It was a common joke I used to tell among baseball media types. “It’s a good thing the Phillies are giving out rally towels because this lineup just spit in(insert pitcher’s name) face.” The Phillies hocked up a big yellow one in Cliff Lee’s face last night. During Lee’s nine starts this year, the offense has only provided 16 runs for him. Actually 15 if you consider that Lee himself has an RBI in one of his starts. His next start will be Sunday in Baltimore against Jason Hammel, who is 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA. Normally Baltimore isn’t considered that much of a challenge but this is 2012. The Washington Nationals are in first place. Cliff Lee hasn’t one win to his name this whole year. Baltimore is even closer to Philadelphia than Washington is, so it is likely Phillies fans will be trying to build a new “Citizens Bank South” just 90 min. down I-95. That is unless the fans have given up on making that much of an effort to support the team. If you’ve turned on a game lately or been to the ballpark, you might notice a lot of blue seats visible that had been filled with people where red t-shirts and white jerseys. That’s just one sign that attendance has been down. Another sign is the efforts of the Phillies themselves to drive up ticket sales. Before 2010, many fans received emails on a bi-weekly basis offering a “two tickets for the price of one” sale on certain seats. When the Phillies got hot and the park began the sellout streak, those offers disappeared. Last month, an email was sent out offering fans the same buy one get one free deal for tonight’s game that had brought people in so many times before 2009. The writing is on the wall that the streak could come to an end. The poor play of the Phillies could move up the day that this actually happens. If it doesn’t happen this season, it surely will if the Phillies don’t re-sign Cole Hamels. Fans could decide to hold on to their money in protest or simply spend their money elsewhere rather than on a team that chose not to resign their homegrown star player.
Speaking of home grown star players, not many people chose to get on Jimmy Rollins this week for his comments. When asked about if he heard the boos, he responded, “I could care less”. That’s not what fans in Philadelphia want to hear. In this city, fans respect accountability and want understanding. Not, “I could care less”. That one seemed to fly under the radar. Back when the Phillies were rocking the win column, his “frontrunners” comment set off a storm. Maybe the fans here are starting to care less about the Phillies, so Rollins’ comment flew under the radar.
In injury news, Jim Thome was called up today. He’ll likely get a lot of at bats over the next week due to the Phillies playing three series in American League Parks. The Phillies optioned Pete Orr to AAA to make room for Thome. Orr started the season with the team after Michael Martinez went on the DL in spring training. When Thome and Laynce Nix went on the DL, Hector Luna (originally Eric Kratz) and Mike Fontenot filled their spots. With Utley, Nix, and Howard still on the DL, it’s going to be a hard situation to determine who will have to leave the 25 man roster. Here’s my revamped predictions:
If/when Utley and Howard come back, Hector Luna will be the first one to get sent down. After that, Mike Fontenot will return to AAA. Fontenot can play 2nd and 3rd, but Wiggington can also play 3rd and we know how Galvis does at 2nd. But when you have that third lineup guy in Nix? That’s going to be a killer. It’s looking likely that John Mayberry might return to the Ironpigs if the Phillies decide to stick with Nix. Wiggy and Nix were signed after Howard went down. Wiggy is actually still off the Rockies contract. There is a $4M option on him next year with a $500k buyout. Nix is on a two year deal with an AAV of about $1.2M. Mayberry might have to be the sacrificial lamb again this season. But that all depends on IF Howard, Utley, and Nix return this season. Big if. As for Michael “Predator” Martinez, it looks like he just got Wally Pipp’d.
The words of Cliff Lee after pitching 10 scoreless innings lasts night. He was pulled in the 11th inning when Antonio Bastardo came in and gave up an unearned run as the Giants beat the Phillies 1-0. The Phillies couldn’t manage to get one run in eleven innings. Sound familiar? A 1-0 loss… something about October, the Cardinals… you know where I am going here. It is the second time in a week the Phillies have been shut out in a game. In their 5-0 loss to the Mets last week, the Phillies got six hits. Last night, only four Phillies got hits. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino’s batting averages both dipped below .300 after they both went 0 for 4.
It seems that every time the Phillies pitchers turn in a gem of a performance, the lineup hocks up a slimy one and spits right in their face. But hey, that’s baseball. Can we chalk it up to the fact that Utley and Howard are off the grid? Maybe. The Phillies have found ways to win this season without them. Perhaps we could say they just play terribly at ATT Park, where their record is now 18-27.
On the opposite end, the Phillies will begin a four game series at Petco Park in San Diego tonight where they are 22-4. The Phillies have pretty much owned that park, sweeping a series there last season. Can this trend continue? If there was ever a time to play a series at Petco Park, now is the time. Having “Continued Success” there would certainly lift them out of the funk they are in and help carry some momentum into Arizona. Vance Worley goes tonight. It will be his first outing ever against San Diego.
One thing I am convinced of: The era of “Pitching, Pitching, Pitching” is over. I never want to hear that phrase again.
Speaking of pitchers: Jamie Moyer. Nuff said. When he hangs up his glove, I would hope the Phillies at least have him in for a “Jamie Moyer Appreciation Night”. He doesn’t have to do the one day minor league retire as a Phillie deal like Pat Burrell is doing, but I would hope he comes back to throw out a first pitch. Charlie Manuel is on record as saying, “He better not pitch against us and beat us. Then I’m really going to be mad.” The Phillies host the Rockies for a three game series in June. Should Jamie Moyer pitch that week, there’s a good chance Charlie will be mad. Mad at who I wonder? His hitters for not hitting him or Ruben Amaro Jr. for not re signing him?
This year, the Phillies pretty much have their rotation set. In past years there were 5th started controversies or competitions but not so much this year. After Halladay, Hamels, and Lee, Vance Worley looks build on his successful 2011 year and Joe Blanton is hoping to come back from arm problems which kept his stats on the lower end for much of last year. So one through five are set. However, we know we are going to need six and seven.
Six and seven?
Yes, six and seven. The pitchers on the depth chart who will have to inevitably fill in for the two pitchers who will be taken out of the rotation due to injury or ineffectiveness (AKA stinking up the place). This is bound to happen. You might want to even use the dreaded “C Word” that Philadelphia fans hate to bring up. That word being curse. Is this rotation cursed? Let’s recap the several seasons and who suffered from time off the mound.
2007 Opening Day Rotation: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia
Casualty 1: Jon Lieber. Lieber didn’t make his first start until the Phillies 15th game of the season. After three starts and two relief appearances, his ERA was 2.57 with a 1-0 record. After his 12th start on June 20th, he was put on the DL with an ankle injury that would cause him to miss the rest of the season.
Replacement: Kyle Lohse. Lohse was traded from the Reds and went 3-0 with a 4/72 ERA in 11 starts.
Casualty 2: Freddy Garcia. In 11 starts, Garcia only earned one win, took five losses and posted a 5.90 ERA. This came to be known as “The ten million dollar win” since Garcia was on a one year, ten million dollar deal. His fall soon led to the rise of…
Replacement: Kyle Kendrick. After being called up on June 13, he went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA. He did a good job of eating innings and keeping the team in the game but never really dazzled. His 07 performance secured a spot in the rotation in the 2007 postseason as well as the following season. More on him later.
2008 Opening Day Rotation: Hamels, Myers, Moyer, Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick
Casualty 1: Brett Myers. Myers had a poor start to his season, going 2-2 in April with a 5.11 ERA. At the end of June he accepted an assignment to the minor league teams to get his pitching back on track. He his record before being sent down was 3-9 and gave up four runs or more in his last four starts in June. He returned in July to close out the year with an additional 7 wins and 4 losses and maintain an 3.06 ERA in 13 starts. The Phillies took advantage of the All Star Break, days off, and spot starts from JA Happ to work around Myers Minor League adventure.
Casualty 2: Adam Eaton. Eaton did not record his first win in 2008 until his 11th start on May 28. In July he was moved to the bullpen, and then sent down to the minors, leaving with a 4-8 record. The last image Phillies fans have of him is when he waved to the fans as he picked up his World Series ring.
Replacement: Joe Blanton. Blanton came to the Phillies from Oakland in exchange for three prospects. He took the role of the innings eater. In his 13 starts with the Phillies over two months, the team went 9-4 while Blanton only got decisions in four of those games, receiving the W each time.
2009 Opening Day Rotation: Hamels, Myers, Moyer, Joe Blanton, Chan Ho Park
Casualty 1: Chan Ho Park. After a drama filled spring training played out on TV, Chan Ho Park won the fifth starter job, beating out JA Happ and Kendrick. But after 7 starts in which he landed a 7.29 ERA, he was sent to the bullpen where he seemed to nicely fill the role of long man. These days he is playing for the Hanwha Eagles of Korea Baseball Organization and remains the Asian player with the most wins in MLB.
Replacement: J.A. Happ. If you watched “The Pen” on MLB Network, you got to see the drama for the 5th starter position play out. Cameras were there as Happ was told he would not be starting, but would still be on the team as bullpen long man. When Chan Ho was given the hook, he and Happ traded places. In Happ’s 23 starts, he went 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA. You’d think that would be good right? Good enough? Good enough to start in the postseason? Keep reading.
Casualty 2: Jamie Moyer. Moyer had a pretty rocky season. In his four starts in April, the Phillies went 3-1 but he gave up 4 runs in three of those starts and never went past six innings. By the end of June, his ERA was above six and he had a even 6-6 record. There were quite a few games where he gave up six runs or more and the Phillies did not take to this at all. He was sent to the bullpen in August following a grumble session with the media. He did manage to pitch well in some relief appearances following rain delays which were started by his replacement…
Replacement: Pedro Martinez. Nobody have Pedro a contract after the 2008 offseason and he showcased what he had in the 2009 World Baseball Classic playing for the Dominican Republic. Phillies scouts checked him out in July and he was signed to a one million dollar deal for the season, the definition of low risk high reward. In his return to New York on August 23, Martinez’s win against the Mets was preserved by a rare unassisted triple play by second baseman Eric Bruntlett in the bottom of the ninth inning. With his win on September 3—his third as a Phillie and his 100th as a National Leaguer—Martinez became the 10th pitcher in history to win at least 100 games in each league. The Phillies made it to the World Series in a much hyped return to Yankee Stadium. He pitched well enough in Game 2, leaving the game with the Phils trailing 2-1 but in Game 6 allowed four runs in four innings, leaving some to wonder if JA Happ should have gotten a spot in the rotation. He officially retired this past December.
2010 Opening Day Rotation: Hamels, Moyer, Blanton, Roy Halladay, J.A. Happ
Casualty 1: Joe Blanton. Blanton suffered an oblique injury before opening day and was placed on the DL until he was ready to come back in May.
Casualty 2: J.A. Happ. Happ began experiencing elbow problems after starting two games. He made rehab appearances, one more start for the Phillies on July 25 where he gave up three runs in five innings, then was traded to the Astros for this guy…
Replacement: Roy Oswalt: Happ was traded for Oswalt in the semi annual Astros fleecing. He lost his first start after being whisked out from Houston, but in his next 11 starts, went 7-0.
Casualty 3: Jamie Moyer. The honored elder pretty much repeated his performance of the previous year but the Phillies were locked into waiting it out with him until he suffered a a sprain in his ulnar collateral ligament and a strain of his flexor pronator, which resulted in Moyer missing the remainder of the 2010 season.
Replacement Infinity: Kyle Kendrick. He initially was given a bullpen spot on the team, then was part of the opening day rotation, first filling in for Joe Blanton, then Happ. He was sent down to AAA for a day, only to be called up again when Moyer went down.
2011 Opening Day Rotation: Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt
Casualty 1: Roy Oswalt. Little Roy started out strong in his first starts in April, but on April 27 in Arizona, was pulled after three innings and then took a leave of absence from the team, citing “personal reasons,” namely to check on his family and home after a series of devastating tornadoes in Mississippi. He later returned to Philadelphia but his back problems forced the Phillies to place him on the DL. He returned to the team on May 17th but went 1-5 in his next 8 starts (even through in three of those starts he was the victim of the other Phillies curse, poor run support). Oswalt went on the DL for about six weeks over the summer with an ailing back. It was said this was aggravated by his use of an excavator assisting with tornado relief efforts.
Replacement: Kyle Kendrick. He’s up, he’s down, he’s all around. He starts, he relieves, he gets into bets with Cliff Lee. He does it all.
Casualty 2: Joe Blanton. Problems with his elbow put Blanton on the 15 day DL in late April. He made two starts but eventually was returned to the DL, and did not return to the active roster until mid September. This leads us to…
Replacement: Vance Worley, AKA VANIMAL. Worley made a few starts after Blanton went down and pitched well. But he was sent down to AAA when Oswalt came back from the disabled list. He was brought back up again when Blanton returned to the DL. He was sent back down again to bring up Mike Zagurksi, only to come back to the Phillies in mid June to return to the rotation. Most believed this yo yo system of call ups and bullpen trips messed with him a bit, but overall he had a great season with an 11-3 record and a 3.01 ERA for the season.
So now here we are in 2012. Predictions for who might go down? Glad you asked.
Predicted casualty 1: Cliff Lee. Currently experiencing abdominal issues and there is a chance that Game 2 NLDS performance affected him during the offseason.
Predicted casualty 2: Cole Hamels. Only because the fates are cruel. Cole has it all, talent, good looks, hot wife, kids, friends. I think we are going to pay for this easy going winter we had with a Hamels injury of some kind. Throw in the fact this is his contact year and it would be just the cruel twist of fate you only see in tragic movies.
As for replacements? Kendrick just signed for 2 years and Joel Piniero is on a minor league deal with “Just in Case” stitched on the back of his uniform. Don’t get me started on Roy Oswalt, that’s a whole nother mess I’d rather not bring up.
There is no grass greener than the grass on the first day of Spring Training
Words taken to heart. Every year around late February, the appetites of baseball fans, players, and journalists are satiated just a bit as pitchers and catchers report to their Spring Training grounds in Florida and Arizona. For the Phillies, they have been riding a non stop wave of excitement that has been growing in recent years. But this year that level might have dropped just a bit. Part of it might have to do with the the crushing way the Phillies exited the postseason last October. But that’s something we’ve experience before after 2010. If you combine the rather calm 2011 offseason, the level of excitement for Phillies fans this spring training might have dropped from “Foaming at the mouth rabid” to “Fist pumping enthusiastic”. Let’s review the climb in this level over the past few years.
Spring Training 2008
The Phillies had just came off their first trip to the postseason in 14 years after clinching the NL East on the last day of the 2007 season. They were then promptly swept out of the NLDS by the Colorado Rockies. Still, fans were excited to see just what this team could do with a taste of October baseball still in their mouths. Over the offseason, the Phillies brought in Brad Lidge as their new closer and added Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins. With this new blood, it was clear that the team had the pieces in place to go far. Jimmy Rollins again let it known that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, despite Carlos Beltran’s claim to the contrary.
Excitement level: Tap dancing on the dugout
Spring Training 2009
Can you say “OMG WORLD F’N CHAMPIONS!!” Chase Utley did and that phrase would be on the mouths of everyone wearing a square inch of red in Clearwater in February of 2009. I wore the “Phinally” t-shirt myself in November of 08 during a trip down there and the Phillies Phaithful made sure to let me know who they were in Pinellas County. Brad Lidge was coming off a perfect season, picking the NL Comeback Player of the Year award for his 2008 performance. The 2009 season began with a different look on the field and in the front office. Ruben Amaro, Jr. took over the role of general manager, replacing Pat Gillick. Amaro added Raul Ibáñez and Chan Ho Park in the offseason. The World Series parade was still going on as players reported to camp in Clearwater.
Excitement level: Fans actually achieving the power of flight
Spring Training 2010
Back to back NL CHAMPS. Not too shabby indeed. The feelings going into Spring Training in 2010 were a bit of a seesaw. On the one hand, everyone was proud of their achievement of going to back to back World Series’. Losing to the Yankees in six was bitter, but not crushing. Ruben Amaro, Jr had landed his white whale when he brought in Toronto Blue Jays Cy Young winner Roy Halladay to be the ace of the staff. So many fans instead went to the “Roy Halladay is a Phillie” page on Facebook and clicked “Like”. Amaro also brought one time Phillie Placido Polanco to play third base after Pedro Feliz’s option was not picked up. But acquiring Halladay came at a price. Amaro sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners for Tyson Gillies and Philippe Aumont, leaving many players, fans, and journalists to think, “WTF”. Amaro to this day says the team could not have gotten Halladay if Lee was not dealt.
Also bringing things down a bit was the realization that this was the start of the first Phillies season without Harry Kalas in the booth. He is missed by all to this day.
Excitement Level: Mob Rule
Spring Training 2011
Oh so you lost the NLCS, here’s your consolation prize, “FOUR ACES”. The image of Ryan Howard looking at the Lord of Beards called third strike only stuck for a bit as Ruben Amaro delivered fans a December prize now known as “Cliffmas”. With the addition of Cliff Lee on December 15th, sports photographers were planning out how to place this rotation together for the number of covers and pictures they would be taking. The Four Aces was the story of the spring, with everyone wanting to see how they would fare against the National League East. The Phillies rotation was something that struck fear and awe into baseball fans and writers alike. Everyone knew that this team would be making history. The Phillies also brought back another former player as a coach with Juan Samuel taking over the duties at first base. Clearwater soon became the place to catch this fever.
Excitement Level: Foaming at the mouth
Spring Training 2012
So here we are with the 2012 season upon us. The offseason has been rather tame compared to the previous ones. There was no major signing. No obvious savior. Ryan Howard is sure to be out at least a month, maybe two, despite claims to his “ahead of schedule” in his recovery. There are worries about Chase Utley and his body, who has now taken from Cole Hamels the role of “Player to baby” as they are lightly easing Utley into baseball duties. And speaking of Hamels, could this be his last season in Phillies pinstripes? He certainly put on a good show at his press conference yesterday, claiming Philadelphia was where he wanted to stay. Time will tell with this one, but fans will be looking at Cole wondering if he will be the 2012 version of Jimmy Rollins, who came home, or Jayson Werth, who cashed in. The Phillies did bring someone else home when they signed Jim Thome to be this years version of Matt Stairs/ Ross Gload. Hopefully Thome will be able to last the whole year in what looks to be his swan song for playing in the big leagues. The feeling of excitement has somewhat diminished. However this in no way has brought down the level of loyalty for the Phillies, as they have already sold over 3 million tickets for the 2012 season.
Excitement Level: Fist pumping enthusiasm