Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bitter Sweet 16

note: My role as an MLB writer for sportshaze.com has increased and shifted to the AL West. Considering this new position and my regular sports writing job, I must unfortunately curtail my blog postings about the Phillies. Time simply will not allow me to continue to do so at the rate I have been all summer. I'll still post when something monumental happens, but those one or two of you who were getting their Phillies news from me, you'll have to choose another outlet. Thanks to all of my readers, regardless of frequency. As always, GO PHILS!

Charlie Manuel may have been able to pencil in his entire starting lineup for Tuesday night's game, but he never would've guessed what the lineup would look like by the end of it.

Ryan Howard single-handedly wrecked the night for my Fantasy Baseball offense with his 0-for-7, five-strikeout performance. His final strikeout on an attempted check swing to end to the bottom of the 14th resulted in just the second ejection of his career. With Raul Ibanez moving over to first base in the top of the 15th, Manuel figured Roy Oswalt may as well face his former team in some capacity, so the good sport ace trotted out to left field to replace Ibanez.

Naturally, Oswalt then made the first put out of the frame, and the consummate professional couldn't help but crack a smile at the absurdity of it all.

The smiles didn't last long as Houston took a 4-2 lead in the top of the 16th, and Oswalt failed to come through with a walk-off, three-run shot in the bottom half to keep Philadelphia in sole possession of first place in the Wild Card.

The loss also continued a frustrating trend, holding the Phillies exactly 2.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East for the eighth consecutive day. Both teams are 5-4 in their last nine games and each has picked up every win and loss on the same day. The scenario is pretty intriguing, but mostly just annoying.

Unfortunately, the Phillies seem to be returning to their late-May swoon, as they've managed more than two runs in a game just once since their 8-2 win over the Giants a week ago. Howard and Chase Utley have been non-factors since their return from the DL, making the basepaths a lonely place for hot-hitting Jimmy Rollins.

As J-Roll used to say, Philadelphia still is the team to beat in the division, and the National League. Its pitching rotation is as good as any in baseball, and a strong September is still in the cards for the offense. As long as Howard doesn't get thrown out of anymore games and the Phillies start winning when the Braves lose, the baseball universe will unfold as it should.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Slim Pickins

That's the toughest seven innings of shutout ball I've ever seen anyone pitch.

Roy Halladay weaved in and out of trouble in one his most eventful outings of the year. In the end, the Nationals couldn't break through. Usually eight hits and three walks will get your base runners a few high fives from the guy in the on-deck circle, but Halladay is of that special breed of pitchers who become more un-hittable when guys get on base. Two double plays from one of the best defenses in baseball also helps.

Amazingly enough, the Phillies have now played in seven 1-0 games this season, and three in just the last 12 games. Friday's win made them 4-3 in such contests. It's another symptom of the Year of the Pitcher.

Halladay is just as responsible for that as any other hurler. Since the Phillies' resurgence, he's done nothing but win. He's won each of his last six starts, posting an ERA of 1.37 over that stretch. The Cy Young-worthy group continues to be cramped in the NL, but none of the other names can match Halladay's durability (200 innings, 8 complete games) or control (1.1 BB/9, 7.2 K/BB).

The only run of the game came in the third inning on Raul Ibanez' hot-shot double off the glove of Adam Dunn. It was a play that most first basemen (maybe even Ryan Howard) would make, or at least knock down to prevent the run from scoring. The Phillies benefited, though, and it's all they would get off Jason Marquis.

When Dunn stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth inning with a man on second and two out, the pessimist inside of me though, "It's about time for Brad Lidge to blow a save, and Dunn has the pop in his bat to do it." Dunn's teammate Ryan Zimmerman had already done the same to Lidge three weeks ago. However, Lidge got Dunn to do something he does a lot more of than hit home runs, as he whiffed on a slider in the dirt to end the game.

Though I'm wary of the fact that Lidge will be the closer if the Phillies make it back to the postseason, he's been a big part of this turnaround. He's converted his last seven save opportunities and has saved 10 of Philly's 21 wins since July 22. His light is flickering back on at the right time.

Getting back to the 1-0 phenomenon, the Phillies have scored in just two of their last 17 innings. That's not the best way to enter their first game against Stephen Strasburg. Then again, the rookie sensation has been anything but sensational in his two starts since coming off the DL. He didn't pitch past the fifth inning in either one and allowed a total of seven earned runs. The Phillies don't have a good track record this season against pitchers they've never faced, regardless of that pitcher's recent performance, so a change in that trend is definitely in order.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bad timing

Mike Sweeney notched his first big hit in a Phillies uniform Thursday night. Stepping to the plate with two on and two out, he yanked a 1-2 offering from Sergio Romo past a diving Pablo Sandoval (the ground shook as Kung Fu Panda fell upon it) for a two-run double.

Had this been either one of Cole Hamels' previous two outings, it would have been a walk-off hit.

Instead, Hamels put the Phillies in an early 5-0 hole - not even providing them a chance to try and give him support - and they failed to pick up any ground on the Braves, who lost earlier in the day to the Nationals. It was just the third time this season Hamels allowed at least five earned runs. Hopefully, he wasn't scoreboard watching, because if this was his nervous response to pitching in an important game, it's going to be a bumpy road through September.

Hamels did not look comfortable on the mound, as San Francisco knocked him around to the tune of three runs on four hits. Rookie phenom catcher Buster Posey hit the first of two RBI doubles off him, and the damage could have been even worse had it not been for an inning-ending double play. Hamels made it through just five innings and 86 pitches before Charlie Manuel pulled the plug. Setting the Giants down in order in his final frame didn't make any difference.

Jonathan Sanchez took the Gaints rotation off life support, taking a one-hit shutout into the ninth inning. The only guy who gave him trouble was Shane Victorino, who went 2-for-3 with a walk. It wasn't until he was lifted that the Phillies finally started to show their own signs of life, and it was too little, too late for the fans who made up the 100th consecutive shutout at Citizens Bank Park and biggest sellout crowd of the season. They all had a big reason to come out and support their team, which sported baseball's best record (20-5) since July 22, and the second-best home record of the season behind Atlanta. Instead of celebrating, 45,000 exited the stadium scratching their heads.

It is just one loss, which is unavoidable in this game, but in the climate of playing from behind at this stage in the season, each defeat is magnified and dissected and feels like a momentum-destroyer. It's the playoff itch that can't be satisfied until the winners are decided. Until then, raw skin will be the result.

Luckily, some positive news concerning Ryan Howard may provide some ointment. He has been cleared to start his rehab assignment with Class A Lakewood and could rejoin the team as early as Sunday. The Phillies can't wait to get him back into the cleanup spot, as his .292 average is the highest since his MVP year in 2006 and his 81 RBI were leading the NL went he went down. Keeping fingers and toes crossed, the Big Man's return will give Philadelphia its full starting lineup for the first time since May 21.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I love to ride my bi-cycle

Jimmy Rollins may have fallen a double short of the cycle on Wednesday night, but the Phillies collectively hit for the cycle two times over in their ongoing quest for their fourth straight division title.

The Philly bats teed off against San Francisco Giants pitching. Ryan Howard is not expected to return until next week, so the Phillies continued to share the load. An offense potent by reputation enjoyed one of its most balanced games of the year, as seven of its 11 hits went for extra bases, including two homers, three triples and two doubles. Four Phillies had at least two hits and six drove in at least one run.

J-Roll led the way with a 3-for-5 night, making the Giants pay dearly for an error that allowed him to step to the plate with two on and two outs in the fourth inning. He golfed a Matt Cain slider into the right field seats for a three-run shot to give Joe Blanton all the support he would need.

Though Average Joe continues to struggle in the first inning, he's putting together a solid second half as he tends to do every year. While he's only 2-1 in that period, he's given the Phils five quality starts, and they've won four of the last five games in which he's pitched.

Carlos Ruiz continues to rake the ball, as he added two more hits - including just the fifth triple of his career - and raised his average to .297. This is becoming a more popular phrase in Philadelphia with each passing day: Chooch is the man.

Domonic Brown gave us another glimpse of the future when he pinch hit in the eighth inning and cranked a no-doubter into the second deck off Guillermo Mota. Though it will be sad to see him go when Howard comes off the DL, we'll get Brown back in September when the rosters expand. Judging from the curtain call the fans demanded after tonight's blast, his name will be a welcome sight in Phillies box scores through the rest of the season.

About the only satisfaction the Giants received in this game was watching Pat Burrell go yard against his old team for the second straight night. I admit it was nice to see Pat the Bat make his first return to Citizens Bank Park since he helped the Phillies win a World Series. I'm also glad he's a enjoyed a resurgence since coming back to the National League. He finds himself in a playoff hunt, but if the Phils complete a sweep tomorrow to further pad their lead in the Wild Card, his contributions may not mean that much.

Personally, I'd rather see the Giants battling the Braves for the Wild Card, but as Philly has kept on winning, so has Atlanta. The Phillies' deficit in the division has teetered between one game and three games over the past two weeks. The Braves have been in first place every day since May 31, and with a game remaining against the Nationals, followed by a three-game set against the Cubs, that string will probably continue. As I've been reminding myself at least five times a day, at least it's only August.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The K stands for Killer

Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez may wish he had his at-bat back in the top the ninth inning in Saturday's game against the Mets. He couldn't hold up his swing on a pitch out of the zone, ending the Phillies' shot at a little more insurance in a game they wound up winning anyway. Considering it was Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez on the mound, Ibanez should be glad that last pitch didn't end up lodged in his forehead. K-Rod had already learned by that point that his fist wasn't strong enough to do the job.

That strike three wound up being Frankie K's last of the 2010 season, as the New York Mets just revealed that he will miss the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his pitching hand. In a weird twist of fate, the injury was likely suffered during his alleged thrashing of his girlfriend's father, Carlos Pena, three days previous. It's no wonder he injured his hand, considering that he was trying to ram it through the skull of another human being, belonging to the grandfather of his children, no less.

Apparently, this whole fight was precipitated by Pena talkin' about K-Rod's mother. I'd sooner expect such an exchange to occur on an elementary school playground, and it wouldn't end with someone in handcuffs.

Maybe Rodriguez recently read a tutorial on tough love and took it much too literally, and we've all seen him flex his muscles and scream his head off after every save. Getting knocked around by those cannons can't be much fun, and the only message I would derive from such a shellacking is, "Get me the hell away from this guy, now!" Pena and K-Rod's girlfriend, Daian Pena, agreed with such a stance and had K-Rod arrested right there at Citi Field. A judge later ordered Rodriguez to stay away from the two of them.

And what was his punishment from an embarrassed Mets organization? Two games. A penalty of $125,000 can barely be considered a slap on the wrist for a guy making 12.2 million. K-Rod did not only commit third-degree assault on a member of his own family, but did so at his place of work. Pictures of the shackled closer being escorted from the stadium by police were splattered all over the Internet. If that happens at almost any other job, that's the last time he would be seen on the premises.

Maybe if Rodriguez had been punching a dog, the penalty would've been more severe.

The Mets end up looking like world class idiots, because it turns out K-Rod's crime has made it impossible for him to return to work. In a way, I'm glad he screwed up his thumb. He's now receiving the exile from Citi Field and his teammates he should've gotten from the start. After Rodriguez undergoes surgery to repair the torn ligament, he'll be forced to sit and reflect on what he's done while he waits for his Sept. 14 court date. It took a little time, but justice has been served.

Sometimes, it just takes one

No one will argue that leadership is a vital component for any team in any sport, but after a successful season or a championship run, you will never see a coach or manager crediting him/herself. Even for the best teams, particularly in a 162-game Major League Baseball season, the randomness of the game takes hold. A few lucky bounces can make the difference in key games, and no one person will affect the outcome all that much.

However, so often in the game we see the acquisition of a new coach or a new player, and it's like someone flicked on the light switch. Guys who weren't hitting are suddenly scalding the ball, and pitchers who couldn't throw strikes are suddenly getting everyone out. What's the big change?

Any major league player will tell you that baseball is 95 percent mental. If your mind isn't going the right way, you're not going to perform. That's why you often see managers and coaches getting replaced in the middle of a long slump. If it's the overall atmosphere that's causing the failure, then maybe a change in personnel will create a winning mentality.

So far, the changes are helping the Phillies and Orioles. Since Philadelphia fired hitting coach Milt Thompson and brought in Greg Gross, the team has gone 17-5, while Baltimore is 9-4 since the hiring of new manager Buck Showalter.

When Showalter entered the picture, the Orioles sported the worst record in baseball and had long abandoned the pipe dream of contending down the stretch. Their main problem - as has been the case for a decade - was lack of starting pitching. Three starters in the rotation had double-digit losses, and Jeremy Guthrie was the only one with an ERA below 5. He also led the rotation in victories with four.

Since no-nonsense Buck took the reigns, Baltimore is not looking so lost. The team rattled off nine wins in 11 games, seven of which were on the road. Over that stretch, the starters went 6-1 with an ERA under 3. If the Orioles stay on their present course, they'll achieve their first month with a winning record since June 2008.

Showalter has a reputation for bringing a sense of order to teams with no direction, like the New York Yankees teams of the early 1990s and the brand new Arizona Diamondbacks a few years later. He's not telling the Orioles how to hit or pitch, but as Guthrie explained, he's helped change their mentality.

"It's not a coincidence that we've turned it around since Buck showed up," he said. "He hasn't done anything necessarily different to make us win games, but we know what he expects. No magic formula, but maybe a kind of a good shift for us in gears."

The Philadelphia Phillies offense was in dire need of a shift in gears early in the second half. The hitters had been stuck in neutral for the better part of the season, and the team went 2-6 on its road trip after the All-Star Break, falling six games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division.

With injuries suffered to nearly every position player at different points in the year, the team was in uncharted territory, and management felt someone needed to take the blame. Thompson had guided a healthy offense through two trips to the World Series, but he was apparently ill-equipped to help the hitters adjust to so many injuries.

Since Gross took over hitting instruction, the offense has kicked it into high gear, averaging 5.2 runs per game, more than a run better than it managed under Thompson since mid-May. What's more impressive is that the team continued to hit after losing Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino.

While the Phillies are the ones hitting and not Gross, he probably helped bring them a fresh perspective. During last night's game against the Mets, Gross said he tried to focus on the differences hitters displayed when they were hot or in a slump - whether it's a difference in stance at the plate or their swing - and remind them of those changes whenever they weren't hitting well. Gross basically described the job of every hitting coach, but the Phillies must like what he has to say.

Now if Gross could unlock the mystery of how to hit when Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are pitching, then we'd really be in business.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Run, Forrest, Run

It's fair to say that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino aren't impressing anybody with their batting averages, but they made a rebound effort by Kyle Kendrick stand up in the Phillies' 3-1 win over the Mets Sunday night that gave them a series win and moved them into a tie for first place in the Wild Card with their next opponent, the San Francisco Giants.

The speedy pair swiped three bags, all of which factored into go-ahead runs for Philadelphia. J-Roll gave us a sense that he has fully returned to health, stealing second and third base three pitches apart in the third inning, and making it easily each time. Though Rollins doesn't get on base nearly as often as he should, this is what we expect to happen when he does.

In years past, we saw the Phillies scrape out wins like this more often. Injuries have prevented that this season, but with the guidance of first base coach Davey Lopes, the base runners are still ahead of Bill James' curve. In the all-too important goal of not making outs, the Phillies are 67-for-80 in stolen-base attempts this season, a respectable success rate of 83.8 percent. Philly runners tend to make it to the next bag safely when they steal, and that can make the difference in games like Sunday night when offense was hard to come by for both teams.

Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge also showed us shades of their 2008 selves with scoreless frames to close out the victory. Sure, two of Lidge's three outs were smoked balls that just happened to be hit right at people, but how many of his saves in '08 were achieved in that fashion? Probably more than we'd like to admit.

The Phillies climbed to 15 games over .500 for the first time this season. Since they nearly snatched first place away from the Braves a week ago, Bobby Cox's bunch are again playing like they want a division title. The Phightins' need to keep the pressure on, and they should thank their lucky stars that Tim Lincecum just pitched on Sunday. He's not exactly having a freak-type year, but there's no need to give Chase Utley (2-for-20, 8 K's against Lincecum) that big of a test in his return to the bigs.

Ecstasy or agony

I discovered not long after Roy Halladay's arrival that he's a pretty boring quote, utilizing every cliche in the book to describe his success on the mound. But the few times when he's asked to chime in on topics outside the pitching realm, he's come up with some real gems. Halladay's two-out hit in the top of the third inning in last night's game against the Mets started a rally that brought the Phillies' 38-scoreless-innings streak at Citi Field to an end, and his description of hitting duality was so spot on, I had to use it to title this posting.

The pitcher-friendly Citi Field has been the site of much agony for slugging Philadelphia this season. Its embarrassing three-game series there in late May started an offensive funk that took two months to escape. New York's R.A. Dickey continued the trend on Friday night with a performance that rivaled plenty of others as the best of the season in this Year of the Pitcher.

Philly did not suffer the same fate on Saturday and received quite a bit of help in its 4-0 victory. Opposing third baseman's legs are becoming more like giant croquet wickets for Phillie hitters. After Casey Blake's miscue led to two runs on Thursday night, David Wright misplayed another potential double-play ball off the bat of Jimmy Rollins in the sixth inning last night, providing a cushion twice as large for a wheeling and dealing Halladay.

Doc kept the Mets guessing all night long. His entire arsenal was working, and Halladay is nearly impossible to hit when he can throw any pitch in any count. He was able to keep his own count down as well with a couple of nice plays from the mound. This was key, as Ryan Madson had us all frantically praying to the baseball Gods in a shaky ninth inning.

Who knows why, but I was watching last night's game with a bunch of New York fans and one of them predicted a game-tying grand slam for the Mets. Knowing the bullpen's track record over the last year-and-a-half, I couldn't bring myself to come to Madson's defense. Sure enough, a nervous Madson loaded the bases, giving one of those base runners a free pass when he plunked Fernando Martinez in the back after getting ahead of him 0-2. My silence ensured I wouldn't be eating any words regardless of what happened, but Madson managed to get out of the jam and preserve the win for Halladay.

I swear these relievers are giving me grey hairs.

Much has been made of the great number of times the Phillies have been shutout this season. Friday's 1-0 defeat brought that number to 10, three more than all of last season. However, Saturday's 4-0 win made it 13 times the Phillies have shut out their opponents, four more than last year. It's a loose measure of success, but it's usually a good sign if a team shuts opponents out more than it gets shut out. Just look at the Tampa Bay Rays. They recently became the first team in major league history to get no-hit or one-hit five times in a season, but they have the same shutout ratio as the Phillies (plus-3) and own the second-best record in baseball.

We can expect a few more shutouts to fall our way before the end of the season with such a formidable pitching rotation. That's some ecstasy all Phillies fans can enjoy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Broxton feast

Just to let all of you know, I've recently become a Philadelphia Phillies beat writer for sportshaze.com. All of my posts here will be placed on that site as well. It's a startup sports site that covers baseball, football, basketball, hockey and the NCAA. I encourage everyone to check it out!

I’m wondering which will happen first: Darrelle Revis successfully renegotiating his contract with the New York Jets or the Phillies reclaiming their lead in the NL East. One thing I know is that the Phillies’ waiting game is much more fun to watch.

From now on when Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton enters a game with the Phillies trailing, I’ll simply say, “The Phils have this one well in hand.” Since Matt Stairs’ moon shot off him in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, Broxton has just one save in four opportunities and a 9.82 ERA against Philadelphia. Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz provided the walk-off magic this time around, completing the Phillies’ largest comeback victory of a topsy-turvy 2010 season, but the writing was on the wall before Ruiz dented it with his double.

I can’t claim to know the state of Casey Blake’s ankles four months into a long season, but they had to be in better shape than Bill Buckner’s when a tailor made double play ball came bouncing his way off the bat of Ben Francisco. The replay shows he lifted his glove, expecting the ball to bounce higher than it did, which allowed two runs to cross the plate and the tying run to get into scoring position with nobody out. I don’t even care if Mariano Rivera was on the mound, the Phillies’ win expectancy shot through the roof with that error.

Much kudos go to Ruiz, whose hitting is finally catching up with his defense and excellent handling of the pitching staff. Despite some time spent on the DL, Chooch is putting wood on the ball with much more authority this season. His average with runners in scoring position (.293) is just a point lower than his general batting average, and both would be career highs. Pitchers prefer facing the bottom of the order, but Ruiz is making himself comfortable down there and making an already-potent lineup that much more dangerous.

Such an incredible victory covered up another ugly performance from the bullpen, which allowed a total of 14 runs in just 12 innings during the series. Danys Baez was the only reliever to toss a clean frame last night, lowering his season ERA to 5.40. This remains a glaring issue Philly will continue to deal with through the rest of the season.

But as I said before, it will be an exciting finish that makes me happy I’m not a Jets fan.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kicking and Screaming

"Afterwards, I just turned around and I've got Cueto kicking me in the back with his spikes. It's super unprofessional. I don't know where he learned how to fight."

Anyone shown this quote out of context would think it was some wild form of wrestling or kickboxing, though I can't think of any that allows the wearing of spikes. At any rate, Chris Carpenter was one mad Cardinal after his team's brawl with the Cincinnati Reds last night in the bottom of the first inning. The rivalry is heating up with Boston-New York-type intensity, and if this display is just the beginning, I can't wait for Sept. 3 when the two teams meet up again.

And for the record, Chris Carpenter, your privileged life growing up in New England pales in comparison to the hard, impoverished existence of Johnny Cueto before he became one of the lucky few from the Dominican Republic to ascend the ranks of Major League Baseball. Spikes or no, he could kick your ass in a fight any day.

The Phillies are continuing to show some fight without the meat of their order. Since my last posting, they have gone 2-2 and remain firmly latched onto the coattails of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Four games is far too small a sample size to measure success, so maybe I should think about taking longer vacations.

Losing a game when you score nine runs is never fun, but Domonic Brown unloaded for his first major league home run. We were all waiting for that one, and if he wasn't just a replacement bat for Shane Victorino, I'd expect that shot to open the flood gates and lead to 15 more homers in the last eight weeks of the season. Hopefully, Ryan Howard can give the lineup that kind of production when he returns. God knows we're all used to it this time of year.

Getting everyone back healthy will be key because in less than a week, the Phillies start a stretch of 24 games in 23 days. As always, I'm sure they'll make things interesting all the way down to the wire.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Temporary Pharewell

Adrian is officially on vacation so all he can say about tonight's game before he leaves the area for four days is it seems like the Phillies did everything they could to lose, but the Marlins and the umpires were having none of that! The road sweep was lovely and it catapulted them into new territory. Philly is 12 games above .500 for the first time this season, laughing in the face of its injuries and the Braves, who are hanging on to their lead in the NL East by a thread.

The Phillies always seem to play well when I'm not following them, so maybe when I return, they'll be sitting in first place. Brad Lidge, is that too much to ask?

Sweeney Swoon

Man, it must suck to be John Mayberry, Jr.

The kid was a highly touted prospect when he was traded from the Texas Rangers before the 2009 season, and he made an immediate splash after a late May call-up when he hit a three-run homer in his first big league game, off Andy Pettitte at Yankee Stadium, no less. Mayberry continued to impress during Interleague Play, getting eight hits in his first 25 major league at-bats, three of them home runs.

National League opponents proved much more difficult for Mayberry, as he managed just four hits through the rest of the season while striking out 16 times in 32 at-bats. Then, this younger and more versatile kid named Domonic Brown out-shined Mayberry and everyone else in the Phillies' farm system, earning his call-up last week after Shane Victorino went on the DL - a move that had all Phillies fans yelling at the organization, "What took you so long?!" Brown is a star in the making and has all but locked down a spot as a starter with the team in 2011.

Mayberry, who has never hit better than .268 in any season in the minors, finally got his shot at redemption earlier this week when Ryan Howard was the latest Phillie to catch the injury bug. Of course, Mayberry has played just four games at first base in his professional career, but the Phillies were gambling that he would flash some of that pop he showed early last season.

Oh wait, the Seattle Mariners just put 37-year-old Mike Sweeney on waivers. Sorry kid, we'd rather take a chance on him.

I understand the Phillies' thinking in this move. Sweeney is a lifetime .298 hitter, who can stroke the ball to all fields, and he's one of the most respected and well-liked players in the game. He was also tearing it up in the minors during a recent rehab stint.

The key word in that previous sentence was rehab. The perpetually sore Sweeney would be a no-brainer as a DH replacement, but for the Phillies his best value is a right-handed bat off the bench. Due to injuries, Sweeney has played just 27 total games at first base since 2006, and now the Phillies expect him to play there every day until Howard's return.

I admit that it'll be nice to see a former Wilmington Blue Rock in a Phillies uniform, but did Ruben Amaro need to make such an impulsive buy? Having Sweeney in the lineup won't make much difference if Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth don't continue to hit like they have been. I've beaten this topic into the ground already, but Amaro could've simply waited for a solid relief pitcher to hit the waiver wire. Whether it's Sweeney or Mayberry in there, it won't change the anxiety we all feel in the pit of our stomachs late in the game when the Phillies' fate lies in the hands of Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson. And unless the relievers hook up a wire to the dugout, they won't feel Sweeney's positive influence from the bullpen.

As of this posting, the Phillies have not yet decided who they're dropping from the 25-man roster to make room for Sweeney. Cody Ransom and Greg Dobbs are possibilities, but they provide more flexibility in the field. Mayberry could only play first base, so there's not much use for him when Sweeney arrives later today. It's the reverse of what happened to Kyle Kendrick last month when he was demoted to Triple-A, but came right back to the big league club before even throwing a pitch for the Iron Pigs when Jamie Moyer got hurt. Mayberry won't complain when he gets the ax, but I'm sure he'd give anything to have Kendrick's good fortune.

Sorry dude, the old man won out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

You didn't do anything in here!

I reference the words I heard out of my mother's mouth countless times when I was young after every failed attempt (in her eyes) to clean up my room. Each utterance deflated the work I thought I had done, which turned out to be three wasted hours.

Jayson Werth also failed to do any "cleaning up" in last night's game against the Florida Marlins. His line read 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. Werth has now struck out in 10 his 19 career plate appearances batting fourth. He rarely performed so poorly at the plate in one game, even during the two months when he wasn't hitting. I guess Werth got too used to that reassuring feeling every time he stepped into the on-deck circle to see the mighty Ryan Howard digging in at the plate in front of him.

Fortunately, Werth's bad night was the only blemish in an impressive 6-1 win over the Fish. Roy Halladay showed shades of the perfection he enjoyed in his previous start in Florida, and provided his own run support with a two-run single. The bottom of the lineup made it easy for Charlie Manuel to pull his ace after seven innings and 108 pitches. Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz bailed out Werth, going a ridiculous 7-for-10 with two bombs. Performances like that can certainly carry the team until the Big Man comes back.

It's early August and we're just two back in the division. I'm hoping Werth can get some lumber on the ball tonight, but I'm liking our chances either way.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Black cats and broken mirrors

Beware, Jayson Werth.

Make sure security keeps an extra eye out for black cats trying to dart across the outfield. Always have some salt handy in your locker to throw over your shoulder before every game. Don't shave off the beard until after the season is over.

The injury bug has now struck every starter in the Phillies lineup this season except for the whiskered right fielder, and the way he's been hitting lately, we can't afford to lose him. Raul Ibanez went down yesterday after hurting his wrist on a slide, and Ryan Howard had to be helped off the field in today's game after spraining his ankle trying to scurry back to second base. It's just one ailment after another and it's getting too hard to remember which players are healthy.

Through all the Phillies' ups and downs, one guy who will remember 2010 as the highlight of his career is Wilson Valdez. He's played almost a full season up to this point, lending his defensive talents in place of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. Though his .237 average as a starter is a poor substitution, his bunt single in the 11th inning of today's game in Washington sparked a hurting club to a 6-4 win. He risked an injury himself by sliding into first, but we'll excuse him for that.

The only problem is Howard was the only player who had not only avoided injury all year, but had also been hitting well consistently. I'm fearful as to how the offense will respond if he has to go on the DL. My own experience tells me such a trip is inevitable. During my sophomore year of college, I sprained my ankle in a volleyball class. I was walking fine after just two days, but I didn't play again for two weeks. The Phillies need Howard down the stretch more than anyone else, so they're not going to rush him back.

A nice trip home would be a good prescription for this team, but it still has a three-game series in Florida to get through. The Marlins are just as scrappy as the Nationals, so it could be a long journey to Friday without the big man in the middle of the order.