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November 10 2006

Do you think there's any chance the Phillies have helped themselves by telling the teams they're trying to trade Pat Burrell to that he isn't able to protect Ryan Howard?  The weirdest thing about the notion that Burrell can't protect Ryan Howard may be that it's propagated by the Phillies.  The second weirdest thing about it may be that it's just not true.

I really don't have any problem with the Phillies getting Soriano or Sheffield if it doesn't stop them from adding much-needed pitching.  I promise.  I don't think it's going to happen, but if it does I'm on board.  Tell me where to sign.  What I don't agree with, however, is the notion that the Phillies in general and Pat Burrell in particular can't protect Ryan Howard.  In the games down the stretch last year he simply didn't get the chance. 

On September 24 the Phils beat the Marlins 10-7 and were a half game up in the Wild Card hunt with seven games to play.  In their next four they had a single makeup game to play with the Astros and a three-game set with the Nationals in Washington.  They lost three of four, and while they were not mathematically eliminated their season was all but over. 

Here are the starting lineups they used and the pitchers they faced in those four games:

 

Date 9/25 9/26 9/27 9/28
Opponent Houston Washington Washington Washington
         
Opponent SP RHP Chris Sampson RHP Ramon
 Ortiz
RHP Pedro
Astacio
LHP Mike O'Connor
Result L5-4 L4-3 W8-7 L3-1
1 Rollins Rollins Rollins Rollins
2 Victorino Victorino Victorino Victorino
3 Utley Utley Utley Utley
4 Howard Howard Howard Howard
5 Dellucci Conine Conine Conine
6 Burrell Burrell Coste Burrell
7 Lieberthal Lieberthal Dellucci Coste
8 Nunez Nunez Nunez Nunez

The Phillies played these four critical games primarily with Jeff Conine hitting behind Howard.  In one game Dellucci hit fifth.  Burrell hit sixth in the first two games, didn't start the third and was bizarrely sixth in the order again for the fourth game against a lefty despite the fact he pounded lefties to the tune of 290/440/572 last year. 

And it didn't work.  The Phillies lost the three games they lost by a total of four runs.  In the four games Conine went 2-for-16 with a walk.  Dellucci was 1-for-7 and struck out three times.  Burrell was 3-for-10 and walked twice. 

Burrell finally got his spot in the five-hole back the next day against the Marlins.  In the last three games of the season he went 4-for-7 with a double, two home runs and six walks.  Too late for the Phillies.

Burrell, of course, could have gone 4-for-7 with a double, two home runs and six walks against the Nationals out of the six-hole and the Phillies might have made the playoffs anyway.  He didn't.  But Burrell isn't the guy who has a problem protecting Ryan Howard.  Charlie Manuel is.

Jeff Conine is 40.  He has hit 13 home runs in his last two seasons.  He's a solid player and he helped the Phillies in the 100 at-bats he got with the team last season.  He'll likely help them next year as well.  But he's not as good a hitter as Pat Burrell is.  He didn't belong hitting fifth in the most important games of the season.  It was a bad decision.  Not a bad decision that cost the Phillies a chance to make the playoffs or even a game.  But a bad decision nonetheless.

Batting fifth last season Pat Burrell hit 257/391/527 with nine home runs in 148 at-bats.  Including his time with Baltimore, Jeff Conine also got 148 at-bats as a five-hitter.  He hit 250/283/358 with two home runs.

My hope is simply that Manuel thought that Conine was hot, Burrell was cold, and that hitting Conine fifth gave the Phillies the best chance to win these particular games despite the fact that Burrell was the better hitter overall.  Even if that is what happened, I still think he made a mistake.  I would play my good players and try not to guess who is going to go into or come out of  a slump when.  What I really hope it wasn't was anybody trying to send a message to Burrell.  We really want you to consider accepting a trade out of town.  So much so that we're willing to make our team worse in critical games to show you we don't think you're a part of the future of this team.

Was Burrell cold going into the September 25 game?  No.  9-for-33 (.273) with three home runs and seven walks in the ten days before the game with the Astros.  Conine was hitting well himself.  He had gone 9-for-28 (.321) with three doubles and a walk over the same time period.  He cooled off, however.

The problem, no doubt, was born out of a long and ugly slump that Burrell went through in early September.  Between September 3 and September 13 he was a wretched 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts.  He looked just awful.  Against the Astros on September 6 Burrell went 0-for-3 with a walk and left three men on base.  Burrell didn't start the next game on September 7.  Conine hit fifth and went 3-for-6 with a triple and a three-run homer as the Phillies pounded the Marlins 14-8.  Burrell was back in the lineup on September 8 but even against a lefty he was batting sixth, which would prove to be his new home.  It wasn't the right place for him.

Whatever the motivation, Charlie Manuel and the Phillies went down last year with a lineup that hurt their chances to win.

Scottsdale Scorpions 7, Big Cacti 6 in the Arizona Fall League.  Gio Gonzalez allowed two runs on three hits and three walks over four innings.  He struck out six and his ERA sits at 3.65.  Jason Jaramillo continues to hit.  He was 3-for-5 with a double and four RBI to raise his average to .364.

The Mets may be interested in Danys Baez, who is occasionally mentioned when people talk about the needs of the Phillies pen.

Greg Zaun is a free-agent catcher and the Phillies may need one of them.  Zaun could be headed back to the Royals.

Free agent and former Phil Vicente Padilla is going without an agent.  He may be looking for as much as $10 million next year.

The Yankees and the Tigers may be close to a deal involving Gary Sheffield.

Todd Zolecki pontificates on the Phillies' free agents.

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