If they clinch tonight, the Phils can look forward to resting the regulars and testing the bullpen over the season’s final four games.
Interesting, too, to find out which reservists make the cut. Matt Stairs, Ben Francisco and Paul Bako are givens. But among the group of Eric Bruntlett, Miguel Cairo, Greg Dobbs and Andy Tracy, I honestly don't know. Cairo and Tracy have the added advantage of freshness from playing an entire season, while Dobbs has been less than 100 percent and I think all of you are familiar with Bruntlett.
The Phillies may be taking nothing for granted, but last night's win and injury to Jamie Moyer could force the Phillies to look ahead and rearrange the puzzle pieces.
With limited information on the state of Moyer's groin (my groin's doing just fine, thanks), the Phillies could find themselves lacking relievers able to take extra frames. Not only that, ironically, the guys who have the least amount of bullpen experience seem to inspire the most confidence heading down the stretch. Injuries and ineffectiveness make the status of several pitchers, like Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Brett Myers and Park, questionable as the team begins to consider how to shape the postseason roster. Last night, the Phils received a decent start from Happ, and tonight, they'll send Pedro Martinez to the hill, his first since straining his neck in the follow-up to that 130-pitch prime-time victory over the Mets. These two starts could go a long way in deciding that playoff rotation.
Besides the East, there's lots to decide. If Moyer is indeed healthy, does he stick around for the postseason? Does Happ stay in the rotation, or will the situation dictate moving his springy arm back to the bullpen?
Beerleaguer doesn’t actually maintain a mailbag, but I received a handful of e-mails this morning and decided to cobble together a quick post. Ladies and gentlemen, this is that post.
“How about Ryan Madson? Here's his breakdown: 3-run lead: 2-0; 2-run lead: 2-2; 1-run lead: 4-4. He has one save where he entered with more than a 3-run lead and inherited baserunners. A 9-6 mark in save opportunities doesn't sound too good. But let's look at Madson's "hold" record as well. The breakdown: 3-run lead: 10-0; 2-run lead: 6-2; 1-run lead: 9-1.
“So, overall, when Madson enters the game with a lead, here's how he fares: 3-run lead: 12-0; 2-run lead: 8-4; 1-run lead: 13-5. These totals are surprisingly close to Broxton's. When Madson enters a game with a 3-run lead, he has never lost that lead (12-0). Broxton is 11-1. In 1-run games, Madson is 13-5 vs Broxton's 13-3. Of course, Broxton is finishing these games, and Madson is passing the game on to Lidge. I think Madson can close. He just needs to be given the job and allowed to make the mental adjustment to be successful. He's got the stuff.” - George
Beerleaguer: George is correct in saying Madson is the lesser evil to nail down the ninth, but I don't follow the same logic presented here to arrive at that conclusion.
Ruiz CERA: “There’s an infrequently mentioned stat about the staff’s much better ERA when Carlos Ruiz catches. I can’t find it, but maybe you can. As I recall it is a key indicator of Phillies pitching and therefore team success. Get Ruiz back and maybe we’ll see better starts and relief pitching over the next several days, which might be margin enough to win two or three games with the offense in its current state." – Rick
Beerleaguer: Thanks for checking in, Rick. Ruiz has a 3.99 CERA, which is sixth among all Major League qualified catchers. The reason CERA isn't discussed more is that many Beerleaguers believe it's a bogus stat that proves nothing except the quality of a pitching staff. Nevertheless, there's a reason Chooch is the starting catcher: he's the best handler they've got.
Township should ban plastic deer: "Normally, I would NEVER raise the issue, but something must be done about the outrageous number of fake plastic deer in the Green Valley View II Subdivision. It's causing nearby motorists to hit the brakes! These hazardous decorations MUST BE BANNED!" – Verna
Link: Finally, MLBTR has a rundown of next season’s free agent crop of closers and relievers. Well worth a read since it's numero uno on the Phillies’ list of off-season priorities. Read it here.
Middling starters like Yorman Bazardo have looked like world-beaters against the Phillies’ hitters lately. A dearth of capable reservists and an unnecessarily taxing workload implemented by Charlie Manuel may be coming to a head.
"Ragged" is a great way to describe the Phillies’ play in the second half of September. They’re 5-6 since sweeping the Nationals, about the time everyone started counting down the magic number, which has been moving at glacial speeds. Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins ... these players look terribly tired to me, all high-motor players who rarely get a break. (That makes what Ryan Howard has done in September even more incredible).
It’s unfair to pin the blame squarely on Manuel, a soft players’ manager reluctant to sit his competitive core. His hands have also been tied by a very weak bench. Thank goodness the Tribe kicked in Ben Francisco, who has moved ahead of Greg Dobbs as the top reservist. The versitile outfielder has been called into starting duty several times at all three outfield positions. Besides Francisco, the depth chart reveals a huge drop at every position, particularly in the middle infield, which needed to be a greater priority this winter, and even behind the plate. The loss of Carlos Ruiz to injury has had a noticeable effect on their production.
Beerleaguer: Hot and cold for five months, the Phillies have fallen into a frustrating September rut of very mediocre play: inconsistent pitching - a good way to characterize Cole Hamels' season - unreliable relief, with Tyler Walker and Clay Condrey letting the game get out of reach, and a very spotty offense that sure knows how to string together zeros, as Sam Donnellon put it last week. Overall, just a poor showing in a playoff setting with the Braves beginning to breathe down their necks. Tomorrow morning around the water cooler, people will point fingers at the offense, but I didn't like anything about the pitching, either. Veterans like Miguel Tejada and even Kaz Matsui offered a glimpse of the types of smart at bats they'll face in October. Right now, this pitching staff isn't where it needs to be.
Instead of setting their playoff rotation and sharpening their blades, the Phillies, ahead by four and with the Braves refusing to lose, would happily back into the postseason.
Following weeks of forearm rehabilitation, J.C. Romero has been reinstated for the start of the Phillies' final seven, starting tonight against the visiting Astros. First pitch is 7:05 from Citizens Bank Park.
“Major League” and its facilitation of ninth inning histrionics has a small part in the Phillies' late-game struggles.
“Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn is well within my scope. Nicknames. Entry music. Gimmicks. In hindsight, “Major League” did much to promote the silliness of today.
Playing it cool by abolishing regimented rules and hero worship may be one way to lessen the artificial drama and perhaps assuage the Phillies’ late-inning woes. Yesterday, Ryan Madson, durable enough to go multiple innings, recorded the final four outs. Afterward, Charlie Manuel declined the media’s request to bequeath Madson a ninth-inning knighthood, and rightly so. At least for one game, the Phillies nailed down a close one the natural way, without predefined concessions.
Leading 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies can blame sloppy defensive and the total lack of late-inning relief for their fourth loss in five tries, falling to the Brewers 7-5 on a Ryan Braun walk-off homer. They seek a key split in the final act of their 10-game road trip tonight.Joe Blanton (11-7, 3.82), to the mound hoping to find one. Dave Bush (5-8, 6.22), who took a no-hitter into the eighth the last time he faced the Phillies, counters for Milwaukee.
Readers ready to push panic button? After the game, readers wondered if another loss would send fans over the edge, while others felt optimistic the club would regain its equilibrium quickly.
"So the lead is five games. I understand the odds of blowing it are still very slim, but at what point does the lead become small enough that the subject of blowing it can be raised on Beerleaguer without immediately being met with snarky ripostes? I'd say one more Phillies loss and Braves win, and we're there." bay_area_phan
"I am not
usually accused of being a 'beacon of optimism' on here, but the Phils
are going to face a stiff tomorrow in Bush and three marginal starters
in the Astros series. They are going to at least split the next four games
and the panic levels will subside a bit" - MG
Read Beerleaguer's thoughts on the Phillies throughout the day on Twitter. Follow him here.
Three-run homers by Mike Cameron and Prince Fielder ruined Cliff Lee's night in a lopsided 8-4 loss, holding the Phillies' magic number at four. While the big story tomorrow will be Charlie Manuel's symbolic passing of the mop to Brad Lidge in a 7-2 seventh, confirming Ruben Amaro's pregame comments that closer alternatives will be considered, the focus could easily shift to Rube's big deadline acquisition, Lee, who has been wildly inconsistent for a month.
Cliff Lee and Manny Parra duel in the second of four from Miller Park. First pitch is 8:05. Coming down the home stretch, within short reach of clinching, the injury bug is starting to hit rather hard. It was announced that Kyle Kendrick will start in place of Pedro Martinez tomorrow; Pedro appearantly still ailing from a neck strain. Meanwhile, Raul Ibanez is suffering something of a stomach bug, according to reports. Ben Francisco starts in left for the second night in a row.
The champagne isn’t chilling, but Eric Bruntlett has been summoned to retrieve the ice.
Pedro Feliz will soon be spotted screaming his head off wearing swimming goggles inside a clubhouse draped in Saran Wrap. For players like Pedro, who begin preparing as early as January, there’s cause for celebration to reward a job well done once the Phillies make it official. However, on the heels of the greatest party this city has ever seen, and knocking on the door to a third-consecutive division title, fans seem in no rush to block off 1 Penn Square for a pep rally in front of City Hall. One reader put it this way: "We already know that even if they do find a way to make it all the way through, it can't compare to how it felt last fall. We've experienced the pinnacle and everything else is just gravy. It simply can't mean as much; all the hurdles have been long since cleared, and the wistfulness is for the greater intensity of meaning which has gone more conspicuously missing than Brad Lidge's command. Meaning or not, however, another part of it is that everyone knows they aren't going very far at all in October, and it's going to suck to deal with an unhappy ending looming copiously in the headlights." - RSB
The Phils dropped a six-run inning on Jeff Suppan’s head, pounding him with eight runs on 12 hits over 4 1-3 innings, as the Phils snapped out of it with a convincing 9-4 win in Milwaukee.
Jimmy Rollins was due for a game like this one, busting it open with a three-run homer in the fifth, sucking what little life the Brewers had left in their bodies. (What a disappointing year for Milwaukee following last year's encouraging playoff berth.) Pedro Feliz played Johnny on the Spot with a couple of key hits, as the bottom of the lineup, including Feliz, Ben Francisco, Paul Bako and J.A. Happ, combined for eight hits and five runs.
On the mound, Happ might have felt like he was under the microscope again, as rumors swirl about a possible return to the bullpen. The Brewers seemed to catch up with the overachieving rookie, who left after 5 2-3 innings to a line of seven strikeouts and two runs on six hits and a pair of walks. Are the goose egg days over for the young southpaw? Is he better suited for the 'pen considering this team's needs? Last night showed us the modest, serviceable starter many of us thought we’d see all along ...
Funny how one flaw makes a Ferrari lose its luster.
Oops, forgot to preview the Brewers. Here: Happ vs. Suppan; Lee vs. Parra; Pedro vs. Looper; Blanton vs. Bush.
Those who survived 1993 see shades of Mitch Williams in the rapidly deteriorating Brad Lidge situation.
“Those of us who remember 1993 are seeing history repeated. Mitch Williams was clearly cooked by the time he got to the World Series. His fastball was down to 87-88, but Fregosi had no alternative. As it turned out, Williams career was over. ... While I disagree with common sense's implication that anyone can be a closer, I do like his idea of restoring the two-inning closer. The Phillies have less than two weeks to fix the bullpen for the playoffs. That means taking action right now. Why not alternate Madson and Park as two-inning closers? If there's a rough patch of lefties in the 8th or 9th then you mix in Happ or Eyre (if he's healthy). One thing that can't happen is to continue running Lidge out there. I understand why CM did it, there was a chance for Lidge to get right and why go into uncharted waters of finding another closer if you don't have to? But time has now run out. They've got a handful of games left to determine the best alternative.” – clout
“Someone needs to give Cholly a way out of the corner he's put himself in. Rube, a delegation of players, or Lidge himself, has to step up and tell the old fool to knock it off. Eyre, Walker, Condrey, Park, Madson and the rest of them all need to volunteer to pitch the 9th. Pick a name out of a hat each night, or give them one batter each. They're all professional pitchers. The result can't be any worse.” - curt
Beerleaguer: In or out, the Phils won't have a closer set for October. The best they can hope is to catch lightning in a bottle with the hottest hands: Tyler Walker, Chan Ho Park, J.A. Happ come to mind. It’s no crazier to try Walker, who hasn’t saved a game since 2006, than to continue down this path with Lidge. With 11 blown saves, the situation is well beyond reproach. As I tweeted last night, if Cholly had the guts to break it off at 10 blown saves (Sept. 8) and resisted the temptation when Madson needed rest and Brett Myers got hurt, the Phils would have had time to maybe get something going. Easier said than done? No, because history tells us Lidge will juggle good seasons with miserable ones and there was absolutely no evidence to support a reversal.
Dude's hanging balls right down Broadway every single night, Charlie. Come on, chief.
Cole Hamels (10-9, 4.07) tries to take the Phillies a step closer to clinching when the Phillies and Marlins wrap it up in Florida. Right-hander Rick VandenHurk (2-2, 4.24) will be on the mound for the Fish when the two sides square off starting at 7:10 ET. ... Before the game, the Phillies gave word, via Charlie Manuel, that left-hander Scott Eyre will be available out of the bullpen tonight. Meanwhile, Carlos Ruiz remains out of action with a sprain to his catching hand wrist. Paul Bako and his lusty .199/.283/.295 sets up behind home. ... In minor league news, the Phillies are well represented in Baseball America’s list of Top 20 Gulf Coast League prospects, with four representatives. [Link]
ESPN's Jayson Stark reports Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz departed Florida Wednesday morning to have his sprained left wrist examined by team doctor Michael Ciccotti. Ruiz injured the wrist Friday in Atlanta. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. suggested the measure is precautionary and told Stark he doesn't consider the injury to be serious. Beerleaguer: Ruiz didn't make the cut in our earlier poll for team MVP, but if you asked me to list the most indispensable players - the ones they'd miss most if they were suddenly gone - Chooch would make my top three alongside Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. If serious, the Phils have a real issue on their hands.
Update: An MRI revealed no structural damage, according to multiple reports. He is expected to miss a handful of games, so Paul (Bako) and Paul (Hoover) will do the catching for now. It's possible they'll add yet another organizational catcher to the mix.
Once considered indispensable parts of their master plan, the Phillies said goodbye to Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and haven’t regretted it.
A good rule of thumb over the years has been to rely on old standbys Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell in lean times in order to spark a good debate. A wise man once said if I ever developed writer’s block, just post the names "Abreu" or "Burrell" in the subject field and allow the readers to unleash the hounds of hell.
Rather than mail it in, let’s give these once popular jerseys a proper context: In light of their championship rings and soon-to-be third division title, Abreu and Burrell haven’t been missed. Since 2006, their record has gotten progressively better. They sent their entire outfield to the All-Star game this season. The role of right-handed thunder has been adequately filled by Jayson Werth, and the void in left has been manned capably by Raul Ibanez.
The Phillies wish they could say the decisions to cut ties with Abreu and Burrell proved difficult, but we know better. The Phils actually kicked in Cory Lidle to sweeten the Abreu salary dump deal and accepted a grab-bag of worthless prospects from the Yankees. Popular wisdom says the easy-going Abreu was something of a "cooler" on an underachieving team. I continue to wonder if David Bell wasn’t the one having that effect.
As for Burrell, there was never a doubt he was riding off into sunset on those Clydesdales.
Domino leaves R-Phils, IronPigs: (From a news release) Chuck Domino, long-time General Manager and President of the Reading Phillies and Lehigh Valley IronPigs, has relinquished his current positions, effective immediately. This move will pave the way for him to become the Chief Executive Manager, through a management agreement between Domino Consulting and the ownership group of the Connecticut Defenders, who will be relocated to Richmond, Virginia for the 2010 Eastern League season. Domino started as general manager with the club in 1987. Beerleaguer: When history looks back, Domino will be seen as one of the execs who reshaped minor league baseball into what it is today.
The season won't tell us much more than we already know about the individual contributions of key players. Choose from six regulars listed above to determine the Phillies' standout positional performer. (Apologies to Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz for missing the cut, despite a career year by Chooch). Discuss your answers in the thread below.
The Phillies try to take a giant leap toward clinching their third-consecutive division title in today’s double dip with the rival Marlins. Joe Blanton (10-7, 3.97) and Josh Johnson (15-4, 3.01) are at the belt.
Miguel Cairo gives Pedro Feliz a breather over at third base, while Paul Bako does the catching. Twitter reports from Land Shark Stadium say Carlos Ruiz (wrist) is ready for the nightcap. ... Some rotation news to pass along as well. According to the pregame notes, J.A. Happ (side) is scheduled for Thursday’s series opener in Milwaukee, while Cliff Lee will swap spots with Pedro Martinez (neck) and pitch Friday, giving Pedro an extra day’s rest. ... If the Phils sweep the double header and win tomorrow night, and if the Braves lose their next two games to the Mets, the Phils could clinch the East as early as Friday night.
Barring an epic catastrophe, the 2009 season has already been defined and we can begin to cull meaning from the Phillies’ follow-up campaign.
Question: Was it what you expected? To this observer, it was. One can never hit the nail squarely on its head when making sweeping predictions, but an 87-61 mark with 14 to play hardly qualifies as a stretch for a team as stacked as this one. The difference: The Phils find themselves in control of their own destiny, rather than scratching and clawing through a rat race.
Individually, disappointing seasons by Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels, after reaching new heights last season, hardly qualify as surprises. Neither do the injuries to the bullpen. Brett Myers represented the Phillies’ token big injury; incidentally, the Phils will receive word on the extent of his shoulder strain today. Conversely, J.A. Happ represented their annual breakout performance. The Phillies landed Cliff Lee in a blockbuster, which is what elite teams do. Pedro Martinez added some extra star power and intrigue. Good teams are magnets for magnanimous players. Offensively, it was the same old, same old, with heavy hitters alternating hot and cold streaks. They sent five hitters to the All-Star game, a nice surprise, I guess. Jimmy Rollins replaced Ryan Howard in 2008 as the hitter who would ice up for months and months. Meantime, J-Roll proved to be the game’s best defensive shortstop yet again. Pitching-wise, back-end relief is the biggest discrepancy, but even the team’s GM warned not to expect a repeat. That leaves the starting rotation, and I think we can all agree that’s where the quest for back-to-back titles would start and end, and the Phils are lining themselves up very well in that department indeed.
So there it is in a nice, neat nutshell. No more chapters necessary until the postseason, unless the Phils rewrite their work into the worst story ever.
Odds and ends from around the minor league scene.
Anthony Gose, Travis d’Arnaud, Harold Garcia and Domingo Santana are among the many prospects taking part in this year’s Florida Instructional League. In all, 40 prospects, including several 2009 draft picks, including Kelly Dugan and Brody Colvin, will take part in the informal league, which runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 10 in Florida. The league features prospects from the Phillies, Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers, Pirates and Rays organizations. Phuture Phillies has the complete roster here.
-- In case you’re unfamiliar with Santana, here’s a recent tidbit from the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury: “It's very unusual for a 16-year-old Dominican not to play in the Dominican Summer League. The Phils were so high on outfielder Domingo Santana that they sent him to the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .288 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 118 at-bats. "He's a beast," one frequent observer of Santana said.”
-- A belated congratulations to the Lakewood BlueClaws, who claimed the South Atlantic League championship Friday with a 5-1 victory over the Greenville Drive. It is the club’s second Sally League title since 2006.
-- Finally, in non-Phillies news, the Memphis Redbirds of the Pacific Coast League battle the Durham Bulls of the International League in the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game in Oklahoma City, which airs tomorrow at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. I’ll be set for Phillies/Marlins at that point, but I thought I’d pass it along.
A lesser team would be severely handicapped by the mounting injuries the Phillies have experienced this past month. Instead, the Phils continue their unabated march toward October.
While Chan Ho Park (hamstring), Pedro Martinez (neck), J.A. Happ (strained oblique), Scott Eyre (loose body), J.C. Romero (forearm), Jack Taschner (back) and Brett Myers (shoulder strain) watch from the sidelines, the Phillies are poised to put an early stamp on the division, thanks in part to an overabundance of at-the-ready pitching. Tyler Walker, credited for the win yesterday, is one such player, caught in the net when Ruben Amaro Jr. went trolling for bargain pitching at the earlier stages of the season. A numbers of veterans, like Mike Koplove, Gary Majewski and others, were eventually tossed back into the drink for one reason or another. But in getting just a few pitchers to stick (Walker, Rodrigo Lopez), after throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall, proved to be well worth the effort for the first-year GM.
The Phillies have been getting notable contributions from several unheralded pitchers, including 24-year-old Sergio Escalona, auditioning for a future situational left-hander role, which could happen as early as this postseason if Eyre and Romero can’t go. Escalona barely registered as a blip on the radar before 2009.
Kyle Kendrick could be headed toward life in the bullpen as well if the Phils decide they’ll get more from him in that capacity, rather than give him another whirl in a padded rotation. The Phils gave the 25-year-old righty ample time to address his issues at Triple-A. In doing so, the Phils turned him from a lost cause into a viable addition to the stretch run, picking up a pair of huge wins Sept. 13 against New York and Friday against Atlanta.
It’s hard to imagine Jamie Moyer’s demotion working better than it has. Earning wins in a pair of rain-shortened starts, he's posted a 3.44 ERA since the All-Star break and is set to pitch tomorrow’s double-header in Florida. Just 1-3 innings shy of 150, which would kick in $250K in performance bonus, it’s possible Moyer could make two more starts after tomorrow should injuries hold Happ and Pedro out of action.
Amaro on Myers: "I don't think he came back too quick. I think probably the change of role and pitching a lot.”
There’s no question this was all too much, too soon for Myers, and I’m not the least bit surprised he's blown out his arm. Keep in mind he’s pitching for his next contract, plus, he’s a competitor and wants to be along for the ride. He has every reason in the world to push himself past the limit. Nope. Not surprised by this. Would have bet money this would happen to be honest.
Don't let the rain delay, the sloppy conditions, the empty seats and apparent lack of interest on a beautiful football Sunday in Philadelphia fool you. Today, the reigning champs had one of their best showings of the entire 2009 campaign.
Led by an efficient early attack, followed nearly two hours later by five excellent relief innings, the Phillies pieced together an impressive win in an important game to take two-out-of-three in Atlanta and crush the Braves' hopes for the postseason. Critics of the Phillies' power-first approach missed an excellent display of timely hitting and good base running early if they elected to watch football, as the Phillies put four textbook runs on the board against rookie phenom Tommy Hanson. Then, after rain cut Cliff Lee's start to four innings, the bullpen, which already put in overtime in the series' first-two games, sealed the deal with five brilliant innings, using Tyler Walker, who earned the win, for the fifth and sixth, Sergio Escalona and Clay Condrey for the seventh, Ryan Madson for the eighth and Brad Lidge for the ninth to collect his 31st save. September call-ups, like Kyle Kendrick and Escalona, and the expanded roster in general, certainly played a huge role in this series.
Meanwhile, earlier today, Cincinnati mauled Florida 8-1, meaning the Phils' lead is back to eight as they head to South Florida. Great performance in a key game by the defending champs.
Cliff Lee (7-2, 2.67) tries to build on a masterful complete-game shutout in his last start when he toes the slab against rookie of the year hopeful Tommy Hanson (10-3, 2.65) and the Braves in the season's final meeting between these two sides.
Beerleaguer: Big opportunity for the Phils to break Atlanta's spirits and start putting the finishing touches on their playoff run. Overall, the Phils have had a serviceable month overall, led entirely by their starting staff, so today I'd like to see the total package, for the Phils to get something going early against Hanson, for Lee to pound the Braves' lineup with strikes and for the bullpen to deliver as needed. The Phils will have the services of Shane Victorino, who returns to center field, while Paul Bako is back behind the plate for Carlos Ruiz, still ailing from a sprained wrist.
First pitch is 1:35 from Turner Field. Time for the Phils to tighten the screws.
Javier Vazquez (14-9) tossed seven shutout innings and Pedro Martinez left the game after three innings with tightness in his neck as the Phillies made a late run in the ninth, but lost 6-4.
Pedro, who threw over 130 pitches in his last start, displayed poor velocity and location through three rocky innings, allowing three runs, seven hits and a walk. Silenced through eight innings, the Phillies brought nine batters to the plate in the ninth against Rafael Soriano, who allowed four runs, including a two-run shot by Ryan Howard. Chad Durbin, who may be on the bubble to make the postseason roster after tonight, provided little relief for Pedro, allowing three runs, two earned, over 2 2-3 innings. Elsewhere, Florida defeated the Reds late, so the Phillies' lead is back down to seven over Florida.
Carlos Ruiz (wrist) and Shane Victorino (bad batch of poi) are out of the lineup tonight when Pedro Martinez (5-0, 2.87) and the Phillies play the second of three against Javier Vazquez (13-9, 3.01) and the Braves.
Speaking of Martino's update, he buried the lead further down the report. Get a load of this: "Charlie Manuel has strongly hinted that if Eyre and Romero are not able to return and pitch effectively, Happ would be sent to the bullpen for the playoffs." I'd agree at the moment, but let's just see how Pedro finishes up after throwing a ton of pitches these last couple starts.
Following a 3-for-5 night with a homer, Ben Francisco returns to the lineup tonight and bats second. To be frank, I'm not disappointed to see Vic get a few days off; I haven't been in love with the way he's been swinging the bat lately. On the other hand, Chooch must be frustrated to ride the pine in the midst of one of his best stretches ever. The Phils will have their work cut out for them against Vazquez, who has been an incredibly solid acquisition by the Bravos.
The Phillies used four home runs and at-the-ready long relief by Kyle Kendrick, spotting an effective J.A. Happ, who was taken out as a precautionary measure, to dump the second-place Braves last night at Turner Field 9-4. Carlos Ruiz suffered a sprained wrist, and Ryan Howard, who homered twice, was plunked by a pitch and could be a game-time decision tonight. X-Rays were negative, but Chooch could be sidelined for a few games, at worst. As for Happ, he insisted nothing was too terribly wrong, but Charlie Manuel wasn't taking any chances, and I think that's the right call. The left-hander missed his last two starts with an oblique strain. We're back with game chat before the start of tonight's 7:10 first pitch.
Tim Hudson (1-0, 3.63) makes his fourth start hoping to extend the Braves' win streak to eight. The Phillies maintain a 7 1-2 game lead in the National League East. In other news, a pair of lefties, Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero, are scheduled for Saturday bullpen sessions, according to multiple Tweets. Enjoy the game everyone.
The Phillies’ air-tight rotation, strongly considered the best of the Charlie Manuel regime, and a calm, cool, collected clubhouse give the Phillies a good chance to wrap it up early. Atlanta will try to intervene.
One of my favorite games of the last few seasons was the Sunday after the Phillies’ clinched the division in 2008, making the season’s final game numerically meaningless, yet meaningful and satisfying for fans who, less than 24 hours earlier, were sitting on the edge of their seats. With an eight-game edge in the loss column, the Phils have never looked more like a playoff team, and it’s not because they’ve been playing their very best brand of baseball. Overall, they’ve had a serviceable September, which was all the reigning champions knew they needed. They even squeezed in a four-game vacation in Houston.
There’s no urgency to overexert, yet I suspect this series with the Braves will take on a different tone and would be disappointed if the Phillies came out flat. Atlanta is the hottest team in baseball, winners of seven in a row. Brian McCann says this is the best they’ve played since he’s been there. An incredibly balanced, efficient lineup and starting rotation are two reasons why. Besides Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones, who is less of a factor these days, it’s a completely different regime from the team that won 14-consecutive division titles.
If putting the pennant race out of sight and out of mind wasn’t motivation enough, the Phils could tap their inner sadist, stepping on their rivals’ throats in front of their home crowd, just as they were breathing new life.
As the first-place Phillies get set to pay a visit to the now second-place Braves, readers offer varied verdicts on Brad Lidge’s return to the ninth.
“I'm surprised everyone on the game chat thought Lidge pitched well. He got the save, but he was far from sharp. His command was way off, especially on his fastball. His pitches never ended up where Ruiz put the glove. To me he looked like he was really laboring trying to get the ball over the plate.” – J.R. King
“Lidge had all season to figure this out, and he hasn't. We already know that Lidge isn't suddenly going to snap out of it; it's a total crapshoot with him every time now, and that’s not likely to change. In my opinion, that means you try out Madson and Myers, and if neither of them pitch well enough to become closer, you can go back to Lidge for the playoffs, but until then you stop pitching him in the ninth.” – timr
“I'm as hard on Lidge as anyone, but I'd hardly call what happened 'allowing' a run. Even if Werth or Francisco had played it right, let alone caught it, and held Duke to a double he wouldn't have scored.” – RodeoJones
“I think it's in the Phils’ best interest to keep putting Lidge out there for the 9th until maybe a week and a half from the end of season and hope he figures things out. The bullpen works better with Lidge in 9th and Madson in 8th. If Madson closes, who is your 8th inning guy? Myers? He gave up 3 runs in 8th inning the other night. Or you can hope for 8 inning games from Lee, Hamels, but that's not guaranteed.” – jay
Cole Hamels (10-9) took a no-hitter into the sixth, allowing a run over eight, as the Phillies sat back and let a 4-2 victory fall into their lap to put the finishing touches on a 15-3 season series against the lowly Nationals.
Beerleaguer: Not to be taken as a complaint because a win is a win, but I'm ready for the Phils to be tested in a more meaningful way, whether it's the postseason or against a team with something on the line, even pride. The Nats and Mets are brutal clubs dogging it toward the finish, and with the September cavalry called up from the minors, lacking the fundamentals necessary to compete. That said, Hamels had terrific command of his fastball, setting up that golden change. The thing I liked best was that he beared down when the game started to unravel in the seventh. We've seen Hamels fall apart in those situations many times this season. Meanwhile, I don't know what to make of the offense. Perhaps it's the quality of the opponent, knowing the Nats would hand it to them eventually, or the fact they're maintaining a commanding lead, but the Phils appear to be gliding on autopilot. Nevertheless, the home fans didn't seem to notice; the atmosphere resembled that of a playoff setting.
In other news, Chan Ho Park was examined and will miss two-to-three weeks, according to reports. He'll begin a rehab program in Clearwater. ... Brad Lidge pitched the ninth, allowed the run, but converted the save, his 30th.
Cole Hamels (9-9, 4.41) goes for his 10th win of the season when the Phillies finish their series with Ross Detwiler (0-5, 6.71) and the woeful Nationals. First pitch is 7:05. Ben Francisco gets the start in right field and bats sixth.
Lakewood leads the best-of-five series 2-0 after blanking Greenville Tuesday behind catcher-turned-starter Jesus Sanchez.
The Phillies' Low-A affiliate is hitting .307 as a team this postseason, according to the club's official Web site, with a couple of top prospects leading the way, including catcher Travis d'Arnaud (7-for-15), Anthony Gose (6-for-17) and Harold Garica 6-for-17). They'll send another good-looking prospect, 19-year-old right-hander Trevor May, to the hill tonight hoping to nail down their second Sally League title. May has not lost in 14 outings and has a streak of pitching 16-consecutive scoreless innings, including to the team site.
Happ back in rotation, but for how long? Old news, but in case you missed it, J.A. Happ (10-4, 2.77) is expected to start tomorrow's game against Atlanta after missing his last two turns with an oblique strain. The rookie left-hander pitched a successful bullpen before last night's game. In addition, J.C. Romero threw 25 pitches off the mound to good results.
Nevertheless, Happ's starting-rotation staying power could to be in jeopardy once again as Pedro Martinez appears to have found the fountain of youth, while Chan Ho Park could be out indefinitely with a strained hamstring, considered serious at first blush. Without Park, the Phils lack a springy arm capable of going multiple innings, plus, his left-handedness offers a different look should Scott Eyre remain out of action. Besides Happ, the Phils will be forced to answer a number of questions, including which pitchers to bring along from a group that includes Eyre, Romero, Chad Durbin, Tyler Walker, Clay Condrey and Jamie Moyer.
If three-consecutive near shutouts isn’t proof enough of the quality of the Phillies’ staff, take a look at the desperate measures taken by other clubs.
Via email, Beerleaguer’s senior correspondent frames it thusly: “We cannot complain about this year's pitching. You see what they’re getting from Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and even Kyle Kendrick the last few games. Now, take a look at last night's starting pitching match-up for the Reds and Astros: Justin Lehr against Yorman Bazardo, two journeymen who were in spring training with the Phils. Each went five innings and combined to allow nine runs and 18 hits. We saw former Phillie Zach Segovia last night with the Nats, and he was on the mound last Thursday when Matt Stairs cleared the bases. In addition, this season has seen the returns of former Phillies Eric Milton, Kris Benson, Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia, heck, even Paul Byrd. At least Brian Sanches is having a good year (4-2, 1.90, 48/25 K/BB ratio, 52 IP).”
Summary: Thanks in part to six shutout innings by Joe Blanton, the Phillies very nearly issued their third consecutive shutout, but would have to settle for 26 2-3 straight innings without letting up a run, the club's longest streak since 1995, according to reports. Already up 2-0, with one of the runs coming on a double steal with Chase Utley crossing home, Jayson Werth ended any hope of a Nationals' comeback, taking Jason Bergmann deep to left-center for a seventh-inning salami, his second of the season. Unfortunately, the win was cast in shadow as Chan Ho Park suffered a hamstring pull, believed to be serious. Check your favorite beat writer blogs for follow-up details tomorrow.
In a rematch of Thursday's loss, Joe Blanton tries to rebound from his worst start of the season against Livan Hernandez, who held the Phillies to two runs in that same game. First pitch is 7:05 from the Bank. In other news, the Phils have activated injured reservist Greg Dobbs from the DL. Lineup are posted with the standard setup.
Double-A Reading was home to the best young talent in the chain and was a stepping stone for eight rehabbing Phillies, including Pedro Martinez, who packed FirstEnergy Stadium with a record 9,953 fans. Mike Drago, who covers the R-Phils for the Reading Eagle, puts the finishing touches on his yearly coverage with his season in review and counts down the top 10 moments of a very memorable year, featuring a return to the postseason, the league’s best attendance and successful stops by several top prospects, including Michael Taylor, Kyle Drabek and Domonic Brown. [Review] [Top 10]
That punched-in-the-gut feeling of pennant-race baseball isn’t the only thing missing from the Phillies’ final month.
Courtesy of Albert Pujols, who clinched his third MVP award by the All-Star break, the Phils churn toward October with the singular objective of repeating as champions. The loudest drumbeat for an individual achievement occurred when Raul Ibanez went nuts for the first two months, but even then, Pujols was considered an immovable object sitting atop baseball’s highest pedestal. The Phils, already a postseason fixture, aren’t a trendy pick like they were in 2007, when Jimmy Rollins rode some of that momentum to MVP. Individually, J-Roll had a career year, but he also asserted himself as the face of a rapidly rising franchise that season, a guy who never slumped and never took a day off.
It’s academic because of Pujols, but it would take that kind of sentiment for a member of the Phillies to join the discussion. Chase Utley, whose injury in ‘07 helped open the door for Rollins, would be the best choice and is likely to generate more attention than any of his teammates, especially considering hip surgery was initially supposed to set him back until May. Still, he’s better suited for “team” MVP than “league” MVP. Ryan Howard bulled his way into MVP talks in '08 based on a red-hot September, but it appears his late-August surge has subsided. And any lasting sentiment over Ibanez’s bid has been snuffed out by his well-publicized swoon.
With MVP out of the question, and with rookie Tommy Hanson continuing to make his case for ROY to J.A. Happ's chagrin, the issue becomes how much Gold Glove and postseason hardware the Phillies will take home this time. That's not a bad problem to have.
On point with an array of pitches, Cliff Lee went the distance, striking out nine for his first shutout in a Phillies uniform. The Phils got four of their runs from a Carlos Ruiz bases-clearing double. Chooch, who entered the game hitting .364/.463/.545 in September, blasted the ball all over the place on a 2-for-4 night. Ironically, his three-run double was his worst contact of the night. The Phils, currently 7 1-2 games up in the division, look on as Florida goes to the seventh carrying a 2-1 lead over St. Louis.
Beerleaguer: Now that's pitching. The Phils have passed the ball to some sure-handed starters lately, none better than Lee tonight. A total change of pace from the rest of the staff. Just needles opposing hitters with strikes. Offensively, Ruiz is hitting as well as I've ever seen. Very good season from Chooch out of the eight-hole.