Posts Tagged ‘Phillies’

Cliff Lee. Say no more.

December 20, 2010 2 comments

How many times have you walked up to a friend this week and greeted him or her with these two words: Cliff Lee.

It’s now a legitimate alternative to hello, hey, or what’s up when you see a fellow Philadelphia friend whom you haven’t seen in a couple weeks or months. I went to a party on Saturday night, hosted by friends I specifically know from Sunday afternoon Phillies tailgates in the Linc parking lot. I walked in the door, gift bottle of booze in hand, and rather than greet each other with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, it was just a matter of who could say “Cliff Lee” first.

Have you ever seen someone so happy to drink Powerade. That's how much he likes being in Philly.

The signing floored the entire city, and began what turned out to be one of the most epic weeks in Philly sports. I awoke last Monday morning, did the old reach for my phone, and waiting in my SMS and BBM inbox were messages that once again simply said Cliff Lee, and nothing more. Every person in town tried to shake themselves out of dream mode when they awoke to the news. Those Philadelphians who battle an inferiority complex in the face of New York, went into clean up mode. For them it was a wet dream.

The question is whose dream was the wettest in town? It could have been Ruben Amaro’s, but the orchestrator couldn’t have been surprised enough to pee his pants. Charlie Manuel is a great candidate, but it would be tough to definitively attribute such an accident to the Lee signing as opposed to general aging. I think Carlos Ruiz has to take the prize here. While I’ve seen plenty of t-shirts on the market already referencing Lee and the rest of the juggernaut rotation, I’ve yet to see one that reads: “Mi sueño mojado“, with Ruiz’s Panamanian punim centered among the faces of the four starters. I think it would sell.

There’s no point in actually analyzing the Lee acquisition in this piece. Plenty has already been written about this remarkable move, and still none of it has such an eloquent ring to it as simply saying the guy’s name.

Cliff Lee.

As much as this cushions the Jayson Werth blow, some of the Phillies offseason talk is now shifting to the one gaping hole to address, right field. But I’d honestly rather the team spend the money they have allotted for that slot on a World-Class massage therapist with a shoulder/arm concentration. Keeping these four arms healthy is now the team’s most important challenge. But even if one of them is hurt come playoff time, we’ll still have the best rotation out there, especially because Cliff Lee won’t be suiting up for the opposition.

Forget a middle reliever. Can we just get someone who's really really really really good at taking care of these?

A couple star players have now demonstrated their affinity for putting on the same red and white pinstripes that fill the stadium seats game after game.  Sure we purposely throw up on other people from time to time. Sure we occasionally need to get our naked bodies on the field of play, but Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have collectively said “Who doesn’t?” with their eagerness to forgo cash for this fan support. Some skeptics may have been able to diminish the role of the fan base in landing Roy Halladay, pointing to the chance to win as the major factor in his move to Philly. But considering the Yankees current roster and successful history along with the Rangers 2010 World Series appearance, Lee has really made it seem to the national audience like it could actually be about us, in a good way for once.

A Piece on Jayson Werth That Doesn’t Use a Play on Words with Werth in the Headline

December 7, 2010 2 comments

Jayson Werth is ninth on the all-time postseason home run leaders list, a list he doesn’t seem to have much interest in climbing. Only Babe Ruth has made that list with fewer playoff plate appearances, but now it seems David Justice has a better chance of coming out of retirement and climbing that list with the Braves than Werth does ascending it with the Nats. Etching his name all over seems less important to Werth than having it printed on some fat checks. It’s understandable, especially for a guy who, before landing with the Phillies, had his career threatened by injuries.

Rank Player Postseason Home Runs Plate Appearances
1 Manny Ramirez 29 493
2 Bernie Williams 22 545
3 Derek Jeter 20 679
4 Reggie Jackson 18 318
Mickey Mantle 18 273
6 Jim Thome 17 251
7 Babe Ruth 15 167
8 David Justice 14 471
9 Chipper Jones 13 412
Alex Rodriguez 13 276
Jim Edmonds 13 263
Albert Pujols 13 239
Jayson Werth 13 182

So what will the outfielder’s $126 million defection to the Nationals mean to the Phillies? The facelift is official now. The Phillies outfield will undoubtedly have a new look. I’m bummed about it. I was holding out hope for the slim chance of keeping him in the lineup this year. Now that he’s gone, our team is less powerful, slower, worse defensively, not as clutch, less balanced in terms of hitting from both sides of the plate, and certainly more lacking in beard prowess.

I guess Werth is sick of getting free hats and cigars at the end of every season

The truth is Chooch can’t carry the club in October, and he sure as hell can’t grow a good beard on that Panamanian baby face. H2O will need some power behind them next fall, and as long as Ryan Howard keeps deciding to be Casey At the Bat for Halloween each year, the departure of Jayson Werth’s stellar postseason track record is a threat to our club’s autumnal makeup.

Werth had a remarkable run with the Phillies, coming out of role player obscurity to become an everyday stud, and a key character in what many think could be the best era of Phillies baseball in their long history.

His emergence coincided with the resurrection of the franchise, in a similar fashion to Donovan McNabb’s impact on the Eagles when he arrived. Werth’s stay here was much less controversial and not so much a solo act as McNabb’s, but I think we should be legitimately worried that he is the first of the core members to say adios to the franchise. Will his departure be the tipping point that starts the team’s decline?

Werth's departure leaves the Phillies lineup beardless....and without right-handed power. Polanco's ginormous head is now the team's most prominent feature.

For anyone who talks Phillies with me regularly, or has read this blog, namely this piece, knows that I would rather have seen J-Roll be the first to move on. But Rollins remains, on the heels of two poor seasons in a row and one poor, aging hamstring. J-Roll and the lineup that he will likely continue to lead off, had a down year. The pitching is what got the team as far as it got, and now we are left hoping that Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Utley all have bounce-back years. Anyone else uncomfortable with that and uncomfortable with losing the only player that lived up to expectation last year offensively, leading the league in doubles, scoring 100+ runs and contributing 27 HRs?

Like Donovan McNabb, Werth will now suit up for a division opponent. I’m careful to use the word opponent instead of rival here, because we all know the Nationals only true rival is the record book of futility. As becomes the question with any popular Philadelphia athlete who leaves town, how will fans receive him upon return?

I happened to be eating breakfast at Honey’s in Northern Liberties, the morning after the Phillies ended the city’s 25-year championship drought, when J-Werth strolled in with his family. Man, this guy was instrumental to winning the World Series, and he’s got great taste in brunch spots, I thought. With no hesitation, everyone in the restaurant rose to their feet and applauded him.

He deserves the same reaction when he takes right field next year at CBP on May 3. When he gets that recognition as a visiting player, one has to think it won’t be long before he misses that kind of fan support in the lonely pastures of the Nationals Park outfield. And anyone who’s been to Honey’s knows he’s damn well going to miss that too.

The Champagne Room

September 28, 2010 1 comment

That’s what they might as well start calling the Phillies locker room.

As entertaining as it was to watch Roy Halladay wheel and deal en route to another complete game shutout, watching the 2010 Phillies celebrate their fourth straight NL East title was the highlight of last night’s broadcast on Comcast Sports Net.

The media constantly talks up this team’s clubhouse chemistry, so it’s fun to get a rare glimpse at these popular personalities interacting with each other off the diamond.

Choooooooooch should have this down to a science by now

Anyone who hates Chris Wheeler, and there are plenty of those folk out there, had to love the string of pathetic interviews that started the celebration coverage. He actually started on an up note by borrowing Chooch, the definition of fan favorite, for a minute. Now that his English is just passable to complete an on-camera interaction, Ruiz has been the subject of many postgame segments lately, and it is must-see TV. As much as I laugh my ass off, the exchanges are not very productive, and Wheeler’s lame-ass “gracias amigo” with a heinous accent to conclude the interview was flat out uncomfortable.

Then he followed that up with two blockbuster Q & A sessions with Mike Sweeney and Brian Schneider, two players who had to be in the bottom five contributors to the accomplishment that was being celebrated. Wow, Wheels really has some pull in the locker room. I guess he just couldn’t quite land the Greg Dobbs interview, so he had to settle for those two.

Speaking of frustrating guys to watch celebrate, thankfully I didn’t see any footage of Kyle Kendrick opening a bottle of champagne, but I guarantee he popped the cork high and outside.

All kidding aside, it was fantastic to watch what has become an annual ritual. J-Roll walking around with the TV camera in hand. A ski goggled Ryan Howard spraying some bubbly. Jayson Werth hopefully not drenching these teammates for the last time. Victorino darting around the room with a smile on his face. Brad Lidge calmly enjoying some Bud Light, knowing that shaking up a bottle of champagne would probably aggravate his infamous elbow. And good ol’ Charlie, sitting in what seems like a wise man’s rocking chair, reflecting on another utterly successful regular season.

Does Werth really want to give up this yearly fiesta for a few extra shekels?

At this point, there’s no longer any doubt that the Fightins of the last few years are the best Philadelphia team in my 20-plus year tenure as a fan here, and watching this scene reminded me that the likeability of nearly each and every major personality makes each team accomplishment doubly sweet for a fan base that takes its sports so personally.

I wonder how an Eagles locker room celebration would be received by the fans these days. Of course the clash of Andy Reid and Stewart Bradley’s Mormon influence with Mike Vick and DeSean Jackson’s tweet-worthy Va. Beach/Long Beach party style would be awkward to start. And with the amount of animosity boatloads of fans have expressed toward the coaching staff, recently-jailed QB, and management, one has to think that contrary to all Philadelphia fan instinct, a bunch of people around here might actually find a Birds party tough to watch.

Rollin’ without J-Roll

September 21, 2010 1 comment

I love this city. A couple months ago, when the Fightin’ Phils were slumping hard, even those in the camp that said the Phillies would be okay down the stretch, must have had some moments of doubt about the team’s playoff hopes. Today, there isn’t a soul in the city who can be convinced we’re not winning the whole thing.

More so than the ups and downs of the Philly faith, this swing can be attributed to the nature of this ball club. The team that broke the championship drought continues to thrive off its unique character, and is once again dominating the competition when it matters most.

The Phillies are clicking on all cylinders right now. They are in the driver’s seat with a four game division lead and a scarier trio of aces than the table camera has ever shown on the World Series of Poker.

With Madson clearly back on the stuff that added a few mph to his fastball overnight in ’08, and Lidge looking lights out once more, I have only one person to be worried about right now.

Jimmy Rollins.

How will Jimmy fit into the postseason puzzle?

This year, I’m not worried his strained hamstring injury will linger, I’m worried that it won’t. He has been the achilles heel of this team all year, himself a strain on the offensive lineup. Whenever there is a debate about letting a rusty, yet experienced player back in the order after being sidelined, I’m usually in favor it, especially when a guy has the accolades that J-Roll has as a former league MVP.

In addition to that trophy, he holds the post of team leader, so you’ve got to get him back in the lineup as soon as he’s healthy, right?

No. Not at this point. Wilson Valdez has stepped in and done so many things right that Rollins has done wrong. He walks, he makes productive outs, he gets clutch hits and puts the ball in play. His on-base percentage has gone up and up as the season goes on, and he has a .400 OBP this month. He gets on base, something Rollins has struggled to do for what seems like an eternity.

This is the only image I could find of J-Roll on base. No wonder he's thanking god.

A great argument for the re-insertion of J-Roll is his defense, which has been the only consistent part of his game over the last few years. But the Phillies have not worsened much in the infield with Valdez patrolling the shortstop’s land. The starting lineup may not sound as sexy with a guy named Wilson filling in for a guy named Jimmy, but it has been stronger.

Rollins’ absence has led to two very important offensive developments:

  1. Victorino Leading Off: Victorino has relished in the leadoff spot. He, like Rollins, is not really an ideal candidate for the top of the order. He can be a free-swinger, but Shane is one of the strangest players I’ve ever watched regularly. As much as his aggression leads him to hit into his share of pop-ups, he also has some of the more patient at-bats you’ll see from anyone on the team. He draws his share of walks. Rollins never seems to walk, and that alone makes Victorino more valuable there. He’s got a .438 on-base percentage during September, a month he’s spent atop the lineup. The Flyin’ Hawaiian has been getting on, stealing bases, and giving the team a spark. He should stay there. Sure, he swings for the fences occasionally, but at least he’s shown the power (17 HR) that Rollins seems to have lost a few years ago. Like Rollins, he’s an unconventional No. 1 hitter, but one that seems to work the way Rollins hasn’t for a while now.
  2. Ruiz Moved up to No. 7: CHOOOOOOOOCH!!!! Has anyone captured the heart of this city the way this cuddly Panamanian has? He’s practically rendered Chase Utley an afterthought as fan favorite. Ruiz continues to get more and more dangerous as a player. He used to have the reputation as a player who grew his worth exponentially come Autumn. But now he may as well be called Señor Abril Hasta Noviembre. It’s at the point where his appearance at the plate, with a man on base, sends everyone to the kitchen because an RBI-double is a forgone conclusion. The Phillies are finally riding Chooch’s value to its fullest. Buried in the eigth hole previously, so many of his clutch at-bats got lost in bottom-of-the-order irrelevance. I mean, turning over the lineup is fun and all, but knocking runs in is baller. The omission of Rollins has allowed Ruiz to bat in more big-time situations with Howard, Werth and Ibañez on the base paths.

Thus, the Rollins dilemma. I have to realistically think Rollins will be back in there if his injury allows. He does bring playoff experience and leadership. He showed last season with his game-winning double against LA in the playoffs (which left me at the bottom of a pile of strangers by the way), he has a flare for the dramatic that Valdez will likely never have, and even when he’s slumping, he can drive a pitch for extra bases.

I do want Jimmy back in there if he gets better, and hopefully Valdez can continue his good work off the bench. But Rollins unquestionably should bat No. 8 in the lineup. He’s earned his right to play in the lineup, but he shouldn’t be entitled to anything beyond that.

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