August 8 2006

Ryan Howard slugged home run number 39 and drove in his 101st run of the year last night.  He leads the National League in home runs and RBI, with only David Ortiz ahead of him in either category in all of baseball.  After 111 games he's on pace to hit 57 homers and drive in 147 runs.  In the history of baseball a player has hit more than 56 home runs in a single-season 14 times.  He'll be 27 in November. 

That said, I doubt Howard will hit 57 this year.  But he has been amazing to watch.  And he still has a chance to put himself on the list of baseball elites this year with the likes of Luis Gonzalez. 

The Phillies beat the Braves 9-6 last night, improving to 54-57 on the season.  They are in second place in the NL East, 12 1/2 games behind the Mets.  The Dodgers have won ten in a row and moved into a tie with the Reds in the Wild Card chase.  The Phillies are 2 1/2 behind both of those teams and also trail the Diamondbacks by a full game.  If you think it will take 84 wins to win the Wild Card, the Phillies would need to go 30-21 in their last 51 games.  To get to 88 they would need to go 34-17. 

Brett Myers got the start for the Phillies and went five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks.  Two of the hits went for extra-bases, a double and a home run. 

It was the second straight game that the Phillies starter made an early exit.  After Mathieson lasted just 3 2/3 on Sunday in New York, the pen was called on to throw four more innings last night.  Ryan Madson in particular gave the Phillies a big boost last night with two scoreless innings -- the kind of boost he wasn't giving them out of the pen when he was getting shelled in the rotation. 

Myers threw a 1-2-3 first and got the first two batters in the second before Francoeur doubled.  LaRoche lined out to center to end the inning.

Scott Thorman led off the second with a single and went to second on a bunt by the pitcher Ramirez.  Myers got out of the inning by retiring the next two. 

Myers went into the bottom of the fourth with a 2-0 lead.  Renteria led off with a walk before he got Andruw Jones to fly to left for the first out of the inning.  Myers then walked the next two to load the bases.  LaRoche followed with a ground ball to Nunez, who got the runner going to second but a run scored to put Atlanta on the board at 2-1 with runners on first and third and two outs.  Thorman grounded out to end the frame.

The Phillies got five in the top of the fifth to give the Myers a 7-1 lead.   Myers got the leadoff man before a Willy Aybar single and a two-run homer from Marcus Giles made the score 7-3.  Renteria singled before Andruw Jones flew to left for the second out of the inning, making it two outs and a runner on first.  Brian McCann followed with yet another high popup that dropped in between Rollins and Burrell in left-center.  It was a more difficult play than the one on Saturday -- closer to center field to Rowand was in the picture, but Burrell still should have gotten to the ball.  It's not his range anymore, his foot looks much better, it looks more like he and Rollins just don't know which of them is going to catch the ball.  Neither, apparently.  It went for a single, sending Renteria to third.  Francoeur followed with a single, making the score 7-4, before Myers struck out LaRoche to end the inning. 

If the Phillies had lost that game on another ball that dropped in-between Rollins and Burrell I have a hard time imagining what would have happened.  I don't think it would have been good.

Myers was due to lead off the sixth and Manuel pinch hit for him with the Phillies up 7-4.  That's a good move, I like it a lot, but it's not the way Manuel usually does things.  I was surprised he didn't let Myers, who had thrown 93 pitches, hit for himself.  On the other hand, Myers doesn't usually give up five hits in the fifth.

Madson threw a 1-2-3 sixth.  He returned for the seventh and gave up a leadoff single to Marcus Giles before getting the next two Braves.  McCann doubled with two outs, sending Giles to third with the Phillies still up 7-4, but Madson struck out Francoeur, the tying run, to end the frame. 

In eight appearances as a reliever Madson's ERA is 2.93.  In 17 starts he threw to a 6.28 ERA.

Rhodes looked good again in the eighth, setting the Braves down 1-2-3.  He hasn't allowed a hit in the last five innings he's pitched, so a trade for an 18-year-old slick-fielding infielder who on-bases .214 at Low-A or a guy who's 6' 3" and 130 pounds and throws really hard but nowhere near the plate could be a possibility.  On the other hand, if the Phillies are headed to the World Series this year they could probably use a guy who's lights-out in the eighth.

You know who didn't look so good in a ninth inning appearance?  Geoff Geary.  Protecting a 9-4 lead he got the first two before Renteria reached on a piddler to Nunez.  Andruw Jones followed and hit a two-run homer to dead center field on a pitch where his bat shattered in his hand, leaving him with only handle and a long, sharp sliver of wood.  It was peculiar.  McCann followed with a single, so the Phillies had to warm up Gordon, but Geary got Francoeur to ground to second on a wacky flip-toss from Utley and end the game.

The Phillies lineup against lefty Horacio Ramirez went (1) Rollins (2) Victorino (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Burrell (6) Rowand (7) Lieberthal (8) Nunez.  Victorino plays right against the lefty and hits second.  The Phillies faced the lefty Glavine on Saturday and Victorino was in right and led off, with Rollins hitting third, but that was because Utley got the day off and Rollins has great numbers for his career against Glavine. 

The Phillies didn't have a baserunner until the third, when Lieberthal led off with a walk.  The next three Phillies went in order to end the inning.

Shane Victorino led off the top of the fourth and was hit by a pitch.  Utley followed with a ground ball to first, and the Braves got Victorino at second with Utley safe at first for the first out of the inning.  Howard followed with a two-run homer that put the Phillies up 2-0.  Burrell was next and walked, but Rowand and Lieberthal both grounded out to end the inning.

Nunez led off the fifth in a 2-1 game with a walk and went to second on a passed ball.  Myers bunted, but the Braves could not record and out.  Myers was safe at first and Nunez safe at third.  Rollins followed with a double that sent Myers to third and put the Phillies up 3-1.  Victorino singled, scoring Myers and sending Rollins to third with the Phillies up 4-1 and still nobody out in the inning.  A sac fly by Utley was the first out of the inning, it scored Rollins from third and put the Phillies up 5-1 with Victorino going to second on a throwing error by Langerhans in center.  The Braves intentionally walked Howard to make it first and second with one out for Burrell.  Burrell doubled, scoring another (6-1 Phils) and moving Howard to third.  Rowand singled to bring in another, making it 7-1 Phillies, before Lieberthal and Nunez went down to end the inning. 

The sixth inning featured a leadoff single from pinch-hitter Chris Roberson, who swiped second with two outs for his first career stolen base, but the Phillies weren't able to score.  Roberson stole 25 bases in Triple-A this season and was caught nine times. 

The Phillies got a leadoff single from Ryan Howard in the seventh but came up empty when Burrell struck out and Rowand grounded into a double-play. 

In the eighth the Phillies got back-to-back walks with one out from Nunez and pinch-hitter Dellucci.  Rollins followed with a single, scoring Nunez and sending Dellucci to third and putting the Phillies up 8-4.  Victorino was up next and hit another single, making the score 9-4, before Utley flew to left and Howard grounded to short to end the inning.

Pinch-hitter Danny Sandoval led off the ninth with an infield single but was stranded when the next three Phillies went in order.

Rollins was 2-for-5 with a double and two RBI.

Victorino was 2-for-4 with two RBI. 

Utley was 0-for-5 with a strikeout.

Howard was 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk and two RBI.

Burrell was 1-for-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI.  His defense in left has turned an out into a hit twice in the last three games.

Rowand was 1-for-5 with an RBI.  He's on-basing .316 for the season and hitting .200 in August after hitting .224 in July and .223 in June.

Lieberthal was 0-for-4 with a walk. 

Nunez was 0-for-3 with two walks.  Chris Coste took grounders at third before the game.  Interesting quote from Manuel that says that one of the reasons to play Nunez at third is because Nunez deserves to be given a chance.  I don't have a problem with that, but it's not the same as saying Coste won't play there because he's not capable of playing the position. 

Nunez is 3-for-24 with a double in his last seven games.  He's drawn five walks but is still on-basing just .276.  I'd love to see Nunez be successful, but if you define successful as being an adequate everyday third baseman it's not happening.  He's slugging .214 for the year, which is last in all of baseball, not just the National League, among players that have 100 or more plate appearances.  It's not even real close.  Among players with more than 100 plate appearances, Chris Duffy has the next-worst slugging mark, he's slugged .242 in 124 at-bats. 

If you go with OPS for all players in both leagues with 150 or more plate appearances, he's still last at .440 -- Jerry Hairston is the next worst, amazingly 81 points higher at .521.

Nunez's career slugging percentage is .317.  He has never slugged above .375 in a season and is not the answer for anybody as an everyday third baseman.  I don't think the Phillies are going to let him stay one for long.

Cole Hamels faces Tim Hudson tonight.

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