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October 18 2006

The Phillies have so many squeaky wheels these days it's hard to know where the grease is needed most.  The Phillies, apparently, are going to start with trying to get rid of Pat Burrell and his big contract and oodles of head shake inducing caught lookings.  It's not exactly news.  The Phillies have been trying to dump Burrell for about a year now, but they want to be sure you know it and Pat knows it. 

I have put together a list of things I think are unlikely.  Due to time and space constraints, it's a partial list.  Here goes:  Aramis Ramirez joins the Phillies.  Alfonso Soriano joins the Phillies.  Gary Sheffield joins the Phillies.  [insert the name of an offensive player that makes more than $10 million a year] joins the Phillies. 

Of course most Phillies fans would like to see the Phillies add players of that caliber.  Me too, especially if they want to play for free or if the Phillies are looking to take on $140 million payroll.  Cause we all know that the biggest challenge facing all of Phillydom, if not all of mankind, is who will hit behind Ryan Howard.  Right?  Don't you think?  Hello?

I don't think so.  The Phillies offense scored the most runs in their league last season.  Ryan Howard led the league with 58 home runs, so somebody was pitching to him.  Yes, their offense can get better, and if it does its still going to be the best in the league.  Unless the Phillies make their already great, best in the league, offense way, way better, there's no way they're winning anything without fixing their pitching. 

The problem facing the Phillies isn't what to do with the ineffective Pat Burrell, it's whether or not it's possible to get rid of him and replace him with a cheaper player or a combination of players that could come close to producing as much offense.  Burrell wasn't bad last year, he was good.  He on-based at least .390 in five of the six months of the season.  He was 16th in the NL in runs created per 27 outs.  No player to play the whole season in the NL hit more home runs in fewer at-bats or drove in more runs in fewer at-bats.  But he made a lot of money, he's going to make more next year and he's not a popular player.  And that's a bad combination on a team that's looking for payroll flexibility.

It doesn't seem like the answer is to replace the high-priced slugged with another expensive slugger who is going to make just as much money or more.  Why should the Phillies take on another huge contract to improve their offense when offense isn't their problem?  They've been trying to unload the contracts of their big offensive players like Burrell and Abreu.  It might make sense if Burrell truly had been awful, but he just wasn't.  If the Phillies keep Burrell they have two huge holes in their offense, once at third and one in right.  You have to be concerned that the huge offensive output for the Phillies in '06 was partially due to the fact that Bobby Abreu played nearly 100 games in right.  It covered up for the fact they have a big problem out there, which is going to get worse assuming Dellucci isn't coming back.  The answer for the Phillies, though, is an improvement in right, an improvement at third and either Burrell or a less effective and cheaper player in left.  There are three places where they need to get it done, and taking a huge payroll hit to fix one of the three doesn't make a lot of sense.

Clearly Jeff Conine can't hit fifth behind Howard.  He won't.  It will be somebody else, maybe Burrell, maybe Utley, maybe somebody a little bit worse.  But I don't think it will be a guy who isn't currently on the team who makes more money than Burrell.

The other way to protect Howard is by putting guys in front of him who get on base.  Rollins' .334 on-base percentage and Victorino's .346 leave the Phillies room to improve in the one and two spots in the order.

In the end it may make sense to get rid of Burrell and his big contract.  But if the Phillies do, I sure hope they fix their pitching rather than reinvest in a single offensive player to try and fix an offense that isn't broken.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals have put themselves in the driver's seat in the NLCS with a 4-2 win in Game 5.  St Louis now holds a three games to two lead and will look to close the series out tonight in New York. 

Jeff Weaver was outstanding again for the Cards, holding the Mets to just two runs over six innings.  He's now 2-1 in the post-season with a 2.16 ERA.  Weaver allowed a two-run double to Jose Valentin in the fourth, which accounted for all of the Mets scoring.  David Wright went 1-for-4 and is hitting .118 (2-for-17) in the series.  Endy Chavez was also 1-for-4 and is hitting .158 (3-for-19).  Weaver and three Cardinals relievers were able to hold Beltran and Delgado to two singles on the night.  That pair has killed St Louis in the series, combining to go 13-for-37 with six home runs and 13 RBI.

Somebody was finally able to get to Tom Glavine in the post-season.  Glavine lasted just four innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks.  Pujols got the Cards on the board at 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth and Belliard tied the game later in the inning with an RBI-single.  Preston Wilson doubled in a run in the fifth that put the Cards up 3-2.  St Louis looked like they had a chance to put the game away in that inning, loading the bases with nobody out and Scott Rolen at the plate.  Rolen struck out, Edmonds grounded to first with a runner forced at home and Belliard flew out to end the inning.  Lefty Chris Duncan was oddly called on to pinch-hit in the sixth against lefty Pedro Feliciano.  During the year Duncan hit 170/220/319 against lefties and pounded righties (318/390/644 (yes, .644)), so it was surprising to see LaRussa call on what was probably his best lefty on the bench to hit against a lefty with nobody on early in the game.  Duncan homered, of course, putting the Cards up to stay at 4-2.

The series returns to New York where the Mets need to beat Chris Carpenter tonight to force a Game 7.  The Mets hit Carpenter hard in Game 2, putting up five runs in five innings.  John Maine will start for New York, and St Louis hit him hard in Game 2 as well, he allowed four runs, just three of which were earned, in four innings.

Big Cacti 9, Arizona Desert Dogs 0, in Arizona Fall League action.  The Saguaros improve to 3-4 on the season.  JA Happ started and threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk.  He's currently ERAing a lofty 8.10 due to getting bombed in his first appearance.  Zack Segovia threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out two.  He's now throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three games in the AFL.

If Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's home run record, Aaron apparently won't be there.  He doesn't like to fly, you see.

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