Weekend warriors
March 5 2006

Here's a look back at the Phillies games of the past three days:

Friday the Phillies played the Yankees for the second straight day, winning 11-10.

Ryan Howard was the big news of this game, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs.  The first home run was a tremendous blast but the second may have been more impressive to Phillies fans as it came off of lefty Ron Villone.  Howard hit just .148 against lefties with just one home run in 61 at-bats.  Everybody loves a good platoon, but I'd give Howard more than 61 at-bats versus lefties before I hit the panic button, especially if Plan B was Alex Gonzalez.

Peter Bergeron also had three hits, driving in two runs. 

Chris Coste keeps making himself tough to ignore, just 1-for-2 on the day but with two RBI and his lone hit was the game winner.

Jon Lieber got the start, striking out three in three innings while allowing one earned run.  The former Yankee also hit Felix Escalona with two outs and the bases empty two innings after Jaret Wright had plunked Aaron Rowand. 

Eude Brito didn't pitch well, giving up three hits and three walks in one and two-thirds of an inning.  His chances to make the team seem quite slight.  Aaron Fultz also struggled, but his spot seems a sure thing.

A bit more concerning was Tom Gordon's first appearance of the spring.  Flash gave up two runs in his inning, blowing the save and getting the win on Coste's single in the ninth.

 The Phillies struggled defensively and were charged with three errors (Rollins, Lieberthal and Kata).

The Phillies played two games on Saturday, one against the Blue Jays and one against Venezuela's WBC team.

The Phillies won the game against Toronto 9-7.

Abraham Nunez hit a home run -- nice to see, his career high for a season is five.  Shane Victorino and Chris Roberson also had home runs.  Nunez and Victorino seem sure things to make the team, while Roberson is a long shot.

Ricardo Rodriguez, who came over in the Padilla deal to the Rangers, got the start, allowing three hits, a walk and an earned run in two innings, including a solo home run.

Both of the prospects that game over in the Thome deal pitched, Haigwood and Gonzalez.  They are both exciting prospects, but likely headed to the minors to start the season.  Haigwood got banged around, giving up three earned runs in an inning while Gio Gonzalez gave up a single run in two innings.

Aquilino Lopez pitched great, striking out the side in his inning while allowing a hit.  Lopez, who had 13 saves for the Blue Jays pitched well for the Phillies last season.  He seems to have a legitimate shot at a spot in the Phillies bullpen. 

The Phillies again made three errors in the game, although none by players likely to make the team.

The game against the Venezuelan WBC team did not count as an official Spring Training game in terms of stats, but the Phillies dropped it 1-0.

Brett Myers pitched well against a very strong Venezuelan squad.  He stuck out four and allowed just one run on a single to Miguel Cabrera.  Chris Coste was impressive again, starting at 1B and going 2-for-4.

Josh Kroeger had a tough day, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Arthur Rhodes pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one hit, and avoided injury.

Finally, the Phillies squard off against the Hoston Astros today, winning for the fourth time in four official Spring Training games, this time 4-3 in ten innings.

Chris Coste managed to keep it going.  Catching today he went 1-for-2 with an RBI single that tied the game in the ninth inning.  So far he's 4-for-6 with a home run in his ongoing effort to capture everyone's attention.  It seems to be working:  "He's got it going," Manuel said. "You can tell he loves to play baseball."

Chris Roberson homered in the fifth inning, his second in two days.  He went 1-for-4 on the day.  Shawn Garrett also hit a home run in his lone at-bat.

The Phillies won the game on Shane Victorino's single in the bottom of the tenth. 

Cory Lidle had an encouraging start, giving up an earned run on two hits in three innings. 

Robinson Tejeda had another impressive outing, shutting out the Astros for two and two-thirds.  He probably still doesn't have a spot, but I'm still rooting for him.

Julio Santana is more likely to make the team, for better or worse, but didn't have a good outing, giving up two runs in one and two-thirds inning.

Geoff Geary again pitched very well, striking out two in one shutout inning.

Back in the saddle
March 5 2006

Two of the biggest stories out of Spring Training thus far are the injuries to Burrell and Bell.  Burrell's foot is clearly not well, and Bell is out indefinitely due to the back problems that have plagued him in recent years.

The Phillies aren't winning anything without production from Burrell this year.  They also need more offense out of the 3B position in 2006, the question is where to get it?  Bell was awful last year, but many forget what he did in 2004:

David Bell, 2004
533 291 363 458 18 77

These numbers aren't just adequate, they are good.  Bell was arguably the third best hitter on the Phillies in 2004, behind Thome and Abreu, as Burrell struggled mightily.  2005 was obviously a far different story, as Bell's struggles killed the Phils, but he is just one year removed from being a productive offensive player.

These are the career highs for the two guys likely to take playing time from Bell (Bell will be 33 this season):

Career Highs
Player '06 Age AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
A Gonzalez 33 269 323 425 20 76
A Nunez 30 285 343 361 5 44

Gonzalez has been around for 13 seasons.  Nunez has been around for nine years.  Neither of these guys have numbers that jump off the page and wow you.  Third base is a huge problem for the Phillies in 2006 -- they can't let Bell do again this year what they allowed him to do last.  But, when you're dreaming up a scenario that gets them over the hump, it may be more realistic to envision a return of the '04 Bell than Gonzalez or Nunez going to someplace completely new. 

If Bell comes out the gate looking like the Bell of 2005, the Phillies are going to need to pull the plug quickly, and either of these guys are going to be a better option.   Let's just hope Bell comes out of the gate at all.

How much would it cost to never, ever have to start Tomas Perez at first base again?
March 3 2006

Here's a look at how much the Phillies have spent since 1999, with help from USA Today's Baseball Salaries Database:

Year PHL Payroll Wins GB MLB Rank NL Rank NL E Rank
2005 95.52 (mil) 88 2.0 5 2 2
2004 93.21 86 10.0 5 2 2
2003 70.78 86 15.0 15 9 3
2002 57.95 80 21.5 17 8 3
2001 41.66 86 2.0 24 13 3
2000 46.94 65 30.0 20 11 3
1999 30.51 77 26.0 23 13 3

The good news and the bad news here are the same thing --  the Phillies are spending freely.  Their payroll is likely to be in the mid-90-million dollar range again for the third straight year, which has put them put them in the top five of all of baseball in 2004 and 2005.  The really bad news is that they haven't made the playoffs since 1993 despite all of the money they have spent.  In the last two years, only the Mets have spent more than the Phillies in the NL East -- the Braves won the division in both years spending about the same amount on payroll as the Phillies did.

Playing in a division with both the Marlins and the Nationals should provide the Phillies a nice advantage.  Wins against those teams benefit you as much as wins against the Braves or Cardinals, and, of the years listed above, in five of those years both the Marlins and the Nationals/Expos had a payroll that was one of the seven lowest in all of baseball.  In 2001, when the Phillies payroll was 24th in Major League Baseball, two of the six teams that spent less were the Expos and the Marlins.  The Fish recently announced their intention to "stop the economic insanity" -- this coming off a 2005 season when their payroll was about $60 million and $30 million less than the payroll for the Phillies.

In the end, it's clearly not Tomas Perez's fault if the Phillies play him 24 games at first base like they did in 2005.  It's the Phillies fault -- he's not a first basemen and, over the course of enough games, he hurts the team when he plays there.  It's just another of the many problems the Phillies have had in past years that have nothing to do with not making a financial commitment to winning.

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