Preview: Swing and a Miss
Swing and a Miss
It's time to say goodbye. It's been wonderful writing largely for myself, my two dogs and the two remaining readers I know about. I won't take the blog down because, who knows, I might have something I absolutely, positively have to get off my chest some day, but as this dismal season winds down my already flagging enthusiasm hangs there limply with nary a breeze to whip it up.
With Jimmy, Chase and Cole gone there really isn't anyone to write about any longer. Ryan Howard sailed over the edge of the earth a few years ago. With Rube gone now there's no one to complain about unless I wanted to waste my time on the likes of Dom Brown.
The Phils resisted rebuilding too long and now they've done such a complete dismantling of the franchise on and off the field there isn't going to be much to get excited (or over-excited) about for years to come.
I think I'll root for the Albuquerque Isotopes for a while.
If we still need proof that winning in baseball is still about pitching take a look at the Dodgers. They are starting Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley up the middle and just swept the Giants, winning the last two games 2-1 each behind Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
So Long, Chase
Goodbye, Chase. You gave us a lot of good memories, especially about dedication.
Goodbye, Ruben. You gave us nothing but misinformation. Ooops! Ruben isn't going...yet. A day after the Rube said Utley would likely not be traded the second baseman was dealt to Los Angeles.
Rube: no one believes you.
My guess is the rest of the Phillies' alleged brain trust figures they might as well keep the Rube around to finish up the dismantling and, then, when he's just about to turn off the lights and close the door he will be served his very own pink slip.
If Aaron Harang were a horse they would have put him out of his misery already.
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Chase Utley has done his Lazarus impersonation....again! He's hitting just when the Phils are shopping his services. He'll be traded to a contending club, which will be a nice change of pace, and then at some point, if not this year then next, he'll hit the Disabled List again.
In any event, he should be leaving town any day now. Before he goes we should acknowledge his tenure here as exemplary. He represented everything professional in a ball player. All business. All the time. Dedicated. Determined. Talented. We were damn lucky to have him here.
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Cole Hamels missed his last start. A groin issue. He should have missed his first two starts deep in the heart of Texas. If the folks there (everyone is "folks" in the Lone Star State) thought he was going to be their savior they have been disappointed thus far. But Cole will bounce back. He normally does.
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Ryan Howard is still here. He's soon to be the granddaddy on the roster.
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I have no idea how Jonathan Papelbon has fared in the land of Presidential races...and, frankly, I could care less.
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Aaron Nola went from number one prospect to ace on the Phils' staff in less than a month. That's too much to ask let alone expect.
Until they arrived in the desert the other night the Phillies had defied not only gravity since the All Star break but every other natural phenomenon as well. After all, they were the team with the best winning percentage since the break and no one, not even Pete Mackanin's mother, figured them to do that. They even escaped the NL East cellar for a while.
But, then came the desert landing. It wasn't one of those splash downs NASA loves. Heck, it wasn't even the terra firma landings the Ruskies favor. No, this was a serious crash landing. A thumper to end all thumpers.
The Phils have yielded, no, let's make that, thrown themselves at the feet of and offered up themselves entirely, 26 runs to the Diamondbacks in two games. They gave up eleven runs last night in the second inning. That used to be a month's worth of scoring for the pre-All Star break Phils.
There's regression to the mean and then there's a no-holds barred, Oklahoma land rush to it.
Having made their big push to avoid losing 100 games the Phils look like they are back on track.
C'mon, let's face it: a team with a Rule 5 guy starting in centerfield, a third baseman starting in left and a bunch of starting pitchers who aren't highly rated even by the team's admittedly low standards, isn't going to really play well for long stretches of time. The aberration was that stretch between the AS break and Phoenix.
Cole Hamels is gone. He departed in a fashion as dramatic and timely as any exit in Philadelphia sports history.
The question all along was not when but for whom. The answer is troubling. On first glance it appears to me Sam Hinkie was advising the Phils' alleged brain trust.
First of all, around these parts we are quite familiar with the whole notion of phenoms and how they turn out. Witness Dom Brown. So, when I read the Phils acquired the Rangers' number 3,4 and 5 most highly rated prospects I wonder about numbers 1 and 2. Of course prospect number 99 might turn out to have the best major league career (though doubtful) but once we dig deeper we learn that at least one of these highly regarded players, a young catcher, recently suffered a season-ending ankle injury, not the short of injury you want to see in a guy who squats for a living. Moreover, he isn't much of a hitter and some observers have noted he doesn't like to put in the work to improve. Great.
Reading a little deeper we realize that the Phils also threw Jake Diekman into the deal and received among others a 29-year old pitcher with a history of back trouble. The Hinkie hand is written all over these choices.
The worst part of this deal is that the Phils did not demand let alone receive either of the Rangers' top prospects. Ruben Amaro's hand is written all over these non choices.
This is a deal whose ramifications will not be fully appreciated for another few years, but on the surface it looks like the Phils are rebuilding their farm system...but not their major league team.
Inside The Beltway
The Phillies made a good move yesterday, trading a horse's ass to the Washington Nationals, where he can romp among the donkeys and elephants to his heart's delight.
Aaron Nola Debuts
And quite a debut it was as the rookie hurler pitched very well but lost 1-0 as his mates managed a measly four hits, one of which was by Nola himself.
Let me be so bold as to offer you a few words of advice, Aaron.
1. Get used to it. This team is not going to give you much support.
2. Continue to bring your bat the park. You are going to need all the help you can get.
3. You can't save this sinking ship all by yourself.
Goodbye and Hello
There has never been a better time to trade Cole Hamels than now...despite the poor outings he's suffered recently.
As I've written many times before, Hamels is simply not the kind of pitcher opposing batters start worrying about in advance. They don't look at the schedule and figure out it will be Hamels' turn next Tuesday when they face the Phillies. Hamels simply doesn't inspire that kind of awe. For two years he has been up and down, mostly down. Some, perhaps even most of his record reflects the pitiful offense behind him, but Hamels is hardly blameless. Today was a perfect example. After surrendering two runs to Miami to start the game he watched his teammates claw back to a 5-2 lead that Hamels couldn't hold. In what many think will be his last appearance in Philadelphia as a Phillie, Hamels look very mortal.
So, thanks for the memories (mostly good), Cole, and here's hoping you bring plenty of top prospects. Your starts in San Francisco and today won't increase your value, but there are plenty of clubs out there with resources to trade who want you.
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If I were voting for the MVP of the Phillies this season I would be hard-pressed to give the nod to anyone but Jeff Francoeur. Yes, the very guy I disparaged here a few months ago. All Jeff's done is win ball games with late inning heroics. He doesn't complain if he's not in the starting lineup. He doesn't bristle if he thinks he's a forgotten man. He grabs whatever opportunity comes his way and has made the most of it in an estimable professional manner.
Congratulations, Jeff. You are a real pro.
The morning after Jonathan Papelbon is traded you won't need to read his scathing comments about the atmosphere surrounding the current Phillies. He's already been quoted on the subject on numerous occasions.
Papelbon signed with the Phils because of the outrageous amount of money they handed him. Every other consideration was secondary. He'd already won a World Series. He'd been named an All Star. So let's dispense with all the BS about winning. He was in it for the money. Oh, sure, it's a drag to lose, especially with the frequency of these Phillies, but Papelbon's failure to see the direction the team he signed in was heading is consistent with his overall lack of insight. Pap, as my mother-in-law used to say "isn't overburdened".
So, good riddance to you, Papelbon. No one is going to miss you.
A suggestion for the Phillies:
When the All Star break ends, don't come back.
Class Acts Vs. Classless Acts
So, Chase Utley is done in this town. At least that's the word from GM Ruben Amaro, the point man of the Phillies' alleged brain trust.
Typical of this regime, Amaro handled this delicate subject with all the grace of, say, Dallas Green, another member of the alleged brain trust known for leading with his foot. Amaro responded to a legitimate question from a reporter by announcing Utley's days as a starter were over. So much for a private meeting first.
The Phillies' alleged brain trust has gone into full besieged mode. Everywhere they look they see irate, ignorant (according to them) fans who are quick to forget the good years of the recent past and who have no idea what it takes to rebuild a team.
Who knows, they may be right for all I know. What I do know is this: the poor, ignorant, intolerant, impatient fans in this town aren't quite so quick to forget what a fellow like Chase Utley accomplished here. They see him down but they aren't about to kick him, especially since he doesn't complain and especially since his blue collar approach to the game resonated with legions of fans for so long.
Remember, this is the team that fired Charlie Manuel with a month left in a season going nowhere despite what HE had done for the alleged brain trust's team. They didn't have the class to let him play out the string in what was after all a losing season.
Oh, sure, the Phillies will eventually honor Utley in some way, but I wouldn't be surprised if Utley declined the invitation and just walked away. After all, he left everything he had on the field, everything that is except his dignity. That he carries with him wherever he goes. The alleged brain trust tried to take that away but it isn't so easy to strip of man of integrity of his pride.
Fellows like Ruben Amaro and the people who employ him never learn that lesson.
Over And Out
The other day I wrote this about Ryne Sandberg:
From the outside looking in Ryne Sandberg appeared to be a good man. That's basically a variation on the customary opening to a post-mortem when one is then going to write that someone was really way over his head or worse. Sandberg was really over his head as a manager.
He didn't have the temperament for managing today's high-priced ball player nor was he smart enough to manage generally. When Chase Utley showed his displeasure with his manger's decision to use a position player to pitch in a blow-out recently the handwriting was on the wall. Then came the dreaded vote of confidence.
Sandberg beat the ax man to the punch and resigned. It was his best move though quitting won't get his a spot on any shortlists for future jobs. But, then, he clearly doesn't want one.
What I should have written is this:
Ryne Sandberg knew he was going to be fired. He just didn't know when. So, not acting in the best tradition of the captain of a sinking vessel, Sandberg abandoned ship in mid-ocean. His team was already the worst in baseball and steaming toward a 100-loss season, so Sandberg decided he didn'td want the ignominy of an axing on his resume, apparently believing that quitting would look better down the road.
Sandberg isn't overburdened, as my mother-in-law would say, but he's probably smart enough to know that managing a big league team is not for him. Prospective employers down the road take note: this guy quits when the going gets tough.
Big Time Loser
If the reports are true, Pete Rose's case for reinstatement to baseball fell apart yesterday. Of course Rose is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but let's face it, the guy is a pathological liar whose ability to come clean when confronted with damning facts is in inverse proportion to his ability to hit a baseball.
His legions of apologists will still argue morality is not a condition for admission to the Hall of Fame. True enough...up to a point. For every good guy there is a bum, wife-beater or racist in the Hall. But Rose's transgressions fall under the category of genuine integrity of the game, which is precisely why gamblers have always been punished and banned.
Rose always felt he was a special case above the game. Not only have we found out he lied about gambling as a manager, only to recant two decades later in a desperate and pathetic attempt to have his Hall eligibility reinstated, we now learn it is likely he bet on games as a player, too. No doubt we will have to wait 20 years for his to confess to these allegations.
If nothing else, the new information coupled with what was already known prove one things beyond a shadow of a doubt: Rose was a first class hitter but a lousy gambler. His losses and debts to bookies prove he belonged in another pantheon, that of big-time loser.
Comings & Goings
"We knew that we were not going to necessarily be challenging for the National League East title, but at the same time we need to see improvement and that's what we expect," GM Ruben Amaro said yesterday as the Phillies losing streak stretched to nine games and counting.
For the moment, let's forget the awkward syntax for which Amaro is famous. Instead, let's concentrate on content. Did Amaro imagine for one nano-second the Phillies would challenge for the division title this year? If so, he is even more delusional than previously thought. The rest of the Phillies alleged brain trust must be acutely aware of Amaro's deficiencies in language if not baseball oversight. After all, they continue to bring in new senior management types including, if rumors are accurate, at the top. Word has it acting President Pat Gillick is about to hire his permanent successor in the person of Andy McPhail.
One of baseball's cherished truisms holds you cannot fire the team. The Phillies would like to do that but MLB requires they field one 162 times a season. Accordingly, the alleged brain trust is intent on doing the next best thing by replacing a number of management personnel from scouting director to player development director to president. No doubt the next replacement will be GM, but Gillick will let McPhail have that honor once he assumes control.
Meanwhile, down on the field, the Phillies sink further into the basement. Word has it they have already discovered the sub-basement and plan to keep digging.
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Can you name all the pitchers in the Phils' starting rotation? I can't!
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The Phillies introduced top pick Cornelius Randolf at Citizens Bank Park yesterday. Randolf was introduced to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley among others.
A word of advice, Cornelius: Do as they say, not as they do.
Plan B? Try Plan Q
Headline in today's Inky: EMBIID FUTURE CLOUDY, 76ers center could miss start of regular season, maybe more
Well, that's a surprise. A big man in Philadelphia basketball may miss a season. Isn't this the town where centers go to die?
There's more?????. You mean the alleged brain trust of the 76ers may have to rethink their plans. What? You mean all that tanking and wait-until-two-years-from-now jive was just talk?
Wait! Wait! You mean to tell me Sam Hinkie is not a genius?
Say it ain't so.
Every Generation Has Its Heroes
Every generation has its own heroes. Not their grandfathers' heroes. Not even their fathers' heroes. And certainly not their childrens' heroes.
I was forcibly reminded of this truth this morning when I read Albert Pujols, a star of this generation, had passed Micky Mantle, a star of mine, for 16th place all time on the home run list.
Mantle was actually my brother's hero. We grew up in Baltimore, but my brother was a Yankee fan. "My team is still playing in October," he would point out. When you are ten or twelve years old you worship the stars of your world. We knew who Babe Ruth was, but we only saw him in photos and newsreels.
In our youth the two leagues only mingled twice a year, at the All Star game and World Series. Baseball games were not televised every day of the week. Living in an American League city we never saw NL players. We knew who Willie Mays was but we hardly ever saw him. We never saw him play live.
I kept things local. Brooks Robinson was my hero.
Albert Pujols is one of the great players of his day, but how is a 67 year old man going to put him on a pedestal? That's for some youngster in Anaheim or St. Louis to do.
What Do I Know?
Let's get this out of the way first....
What do I know???!!!
The Phils new scouting director makes his debut by selecting a shortstop with his first round pick. Turns out the Phils top prospect at the moment is also a shortstop. Of course they also have Freddy Galvia at short, but, then, Freddy's torrid start at the plate is now a distant memory so it would be hard to say the Phils have a logjam at that position (if you consider the ability to hit as well as field constitutes a logjam.)
Word is the Phils would likely convert their pick into an outfielder, a commodity in very short supply at the moment (if you consider the ability to hit OR field a condition for calling someone a legitimate major league outfielder).
But, what do I know????
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Only a few weeks ago Aaron Harang looked like a sure bet to be traded by the July deadline. Today he looks like a pitcher toiling for his eighth major league team. A couple of bad outings will do that. It's called reversion to the mean.
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Cole Hamels hasn't exactly set the world on fire recently either. He's back to serving up the long ball, an early nemesis. Still, Cole is going in July. The only question regarding his status begins with "Where".
But, what do I know????
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Ryan Howard has also disappeared again. There are really two questions regarding his status: "Where" and "How much"? The first part starts with the American League. The second part starts with how much of his contract will the Phils eat.
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Chase Utley hasn't disappeared again. Chase never really appeared in the first place.
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Finally, name four pitchers on the Phils's staff excluding Harang, Hamels and Papelbon.
But, what do I know?
Good Luck With That
Most if not all hopes for the Phillies' rebuilding effort begin with the coming draft, so it was interesting to read the thoughts of the new Director of Amateur Scouting, Johnny Almaraz:
"I know we are going to get a good player at 10. You can't predict what's going to go ahead of us, but it's either going to be good high school player or a good college player."
Now those are words to hang your hopes on! Middle school phenoms need not apply.
After years of mostly disappointing (or worse) drafts, the Phils hired Almaraz to improve their chances. So, what's the outlook? At least it wasn't the usual "best athlete still on the board" nonsense, but, jeez, can't he come up with something a little more, well, insightful? I know there's this attitude that teams do not want to tip their hand, but saying he's going to draft someone out of either high school or college is playing things a little more than close to the vest.
The Reverse Curse is STILL alive.
Six in a row. Wow. If they keep this up much longer Cole Hamels is going to ask Rube not to trade him.
Don't get used to it.
Even with Ryan Howard enjoying a "comeback" and Freddy Galvis hitting nearly 125 points above his career average and Aaron Harang defying Father Time, these Phillies are lousy. There's nothing like a string of games against other lousy teams to make all that doesn't glitter appear for what it is: fool's gold.
But, hey, it's fun to win and to watch a bunch of no names and has-beens romp for a while.
The Reverse Curse is alive and well, gentle readers.
Not Even In His Dreams
Alex Rodriguez passed Willie Mays for fourth place all-time on the home run list. Those are the facts.
Here are the realities:
Not even in your dreams, A-Rod.
How Bad Are They?
Everyone knew the Phillies were going to be lousy this year. Just how lousy? Well, when Freddy Galvis is your leading hitter then Rock Bottom must be just around the corner.
But wait! Most folks figured at least the Phils would be competitive every fifth day when Cole Hamels took the mound. So yesterday, less than a week after his best start of the season, Hamels was shellacked by Miami, losing 7-0. Can't blame this one on lack of run support, Cole. Hamels gave up a major league worst eighth home run of the season and in the process surely must have given some pause to the alleged legion of suitors out there waiting to bid for his services.
So, how bad are the Phils? There only hope for this season, trading Hamels for legitimate prospects, continues to take its own special hit. We aren't suggesting the Phils will be forced to give Hamels away, but a few more starts like yesterday's and his value will be affected. The only good news is that when teams are desperate to acquire that last piece to get them over the hump (read: into the post-season), they don't mind over-paying. Indeed, they can't help themselves. That's the MLB way.
The Phils' offense is the worst in the majors and no matter who is on the mound they might be hard-pressed to beat the NCAA champs, aluminum bats notwithstanding. It wouldn't surprise me if Chase Utley announced his retirement at the end of the season. He is a proud guy who must be suffering terribly as his batting average flirts with .100. The Phils will unload Ryan Howard before the end of the season and will eat almost all of his huge contract. Some major league team, probably in the American League, is going to want his bat even if it's worth one or two wins. Carlos Ruiz will fade away after this season. Jeff Franceour and Grady Sizemore will be released as soon as the Phils can find two warm bodies to take their place in the outfield. You see, it is still a requirement to put nine men on the diamond. Dom Brown will presumably be one of those replacements, but after his umpteenth demotion to AAA one has to wonder for how long.
Meanwhile, Cody Asche is working out in left-field in anticipation of the call-up of Maikel Franco, so that's another potential "outfielder".
These guys are a mess. Guys playing out of position. Ruinous contracts burning cash. Player skills eroding before our very eyes. Attendance records for smallest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park being set weekly.
Does Stub Hub have a give-away section? Would there be any takers?
Rotten To The Core
Checked up on old friend Jimmy Rollins this AM and it looks like J-Roll's change of address did nothing to improve his performance. After homering in game one for the Dodgers, J-Roll has matched the pace of the remaining core players from the glory days in Philadelphia. He, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are all batting below the Mendoza line.
Take My Ticket...Please!
Here's one record that's gonna' fall...guaranteed! The lowest announced paid attendance in the history of Citizens Bank Park saw the Phillies shellacked yesterday by the Miami Marlins, 9-1.
That's a record that will broken numerous times before Phillies fans are put out of their misery next Fall. Of course, these same fans can avoid the misery by staying away from the stadium in droves. They will.
It says here that by late September, on a dreary day in a meaningless game, the vendors and ushers will outnumber paid admissions 2-1.
You read it here first.