Monthly Archives: April 2010

Lidge returns, Blanton Happ soon to follow

Brad Lidge is back.  And tonight, hopefully he will officially be back closing out Kyle Kendrick’s first decision of the 2010 season.  Kendrick has filled in as best he could thus far.  He has not factored in a decision in any of his first four starts this year.  His +7 ERA only seems manageable now that it’s in single digits.  Before his eight scoreless innings against the Braves (which the bullpen blew.  Again no decision for KK) his ERA was steadily climbing towards 20.00.

But with Lidge back and the possibility of him closing out the game tonight, I can not help but wonder if he might be closing out Kendrick’s season as well.  Kendrick was battling Jamie Moyer all Spring Training for the final rotation spot.  And while pitching in all ‘A’ games and pitching well, he took a back seat to Moyer who struggled in mostly ‘B’ games.  But 8 million sitting in the bullpen looks a lot different from 400k rounding out the pitching staff.  I guess when it counts Moyer has pitched well this season going 2-2 with an ERA just above five.

Joe Blanton, despite getting rocked a bit in his last rehab start, says he is ready to return to the big league club.  And soon behind him will be JA Happ and Jimmy Rollins.  Now we all know once Rollins comes back it will be Wilson Valdez on waivers.  He is all out of options so will have to get passed up by the rest of the league before going back to Lehigh Valley.  And with the injury bug biting a lot of teams already this year, that seems unlikely.

Antonio Bastardo has been optioned to Lehigh to make room for Lidge.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro brought in former Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa to help out in the pen.  J.C. Romero is back, and bullpen residents Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson are not going anywhere.  So who leaves once Blanton and Happ come back?  Who are the odd men out?  My list is Kendrick, Danys Baez, Figgy, or David Herndon.

Herndon was a Rule 5 pick from the Angels and would have to be returned to LA if removed from the 25 man roster.  While he pitched great in Spring Training earning him a spot in the pen, he has struggled in relief in 8.2 IP with a +6 ERA.  Another option to leave would be Figueroa.  I know Rube thought he would be a good mid-game inning eater but Durbin and Jose Contreras if needed they can throw two or three innings.

Kendrick will be a good 4th or 5th starter some day but it is hard to see when he fits in here.  Unless he can get steady work he will continue to be unable to locate pitches.  He has as many walks as he does strikeouts this season (9).  Ultimately I think Kendrick moves to the bullpen once Blanton returns and Herndon is released.  As for Happ’s return I think this will cause Rube to release Figgy.  I only say this because Baez is set to make 2.5 million so the Phillies must have a lot of confidence in his abilities.  As for the Philly Phaithful, the jury is still out.

With the Phillies playing well enough to only spend their, now, third day out of first place since May 2009, the return of Blanton and Happ will be huge.  I am all for letting the Mets ‘peak’ this early in the season and see them run out of steam come the All Star break.

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Phillies bullpen stumbles again, luckily offense provides big enough cushion

Just from looking at the box score some could start to say ‘I didn’t know Brad Lidge was back.’

However, that would be both wrong and unfair.  But nonetheless the bullpen did, once again, stumble in the ninth inning of a game where the Phillies had a fairly comfortable lead.

Roy Halladay pitched brilliantly again like only the Doc knows how to do.  He went eight innings, while allowing two earned runs and eight hits.  He also struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.  His ERA has jumped up to 1.13.  No need to panic, I think he will recover from this one.  Halladay also helped put an end to Marlin Jorge Cantu’s streak of 10 games with at least one hit and RBI.  Until it ended, it was a Major League record.  To help his own cause, Halladay had a hit in the game.  He now has had at least one hit in each of his starts this season.

The Phillies offense averaging over seven runs a game wasted no time getting onto the board.   Three RBI singles from Ryan Howard, Juan Castro and Carlos Ruiz started the scoring early in the bottom of the 1st.  Philadelphia added a run in the 2nd and 3rd innings and finally chased Florida starter Anibal Sanchez after six innings.   He gave up eight hits and five earned runs.

Placido Polanco and Chase Utley each had a solo home run in the game.  Utley is now tied for the Major League lead in homers with Nelson Cruz of Texas and Toronto’s Vernon Wells with six.

The Phillies took a 8-2 lead into the ninth but with Halladay having already thrown 100 pitches and in the midst of a short rain delay, Manager Charlie Manuel opted to bring in David Herndon from the bullpen.  The Rule 5 Draft pick, who was stellar in Spring Training, saw his first real trouble of the young season allowing five hits and four earned runs in only a third of a inning.  Ryan Madson came in and mopped up the mess closing out the rest of the night.   The Phillies held on to a 8-6 victory in front of their 45th straight sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

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So far so good. For some at least…..NL East

It is entirely way too early to tell being only nine, some ten, games into the season but let’s take a look at how the NL East is shaping up thus far.  I believe it was Toby Keith who said, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then, I wish I could start this whole thing over again.”

He was most definitely talking about a girl there, but some GM’s might be singing the same song after this first week and a half of the 2010 season.  Going into the season teams have high expectations about their club without ultimately knowing how they will finish.  I can think of a couple teams that probably wish they were back at .500 (0-0).

So far, the Phillies, Braves, Nationals and Mets have each played nine games while the Marlins have competed in 10.  Most teams have made it at least twice through their pitching rotation, shuffled players between the DL, majors and minors, and have seen streaks and slumps broken.

Let’s get started shall we.  We will start from the bottom of the division.  And this has nothing to do with saving the best for last (Phillies, which they are) or exploiting that the Mets are in last place (which is admittedly awesome), it is about starting with bad news first and ending with the good.  Just like any meeting should progress.

New York Mets (3-6)

A preseason pick of 4th place in the division seems generous at this point but appears to be a good landing place for the Metropolitans once the season comes to a halt late October.  Coming into this season expectations were high, but then again you could not get much worse than last season.

The Mets are still a little sluggish from Spring Training and all the injury updates.  Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy are still on the DL with projected returns for early May.  Jose Reyes is back but has only played in 5 games and is hitting just .261.   He’s really not seeing the ball well having no homeruns or RBIs, and has struck out six times.  New York is currently ranked 10th in the National League in hitting with a .243 batting average.  There are only five teams who have hit fewer homeruns (9) than the Mets.  So far the offense is averaging only 4.4 runs this season.

The pitching rotation consists of Johan Santana and then, um, well actually no clue.  The staff is just barely in the top half of the NL in ERA at 4.33.  Which isn’t too much of a surprise considering after Santana the rotation skips a few tiers of talent.  To our surprise Mike Pelfrey has really stepped his game up this year.  He has two of the teams three wins, boasting a 1.38 ERA in 13 IP and only allowing nine hits while striking out 10 and walking just four batters.

The pitching will continue to be shaky and the offense not strong enough to support their high ERAs.  Look for New York to continue to sink at the bottom of the NL East.

Washington Nationals (4-5)

The Nationals are off to one of their better starts in years.  And to many people’s surprise, it has nothing to do with superstar sensation #1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.  He will get his time soon.  So, despite having one of the lowest (.233, only Braves and Astros are worse) batting averages the Nats have somehow found a way to win four out of their first nine games.  With two of them coming at the hands of the defending National League Champs the Philadelphia Phillies, it seems like this season might be the one where they venture out of the realm of the NL East Forgotten.

Veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez is once again showing these kids how to hit with a team leading .407.  Josh Willingham is hitting .333 with 2 HR and 9 RBIs (both team lead).  The usually dangerous 1-2 punch of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn is only hitting .250/.185 respectively with a homer a piece and six RBIs between them.

The offseason addition of Jason Marquis has not worked out quite as expected.  The notorious inning eater has lasted only 8 1/3 innings through two starts while watching his ERA skyrocket to 12.96.  Now that would be bad enough, yet unfortunately for Washington that is not the highest ERA amongst starters.   Craig Stammen is ballooning at 15.63 with only 6 1/3 innings pitched as a starter.  Throw in five other pitchers with +7 ERAs and the Nationals are second to last in team ERA (7.04) but are, interestingly enough, tied for first in saves (4).

The Nationals will not even sniff the top of the division this season but will generate a lot of buzz while an early mid-summer call up for Strasburg is pretty inevitable at this point.

Atlanta Braves (5-4)

In the last season for Bobby Cox, the Braves will be looking to get back to the top of the division.  A view they have not seen since 2005, the last of their 11-year streak as NL East Champs.

Hopes were high coming into the season opener finally having Tim Hudson back from injury.  He was a huge signing for Atlanta but just could not stay healthy.  Also the power-hitting rookie Jason Heyward was making highlight reels and dents during Spring Training with towering homers.   The rookie is hitting .303 with 3 HR and 12 RBIs.  The surprise for this offense is 2B Martin Prado hitting .459.  A great batting average but with no one hitting in front of him has only allowed him to pick up 2 RBIs.  Catcher Brian McCann is sitting comfortably 46 points above .300 where he will probably hover all season long.  3B Chipper Jones is having problems both with his oblique and at the plate (.150)

The pitching staff has been throwing well. Three of the five starters (Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami) possess an ERA of 3.00 or lower.  Hanson has struck out 14 hitters in 11 1/3 innings but has walked seven batters as well.   Billy Wagner is back closing ball games and already has a save and 10 K in 5 IP.  The Braves have a good pairing of a talented line-up and rotation.  I don’t think they have enough to overtake the Phillies though.  At least not this year.

Florida Marlins (6-4)

Ah the Florida Marlins.  The team where you will rarely hear an announcer saying “And in his 5th year with the club, is….”  Guys just don’t stick around too long here.  The Marlins are best known for their ‘fire sale’ after winning their first World Series after the ’97 season in which they traded all their star players claiming financial troubles from the front office.

While Florida has won two WS titles, they are still in search of their first division win.  Both playoff appearances came via the Wild Card.  Per usual, Florida is a young and talented team again this year.  Five guys in the starting lineup are hitting .300 or better with overall team average at .278.  1B Jorge Cantu has at least one hit and an RBI in every game this season; a new Major League record.  He has 15 RBIs in the first 10 games.

No one from the starting rotation has really stepped up as the clear-cut ace.  Josh Johnson has logged the most innings thus far with 16.  In those, he has struck out 20 while walking eight batters.   The bullpen looks ok, mixing in Save chances amongst three different guys.

The Marlins are always going to be an exciting team to watch.  Always going to score runs.  It is their pitching staff that will hinder them from climbing the ladder to overtake the Phillies.

Philadelphia Phillies (7-2)

The Phillies are in a share of the Major League lead in win percentage with the San Francisco Giants at .778.  They have won seven of their first nine games with ridiculous offense and tremendous pitching from Roy Halladay and Company.

Oh man where do I begin.  Not counting ABs, the Phillies are in the NL Top 3 for every offensive category.  They are leading the Majors in Runs, RBIs, Total Bases, and Slugging Percentage.  It is one of the greatest offensive starts for not just the Phillies, but of any team in Major League history.

Newly acquired 3B Placido Polanco is leading the team (and Majors) with a .475 average.  Besides a 0 for 3 against Houston on April 11, Polanco has collected at least two hits in every game this year.  Chase Utley is tied for the NL home run lead with Albert Pujols at 5.  Ryan Howard is 4th in RBIs.

Take a look at these numbers of offensive domination.  Out of the top 25 for AVG, HR, and RBIs the Phillies 4, 3, and 4 players on those lists respectively.

Can the Phillies keep up this pace?  Probably not but 100 wins is not out of the question here.  Aside from Jimmy Rollins, the Phils need to stay healthy and spread the wealth.  They have done a great job of not depending on one or two players to win the game.  Up to this point in the season it has truly been a team effort.

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Bullpen hiccups cost Phillies series sweep against Nationals

It almost seems fitting that when MLB Network re-aired an episode of ‘The Pen’ documenting the ’09 Phillies bullpen the year after they won the World Series would be the day that this year’s almost perfect pen would blow it and put a skid to the Phils five game win streak.

For a second straight start (well his only two thus far) lefty J.A. (call me ‘Jay’) Happ didn’t allow an earned run.  However, again in his second straight start he didn’t last six innings.

Against the Nationals in the final game of the series in Philadelphia he did last 1/3 of an inning longer and only allowed 3 hits, as apposed to six in his first start.   However, he didn’t have any strikeouts and walked six batters.  Walking six and not allowing an earned run is impressive, don’t get me wrong, but why put that much pressure on yourself.

Not taking anything away from Scott Olsen who pitched adequately but this game really started when both starters left the game.  It seems the Nats bullpen took a page from the Phillies for this game.  The night before after the two inning slugfest to start the game, the Phillies bullpen came in and held Washington to only four hits and one earned run in 7 1/3 innings.  The Nats bullpen didn’t fair so well giving up seven hits, seven runs and four walks in only 4 innings.

After Jose Contreras struck out the final two batters in the 6th coming in for Happ, the rest of the night was a bit shaky.  Antonio Bastardo, Danys Baez, and Ryan Madson pitched an inning each in which combined they allowed six hits and six earned runs.  The biggest blow was the pinch-hit two-run homerun by Ryan Zimmerman, which put the Nats up by one.

Obviously the bullpen is going to have its troubles, just like the starting rotation, but they should be expected to hold it down against a team like Washington?  Ok maybe that is not fair.  Yes they are a Major League team but again they are the Washington Nationals.

Let’s look at it this way.  Relievers are supposedly brought it depending on match ups.  Now when a pitcher doesn’t last 6 innings, the bullpen may be required to pitch longer than usual and face hitters they normally would not be left in to face.  And with logging over seven innings the night before, the bullpen was a little skinny.  Last night against the Nats the bullpen trio for Philly (Bastardo, Baez, Madson) faced a total of 18 batters.  Of those 18, nine reached base via a hit or a walk.  When two of those hits turn out to be homeruns, then the walks really hurt.

Hopefully with Roy Halladay pitching today, that will give the bullpen a rest.

Worth noting:  Placido Polanco once again has two hits in a game and is batting a league high .475.  Jimmy Rollins replacement at shortstop while he is on the DL Juan Castro went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.  Chase Utley, for the series with Washington, had 4 HR, 7 RBIs, 6 R.

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Oddities on Opening Day in Big Win for Phillies

All the things you expected to happen, did.  Thousands of Phillies fans made the trip to the Nation’s capitol to see the Phillies take on the Nationals for Opening Day of the 2010 season.  The Phillies delivered in crushing fashion beating Washington 11-1.  Roy Halladay made his debut and looked stellar.  Allowing only one run in 7 innings and striking out nine.  The Phillies hit the ball.  And I mean hit.  Ryan Howard put those ‘slow start’ talks aside and crushed a John Lannan offering into the right field seats to give the Phightins a 2-1 lead.  It was all down hill from there.

As Phillies fans, we all expected this.  We expected, as we do every game, for the Phillies to win.  And win big.  Philadelphia has always been called an AL lineup in the National League.  They are going to hit homeruns.  We also expected Halladay to dominate.  And facing the lowly Nationals it was no problem.  Lifted after 7 innings and 87 pitches, I am confident he could have pitched a complete game.  But there was no need for

With the group at the Phillies Nation tailgate.

that.  A call to the bullpen showed confidence in the new arms.  Antonio Bastardo, Danny Baez and David Herndon finsihed out the game only allowing three hits and striking out two in the final two innings.

But like I said, we all expected this.  There were a few things that made me, at least, say hmmmm.  The first thing happened at about 10:15 Monday morning getting to the parking lot.  This was the parking lot under the bridge on the Potomac where Phillies Nation was holding their Opening Day Tailgate party.  Which by the way was amazing.  If you weren’t in this parking lot bare with me for a bit.  Upon pulling into the parking lot a middle aged gentleman walked up to the car and said ‘Parking?  $15.”

This wasn’t the weird part, because we knew we would have to pay to park.  He was wearing a 3-piece suit in almost 80 degree weather directing people where to park.  And this was a dirt parking lot.  Seemed like odd attire for a job like that.  Now we move on to the game.  Or right before it I should say.  President Barack Obama came out to throw the first pitch.  Smiling hugely as he walked out of the dugout, he shook hands with a couple discharged military people and Nationals Coach Jim Riggleman.  I noticed he had a glove under his arm, like an 8 yr-old hoping to catch a foul ball.  Still not the oddest part.  He walked to the mound and put on a Chicago White Sox cap.  We all know he is from Chicago and an avid sports fan but this seemed a little much.  Almost in bad taste.  But then again it is the Nationals and he is a politician.

Other oddities actually happened in the stat columns.  Halladay had always been a pitcher that doesn’t walk a lot of batters.  Last season he had more starts than he did walks.  On Opening Day he issued two walks, one of which was in the first inning.  After the game the Phillies catcher, Carlos Ruiz, said Halladay never once shook him off.  So it seemed Roy was comfortable throwing whatever Chooch asked for.

Next was the third baseman trotting out to the hot corner for the Phils.  Polacido Polanco netted six rbis for the day with four of them coming on a grand slam in the 7th inning against Nationals reliever Jason Bergmann.  A great start to his second stint with Philadelphia.

Throw in an error in left for Raul Ibanez, a stolen base by Jimmy Rollins and a base hit for Halladay it was a very exciting game.  What a way to start the season!  Go Phillies!

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