for the future? E-mail me, and let me know what you think.

Thank you for hanging in there with me this season, and I hope you all stick around for what is sure to be an interesting offseason, and hopefully a better 2004.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

By the way...

This is what I said last Friday:

There is no playing around anymore. There is no opportunity to let one slip away. The Phillies need to take advantage this weekend. They need to go down to Florida with a lead in hand, not playing from behind in their place. The weekend has to be the difference. Every game, every play, every pitch counts right now.

The Phillies let the opportunity slip away, went to Florida trailing, and learned the hard way that every pitch counts...so much for the good feelings I had on Friday.

More on last night...

Mike, the new father over at Mike's Baseball Rants, has a pitch-by-pitch account of the 7th inning of last night's game, complete with his notes. It's a really good recap. He finishes off with this summary:

The Phils waste a great performance by Millwood. They pull him one batter too late instead of thanking their lucky stars after Encarnacion flied out. They again go to execrable Williams, who has a 5.09 ERA with the Phils and has walked as many as he has struck out. Way to throw fuel on the fire. And then it's their typical trip down bullpen memory lane to ensure that each reliever puts his own personal touches on the debacle.

I would only argue with one point: it was a great performance by Millwood...through six. And whether or not Millwood should have been left in to pitch the seventh, or left in after Encarnacion's at-bat is -- to a certain extent -- besides the point. He is our ace, and Bowa and company put the burden on his shoulders to get through it. And once again, he could not. A great performace through six...marred by a seventh Phillies' fans will likely not forget any time soon.

Stick a fork in 'em

The series in Pittsburgh a week and a half ago was bad.

The series versus Cincinnati this weekend was devastating.

But if someone asks you, years from now, what ended the Phillies' 2003 season, you can point to this swing:

The dagger...

...straight through the heart.

And as the ball traveled off of Jeff Conine's bat, and landed just over the left field scoreboard, so ended the Phillies' playoff chances.

Yes, I know that Conine's home run only tied the score. And yes, I know that there are still five games remaining. But the Phillies now have to make up two games in those five games, and that shot completely turned the momentum 180 degrees.

The Phillies held a three-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. Their ace was pitching well. They had the momentum. And a victory would tie up the Wild Card race with five games to go. But then Kevin Millwood walked Derrek Lee on five pitches. And then he walked Miguel Cabrera on seven. He got Juan Encarnacion on a fly out, but the wheels were about to fall off.

A 1-0 pitch that he will have nightmares about. A 1-0 pitch that may be enough to let Phillies fans say goodbye to the one-year rental of a pitcher without so much as a second thought. A 1-0 pitch that got out of the playing field so quickly you would think it was in a hurry. In fact, it may have been in a hurry: it may have been trying to get to the playoffs.

Mike Williams replaced Millwood; Dan Plesac replaced Williams; and Carlos Silva replaced Plesac. Three pitchers, two hits, two walks, one sac fly, and two more runs scored. 5-3. Good night. Good season. But not good enough.

But the efforts of Williams, Plesac, and Silva didn't matter. All that mattered was that one pitch; the one pitch that tied the game, swung the momentum, and realistically ended the Phillies' season.

Goodbye Playoffs

So if someone asks you what happened to the Phillies in 2003, show them this moment. They'll understand.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Ready for the weekend

What a game yesterday's was. In the sometimes-working comment section, Mike Morley mentioned how it "was as exciting as a playoff game". I wasn't lucky enough to be there, but thanks to radio and MLB Gameday radio, I was able to listen to it. Unfortunately, I was listening to it while working, so sometimes my attention was torn. But here were my thoughts as I was listening...

Pregame: Tom McCarthy is interviewing 3B Travis Chapman. The two talk about Chapman's spring training experience in Detroit's camp, Alan Trammell's influence, and how Chapman felt when the Tigers told him he was going back to the Phillies. Chapman concludes the interview by saying that just to have the opportunity to sit in the major league clubhouse, put on the major leage uniform, and get an at-bat last week in Atlanta was thrilling. McCarthy mentioned that he hopes Chapman gets a few more at-bats this year and can pick up that first hit. I agree with that. From everything I have seen, Chapman is a steady bat at third; smart and consistent. And from what I heard, he's a pretty good guy, too.

Just before the game started, I was pulled away from the radio for a bit. I returned after the first inning, as each pitcher set down the opponent easily. The same happened in the second and again in the third, and then the fun started.

Top of the 4th: Is it me, or does Derrek Lee always seem to step up against the Phillies? He doubled to start off the fourth, and something just told me that it would be a long inning. Lee's double was followed by a walk to Juan Encarnacion, bringing up Jeff Conine. Conine set down the sacrifice, which Millwood fielded cleanly. He went to first, but his throw was too high. Conine was safe, and everyone moved up -- Lee scored and Encarnacion went to third. Uh oh...door opened. Miguel Cabrera then dropped a single into right, scoring Encarnacion and moving Conine to third. A sac fly by Alex Gonzalez, and just like that it was 3-0. Had Millwood's throw been on target, he probably would have only saved one run. With Conine out, it would have been runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out, and Cabrera's single would have likely scored them both. But the error occurred, and the Phils were down by three.

The Phillies couldn't counter in the bottom of the inning, and with the wind picking up and the rain rolling in, I started to wonder if the Phillies would be able to make a move before Isabel did. Millwood got the Marlins 1-2-3 in the fifth, and then the Phillies made their move.

Bottom of the 5th: Tomas Perez led off the inning. In the last few weeks, the commentators have been stressing the need to get Placido Polanco back to third for fear that Perez was wearing down with the everyday play. Yet, even with Polanco's return, Perez has been in the starting lineup at second. And in the bottom of the 5th yesterday, they were glad he was. There's nothing like a Harry Kalas "Outta Here!" call during the work day to get you going. But it was still 3-1 Florida.

Two quick outs tempered my excitement a bit. Then Polanco walked, and Abreu singled. My attention shifted to my work for a few minutes (how dare I?!?), but I was snapped back to reality but Kalas's next moment (paraphrasing, because I can't remember the exact verbiage): "Lieberthal pops it up, towards Derrek Lee. Lee goes back for it. The wind is taking it! IT'S GONNA FALL IN! BOTH RUNS WILL SCORE, AND THE GAME IS TIED AT THREE!"

Work? What work? End of five, game's official, but the score is still tied. At this point, my co-worker comes in to ask me what happens if the rain comes and they are still tied.

Co-worker: "Will they have to continue it at another time?"
Me: *nodding* "I think they actually start over at this point."
Co-worker: "Oh, that would suck."

Yes, yes it would.

Top of the 6th: Millwood looks strong and re-energized by the comeback the inning before, and strikes out Encarnacion and Conine to start the inning. He gets two strikes on Cabrera, and Larry Anderson says something along the lines of how strong and unhittable Millwood is looking. Oops. The words no sooner fly out of his mouth than the ball flies out of the stadium. 4-3 Marlins, and I am once again praying for the rain to hold off just a bit longer.

The Phillies go down in order in the bottom of the 6th, failing to get to Millwood's spot in the order, and thus a pinch-hitter. Millwood calms all fears in the top of the seventh by setting the Marlins down in order.

Bottom of the 7th: Things are starting to get iffy. Burrell hits for Millwood and pops up. Marlon Byrd grounds out, and suddenly the commentators are saying about Dontrelle Willis what they were saying about Millwood in the 6th; he's getting stronger as he goes. Thanks, guys! The jinx works on Willis as it did Millwood, and Polanco lines a shot into the left-field seats. 4-4, and the crowd (and my office) is rocking. Abreu doubles off the wall in left-center, and just like that Willis goes from dominating to done for the day. Chad Fox comes in and gets Lieberthal to foul out quickly to end the rally.

Rheal Cormier comes in in the top of the 8th and sets Florida down, keeping the momentum on Philly's side. And all we needed it for was one more batter.

Bottom of the 8th: Jim Thome leads off. He, of course, has homered in each of the first two games of the series, and I am dying for one more. Thome swings and misses at two quick strikes from Fox, and then fouls two more off. He works three straight balls out of Fox to fill the count. And then...

...my phone rings.

See, that's the bad part about the tech support aspect of my job. You never know when someone is going to call with a problem. And our front-desk receptionist chose now to call me. With one ear, I am listening to her explain the problem. With the other, I am listening to Scott Graham call the 8th pitch of the at-bat.

Thome swings and drives it. Graham calls it, his voice rising. As the ball goes over the wall, it is all I can do not to drop the phone and scream out myself. Outside, I am dealing with the tech support call. Inside, I am celebrating madly. 5-4 Phillies. Three outs to go.

The Phillies threaten to add an insurance run later in the inning, but Jason Michaels was nailed at the plate. Meanwhile, the radio guys tried to stop my heart. As Cormier's spot in the order was coming around, I heard "Look who's up in the bullpen." My heart sunk...they couldn't be bringing him in; not in a 5-4 game with playoff implications; not at home; not NOW! I was kicking my desk...

...but it was all for nothing. It wasn't Mesa in the 'pen, but Mike Williams. I know, not much better, but still...it didn't matter anyway. Cormier batted for himself, walked, and came back out for the ninth.

Top of the 9th: Pop out. *Yes.* Ground out. *Yes!* Foul out. *YES!* Game over. A little jumping up and down and I can work again.

But it was one hell of a game. Wind, no wind. Rain, no rain. Playoff implications everywhere. And it was just a knockdown type of day, and I felt like I was knocked down.

The win, once again, cut the lead to 1/2 a game. The Marlins head to Atlanta for four; the Phillies stay here to host the Louisville Reds for three. There is no playing around anymore. There is no opportunity to let one slip away. The Phillies need to take advantage this weekend. They need to go down to Florida with a lead in hand, not playing from behind in their place. The weekend has to be the difference. Every game, every play, every pitch counts right now.

But then again, when Superman is carrying you on his shoulders, things look pretty good. Call me biased (and I am), but Thome gets my MVP vote. Where would the Phillies be without him? Fourth place? Fifth? Just my thought...

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Blown Away

Oh, how I wish I had been there. Today's game, which I listened to on the radio, was outstanding! Millwood did just enough to keep the Phillies in it, after falling behind early. An early home run by Tomas Perez got the Phillies on the board; a later one by Placido Polanco tied it at 4 in the 7th; and a late one by none other than Jim Thome won it in the bottom of the 8th. And congratulations to Rheal Cormier, who came in and shut the door on the Marlins late in the game. 5-4, and nine innings of great baseball. I'm breathless.

Half a game, again, with the Reds coming to town tomorrow, Isabel permitting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

News and Notes

  • Jayson Stark gives the nod to the Phillies in the Wild Card race. Why? Well, experience, for one.

  • Placido Polanco missed his 16th straight game last night, but is expected to be in the starting lineup at 3B tonight. The pain has gone away, and he was able to run full-speed yesterday.

  • David Bell continues to work out -- without pain -- and still hopes to return by the end of the season. Larry Bowa isn't as confident as his third baseman, so we will continue to play this one day-by-day.

  • P Terry Adams, who has been out since Thursday night, just after he returned from the DL, had an MRI yesterday on his throwing elbow. The results showed loose bodies in the elbow, and surgery was recommended. A procedure would likely end his season, but he and his agent are seeking a second opinion.
  • Round One: Philadelphia

    Statement made.

    Game and a half lead? Cut to half a game. Eight-game winning streak. Gone. Marlins' magic over the Phillies? Disappeared. And all thanks to some timely hitting and a Vicente Padilla masterpiece.

    The Phillies came out last night and absolutely spanked the Marlins, 14-0. The Phillies pounded out 17 hits, drew five walks, and -- here's the key -- only struck out four times. A four-run first inning got the team started, and a seven run eighth capped the night in style. The only shame is that none of that carries over to tonight's game.

    Marlon Byrd led off the top of the first with a single, and he was followed by Jimmy Rollins who had a single of his own. A stolen base by Rollins and the Phillies had second and third with no one out. The crowd (and yes, there was a crowd) was waving their "rally towels" and was rocking, and you just had a feeling it would be a pretty good night. After Bobby Abreu was unable to advance the runners, Jim Thome was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Mike Lieberthal. Key at-bat: Lieberthal, a .400 career hitter off of Marlins' starter Carl Pavano, dumped a flare into center, which landed in front of Juan Pierre. Byrd scored, and Rollins -- who read the ball perfectly -- was right behind him. Just like that, it's 2-0 Phils. Had that ball hung up just a bit longer, Pierre makes the catch. Byrd may have been able to tag up and score, making it 1-0; but that's 1-0 with two outs now, and makes for a completely different inning. A Chase Utley RBI double and a Pat Burrell RBI groundout followed, and it was 4-0 after one.

    The top of the second was the key inning. Staked to a four-run lead, it was in Padilla's best interests to set the Marlins down quickly and keep the Philly momentum going. A pair of two-out hits had Florida threatening, but Padilla got SS Alex Gonzalez to ground out to Rollins to end the inning; the Marlins never threatened again.

    Padilla went eight strong shutout innings to pick up his 14th win of the year -- the fourth Phillie to reach that mark this year. He allowed just three more hits after that second inning, struck out six on the night, and did not walk a batter. He seemed to trust his off-speed stuff last night, more than he has all season, and used it well. He completely fooled Ivan Rodriguez in the first inning by actually throwing two -- *gasp!* -- two off-speed pitches in a row. A night like last night had to make Joe Kerrigan smile. Carlos Silva was called on in the ninth to protect a 14-run lead. Hell, even Mesa could have held that one.

    Offensively, it was a team effort, but it was Mike Lieberthal's night. Lieberthal went 2-for-5 on the night with six RBI -- he had his two-run single in the first, and capped off the night with a grand slam in the eighth. Byrd and Rollins set the table all night long, as they combined to go 6-for-11 with five runs scored and two RBI. Every starter had at least one hit besides Padilla, who was robbed of a base hit in the middle innings by 3B Miguel Cabrera, who made a diving stab of a low liner. In fact, all of the starters had at least two hits, except for Padilla, Abreu, and Thome. Abreu and Thome had one apiece, and Thome's is still traveling. He launched his 41st homer in the 6th inning, upping the lead to 7-0. All of the starters scored a run except for Padilla and Utley, and all but Padilla and Byrd had an RBI. It was the kind of night where Ricky Ledee, a pinch-hitter for Padilla in the bottom of the 8th, got two at-bats despite not playing the field. It was that kind of night.

    While Byrd and Rollins set the table for the Phils, Padilla did an excellent job of keeping Florida's table-setters -- Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo -- off the base paths (a combined 0-8). As those two go, so goes the Florida offense. And last night, the offense went right back to the bench. That's how the Phillies would like to see it go the next two nights, as well.

    So the Phillies came out last night, crunched Florida, and made a statement. So what does that mean for tonight? Absolutely nothing.

    That's the magic of baseball, folks. 14 runs last night mean nothing when the first pitch is thrown. If any team knows that, it's the Phillies. Before last night's explosion, the Phillies had scored in double-digits 15 times this year. They have only gone 8-7 in the games that follow. Tonight starts 0-0, and the Phillies have to do it all over again.

    But this time, they have the momentum. This time, they have the confidence. This time, they want to do it again.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2003

    Game Time

    Everyone ready for some fun baseball? The Florida Marlins come to town tonight to start a three-game set; a three-game series that will go a long way to determining who will be this year's National League Wild Card winner.

    The Marlins come to town leading the Phillies by a game and a half in the Wild Card Chase. The Phillies have 12 games remaining; the Marlins have 13. Six of those games will be against one another -- three here in Philly this week, three more in Florida next week. At the very least, the Philly press thinks it's an important series:

  • Ideal time for Phils to turn tables on Marlins -- Todd Zolecki, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • There's nothing fishy about high-flying Marlins -- Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Phillies finally get their turn to hit one out of the park -- Sam Donnellon

  • Phillies vs. Marlins: The reel deal -- Ed Barkowitz

  • The stage is set for Phils, Marlins -- Jim Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Heck, even nationwide, reporters are feeling this series:

  • Phillies, Marlins open key series -- Indianapolis Star, IN

  • Phillies in 'sudden death' vs. Marlins -- Rocky Mountain News, CO

  • Sudden death. I am not sure that I would go to that extreme, because even if the Phils and Fish split the six games, the Phillies have six more games to make up that 1 1/2 game deficit. Much tougher to do, yes, but not impossible.

    Regardless, the Phillies do not want to count on those six "other" games. They want to take on Florida head on, they want to make a statement, and they want to win. Straight up, no questions asked. A split would not kill the Phillies, but they are looking for more than that. They want a sweep this week. They want to go from 1 1/2 down to 1 1/2 up in the standings. And if the manager is any indicator, they are not messing around:

    "I don't think you're happy when you take two out of three right now," Bowa said. "I don't think you should be. You've got to try to go for perfection right now. You've got to try to sweep people. And trust me, Florida is a good team. We've got our hands full."

    Hands full, huh? Is that what you call it when a team has your number? Florida leads the season series with the Phillies nine games to four. They have won eight straight in the series. The Phillies have not defeated the Fish since April 15. A lot has happened since April 15.

    After the game on April 15, the Phillies were 9-5, tied for first in the NL East with the Expos, three games up on the struggling Braves, 3 1/2 ahead of the Marlins. Jimmy Rollins was hitting .297 in the leadoff role; David Bell was in the lineup at 3B; Ricky Ledee was getting significant time in CF; and Joe Roa was the starting pitcher.

    Now, Rollins is buried deeper in the lineup, Bell is on the DL, Ledee can't get Marlon Byrd out of the lineup, and Roa is in San Diego. Oh, and the Braves made up that three game difference and have run away with the division -- again. More importantly, the Marlins have swung the difference around five games, and hold the current 1 1/2 game lead over the Phillies.

    Yes, the Marlins have taken the last eight, but they have not run away with them:

    April 16: Florida 3, Philly 1
    April 17: Florida 7, Philly 3
    July 4: Florida 2, Philly 1
    July 5: Florida 5, Philly 4
    July 6: Florida 6, Philly 3
    July 25: Florida 11, Philly 5
    July 26: Florida 10, Philly 5
    July 27: Florida 7, Philly 6

    Eight games: three one-run losses, four games scoring less than four runs. Three bullpen losses (Mesa and Williams, for the surprised). The Marlins haven't made it look pretty, but they have gotten the job done. The question is, have they gotten in the heads of the Phillies. On the season, here are some batting numbers against the Marlins:

    Byrd: .263 (10-for-38), 6 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI
    Polanco: .262 (11-for-42), 5 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI
    Abreu: .295 (13-for-44), 6 runs, 2 RBI
    Thome: .260 (13-for-50), 7 runs, 2 HR, 9 RBI
    Lieberthal: .375 (15-for-40), 8 runs, 5 RBI
    Burrell: .186 (8-for-43), 5 runs, 3 RBI
    Rollins: .260 (13-for-50), 3 runs, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB

    Do you see anything spectacular in there? How about the pitching numbers:

    Millwood: 4 GS, 1-1, 6.75 ERA, 21 H, 15 R, 20 IP
    Padilla: 3 GS, 1-2, 5.51 ERA, 15 H, 10 R, 16.1 IP
    Wolf: 2 GS, 1-1, 4.09 ERA, 8 H, 5 R, 11 IP
    Myers: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.06 ERA, 15 H, 6 R, 10.2 IP

    Also not good. The bullpen has been slightly better:

    Adams: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R
    Plesac: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R
    Wendell: 7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R
    Cormier: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R -- all 5 of those runs came in one outing at the beginning of the season

    I'll ignore Mesa's and Williams's numbers for my sanity.

    So what do all of these numbers mean? Absolutely nothing. The Phillies have to go into this series with the mentality that it's a whole new ballgame. It's time for the Thomes and Millwoods to step up and lead this team. It's time for the Lieberthals and Abreus to make a difference. It's time for the Wendells and Plesacs to show that they have been here before. It's time to make a statement, and just go out and win. And the time to do that is right now.

    The Phillies haven't been to the postseason in 10 years, but they brought Thome and Millwood in for just this reason: to show Abreu and Burrell and Rollins and Byrd what September baseball is supposed to be about. The Marlins haven't been to the postseason since they won it all in '97. But all of those key players were gone in '98. Pudge Rodriguez has been to the postseason, and so has recent acquisition Jeff Conine. But Derrek Lee? Mike Lowell? Juan Pierre? They have as much postseason experience as the core of the Phillies. So who has the upper hand? The team that remains within itself and can grab that upper hand over the next three days.

    Pitching matchups for the series:

    Tuesday: Padilla (13-10) vs. Carl Pavano (11-11)
    Wednesday: Myers (14-7) vs. Mark Redman (12-9)
    Thursday: Millwood (14-11) vs. Dontrelle Willis (13-6)

    Enjoy the games!

    Monday, September 15, 2003

    Playoff Bullpens

    Jayson Stark has an article up on ESPN.com, ranking the bullpens of the prospective playoff teams. He ranks the Phillies 7th out of the 8th NL teams still working their way in. The reason for such a low ranking? The man with the red and blue gloves.

    What players/scouts say: "I don't know what to make of the Phillies' 'pen. You never know how they'll use it. And they don't know who the hell to give the ball to at the end." ... "They just don't have the whole package. I've never liked (Jose) Mesa as a closer. He beats himself as much as you beat him. But Cormier has been phenomenal."

    Check out the entire review...

    Other News and Notes

  • Placido Polanco worked out the other day, and says his injured leg is improving. He hopes to be back in the lineup tomorrow night, giving the Phillies a much needed boost and improved defense at third.

  • David Bell worked out earlier this week with no pain in his back. He is set to take live BP early this week as his next test, and we'll see how he responds.

  • Amaury Telemaco will be skipped in his next turn in the rotation. He is scheduled to pitch on Thursday in the Florida series finale. Instead, Kevin Millwood will go that day on 4 days rest. Telemaco will instead pitch at home on Saturday, against the free-falling Reds.
  • A lost weekend...or, Ending on a high note

    The title you choose to lean towards depends on your view of this weekend's games.

    The Phillies jumped on Atlanta early on Thursday night and held on for the win and the series split, to pull within 1/2 a game of the Marlins entering play on Friday. The Phillies sent Atlanta down to Miami to beat up on the Fish while they traveled to PNC Park to take on the Pirates. All in all, it seemed like the perfect time to make up some ground and reclaim the Wild Card lead. Instead it was a weekend of wasted chances.

    Amaury Telemaco took the mound on Friday night, and had his problems. He lasted just 5 2/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits. The bullpen wasn't much help either. Dan Plesac left the game two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, and in game Mr. Kerosene -- I mean, Jose Mesa. Mesa gave up a home run to Reggie Sanders, turning a 3-run Pittsburgh lead into a 6-run Pirates lead. The Phillies scored two in the top of the 8th, but by then it was too little, too late.

    Kevin Millwood was the starter on Saturday, and the Phillies looked to the ace to get them back in the win column. Ummm, no luck. Millwood did not have "ace" stuff again on Saturday, giving up five runs on seven hits in just five innings of work. He did not have much help behind him defensively or at the plate, but the Phillies still found themselves crawling out of a 5-0 hole. They got three back in the sixth, but it again proved to be not enough.

    So while the Phillies were floundering in Pittsburgh, the Fish were frying the Braves. (Bad, I know.) A come-from-behind thriller on Friday night, and an early statement on Saturday, and the Marlins had stretched their lead to 2 1/2 games over the Phillies heading into Sunday's games.

    The Phillies finally woke up on Sunday and got some help from the Braves in a comeback of their own. Trailing 4-3 entering the ninth, Bobby Cox brought Javy Lopez and Chipper Jones off the bench to spark a five-run, ninth inning rally to avoid the sweep and beat the Marlins 8-4. Meanwhile, the Phillies were led by the violently ill Randy Wolf and an offense that was firing on all cylinders.

    Wolf, who suffered a case of food poisoning and spent most of Saturday night...ummm, rejecting his food...managed to go 6 1/3 innings. He wasn't sharp (five runs on eight hits), but after being staked to a 10-1 lead, he really didn't have to be. The offense dinked out 14 hits, 12 of which were singles. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit, and all but Todd Pratt and Chase Utley scored at least one run. Wolf even helped his own cause (required speech when a pitcher does something with the bat) by going 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, and Utley also had two hits apiece, and Thome drove in three.

    So the Phillies managed to preserve one game in the three-game set, AND pick up a game on the Marlins. They are home today, relaxing. Yes, after 27 straight days of baseball, the Phillies get a well-deserved day off.

    They finished the 27-game stretch at 13-14 -- pretty darn good for a stretch that started 1-9; not so good for a stretch that included a 9-1 stretch. Again, it all depends on your outlook on it. My outlook is that the Phillies 1) survived the thing to begin with, and 2) finished it still within sniffing distance of the playoff spot. 1 1/2 games with 12 to go may seem like a lot -- but it really isn't when six of your last 12 are against the team you trail.

    The Marlins come to town for three crucial games beginning tomorrow. I will break down the series tomorrow, but it goes without saying that the Phillies need this series. The Diamondbacks, Cards, and Cubs seem to be falling backwards in the race, and I don't think the Dodgers have enough offense to make it work. So that leaves the Phillies and Florida. And the winner will be the team that comes out of these six games with the upper hand. So these three games, with the Marlins here at the Vet, are the three most important games the Phillies have played all season; maybe even since 1993. And no, I don't think I am overplaying it.

    In the meantime, the Phillies rest...and get ready.

    Thursday, September 11, 2003


    I don't have the words to put that day, or any since, into the perspective it deserves. I am not sure anyone does, but the Philadelphia Inquirer has a pretty good article on how the events of that day brought everything into perspective, even baseball.

    Let us not forget...

    It's a control issue

    Tuesday night, the Braves pitchers had no control. 14 hits and 9 walks had Phillies' baserunners circling the bases all night. Last night, Braves's starter Horacio Ramirez, along with relievers Jared Wright and Will Cunnane, walked no one. They also allowed but six hits -- two solo homers and four hits that amounted to nothing.

    Phillies pitchers, on the other hand, lacked such control. Starter Vicente Padilla, who had pretty much owned the Braves this season, didn't have it last night. He lasted six innings, giving up four runs on nine hits. More importantly, he walked five batters while striking out just one. 14 baserunners in six innings does not imply a very good night. Padilla, in fact, was in trouble all night long:

    1st inning: 1 hit, 1 walk, 2 LOB
    2nd inning: 1 run, 1 hit (Lopez's solo homer to tie the game at 1)
    3rd inning: 1 run, 3 hits, double-play gets out of the jam
    4th inning: 1 hit, 1 IBB, 1 HBP, Braves leave bases loaded
    5th inning: 1 run, 2 hits, 1 IBB
    6th inning: 1 run, 1 hit, 2 walks

    At least one runner in each inning, and the only inning with one runner was a solo homer. You are not going to have a good night if you are always in trouble. Between all of the hits and walks, Padilla threw 111 pitches over six innings; only 60 of those went for strikes. Contrast last night's output with his April 19th start in Atlanta -- a complete game shutout, in which he threw 107 pitches, 82 for strikes. He did not allow a free pass that evening. Too bad we didn't have that last night.

    To go along with the Phillies inability to get on base, the lineup was very much free swinging. A total of 11 strikeouts on the night -- 7 by Ramirez, and 2 each by the relievers -- highlighted by Jim Thome's 0-for-4, 4 strikeout night. Pat Burrell also struck out twice, as did Padilla (meaning he struck out more than the Atlanta batters did against him).

    So the Phillies let another early lead disappear, and find themselves having dropped two of the first three in the series. Game four will not be any easier as they go up against Greg Maddux, who is going for win number 15. His 15th win of the year will give him 15 wins for 16 consecutive years, a feat unmatched in baseball's long history. The only other pitcher to win 15 games in 15 straight years was none other than Cy Young himself, so I don't need to tell you that this would be an accomplishment.

    Going against Maddux will be Brett Myers, who has lasted no more than 6 1/3 innings in any of his last six starts. His ERA has climbed from 3.58 to 4.17 in those six starts, yet somehow he is 2-1. The team is only 3-3, which tells me that he is getting bailed out lately. Those starts:

    @SFL 2-54.085536
    STLW 5-46.164455
    @STLW 9-45.294333
    @MONL 6-95.0105532
    BOSL 9-134.075571
    NYMW 8-66.063246

    Has he hit a wall? It's entirely possible. He is up to 177 innings on the year, and just may be experiencing some growing pains. Regardless, the Phillies need a little bit better effort this evening, as they have fallen a game back of the Marlins once again in the Wild Card race.

    Elsewhere, the Dodgers and Cubs lost to fall to 3 and 3 1/2 games back respectively. The Cardinals rocked the Rockies to stay five back, and the Astros won to put a game between themselves and the Cubs in the Central.

    Two and a half weeks left...ready to play ball?

    Wednesday, September 10, 2003

    Down the stretch...

    So what happens if we close the regular season on the Vet, and there are still at least two teams tied for the NL Wild Card? The Cub Reporter, Christian Ruzich, tries to explain all of the possible postseason tiebreakers over at Baseball Prospectus.

    Who's ready for some extra baseball?

    Blogging Notes

  • First off, Aaron Gleeman has a new address: AaronGleeman.com. Tough one to remember, right? He did what I have been threatening to do for months -- moved away from Blogger.

  • Jon, over at Dodger Thoughts, had this observation on the Wild Card race:

    A couple of weeks ago, the wild-card race looked like a blooper reel. Now, it's more like Web Gems.

    The Dodgers have won 10 of 12. The Phillies have won 10 of 12. The Marlins have won 10 of 12.

    Two weeks ago, it was "who will stumble to the finish line?". Now, it's an all-out fight.

  • Bryan, of Wait 'Til Next Year, takes today to rank the top 10 prospects at each position in the minor leagues. Clearwater 1B is the only Phillie to make any list. Go check it out...
  • One of those nights

    Monday night was "one of those nights" -- nothing seemed to go as the Phillies would have hoped. Last night was another "one of those nights" -- albeit to the other extreme.

    18 runs. 14 hits. 9 walks. 2 grand slams.

    My only thought is this: couldn't we spread this out over multiple games?!? Otherwise, damn fine job.

    Mike Lieberthal hit a three-run homer in the first -- for the second straight night -- to get the game off to a good start. The Phils then blew the door off in the second, scoring seven more, including Tomas Perez's grand slam. Braves starter Shane Reynolds didn't last through the second, although I'm not sure it would have made a difference.

    Every starter had at least one hit, except for Jimmy Rollins, who at least walked and scored. Even Randy Wolf drove in two runs. After two innings, it was 10-2, and the Phillies were just looking to get Wolf through five innings to get him the win. He went five and no more, giving up two runs on five hits. He also walked four, but picked up his 14th win (14-9). He wasn't sharp, and wasn't thrilled with his stuff, but on a night like last night, he didn't need much.

    It was a night that the Phillies were unexpectedly able to give some guys some time off, and some youngsters got to play. Wolf went only five, allowing Brandon Duckworth to get in two innings, Josh Hancock to pitch his first inning, and Geoff Geary to throw his second. Each gave up two hits, and walked no one. Duck allowed both of his hits to score (easy when they are both homers), while Hancock allowed one. Geary got out of the ninth unscathed.

    The lineup also saw wholesale changes: Ricky Ledee replaced Marlon Byrd late in the game. Nick Punto did the same for Jimmy Rollins. Jason Michaels replaced Bobby Abreu midway through the game -- early enough to let Michaels hit a 6th inning grand slam. Pratt pinch-hit for Thome in the middle innings, and Lieberthal gave way to Kelly Stinnett. Pat Burrell and Chase Utley played all nine, but Tomas Perez gave way to Travis Chapman, who was getting his first taste of the majors. He flied out to right in the 7th, but stuck around to play some defense.

    All in all, it was a good night for the Phillies: an easy win, and a lot of rest for the regulars. Let's hope that this momentum carries over to tonight's game.


    Other Wild Card games

    Florida 3, Mets 1 -- Florida hangs on to the Wild Card tie
    LA 4, Arizona 1 -- 20 year old Edwin Jackson beats Randy Johnson on his birthday. Happy Birthday!
    Houston 7, Milwaukee 6
    Cubs 4, Montreal 3 -- Cubs keep pace with Astros in Central, knock Expos further back.
    Colorado 8, St. Louis 1 -- Cards only team within five games to lose last night. Bad timing.


    Other Phillies News and Notes

  • The Phillies called up SS Anderson Machado to provide some pinch-running speed off the bench. Machado hit just .196 at Reading this year, but had a very good BB/K ratio (9:10).

  • Terry Adams threw the other day and felt no pain. He should come off the DL tomorrow, and be ready to go.

  • 3B David Bell is expected to rejoin the team sometime this week and swing the bat. If he is pain-free, he will be activated. If he is not, he may shut it down for the year.

  • 2B/3B Placido Polanco sat out his 9th (10th?) straight game last night with what is being termed as a muscle contusion in his left quad. Surgery apparently remains an option to resolve the issue; such a decision would end his year. The team still hopes that it will heal with a bit more rest.
  • Tuesday, September 09, 2003

    25 or 6 to 4


    The 25 really has no place in today's post...the score from last night's game just put the song in my head, and it's been stuck there ever since. So, now I spread that joy to all of you.

    What a fun weekend, huh? First of all, if you are in the Philadelphia area, you may be under the impression that there was nothing else going on in the world this weekend other than the Eagles first game at the Linc, last night against the Super Bowl Champion Bucs. News coverage has focused on nothing but this game and the opening of the stadium. If the world had ended this weekend, we wouldn't have known about it. And what for? So the Eagles could go in last night and play a stinker in front of a national audience. Lovely...

    (For those of you unsure about that last paragraph, it was about football -- that game played with an oblong ball affectionately known as a "pigskin" that interrupts baseball season every year at about this time. It will continue for the next four months; I usually start paying attention when the Phillies season realistically ends -- which is also usually about this time of year.)

    Anyway...back to baseball...

    The Phillies, of course, started the now infamous road trip at 1-9, and then went into New York and swept the Mets. A one-game loss to the Red Sox was followed by a two-game sweep of the Expos, and a four-game whitewash of the Mets again. 1-9 quickly turned into 9-1, yet the Phillies could only stretch the Wild Card lead to a single game. And last night that one-game lead disappeared again, as the Phillies traveled to Atlanta and wasted a 4-0 first inning lead.

    Jimmy Rollins walked with one out in the top of the first, swiped second, and scored on a Bobby Abreu double. Jim Thome walked, and Mike Lieberthal dropped a three-run homer into the left field seats. Just like that, it was 4-0 Phillies after one-half an inning. With "ace" Kevin Millwood on the mound, a 4-0 lead seemed fairly safe. Except for two things: 1) these were the Braves, and 2) Millwood wasn't quite "on" last night.

    A single by Rafael Furcal and a two-run homer by Mark DeRosa in the bottom of the inning cut the lead in half. The lead was cut to one in the third when Gary Sheffield singled and Chipper Jones doubled him in. The Braves tied it an inning later when Furcal singled in Robert Fick, who had singled earlier in the inning. Atlanta grabbed the lead an inning later: with the bases loaded and no one out, Andruw Jones grounded into a double play -- two outs, but one run scored, and the Phillies found themselves down 5-4. Through the first five innings, Millwood had given up five runs on nine hits and three walks to his former team.

    Meanwhile, the Phillies bats were on ice. After the four-run first, and a leadoff double by Chase Utley in the second, the Phillies went hitless until Marlon Byrd's two-out single in the ninth. 23 outs in between hits, folks. You are not going to win many ballgames that way, unless you grab a four-run lead before you go cold. Oh, wait...

    Games like this happen. It's a long season, and every-so-often, you are going to have a night where the hitters disappear and the pitcher can't hold the lead. Last night was just a case of bad timing. The Phillies had won nine of ten and were feeling pretty good about themselves for a change. And even on a weak night, they did not give up. The tying run reached second base in the top of the ninth; unfortunately, two outs were already in the books, and Rollins could do nothing more than ground out to first to end the small threat. But the loss came at a bad time. You hand a four-run lead to your ace and lose. The Marlins win, and there is another tie for the Wild Card. 18 games left...anyone (other than Larry Bowa) sweating yet?

    But last night's game brings to my mind a question that may not seem very popular: we all know that the Phillies will go all-out this offseason to resign Kevin Millwood. But if he chooses not to resign, is it that big of a loss? I cannot measure his off-the-field contributions; his work with Brett Myers this season has been outstanding. For the most part, he has said the right things, and has supposedly taken a leadership role on this pitching staff. But on the field, are we truly losing an "ace"?

    Last night's loss took Millwood to 14-10 on the year. Millwood is one of 21 pitchers in the majors with 14 wins. 21 is a select group -- fewer than one per team. But only five of those pitchers have as many as 10 losses: LA's Hideo Nomo (15-11), Anaheim's Ramon Ortiz (15-11), Atlanta's Greg Maddux (14-10), Seattle's Gil Meche (14-10), and Millwood. All five are good pitchers on good teams (Anaheim is stuggling, but they are the defending champs), so what is the common link? Why are they getting the wins AND the losses? Off the top of my head, I think to look to two categories: innings pitched per start, and run support.

    Nomo4.276 2/32.88
    Ortiz6.315 2/34.84
    Millwood4.606 1/33.74

    The first thing I see is that the two guys with the best run support (Ortiz and Meche) are the two guys with 4.00+ ERAs. Whether that means that they get a large lead and give up some soft runs, or that they give up the runs and their offenses bail them out, I don't know. But it does tell me that there are some games where they get a lot of support and get the W, and there are some games where they get bombed and take the L.

    Nomo has the best ERA of the bunch, and goes the longest per start, but he has the worst run support. (Then again, I think the entire Dodgers' staff qualifies for that honor.) If he gets even the minimal support, he's likely to give the team a win. But even a run or two with that offense behind him can mean a loss.

    Maddux and Millwood have comparable numbers, and like the others in the group have had their good days and bad. The good have outnumbered the bad, but not by much. So they are winning games...but taking their lumps, too.

    But their records are based on run support. Let's take a look at their support-neutral stats:


    The only true outlier in this group is Ortiz, who ranks as the 3rd luckiest starter in the majors, and 2nd in terms of being helped by his bullpen (Brandon Duckworth is first on that list, by the way).

    So this continues to tell us...well, not much, other than Millwood has been up and down this season, and his record reflects that. Aces tend to have more ups than downs, and Millwood hasn't been quite that good this year.

    Another sign of an ace that can be counted on is how he picks up the team after a loss. Millwood has pitched following a Phillies loss 16 times this season; in those 16 games, the Phillies are 9-7. Millwood himself is 7-5 in those games. Better than .500, but not exactly a lights-out streak stopper. Add in the knowledge that most of those wins came before June 8th, when he was 8-3, and it looks worse than the numbers show. Since the All-Star break, Millwood is 2-3 following a Phillies loss -- the team is 2-4, at the time of the year that a team needs a stopper in its rotation. Millwood just hasn't been that guy on a consistant basis.

    So I guess my question is this: does his off-the-field contributions and leadership outweigh his less-than-ace-like numbers on the field? If he leaves in the offseason, will there be a suitable replacement? Will the Phillies find an equal in the free agent market, either from the knowns or unknowns (come on, who had Esteban Loiaza at 19 wins this season??)? Will they turn around and trade for a Javier Vazquez or a Curt Schilling? Or will a Ryan Madson come up and play a roll?

    I don't have those answers. Personally, I'd like to see Millwood stay. I don't think his numbers this year are the best of what he's got. I'd like to see him in Philly long-term. But I think I've reached the mindset that if he leaves, it won't be the end of the world. There will be someone out there that can give the Phillies what he has. Who that is, I don't know. But it is just another question for what is shaping up to be an interesting offseason.

    Friday, September 05, 2003

    Mesa, Mesa, Mesa

    Here are some of the headlines in the local papers this morning:

  • Lieberthal lifts Phils, bails out Mesa -- Todd Zolecki, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • After Mesa mess, Phils find a way to win -- Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Home is where the blown save is -- Rich Hoffman, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Mesa as closer is no longer the final answer -- Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • I think the last one is my favorite -- straight to the point, and accurate.

    But, yes, this is the situation we face. The Phillies held a 5-4 lead going to the ninth, and Mesa entered the game. Sheridan described the events as follows:

    Someone named Prentice Redman, a young Mets outfielder with all of seven big-league at-bats on his resume, utterly crushed a Mesa pitch in the ninth inning. Crushed it. Made a sound like a hockey slapshot and then, fittingly, splashed into the net on the left-field foul pole.

    Mesa got a strikeout to follow, and then gave up a single to Timo Perez. Larry Bowa had seen enough, and went to the bullpen. Valerio de los Santos -- recently acquired from Milwaukee -- came on to finish out the inning. He got the win when the offense picked up Mesa in the bottom of the inning. Marlon Byrd led off the ninth with a walk, and two outs later, Mike Lieberthal brought him home with the winner.

    Thank goodness the offense is clicking.

    When Mesa returned to the closer's role a few weeks ago, Bowa said at the time that he would be on a short leash. He has shown how short by pulling Mesa as soon as he has gotten into trouble since then, and he is tightening the reins again. Bowa promised to meet with Mesa and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to discuss whether or not Mesa will remain in the closer's role. I think that all of us know that if this team is going to make it to the playoffs, it won't be with Mesa at the end of the bullpen.

    If you look at Mesa's stats...well, none of them are good. But the road splits are at least decent. The home splits are...well, awful might be too kind. Sheridan's Inquirer article touches on this, and Hofmann's Daily News piece highlights it. Earlier in the week, Bowa tried to explain Mesa's home troubles on the constant booing he faces. And I'll admit, he faces a lot of it. Hofmann describes last night's scene:

    You had to be there last night, with 19,259 blood-lustful souls in the aging dump, as Mesa made his way out of the bullpen. They were booing him before he reached the infield. You had to be there as the inning began. It was 9:53 p.m. The hitter was the Mets' Prentice Redman, who stepped to the plate without a career home run or RBI in the major leagues.

    The crowd booed ball one. It booed the pitch that bounced to make the count 2-1. It booed the low pitch that made it 3-1. And then the people booed again, louder this time, as Redman swung the bat and launched a shot down the leftfield line. The noise grew as the ball sailed. The crowd was in a full-throated roar even before the ball hit the foul screen for a home run.

    It was 9:55 p.m. The game was tied. No one emerged from the dugout with a hook, or oxygen, or anything. Mesa continued.

    And so did the booing. The fans booed through McEwing's strikeout, and they continued as Perez ripped a single off the right-field wall. They didn't stop until Mesa was long gone from the game, likely escaped from the clubhouse.

    I am sure the booing affects him. But he should be used to it, or at least adjusted to it. And he cannot pin all of his problems on a few boos. Hofmann has the numbers:

    Since Aug. 1, Mesa has a 3.86 ERA away from the Vet. He has not been scored upon in six straight road appearances.

    In that same time span, though, Mesa has an impossible 34.76 ERA at home.

    Yuck. His catcher feels that he has lost control and confidence. I don't have to tell you that neither is a good thing. He may have finally lost his grip on the closer's role. Bowa wanted to sleep on his decision before meeting with the pitcher today. If he's smart, he'll tell Mesa he's done as the closer. The problem is, who's next?

    Some of you may have noticed yesterday that the Mesa Watch is operational again, albeit with a different format. Mesa needs to finish 55 games this season to have his option for next year automatically kick in. He's at 45, with 22 games left. Here's hoping he doesn't reach it.


    On the brighter side, the Phillies won. They got to Glavine in the middle innings, and bit the bullpen late. The Marlins won in the afternoon, keeping the two teams tied. Arizona and the Cubs won to keep pace, while the Cardinals fell another game back. The Dodgers and Expos were off, falling a half-game further behind. We're rooting for the Expos tonight, as they play the Marlins. Padilla hits the mound for the Phillies...let's hope he can throw more than a fastball.

    Thursday, September 04, 2003

    More on Bowa

    Former Philly scribe Jayson Stark has his own take on the Larry Bowa situation, just in case you haven't heard enough already.

    I am already growing sick of the story. My take: if they make the playoffs, he'll start 2004 in the dugout. If they don't, he won't.

    Ankle just fine, thank you

    Jim Thome left yesterday's game after his homer in the 6th, thanks to a sore ankle. According to Thome, and an article by the Inquirer's Todd Zolecki, the ankle pain is nothing to worry about.

    "Really, it'll be fine....Every now and then it gets achy. It's hard to explain."

    No explanation needed if he stays in the lineup, which I expect he will. But it is something to keep an eye on as the playoff race heats up.

    5 of 6

    Bowa's tirade...players-only meeting. Who cares what sparked this team? They are winning again, and that's all that matters.

    Kevin Millwood worked his way through a shaky first inning that saw him not get some close pitches, saw him try to adjust and give up a three-run homer, and saw Larry Bowa get tossed for the sixth time this year; and ended up working eight very strong innings for his 14th win on the season.

    Millwood got two quick outs in the first before some close calls started going the other way. He walked Jose Vidro on a full count, and then carefully pitched to Vladimir Guerrero, walking him on five pitches. Millwood then worked another full count -- with a very questionable ball three -- to Wil Cordero, who then launched the 6th pitch of the at-bat over the left field wall for a 3-0 Expos lead.

    At this point in the game, Millwood was as frustrated as I have seen him all season. Bowa went out to talk to him and calm him down, and in the process, got himself booted. Did this wake up the team? We won't know if it was the spark, but Millwood did proceed to get out of the inning and, other than two 2nd inning hits, stayed out of trouble for the rest of the day.

    While the Expos got an early start to the day, the Phillies needed a little time to get going. Through one out in the third, Montreal's T.J. Tucker had set down the Phillies with barely a whimper. Then the Tank rolled up. Todd Pratt saw a pitch he liked, his eyes got big, and his bat got through the zone -- the result was the ball ending up in the Expos bullpen. Still 3-1 Expos, but a wake-up call for the Phillies. After Millwood popped up, Marlon Byrd grounded to third. Byrd busted down the line, causing a hurried -- and errant -- throw from 3B Jamie Carroll. Byrd was safe, and the floodgates opened.

    Jimmy Rollins doubled, scoring Byrd. Bobby Abreu beat out an infield single. Jim Thome singled, scoring Rollins. Pat Burrell doubled, scoring Abreu. And Chase Utley singled, bringing home two more runs. 6-3 Phillies; five runs unearned; end of the day for T.J. Tucker.

    The Phillies added another run in the fourth when Byrd led off with a double and Abreu singled him home, and one more in the sixth on Thome's 39th home run of the season, a towering fly to center.

    Meanwhile, Millwood was on. Hitting 94 or 95 on the radar with his fastball, he was challenging Expos hitters...and winning. He finished the day going eight innings, giving up seven hits (only three after the second inning) and the three first-inning runs. We walked two batters -- both in the first -- and struck out eight on the day. He had good stuff all day...it just took him an inning or so to get it under control. But when he did, the Expos were done.

    And with the game, also done is the season series. The Phillies get the short two-game sweep, and take 11 of 19 from Montreal this season. After sweeping the Phillies in Montreal last week, and virtually tying for the Wild Card lead, the Expos have lost six straight, and now sit five games back. Just like that, the playoff race can change.

    Elsewhere in the NL, Florida finally found a way to beat Pittsburgh behind a gem from Josh Beckett, and the Marlins remain tied with the Phillies for the Wild Card lead. Houston defeated LA, knocking the Dodgers to 2 1/2 back, and combined with a Cardinals loss, moved the Astros back to first in the NL Central. Slipping back to second, the Cards fall to 2 1/2 back, while the victorious Cubs stay three back. The Expos and D'Backs sit five back, barely above .500.

    So what the Phillies and Marlins created in the way of an 8-team race late last week is slowly stretching out again. The Expos, embarrassed by the Marlins and Phillies this week, head home (to San Juan) to try their luck again with the Marlins. The Phillies, meanwhile, welcome the Mets to town for four games, starting with tonight's Randy Wolf - Tom Glavine matchup. The Phillies, of course, swept the Mets at Shea over the weekend, but we remember what happened last time the Mets came to the Vet...

    Pitching matchups for the series:

    Tonight, 7:05: Wolf (13-9) vs. Glavine (9-12)
    Friday, 7:05: Padilla (12-9) vs. Seo (8-9)
    Saturday, 7:05: Myers (12-7) vs. Griffiths (1-1)
    Sunday, 8:05 (ESPN2): Telemaco (1-2) vs. Leiter (14-7)

    Wednesday, September 03, 2003

    Phils To Implode Vet In February

    From an AP report:

    PHILADELPHIA -- After months of engineering studies, the Philadelphia Phillies decide that a big bang is the best way to take down Veterans Stadium early next year.

    An implosion will bring down the much-reviled ballpark.

    The home to the Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles for the past three decades will come down in one fell swoop in February.

    The Phillies, who are responsible for demolishing the Vet, decided that a quick implosion is a better approach than demolishing the stadium over the course of several weeks with a wrecking ball.

    The implosion will do less damage to nearby homes and to the Broad Street subway line, which runs near the stadium, said John Stranix, who is helping oversee the Vet demolition and construction of the Phillies' new ballpark.

    "It's not the same impact and duration as using a wrecking ball," Stranix said. "It happens relatively rapidly, with very little vibration, and no impact on the surrounding facilities and communities."

    Now the Phillies have to decide who will get to push the plunger.

    Oh yeah...

    Forgot this one this morning...

    P Terry Adams, on the DL with a pulled muscle, was charged this weekend in New York with "two counts of third-degree assault and single counts of second-degree harassment and endangering the welfare of a child" (ESPN.com article). The charges stem from his alleged attack on his wife in a New York hotel seven weeks ago. The child endangerment charge comes from the fact that their 4-month-old son was in the room.

    I won't get into the rest of the details, and to be honest, their problems are none of my business (and I wish I had not even read it, much less written about it). I am wondering two things, however:

    1) Was this incident just before Adams took that unexplained leave of absence earlier this summer?
    2) When will we be able to put this off-field crap aside and talk about the on-field stuff again?

    Speaking of #2...anyone noticed that while the batting average remains subpar, Pat Burrell's slugging numbers are .500 since the All-Star break, and .551 in August?

    Other moves

    In addition to the release of Tyler Houston this weekend, the Phillies made a number of other moves:

  • P Mike Williams was reinstated from the bereavement list. To make room for him, Geoff Geary was optioned. With Scranton's season over, Geary was sent to Clearwater. Geary was then recalled when rosters were expanded.

  • With Houston gone, INF Nick Punto was recalled.

  • C Kelly Stinnett was acquired from the Reds for a player to be named later. I'm not sure I understand this move, to be honest. If you have a clue, fill me in. The PTBNL was named in the last 24 hours: disappointed OF Eric Valent. Cincinnati is becoming the new home for underacheiving Phillies outfielders (see Taylor, Reggie).

  • Yesterday, the Phillies acquired RP Valerio De Los Santos from Milwaukee for the infamous PTBNL or cash. De Los Santos has been an effective reliever for the Brewers this season, appearing in 45 games with a 4.13 ERA. His WHIP is 1.25, which would rank third in the current Phillies bullpen (Cormier, 1.00; Plesac, 1.16).

  • With the expanded rosters, the Phillies have called up Ps Josh Hancock and Ryan Madson, as well as 3B Travis Chapman. I wouldn't expect to see the pitchers get much action, but Chapman may get some decent time with David Bell still out, Houston gone, and Placido Polanco fighting a nagging injury.
  • More fun and games

    First off, I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. I took an extra day yesterday to relax and do a lot of nothing; thus, no posts yesterday. But, as with every short vacation I take, I seem to have missed quite a lot.

    Since Larry Bowa's outburst on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have won four of five, including a sweep in New York and an 8th inning comeback last night. The Phillies finally got to Javier Vazquez, who came in to the game with 26 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Chase Utley's 8th inning, bases-clearing triple -- coming on the heels of a poor throw allowing the Expos' go-ahead run to score -- gave the Phillies the late lead and eventual 5-3 win.

    So, four of five. Must be due to Bowa's tirade, right? Not necessarily.

    I kept an eye on the Phillies news and transactions over the weekend, and one of the many moves they made really caught my eye:

    Activated pitcher Mike Williams from the bereavement list; designated infielder Tyler Houston for assignment; recalled infielder Nick Punto from Scranton of the International League (AAA); optioned pitcher Geoff Geary to Clearwater of the Florida State League (A).

    The bolding is my own doing, highlighting the part that threw me. Tyler Houston -- he of the .278 average in a part-time role; he of the .448 average as a pinch-hitter, his main role on the team -- designated for assignment. My first thought was that it was a numbers thing, and he would be recalled on Monday when the rosters expanded to 40 players. Then I found out it was to give him his release.

    What?!? Why?!? What did I miss?!?

    Evidently, a lot.

    Depending on who you believe, Houston was either a clubhouse problem child -- unhappy with his role on the team -- or the fall guy for the failing relations between Bowa and his players.

    Houston also suggested that he had become a fall guy for a perceived predetermined snub of Bowa by Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell after he hit a two-run home run against the Mets. According to the Inquirer, Bowa moved to the front of the dugout to greet Burrell after the homer, only to have the player head to the middle dugout entrance and engage his teammates, bypassing Bowa altogether. (ESPN.com article linked to above.)

    So let me get this straight: Bowa, unsurprisingly, is rubbing his players the wrong way. With the added stress of a playoff race and poor play, Bowa's emotions have overloaded, and the players are tired of the crap. There is some sort of issue between Bowa and Burrell, who chooses to celebrate with his teammates and not his manager, and because of that Houston was let go.

    Everyone follow that? There's a quiz later.

    Bowa and general manager Ed Wade explained the surprising release of Houston, one of the top pinch-hitters in the majors, by saying that Houston was unhappy with his role on the team.

    Houston told the paper that the Phillies were "covering up" the real reason he was let go.

    "I fully accepted my role as a pinch-hitter," he said to the Inquirer. "I was trying to be the best pinch-hitter in the league. This is the way they want to say it went down, because they can't run their own clubhouse."

    So who is making this up as they go along? I don't have an inside source on the team, but I am leaning towards believing Houston on this one. Throughout everything, Pat Burrell has been one of the strongest Bowa supporters, at least in the public eye. So if this weekend's incident was in fact intentional, that says that there are serious problems between Bowa and his players. In responding to Houston's claims, Bowa sent the press to Jim Thome, expecting some support. He couldn't have liked what he got:

    Thome, however, refused to endorse Bowa.

    "Let's talk about the game," Thome said to the Inquirer.

    When asked a second question along the same lines, Thome replied "We won the game ... We're in the wild-card race. That's what it's all about."

    Trouble in paradise, indeed. So now, there are serious issues between Bowa and his players, and the team's top pinch-hitter was cut for...well, just for the hell of it, apparently.

    Amazingly, this team has survived a 1-9 stretch, discord in the clubhouse, and the season-long slump from Burrell, and still enter today's games tied for the Wild Card lead. 24 games remain, including six with the Marlins; anything could happen from here on out. But win or lose, what happens to the make up of this team?

    Obviously, there are problems internally. The players have issues with Bowa; Bowa has problems with some of his players. There may be issues between Bowa and Ed Wade; remember, Wade thinks he has put together a team capable of getting to the postseason. If they don't, and Mt. Bowa continues flowing lava, how much longer with this homecoming last? Or better yet, who will be shipped out of town? The manager who is so beloved in town, or the players that the organization has invested so much time and money into and built the team around?

    Exactly...bye, bye Bowa.

    The Inquirer's Bill Lyon expects something to happen this offseason, barring a World Series trophy. He says that while Bowa was what this team needed three seasons ago, the fit no longer works. It's time for a change, and it is always easier to change one part than 25.

    So the month of September should be an interesting one, on many fronts. The Phillies are in the heat of a playoff race, and the next 24 games should be fun, albeit important and close all the way. It's a shame we don't have that one go-to pinch-hit guy on the bench...