Archive for March, 2008

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems (Rainer Maria Rilke)

It is not a beautiful day in Philadelphia, so we’ll have to settle for the promise that one is coming. Then another and another. All around us things are reborn this time of year and baseball is no exception.

While so much of the changing of the seasons comes with brilliant colors or new life, baseball’s rebirth is an explosion of zeros. Zero wins. Zero hits and errors. Zero games played and 162 left to go. Zero games behind. Put them all together and you get the simple reality that whatever is supposed to happen doesn’t matter until it actually does. With the reset brings another day, another year to prove yourself again or prove yourself for the first time. It doesn’t matter if you’re the superstar making $20 million a year or the guy everybody thought was going to be sent to minor league camp three weeks ago — with the first pitch of the first game you finally become, for the 2008 season at least, the quantifiable sum of your actions. Your incarnation that existed only in expectation is gone forever. And whether what replaces it is magnificent or heartbreaking, at least it’s real.

It’s not just that something new is taking shape. It’s also that something that was false, that existed only in your mind, is dying.

Pretty much since the moment the World Series ended people have been letting you know what they think. And what you should think. About everything. What the teams should do in the off-season. What they did wrong. What the players could do to make themselves better. If any of that ever mattered there isn’t much question that it doesn’t matter now. What happens next is so pure it’s uncorruptable. They’re going to play baseball for a long, long, seemingly unbearably long time. About four hours a day 162 times. And one team is going to win and a lot of teams are going to lose. But there’s no appellate court.

The Phillies didn’t have the off-season many of their fans were hoping for. They screwed up with Kyle Lohse. Their pitching staff is a frustrating mess like it has been for years. There’s a lot of optimism that after nearly 3,000 career at-bats Pedro Feliz is about to turn into an elite hitter before our very eyes. But he isn’t.

Uninspired off-season or not, though, the Phillies were good before and they’re good now. For every Phillies’ flaw found and analyzed to death there are two on the teams they’ll be competing against that we didn’t understand or missed completely. Imperfect people make up imperfect teams and then they all play each other. There’s something wrong with every one of them. Being a fan is blinding. It’s the exact opposite of being an impartial observer.

There’s something right with every one of them as well, and the Phillies are no exception. They have more than their share of talent.

There are a lot of ways you can spend your time these days. Just sitting in front of your computer you have access to an amount of information and entertainment so fantastic it is almost incomprehensible. It makes it a little hard to know what’s worthwhile. In his collection of essays, Songbook, Nick Hornby writes about the music that has touched his life. He says that he doesn’t care what music his children listen to, but he does hope that whoever it is you get the feeling that their very existence depends on their ability to communicate whatever it is they have to say.

As standards go, that one is almost impossible for anyone to live up to. But I think that the Phillies are worthwhile for the same reason that so much of what is available to you isn’t. Say what you will about the short-comings of the 2008 Phils. There are a lot of them. But if Charlie Manuel doesn’t have his team playing like they care, can’t make them the very best they can be, I’ll be stunned. I think what we’ve seen over the past couple of years is a group of guys that really do play like their lives depend on it. And with good reason. Cause all those zeros aren’t going to change themselves.

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The sun’ll come out tomorrow?

The Phillies’ opening day roster is set. Wes Helms is the fourteenth hitter and Tim Lahey the eleventh pitcher.

The Phillies lost both games of the series with the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park, falling 3-1 on Friday and 5-3 on Saturday afternoon.

The Phils beat the IronPigs today 5-3 in their final preseason action.

Brett Myers, 5-7 with a 4.33 ERA in 51 games last year, just three of them starts, gets the start tomorrow against Nats’ lefty Matt Chico. Chico was 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.54 ratio in 31 starts for Washington last season. He made two starts against the Phils last season, one on July 25 and the other on September 29.

At least you can stop Laheying up at night thinking about it

The eleventh pitcher on the Phillies appears to be right-hander Tim Lahey, who the Phils claimed off of waivers today. Barring another move, which seems at the very least possible, Wes Helms would be the fourteenth hitter and final man on the 25-man roster. Snelling and Olmedo were sent to Triple-A. Lahey is right-handed — unless the Phils trade Helms for a left-handed pitcher it appears they will go into the season with Romero as the only lefty in the pen.

Lahey turned 26 in February and was taken by the Twins in the 20th round of the 2004 draft as a catcher. In 2005 he was converted into a closer. After spending 2005 and 2006 in the low minors, Lahey spent most of ’07 in Double-A and threw three innings at Triple-A. Between the two levels in ’07 he went 8-4 in 52 games with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.44 ratio and 14 saves. In 81 1/3 innings he gave up 82 hits and 35 walks while striking out 59.

The Devil Rays took him with the first overall pick in the 2007 Rule 5 draft and almost immediately traded him to the Cubs. He pitched in 11 games for the Cubs this spring, throwing 11 innings in which he allowed 11 hits and eight walks (1.73 ratio) and struck out seven while throwing to a 6.55 ERA.

It’s kind of hard to find the element in all of that you would focus on if you were trying to make the case he’s sure to help the Phillies on the field next month. We’ll see, but if it turns out to be pretty there are going to be some surprised people.

Article about him here.

This article linked in the first paragraph also says that the Phils signed Chris Woodward to a minor league contract. Woodward has gotten 1,598 major league at-bats with the Mets, Braves and Blue Jays and has a career 243/299/375 line. He turns 32 in June.

Sigh of the tiger

Apparently you can put your Adam Eaton for Cy Young hats and party favors away. I don’t wanna be a stick-in-the-mud, but you might want to think about canceling that party altogether. After back-to-back solid spring starts, Eaton was hammered yesterday as the Phils dropped to 12-16 with a 14-5 loss to the Tigers in their final spring training game in Florida.

Eaton got the start and went 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks. Six of the hits went for extra-bases, five doubles and a home run. He struck out one. Eaton came into spring training with a lot of people worried about his 6.29 ERA last season. His spring ERA puffed to 7.94 with yesterday’s outing. Of the ten pitchers sure to make the team, Eaton didn’t even have the worst day. Not even close, but more on that in a minute. Condrey followed Eaton and he was just fine. He gave up a single in 1 1/3 innings to drop his ERA to 4.05. Romero was next and he allowed a single in another scoreless frame. His ERA is a sparking 2.25.

Then came Flash. One out, six runs on three hits and three walks. Clete Thomas hit a two-run homer of him and Mike Hessman had a two-run double. The walks are almost as bad — three walks in a third of an inning isn’t the way to go, especially if you’re gonna have baseballs leaving the building at the rate Gordon has been. Gordon’s spring ERA is up to 12.38. 28-year-old righty Jason Anderson got the last two outs of the game but was charged with a run on two singles and a walk. The Phils signed Anderson to a minor league contract in May of last year and he pitched both Double and Triple-A, throwing to a combined 4.59 ERA with a 1.31 ratio in 64 2/3 innings. Anderson has appeared in 32 major league games in his career with the Yankees, Mets and Indians, throwing to a 6.39 ERA in 38 innings.

Pedro Feliz socked a three-run homer, his fifth of the spring. He was 1-for-4 on the day. Victorino had two singles in four at-bats to raise his average to .270. Helms 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Burrell 0-for-2 with two walks. Ruiz was 2-for-4 with another double, he’s hitting .372.

The Phils play the Blue Jays tonight in Citizens Bank Park and again tomorrow. Sunday they play Triple-A Lehigh Valley before opening against the Nationals in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.

Brad Lidge pitched to a few hitters yesterday and only one of them homered.

If you’re willing to read about the details of the Phillies’ travel yesterday and Pat Gillick’s love of plane schedules, this article suggests that Chris Snelling has been put on waivers and that Wes Helms may be the 14th hitter. More on Snelling and waivers here. The Phillies will presumably have an eleventh pitcher, too. Might be JD Durbin if he clears waivers, but beyond that if you think you can pitch I wouldn’t wait another minute before giving the Phils a call. The bad news is that if you really could pitch the Phils would have called you by now.

Carpenter complex

Turns out that the remaining issue of spring training for the Phillies isn’t who fills out the last two spots on the roster so much as whether Andrew Carpenter should be made the fifth starter or traded for A-Rod. It’s an issue intelligent people can disagree about, so maybe they can make him the fifth starter for a while and then trade him for A-Rod.

Brett Myers and prospect Andrew Carpenter shutout the Yankees on four singles yesterday as the Phils improved to 12-15 with a 4-0 win.

Myers got the start and went five innings in his final spring tune up. He struck out three while allowing two singles and two walks to drop his ERA to 1.13. Carpenter followed Myers and struck out six in four innings, allowing a pair of singles and two walks.

Andrew Carpenter is a 22-year-old righty the Phils took in the second round of the 2006 draft. He was really good at Single-A Clearwater in 2007, going 17-6 in 27 games, 24 of which were starts. He threw to a 3.20 ERA with a 1.25 ratio. In 163 innings he gave up 150 hits and walked 53 while striking out 116.

Article about him here. A lot of people think his name is Drew Carpenter, but Phuture Phillies got to the bottom of that one and some other issues in an interview earlier this month.

Jenkins was 3-for-4 with a double for the Phils. He has his spring average up to .254. Burrell had two singles in three at-bats to raise his average to .275. Rollins drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single, he was 1-for-3 on the day with a stolen base. Utley returned after missing some time for personal reasons and went 0-for-4. Werth was 0-for-4 and struck out twice, dropping his average to .159. Taguchi was 1-for-1 with a double, he’s hitting 371/488/457 in 43 spring plate appearances.

The Phillies play Detroit today.

This article says that Benson may still be back in May. It also says that Davey Lopes feels good after prostate surgery and that there is still a possibility the Phils will get Jimmy Rollins fan and left-handed pitcher Steve Kline.

This suggests that the efforts to trade for Kline fell through, that JD Durbin thinks his chances to make the team don’t look good and that Helms has an advantage over Snelling if the Phils carry a 14th hitter. Over the last couple of days several articles have suggested it’s Snelling that would have the edge over Helms. And there’s always the good chance that neither of them make the team.

Update: This suggests the Phillies put JD Durbin on waivers.

Update again: David Murphy says Travis Blackey cleared waivers and was sent to Triple-A.

The 35th cut is the deepest

Opening day draws nearer and while we’re still not sure who will be on the Phillies on Monday we have some more information about who won’t. Vic Darensbourg and Gary Knotts are gone, sent to minor league camps. Travis Blackley is out of the picture as well, offered back to the Giants. It leaves the Phils with 23 players who look to be locks to make the team and, assuming you don’t think Ray Olmedo is making the team, three, Wes Helms, Chris Snelling and JD Durbin the in-house candidates to fill the two remaining positions.

13 hitters: Howard, Utley, Rollins, Burrell, Victorino, Werth, Ruiz, Dobbs, Feliz, Coste, Bruntlett, Taguchi, Jenkins

10 pitchers: Hamels, Myers, Moyer, Kendrick, Eaton, Gordon, Madson, Romero, Condrey, Chad Durbin

Without a move, and you have to believe the chances that one is coming soon are big, JD Durbin gets the 11th pitching spot with the Phils carrying 14 hitters and Snelling or Helms making the team. That would be a brutal pitching staff, even with Lidge and Rosario likely to come off the DL soon and contribute. Six relievers, five of them righties and one of them JD Durbin, who would be very tough to put into a game given how terribly he has been pitching.

So maybe there’s more coming before Monday.

Let’s hope so at least.

Both this article and this article suggest that Snelling is more likely to take the 14th hitter spot than Helms if there is one.

Even if the Phils add a left-handed pitcher it will still be interesting what they do with JD Durbin. If they keep the new guy and JD Durbin it means no room for the 14th hitter. Durbin is out of options so they may lose him if they don’t. As bad as the Phillies’ pitching is, if it comes down to a decision about keeping Snelling or Durbin to start the season I think you have to hope it’s Snelling given how abysmally Durbin has been pitching.

The Phils fell to the Reds yesterday, losing Reds 5-3 to drop to 11-15 in spring training.

Kendrick got the start for the Phils and was hit hard again. He went five innings, allowing five runs on ten hits and three walks. Only one of the hits went for extra-bases, a double. He struck out four and his ERA dropped to 9.68. In 17 2/3 innings this spring he has allowed 31 hits. Opponents are hitting .397 against him. After Kendrick’s departure, the Phils didn’t allow a hit in the final four innings of the game. Chad Durbin gave up two walks in two scoreless innings to lower his spring ERA to 5.25. JC Romero threw a perfect eighth and Madson lowered his ERA to 1.64 with a scoreless ninth. Madson walked one hitter.

Victorino was 2-for-4 and stole a base. He has his spring average up to .254. Jenkins was 1-for-4 with a double and three strikeouts. Burrell 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Rollins was 0-for-4 to drop his average to .182.

The Phillies play the Yankees today.

Kris Benson did not opt out of his contract despite not being on the 40-man roster.

Blackley hit Curtis Granderson with a pitch on Saturday and broke his finger. The injury will cause Granderson to miss about two weeks of the season.

This article wonders if the Phils have a chance to set a team record for runs scored. They don’t. Their high mark was 944 in 1930. Forced to pick I would comfortably guess they will score fewer runs in 2008 than they did in 2007. At the same time I, and just about everyone else, was sure they were going to score less runs in 2007 than they did in 2006. I’m sure again.

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