Friday, May 30, 2008

View From the 700 Level returning?

Am I making a comeback? Should I make a comeback? If I do, what should my focus be? Keep your eyes open and we'll see what appears.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Phillies get Wagner

Okay, I know it's been weeks since I have posted anything at all, and I apologize for that. But for those of you still reading, here's a doozy: is reporting that the Phillies have acquired closer Billy Wagner from the Astros for Brandon Duckworth and players to be named later.

The Phillies have announced a 1PM press conference to announce a major trade announcement.

If this is true, my offseason just got really good.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Padilla breaks collarbone

Phillies' pitcher Vicente Padilla was injured in a one car crash in his homeland of Nicaragua. Padilla broke his collarbone and a finger on his right (pitching) hand.

The early story is that the driver of the car Padilla was in fell asleep behind the wheel. The car careened off the highway and rolled, killing the driver.

Padilla was treated for his injuries and released. No word on the seriousness of the injuries or how long he will be out, but from the sound of it, he is lucky to be alive.

I'll add more as I hear it.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Cole Hamels removed from Team USA roster

I just got this bit of news from Kevin Goldstein's Baseball America Prospect Report. From the article at

Hamels was removed for the roster due to a minor muscle injury in his back. The Phillies and Team USA decided it would take too long for Hamels to get back into condition to pitch competitively. Team USA has to settle on a 24-man roster by Oct. 24.

"He's got some muscle spasms in the right side of his back," said Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, who oversees the farm and scouting departments for the organization. "It's really a matter of timing more than anything else. He hasn't been on a mound pitching for a few days. If the tournament were a week or 10 days later, it wouldn't have been an issue."

Arbuckle was a member of the USA Baseball steering committee, chaired by Dean Taylor and Bob Watson, that picked the players on the roster. The Phillies wanted Hamels, who threw 101 innings this season between two Class A levels, to put his above-average feel for pitching and fresh arm to use in the qualifier.

"I talked to Dean a couple of times because we wanted Cole to pitch on the team, and Cole really wanted to do it," Arbuckle said. "We wanted to play it out as long as it was feasible that he could be healthy enough. Even though it's on his non-throwing side, though, you have concerns that it could affect his delivery, and we didn't want to take that chance."

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

What went right

Updated: Items 3 through 5 were added first thing Thursday morning.

As I look at the 2003 Phillies season, I tried to identify five things that went really right for the team this year. I am sure that my list will differ from yours, so I'd love to hear your feeback.

1) Jim Thome -- If your list does not start with Jim Thome, we have some talking to do. The slugger was the Phillies' number one target in the 2002 offseason, after a year in which he hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs and 118 RBI for a declining Indians team. While most critics applauded the energy with which the Phillies pursued Thome, some questioned the length of the deal. We don't know what will happen five years from now, but most Phillies fans will gladly hand over the $85-90 million that was agreed upon for just this one year, much less six.

To say he started off with a bang is an understatement. In his first spring at-bat, he ripped a home run. In his first regular season at-bat down in Florida, he crushed a double off the wall, scoring a run. And is his home debut, with the theme from "Superman" playing as he walked to the plate, he ripped a triple off the wall. Talk about first impressions.

Thome struggled in the early part of the season, some of which can be blamed on unfamiliar NL pitching. But by the end of the year, Thome had caught on, and in a big way. He finished with averages that were lower than expected -- .266/.385/.573 -- but his power numbers were up there. He finished with 47 home runs and 131 RBI, mostly thanks to a big finish. Over the final two months of the season, Thome cranked 20 home runs and 51 RBI, with a slugging mark over .600 and an OPS over 1.000. For a stretch in September, Thome carried the offense on his back, helping to keep the Phillies in the Wild Card race until the last week in the season, and earning him Player of the Month honors.

Thome may not have carried the Phillies into the postseason this year, but he generated a level of excitement that this town hasn't seen in ten years. He brought the fans to the park, and has given them hope for the next couple of years. Six years may turn out to be too long, but for year one, Thome was worth every last cent.

2) Joe Kerrigan's work with the pitching staff -- He had a year to study the Phillies' pitching staff as a TV analyst, and he knew what he was working with coming into the year -- a young starting staff with promise, but without a leader; and a bullpen that had been ripped apart by local sports talk shows, and rightly so. All Kerrigan did was guide a staff with four 14-game winners and turn the bullpen into one of the best in the league.

The offseason acquisition of Kevin Millwood seemingly gave the Phillies the ace the staff needed. Millwood may not have pitched to the levels that Phillies' fans were hoping, but he did offer leadership that had been lacking. Serving as the ace of the staff, Millwood's presence allowed Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla to fall comfortably in the 2 and 3 spots in the rotation. Millwood also served as a mentor for Brett Myers, a large part of the Phillies' future. With Millwood in the lead role, he, Padilla, and Myers all racked up 14 wins apiece. Wolf earned his first All-Star selection, and won a career-high 16 games. Padilla's 3.62 ERA ranked 14th in the NL, and the other three were all beneath 4.50.

But Kerrigan best work may have been in the bullpen. What was once filled with question marks turned out to be among the league's best until the last month of the season. Carlos Silva filled the long relief/mop up role well enough. He struggled at times with his stuff, and to a certain extent with maturity, but got the job done more often than not. Turk Wendell returned from a horrible 2001 and injury-lost 2002 to shock Phillies' fans: his 3.38 ERA is good by itself, but inflated by an awful August (7.11 ERA in 12.2 innings). He allowed just 54 hits in 64 innings, and just two runs in the first three months of the season.

Dan Plesac made the best of his limited opportunities in what is likely his final year: he appeared in 58 games, but threw just 33 1/3 innings. He allowed 29 hits while striking out 37. The lefty finished the year with a 1.20 WHIP and a 2.70 ERA. Before injuries derailed his season, Terry Adams was throwing up similar numbers. His 68 hits in 68 innings shows that he got into trouble, but the 1.34 WHIP and 2.65 ERA says that he got out of the jams more often than not.

But the capper to Kerrigan's success this year was Rheal Cormier...the same reliever that I said in March "may find [himself] on the outside looking in." What I didn't take into account were that Cormier's best years were with Kerrigan in Montreal and Boston. Add Philadelphia, 2003 to the list. Cormier appeared in 65 games this year, throwing 84 2/3 innings. He allowed just 54 hits, 16 runs, and had almost a 3:1 K:BB ratio. He allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning, and finished with a 1.70 ERA. That ERA looks even better if you remember that he allowed 5 of his 16 runs in his first appearance of the year -- a two-inning appearance to forget in Florida.

The common thought in the preseason was that the Phillies would be carried by their offense and hoped that the pitching was good enough to stay with them. Under Kerrigan's guidance, the pitchers led the way this year, just waiting for the offense to catch up to them.

3) Keeping Marlon Byrd in Philly -- On May 30th, Marlon Byrd was hitting a very sad .193. His OPS was at a Rey Ordonez-level of .538. Rumors were flying that the Phillies were going to send him back to AAA for some more work and/or acquire another CF. The Pirates' Kenny Lofton was at the top of the shopping list, and various reports were that he could come across the state at any time. But Ed Wade held off...and held off...and held his breath. And Marlon Byrd finally delivered.

Byrd sat out the first game of a double-header on June 1st, but went 2-for-2 in the second game. He went 2-for-3 in the next game, raising his average 34 points in two games, before an 0-3 knocked him back to .220. He then went 10-for-19 over the next six games spiking his average to .273. And he just kept going from there. He hit .364 in June, .351 in July, and .330 in September, finishing the year at .303.

It could be argued that the real spark in his season came on July 8th in Montreal. The Phillies were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and placed Byrd in the leadoff spot to shake things up. He went 3-for-5 on the night and scored four runs; he hit leadoff for the rest of the season. In the leadoff role, he hit .319, had an OBP of .374, and scored 64 runs, helping to spark the offense for the second-half run.

Ed Wade was criticized for not tweaking the roster more around the trading deadline; in late May, he was being criticized for not doing something about Marlon Byrd. But Wade can tell all of us "I told you so!", because he was doing something: he was giving Byrd the time he needed to become the player we all expected. Over the last four months of the season, Marlon Byrd showed that he will be the Phillies' CF -- and perhaps their leadoff man -- for the next few years.

4) Kevin Millwood's no-hitter -- Coming into the Sunday afternoon game on April 27th, baseball fever had not yet overwhlemed the Philadelphia area. The offseason excitement of adding Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood was kind of wearing off; Thome was hitting .270 with only three home runs, while Millwood was a decent 3-1, but with an ERA approaching 5.00. The Phillies sat at 14-10 as the first full month was reaching an end.

But on this Sunday afternoon, there was a buzz running through the Vet, as the fans poured in. 40,000+ plus were expected on this day, and who could blame them for coming: it was the Phanatic's last birthday party at the Vet. But the furry green guy soon took a backseat.


9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K

Millwood took the mound against a hot-hitting Giants' team, a team that came into the three-game set in Philly with a 17-4 record. And Millwood just mowed them all down. After a leadoff walk to Ray Durham, Millwood set down 11 straight before Rich Aurilla drew a free pass. He got 15 more in a row before walking Durham again with two outs in the ninth. But when Marquis Grissom flew out to Ricky Ledee in center, the Vet rocked like it had not rocked in years.

For me, I will never forget two things about this game: 1) driving north on I-95, tuning in to try to catch the end of the ballgame, and hearing Scott Graham scream "Kevin Millwood has just thrown a no-hitter!"; and 2) I was supposed to be at that game! Such is life...

5) Playoff Fever in Philly -- Alright, so the Phillies finished out of the money. Despite that, you cannot deny that they brought some excitement and anticipation to the sports scene in this city for much of the summer. The Phillies held the Wild Card lead for most of the second half of the season, and had even casual fans checking the paper every morning to see if the red-pinstripers were still in front of the race. The six games with the Marlins over the last two weeks of the season were the most anticipated and hotly-contested baseball games that this town has seen in ten years.

So they fell a little short. I was disappointed, you were disappointed. But they managed to give us something that Phillies' fans have not seen very often in the last 20 years: significant games in late September. Even better than that: the realization that things should only get better. If you enjoyed 2003, then hopefully 2004 and beyond will be even better.


So, that's my list. Like I said, yours may differ. Let me hear what you think. In the meantime, I'll work on the five things that went wrong for the Phillies this season.

A peek at my postseason predictions

Let's see here. Yanks...Red Sox...Marlins...Braves? Hello, Atlanta, are you there?

Well, three out of four ain't bad. The Cubbies win killed my NLCS pick as well, so the best I can do in the LCS round is one-for-two.

What about my "wish" picks?

Twins? No. A's? 9 straight losses when they had the chance to move on. Cubs? Got that one. Marlins. Two-for-four. That's .500. Not too bad.

Of course, the Red Sox-Marlins World Series will burn my picks yet.

Where have I gone?

I know...I haven't been around much lately. Blame it on a combination of too much work, and the need to decompress and let the season soak in before I start to review it. I haven't been writing, but I have been planning out some entries, including entries on what went right, what went wrong, a position-by-position outlook, and a look at the minor league results this season. In general, posts will come less often throughout the offseason; but I'm writing now, and I suppose that we can start with an overall look at the 2003 Phillies.

While Phillies' fans may be disappointed with the way the season wrapped up, very few can argue that this season was not an improvement over last season. It started last winter when management opened up the pursestrings and brought in Jim Thome, David Bell, and Kevin Millwood. Just the impression that the team was serious and ready to make a run at things started the year off on the right foot. Also helping was the hiring of Joe Kerrigan as pitching coach. With the new pieces in place, there were improvements.

The Phillies went from 80 wins last season to 86 this year, despite the late-season tumble. The team played three games worse on the road this year (40-41 to 37-44) but improved by 8 1/2 games at home. The addition of the offense Thome brought to the table increased the team run total from 710 to 791 (imagine if Burrell had hit!), and the work Kerrigan did with the pitching staff lowered the runs allowed from 724 to 697.

Offensively, the team ranked first in the NL in walks, third in doubles, fourth in OBP, and fifth in runs scored and RBI. From the mound, Philadelphia was third in complete games and shutouts, fourth in HR allowed, and the bullpen ranked fifth in relievers' ERA. Behind the pitchers, the Phillies' defense ranked fifth in the NL fielding percentage and fewest errors.

So there were many bright spots in the 2003 season. Unfortunately, there were not enough to keep most Phillies' fans happy. Keep an eye here over the next day or so for my list of the five things that went right for the Phillies this year.

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 much for the good feelings I had on Friday.