Tag Archives: Philadelphia

A Week that Could Make or Break Contenders

With the trade deadline come and gone, pennant races throughout both leagues will heat up. In both the NL and AL East, the race has gotten much closer over the last week. The Phillies have pulled to within 2.5 games of the Braves. The Rays are a scant 1 game behind the Yankees after winning their weekend series. Trailing the AL East leaders, the Red Sox are making a run, having won 5 out of their last 6 games. This week could see some movement in the standings, as the contenders all have some tough games ahead of them (some against each other). With the races becoming so close, this week could propel a team into first place, or could crush the hopes of fans along the eastern seaboard.

With the Phillies looking to cut into the Braves' lead, Roy Halladay will go to the mound twice this week.

Both contenders in the NL East have tough weeks ahead of them. The Phillies start the week (on Tuesday) with a 3 game series against the Marlins in Florida, while the Braves take on the Mets in Atlanta.  The Braves and Mets have played 8 times this season, with the Mets owning a 5-3 advantage.  If the Mets can win the series, it will give the Phillies an opportunity to pick up a game of two on the NL East leaders.  While the opportunity certainly exists, the Mets had a horrible July (going 9-17), while the Braves own an MLB best 34-13 record at home.

The Phillies need to win their series with the Marlins, who are coming off a 16-10 July in order to keep pace with the Braves. With Ryan Howard hobbled by a sprained ankle, the Phillies might be without their most consistent offensive threat for some portion of the series. Howard believes he could be back in the lineup for the series opener on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if the Phillies will rest their slugger for a game or two using him for pinch hit duty if necessary. If Howard is rested, Ross Gload or Cody Ransom would likely start at first.  The Phillies will have Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick and Roy Oswalt going against the Fish.  Thankfully, the Phillies will avoid Josh Johnson, and will contend with Sean West, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad.  West and Volstad are middling pitchers, neither should scare the boys from South Philly.  Since both are going against superior pitchers, the Phillies are in a good place to win those games.  Will they win those games?  That is another story.  Both are winnable, but they have to go out and get the job done.  Sanchez, on the other hand, is a tough pitcher having a very good season (including a complete game shutout of the Giants in his last outing), and will pitch against Kendrick.  That game looks like the most likely loss for the Phillies; however, Kendrick has pitched well in his last two starts, throwing 13.1 innings, striking out 8 and giving up only 2 earned runs.  The Phillies are in an excellent position to win this series, even sweep it, but they have not performed well on the road.  Their road record currently stands at 23-30, they were just 3-11 on the road in July, and lost 2 of 3 to a Nationals team that is 17 games under .500 and was without their best pitcher in Stephen Strasburg.

Phillies fans will be rooting for Lincecum when he takes on the Braves this week (and not because he is on their fantasy team).

At the end of the week, the Braves will host the surging San Francisco Giants, while the Phillies will return home to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park to host the Mets.  The Braves will face the top of the Giants rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain pitching the first three games.  The series finale will see Jonathan Sanchez take on Derek Lowe.  The Giants won the last series between these two teams (2-1) and posted a .714 winning percentage in July (20-8).  Coming off a weekend sweep of the Dodgers, there is hope for Phillies’ fans.  San Francisco winning is a bit of a double-edged sword, as they are the current leaders in the Wild Card race and could put more distance between themselves and the Phillies.  Despite this fact, I know that I will be rooting for the boys in orange and black (it seems natural for a Philly sports fan, no?).

While the Braves take on the Giants, the Phillies will renew their rivalry with the Mets.  The Mets currently own a 4-2 edge in the season series, but as stated above have been less than stellar over the past month.   The Phillies will face Hisanori Takahashi, Jonathon Niese, and Johan Santana during the three games series, and will counter with Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Halladay.  Takahashi was tough on the Phillies in his only start against them this season, pitching 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 6.  Though, if Blanton can pitch even moderately well, the Phillies should have a chance to win all three games.  Hamels is a better pitcher than Niese, and has been on fire lately.  The Phillies may not face Niese though, as there are rumors that his turn in the rotation will be skipped after he was blasted by the Diamondbacks in his last start.  Sunday’s match up between Santana and Halladay should be a great one, as two of the best pitchers over the last decade will be squaring off.  The last time Santana faced the Phillies he had one of the worst outings of his career, giving up 10 runs in 3.2 innings; and the Cardinals pounded him in his last start, scoring 7 runs in 5.2 innings.

Given the Phillies play of late, I think they pick up a couple of games this week, placing them in excellent position to retake the division lead within the next couple of weeks.  Of course, this prediction is predicated on Ryan Howard coming back to play most of the week.  Without Howard in the lineup, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez would need to continue their torrid post-All-Star play for the Phillies to have a chance.

There hasn't been much good in Cleveland sports for the last several months, and it is unlikely to change against the Sox at Fenway.

Turning our focus to the Al East, the Sox have a massive opportunity to cut into their deficit.  They start the week playing four games against a Cleveland team that just traded its best starter (Jake Westbrook) to the Cardinals, and one of its best offensive weapons (Austin Kearns) and its closer (Kerry Wood) to the Yankees.  The pitching matchups clearly favor the Sox, with John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka lined up for the series.  While the Sox will have to contend with Fausto Carmona in the first game, the pitcher for the 2nd game of the series is undecided, former Sox player Justin Masterson will pitch the third game, and Josh Tomlin, a 25-year-old rookie with 2 starts to  his name (though he has been impressive in those two starts, giving up just 2 runs over 12.1 innings) will start the finale.  While these games might seem like locks, the Sox are only 2-2 against the Indians this season, despite Cleveland’s season-long mediocrity. With momentum from two straight walk-off wins, the Sox are in an excellent position to win 3 or 4 of the games against the Indians.   As for their competition in the AL East, The Yankees face the Blue Jays in New York, while the Rays face white-hot Twins (9-1 in their last 10 games) at Tropicana Field.  Neither series will be easy for the teams with the two best records in baseball.  If either falters, the Sox need to take advantage by winning a very winnable series.

Following the series against the Indians, the Sox will travel to the Bronx to take on the Yankees for 4 games.  Just 3-5 against the Bronx Bombers this season, the Sox cannot afford to lose this series if they want to have a realistic shot of catching the Yankees.  The already potent Yankees lineup was augmented through two trades just before the deadline.  They captured the aforementioned Kearns (8 HR, 42 RBI, .271 avg, and .768 OPS), as well as Lance Berkman from the Astros.  Berkman, a shadow of his former MVP caliber self, still has some pop and fits in excellently at DH.  The Big Puma has struggled at the plate this year, batting just .242 – by far the lowest of his career, but still has 13 HR and a .794 OPS.  He provides an upgrade at DH over the oft-injured Nick Johnson, and can spell Mark Teixeira at first base.  Because the series is 4 games, the Sox aren’t lucky enough to avoid C.C. Sabathia, who will pitch Saturday’s game against Lackey.  The first game will pit Clay Buchholz against Javier Vazquez, while Sunday’s game will be a battle of former Marlins with Beckett taking on A.J. Burnett.  This series presents the Sox with an opportunity to cut into the Yankees’ lead, the question is can they do it?  While the Sox and Yanks battle in the Bronx, the Rays will be taking on Toronto in Tampa, not exactly an easy series.  Pending the outcome of the Sox-Yankess series, the Rays could find themselves in first place at the end of the week.

Big Papi and his clutch hitting have returned for the Red Sox. Will it continue against the Yankees?

I think the Sox will carry their new-found momentum through the Cleveland series, winning at least 3 of the games.  The biggest test of the season for the Sox will come starting Friday.  With their offense and pitching back on track, the Sox have a good chance to split the series with the Yankees.  If they can win the series, they will have passed their biggest test, and shaved at least 2 games off the Yankees lead.

Right now, the Phillies have a 31.9 % chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, while the Sox have a 26.5% chance.  Hopefully, both the Sox and Phillies take care of business this week.   One of my teams needs to make the playoffs!

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Walking with the Wounded

Things just keep getting worse for the Philadelphia Phillies.  First Jimmy Rollins goes down early in the season.  Just when the Phils got him back, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Placido Polanco all go down with injuries.  The Phillies have also lost backup catcher Brian Schneider to injury.  Early in the season the Phillies also lost J.A. Happ making their starting rotation thinner than they would have liked.  Combine these injuries with an extended, team-wide slump and you have the Phillies sitting 4 games behind the Atlanta Braves just before the All-Star Break.

Utley’s injury is the most worrying.  He had surgery on his thumb and is expected to miss 8 weeks.  With that time-table, Utley will return at he end of August or early September. Polanco will be out for 3-4 weeks with elbow problems.  No word on how long Schneider will be out of the lineup, but hopefully it isn’t long as Chooch isn’t ready to start his rehab assignment.  Chooch is still recovering from a concussion and those aren’t something you want to mess with.  Happ is the closest to returning of the Phillies on the DL.  He will make another rehab start at Lehigh Valley and should hopefully rejoin the big club after the Break.

With Utley and Polanco out of the lineup, the Phillies lose at lot of offense at the top of their lineup.  Shane Victorino hasn’t been great in the lead off spot, and the injuries mean the Phillies have Greg Dobbs batting second!  The man is batting .171 right now and he’s batting second!  Rollins has been pushed to third, which sacrifices his speed at the top of the order for his run producing capabilities.  Wilson Valdez appears to have won the right to replace Utley, he performed admirably in his stint as Rollins’ replacement, but clearly cannot replace Utley’s offensive ability.  As if this weren’t enough, the starting catcher right now is Dane Sardinha!  I hadn’t even heard of this guy until he was called up when Chooch went on the DL.  He has a .143 career batting average!  The Phillies then found an excellent replacement for Utley when they recalled, Brian Bocock to take Utley’s roster spot.  This guy was batting .179 with Lehigh Valley, how do you think he will do against big league pitching?

Ultimately, the Phillies need to explore some trade options to replace Utley.  Polanco could return shortly after the Break, but the loss of Utley will handicap the Phillies as they fight to make the playoffs.  With Utley out until the final month of the season, the Phillies could be out of the race by the time he returns.  A potential replacement could be Kelly Johnson of the Diamondbacks.  The D-backs are already out of the race and Johnson has been hitting well over the course of the season.  Disregarding his current slump, Johnson could replace most of Utley’s offense.  He is relatively cheap, making $2.35 million this season, and is signed for just this year.  I can’t imagine the D-backs would ask for much in return, perhaps a couple of mid-level prospects.  This would allow the Phillies to slot him in as a replacement for Utley returning Valdez to the bench.  This would give the Phillies more flexibility to cover future injuries.  Another potential replacement would be Mike Fontenot, a career .270 hitter who would be an upgrade over the current starting alignment of Dobbs at 3B and Valdez at 2B.  He is currently sitting behind Ryan Theriot for the Cubs, is on a one-year contract and is making $1 million this season.  The Cubs would likely trade him for a low to mid-level prospect.  Another option would be Mike Aviles from Kansas City.  He has been playing well this season and has established himself recently as the starting SS.  Like the other options, he is on a one-year contract and is cheap ($429,000 this season).  Kansas City isn’t going to compete this year, and is always looking to add prospects.  A mid-level prospect would likely be enough to bring Aviles to Citizens Bank Park.  I just read Buster Olney’s blog, and he mentioned Ty Wigginton (currently of the Baltimore Orioles) as a potential replacement.   I could see that move happening and agree that it would be a great fit.

Ruben Amaro needs to do something to help the lineup because a starting 9 that includes Greg Dobbs and Wilson Valdez is not going to win the N.L. East.  That’s a fact.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft

Evan Turner - Is this the man that will return the Sixers to the promised land?

As usual, the NBA draft had its share of surprise picks, trades and drama.  The beginning of the draft started the way many mock drafts had predicted, with John Wall going 1st to the Wizards, followed by Evan Turner to the Sixers, and Derrick Favors to the Nets.  First, I must say that I am glad the Sixers took my advice and drafted Evan Turner (quite possibly the only Ohio State Buckeye I will ever like).  I think he has the potential to be a star in the league and gives them a player to truly build around for the future.  He seems to be a stand up guy and plays well on both ends of the floor.  The Sixers have struck gold with this pick.  Given that his was the Sixers’ only pick in the draft, they made a splash.  I know that it will create some over-crowding at the wing and guard positions, but this pick was the best for the franchise.  Hopefully, Ed Stefanski isn’t done trading and can clear out some of that over-crowding while bringing in some new talent.  As, I stated in a previous post, the gutsy move is to trade Andre Iguodala, who would likely fetch some good pieces (picks or players) in return.

Some other moves that I liked:

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder were active in this draft.  I liked what I saw from them.  They had a total of 4 picks in the draft, but didn’t keep any of them.  They spun their picks into: Daequan Cook, a young shooting guard who will give them depth in the back court; Cole Aldrich, a good, young big who will add depth to the front court, Morris Peterson (who will provide veteran leadership off the bench) and a future 1st round pick (lottery protected).   The Thunder made these trades both for the future and in order to win now.  They had 4 picks in the draft and already are loaded with young talent.  They did their best to not overload themselves with players that are too young and not ready to contribute.  This team can win now, they already have a talented core and gave the Lakers a run for their money in the playoffs.  With their moves, I think they can push the elite in the Western Conference.

Miami Heat – The Heat made some shrewd moves in this draft.  The first, As John Hollinger of ESPN wrote about their trade of Cook to OKC, “Miami is in the process of buying out James Jones, whose deal is only partially guaranteed next year, and if in addition the Heat can find a taker for Michael Beasley they’ll have enough cap space for three max contracts — allowing them to potentially unite the holy trinity of LeBron, Wade and Bosh on one roster.”  Can you believe that?  How crazy would it be if Miami had Bosh, King James and Flash on the same team?  They would be unstoppable.  In addition, the Heat made 4 picks in the 2nd round and like several of them.  Getting Jarvis Varnado, the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots, in the middle of the 2nd round is great value.  He will be great off the bench as a defender/rebounder.  The Heat also drafted one of my favorite players from the NCAA tournament, Da’Sean Butler.  He injured his knee against Duke in the national semifinal, but will provide the Heath with good value when he recovers.

Utah Jazz – The Jazz picked Gordon Hayward, the unlikely star of this past NCAA tournament.  I love what Hayward can do.  He can shoot, play D and has a good motor and feel for the game.  I think he fits in with this team perfectly.

Washington Wizards – Obviously, John Wall was a great pick.  He allows them to move Gilbert Arenas to the SG position, which makes both the PG and SG positions better.  I also liked their pick of Trevor Booker from Clemson.  He adds size and toughness in the paint.  Include their trade with the Bulls, where they got Kirk Hinrich (who can act as a mentor to Wall and provides a solid backup in the back court), and I think the Wizards have gone a long way to getting themselves back to respectability.

One move that I did not like was Portland’s firing of GM Kevin Pritchard.  The way they fired him and the fact that they fired him at all is just ridiculous.  Paul Allen, the Blazers’ owner, fired Pritchard just hours before the draft.  Pritchard conducted the draft admirably, making a trade that makes the Blazers a better team.  He was able to acquire Ryan Gomes and the rights to Luke Babbitt from the Timberwolves for Martell Webster.  I like this trade because I am a fan of Gomes.  I like him when he played for the Celtics and I think he is a great addition to the Blazers.  I also like Babbitt, who played college ball at Nevada.  Pritchard also drafted Elliot Williams, who will add depth to the Portland back court.  Pritchard should be able to find work elsewhere as he was responsible for rehabilitating the Blazers’ image and rebuilding the franchise on the court.  He did an excellent job in both departments and to see him go out like this is just pitiful.  Could this be the start of the Pritchard Curse?  It would serve Paul Allen right if it were, but the Blazer fans deserve better.

Musings on Baseball, Basketball and the Longest Tennis Match in History

So many sporting events during the last day, and so little time to blog about them.  I’ve decided one post to cover the most interesting non-World Cup sporting events of the last day was the way to go.

Baseball – Good night for one of my teams, not so good for the other.  The Phillies were able to pull off a late game rally to defeat the Indians 7-6. Maybe Jimmy Rollins‘ absence meant more the Phillies than I thought.  His walk-off homer secured the victory.  Coupled with a sterling pitching performance from Jamie Moyer on Tuesday the Phillies are on a modest 2 game win streak.  Maybe the Phillies need to play the AL Central more often.  Hopefully, the Phillies can use this to propel themselves into a good stretch before the All-Star break.  If the Phillies can play well going into the Break, I think they have an excellent shot of catching Atlanta and winning the division.  In the past several years, the Phillies have been excellent after the All-Star Break, posting a .599 winning percentage over the last 5 seasons.  If the Phillies can go into the Break within striking distance, I believe they will heat up after the break and catch the Braves.

On the other side of a walk-off were my 2nd team, the Red Sox.  They were facing Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been historically good this season, so who could have blamed them for losing.  The funny thing is that the Sox actually got to Jimenez, chasing him after 5 2/3 innings in which they scored 6 runs.  To put this in perspective, Jimenez had only given up 13 runs total in his previous 14 games!  In the month of May, Jimenez pitched 6 times and gave up 4 runs in the whole month!  The 5 2/3 inning outing was also the shortest of the season for Jimenez.  John Lackey put in a valiant effort on the mound and at the plate (he had 2 hits) and deserved better.  The Sox rallied from an early 4 run deficit to take a 6-5 lead into the 9th.  Jonathan Papelbon came on, so the game should have been over.  Instead, Papelbon gave up two home runs and the Rockies walked off with the victory.

Tennis – The longest tennis match in the history of the sport is finally over.  I couldn’t go without mentioning that John Isner finally won his match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon.  The match started on Tuesday.  Tuesday night the match was suspended and play was resumed on Wednesday.  The players played for the entire day Wednesday only to have the match again suspended due to darkness.  Isner was finally able to break Mahut’s serve in the 138th game of the 5th set.  The match is truly an epic, taking more than 11 hours over 3 days to complete.  The match was so compelling that it even got me to stop watching soccer yesterday afternoon.  The Ghana-Germany and Serbia-Australia matches took a backseat to history in the making.  Like Isner said “This will never ever happen again”.  Both men deserved better than for the loser to be knocked out of Wimbledon.  Bravo to both men.

NBA – The lead up to the NBA draft continues with the top of the draft coming more into focus.  John Wall is a lock to go at #1 to the Wizards.  It appears the Sixers are going to take my advice and draft Evan Turner.  The Nets are now leaning toward Derrick Favors.   After that things get fuzzy, as there could be a lot of movement due to trades.  It should be an interesting night.

2.43 ERA and an 8-6 Record

Yes, those stats are correct.  Roy Halladay has compiled a 2.43 ERA and still his record is 8-6.  How is this possible?  The Phillies almost seem to relax, offensively and defensively (they have committed some atrocious errors behind Halladay), when Halladay pitches and it is coming back to bite them.  An interesting stat, via an ESPN text message, is that the Phillies have scored 9 runs in Halladay’s 6 loses.  That is a measly  1.5 runs per game.  Even for an offense that has been sputtering for the better part of a month, 1.5 runs per game is ludicrous.  The MLB average is 4.48 runs per game according to Baseball-Reference.com.  So the Phillies are scoring roughly 3 runs per game fewer than the league average.  For the season, even after the poor performance over the last month, the Phillies average 4.65 runs per game, slightly higher than the league average.  Halladay is receiving a total of 4 runs per game in run support, over half a run fewer than the Phillies’ average.  That number is skewed by a couple of really big wins by the Phillies in Halladay’s first 7 starts.  The Phillies have scored 11, 10, 8 and 7 runs for Doc, but every other game (10 in total) they have failed to score more than 4 runs.

Halladay has been as advertised this season, giving the Phillies quality starts almost every time he takes the mound.  When the Phillies traded for him, I thought this would be a perfect match.  Halladay dominating on the mound, backed up by an offense that was 4th in the majors last year in runs per game.  Instead, the Phillies offense has been lost,  especially so when Halladay takes the mound.  It’s a shame to see a pitcher put up such good numbers and continually lose games.  Here’s hoping the Phillies can figure out what the problem is and give Halladay the run support he deserves.

Has the Sleeping Giant Woken Up?

The Phillies have won 4 of their last 5 games (against good competition too) and have scored 5 or more runs in all of the victories.  Over the last 5 games, even the loss to the Yankees, the team has looked more like the team that has won back-to-back NL pennants and the 2008 World Series.  Will the arrival of Jimmy Rollins help to keep the restarted engine running?  Is Chase Utley hurt?  If he is, perhaps he should have had a hurt knee a month ago because he was a beast last night in the Phils’ victory over the Twins.

The funny thing about Utley is that his stats (OPS, Runs Created and Wins Above Replacement and other metrics) are all in the top two or three on the Phillies’ roster.  We have just come to expect so much of him that the slump he has been in is shocking. While his numbers are below his career averages and the worst of his career since he has became the Phils’ starting 2B, I believe he will bounce back. Relative to the rest of the team, which isn’t saying much when the team is playing poorly, Utley isn’t playing any worse than most of the team. It just appears that way because of the superlatively high standards he has set.

June hasn’t been a kind month to the Phillies, with only Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco hitting above .300.   If not for Howard, who is having a great month so far (5 HR, 16 RBI, accounting for nearly half of the Phillies’ HR and 1/4 of the RBI this month) the Phillies would be much worse shape.  Way to earn that money Big Piece!

It is rare for an entire team to undergo a month long slump but you have to believe that when the team does wake up (and it looks like that time might be now) the rest of the National League East will not be happy about it.