Bling bling
April 5 2006

Aaron Rowand did something unusual for a Philly yesterday -- he picked up his World Series ring.

Rowand played in all four games for the White Sox last year as Chicago swept the Houston Astros.  He went 5-for-17 (.294) with a double and two walks.

The White Sox won the first game 5-3.  Rowand singled in his first at-bat and was intentionally walked in the fifth.  He was 1-for-3 on the day.

In game two Chicago was down 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh when Paul Konerko's grand slam put the Sox up 6-4.  The Astros managed to tie the game in the top of the ninth before Scott Podsednik won it in the bottom of the ninth with a solo shot.  Rowand again singled in his first at-bat, moved to second on Pierzynski's single and scored on Crede's single.  In the sixth inning he doubled to right and ended the day 2-for-4.

Game three took almost six hours.  Jason Lane's double in the eighth tied the game at 5-5, which is how it stayed till Geoff Blum's solo homer in the top of the 14th put the Sox ahead.  Chicago added another run and won the game 7-5.  Rowand went 1-for-6, striking out three times.  After starting the game 0-for-5 he reached on an infield single in the 14th and later scored the Sox's seventh run on a bases loaded walk to Chris Widger.

Chicago won game four and the World Series 1-0 on an eighth inning single by Jermaine Dye.  Starters Freddy Garcia and Brandon Backe combined to throw 14 scoreless innings.  Rowand went 1-for-4 with another two strikeouts, one coming on an attempt to bunt.  His single came with two outs in the seventh -- Joe Crede followed with a double, but Rowand was unable to score and Juan Uribe followed Crede and struck out.

Rowand loved playing with the White Sox and has done a nice job of not mentioning how being traded to the Phillies ruined his life.

Elsewhere, last night the Fish pounded the Astros and Andy Pettitte 11-2.  The Dodgers got four in the first off of John Smoltz and held on to win 5-4 despite Adam Laroche's second home run of the season.  Both the Marlins and Braves are now 1-1.

The truth is out there (and it may have something to do with left handed pitching)
April 4 2006

Mark Mulder is scheduled to take the hill for the Cardinals tomorrow night as the Phillies look for their first win of the season.  Scully is unavailable, curiously having been abducted by a large number of surprisingly well-organized bees.

The Phillies got pounded yesterday and look to bounce back as they square off against one of the better lefties in the game.  Lost in yesterday's debacle was that the Phillies managed nine hits off of '05 NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter in just five innings, including home runs by Howard and Burrell.  The good news is the Phillies are going to hit all season -- the bad news is it's not going to matter on days when Pujols and Rolen combine for three home runs and eight RBI and Lieber gives up eight in 3 1/3 innings.

Mulder has failed to win 15 games in a season just once in his career, his rookie year in 2000 with the Athletics.  Part of the wicked trio that included Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, Mulder went 81-42 for the Athletics from 2000 through 2004 before being traded to the Cardinals for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and super-prospect Daric Barton in December, 2004.  He didn't seem to have many problems adjusting to the National League last year,
posting a 16-8 record to go with his 3.64 ERA.  Mulder will be 29 in August. The best years of his career so far were '01-'03 with Oakland.  In the last two years he's allowed more walks, 83 in '04 and 70 in '05, coming off the three year stretch where his high was 55 in 2002.  He's allowed more than a hit an inning over the last two years after being under that mark the previous three.

His start is going to give us our first look at what the Phillies will do against a left-handed starter.  I expect we'll see David Bell back in the lineup -- Bell hitting #2 against lefties makes a whole lot more sense than Abraham Nunez hitting #2 against righties.  Bell and Burrell were both absolutely awesome against lefties in '05, among the top handful of hitters in baseball.  And yes, I'm talking about the same David Bell who made you want to avoid looking directly at the television in a fruitless effort to diminish the impact of his at-bat every time he came to the plate last season.

I assume we're going to see Ryan Howard start against the lefty as well.  Howard smashed all varieties of pitching in the minor leagues in '05 before struggling mightily against them in the show -- he's had just 40 career at-bats against lefties, hitting just .143 and on-basing .167.  Everyone seems to have Howard pencilled in for 40 HR this season but we all need to remember we're going to see him struggle (and strike out) a lot in '06 as well.  Hopefully not so often anyone thinks of doing something rash, like a first base platoon with Alex Gonzalez.

Newcomer and right-handed batter Aaron Rowand, as you would expect, is significantly better against lefties than righties:  275/327/427 vs RHP and 301/360/503 against lefties.  You may remember that Chase Utley, who bats left and throws right, started last season in a second base platoon with Placido Polanco.  Utley is, also as you would expect, much better against righties (291/354/515) than lefties (226/338/430).

Switch hitter Jimmy Rollins has had very similar numbers over his career against lefties (281/334/422) and righties (271/325/412).

Left-handed Bobby Abreu's power numbers take a huge dip against lefties.  171 of his 190 career home runs have come against right-handed pitching -- about 28% of his at-bats have come against lefties and just 10% of his home runs.  His overall numbers:  275/372/393 against lefties and 314/425/557 against righties.

Mike Lieberthal was great.  The problem is he was great around the time Napster was introduced.  In 1999 he was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove and hit .300 with 31 home runs.  Since then he's been kind of like the anti-Energizer Bunny -- he keeps going and going but not so much in a good way.  He's been absolute battered by a plethora of injuries since '99, still managing to be an above average catcher offensively but never regaining his form from that year.  It was nice see him start the season with two hits yesterday -- it would be great if he could manage to put together another nice year for the Phillies.  He's a right-handed batter and hits a lot better against lefties, 315/389/519, than righties, 264/325/429, over his twelve year career.

Off to never never land
April 4 2006

Billy Wagner got his first save with the Mets yesterday, taking the mound to Metallica's  "Enter Sandman", which is also the ditty Mariano Rivera uses when he enters the game.  There's battle lines being drawn and nobody's right if everybody's just absolutely nuts.

Apparently consensus is that New York can support eight million people, a third of the actors in the United States and a museum devoted completely to human sexuality, but two pitchers who have the same song played when they enter a game is just out of the question.  Yankee fans argue that Mariano has claimed the song for all Yankeedom and that's just all there is to it.  The rest of us are lucky we're allowed to enjoy organized baseball at all, and if we don't watch our step someone might knock on our door and force us to sign paperwork selling our souls to the MLS's Red Bulls.  It's hard to clearly define the no-Sandman-flyzone, but I expect it extends into somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.  Wagner used the song last year for the Phillies without much complaint from Yankee faithful, so we should be able to pin it down to the hundred or so miles between Philadelphia and New York City.  No word about whether non-Yankees are allowed to listen to the song, Metallica specifically, or heavy metal in general outside of Yankee Stadium but it is expected soon.

If only we could get Avril Lagivne to do a cover of it maybe one of them would go for entering to Avril's version.  Or maybe they could split it up, with Rivera entering to "Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon's fire" while Billy-the-Kid could enter to the part with the kid praying.  Whoever keeps it up the longest will prove himself the reliever most truly worthy of the tune.

Rivera himself may be the only true voice of reason in this situation, he's said he it's okay with him if Wagner wants to use the song.  Not much word yet from Wagner, who said of his opening day save:  "I was so nervous they could have shot fire rockets behind me, I wouldn't have known."

Opening day
April 3 2006

Opening day finally arrived as the Phillies and the Cardinals kicked off a three game series, and before you could say man-it's-kinda-wet-and-cold-and-rainy-out-here the Phillies were down 10-0 on the way to a 13-5 loss.

Jon Lieber got bombed, giving up eight runs on 3 1/3 innings.  He left down 6-0 and was relieved by Julio Santana who gave up a grand slam to former Philly Scott Rolen.  Fultz followed Santana and gave up three runs, only one of which was earned due to an error of his own.

Things settled down a bit after that as the Phillies kept the Cards off the board for the last three innings, Geoff Geary threw scoreless innings and Cormier pitched a scoreless ninth.

I don't remember seeing Julio Santana in a live game, or at least not noticing that he is just enormous.  He's listed at 210 pounds, which is either a practical joke or his birth weight.  If they set the over-under at 240, take the over.

Offensively the Phillies got home runs from Burrell and Howard.  Chase Utley was 3-for-5 and every Philly starter (and every Cardinals starter) had at least one hit. 

The game had five home runs to left field, one for each foot they moved the fence back:  Burrell, Howard, Scott Rolen's grand slam and two for last year's NL MVP Albert Pujols.

A couple of interesting pieces of strategy.  With two outs in the fourth and runners on second and third, the Phillies intentionally walked lefty Jim Edmonds to load the bases with righty Julio Santana on the mound and righty Scott Rolen on deck.  Rolen followed with a grand slam that put the score out of reach at 10-0.  Edmonds may have been a key batter at that point in the game -- even a single by him likely would have put the game completely out of reach at 8-0.  The option was there to bring in Cormier or Fultz to pitch to Edmonds but the Phillies may have thought it was too early in the game to use those guys.  Anyway, the choice for the Phillies came down to whether they wanted Santana against Rolen, Santana against Edmonds or Fultz or Cormier against Edmonds, they chose Santana/Rolen and it didn't work out.

The good news for the Phillies included the eighth inning double by Jimmy Rollins to extend his hitting streak to 37 games.  This came on a 3-0 pitch with the Phillies down by eight runs.  It's an interesting question when the streak becomes bigger than trying to win a particular game, if ever.  Clearly nobody can fault Rollins for swinging away today, but what if it were 2-0 instead of 13-5?  I don't know the answer but I can't wait to watch.

Elsewhere the Mets beat the Nats 3-2 as Billy Wagner got his first save as a Met.  The Braves beat the Dodgers 11-10 and the Fish play the Astros tonight.

Phillies are idle tomorrow and play the Cards in game two of the series Wednesday night as Brett Myers faces Mark Mulder.

If you had David Dellucci and David Bell in the Phillies opening day roster office pool, you may be a winner
April 2 2006

Two days ago, it looked like there were four Phillies competing for two remaining spots on the opening day roster:  David Bell, Tomas Perez, Chris Coste and Chris Roberson.

Tomas Perez was released.  He spent six seasons with the Phillies.  His best year with the Phillies was 2001, when he went 304/347/437 in 135 at-bats.  In 2003 he got nearly 300 at-bats for the Phillies (298), the most of his Phillies career, and hit .265.

Chris Roberson was reassigned to Triple-A.

Chris Coste was reassigned to Triple-A. 

The big move came yesterday as the Phillies traded Robinson Tejeda and Jake Blalock to Texas for David Dellucci.  Dellucci is coming off the best year of his career in '05 at age 31, he hit 29 home runs and posted a 251/367/513.  Tejeda's contribution last year was huge, but he may be at the peak of his value in terms of a trade given his numbers over his career.  Jake Blalock should be good but may never have a year as good as the one Dellucci had last season.

The move gives Pat Gillick and the Phillies just what they've been saying they needed all along -- a veteran left-handed outfielder.  It also gives insurance against an injury to Burrell or Abreu as well as the possibility or an in-house replacement for Abreu if they were to consider trading him.  

David Bell looks to have made the opening day roster after playing third base in today's exhibition game.

Not much left to do now but play a game that counts.

I knew we were in for a long season when we lined up for the national anthem on opening day and one of my players said 'Every time I hear that song I have a bad game' (Jim Leyland)
March 31 2006

The Phillies open their season on Monday afternoon against the St Louis Cardinals.  The Cards have been among the best teams in baseball in recent years -- over the last six seasons they have won the NL Central four times and only once failed to win 90 or more games.  In '05, they went 100-62 and finished 11 games ahead of the second place Astros.

The Phililes went 4-2 against the Cardinals last season, winning two of three in both Philly and St Louis.  Redbirds were under .500 against just three National League teams in '05, going 6-10 against the Cubs and 3-4 against the Padres. They fattened up on the non-Cubs teams in their division, going 45-19 against the Brewers, Astros, Pirates and Reds.  The Phillies might want to think about stealing a page from that book when they face the Fish and Nats this year (on the other hand, neither of those teams is going to the World Series like the Astros did last).

The Cardinals swept the Padres in three games in the first round of the playoffs last year before falling to the Astros in six games in the NLCS.

As a team in '05, the Cardinals scored a ton of runs, 805, which was good enough for third most in the National League behind the Reds and the Phillies (the Phillies scored 807).  Their offense was lead by NL MVP 1B Albert Pujols, who hit 41 HR and drove in a Pat Burrell-tying 117 runs while posting a 330/430/609 line.  Jim Edmonds was the team's other big hitter in '05, he went 263/385/533 and banged 29 HR.  The '05 Cardinals also got nice offensive production out of Reggie Sanders (he hit .271 with 21 HR in just 295 at-bats) and Larry Walker (289/384/502 in 315 at-bats).  The other big bat the Cardinals rely on, former Philly Scott Rolen, was sidelined for much of the year and hit just .235 in 196 at-bats.

The '06 Cardinals will look a bit different.  Rolen is back, coming off of a spring training where he hit .302 in 43 at-bats with just two extra base hits, a double and a triple.  Walker and Reggie Sanders are gone, replaced in the outfield, hopefully, by Larry Bigbie and Juan Encarnacion.  Larry Bigbie has a stress fracture in his foot that will sideline him for the beginning of the season, meaning that So Taguchi and John Rodriguez are likely to see a lot of time in left against the Phillies in the opening week.  Juan Encarnacion will likely see most of the action in RF, he's coming off of a bounce-back season in '05 with Florida after a terrible '04.  In 2005, Encarnacion hit .287 with 16 HR.

'05 2B Mark Grudzielanek is also gone, signing with Kansas City as a free agent.  He hit .294 for the Cards in '05, but managed just 26 walks in 528 at-bats and a .334 on-base percentage.  St Louis will try to replace him with Junior Spivey, who hit just .232 with the Nationals and Brewers last year and has been in an awful slump this spring, hitting just .138.   Hector Luna is also a possibility at 2B for the Cardinals, he's hit .265 in 310 major league at-bats.  Former Rockie Aaron Miles is also in the 2B mix, but is just getting back to action coming off an injury to his left wrist.

Other Cardinals are expected to be mostly the same from last year.  Pujols at first, Eckstein as short, Yadier Molina at catcher and Edmonds in center.

In 2005, Cardinals pitchers combined to post a 3.49 ERA, best in the National League.  The pitching staff was led by Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, who went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA and pitched 241 2/3 innings.  St Louis had five pitchers give them at least 30 starts, Carpenter, Jason Marquis (13-14, 4.13), Mark Mulder (16-8, 3.64), Jeff Suppan (16-10, 3.57) and Matt Morris (14-10, 4.11).

Their tremendous pen was led by closer Jason Isringhausen, who chalked up 39 saves and a 2.14 ERA.  Of the seven relievers (Isringhausen, Ray King, Julian Tavarez, Al Reyes, Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Cal Eldred) who threw 30 or more innings for the Cardinals last year, none had an ERA over 3.50.

Gone from the rotation this year is Matt Morris, replaced by fifth starter Sidney Ponson.  Ponson has struggled his last two years with the Orioles, posting ERAs of 5.30 and 6.21 while going a combined 18-26.

Other than Morris, the rotation returns the core from last season -- Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis.

In the pen they've lost Ray King and Julian Tavarez, who both pitched well for them in '05.  Cal Eldred retired.  They've added former Met closer Braden Looper, a former first round draft pick of the Cardinals back in 1996.  They've also added lefty Ricardo Rincon, who will turn 36 on opening day.

The Cards and Phillies open with a three-game set.  Opening day is Monday afternoon, then an off-day on Tuesday before a Wednesday evening game and a 3:05 start on Thursday.

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