More Help for the 'Pen
Seeking to further bolster the bullpen, the Phillies traded right-hander Josh Hancock and minor-league shortstop Anderson Machado to Cincinnati for right-handed reliever Todd Jones and minor-league outfielder Brad Correll.
More moves could be on the way. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jim Salisbury reports that Phillies scouts Gordon Lakey and Charlie Manuel were in attendance at the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers game yesterday. The Phillies have been rumored to be in negotiations to trade Placido Polanco for Oakland reliever Ricardo Rincon, however, Rincon did not pitch in yesterday's game. Is it possible Lakey (which is hopefully pronounced LAY-kee and not lak-EE) and Manuel were their to take a look at Texas CF Laynce Nix?
The First Domino?
The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that the Phillies have traded Ricky Ledee to the San Francisco Giants for right-handed relief pitcher Felix Rodriguez. Alfredo Simon, a Phillies minor league prospect was included in the deal along with Ledee.
Rodriguez has been a good set-up man for the Giants for several years now, though it seems he peaked in 2001. If Rodriguez pitches well, he should fill a need for the Phillies quite well. Trading Ledee probably means that the Phillies have another deal in place to bring in another centerfielder, most likely Kenny Lofton (look for Placido Polanco to head to the Yankees in that deal).
Stay tuned for further developments....
Inside the Numbers
The 2003 book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball, garnered a lot of attention by baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike. On one level, people enjoyed the book because it gave a glimpse behind the scenes of the running of a major league baseball team, the Oakland A's. On another level, the story behind the scenes was interesting in that we got to see a drastically different approach to building and managing a baseball team. Lots of little nuggets of information will stay with you if you have read the book. One that sticks with me is that unless your team has a 75% success rate at stealing bases, your team should, as a general rule not steal, as it has a negative effect on run production. So then it stands to reason, that if you let your opponents steal at a rate of 75%, you are letting your opponent have a positive effect in their run production.
The Phillies pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan is reknown for his philosophy on holding runners on base (or not). His theory is that if a pitcher spends too much time paying attention to baserunners who might or might not steal, it takes the pitcher's focus away from the batter at the plate. The distraction could then result in giving up hits and walks that wouldn't normally be given up if the pitcher was focusing only on the batter. For instance, Kerrigan's thinking would be that using a slide step in order to shorten the pitchers delivery time would alter the pitcher's well-practiced delivery causing decreased pitch velocity and erratic control. Kerrigan might also say that multiple pick-off attempts prevent a pitcher from concentrating on pitching. The thinking goes that the damage that is done by the opponents running game is far outweighed by the better pitches that will come from the mound. Seems to make sense.
Until you watch a Marlins/Phillies game.
This season, the Phillies defense has thrown out only 20% of the runners attempting to steal a base, ranking dead last in the majors (incidentally, the Moneyball-A's rank first at 41%). Twenty percent does not seem terribly far off from the benchmark set forth in Moneyball, but over the course of a 162 game season it just might be important, and if Kerrigan is indeed right, it might not be important. But more specifically, lets look at the Marlins running game against the Phillies. Time and again, we see Juan Pierre (or Luis Castillo or Mike Lowell or Alex Gonzalez) get on first base, get virtually ignored by Phillies pitchers (but you can bet Mike Lieberthal notices), steal second, and eventually score. Statistically, the Marlins have stolen 12 bases against the Phillies this year and have been caught only twice (86%), a rate far above the 75% cutoff. Juan Pierre has half of those stolen bases and has only been thrown out once (those of you scoring at home, that's 86%). These numbers are quite out of line for the Marlins success rates against the rest of their opponents. Against their other opponents, the Marlins have a 65% success rate (Pierre is at 58% !).
Additionally, the Marlins are hitting .291 against Phillies pitchers (.263 against major league pitching overall). I'd hate to see what average the Marlins would hit for if the Phillies pitchers weren't so focused on the batters instead of the baserunners (insert tongue into cheek here).
If one believes Joe Kerrigan, you ignore Juan Pierre dancing off first base. If one believes the sabermetrics espoused in Moneyball you pay attention to Juan Pierre and keep him close to the bag. If you've watched any Phillies/Marlins game this season (or last), which school of thought do you believe?
Not Even Close
The Baseball Crank has taken a look at how the contenders in the NL East have faired against each other in head-to-head match-ups in tight games. Not surprising, the Marlins have done quite well, the Braves good, and the Phillies poor. But no one has performed as poorly as the Mets. If the Mets were at least .500 in 1-run and 2-run games, they would be right in the thick of the race, if not leading.
After posting earlier today, I had planned to avoid commenting on the Phillies campaign to improve the team in the run up to the July 31st trade deadline until after everything settled out at 4:01 on Saturday. But the loss the Phillies took Tuesday night has sent newspaper columnists and internet bloggists into a tizzy. And rightfully so. Shallow Center does a good job of summarizing the issues at hand, one of which I have been thinking about over the last week or so: Ed Wade's job is not easy. Several obstacles exist:
- Parity: One thing that seems to be left out of the discussion is how the amount of parity in baseball this year is dramatically reducing the number of teams that are "sellers". By my count only ten to twelve teams are undeniably out of contention for a playoff spot. A lot of those teams appear to have themselves headed in the right direction for the next several years (Devil Rays, Orioles, Milwaukee, Detroit) and you don't have a firesale when you are beginning an upswing. Another one of the teams, the Expos, are about to be sold and moved, factors that also preclude a firesale.
- The Future: When you have so few teams that are clearly looking to wipe the slate clean and start all over again, the price for their useful tradeable players goes up. Some are arguing that if the time truly is now, the Phillies should pony up one of their "untouchables" (Cole, Gavin, Chase, and Ryan, which by the way, either sounds like the board of a country club or a boy-band, I can't decide). In my opinion, unless you can get someone like Carlos Beltran, the untouchables should be untouchable. Don't forget, Major League Baseball is the ultimate keeper league. Do we really want to trade our best prospects for aging rent-a-players like Randy Johnson (age 41) and Steve Finley (age 39)? Other than 1980 and 1993, the Phillies have been wandering around in aimlessly in a baseball wasteland. Wouldn't it be nice to have a stretch of five or six or even seven years of competitive teams to look forward to?
- Bowa: You didn't think I could make a post without taking a shot or two at Larry Bowa did you? In the case of closing trades, I honestly think Bowa is an obstacle. Many of today's players have no-trade clauses in their contracts. Let's say you are unhappy in your current employment and let's say that you ask around about some of the job openings in the area, would you agree to go and work for a guy like Bowa? "Gee thanks," you would say, "but I just decided my current work environment isn't too bad after all." You can argue that Bowa is not all that bad a manager, but I am quite certain that he has a less than glowing reputation with players around Major League Baseball.
- Holes everywhere: "Damn! We're in a tight spot!" Ulysses Everett McGill repeatedly exclaims in O Brother, Where Art Thou? That is what I am reminded of every time I think of Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle hunkered down in the Phillies Situation Room in Clearwater every time they get another piece of bad news. And there has been a lot lately. Wade's mind must be spinning, "Let's see...the no hitter that never was made it apparent we need a true centerfielder....oh wait, Wagner went down, we need a reliever...oh wait Millwood laid another egg, we need a starter...what? now Madson went down?! we need a reliever again... Damn! We're in a tight spot!"
During tonight's game, which was broadcast on ESPN, Jeff Brantley (a former Phillie) was quite tough on the Phillies players and coaches. At one point, Brantley uttered in disbelief, "I look at this team and I don't understand how they can be loosing!" Ed Wade probably looks at the $93 million he laid out on the 2004 Phillies and thinks the same thing. But he also probably thinks that laying out all that cash was a lot easier than what he needs to accomplish over the next few days.
The Balls, Sticks, & Stuff Mailbag
Letterman does it. Kornheiser and Wilbon do it. Bill Simmons does it better than anyone. What am I referring to? Answering viewers/readers correspondence in the form of a column or television segment. I've always found it entertaining, so I thought I would dip into the ol' Balls, Sticks, & Stuff mailbag and answer some correspondence from readers...
Subject: vicodin for hte pain
Body: Buy Vicodin ONLINE from our ONLINE pharmacy. No Doctors appointments. No medical history. No prescription needed. Twice as potent as regular codeine!
Wow, thanks Humberto, it's awfully nice of you to offer. I'll pass for now, but can you email me again in September when the Phillies go 0-12 against division rivals to finish a game out of the wildcard? Thanks.
Subject: No gimmicks here, just great rates
Body: Are you looking to re-finance your home? How would you like to bring down your payment to about 350 a month? We will match you with an experienced lender. Or for other Loan purposes: Refi with cash-out!
Wow, thanks Akbar. I think I'll pass. Also, if you wouldn't mind, please do not send this to Ed Wade or Phillies ownership. I don't want them to get some crazy idea like mortgaging the team's future and make a trade they might regret, like giving up Madson, Floyd, Hamels, or Utley.
Subject: cease and desist
Body: For the last time, Doug Glanville and Larry Bowa DO NOT have compr0mising photographs of me and even if they did, all of my moves are made according to due diligence, not blackmail. If you continue to send emails asking about the content of the alleged photos, I will be forced to contact my attorney.
Wow, thanks Ed. I guess we can put that to rest. I apologize, I just figured that there had to be some reason why Glanville was still on the roster and Larry Bowa was still at the helm.
Well, thats all the letters we have time for today, check back for more mailbag posts!
A Booster Shot
I think everyone can look back at some type of figure in their personal or professional life that was supposed to provide leadership or guidance and fell woefully short. Maybe it was a teacher or professor that was dangerously close to retirement, just going through the motions. Maybe it was a supervisor that seemed to always be missing in action when a decision needed to be made. These are examples of leaders becoming more of a figurehead and passively falling short in their responsibilities. But their are active examples as well. Anyone who has played an organized sport in our formative years can remember a coach or parent that repeatedly pushed all the wrong buttons and brought out a poor performance from their players or child. Sometimes just simple mannerisms and tone of voice can inflate or deflate confidence and spawn great play or make it impossible to emerge. It's a subtle difference to some, but an important one whether you are coaching tee-ball or something much more serious like leading men into battle. I can remember my father (who coached nearly every team my brother and I played on as a child) coaching infield play when I was a wee tee-baller, "There's no point in making a good catch if you aren't going to make a good throw to first." The manner in which he would say it would make you hunker down and concentrate when that next grounder would find you, but had he used a different tone or different mannerisms, he might have had an opposite effect on our play.
Larry Bowa has the "opposite effect". And sometimes it's not even subtle. Let's examine some of the vibrations emanating from Bowa recently:
- From Todd Zolecki in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "It feels like a funeral in the Phillies' clubhouse after a loss. Players eat silently. They walk through the room quietly. Last night proved to be no different after a 5-2 loss to the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium...'No excuses,' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said afterward. 'As a manager, I'm not even playing and I'm embarrassed. They should be embarrassed. They should be embarrassed. Any more questions?' Bowa shook his head, cursed, and said 'embarrassing.' He then walked out of his office. 'Embarrassing,' he repeated aloud to nobody in particular. The words pierced the quiet clubhouse air."
- From Jim Salisbury, also in the Inquirer : " 'What do we have now?' Bowa said. 'Three triple-A pitchers. So we'll see what happens.' " (in response to a question regarding Wagner's and Madson's sidelining injuries)
- From Rich Hoffman, Philadelphia Daily News: "...'there's going to be some guys [pitching] in the sixth and seventh inning that we normally wouldn't go to'...'I could hope for five Cy Young winners,' Bowa said. 'I could hope for nine Vladimir Guerreros. It's just wasted energy' "
Think the vibrations from Bowa don't reverberate with the players? Examine these quotes also taken from Salisbury and Zolecki as well as Marcus Hayes in the Daily News, all this morning:
- Roberto Hernandez: "He's got his opinion," referring to Bowa...asked if he's embarrassed. "Everybody who wears this uniform wants to beat these guys, wants to win this game, and wants to win this division."
- Randy Wolf: "I can't say what it's like in other places. This is the only place I know, but it's always been tough after losses."
- Billy Wagner: "What we need is just for people in the organization to be more positive. The players are positive."
In-game managerial moves can sometimes be difficult to evaluate. It is difficult for outsiders to know what relievers are tired and which ones aren't, one can guess by looking at recent pitch counts, but they don't tell all of the story. A pinch-hitter's batting average against an opposing pitcher can sometimes be misleading as well to outsiders, causing them to scratch their heads as to why the pinch hitter was or wasn't used at a certain juncture in the game. So there can possibly be logical explanations for plays that are called and substitutions that are, or aren't made. But, one doesn't need to be a fly on the wall, or a mind reader, or Deepak Chopra or Bob Rotella to see that Bowa is having a negative effect on his team's psyche. And to make matters worse, he doesn't even have the slightest idea he is being detrimental, "I try to make it comfortable for them out there. They've been very comfortable. That clubhouse has been as loose as it's ever going to be. I haven't screamed or hollered or nothing, all year." He is making it impossible not to notice the Tom Smykowski comparisons.
One member of the Phillies management team that does get it is Ed Wade. When asked if he thought the team had to make a deal in order to make the playoffs he responded, "No, I don't. To say that would be to minimize the ability of the guys on this team..." That's not to say Wade wouldn't like to make a deal. At this moment, Wade and the other senior members of the Phillies player personnel staff are in an undisclosed bunker location/situation room in Clearwater negotiating with their counterparts around baseball to get an additional spare part. Whether his team truly needs a genuine centerfielder or some additional bullpen support in order to best help the team is open to conjecture. But, Wade probably feels that any trade, big or small would be an added confidence boost to the Phillies.
"I think it could give the team a lift," said Kevin Millwood. Let's hope so.
A Small Victory
Tonight's MLB.tv lineup uses the Florida Marlin's broadcast network audio and video. All night their audio has been picking up a Marlin fan who is quite enthusiastic in his heckling of the Phillies batters. In the top of the seventh, Mike Lieberthal comes to the plate with two outs and Chase Utley on first. Joe Marlinfan begins bellowing, "Thirty seven RBI's all year?!? Are you kidding me?!? C'mon! Are you serious?!?!" Apparently Joe Marlinfan is not a Balls, Sticks, & Stuff reader or he would know Lieby was due (OK, OK, OK, so anyone that saw it knew that Utley scored not because of a hard drive to the gap but because of some "just tried to give it 110%"-type baserunning, but can't phans bask in a little glory in this Florida series?). During the Phillies brief attempt at a rally in the top of the eighth inning, Joe Marlinfan's silence was deafening. Do small victories count in the standings?
...Mike Lieberthal's performance this year, at the age of 32, has caused some to ponder what the Phillies have up their sleeve to replace him when his knees and/or bat finally wear out. The Berks Phillies Fans have their eye on Carlos Ruiz, who could very well pan out. It's possible that the Phillies are hoping that a Lieberthal/Ruiz combination will get the team to 2007 when they expect Jason Jaramillo out of Oklahoma State University to take over. He was the Phillies second round draft pick in 2004, and the Philling Station reports (via PhillyBaseballNews.com) he was signed to a contract last week. A quick look at his stats this year at OSU show some decent plate discipline and power...
...ESPN's Pardon the Interruption "Mail Bag" segment asked, "Who is more to blame, Doug Glanville for misplaying Michael Barrett's bloop hit or Larry Bowa for putting Glanville in the game in the first place?"...
...Can we just sweep under the rug the fact that Stephen A. Smith co-hosted this episode of P.T.I.? Using Replay TV, I almost did, using the "quick skip" feature to avoid his boisterous commentary as much as possible. Tony Kornheiser is well aware we smirk at his rants (he does too), but does Smith know that we cringe?...
...In an effort to find out how Mike Schmidt is doing in his first managerial stint, the Clearwater Threshers, I went to Balls, Sticks, & Stuff's research intern. The "clearwater baseball" search inadvertently revealed that Darren Daulton has had another run in with the law...
...I should have stopped with the Darren Daulton story as the Threshers are 12-19 on the season, 7.5 games out of first place...
Connecting the Dots
Several weeks ago, the Astros ponied up for Carlos Beltran in order to make one last push to reach the playoffs before their current team crystallizes from age right before the Houston faithful eyes. Since then, there has been very little done by any of the 30 teams in baseball to significantly improve their rosters for the pennant races. Now, with the trade deadline looming just five days away, there are enough fragmented reports that some possible player movements seem to be taking shape. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported in recent days that the Pirates have rejected a deal involving Kris Benson and Ryan Howard, the Phillies prospect I originally thought was most likely to have a "trade me" sign secretly (or not so secretly) taped to his posterior, (Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels, and Chase Utley are reportedly off the table). On Sunday, Peter Gammons reported on Baseball Tonight that if the Phillies can not get Benson, they will most likely abandon the idea of adding a starting pitcher as they do not have a "plan B". The Philly Inq reported on it's website last night that the Phillies are quite close on reaching a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to add Steve Finley in return for Marlon Byrd.
Most of the Phillies troubles in the last month or two have been from an underachieving starting staff, so most fans will probably be disappointed that the Phillies will not be getting any help in that area. I tend to think that the door closing on an additional starter is probably a good thing in the end. The Phillies starters have been turning in better performances of late (Kevin Millwood has given up just two runs in his last 14 innings and Eric Milton had lightning in a bottle Sunday), more like what they are capable of, and Vicente Padilla will hopefully be returning to the rotation soon. Therefore, the starting rotation may just be improving on its own without any outside help. If that's truly the case, then a quality, everyday-type starting centerfielder would be the next logical hole to fill. The effort that Ricky Ledee, Jason Michaels, and Doug Glanville have collectively put out has been admirable, but unfortunately, it is not the type of centerfield production that is needed for the stretch run. Steve Finley still plays good defense, has been quite good at the plate this year (.281 BA, .343 OBP, .506 SLG), and would therefore be an upgrade in both regards. Where would he bat in the lineup you may ask? Nearly anywhere, he has a history of batting leadoff, second, third, etc.
The trade is not without drawbacks however. Finley is another lefthanded bat, which would force Larry Bowa to get a bit more creative in separating the righties and the lefties (it drives me crazy that he does not split Abreu and Thome up with the rightsided Burrell, but that is another post for another time). Also, Finley is a 39 year-old free-agent-to-be, so he would most likely be strictly a rent-a-player (most accounts have him returning to the Diamondbacks in the offseason). The Phillies would then have to find a centerfielder in the offseason.
It will be unfortunate to end the Marlon Byrd chapter in Philadelphia before it got very far, but I think the best thing for him is to get out of an organization that has Larry Bowa in it. And if Steve Finley helps the Phillies lock down a playoff berth, won't everyone be happy?
I've questioned a lot about Larry Bowa this year, from his managerial moves to his managerial style, and I think he is the wrong manager for the Phillies. Daily we hear quotes from players, anonymously or unanonymously that voice their displeasure in Bowa's style and moves. And it doesn't take a lot of effort to find statistical evidence to support the fact the the Phillies have achieved a high level of underachievement this year. The Phillies rank twenty-second on ESPN.com's MLB Relative Power Index (a measure that takes into account a team's winning percentage compared to their opponents winning percentage) despite having the third easiest schedule in baseball. But despite all of this, I have resigned myself to the fact that Phillies phans and players will be stuck with Bowa at least until the offseason because it seems that the Phillies front office believes it is unwise to switch managers in the middle of a tight pennant race, and I can see their point. But if the opinion piece by Mike Sielski at Phillyburbs.com (link via Brian Peoples at The Philling Station) is correct, Bowa needs to be replaced now on the grounds of insubordination. Sielski speculates that Larry Bowa's use of Geoff Geary in Thursday's loss to the Marlins was a way to send Ed Wade a message, "here's how bad our pitching is, now get us some help."
I'm not sure which is worse, spontaneous ineptitude or premeditated ineptitude, but I know I liked Bowa a lot more when I naively assumed it was just the former.
Anyone have an extra media outlet?
My original intention for this morning was to get a round of golf in, but rain washed those intentions away. Instead, I settled down with some coffee and the Sunday paper. On the front page of the sports section (believe it or not, I did not go there first, I went here first) I found an article by John Markon that delves deeper into the issues I raised concerning the Expos likely move to the Washington, D.C. area. Markon believes that not only will Peter Angelos's lost revenues be a problem, but just finding a media outlet for the Expos/Nationals could be problematic.
Long Balls and Short Tape Measures
Living outside of Phillies territory used to make it difficult to follow the team closely. When I first left Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, there was no ESPN.com, Sportsline, or online editions of the Philadelphia newspapers. There was no digital cable (with four ESPN channels) in a package deal with broadband internet access allowing me to subscribe to MLB.tv and watch just about any game I wanted whenever I wanted. Replay TV wasn't even a glimmer in my eye. But in the last couple of years, with all of these information avenues at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse, I've been able to follow my boyhood team much closer. But yet with all these tools, a developing storyline somehow flew under my radar: Citizens Bank Ballpark's dimensions are smaller than everyone thought.
This is bothersome to me. It doesn't bother me because I feel like it is a conspiracy by Phillies ownership to inflate homerun numbers in order to fill seats, which will in turn fill their coffers with money. And it doesn't bother me because Pennsylvania taxpayers (I know a few) got a smaller ballpark than they thought they were getting with their tax dollars. It bothers me because it doesn't give Jim Thome and the other Phillies batters credit for having some serious pop. All season long, we have had to listen to the ESPN Baseball Tonight crew mock every homerun hit at CBP because the place is a bandbox. One night Harold Reynolds called the new stadium "a joke" about four times during that night's Phillies highlight reel. Has anyone ever thought to consider that maybe there are a lot of homeruns hit at CBP because the team that plays half of their games there hit their fair share of homeruns?
As the Philadelphia Inquirer article that exposed the "scandal" points out, Phillies pitchers have a better ERA on the road than at home and Phillies batters average just 0.4 homeruns per game higher at home than on the road. Jim Thome, who leads the majors in homeruns has hit nearly an identical number at home (16) as he has on the road (15) in nearly an identical amount of at-bats (161 AB's at home, 159 AB's on the road). The Phillies second leading homerun hitter, Bobby Abreu, has 10 homeruns at home and 10 home runs away from home.
Yes, the Phillies have hit a lot of homeruns so far this year but maybe, just maybe, it is because they have some good homerun hitters.
Lieberthal and the Clutch
Mike Lieberthal has received a lot of attention for his performance this season. Critics point to his poor performance with runners in scoring position, and indeed, the numbers are quite poor (.133 (!) batting average with runners in scoring position). Additionally, his numbers for the season overall are down from seasons past. But a look at Lieberthal's overall numbers as the season has progressed display a very nice trend (batting-average/on-base-average/slugging pct):
April - .174/.230/.348
May - .264/.337/.425
June - .292/.346/.458
July - .277/.356/.492
Today's baseball statheads will argue that there is no such thing as "clutch hitting" and that for the most part success or failure in clutch situations is merely chance. More traditional baseball thinkers will argue that there is a definite skill involved in hitting in the clutch. I tend to think that in Lieberthal's case, the truth is somewhere in the middle. In the opening stretches of the season, Lieberthal was probably the victim of poor chance, but as the season has worn on and Larry "Tom Smykowski" Bowa has gotten in his ear, he has begun to press and force great at-bats with runners in scoring position, when all he needs is a quality at-bat, something his past performances have shown he is more than capable of doing.
The Fine Print: Mike Lieberthal is the starting catcher on the Shocquohocan Sluggers, my fantasy baseball squad, which is in a tight race for first place and needs RBI's badly.
No, that isn't a rallying cry for Bo and Luke, its a rallying cry for James Madison University's athletic teams. I had six great years there (1991-1997, the first four having a lot of fun as an undergrad, and the last two in graduate school) and I couldn't help but smile when I read Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings & Grumblings when he discusses the Braves need for some left-handed help in the bullpen:
"But if they can't make a deal, they might promote prospect Dan Meyer, who rolled up 101 whiffs in his first 80 innings at Double-A and Triple-A."
In March, two of my best friends and I took an extended weekend in Florida to catch several spring training games and we managed to exchange a few words of encouragement with Meyer, a fellow JMU alum. Several times he called us "sir", which had both an impressive effect and a depressive effect at the same time. The moment reminded me quite a bit of a book I read last year as I was closing out my twenties, The Day I Turned Uncool, and I thought, "When did I become a 'sir' to professional baseball players?"
At any rate, good luck making "the show" Dan, and Go Dukes!
Baseball in the Nation's Capital?
There is news that Major League Baseball is heavily leaning towards moving the Montreal Expos to the Washington, D.C. downtown area or Northern Virginia suburbs (The Baseball Crank's sidekick, Mad Hibernian, has a good suggestion for renaming the team should the move come to fruition, the Washington Nationals). This effort has been underway for a long time and the area deserves a Major League baseball team. The discussion inevitably leads to Peter Angelos, the Orioles owner, and others believing that moving a team to D.C./Northern Virginia would damage the Orioles attendance figures. The counter-argument is that the suffocating traffic conditions of the Northern Virginia/Washington/Baltimore area have severely decreased the numbers of Virginia residents frequenting Camden Yards and I tend to agree with the counter-arguement (as a Richmond-area resident, it is a three and a half hour endeavor for me to reach Camden Yards, but one can be in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. in a little over half that time). However, what is often left out of the discussion is media revenues. All of Virginia is dominated by Orioles television and radio broadcasts. If a team were to materialize in the Washington, D.C. area it would certainly cut into those revenues drastically. Peter Angelos is quite unpopular and is often vilified, but I tend to agree with his viewpoint and I think whatever arrangement is made to move the Expos to the area, the Orioles' loss of media revenues will have to be addressed.
Disclaimer: The baseball experience in Richmond is less than ideal (however, efforts to improve the situation are underway) and I would greatly look forward to a Major League team coming to Northern Virginia/D.C.
Conspiracy Theories Abound
Shallow Center has a hypothesis on the Phillies lackluster play (I take it a step further), and Carrot Top seems to be linked to what was once thought to be a "dry run" by would-be terrorists, but now appears to be a false alarm.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
As I stated yesterday, Ryan Madson has been doing an extraordinary job for the Phillies in terms of coming into the game in the middle innings, and I am not the only one who has noticed (see here and here, and that's just a start). Coincidentally, at approximately the same time I was formulating that post, the Phillies found themselves in a little predicament in the top of the 5th inning, down 4-2 with Fish on first and third with no outs, Randy Wolf was pulled and replaced with....Geoff Geary (6.67 ERA, 19 K, 27 IP, not exactly stellar, and while we are at it, doesn't his headshot on Sportsline have a "deer in headlights look"?). Let's just say that an entire school of Fish invaded the basepaths and 5 more runs scored, with the Marlins up 9-2. The Phillies went on to score 6 more runs as the game progressed, eventually losing 10-8. I think it is worth considering that if Bowa had brought in Madson in the 5th and if he had shut the Marlins down for several innings, the Phillies might have been able to pull ahead.
That's a lot of "ifs" and "might's", but sometimes a couple of "ifs" can pan out and you turn a sure loss into a win. With the manner in which this division race is developing, each and every chance at a win is important.
Rampant Rumors Phuel Speculation
On Wednesday night's Baseball Tonight, Peter Gammons was on board to give insight and analysis on trades that could happen in the next several days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline. Several names were mentioned as trade bait: Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, Corey Lidle, Kris Benson, Ron Villone...the list went on and on. As a discussion ensued regarding each individual player, it seemed Gammons mentioned the Phillies in nearly scenario. One thing Gammons was emphatic about was that Chase Utley would not be traded due to Placido Polanco's expected departure via free agency in the offseason.
While a transcript is not available (thankfully so, if I found myself skimming BBTN transcripts I might have to admit I have a problem), I do not recall Gammons mentioning Ryan Howard as being involved in the scenarios. I find that interesting in the sense that I believe Howard is the player the Phillies should use to make a deal, for several reasons. For one, I agree with Gammons and Bill "Phillies Fan" Liming that Utley will be needed next year to fill Polanco's void. Another player often discussed as trade bait is Ryan Madson. I think he fills a valuable a role in eating the middle innings of games that many of the Phillies starters can't seem to eat (and even after a Benson or a Villone or a Lidle is brought in, there is little to no guarentee that the Phillies will not still need a "middle-inning-eating-shut-the-other-team-down-for-the-offense-to-catch-up-specialist"). Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels are also mentioned as trade bait, but the percentage of great pitching prospects that turn into cheap young major league stars is less than ideal (unless you are in the Oakland A's organization) and therefore every team, Phillies included, should hang on to them as much as they can. If I were Ed Wade, I would not have a problem dealing Marlon Byrd, he is 26 and has yet to show consistency, however, if I can see that, the other general managers around baseball just might see it too.
By process of elimination, that leaves Ryan Howard. Since Howard is blocked by Jim Thome in the Phillies system for years to come, there is less of a future need for him than the other young players. Now if the Phillies could find a way to take Larry Bowa in a trade, they might really be on to something.
Sometimes an idea comes along and you just have to say, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Speaking of four-out saves...
...Billy Wagner just got one for the Phillies to beat the Marlins, 2-1. Larry Bowa brought Wagner in to get the third out in the eighth, even though Tim Worrell had not allowed the two batters he faced to reach base and used only 7 pitches in doing so. In the ninth, Wagner (who lives just up the road "a-piece") allowed one runner to get his 16th save, putting the Phillies one game up in the NL East over the Braves.
Smoltz and Cox
David Pinto over at Baseball Musings argues that Tuesday night, Bobby Cox should have used John Smoltz in the eighth inning and get a four-out save, rather than waiting to bring him in until the ninth inning, a move which probably cost the Braves sole possession of first place.
I agree that ideally Cox should have brought Smoltz in to get some outs in the eighth, but as is often reported in a Pete Van Wieren monotone, Smoltz has a significant say in when he is used and how he is used and it may be that Smoltz did not want to get more than three outs due to his six-out appearance Monday night.
NL East Race
For the last several Februaries and Marches, baseball pundits have been prognosticating the end of the Atlanta Braves run atop the NL East. Usually by June or July, at the latest, the baseball pundits are proven wrong. Having lived in Philadelphia Phillies Country or Braves Country most of my life, the NL East has always been of interest to me. And despite many published and broadcasted predictions to the contrary by the pundits, I always found it difficult to see the Braves being dethroned. I always felt that until it happened, I couldn't believe it would happen.
Finally, after the departures of Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, and Javier Lopez from the Braves, the additions of Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, Kevin Millwood and other free agents to the Phillies, as well as the maturation of a young Florida Marlins team, I relented to the pundits. "OK, " I thought, "this has to be the year." I should have known better. Maybe. As it stands now, the Phillies and Braves are tied for first in the division with the Marlins and the surprising New York Mets not far behind. I think the only thing we can be sure of this year is that it will be a race to the end, most likely between the Phillies and the Braves.
The two teams are opposites in many ways. The Braves have a great managing staff in Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone, both Hall of Famers in my mind. Despite lacking the on-the-field personnel they've had in the past, the Braves will be in the hunt until the end because Cox and Mazzone know how to win. Cox has said that he is as proud of this year's Braves team as any other during their run because they claw for a win every night, and that is because Cox and Mazzone know how to manage and inspire. On the other end of the spectrum we have the Phillies. On paper, this team should have a firm grip on the division, but the team has not been able to sustain a prolonged stretch of good play all year. To a certain extent, injuries are to blame as the Phillies have not had their entire pitching staff and lineup healthy for a majority of the season, but the real problem seems to be management. Larry Bowa has gotten most of the blame. The common theme all season has been uninspired play and an underperforming pitching staff (somehow pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is flying under the blame-radar). Night after night in the summer, television producers direct their crews to focus on Bowa as soon as the Phillies get into any kind of sticky situation. They do this because every night Bowa puts on a display of body language that can be described as frustrated exasperation and this qualifies as entertainment the first couple of times you see it. But one has to think this display is less than inspiring to his team (scroll down to here to see my comments on this effect, posted on Shallow Center).
In the end, if the Braves finish the season on top in the division, it will be by overcoming their deficiencies in terms of talent. If the Phillies finish on top, it will be by overcoming their manager.
The Maiden Voyage
This will be the first of what will hopefully be many entries regarding baseball, golf, football, music, movies, television, and even politics (sometimes I can't help myself). If this goes well enough, I may move the website to ESPN's Page 7. I'll pass the word when that happens. In the meantime, check out other milestones in history on this date.