Monthly Archives: October 2010

What to Do?

This weekend was a tough one for Philadelphia sports fans.  Our beloved Phillies flamed out in the NLCS against an inferior opponent, and the Eagles forgot how to hold a lead against the Titans.   I could easily write a post full of recriminations of both the Phillies and the Eagles (hello Ryan Howard, how do you not swing at that pitch!? But don’t blame him, as set out in this post on FanGraphs) but those topics have been covered to death by both the mainstream media and in the blogosphere.  Instead of harping on that mistakes that were made (Kenny Britt and his 225 yards and 3 TDs against the Birds), I am asking – where to I turn my sporting attentions after this tough weekend?

The baseball season is over, and with the Phillies already committing $143 million to just 16 players in 2011 there will be no major signings to keep the hot stove hot during the winter.  Very little chance of entertainment or something interesting happening in that area.

The football season does not look promising either.  This Eagles team is deeply flawed, but then again so is the rest of the NFL, and looked lost in the second half against the Titans.  While Sunday’s game should settle any talk of a quarterback controversy, it didn’t provide much hope for the future.  With the Eagles facing just two teams with records currently under .500 the second half of the season could be rough.   While I haven’t given up hope yet, the NFC is a conference of parity, the Birds will need to get their act together to make some noise.  Plus, this week is a bye.

It’s much to early to care about the NHL or the NBA in a meaningful way.  Sure I will catch some games here or there, but these leagues don’t consume my attention until well into the spring (read when they get to the playoffs, with over half the teams making the postseason the regular season is rendered irrelevant).

Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of my favorite team - the Duke Blue Devils.

We are still weeks away from college basketball tipping off, but here again is another sport where I just can’t bring myself to focus more than a small amount of my attention before conference play starts in January. Sure there will be some early season marquee matchups (Duke-Michigan State on December 1 or a rematch of last year’s title game – Duke-Butler on December 4) that will draw my interest, but the season doesn’t really start until you are in conference play.

College football provides me with some distraction, but with Penn State floundering my interest is only in seeing Boise State crash the BCS title party.  What is a sports fan to do? Where do I turn for my sports distractions?

I am counting on Rhett and the Terriers to deliver me some sporting hope.

It appears college hockey, a realm where my alma mater – Boston University is a contender, and world soccer will be my areas of interest for the next several months.  While I can never quit the Eagles, I need more than just one team to fulfill my sporting needs.  So here’s to the Terriers! Here’s to Arsenal and Reading FC!  My sporting hopes lie with you, don’t let me down.

Suggestions are welcomed.


Red October: The Curious Incident of Roy in the Nineth

Charlie has made some curious decisions this postseason. Hopefully, they will not cost the Phillies a trip to the World Series.

As I sit here, hours before my beloved Phillies start what could be their last game of the season, I can’t help but wonder what has Charlie been thinking?  I will be the first to admit that I love Charlie Manuel.  He has been a great manager for the Phillies, and has taken them to unprecedented heights for this team, but this postseason has been riddled with questionable calls.

Last night Jayson Stark tweeted the following about one of Charlie’s many puzzling decisions (the decision to have Antonio Bastardo pitch to Buster Posey): “If Charlie Manuel was going to bring in Madson in this inning, not sure why he waited until after Posey doubled off a LHP. Any theories?” My reply sums up my belief on what has happened to Charlie, “Charlie’s body has been invaded by an alien who doesn’t know baseball. Only explanation for all of his curious moves recently.”  For those who haven’t been watching or who have lost count, let’s discuss some of the questionable calls made during Game 4:

1. Allowing Joe Blanton to pitch to Aubrey Huff in the 5th when Bastardo was ready in the bullpen.  Huff went on to hit a run scoring single, driving in Andres Torres who was on second after pinch-hitting for Madison Bumgarner.  Since it is clear that Charlie had decided to pull Blanton at some point in the fifth if he got in trouble, why not play the matchup game?  I know that Huff had a .200 batting average against Blanton going into the game, but those numbers came in a small sample size (21 plate appearances, most of them coming several years ago).  Huff also hit lefties pretty well during his career, batting .275 or 11 points below his career average against righties.  Why allow Huff to hit against Blanton?

2.  Not having Jimmy Rollins bunt with Jayson Werth on 2nd in the 8th. With Werth standing on second with no outs after driving in Ryan Howard, the only logical response would have been to have a struggling Rollins sacrifice Werth to third in an attempt to secure another run.  Following Werth’s double, Rollins popped out and Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz struck out.  Werth was left standing on second and the Phillies were staring at a tied ballgame.

3. Also in the 8th inning, not pinch-hitting for Francisco.  Manuel has allowed Bruce Bochy to dictate matchups throughout much of the NLCS and this was another case.  I will excerpt from Jose Arangure Jr.’s article for ESPN to explain why this was ill-advised:

For the most important at-bat of the season to that point, Manuel chose to stick with a player (Francisco) who entered the game with just one plate appearance in the entire playoffs.

Bochy has been extremely reluctant to use Affeldt during the playoffs (he’s pitched just one inning), yet Manuel allowed the entire sequence to be affected by the possibility of Affeldt pitching. This year, left-handed batters had a gaudy .837 OPS against Affeldt, almost 100 points higher than what right-handed batters hit against him.

But Manuel simply could have used Ibanez. Only once in the seven times when Affeldt and Ibanez faced each other — the first time in 2004 — did an at-bat end with Ibanez behind in the count, and not once did an at-bat end in a strikeout. So far Affeldt has been unable to fool Ibanez (2-for-6, including a triple against him during the regular season).

This sight (taken from a game in August) should not have been seen during Game 4 in San Francisco.

4. Using Roy Oswalt in the ninth.  This move baffled everyone.  As I sat on the couch, the twittersphere exploded with tweets of surprise.  Why would Charlie use Oswalt in this spot, potentially blowing him for Game 6?  This game was not an elimination game.  It was an important game, some might even say a must-win, but even with the loss the Phillies are still playing today.  You don’t make moves like using a starter in the 9th inning of a tied game unless the game is do-or-die.  This move makes the non-use of Roy Halladay to start the game even more confusing.  If Charlie was wiling to use one of the starters on short rest (even if it were only in relief), why not start your best pitcher?  Charlie treated this game like an elimination game, and if he felt the game was that important you need to have your best pitcher on the mound.  I respect Blanton, but you have to start Doc in that game.  Now the question remains, what is the rotation going forward?  Does Oswalt still start Game 6, or do you push Cole Hamels up and have Oswalt pitch Game 7? If Oswalt pitches Game 6, how will his Game 4 experience affect his start?

Other than criticism for Charlie’s moves, the Giants deserve some props for playing well and making their own luck.  Last night, in a storm of tweets, I wrote “Seriously! This is getting ridiculous. When do we start discussing Giants as team of destiny? Only way to explain this series.” The Giants have gotten all the breaks and have made his own.  For those keeping score: the Giants have three wins against H2o as starters (2 as starters and one as a reliever), the Phillies have committed errors and wild pitches that have led to runs, the Giants’ pitching staff has been excellent, the Giants have gotten production from guys who are bench/platoon players at best while the Phillies have not been able to hit.  It’s clear that the aura that has been around the Phillies is slightly tarnished and perhaps is on its way to being transferred to the Giants.

The Phillies now have their backs against the wall and need Doc to spin some magic tonight.  Do I think they can come back from a 3-1 deficit? Yes.  ESPN and other media outlets will be trumpeting the fact that 72 teams have trailed 3 games to 1 in best-of-7 postseason series and only 11 came back to win the series.  This fact has no bearing on this series, but is illustrative.  The Phillies have a mountain to climb, but with Doc, Hamels and Oswalt going in some order, they have the pitchers to make it happen.  Will H2o return to their September form and will the offense wake up?  In order to advance, the Phillies need the answer to be yes.

Red October: Phillies vs. Giants

Earlier this evening, as I was coming into the house after work, I noticed a card in the mail.  I could tell by the address label on the front of the envelope that the card was from my wife’s grandmother.  I expected the card to discuss the recent 49ersEagles game, as my wife’s grandmother and I have a long-standing bet when the Niners and Eagles play (same goes for the Packers, my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team).  While the card did mention the Eagles/Niners game, she devoted half of the card to the Giants vs. Phillies.  While not normally much of a baseball fan, she just couldn’t resist making a bet (our usual $5) on the series.  She’s quite enamored with Tim Lincecum, but conceded that the Phillies might “have [the Giants] for their breakfast” due to San Francisco’s lack of hitting. Leave it to her to snap me out of my funk and get me to write a blog post about the series.  It’s a good thing the card got here today and not on Monday, or I would have missed out on the opportunity to weigh in on the series before it started.

Prompted by my wife’s grandmother’s comment about San Francisco’s lack of hitting, I decided to look into the offensive stats of both teams.  While San Francisco doesn’t have the offensive talents of the Phillies’ most recent opponents, the Giants are in the upper half (check out the bottom of the table where it displays the rankings) of the National League in most major offensive categories.

Two of the biggest areas of weakness for the Giants are team speed and patience at the plate.  The Giants stole just 55 bases all season, good (or bad) enough to place them in a last place tie in the NL with the Cubs.  The Giants also hit into the most double plays (158) in the NL.  This lack of team speed could come back to haunt a team not likely to have many base runners facing the Phillies pitching staff.  Plate discipline has been another area of weakness, with the Giants ranking 13th out of 16 teams in walks, and 12th in strikeouts.  Clearly this is a team that will swing freely at pitches, which should play into the hands of the Phillies’ pitchers.  That being said, the Giants do have some pop, ranking 6th in homer runs, just behind the Phillies.  It is worth noting that the Phillies rank ahead of the Giants in every major offensive category.

For those that want to use the regular season as a guide for this series, the Phillies and Giants split the series 3-3.  The Giants won 2 of 3 in San Francisco back in April.  The Phillies won 2 of 3 at Citizens Bank Park in August, including a game I was lucky enough to attend and blog about.  In those 6 games, the Giants put up a better batting average (.290 vs. .226) and hit more home runs (8 vs. 3), but the Phillies scored more runs (29 vs. 27).  The Giants put up better pitching numbers posting a better ERA (4.00 vs. 4.50) and a better WHIP (1.204 vs. 1.333).

Will the Giants' pitcher-friendly park be a factor? Or will the Phillies' lefties put a few into McCovey Cove?

Clearly, the teams benefited from playing in their home parks, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.  While the regular season numbers can help paint a picture of what to expect, the teams are both vastly different from even the last time they played.  The Giants went through a poor run of play, but finished the season strong, going 20-10 over the last 30 games.  The Phillies, as has been well documented, were on fire for much of the 2nd half and especially in September.

This series will present some interesting pitching matchups, a point the media has beaten to death.  The first game will see defending Cy Young award winner, Lincecum take on the presumptive 2010 Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay.  As Eno Sarris points out over on Fangraphs, Lincecum has pitched well vs. the Phillies (3.17 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in seven games) and Halladay has floundered against the Giants (7.23 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in three games), but this means little.  As Sarris writes:

Those numbers are career splits, and what do starts against other iterations of these lineups even mean? Diddly. And then, if we try to boil it down to splits in this season, we get one poor game for Halladay against the Giants (seven innings, ten hits, five runs, five strikeouts and no walks) and one excellent game for Lincecum (eight and a third innings, three hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk).

Will "The Freak" be able to shut down the potent Phillies offense?

Beyond “The Freak” vs. “Doc”, the pitching will dominate this series.  Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley previews the starting pitching staffs (Blanton and the SF starters, look here for more on H2O), and likens the matchup to the choice between “Maine lobster and filet mignon”, as opposed to Phillies vs. Reds (Maine lobster and Alpo).

Baer also previews the Giants’ starting 8 here, and the Phillies’ here.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of his breakdown of who wins each position.  Baer summarizes his previews like this (my comments in italics following each position):

  • Catcher: PushWhile I have much love for Carlos Ruiz, I think Buster Posey is the better player.  Will Chooch’s experience make this a push? Or will Posey’s superior offense win out?
  • First base: GiantsI have to argue this point, while Aubrey Huff has had a great season, Ryan Howard is still the better player.  While the Big Piece hasn’t driven in any runs and only has 3 hits in 11 at-bats this postseason, he is still a former MVP.
  • Second base: PhilliesI can’t argue this assessment, as Chase Utley is clearly the best 2B in the game, even if he was hurt for part of the season.
  • Third base: PhilliesIf Pablo Sandoval were playing like he did last year, this would be a much closer race, but he has suffered a sophomore slump.  Placido Polanco has been battling an elbow injury, but he is still better than Mike Fontenot or the artist formerly known as Kung Fu Panda.
  • Shortstop: PhilliesJimmy Rollins, who is starting to look a little healthier, is better than Edgar Renteria or Juan Uribe.  It’s just a fact.
  • Left field: GiantsFunny the difference a year makes.  Last year, Raul Ibanez would have beaten Pat Burrell hands down.  This season, Pat the Bat has seen a resurgence while Rauuuuuuuuuuul has started to show his age.  Given Burrell’s resurgence, I would have to agree with this one.
  • Center field: GiantsAndres Torres has been a bright spot for the Giants in his first full season.  I had the pleasure of seeing a game at AT&T Park earlier this season (April 24) with my wife’s cousin and uncle and I remember both her cousin and I wondering why Torres wasn’t playing.  Finally given the chance to start regularly at the beginning of May, Torres has been a revelation.  For he Phillies, Shane Victorino had an up and down year, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian has shown that he can perform on the big stage.  I would call this a push.
  • Right field: PhilliesJayson Werth vs. Cody Ross. Please!  I don’t even need to write anything else.  Plus Werth would win this for his facial hair alone.

I am excited about this series.  I have a couple friendly wagers with my wife’s family (her grandmother and her cousin), and the pitching matchups should make this a classic.  While I think the Giants will put up more of a fight than the Reds, I believe the Phillies are the better team and will win this series in 6.

Red October: Doc Throws Second No-Hitter in Playoff History


The final out of Halladay's second no-hitter of the season (photo from Jeff Sullivan at SB Nation)

October 6, 2010 – The day Roy Halladay threw the first no-hitter by an NL pitcher in the history of baseball.  According to @MLB_PR on Twitter, the game was the 1263rd playoff game in history, and just the 2nd no-hitter.  Let that sink in for a second.

October 6, 2010 – A date many Phillies‘ fans (and baseball fans in general) will not soon forget.  Fans of the Phillies may even remember where they were as Doc threw his second no-hitter of the season, becoming just the 5th man to do that in a season.

October 6, 2010 – The date this fan missed his favorite team’s ace throw a no-hitter because he was in French class!  Are you kidding me!  How did I allow this to happen?  I contemplated skipping class, but I had an exam, so that was out.  My only recourse to follow the game in real-time was to keep track of it on my Droid X using MLB At-Bat, and hope that I wouldn’t miss anything historic.    In retrospect, I should have set my Tivo.  I didn’t and I missed an historic event.  What an idiot!

Enough with my rant, time to talk about the game.  Much has been written, and rightfully so, about Roy Halladay’s brilliance and this post will add to those words.  Roy Halladay is simply the best pitcher in baseball.  He has been a beast throughout his career and his first season with the Phillies has been superlative. To quote Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley:

In his first year with the Phillies, Halladay has:

  • Pitched a perfect-game against the Florida Marlins
  • Made the NL All-Star team
  • Pitched a complete game shut-out to help his team clinch the division against the Washington Nationals
  • Led the NL in wins, complete games, shut-outs, innings pitched, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and lowest walk rate
  • [Will likely] win the NL Cy Young award
  • Put himself into legitimate NL MVP candidacy
  • Pitched a no-hitter in Game One of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, his first career post-season start

On the day the trade went down that brought Halladay to the Phillies, I knew that he would be awesome in Philly.  I said to my wife’s uncle, that Halladay would easily have an ERA in the low 2’s (he ended the season with a 2.44 ERA) and that he was my favorite to win the Cy Young award.  When I made that prediction, I didn’t know he would be this good.

How good Halladay was last night? According to the ever helpful, Halladay’s pitching performance had a game score of 94, which tied it with Don Larsen‘s famous perfect game for the 4th best game score in post season history!  Two of the three players who finished with better game scores pitched into extra innings, adding points to their totals.  Roger Clemens (the man with the best game score) struck out 15 batters in a one-hitter against Seattle.  Strike outs count for something in the computation of game scores, so the Rocket grabs the top spot.

To quote Eno Sarris at FanGraphs:

But of course it was his work on the mound that was so impressive. He showed legendary control in pitching his no-hitter, only producing 25 balls on 104 pitches. He induced weak groundball after weak groundball (12 of them, to 6 fly balls). He was efficient – using only 11.6 pitches per inning. He was dominant. He had the kind of game that will go down in history right next to Don Larsen’s perfect game. He produced a game of which everyone who watched felt unworthy. He was awe-some.

That type of dominance is the reason the Phillies brought Halladay to Broad and Pattison.  I can’t wait to see what Doc has in store for us as the postseason continues.

Of course, the night couldn’t simply be a celebration of Roy Hallday’s greatness, somebody had to cause some controversy.  In what sounds a lot like sour grapes, Orlando Cabrera decided to spout these words, “He and the umpire pitched a no-hitter. He gave him every pitch. Basically, we had no chance.”  In response to this comment, as Eno Sarris points out using data from, Cabrera had nothing to complain about.  See the chart:

As you can see, Halladay had little help from umpire John Hirschbeck.

Clearly, Cabrera should take some lessons from fellow Red, Jonny Gomes who had this to say about Halladay,

I think Doc actually took the umpire out of the game by just throwing strikes. I really didn’t have any questionable strikes on me. I’m not really worried about the umpire too much. I’m worried about the guy on the mound. He did a great job — all four corners down and in, up and in, down and out. He threw all four pitches in all four corners.

Props to Gomes for showing some respect for the achievement, for the pitcher and for being a class act.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game; can the Phillies other Roy (Oswalt) pitch the Phillies to a 2-0 series lead or will the Reds and their potent offense strike back?

Oh, and if you missed the game like I did, check out all 27 outs here.

Maria, Too Full of Grace

When former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova lost to Kimiko Date Krumm in Tokyo, I tweeted what was in my gut…the golden girl is done.  She then lost yesterday in Beijing to Elena Vesnina and I knew it was beyond my gut, it was fact.  For the record, I’m not of the camp who cheered this news, who bemoaned her loud grunts or the fact that her celebrity has outstripped her ranking of late, for God’s sake, I’m a guy!

Facts are, If she up and quit today, Maria’s had a Hall of Fame career on the courts (World No. 1, Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles, helping open the floodgates for Russian women’s tennis, etc.) The sad fact is that I just don’t see her contending again.  I wish I had a different answer, but 2010 was the year Sharapova needed to step up, and frankly, she’s failed at every opportunity.

The key is what’s happened the last three years.  We all know about the shoulder injury that wrecked her once explosive serve.  Maria played most of 2008 injured due to a misdiagnosis of said injury, suffering bad losses to players who she used to own before shutting it down for about ten months.  She came back in 2009, and after half a decade ranked in the top 5, Sharapova was outside the Top 100, either scared of re-injury or physically unable to play the game that won her 3 of the sport’s 4 crown jewels.  In 2010, the old service motion came back and pundits universally thought she’d turn it around.  They…ok, we, were mistaken.  Fact is, you don’t spend two years losing matches you should win on paper and not have it affect you.

It always seemed telling that post-surgery, Papa Yuri handed over the official coaching reins to Michael Joyce.  I’m sure some of that had to do with a young girl growing up and not needing dad to “protect” her anymore, but just like when Uncle Toni doesn’t show up for Rafa, Maria seems listless without Yuri’s guiding hand.

I’ve always revered Maria’s ice princess persona on the court.  Cool, calm, unaffected by the score, but I’ve come to loathe it in press conferences.  This is the mealy mouthed, feel good garbage that people want Serena Williams to spew when she loses.  The old “my opponent was just too good,” cheerful loser BS spewed on playgrounds where 7th place finishers “win” medals.  Serena knows better, she knows that a huge part of being a champion is never accepting losses.  Some champs exemplify that trait by getting back on the practice court 5 minutes after a shock loss and hitting 100 of the shot that just deserted them; others by immediately citing whatever niggling injury most troubled them that day; others, like Serena, by saying how poorly they played and the starring role they played in their own demise.

From this outsider’s perspective, Maria, on the other hand, has begun accepting the losses.  She may have recovered her serve (may have, the stroke is still maddeningly inconsistent), but the force of will that famously carried Sharapova from Siberia to victory at the All England Club is sadly gone, perhaps never to return.

So, here’s this fan’s wish and prescription to cure the golden girl, I want to see her break some sticks, call herself out on her poor play or get fitter than she’s ever been in her life.  I want to see Maria OWN the losses and rail against them.  As long as she’s accepting them, she’ll never contend again.