April 09, 2005

Floyd throws 7 solid as Phils snap skid

Gavin Floyd gave up three hits in seven innings, including a stretch when he retired 19-straight batters, as the Phillies snap their three-game losing streak 10-4 to the Cardinals.

The Phillies get a much-needed easy win without a major bullpen meltdown in a game that also featured a big day from Pat Burrell, who went 4-5 with a homer and five RBIs.

Burrell now leads the league in RBIs with 12.

Floyd, pitching to catcher Todd Pratt this game, overcame a long first inning in which he threw 29 pitches and gave up a double to Larry Walker and an RBI single to Albert Pujols. Floyd also collected his first major league hit in the fourth inning.

Chase Utley started at second and hit his first home run of the year off starter Jeff Suppan, who gave up 10 hits and five earned runs in four innings. Bobby Abreu also went deep for his first home run of the season.

Tomorrow, it's Jon Lieber (1-0) against Chris Carpenter (1-0) at 2:15 p.m.

Rotation looks sharp in early going
After one turn through the rotation, Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Randy Wolf, Cory Lidle and Floyd have all pitched well, but today’s performance by Floyd was the best and deepest of the bunch: Seven innings, three hits, no walks. It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with Floyd when Vicente Padilla returns from the DL. Floyd looked very poised this afternoon against a tough Cardinal lineup.

Bullpen notes:
The game was more of a blowout than the score reveals, as Pedro Liriano struggled in the ninth inning, giving up three runs, two of them earned.

Tim Worrell returned to action, stepping into a low-pressure situation with the Phils up 10-1. Though he didn’t allow a run, he allowed two hits, but was helped by a dumb baserunning mistake by Einar Diaz that resulted in a double play.

April 08, 2005

Phillies can't spell relief

The bullpen blows the lead for the third straight game and the bats can't deliver with the bases loaded in the ninth, as the Phillies lose to the Cardinals 6-5 and appear to be going nowhere fast.

Manager Charlie Manuel made a questionable call to go with Aaron Fultz instead of Billy Wagner with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. Fultz responded by walking in the tying and go-ahead runs on nine pitches.

The Phillies wasted a good outing by Cory Lidle, who went 5 1/3 innings, allowed 1 ER with one strikeout, and a solid all-around game by David Bell, who went 2-4 with 2 RBIs and played excellent defense at third.

Manuel’s decision
Somewhere on Balls Sticks & Stuff is Tom G.'s article on how to use bullpen effectively, using your best reliever in the most critical situation. It doesn't get much more critical than bases loaded, two outs, holding onto a 5-4 lead.

It's possible Manual's decision not to pitch Wagner cost the Phillies the game, as Wags, a star pitcher with the Astros, is slipping further and further into irrelevancy with the Phillies. Deciding not to use him begs the question "Is Wagner on the Phils to collect saves, or help them win games?"

I was OK with Manuel's decision to go with Tim Worrell yesterday, since Worrell is proven. But the only reason Fultz is even on the team is because he's left-handed. Otherwise, he'd be in Scranton or trying to find work in some other town. I don't understand why you hand him the ball in that situation.

Other bullpen:
Every one of them: Terry Adams, Ryan Madson and Fultz, struggled to varying degrees today, but you could feel it coming. Trying to contain the Cardinals bats is like trying to put a leash on a tiger.

After 5 innings, including a long fifth-inning battle with the heart of St. Louis' order, Lidle was hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Though his changeup was working and he kept the ball down, he needed Adams to bail him out in the sixth. Lidle only struck out one batter, but managed to contain them.

In the sixth, Adams allowed runners on first and third, prompting Manuel to make the call to Madson, who got Albert Pujols to hit into a double play and Scott Rolen to pop up on the first pitch to end the inning. It was an excellent job by Madson, but the Cardinals were creeping back into it and the score was now 5-3 Phillies.

In the bottom of the eighth, Madson loaded the bases, prompting Manuel to make the call for Fultz. He walked Larry Walker on four pitches, then walked in the eventual go-ahead runner, Pujols.

Top of the ninth
Jason Isringhausen made a crowd of 50,000 Cardinal fans sweat, walking Placido Polanco to lead off the inning, giving up a single to Pat Burrell and throwing a wild pitch that advanced both runners. Jim Thome was intentionally walked afterward to load the bases, but David Bell popped out on the next pitch, then Isringhausen struck out Kenny Lofton to end the game.

Phils-Nats series wrap

Brad Wilkerson had a monster series, slugging 1.143 and hitting for the cycle Wednesday as the Nationals win their series with the Phils 2-1. (AP photo)

You open the season at home by losing a series to the Washington Nationals 1-2. You find yourself on the unpopular side of a player controversy. Your bullpen blows two games. Your new center fielder makes his first big mistake by offering a Ricky Watters-type "for who, for what" quotable. And your attendance the last two games is the lowest in Citizen's Bank Park history.

What do you do?

The answer: You move on to St. Louis and take out your aggression on the Cardinals. That’s what you do.

Series notes: Pitching
It's not the positive start the Phigtins' were hoping for, but starting pitching, considered the biggest weakness entering the season, held together. Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Randy Wolf didn't go deep, but pitched an effective 18 1/3 innings with a combined ERA of 3.44. Of the three, Myers offered the best moments, adding a cutter to his repertoire and going 6 2/3 Wednesday.

The bullpen, considered the biggest strength over division rivals, blew it big. Two days ago, having Tim Worrell as the team's setup guy felt dandy. He pitched a lot last year, as BPF No. 1 fan el123chico of A Fantasy Life said. In fact, his 77 games in '04 were third-highest in team history, and at 37, he's had the third-most appearances among MLB pitcher over the past four seasons.

He blew the lead in Wednesday's loss, but I agree with Manuel's decision to pitch him yesterday as a way to test Worrell's ability to bounce back. Let's be realistic: what are you supposed to do – release him? Send him to Triple-A?

No. This is what you do the first few weeks of the season: You figure out what you have and who can help you. If Worrell can't cut it, then you move him down to the 6th or 7th, but not after one bad game. He's a location guy and needs time to zone it.

Terry Adams 9.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP, .400 BAA
Rheal Cormier 9.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, .444 BAA
Tim Worrell 19.29 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, .462 BAA

Despite a fast start by Pat Burrell, the meat of Washington's order outdid the Phillies, and Brad Wilkerson was a monster. Do you think Wilkerson likes being out of Montreal?

Brad Wilkerson .643 BA, .667 OBP, 1.143 SLG, 1 HR, and hit for the cycle Wednesday.

And the rest:
Jose Vidro .357 BA, .333 OBP, .643 SLG, 1 HR
Jose Guillen .333 BA, .333 OBP, .667 SLG, 1 HR
Vinny Castilla .462 BA, .500 OBP, .615 SLG, 0 HR

Two of those guys, Guillen and Castilla, are new additions. I admired how quickly the Nats built a competitive team this winter, espeically in their linuep: Cristian Guzman, Guillen, Castilla. They’re going to get some wins this season.

As for the Phillies thumpers:
Bobby Abreu .083 BA, .214 OBP, .083 SLG, 0 HR
Jim Thome .273 BA, .429 OBP, .364 SLG, 0 HR
Pat Burrell .500 BA, .500 OBP, .917 SLG, 1 HR

I hope Abreu doesn't start as slow as he did last year.

I had a suspicion fans might sour on Lofton early, but not this soon. I didn’t see it, but over at Mike's and in an email from BPF correspondent Martin Smith, it's now coming out that it’s common knowledge Lofton often breaks the wrong direction on everything hit his way. ESPN Mag made one "skinny" statement on each team in their preseason analysis, saying Lofton always gets a bad jump on fly balls, and only his speed allows him to catch some, but not catch some.

On top of the way balls sail at CBP, there could be rumblings for Marlon Byrd ... and soon.

Building the Polanco mystique
One thing is certain: Playing Placido Polanco isn't going to hurt the Phillies. The positives, in fact, might outweigh the negatives.

Already, the name "Polanco" has been uttered more than any time his entire career. Playing him more will add to his trade value. Being infamous, as Kris Benson was last season, could draw a high price from suitors. Just as Benson was a top pitching commodity at last season's deadline, Polly will be top shelf for any team in need of a second baseman.

In other words, it might go unnoticed in Philadelphia that Polly played well his first two games, but it won't in other markets.

April 07, 2005

'Fly balls carry' is last night's lesson

Center fielder Kenny Lofton appeared out of position on three deep flyballs and the bullpen struggles to hold the lead for Brett Myers in a 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals. Brad Wilkerson also hit for the cycle, including a triple and double over the head of Lofton.

Here are some other notes from last night’s game:

Brett Myers looked sharp. He’s added a cut fastball to his arsenal, and was having good success with it against lefthanders, coming in on their hands.

Kenny Lofton needs time to figure out this park and know when not to underplay balls in center. He did it three times yesterday. Every ball hit to the outfield yesterday sailed.

Chase Utley looked sharp at second, backtracking on one grounder and hooking it over to Thome. He was also involved in one of the sweetest double plays I've ever seen, basket-catching a flip from J-Roll. Utley also called off Thome on a couple of pop-ups.

Pat Burrell is red hot right now. He belted a 2-run homer off Zach Day to lead a 3-run rally in the 6th. Until that inning, Day was pitching well. Mike at Citizen's Blog points out Burrell is slugging 1.429 after two games. So far, Mike is up 2-0 on me because, a), Burrell is off to a hot start, and b), the Mets have started the season 0-2.

Tim Worrell didn’t have it together in Clearwater, allowing four homers in nine games, and blew the lead last night, but I’m confident he’ll scrape off the rust and settle in. The home run he surrendered to Jose Guillen in the 8th wouldn’t have been a home run in many other parks. There was also no wind yesterday, revealing just how much balls carry at CBP.

April 06, 2005

R-Phils receive royal welcome

Chris Roberson, pictured, and the 2005 Reading Phillies have embarked on a whirlwind week that included the annual King of Baseballtown Banquet Monday, followed by media day this afternoon. The season gets underway Thursday at First Energy Stadium.

The Berks Phillies Fan was on hand as community leaders and fans welcomed the 2005 team to town Monday, to support Baseballtown Charities, and to crown former major leaguer Dick Gernert King of Baseballtown.

Gernert, a Reading native, spent 11 seasons in the big leagues beginning his rookie year with the Red Sox in 1952. He went on to a long career in baseball that ended in 2000 as an advanced scout for the New York Mets.

As for the players, I heard secondhand their plane had arrived from Florida just hours earlier, but were in great spirits as they mingled with fans and signed autographs. The only baseball-related item I brought was Baseball America's minor league preview, so I snagged a couple of autographs and snapped a couple pictures.

Among them was Baseball America's No. 5 prospect Michael Bourn. The center fielder is making the jump from Lakewood this season and told me he wasn't surprised to be in Reading. Bourn is an absolute burner and stole 58 bases last season, and the organization is very high on him.

Michael Bourn

Sitting next to him at dinner was another speedy prospect, Chris Roberson, who joins Bourn in what promises to be an excellent outfield that also includes veteran fan favorite Jim Deschaine. Deschaine has a great rapport with fans and teammates and drew a big crowd happy to have him back in town.

Jim Deschaine

Juan Richardson is also back this season at third base, along with shortstop Danny Gonzalez. Also of note, veteran infielder Alex Prieto, who played last season in Minnesota, joins the ballclub.

The official media day will be held today at noon at First Energy Stadium.

For the rest of the 2005 roster, check it out at readingphillies.com.

What I really meant to say was ...

John Smoltz, my pick to win the Cy Young, was rocked for seven runs in 1 and 2/3 innings yesterday in a 9-0 loss to the Florida Marlins.

What I really meant to say was John Smoltz won't win the Cy Young, and the Marlins will win the division, not the Braves.

From Jason Stark today:

• In Smoltz's 3 1/2 years as a reliever, he faced the Marlins 29 times -- and allowed zero runs (in 31 1/3 innings). He then gave up five runs in his first inning back in the rotation.

• During Smoltz's relief-pitcher gig, he made 241 regular-season appearances (249 if you count the postseason) -- and allowed zero grand slams. Naturally, it took him exactly seven hitters to serve up a slam as a starter (to Juan Encarnacion).

• How weird was it to see Smoltz give up seven runs in one day? Two years ago, he gave up nine runs (eight earned) all season in relief.

It's a good thing Dimitri Young, my pick for MVP in my yet-to-be-published AL predictions, hit three home runs in his first game for Detroit. Pheew. I'm at least half brilliant.

2005 AL Predictions
I ran out of time on my AL Predictions, but here they are anyway, just to get them down in writing so my readers have something to use against me after the season:

1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
4. Orioles
5. Devil Rays

1. Indians
2. Twins (WC)
3. Tigers
4. White Sox
5. Royals

1. Mariners
2. Angels
3. Athletics
4. Rangers

Comments: I'll take the Yankees to win the whole thing this year, beating my biggest surprise team, the Mariners, in the ALCS and Atlanta in the World Series. I view Seattle's rotation as all sleeper fantasy picks, their lineup as one of the best in baseball, with Adrien Beltre as a potential MVP. Hey! Richie Sexson is already off to a good start with two home runs. Curt Schilling, David Wells and Wade Miller open up too many concerns with health for me to go with Boston. I don't like the money they threw at Matt Clement, either. Even though Jaret Wright in NY is going to be exposed for the fraud he is, here's the rub: How can teams be expected to win in the postseason when Randy Johnson is on the mound with that group behind him offensively? If he holds up, he can pitch every three games. There's no answer for that.

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez, NYY (tie with Dimitri Young, DET)
AL CY: Randy Johnson, NYY
AL Rookie: Jeremy Reed, SEA

Darkhorse: White Sox
Potential Bust: Twins

April 05, 2005

Only in Philadelphia

The Phillies open the season at home with a win for the first time since 1980, but a select few manage to ruin the thrill by booing Placido Polanco and Charlie Manuel.

It's a strange, surreal sensation to finally see what I've been writing about come to fruition in front of a sell-out crowd, knowing they haven't been as invested in this team as much as I have over the last few months. It's selfish to say, but it’s like I’m not willing to share it. Especially after yesterday.

In new manager Charlie Manuel's first decision of a long 162 game season, he chose to start veteran Placido Polanco at second base over Chase Utley, contradicting offseason statements by the team that Utley would begin the season as starter.

Manuel defended the move by saying Polanco had a better track record against the Expos/Nationals. He also reiterated that both players will see plenty of action this season, meaning one of them will need to sit while the other plays.

In response, when the players were introduced to start the game, certain fans booed Polanco. For being a steady hitter, a versatile fielder, excellent second baseman, and a productive man out of the No. 2 hole, they let him have it. And for deciding to start him over Utley, who's inexperienced, lesser defensively than Polanco, playing on a day when dead ground-ball pitcher Jon Lieber got the start and Kenny Lofton still wasn't 100 percent to assume the No. 2 spot, they let Manuel have it, too.

Despite all the bad decision making, they barely managed to play exceptional baseball, and only won 8-4. Lieber lived up to every expectation as a pitcher that doesn't give hitters an inch. Though he tired early, he jammed hitter after hitter, and sure-handed shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Polanco gobbled them up one after another. It's also hard to forgive Polanco for the sweet double play he helped turn, and for going 2-5 at the plate.

April 04, 2005

2005 National League Predictions

Andruw Jones will lead the Atlanta Braves back to the World Series.

NL East
1. Braves
2. Mets (WC)
3. Phillies
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

Comments: Deepest division in the National League, yet it’s the easiest pick for division winner. History, talent and best GM in baseball on Braves side as they look to break through to NLCS. Mets are uncommon choice for postseason, but free agent gems Martinez and Beltran, along with a handful of players destined to improve, are too good to ignore. Phillies enter 2005 as a darkhorse instead of favorite. That’s a better place for them, and a good climate for new manager Charlie Manuel to ease back into baseball. Marlins have a text-book offense, but back of rotation and bullpen could be a disaster. Expos improve as Nationals, but merely competitive cellar-dwellers in tough division.

NL Central
1. Cardinals
2. Cubs
3. Milwaukee
4. Astros
5. Pirates
6. Reds

Comments: Big, bad offense leads Cardinals back to postseason, but health is a concern. I doubt Scott Rolen’s knee can hold through October. Can returning starters live up to standard new ace Mark Mulder will set? I’m not a fan of the Cubbies’ bats and need to see pitchers Prior and Wood healthy together to believe it. Milwaukee has the potential to be a neat little team. Former Phillie minor leaguer Ezequiel Astacio gets a chance to start in Houston, but offense and defense could bury them. By mid May, Jose Mesa out, Mike Gonzalez in as closer as Pirates put up their trademark hot April, followed by nothing. Is Paul Wilson really Cincinnati’s best pitcher?

NL West
1. Giants
2. Padres
3. Dodgers
4. Diamondbacks
5. Rockies

Comments: Closer Armando Benitez is the difference maker for the Giants this season. If Bonds returns, they could go deep in the postseason. Jake Peavy emerged in ‘04 as one of the best pitchers in the NL, but talent drops off sharply after his spot in the Padres’ rotation. Kind of a goofy offseason from GM Paul DePodesta in Los Angeles, but they came through with a quality rotation without sacrificing young arms. Arizona and Colorado could win 100 games combined.

Dark horse favorites:
Phillies – If rotation clicks, postseason not unlikely.

Milwaukee – Ben Sheets and Doug Davis could match Hudson and Smoltz as the best 1-2 in the NL.

Potental busts:
Mets – Bullpen already a mess, and can Victor Zambrano and Kaz Ishii man the hull with all those walks?

Giants – Oldest team in baseball, in addition to spring training comments from ace Jason Schmidt to the tune of "Something ain't right."

MVP: Andruw Jones, ATL
Cy Young: John Smoltz, ATL
Rookie of the Year: Andy Marte, ATL

Fantasy Pitching MVP: Ben Sheets, MIL
Fantasy Hitting MVP: Albert Pujols, STL

National League Division Series:
Braves over Cardinals
Giants over Mets

National League Championship Series:
Braves over Giants

Two-minute Marlins

A Cliffs Notes commentary on why the Florida Marlins will finish fourth in the NL East. While the bats, lead by new acquisition Carlos Delgado, pictured, should click, the BPF has doubts whether the starting rotation is built to endure the rigors of a 162-game season.

Last season: 83-79 (Third)
2005 prediction: 82-80 (Fourth)

Offense: Carlos Delgado was the last big name crossed off the free agent list, making fans second guess NL East supremacy after the big catch, Carlos Beltran, was reeled in by the Mets.

Delgado won't yield the obscene RBI totals some predicted early on. Even I jumped on the bandwagon proclaiming he’d hit 150 RBIs.

That’s a real stretch. Regaining my composure, I see about 100 RBIs, batting fourth behind Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera. Castillo, in particular, is in danger of becoming an especially bad No. 2 hitter because he supplies almost no power whatsoever. Baseball Prospectus had a funny tidbit on him: Since the strike zone returned to normal in 1969, just 24 other players have come to bat 600 times and had 21 or fewer extra-base hits.

My beef doesn't extend to Juan Pierre and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera though. They'll rank among the best No. 1 and 3 hitters in the league again. Third basemen Mike Lowell and shortstop Alex Gonzalez also count among the peskiest opponents the Phillies will face this season. They seem to come through with big hits against the Phightins.

Overall, they're balanced from top to bottom …

1. Juan Pierre, CF
2. Luis Castillo, 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera, LF
4. Carlos Delgado, 1B
5. Mike Lowell, 3B
6. Paul LoDuca, C
7. Juan Encarnacion, RF
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS

Like I said, no big issues with offense. I don't like Castillo much anymore, or Encarnacion, but the rest of the guys can make up for what they lack.

Pitching: I view Al Leiter as one of the more overrated signings of winter, but he could bring a veteran leadership that's difficult to measure.

When talking about how far this team will go, most agree it's as far as Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, the young, but oft-injured guys, can take them.

1. Josh Beckett, RHP
2. Al Leiter, LHP
3. A.J. Burnett, RHP
4. Dontrelle Willis, LHP
5. Ismael Valdez, RHP

Beckett and Burnett are tremendous overthrowers, but I'm ready to assume they'll both come through this season healthy. If so, I see a 17-game winner in Beckett, and a 15-game winner in Burnett.

It's the other three – Leiter, Dontrelle Willis and Ismael Valdez - that have all the warning signs of a massive implosion. The Fish will be hard pressed to get more than five innings out of Leiter and Valdez, and Willis is a young guy with bad mechanics that teams are figuring out how to hit.

This isn't a rotation built to endure the rigors of a 162-game season, and 30-plus games of Leiter and Valdez will wear that bullpen ragged.

Bullpen: There are early questions whether Guillermo Mota has what it takes to close games. Statheads may argue that his past success as a setup man in Los Angeles will lead to a nice transition as stopper, but there’s simply a mental difference when it comes to the ninth. Closers are the last line of defense. Remember the Arthur Rhodes experiment last season in Oakland? Rhodes was a tremendous setup man for his career, but stank to high hell as closer. Mota is younger and healthier, so I’ll stay safe by calling the situation "iffy" at this point.

The best are Mota, Antonio Alfonseca and former Phillie Todd Jones.

I see eye to eye with most writers on the textbook balance of the Marlins offense, but there's simply too much riding on pitchers Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett for the Fish to sustain a drive toward the playoffs. They will compete early, but fall from the playoff race because of a low-endurance rotation and an overworked bullpen.