Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Phold Redux?

It couldn't happen again. Could it? In a word, I sure hope not.

In 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies held a 6.5 game lead on the Cincinnatti Reds with only 12 games remaining in the regular season. The city was pumped. There was no NLDS or NLCS in those days, so with the Phils a shoo-in for the Fall Classic, World Series tickets were printed.

On September 21st, with the Phils and Reds locked in a scoreless game, Reds infielder Chico Ruiz unbelievably stole home with Frank Robinson at the plate, giving the Reds a 1-0 win and precipitating an epic 10-game losing streak for the Phils, turning that 6.5 game lead into a 2.5 game deficit from which they never recovered. Phils manager Gene Mauch (rightly) drew the brunt of the criticism for the collapse, deciding to ride his two best pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, down the stretch. I'm all for riding your best horses, but Mauch started Bunning and Short seven times in the last 10 games, with all but one of those starts coming on only TWO days of rest. Unwilling to sacrifice one game to give his team a boon the next day, the ineffective Bunning and Short gamely took the ball, but were unable to stem the tide and get the Phillies righted. After leading the NL by 6.5 games on September 20th, the Phils actually finished the season in third place.

It's hard to describe the impact of that collapse on the psyche of a city if you haven't lived here. To this day grown men- big, strong, tough men- still get visibly affected at the mention of Chico Ruiz or the 'Phold of '64.' Even last year's phenomenal run to the World Series title has not erased the memory of '64 for men of a certain age in the Delaware Valley.

Because of the anguish caused by the collapse, anytime a Phillies team sputters a little bit down the stretch the ghost of 1964 is invoked. It happened in 1993 when Macho Row showed some signs of wear. And it's happening again right now. Like, RIGHT NOW, as I'm typing this post.

The 2009 Phillies are not the 1964 Phillies. Not even close. Perhaps not in its present state, but this current era of the Phils is the best in club history. Period. Stop talking about 1980, and 1977 and whenever else. The late 00s Phillies are the best in team history.

And the best era in team history does not pull off a gag reminiscient of 1964.

The September 29th, 2009 edition of the Phillies has issues, no doubt. A leaky bullpen is chief among them. But all four infielders and all three outfielders look worn out. How else do you explain a two-hit performance by the NL's best offense against a pitcher with a season ERA over 8.00? Look at the at-bat totals. All seven regulars will have over 550 plate appearances after tonight. The bench has produced little all year, necessitating that the regulars keep playing.

But this team has more heart than any in baseball, and worn out or not, leaky bullpen or not, this team will not allow itself to go down in a heap like it's 1964.

So the lead over Atlanta has shrunk from eight to four since September 20th. The Braves are hot and are playing the 'packed it in' Marlins and the historically bad Nationals the rest of the way, while the Phils play an Astro team they can't seem to beat and those same Marlins. The populace may be getting antsy, maybe nervous in some corners, but there are no flukes over a 162-game season, and the Phillies will prevail as NL East champs for the third consecutive year. Because, for the third consecutive year, the Phillies are the best team in the NL East.

And I will make a prediction about when, too. I predict the Phillies will clinch the division Wednesday night with a win over the Astros. The game would mark the two year anniversary of coming all the way back from seven down with 17 to play and overtaking the Mets on the last day of the regular season. It would also mark the second time in three years the Phillies clinched a division on my birthday.

Call it a hunch, blind faith, or whatever you will. But this Phillies team will not let history repeat itself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brad Lidge

Brad Lidge is the Phillies' biggest weakness. There, I said it. A charter member of my 'Man Crush' list, I've supported Lidge staying in his role as the closer for the Phillies longer than many fans have.

But no more.

In 2008, Lidge was a perfect 41-41 in save opportunities in the regular season, posting an ERA of 1.95 and striking out 92 in 65.1 innings. This season he's 31-42 in save chances, with an ERA of 7.48 and one fewer walk than last year in 14 fewer innings. He's also allowed 11 home runs (compared to two last year), and for the Sabermetric minded, his ERA+ in 2008 was 225, while this year it's 57. You don't need to know a thing about ERA+ to know that a drop of 168 points in any statistic is not good.

Watching Lidge pitch at this point is painful. When he enters a game, a feeling of dread enters the air. When a runner gets on base, there's not even deliberation as to whether or not a run will score. Is his knee bothering him? Maybe. But his issues appear to be more related to what's going on between the ears than with anything else. The two intangible factors any player has to have in order to be successful are a good approach and confidence.

Lidge's approach is all screwed up. Despite his struggles, his stuff remains alright. Maybe too alright. Lidge throws a fastball and a slider, but the slider is really two pitches. There is the 'get me over' slider, which he tries to throw for a strike, and then there's the 'put away' slider, which he throws to get strike three. He knows his put away slider is pretty much unhittable when it's moving right, which is what makes it an outstanding strikeout pitch. However, last I checked, you can't strike out anyone on a 0-0 count, but Lidge continues to throw 'put away' sliders on the first pitch. Hitters simply take the pitch, which puts the count in their favor and swings control in their direction, and puts Lidge on the defensive. Robbed of the end-of-an-at-bat hammer and in a position where he has to throw a strike, Lidge is consistently getting beat on his second-tier stuff. (And yes, I know, he has had significant issues with fastball command... but he always does, even when he's good).

The other intangible that has almost become tangible with Lidge this year is his confidence. He doesn't trust that he can get the job done. You can see it in his facial expressions, his body language, even how many deep breaths he takes. All of these get more and more tense as an inning unravels for him, almost like he awaits the roof caving in on him. Closers are like cornerbacks in the NFL. You're going to get beat, not everything is going to go your way, but if you can't forget about it instantly, you're not going to be effective until you do.

Big picture wise, the big, big problem with Lidge's struggle is that the Phils have no other good options. Ryan Madson is great in the eighth inning, but has blown about as many as he's saved when it's been his turn in the ninth. Other would be contenders have been negated by injury or ineffectiveness. At this point, I would give Tyler Walker a chance. He has closed before, even saving 23 of 28 for the Giants in 2005. I'm not saying I'd go into the playoffs with him in the ninth, but I'd spend the next week and a half figuring out if I could.

As negative as my stance towards Lidge sits right now, I don't think he's done. This is what Lidge does, it's the pattern of his career. He's great, he stinks. The pendulum has never swung as wildly as it has between last year and this year, but his career stats show that he's prone to a clunker of a season every so often. So I do think Lidge will be back in the closer's role for the Phillies again, and will pitch as effectively as any closer in baseball.

Just not this season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jerry Crasnick

I like Jerry Crasnick. For those unfamiliar, he's a baseball writer for espn.com, and generally exhibits that he's well connected and knows his stuff. He wrote two pieces over the past few days that are worth reading.

The first, the weekly edition of his Starting 9 Column, examines players who are at the 'put up or shut up' portion of their careers as the 2009 season ends and we look toward next season a little bit. Off the top of my head, I would add Jose Reyes, Joba Chamberlain and Dan Uggla to Crasnick's list.

The second recent article from Crasnick is about Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth. It's easy for Werth to get lost on the national landscape because of how many stars he plays with, but at 30, Werth has earned his keep as a key player on a very good team. One of the more intersting aspects of the story to me is the role the fans seemed to have played in the playoffs last season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Games Are Meaningless, but the News Isn't

- The Astros fired Cecil Cooper with only 13 games remaining in the season. Not a surprise I guess. Cooper seems like a good guy, and owner Drayton McLain is very loyal, but the change was made regardless. GM Ed Wade has to know that his head will be the next to roll if the team does not improve significantly.

- The Cubs sent Milton Bradley home for the remainder of the 2009 season. The good news is that he's still got two years and $21 million owed to him by the Cubs. Which begs the question... who didn't see that one coming? Bradley's spectacular flameout in Chicago underscores even further what a great fit Raul Ibanez, the other 30-something outfielder on the free agent market last off-season, has been for the Phillies.

- The Twins ratcheted up the pressure on Detroit just a smidge more with a 7-0 win over the White Sox on Monday night. Minnesota sits only 2.5 games behind the Tigers now, with a huge four-game set still remaining between the two teams starting next Monday.

- Joe Saunders and the Angels kept the Yankees from wrapping up a playoff spot for at least another day, as Saunders pitched into the ninth in the Halos' 5-2 win over the Bronx Bombers on Monday night. Clinching playoff spots is a mere formality for both of these teams, however, and it's a matchup I'd be far more interested in three weeks from now instead of right now.

- Kevin Millwood hit statistical markers in his contract that will trigger a $12 million deal tying him to the Rangers for 2010. Too bad for the Rangers. Millwood has always had conditioning issues, and seemingly has a reputation bigger than his actual performance. Since leaving Atlanta after 2002, Millwood has been a bit of a baseball vagabond, shuffling from one non-playoff team to another.

- Joe Posnanski agrees with my summation of the MLB pennant races with only a week and a half left in the regular season.

-Scott Lauber of the Wilmington (DE) News Journal reports via Twitter that Scott Eyre is ready to pitch in games, which gives the Phillies one legitimate lefthanded reliever. The Phils still await the return of J.C. Romero from a forearm strain.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Dog Days of September

Where, oh where have you gone, pennant races? Here we are, September 21st, and I can't get into any of the games that will be played over the next two weeks. None of them. That could change depending on what happens, but most likely, we're headed towards a yawn fest for the last two weeks.

The only series that appears worth paying attention to over the next two weeks is the Tigers hosting the Twins for four next Monday through Thursday. The Tigers are trying hard to give this division to the Justin Morneau-less Twins, going 4-9 in their last 13 while watching their AL Central lead shrink to three games entering Monday's action.

The Tigers confound me a bit. Looking at their statistics, it's hard to believe they're in first place. They've actually been outscored by three runs for the season. Offensively, in terms of runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and stolen bases, the Tigers rank no better than ninth in the AL in any category. To me, that says they don't do anything especially well offensively.

So they must be lights out on the mound, right? Well, no. The Tigers rank 7th-9th (fully average) in the AL in ERA, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and WHIP. The Tigers have also issued the second most walks in the league, behind only Cleveland.

So how are they in first place? The easy answer is that everyone else in the division stinks, as the Central is the clear weak sister in the American League in 2009. Three of the bottom four team ERAs in the AL reside in the central. The good news is that all of the Tigers remaing regular-season games are against AL Central foes. The bad news is that Detroit has only put up a 13-12 record against teams in the Central in the second half. Bottom line on the Central is that whoever wins it really isn't that good.

But why are the other five divisions so boring? That's pretty easy, actually. Around baseball there are (by my count) six teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers) that are really, really good, 10 teams (Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Mets, Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Padres, Diamondbacks) that are really, really bad, and 14 teams (everyone else) that are just good enough to beat the bad teams and just good enough to get you beat by the really good teams.

So, the really good teams rise above everyone, the bad teams sink to the bottom, and the other teams smack around in the middle, with too many games against bad teams to sink, but too many games against good teams to rise out of mediocrity.

And this creates boring September baseball, where the only things that can happen to playoff bound teams are bad (see: injury).

There are no flukes over the duration of 162 games. I'm not making any playoff predictions just yet, but you can rightfully say that I'd be shocked if this year's World Series champs were not among the six teams I have labelled as really, really good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


- Really? The Mets are second in the National League in batting average in 2009. SECOND, with an average of .270. Of course, they hit a home run every three weeks, so it takes too many hits for them to sustain offense, and that's not going to work with the guys they have playing.

- Really? Pedro Martinez is second in the NL in opponent swing and misses in the month of September.

- Really? Charlie Manuel is letting his starters throw a lot of pitches lately. Why? My guess is that he's got two reasons 1) the bullpen is hurt and ineffective right now and 2) because of number one, Charlie is trying to stretch his starters out and get them used to throwing deep into games for the playoffs. Because, Really? who would you rather have in the ninth inning of a playoff game, tired Cliff Lee or fresh Brett Myers/Brad Lidge/ Ryan Madson?

- Really? Boston and the Angels matched up in a crazy game at Fenway last night, including a ninth-inning, two-out at bat by Nick Green that appeared to feature him strike out twice. Ball four to Green especially appeared to be strike three. But the Sawx are hot, and are taking a stranglehold on the AL Wild Card, up 6.5 games on Texas with only two and a half weeks to play.

- Really? Aaron Crow may want to play pro ball after all. Bout time.

- Really? Jorge Posada decides its a good idea to throw an elbow on his way by a pitcher after scoring a run? The pitcher, Jesse Carlson, was MAD, as he should have been. That's a weasel move by a guy who knows better. Two Blue Jays got hit by Yankee pitchers, and to stand up for his teammates, Carlson threw behind Posada, but did not hit him (Posada eventually walked). Look, genius, two of their guys got hit... you didn't. You got thrown behind. Take your walk, go to first base and suck it up. And if you score a run, you don't act like a 'big man' and throw a 'bow at a pitcher who is listed at 6'1", 160 lbs, which means he probably weighs about 145. What a clown move. If Roy Halladay, who started the game for the Jays, threw behind you, you would've scampered to first base and cowered like an eight year old girl, because Doc would have beaten the crap out of you if you tried a stunt like that. Then, after the game, Posada was quoted as saying "I don't want my kids to see that... Fight in the middle of the field, benches clearing-- that's a bad example." Yeah, it is. And it's your fault.

- And that's how I really feel about that.

- Really? The 1962 Mets are generally considered (on merit) the worst team in baseball history. They finished with a record of 40-120. No kidding, you may say. But the Really? in this note is that those Mets were actually worse, as they had a stretch in May in which they won nine of 12. Without that, the Mets were 31-117, a .209 winning percentage.

- Finally, if you haven't seen it yet, a foul ball off the bat of Jayson Werth on Tuesday night produced this clip, a great slice of Americana.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Catching Site

I like quirky baseball sites, especially if they can teach me things I don't know, or get me to think about things in a way I haven't before. I also enjoy the perspective of some former players (the articulate ones), because they can give you an insight that Bill James or Jayson Stark can't, no matter how brilliant they are, since they've never been on the field with the live ammo flying.

One such site I stumbled across today was http://www.brentmayne.com. The site's content is produced by 15-year major league catcher Brent Mayne. It's heavy on catching, but the blog is good, and I think it can teach you something you don't know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Legacy of Eight Men Out

Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof has long been accepted as the definitive word on the Black Sox Scandal involving eight members of the Chicago White Sox and the 1919 World Series. The book was first published in 1963, and has since been read by countless people interested in baseball and the scandal, and was turned into a movie by the same name in 1988.

However, a recent article in Chicago Lawyer Magazine (big favorite of mine) casts doubt upon the complete authority that has been given to Asinof's account.

The article is written following the release of the notes that Asniof, who passed away in 2008, had kept while conducting interviews and research for the book. They assert, directly, that the Asinof made up certain events and characters, and indirectly, that Asinof didn't have the strength of evidence that he should have in order to write a definitive account.

While the authors do raise decent questions about the strength of the proof Asinof held, let's not lose site of what this is... lawyering at its best.

Whether Asinof followed strict standards of journalism in incorportating what he did into a book, the authors completely obscure the fact that, well, the White Sox players did dump the Series on purpose.

And they completely ignore the fact that, well, Shoeless Joe did take $5000, which in and of itself is grounds for a lifetime ban.

Again, this is written by lawyers. If you can't attack the facts, attack the one presenting the facts.

Seemingly absent from this article is any mention of what those implicated in the fix had to say about the book upon its release. Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg were all still alive when the book came out. No reaction from them? No denials?

In another grand tradition of lawyering, the authors completely ignore the facts that don't suit their position. What about Cicotte's confession of crookedness to a Chicago grand jury? What about Jackson's performance in games the White Sox lost? What about Cicotte hitting Morrie Rath, the Reds leadoff hitter, a universally accepted sign that the fix was on?

The summation of this article is best said by one of the comments at the bottom of the page. A 'Blake' says "Was the 1919 Series thrown? There's plenty of evidence it was. Discrediting this book, written in the 1960s, doesn't change that."

I like Shoeless Joe Jackson. I really do, and he is a sympathetic figure. But he's guilty of baseball's ultimate sin, and not he himself, nor any 21st century Chicago lawyers can rewrite the script of history to change that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What I've Seen Lately

- Raise your hand if you thought Pedro Martinez could be this good for the Phillies. If your hand is in the air right now, you are a liar. Martinez threw 130 pitches, the most he's thrown in a game in over eight years, in the Phillies 1-0 win over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night. Pedro is now 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA in seven starts with the Phils. With J.A. Happ on the shelf with an oblique strain, Martinez is legitimately working his way into the discussion on inclusion in the Phillies playoff rotation.

- Having said that, the back end of the Phillies' bullpen in a disaster right now. Brad Lidge has officially been removed from the role, Ryan Madson has an ERA near eight as a closer, and Brett Myers just returned from hip surgery. But to even get to them, J.C. Romero and Clay Condrey are still out, and Scott Eyre has a 'loose body' in his pitching elbow. Who's down in that pen that you would trust right now? I'm being serious here... the most trustworthy guy down there right now might be Tyler Walker.

- Ichiro is amazing. He plays in Seattle and doesn't speak English real well so we don't hear about him as much as we should, but he's amazing. Nine straight 200-hit seasons. If he wants to, he'll probably reach 3000 hits in the Major Leagues, despite not coming to the States until 2001 at age 27.

- Boston (and my friend Greg) want to know where this Brad Penny was until about two weeks ago. Sure, he's in a more pitcher friendly league, but it's not THAT pitcher friendly.

- Think Scott Kazmir getting traded has anything to do with the Rays losing 11 in a row (and counting)? I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

- C.C. Sabathia had some rocky patches for the Yankees this year, but he's got 17 wins now, with an outside shot at 20. Yawn. No one will care in the Bronx unless he delivers in the playoffs.

- With three weeks left, is the NL West really the best race we have? The Rockies chasing the Dodgers? Really? As of today, it's even closer than either Wild Card race. So much for parity, I guess.

- The Tigers are up five and a half games in the AL Central, are 10 games over .500... and have outscored opponents by 15 runs. Toronto is 26.5 games out of first place, 13 games under .500, and have outscored opponents by nine runs. Those that project records using runs scored vs. given up (Pythagorean W-L) must be wearing hats to keep their heads from exploding.

- The Pirates recently sealed their 17th consecutive losing season, taking sole possession of that dubious distinction from the Phillies of 1933-1948. But let's not let the Pirates grab ahold of the loser crwon quite that easily. The little known fact about that losing era of Phillies baseball is that if not for a 78-76 record in 1932, they would have gone an almost impossible 31 seasons without a winning record, spanning 1918-1948. If you ever have to wonder how a team reaches 10,000 losses, that stat is a big piece of the explanation. In those 31 years, the Phils were 1752-2941, good for a .373 winning percentage. In today's game, that would be an average record of 60-102... for 31 years. That's not just under .500 bad, that's 100 loss bad. That era also featured five sub-.200 winning percentage seasons. Wow. And you wonder why booing became tradition passed down through generations in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What I Learned From Twitter Today

I did it. I signed up for Twitter. But not to be a tool. I signed up to follow the baseball people that I find informative and insightful. So, periodically, maybe daily, I'll do these posts about what the baseball twittersphere is saying. Just be thankful that I'm the sap who signed up for Twitter so that you don't have to, but you still get the information I'm after.

-From Andrew Baggerly, San Jose Mercury News says that Lincecum feels better, plans to make next start: Just talked to Tim Lincecum.

-From Evan Grant, Inside Corner (Dallas Sports News) says that since Michael Young suffered strained hamstring, Marlon Byrd, who hit 3-run HR today, is 13-for-22 with 9 RBIs in 7 games for Rangers.

-ESPN Baseball tweets that Indians' Grady Sizemore has surgery on left elbow

-MLB Trade Rumors says Mike Sweeney Hopes To Play In 2010

-Sox vs Stripes says that the Yankees' magic number for clinching the division stands at 15 after Nick Swisher's walkoff homer.

-Stats, Inc tells us that Javier Vasquez now has a 200-strikeout season for three teams, and that the Cubs eight consecutive hits to start the game last night is the first time that has happened in the bigs since the Yankees on 9/25/90.

-Surfing the Mets reports that Carlos Beltran went 1-4 after a 79 days absence.

-Mark Sheldon points out that Joey Votto went 0-3 last night and is now under .300 for the first time all season.

Phillies Notes

- Charlie Manuel went and got Brad Lidge as he unravelled on the mound against the Nationals last night. Lidge had shown signs of turning it around lately, but a bad outing in Houston on Saturday and another implosion in DC forced Manuel's hand.

- It hurt Manuel going to the mound to take Lidge out, as you could easily tell by his post-game remarks and expression. But, as Manuel said, winning is "bigger than my heart, or anything else."

- After getting swept in a four-game set in Houston, Manuel really did have to do whatever he had to in order to get a win last night.

- I'd expect the Phillies to now use a closer by committe system using Lidge, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers.

- Lost in everything about the Brad Lidge situation is that Pedro Martinez pitched pretty well again. He's been better than I thought he would be, and I thought he could help the Phils.

- The Phillies hit five solo home runs last night, now making it 13 of their last 14 home runs with no one on base.

- Jayson Werth has one RBI on non-home runs since August 1st. ONE. Hit a sacrifice fly once in awhile, geez.

- The Phils have to get their pitching healthy. Madson had an oblique strain, J.A. Happ has a forearm issue that caused him to miss a start, J.C. Romero just had a cortisone injection, which he said he didn't want to do, Scott Eyre got shut down for a few days with a tender elbow, Clay Condrey is still out... Wow, Pedro Martinez and 79 year old Jamie Moyer might be the healthiest pitchers they have now.

- Tyler Walker has done a nice job this season, and could even make the playoff roster. He's gone from "Isn't putting Tyler Walker in the game the universal signal for surrender?" to "Wow, Tyler Walker just struck out Hanley Ramirez to get out of a bases loaded jam." You really never can have too much pitching.

- Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz need to be better at situational baseball. If a pitcher has walked the previous hitter on four pitches, you don't need to swing at the first pitch he throws to you.

- The bench is a black hole right now. Matt Stairs hasn't had a hit since mid-July, Greg Dobbs is hurt, Eric Bruntlett and Miguel Cairo stink, John Mayberry isn't ready to hit major league pitching, and Ben Francisco is hitting .217 since arriving in Philadelphia (but to be fair, he does have a few big hits). Some options on that bench, Charlie Manuel. Unless you want to use 'Big Knock' Bako.

- Apparently I'm annoyed by the Phightin' Phils right now.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are the Mets THAT Bad?

Peter Gammons says no, they are not, and outlines what needs to happen to make the Mets competent again. Of course, the Mets would actually have to do all of these things in order to get back on track, and I'm not sure they're committed to making the changes they have to in order to right themselves.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why Are the Mets So Bad?

If you've ever read my blog, it's not difficult to figure out a few things. One is that I love the Phillies, another is that I hate the Mets. But I really am going to attempt to be even-handed in this post. (After I include this link to a pretty good summation of the Mets season).

Make no mistake, the 2009 Mets are a train wreck.

Jayson Stark weighs in on the Mets current situation as the lead in this week's edition of his phenomenal column for espn.com, Rumblings and Grumblings.

I agree with many of the points made. As a bit of an outsider, I'm not in the Mets situation. But, I've seen more of their games this year than almost any non-Met fan (thank you, MLB Extra Innings), so I feel a certain level of knowledge regarding their situation too.

There are a ton of issues, most of them outlined by Stark. Injuries. Paying too much to players who don't produce, like Oliver Perez. And on and on. But it's more than that.

This is completely unquantifiable and unprovable, but I think you can sum up the biggest difference between the Mets and the Phillies this way: how many guys on the Mets would you want on your side in a scrap? Now, how many guys on the Phillies would you want on your side in a scrap? I don't mean, for example, that you would want Jim Thome on your side because he's huge. I mean, for example, you'd want David Eckstein on your side because he's an irritant, a pesky, driving, nose-to-the-grindstone-gives-you-sharp-boogers player with an edge, even though he's about 5-5 and 120 pounds in full hockey gear.

Guys you want on your side in a scrap are guys that are gamers, that want the ball or the bat in their hands with the game on the line. Guys that leave it all on the field. Guys that would rip your heart out and show it to you in order to win. Killers, as I like to call them.

So who on the Mets fits that description? Who's a killer? Johan Santana. Anyone else? Anyone? Bueller? The only other guy of recent vintage like that I can think of playing for the Mets was Paul LoDuca, bu his skills had eroded enough that it was probably time for a change anyway.

How about on the Phillies? Well, hmm. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, J.C. Romero, Cliff Lee, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge. Cole Hamels is goofy as heck, but when the lights are bright and he's feels like it, he's a killer too.

Think about other recent championshp teams. Who on the 2007 Red Sox would you want on your side in a scrap? Off the top of my head, Varitek, Pedroia, Beckett, Youkilis, Ortiz, Papelbon, Lowell. '06 Cardinals? Pujols, Edmonds, Wainwright, Eckstein, Spiezio. How about the great Yankee teams from the late '90s-early 00's? Jeter, O'Neill, Brosius, Tino Martinez, Rivera, Clemens, Jeff Nelson.

You get the picture. By the way, I don't think it's coincidental at all that the Yankees haven't won it all since they started replacing 'killers' like Paul O'Neill with big names like Jason Giambi or A-Rod.

I think it's also telling that on the teams that win, the 'killer' attitude comes down from the best players, and it's also seen in the role players. Part of that is an infusion of attitude that effects a whole team, but part of that is also a role player thinking 'If Chase Utley/Albert Pujols/David Ortiz/whoever takes the field with that edge, I better do the same.' The Mets have some very talented players, but sorely lack killers. David Wright is a great player, but may be too nice. Reyes and Beltran want to talk about winning and dance like they're winning, but don't seem interested enough in really putting it out there every night the way Utley & Company do.

I have a saying I use all the time, whether in professional or personal situations- "Don't talk about it, be about it."

The Mets talk about it (and dance about it). The Phillies are about it.

And until something in that equation changes, the Mets will continue to be a high-priced train wreck, while the Phillies remain the class of the NL East.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Great Night on the Corner of Pattison and Darien

Heading into Thursday night, the premier matchup in the majors was the Giants-Phillies tilt that was to feature the Ghost of Cy Young Present squaring off with the Ghost of Cy Young Past in the forms of Tim Lincecum and Pedro Martinez, respectively. Or, as one scribe put it, Cy Young against Cy Old.

On this night, a regular season game lived up to the hype, and then some.

In a game that saw the Phillies down the Giants, 2-1, Lincecum and Martinez went toe-to-toe like heavyweight fighters, an especially ironic allusion considering that they're both about 5'10" and 160 pounds.

Martinez allowed his only run of the night on the first pitch he threw, which Giant leadoff man Eugenio Velez hit out to right-center.

From that point forward, Martinez looked more like he did in 1999 than 2009. He dominated the Giants with his familiar flamboyance and flair. He threw in and out, up and down, and from different arm angles. He visibly mimicked Aaron Rowand. He changed speeds, mixed in his change up and kept the Giant hitters off balance all night, striking out nine in the process. He allowed five hits and threw only 87 pitches, with 62 of them strikes.

Martinez not only threw well and economically, but his pitches had incredible life and movement on them. Several Giants waved at air in attempts to hit fastballs that registered only 90-91 on the stadium radar gun, but exhibited a late life and pop that gave Pedro his air of invincibility throughout the 1990's and '00s.

Lincecum, who took the loss, was probably even better. While striking out 11 and allowing only four hits, The Freak baffled the NL's best lineup, blowing hitters away with fastballs, freezing others with knee-buckling curves, and fooling more with a devastating change up.

The shaggy-haired 25-year old made only two mistakes on the evening. The first, a sloppy hanging curve ball to Jayson Werth, landed in the Delaware River (ok, it just felt that way) to tie the game at 1-1 in the second. His next mistake was hitting Chase Utley with a fastball a little too up and a little too in with no one on and two outs in the sixth. Ryan Howard followed by hitting a decent pitch into the gap in right center that scored Utley from first for a 2-1 Phillies lead, which is all it would take on this night.

Lincecum learned the hard way that when you make mistakes against a prolific lineup... even only one or two mistakes... the results won't be good, especially if you pitch in front of an anemic collection such as the Giants.

Martinez earned his third win in five starts for the Phils, recapturing the magic that made him famous, if only for one night. Lincecum took the loss to fall to 13-5.

The respect between the two slight hurlers was obvious after the game.

"He reminds me a little bit of me, but he's twice as good as me at this time of my career," Martinez said of Lincecum. "It took me seven years to win a Cy Young."

Lincecum returned the favor, saying "It's ridiculous how nasty his stuff still is. When you watch him, it's obvious he knows what he's doing out there."

While Lincecum took the loss in this game, there were no losers. A great baseball game with playoff-like feelings and emotions stole the baseball stage in South Philadelphia, with two of the game's great pitching artists, one from yesterday, one from tomorrow, flashing brilliantly across the landscape at the same time for what may be their only head-to-head matchup.

Consider yourself fortunate that you got to see it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Field Remains the Same

Word out of the New York Daily News has dimensions at Citi Field remaining the same for 2010 as for 2009. While the new Mets playpen has played large, it's not THAT big, as it's only 11th out of 16 NL parks in home runs per game.

Certainly injuries have played a part in the Mets' woeful 2009 home run total, but the park is big. However, instead of whining, it's not incumbent upon GM Omar Minaya to build a club capable of excelling in the new park.

A look at other recently built parks shows an organizational philosophy devoted to building a team that can thrive in its surroundings. The Giant and Padre parks both play large, so they developed outstanding pitching staffs. The Phillies' park plays small, so they went about building a team that hits bombs.

Citi Field would be a good spot to host a team similar to the 1980s Cardinals under Whitey Herzog. Get fast guys that hit the ball on the ground and hit line drives, and just let them run. Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith wouldn't have been nearly as effective playing in Atlanta or another park where the ball flew, because they couldn't hit it out anyway. But in St. Louis, they led the Cards to three World Series appearances in six years from 1982-87.

Learn from that, Omar.

Or don't. It won't bother me as a Phillies fan.

Newsworthy Notes

- It's unbelievable to me that the Rays go from starting Scott Kazmir in Game 1 of the World Series last season to trading him to the Angels as they hit the stretch drive to make the playoffs this season. Kazmir is not an ace in the Johan Santana-Roy Halladay mold, but still. The Rays have traded Kazmir and Edwin Jackson in the last 10 months, and it seems to be at least partially payroll driven. That does not bode well for the probability of keeping many of their great young players for too much longer.

-Unlike my cousin the Doc, I really like the Dodgers getting Jim Thome for the last month of the season and the playoffs. He can't play first, but he'll be a Matt Stairs-like lefthanded power threat off the bench for the Dodgers. Also, apparently Manny Ramirez loves Thome, so if that helps Manny be more productive, the move is worth it just for that.

-Jon Garland won't help the Dodgers in the playoffs, but he might help them win another game or two down the stretch, which could be the difference between homefield or not in the NL playoffs.

-The Phillies have scored 18 runs in the last eight games. Slump. An eight games up in the standings in early September slump.

-Facing Tim Lincecum in your next game isn't good for a slump either.

-Raul Ibanez is hitting .179 with one home run and five RBI since July 27th. His average is tied for worst in the majors. He doesn't look like he can catch up to even average fastballs either. Is this because his groin still bothers him? Is this because he's 37 and hit the wall?

-Has there ever been a better flip of roles than the Phillies have pulled in switching J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park's roles? Happ is a legitimate candidate to win the NL Rookie of the Year award, and Park has been dominant at times in short relief. This comes after Happ was lost in the shuffle as the Phils long man early in the year, and Park was terrible as a starter.

-I'm getting worried about the availability of J.C. Romero for the Phillies as the playoffs draw near.

-If either Mariano Rivera or Huston Street is out for any significant period of time, you can count out the playoff prospects of the Yankees and Rockies, respectively.

-Jason Giambi already has three RBI in two plate appearances for the Rockies. That makes the move worth it for the Rocks, even if he never does anything else for them.

-Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez mixed it up a little bit in the Marlins clubhouse. Apparently Uggla didn't appreciate what he perceived as Ramirez being a little soft and not playing with a minor injury. If I were Ramirez, I'd probably respond by saying that I don't appreciate Uggla hitting .245, trying to hit a home run on every swing and fielding like a 92 year old.

-I'd like to see Curt Schilling run for the Senate in Massachussetts. Yes, Schill is often opinionated and outspoken, and sometimes annoyingly so, but what politician isn't? Love him or hate him, Schilling is an extremely hard worker and a very smart guy. He would bring some juice and star power to the Senate, would join another former Phillies ace, Jim Bunning, a Republican Senator from Kentucky. The problem for Schilling, of course, is getting elected as a Republican in a notoriously blue state like Massachussets.

-Big ups to Aaron Boone, who made his 2009 debut for the Astros last night after undergoing open-heart surgery during spring training. By all accounts a good guy, it's a great thing to see anyone back on the field after something like that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All-Alliteration Team

Inspired by memories of the last Phillies unassisted triple play before Eric Bruntlett, I came up with an 'All-Alliteration Team', comprised of players who's first and last name begin with the same letter. This team has a lot of power, will hit a lot of home runs, and (allegedly) did a lot of steroids...

C- Darren Daulton
1B- Mark McGwire
2B- Mickey Morandini (* inspiration)
3B- Melvin Mora
SS- Marty Marion
OF- Mickey Mantle
OF- Barry Bonds
OF- Joe Jackson

RH Bench Power- Sammy Sosa
Pinch Runner- King Kelly
Pinch Hitter- Greg Gross
Pinch Hitter- Minnie Minoso
Pinch Hitter- Manny Mota
Backup Catcher- Mike McFarlane
Backup Infielder- Buddy Biancalana
Backup Outfielder- Shannon Stewart

SP- Robin Roberts
SP- Bud Black
SP- Harvey Haddix
SP- Andy Ashby
SP- Mike Morgan

RP- Matt Mantei
RP- Wilbur Wood
RP- Mike MacDougal
RP- Mike Magnante
CL- Mike Marshall

MGR- Frankie Frisch
Pitching Coach- Mike Maddux
Owner- Charlie Comiskey
Broadcaster- Chip Caray