Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dog Days ending?

A big congratulations to Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza for his no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers Monday night. Holy 1992, that's unofficially six no-nos this year. Offensive numbers in both leagues are down across the board. With nearly two-thirds of the season elapsed, there are still two pitchers (Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright) with an ERA under 2, and last year's empty barrel of 20-game winners may be filled with multiple names in 2010. Garza got one back for Tampa Bay, as in the first half it endured the dubious honor of getting no-hit twice in less than two months (incredible considering the Rays presently own the second-best record in the majors). I think we can definitely call this the Year of the Pitcher. Step aside steroids, the mound masters are making a comeback to reclaim what you stole. Read more of my thoughts on this topic in a column that will be posted on the Gettysburg Times website Thursday morning.

I've still got a ton of vacation to use this summer, so my blog will continue to provide only general summaries of the Phillies' weekend series. If they keep winning like this from Friday to Sunday, that's just fine by me.

The Phillies finally ran into a team that was struggling at the plate even more than they were, and it's probably a coincidence, but they haven't lost a game since new hitting coach Greg Gross stepped in. Perhaps a serious move like that was the wake-up call the offense needed.

Philadelphia has tied its longest winning streak of the season and scored more than three runs in four consecutive games for the first time in more than a month. Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth both seem to be warming up, which is absolutely vital during Chase Utley's absence. Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ did a good job of saving face for the organization, as trade rumors and vicious accusations have been hurled like D batteries from the upper deck.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking at this point, but I still saw some troubling trends which contradicted the look of a team busting out of a slump, particularly in the final two games against the Rockies. The Phillies went just 5-for-27 (.185) with runners in scoring position. In 15 of those 22 outs Philly hitters were either retired on balls in the air or swinging third strikes. To use a tired cliche, they're still trying to do too much at the plate, and it nearly cost them the last two games of the series.

So did Brad Lidge.

Most of the Philadelphia closer's saves have been an adventure this season, and he really got the heart racing in his most recent two. Lidge got the third out in each one with the bases loaded after throwing at least 30 pitches (somewhere, Curt Schilling sat with his head buried in a towel). He's averaging 19.4 pitches per inning and 5.95 walks per nine innings in 2010. Lidge has found the bite on his slider again, which has kept his ERA from approaching last year's horrible numbers, but he's no longer dominating enough to deserve the closer's role.

Charlie Manuel is stubbornly choosing to turn the lights on every ninth inning when he could take the pressure off everyone by going with a closer-by-committee. It's not the ideal situation, but it would work better than leaving it all up to a veteran past his prime. Ryan Madson still has closer-type stuff, while J.C. Romero is getting both lefties and righties out this season.

Fortune remains on the Phillies' side as their next two opponents, the Diamondbacks and Nationals, are both making themselves comfortable in last place. Philly looks like it can actually beat those kind of teams, which should cut even more into Atlanta's lead in the East. As both the Phightins' and I will happily attest, there's plenty of summer left.

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