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August 22 2006

The Phillies started to put their team back together today, calling up Joe Thurston and Michael Bourn from Triple-A to fill the spots vacated when Rowand and Gordon were placed on the DL.

Thurston will be 27 in September and got 40 at-bats with the Dodgers from 2002 to 2004.  With the Red Barons he hit 282/349/436 in 479 at-bats.  He hit nine home runs and stole 20 bases but was caught ten times.  Thurston was with the Phillies in spring training and appeared at second and third, hitting .250 with a homer in 20 at-bats.  I'll be interested to see how long Thurston stays up -- my guess would be not long. 

Bourn was at 283/386/428 in 152 at-bats at Triple-A.  He stole 15 bases and was caught just once.

The moves give the Phillies a ton of speed on their bench.  Both Thurston and Bourn can scoot.  If we ever see Victorino, Roberson and Bourn in the outfield at the same time I think you could make the case it was the most speed any team has had in their outfield in either league all season.

That said, the Thurston move really surprises me.  Bullpen pitching seems to be the much bigger need and it makes me wonder if Thurston's stay may be short.  The other thing to worry about the move is that it might mean Utley is banged up from the collision last night and is going to miss some time.  I would guess that Mathieson, who was sent down on August 20, would have been considered for a promotion to pitch out of the pen if he was eligible to return.  I still think we might see him when his ten days are up.

Just for giggles, here's some of the guys on the roster as the Phillies make their playoff push:  Chris Roberson, Danny Sandoval, Abraham Nunez, Chris Coste, Brian Sanches, Fabio Castro, Rick White and now, Joe Thurston and Michael Bourn.

It seemed like a ducky time to review exactly who's on the team at this point.  Here goes:

Hitters (13):  Coste, Lieberthal, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Nunez, Burrell, Victorino, Dellucci, Roberson, Sandoval, Thurston, Bourn

Pitchers (12):  Lieber, Moyer, Myers, Hamels, Wolf, Rhodes, Geary, Fultz, Castro, Sanches, Madson, White

The Phillies also acquired 37-year-old right-handed infielder Jose Hernandez from the Pirates for cash.  He's at 267/328/350 in 120 at-bats.  He's been real bad for two years in a row now, and has had one good year with the bat in his last six.  Just once in the last six years has he on-based more than .330 or slugged near .400.  What he can do is hit lefties, he's 333/385/438 against them this year, and a platoon with Nunez at third base would help the Phillies offense.  It looks like he'll join the Phils tomorrow, so another move is coming.


August 22 2006

Of all the great things about baseball the greatest of all may simply be the way in which everyone gets to look at the same incredibly nuanced sequence of events and come up with their own conclusions.  For all of the data we have and all the opinions that are out there, there's not a single person on the planet who can tell you what's going to happen in the next nine innings.  Since nobody can, the only thing to do is to tell you about what happened in the last nine.

For a long time now a bunch of different people have been telling you what you should think about Pat Burrell.  They aren't very subtle.  They think he's a jerk.  He doesn't want to make the sacrifices necessary to win.  I don't know if he's a jerk, but the idea that he would work his entire life to become one of the hundred or so best baseball players in the world and not try once he succeeded seems pretty unlikely to me.  Like every other player in baseball, Burrell is flawed, which is what makes it all so very interesting.  I'd love to see the Burrell critics move their argument to something more concrete and less mean-spirited.  I'll help.  He's hitting .244 against right-handed pitching.  His defensive play in left field is awful, his value is what he does with the bat, and unless there's a lefty on the hill he's not an exceptional player.  The Phillies are paying him nearly ten million dollars this season and they could improve their team by spreading that investment over several players.  Fine.  But did you watch the game last night?  The fourth inning?  If you did you watched what I watched and saw what I saw.  I do have a point here, it's simple, and it's this:  be careful of the people who tell you to think things that are the exact opposite of what you see with your own eyes.  It's a damn baseball game and you get to decide for yourself.   

The Phillies beat the Chicago Cubs last night 6-5 to improve to 62-62 on the year.  They are in second place in the NL East, 13 1/2 games behind the Mets.  In the hunt for the Wild Card they are 2 1/2 games back and trail two teams.  They have won six of their last eight.

Jon Lieber got the start for the Phillies.  He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing 11 hits and three runs without walking a batter.  Two of the hits he gave up went for extra-bases, both doubles.  He was better than his line, throwing six shutout innings before getting hit hard in the seventh.  He was facing a miserable Cubs lineup in which Jacque Jones, who entered the game with a .312 on-base percentage, was the second-best hitter.

In the first inning, Lieber gave up back-to-back singles with two outs but struck out Angel Pagan to end the inning.

He gave up two more hits in the second, a leadoff single to John Mabry and a two-out single to pitcher Rich Hill, but got Juan Pierre to fly to center and end the inning.

In the third Lieber gave up a one-out double to Aramis Ramirez, the token good hitter in the Cubs lineup, but retired the next two to end the frame.  The Ramirez double was a silly looking thing, a high bouncer to Nunez that he should have handled.  It bounced away from him and under the tarp to go for two.

Lieber started the fourth with a 4-0 lead.  He gave up a one-out single but got Ronny Cedeno to fly to right and Hill to ground back to the pitcher (Jon somehow emerged unscathed) to end the inning.

The Phillies extended their lead to 5-0 in the top of the fifth.  In the bottom of the inning, Lieber got the first two before Ramirez singled.  What followed was one of the tremendous plays on the night.  Jones hit a ball down the line in right and went for second.  Victorino did a great job to get to the ball quickly and made a strong throw to Rollins, who made an acrobatic tag in mid-air to get Jones and end the inning.

Lieber set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the sixth.  In the seventh he got the leadoff man before the next two batters both singled, putting runners on first and third with one out and the Phillies up 5-0.  Ryan Theriot was next and flew out to center, with the runners unable to advance.  Lieber looked like he had a chance to get out of the inning, but the runner on third scored on a wild pitch to make the game 5-1 and Ramirez followed with an RBI-double that was less a piddler to Nunez this time and more a ball smoked to the outfield.  The second run of the inning scored and the Phillies lead was cut to 5-2 with two outs and Ramirez on second.  It was the end of the night for Lieber.

And then there was the pen.  The Phillies pen all of the sudden is terrifying.  After last night's game in the last two contests they've thrown 6 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits, five walks and six runs.  Honestly, who is the guy in the pen you feel comfortable with right now?  Madson?  Maybe.  Fultz or Geary?  Not so much.  Compounding the problem of course is the injury to Gordon and the presence of the not-major league ready Fabio Castro.  If the Phillies don't want to pitch Castro (or Sanches, or White) in situations when the outcome of the game is in doubt they need to get some help in their pen soon, and it needs to be somebody they want on the hill when it matters, cause the guys they're using now are hanging on by a thread.  Gordon has been put on the DL, so the Phillies will at least have the chance to put someone in his roster spot.  

Fultz relieved Lieber, coming in to face the lefty Jones.  Jones singled, scoring Ramirez, getting the Cubs closer still at 5-3, before Fultz got Angel Pagan to fly out and end the inning.

The Phillies extended their lead to 6-3 in the top of the eighth and Geary came in for the bottom of the inning.  John Mabry led off and hit a ball in-between second base and center field.  Utley ranged out and Rowand raced in and collided horribly.  Rowand was upended and looked to land head and neck first, crashing to the field.  The ball caromed away and Rowand looked like he tried to rise in pursuit but crumpled to the ground.  Mabry wound up safe at third and Rowand had to be helped off the field.  The injury to Rowand was to his ankle, not his head.  It's been reported that the ankle may be broken, which would likely keep Rowand out for the rest of the year.

If Rowand is out for the year the Phillies have a big problem in their outfield.  They are down to four outfielders, one of which has a quad problem and can't hit lefties.  Another was a weak hitting and inexperienced fifth outfielder to start with.  They are going to need to bring someone else up soon.  Michael Bourn, who was up very briefly already this season, seems like a possibility if they stay in-house.  Whatever is going to happen is going to happen soon. 

The play left Geary in a pickle, with a runner on third and nobody out and the Phillies still up 6-3 in the eighth.  He got out of it, getting a pop-up, a fly ball to center and a strikeout to end the inning. 

Arthur Rhodes came in to protect the three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.  He got the leadoff man before allowing a single to Matt Murton and getting Ramirez to fly to center for a big second out.  Jones followed Ramirez and hit a two-run homer to make it a one run game at 6-5.  Pinch-hitter Phil Nevin followed with another hit, a single, but Rhodes got Michael Barrett to foul out to Coste to end the game.

The Phillies lineup against lefty Rich Hill went (1) Rollins (2) Victorino (3) Utley (4) Howard (5) Burrell (6) Rowand (7) Coste (8) Nunez.  Victorino probably would have started against the lefty anyway, so it's not clear how much Dellucci's quad is a factor at this point.  He was forced into the game after the injury to Rowand.

The Phillies got a leadoff double from Rollins in the first, but Victorino popped up a bunt and Utley and Howard went down to leave him stranded, even after he stole third base with one out.  I hate that bunt, especially against a young pitcher who you haven't seen get anybody out yet.  I would guess it was Victorino's decision, though, and not Manuel's.

Rowand drew a one-out walk in the second and with two outs the Cubs intentionally walked Nunez to get to Lieber after Rowand had stolen second.  Some things are more incredibly nuanced than others, but that's inane.  You should try really hard to get Nunez out when given the opportunity.  Lieber struck out to end the inning. 

Chase Utley hit a two-out single in the third but was stranded when Howard struck out to end the inning.

Burrell led of the fourth with a walk and went to third on a double by Rowand.  Coste flew out to right for the first out of the innings with the runners unable to move up.  The Cubs brought the infield in and Nunez hit a ground ball to short.  Burrell barrelled home and absolutely crushed Henry Blanco, scoring as the ball bounced off his back.  Rowand also scored as the ball bounced away and the Phillies led 2-0 with Nunez safe at second.  Lieber struck out for the second out of the inning, but Rollins followed with a two-run homer that made it 4-0 Phils.  Victorino popped out to end the inning.

Utley led off the fifth with a home run.  5-0.  The next three Phils went in order. 

The Phillies went 1-2-3 in the sixth.  In the seventh they got a one-out single from Victorino, who was stranded when Utley flew out and Howard struck out.

The game got closer in the bottom of the seventh as the Cubs put three on the board to get within two at 5-3.  Burrell led off with a double and Roberson pinch ran for him, moving to third on a Rowand fly ball to right.  Coste came up in another big spot, but grounded to short for the second out.  Nunez followed with a big hit, an RBI-single that put the Phillies up 6-3.  Sandoval pinch-hit and flew to left to end the inning.

Rollins led off the ninth with a single and, after Victorino flew out, stole second.  Utley walked to put runners on first and second, but Howard and Roberson both struck out to end the inning.

Rollins was 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and two stolen bases.   367/433/656 in August.  He's stolen 13 bases since the last time he was caught (June 21).

Victorino was 1-for-5.  He's 1-for-his-last-10 and looks like an everyday player for a long time, maybe the rest of the year.

I was getting worried about Utley.  2-for-4 with a homer and a walk.  I'll try and calm down.

Howard was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and left five men on base.  2-for-his-last-16.

Burrell was 1-for-3 with a walk. 

Rowand was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.

Coste had a terrible game with the bat.  0-for-4 with a strikeout and left four men on base.

Nunez was 1-for-3 with two RBI.  He's 4-for-his-last-8 with six RBI.

Jamie Moyer goes tonight against Ryan O'Malley.

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