SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Phillies to Send Post-Season Invoices to Season Ticket Customers

So says the e-mail I just received from the club.

Optimistic?

Yes.

Hubris?

Perhaps.

Chutzpah?

You bet.

This team has won 14 of 17 on the power of positive thinking and the hot bats of guys named Ibanez, Werth and Ruiz. Shane Victorino could be back in a week, Ryan Howard in two, and Chase Utley by month's end. According to Baseball Prospectus, the future -- this year -- is bright.

Zing? Oomph? Pluck? They have 'em by the bushels. Lots of ifs, but if you told anyone that they'd suffer the injuries they have and be 1 1/2 games out of first in their division on August 10 and 1/2 out of the wild card, the fans all would have signed up for that.

Stay tuned.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Check out this "Spiderman" catch.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Miracle Season? If the Phillies Pull This Off. . .

Ryan Howard was placed on the disabled list today because of the ankle he sprained Sunday against the Nationals. He's the 15th Phillie -- that is no misprint -- to spend time on the DL this year.

So now, here's the Phillies lineup:

C -- Carlos Ruiz
1B -- Cody Ransom or Ross Gload
2B -- Wilson Valdez
3B -- Placido Polanco
SS -- Jimmy Rollins
LF -- Raul Ibanez
CF -- Jayson Werth
RF -- Ben Francisco (tonight, at least).

Howard joins 2B Chase Utley (out until the end of the month) and CF Shane Victorino (out for a few more weeks) on the disabled list.

Yikes!

Double yikes!

Drat!

As I write this, the Phillies were en route to beating the Marlins behind Roy Halladay while the Mets and Braves were tied late in the game. The Phillies desperately are trying to hold serve, so to speak, in August. Stay within striking distance of the Braves in the NL East and the Wild Card, and September is ours, or so they reason. Recently, over the past five years, that's been the case.

But what a tall task it is? Who loses the likes of any of their position players (save Werth, who has been healthy all year) and doesn't plummet in the standings? How can you expect the likes of Brian Schneider, Dane Sardinha, Paul Hoover, Valdez, Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs, Gload, Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco, Cody Ransom and John Mayberry, Jr. (just called up to replace Howard) to continue to produce enough to keep the team close in the standings (Castro has since been released). It's a raggedy platoon of troops who keeps scrapping, keeps fighting, and a pitching staff that's been short on quality starters until last week (with the addition of Roy Oswalt) and that's still short on quality relievers (if you gave Philadelphia area residents who suffer from cardiac ailments or high blood pressure and monitored them, those who are Phillies' fans would see their palpitation rate rise, their agina worse, and their blood pressure spike when Brad Lidge enters a contest.

Yet, still, they persist. They have at it, and, yes, like most teams they don't have the deepest bench or a plethora of subs at AA and AAA who can be summoned and excel. Then again, even the Yankees don't have that. But that's why in the off-season your team scrambles to fill up its AAA roster with 27 to 34 year-olds with some Major League experience, some moments of glory, some grit, just to fill in, on an occasional basis. They big clubs are looking for renters, not people to move in, but the Phillies have needed more than an occasional fill-in. They need professional hitters, big league hitters, not AAA players who will get exposed after going around the league for two weeks.

So far, so good. It helps that spiritual leader Jimmy Rollins has returned and that Ibanez and Werth have started hitting again. But make no mistake -- this lineup doesn't scare a whole lot of teams, and the Phillies will have to play ever so much better in order to tread water, let alone move forward.

It's intriguing to watch, and you have to feel for the team, the injured players and skipper Charlie Manuel. The next several weeks should tell us whether this team has enough in the tank to stay close or whether the injuries will be just too much to bear.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Baseball Life Goes Full Circle -- Tom Trebelhorn

Okay, it's a rainy Sunday morning, but rest assured that I have plenty to do. I'm not going to tell you who Tom Trebelhorn is, but Thomas Kaplan's article in the New York Times is worth a read.

Where They Are Now: Mo Vaughn

Great article in today's New York Times about former Red Sox', Angels' and Mets' first baseman Mo Vaughn, who has found life after baseball in rehabbing lower-income housing in the New York City area. Vaughn's an interesting and smart guy, interesting because of his new vocation, interesting because he wore #42 in tribute to Jackie Robinson before Major League Baseball retired it for all teams (save the Yankees, where Mariano Rivera will be able to wear the number until he retires) and smart because, if you read the article closely, you'll see that Vaughn splits his time between New York City and Florida (read in between the lines: Florida has no personal income tax). At any rate, it's a long feature, and worthy of a read.

Phreakonomics: Or, How the Phillies Might Have a Problem for 2011

Good article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about the Phillies' payroll for 2011 (which will include $23 million for Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge and $2.75 million for Danys Baez).

I have thought for a while that the team needs to get either a capital infusion for 2011 or somehow not blow up during the season, because they cannot contend by failing to evolve, by failing to be a meritocracy, and, yes, by failing to jettison both Ibanez and Lidge, both of whom have little left in the tank. They won't be able to sign Jayson Werth, who hasn't necessarily turned into Jason Bay during his walk year. They'll have some solid starting pitchers, but still wear bear the albatross of two years remaining on Joe Blanton's contract and overpaying for Ryan Howard. Read the whole thing, but if the owners are determined to hold fast at about $150-155 million for 2011, the team's clunkiness will continue for another season.

Read the whole thing and draw your own conclusions. What you'll see is that they'll still need starting pitching and that their bullpen will need a partial reconstruction. The question is how much will the Phillies spend to re-build the 'pen.

Why the Phillies Won't Make the Playoffs

I try to see the glass as half full, honestly, I do. But one of the main reasons why the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 is plainly absent with the 2010 version -- a shutdown bullpen. Last night's game once again proved that you cannot get to the playoffs -- let alone win the World Series -- with a closer who cannot locate his pitches and who blows a hard-earned 5-4 lead (achieved in the top of the ninth) with a groved fastball to a heart-of-the-order player in Ryan Zimmerman. The Phillies had a golden opportunity to pull within 2 1/2 games of the division-leading Braves, only to have Brad Lidge either get lit up or have his lights put out (you can make the analogy of your choice) again.

I recall in 1993 the Phillies' closer, Mitch Williams, struggled. The Philadelphia press pressed then-manager Jim Fregosi on why he kept on trotting out a closer nicknamed "Wild Thing." To which Fregosi replied, "Mitch pitches the ninth." And we all recall what happened -- the team miraculously got to Game 6 of the World Series before Williams yielded only one of two Series-ending home runs of all time, a shot by Joe Carter. In 2008, when the Phillies beat the Rays to win the Series, banners sprouted all over Citizens Bank Park proclaiming, "Mitch: We Forgive You."

I had failed to realize that many Phillies' fans harbored resentment against Williams, whom I had forgiven right at the time he yielded the home run, for many reasons. First, he didn't try to give up the home run. Second, relievers do give up home runs, even at the worst times. Third, Mitch was the best, perhaps, among many not-so-good options in the 1993 bullpen. Put differently, it wasn't solely Mitch's fault that the Phillies didn't win that World Series. You have to remember that the Blue Jays' teams of the early 1990's were outstanding ball clubs (with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar, among many others).

I made these observations to my (normally) mild-mannered wife, who reflexively responded, "Oh, I never forgave him."

Say what? Yes, Mitch was flamboyant, and, to me, the 1993 team (save role players and Curt Schillling) wasn't the easiest to like, let alone adore, but huh? Shows how much I knew. The fans were miffed (Mitch, by the way, has turned into a very good analyst for MLB Network).

So, fast forward to the 2009 and now 2010 versions of a Brad Lidge (who was a hero in 2008) and who is under contract for an additional $11.5 million for 2011. He's flailing out there, and while I understand that perhaps the Phillies didn't have the mojo to add, say, Matt Capps (great move by the Twins, by the way), they cannot continue to throw Lidge out there in these situations. Now, I don't necessarily have an alternative, but try Ryan Madson (again), J.C. Romero (I know, he walks too many guys) or even Scott Mathieson, the AAA closer, but try something.

Because you cannot get to the playoffs by blowing saves against the lowly (if feisty) Nationals as the season comes to a climax.