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October 3 2006

The Arizona Fall League kicks off its 2006 schedule on October 10.  A week from today.  Each MLB team sends prospects to the league to play on one of six teams.  Each of the six teams includes the players from five MLB teams, Phillies representatives, for example, play on the Peoria Saguaros, along with the players from the Cardinals, Nationals, Padres and Yankees.  The six teams will play a 32-game schedule between October 10 and November 18.

A saguaro, by the way, is a big cactus.  Like the kind Snoopy's brother Spike used to see when he wandered around in the desert.  And yes, I had to look it up.  Free market research for the AFL people:  we east coasters can't handle this kind of thing.  If 33% of the teams in your league have a mascot that's virtually incomprehensible to those who might otherwise be interested in your product, that might be too much.  We're simple, folk, really, but we just want to understand.  We don't go calling our teams the Hartford Hoagies or anything, and you know why?  Common human decency.  And if you thought the Peoria Saguaros was bad, the issue is complicated further as there are actually two Peoria teams in the AFL, the other being the Peoria Javelinas.  Really it is.  Here goes, with an assist to Answers.com:  "dark gray peccary with an indistinct white collar; of semi desert areas of Mexico and southwestern United States."  And before you ask:  peccary:  "Any of several piglike hoofed mammals of the family Tayassuidae, found in North, Central, and South America and having long, dark, dense bristles."  Apparently it's the cacti versus the piglike hoofed mammals in a battle for Peoria, and, if you can take a hint, they just don't want folks like us around.  And no, I'm not looking up Tayassuidae for you.

The Phillies headed to the AFL this season are RHP Gavin Floyd,  RHP Joe Bisenius, LHP Gio Gonzalez, LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Kyle Kendrick, RHP Zack Segovia and catcher Jason Jaramillo.

Gavin Floyd.  Oh my. 

Time has got to be running out on the Phillies wunderkind after another lost year.  The Phillies did Floyd a disservice this season, allowing him to win a spot in the starting rotation on the strength of a strong spring training after a 2005 season where he went 6-9 with a 6.16 ERA at Triple-A. 

Floyd's 11 starts with the Phillies this season were an absolute disaster.  He went 4-3 with a 7.29 and, along with Ryan Madson, helped the Phillies solidify their rotation as one of the NL's worst early in the year.  The pounding of the rotation in the early going would also make for troubles in the bullpen, which pitched very well early but broke down with injuries and overuse by the end of the year.  In 54 1/3 innings Floyd allowed 70 hits and 32 walks.  He gave up 14 home runs.  Opponents hit .315 against him.  Of all the players in the National League, only one team gave more starts to a player with a higher ERA.  Kyle Davies started 14 games for the Braves and pitched to an 8.38 ERA.

Compounding the problem for Floyd was that in addition to the horrid results, he just looked over his head in his time with the Phillies this season.  On the mound he simply looked terrified.  And the problem got worse as he went on and on with quote after quote about his mental makeup and how it was effecting him on the field.  We didn't really need quote after quote to know how his mental makeup was effecting him.  We could see it all over his face in every start.   Badly.  For me, though, the problem was I couldn't tell if the look on his face was because he was just blown away by the situation, or because he knew he had one pitch and he couldn't throw it every time to every batter.

Floyd made his last start of the year on June 1 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.  He went just four innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits and four walks.  He gave up home runs to Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and JD Drew.  And that was it.  Cole Hamels took his place in the rotation and Floyd was sent back to Triple-A.  Floyd wouldn't return in 2006.  Eude Brito, Scott Mathieson, Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero all made starts for the Phillies, but Floyd stayed down on the farm.

At Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Floyd made 17 starts, going 7-4 with a 4.23 ERA.  He threw 115 innings, allowing 117 hits and 38 walks.  He struck out 85.  The Phillies aren't impressed.  Triple-A manager John Russell, as quoted here:  "We'd see starts when he was dominating and aggressive, and some starts where he felt like he had it, then all of a sudden, what happened?  We're hoping he can be that aggressive, consistent pitcher. To say that he is today, I don't know that for sure."  And assistant general manager, Mike Arbuckle:  "Gavin can be a quality big-league pitcher because of his stuff, but it's about time for him to step up and start doing it, quite frankly."

The numbers for Gavin Floyd haven't been good much of anywhere for a while now.  After the Phillies took him with the fourth pick in the first round of the 2001 draft, he was good in the low minors, at Lakewood and Clearwater in 2002 and 2003.  Even there, though, he never struck out a batter an inning.  In 2004 he was good at Double-A, going 6-6 with a 2.57 ERA and striking out 94 in 119 innings.  Above Double-A, though, he's really struggled.  Even in 2004 he got hit pretty hard at Triple-A, going 1-3 in five starts with a 4.99 ERA.  His 2005 was a disaster both in the minors and with the Phillies.  And this year he got blown up with the Phillies and didn't do much to inspire anyone at Triple-A.

For me, there's two things that help me keep at least a little bit of faith about Floyd.  The first is this, date of birth:  1/27/83.  He turned 23 in January.  And that curveball.  If you saw the deer in the headlights act this season you also saw the curveball.  It's just wicked.  As good as it is, though, for all the nifty curveballs we saw there were a bunch of fastballs getting turned around in a hurry.  Way too many to be successful at this or, apparently, any level above Double-A. 

The good news is, that while some chances may have slipped away from Floyd, there's still time left.  You have to wonder if he's going to need to learn something new, however, cause what he's being doing hasn't been real impressive for a while now.  And the Phillies are apparently getting tired of waiting.

Elsewhere, Bobby Abreu overcomes being lazy and lacking the character and will needed to win to see his first playoff action since 1997 tonight.  His Yankees face the Detroit Tigers in New York this evening.  A 23-year-old Abreu went 1-for-3 with the Astros as they were swept in three games by the Atlanta Braves in the 1997 NLDS.  In his 11-year career Abreu has now played on three teams, the Astros, the Phillies and the Yankees.  Eight of those seasons have been with the Phillies.  He never saw the playoffs with the Phillies but did with both of the other teams he played on.  Thank goodness we've loosed ourselves of that cancer once and for all.

Ryan Howard's fellow MVP candidate Albert Pujols takes the field this afternoon as the Cardinals face the Padres.  The post-season isn't supposed to count in MVP balloting -- we'll see.

Barry Zito faces Johan Santana as the other AL series kicks off as the A's face the Twinkies in Minnesota.

Mets and Dodgers start tomorrow.

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