While you were sleeping -- Abreu, Utley uninjured as WBC continues
March 14 2006

Albert Einstein once said, "You teach me baseball and I'll teach you we must not. You will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball."  And he died 51 years before we even got into World Baseball Classic tiebreakers.

Team US lost late last night to the Koreans 7-3.  The Koreans were powered by a three-run shot from Hee-Seop Choi.  Seung-Yeop Lee also homered for the fifth time in the WBC, which leads all participants (on the other hand, David Ortiz would probably put up nice numbers against China and Chinese Taipei given enough at-bats, too).  Seung-Yeop Lee is 29 and won the Korean League MVP five times, hitting 56 home runs in 2003.  In '04 and '05 he played in the Japanese League -- last year he hit 30 HR and drove in 82 runs for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Chase Utley went 2-for-4 with two singles, raising his WBC average to .385.  He made two errors at second base.
The top two teams in USA's Pool 1 will advance with the other two eliminated.  Korea, 2-0 in the second round and 5-0 overall, is one of the four semi-final teams for sure if Mexico beats Japan tonight.  This would leave just one semifinal slot open for USA, Mexico and Japan -- USA is 1-1 in Pool 1 and Japan and Mexico are both 0-1 going into tonight's game.  One could conclude that after that game, one of Japan/Mexico will be 1-1 and the other will be 0-2, but, there's actually the possibility of a tie.  I could explain how some scenarios might play out but I'd have to make stuff up.  Apparently there are only about four people who understand all the rules about how the tiebreakers work -- sadly, one of them is Albert Einstein and he's dead.  I think there's a head-to-head freestyle yodeling at some point.

Bobby Abreu went 0-for-2 with two walks and a run scored as Venezuela beat Puerto Rico 6-0 last night.  Tomas Perez appeared at shortstop, going 0-for-1 and making an error.  Tomas is just 0-for-2 in the Classic. 

Robinson Tejeda also pitched yesterday for the Dominican Republic as they defeated Cuba, 7-3.  He got hit around a little, giving up a hit and two walks while only being credited for one out.

All four Pool 2 teams (Cuba, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) are 1-1.

Get your tongue out of my mouth 'cause I'm kissing you goodbye (John Denver)
March 13 2006

There's some strange stuff going on with the Mets rotation.  The Mets are seemingly willing to deal good young pitchers for established stars, established non-stars and, in at least one case, to anyone willing to take Anna Benson.

New York traded Kris Benson and wife this off-season for a little peace of mind, also receiving Jorge Julio and John Maine.  This comes off of a puzzling '04 move in which they sent lefty stud Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays in a deal that yielded Victor Zambrano.  They traded Jae Seo, coming off an 8-2 year in which he posted a 2.59 ERA, for two relievers. Finally, they gave up highly touted
Yusmeiro Petit in the deal for slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado.

This would all make more sense if the Mets seemed to be on the cusp of greatness, one piece away from anything.  The good news for the Mets is they may be one or two pieces away from winning the World Series -- the bad news is that the pieces are Vladimir Guerrero and Albert Pujols.  In the last four years the Mets twice finished fifth in the NL East.  They are on an upward trend, however, last year was the best of the last four as the Mets finished tied for third with the Marlins.

Things may continue to improve for the Mets this season.  They're loaded for Brave, having added Delgado, Paul LoDuca and the unhittable Billy Wagner (you can run on him, though, if you somehow get someone on base -- don't tell a soul).   Carlos Beltran is close to a sure thing to bounce back from his worst season in five years and David Wright is already very good and getting better.

From '02 through '04, the Mets struggled offensively -- they were one of the five lowest scoring teams in the NL for each of those three years.  Last season they surged to seventh in the league.  Their pitching has also been better of late -- last year only St Louis and Houston posted a better ERA in the National League.  Partly, though, it has been because of guys like Benson and Seo, not in spite of them.

Here's a look at the likely rotation for the Mets in '06:

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Victor Zambrano
Steve Trachsel
Aaron Heilman

This all looks good if that's the rotation the Mets wind up with in '06.  But something's not going to go right, and then what?  The Mets are one tweaked anything away from having a rotation that's giving 40% of its starts to Aaron Heilman and, well, who knows?  Yusaku Iriki?  Alay Soler?  Jose Lima?

Pedro Martinez is an elite pitcher.  He is the active leader in all of baseball in ERA, hits per nine innings and ratio (walks + hits per nine innings).  Already in '06 his toe is a big story, though, because there's no way to replace him if he goes down.

Tom Glavine will be 40 this year and he's an excellent pitcher in his own right.  He's thrown 200 or more innings nine of the last ten years, four times posting an ERA under three.  Here's hoping he can't pitch forever, though, and, on behalf of Phillies fans everywhere, let's hope that not forever starts soon.  I would probably get kicked out of something important were I not to mention Questec and how it has destroyed his career, limiting him to ERA's of 3.60 and 3.53 in the past two seasons (his career ERA is 3.44 -- a lot of the years he pitched he was less than 38 years old).   Questec.  Questec. 

I really don't think there's anything wrong with Victor Zambrano.  He's been solid for three straight seasons and will just be 30 this year.  The biggest problem has nothing to do with him and everything to do with Scott Kazmir:

Player Year GS W-L ERA IP H BB SO Salary
V Zambrano '05 27 7-12 4.17 166.1 170 77 112 $2,100,000
S Kazmir '05 32 10-9 3.77 186 172 100 174 $316,000

Is Scott Kazmir married?  Did his wife bug someone?  Or maybe this is this the year Bartolome Fortunato puts it all together and finally gets some Cy Young consideration?  I just want to understand.

And then there's Steve Trachsel, who will be 36 this year and is coming off back surgery that limited him to six starts last season.  Trachsel is likely to be followed in the rotation by Heilman, who is the likely winner of the spot but still competing with Jose Lima, Yusaku Iriki, Alay Soler and John Maine.

So it looks like all is nifty in New York.  Until something goes wrong with the 40-year old or the 35-year old coming off of back surgery or the guy with the injured toe or the guy with eight career wins.  When that happens, KrisAnna, or Jae Seo, or Scott Kazmir might be looking even more helpful than John Maine or Duaner Sanchez.

Howard homeless drought ends at one
March 13 2006

Ryan Howard clearly needs to be sent up to another level.  Or maybe they should let the other team's pitchers throw golf balls or shoot BBs over the plate or something.  He smoked his universe-leading seventh spring training home run today in the Phillies 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.  Again, Howard seems to be hitting pitchers other guys aren't -- his homer off of Justin Verlander was the only hit the top prospect allowed in three innings (other guys could, apparently, walk against Verlander, who issued four bases on balls).

The Phils had just five hits.  Chris Roberson drove in the other two runs with an eighth inning double in his only at-bat.

Burrell doubled, walked and struck out.  Shane Victorino continues to have a nice spring, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a double to raise his average to .275 -- he also is leading all of MLB in spring training at-bats.

Hopefully Aaron Rowand isn't ready to throw it all away and put together a Vaudeville act.  He was 0-for-3, striking out and grounding into a double play to lower his spring average to .087 (2-for-23).

Peter Bergeron went 1-for-2 with a walk and is hitting .389 this spring (7-for-18 with seven singles).

The Tigers outhit the Phils 13-5.  Ricardo Rodriguez started the game and went four innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs including a home run to Curtis Granderson.

Scott Mathieson allowed two hits and three walks in two innings but no runs.  He struck out three.  Geary followed Mathieson with a shutout inning in which he allowed two hits.

Yoel Hernandez got the win.  He pitched a shutout inning, giving up three hits and a walk.  Aquilino Lopez pitched a perfect inning.

Phillies play the Twins tomorrow.

How do you say 'hosed' in Japanese?  Abreu, Utley uninjured in opening games of Round 2 in WBC
March 12 2006

Bobby Abreu went 0-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base as Venezuela fell to Cuba 7-2 in their first round two game today.  Tomas Perez did not play.

Venezuela plays Puerto Rico tomorrow.

Chase Utley did not play in today's 4-3 US victory over Japan in which the Japanese team appears to have been pretty well hosed.

With one out and the bases loaded for the Japanese in the top of the eighth in a 3-3 game, Akinori Iwamuri hit a fly ball to left.  Randy Winn caught it in the air and threw home with no chance to get Tsuyoshi Nishioka scoring from third.  The US appealed that the runner had left early and he was ruled safe.  This call was overruled by the home plate umpire in a decision that appeared via instant replay to lack accuracy.

USA scored on a solo home run from Chipper and a 2-run shot by Derrek Lee.  Alex Rodriguez won the game with a single up the middle in the ninth inning with one out.  Ichiro homered for Japan.

USA plays Korea tomorrow.

Howard held homerless
March 12 2006

Cincinnati kept the red-hot Ryan Howard mostly in check but fell to the Phillies 4-1 today.  Howard was 1-for-3 with an RBI.

Pat Burrell played -- encouraging as he has been working through a problem with his foot.  Burrell also went 1-for-3 with an RBI single.

Alex Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with a home run, his third of Spring Training.  Gonzalez has five hits in his 21 at-bats, three home runs and two singles.  Abraham Nunez had a double in three at-bats and is 4-for-25 overall.

Lieberthal was 1-for-3 with a single, just his second hit of the Spring.  Sandoval and Jaramillo both went 1-for-1.

Ryan Madson pitched against a Reds squad missing some of their big guns (Griffey, Dunn, Kearns and Pena all did not play).  Madson pitched well again, giving up one run in 3 2/3 innings.  He allowed three hits and one walk while striking out four.

Cormier and Myette, back from the WBC, both pitched a scoreless inning.  Arthur Rhodes also threw a scoreless inning, striking out two and throwing two wild pitches.

Jeremy Cummings throw 1 1/3 perfect innings.  Aaron Fultz allowed two hits but no runs and pitched the ninth.

Phillies play Detroit tomorrow.

Has anyone ever seen Jason Jaramillo and Carlos Ruiz in the same place at the same time?
March 12 2006

I can't be the only one who has trouble keeping track of who's who between Jaramillo and Ruiz.  Here's a review:

Player Year Level AB HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Jaramillo 2004 A 112 1 14 223 299 295
  2005 A 448 8 63 304 368 438
Ruiz 2004 AA 349 17 50 284 338 484
  2005 AAA 347 4 40 300 354 458

Ruiz is a lot older of the two, he is 27 while Jaramillo is 23.  His age is a factor, particularly after the home runs dropped off for Ruiz as he moved to AAA last season.  He missed time in '05 with a head injury as well as shoulder problems.  He did stroke a bunch of doubles last year, hitting 25 and adding nine triples to keep his slugging percentage in the same range as his '04 numbers (in 2004 he hit 15 doubles and two triples).

Both of the players have a strong arm.  Ruiz threw out 31 percent of runners last season while Jaramillo threw out 34 percent.  Ruiz is a strong defensive player all-around.  Jaramillo is a bit of a mixed bag -- he was rated by managers as the best defensive catcher in the South Atlantic League despite making 20 errors, which led all minor league catchers.

Jaramillo is often compared to Johnny Estrada.  Here's how each of them did in the South Atlantic League at age 22:

Player Year AB AVG OBP SLG
Estrada 1998 303 310 329 439
Jaramillo 2005 448 304 368 438

The future for Ruiz is likely as a backup.  Jaramillo will look to make a place for himself in the post-Lieberthal era Phillies and may compete for playing time in '07, but more likely 2008.  There is a possibility that Jaramillo will skip AA completely in and go directly to AAA this season.

The Phillies are definitely going to need somebody to catch in 2007 -- '06 is the last year on Lieberthal's contract and people will notice if they don't put anyone back there and let the ball bounce off the umpire's chest protector after every pitch.  It's not clear what they'll do, or if trying to bring Lieberthal back for '07 will seem like a reasonable option (he'll be 35 in 2007).  Overall, it likely depends a lot on what Ruiz and Jaramillo do this season.

Astros comeback ultra-light
March 11 2006

The Phillies last beat the Houston Astros in a game that meant anything on May 18, 2003.  Against the Astros they went 0-6 in '04 and a "serenity now" inducing 0-6 last year.  Nothing changed today because the game didn't mean anything, but the Phillies managed a win, downing the Astros 4-3.

Ryan Howard is pretty much locked in.  He hit two more home runs today, giving him six so far in Spring Training.  The two homers Astros starter Brandon Backe allowed to Howard were the only two hits he allowed in his four innings.

The Phillies were held to five hits on the day.  Alex Gonzalez had a single and an RBI in three at-bats, but made an error at third base.  Chris Roberson singled in his lone at-bat and Shawn Garrett went 1-for-3.

Aaron Rowand and Lieberthal both went 0-for-3, dropping their Spring batting averages to .111 and .071 respectively.  Rowand struck out twice.

Maybe the best news on the day was Ryan Franklin, who went 3 2/3 scoreless innings.  He allowed two hits and three walks while striking out five.  Franklin has not allowed a home run in his three Spring Training starts as a Philly -- this is inspiring as he allowed 28 home runs in '05 after allowing 33 the year before (amazingly, when Franklin allowed 33 in 2004 he didn't even lead his team as Jamie Moyer allowed 44 that season).

Gavin Floyd pitched, allowing a run in two innings -- a home run to Eric Munson.

Geary and Santana each pitched a scoreless inning.  Both look like very strong contenders for spots in the bullpen.

The Astros tried to do that thing again where they win at the end of the game in a way that makes you want to join a support group, complete with a ninth inning stolen base by Eric Bruntlett.  Clay Condrey gave up a two-run homer to Mike Lamb, but Houston couldn't get closer than 4-3.

Phillies play the Reds tomorrow.

Classic dismissed
March 11 2006

Round one of the World Baseball Classic is over and eight of the sixteen teams have been eliminated -- here's a look at how the Phillies whose Classic is over fared:

Player Team IP H BB SO ERA
Cormier CAN 1.2 1 2 2 0.00
Mathieson CAN 1.0 0 2 0 0.00
Myette CAN 0.2 1 0 0 13.50

All of the Phillies pitchers who are out of the tournament played with team Canada.  Rheal Cormier will be a big part of the Phillies team this year as a lefty out of the pen.  He's looking to bounce back after a terrible injury-plagued '05 season.  Cormier appeared in two games in the WBC, going 1.1 scoreless innings again South Africa while allowing a hit and a walk against Mexico and allowing an inherited runner to score. 

Mathieson turned 22 in February and may have a big future with the Phillies, although he is unlikely to contribute at the Major League level in '06.  He appeared in only one game -- he pitched one inning against the US team, allowing two walks but no runs.

Aaron Myette's future is less certain.  The non-roster invitee is 28 and has major league experience with four teams.  He is unlikely to make the Phillies team out of Spring Training.  He pitched only in the game against Mexico.  Starting the sixth inning he allowed a single to Juan Castro, then retired the next two batters before being replaced by Cormier.  Cormier allowed a single to Geronimo Gil and the run was charged to Myette.

Ruiz PAN 6 0 0 1 000 333 000
Harman AUS 7 3 0 0 429 429 571

Carlos Ruiz may see some time with the Phillies this year as a backup catcher, although not likely at the beginning of the season.  Carlos drew three walks during the Classic despite being held hitless.

Bradley Harman is an exciting 20-year old ticketed for the minor leagues.  He played shortstop for the Australian team and hit as well as anyone on the team.  One of his three hits was a double. 

Five Phillies remain in the tournament for Round 2 -- each of the teams in the second round will play at least three more games.  The remaining Phillies are:

US:  Utley
Venezuela:  Abreu, Perez
Domican Republic:  Robinson Tejeda, Eude Brito

(Note: edited this post.  Ruiz had 1 RBI in the WBC, not 0.  Added March 12)

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