Hold or Fold for the Phillies?

Can Ruben Amaro Jr. swing a deal to get the Phillies in contention?

Can Ruben Amaro Jr. swing a deal to get the Phillies in contention?

It is just under three weeks until the MLB non-waiver trade deadline and rumors are swirling all around the Phillies’ clubhouse. With the team currently sitting at 45-47, it is hard to definitively peg them as buyers or sellers at this point.

Should a team that appears to have a quickly closing window blow things up now, or try to search for the missing piece(s) that could give them one more run at a World Series title?

That question will soon be answered because it is safe to say that after July 31, this Phillies roster should look somewhat different.

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Weekend Wrap-Up: 6/7-6/9

NBA TV will debut "The Doctor" tonight at 9pm.

NBA TV will debut “The Doctor” tonight at 9pm.

The Phillies returned to their losing ways over the weekend as they followed up a solid five game winning streak with a three game skid. The Eagles have wrapped up OTA’s and minicamp and will reconvene in late July for Training Camp. In the meantime, the team has unveiled some new renovation plans for Lincoln Financial Field that carry quite a hefty price tag. All signs are pointing to the 2013-2014 season being the final year for Flyer’s defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Two names have surfaced in connection to the Sixers head coaching search. Also, an all-time Sixers legend will be the subject of a brand new NBA TV documentary to debut this evening.

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Weekend Wrap-Up: 5/31-6/2

Domonic Brown recorded three homeruns and six hits over the weekend against the Brewers.

Domonic Brown recorded three homeruns and six hits over the weekend against the Brewers.

The Phillies went 1-2 over the weekend as they took on the Brewers. Domonic Brown continued his stellar play and his hot month landed him some more hardware. The Eagles wrapped up OTA’s on Friday and there is still no leader in the quarterback competition. However, the Eagles may have given a bit of a clue on Friday. The Sixers are still without a head coach but a former 76er may be available to speak with. The Flyers added two new prospects to the fold, including a coveted winger.

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Saving The Sinking Ship- How To Save The Philadelphia Phillies- PART I

Thirty-seven wins; Fifty losses. Last place. The ship is sinking. Your Philadelphia Phillies, our Fightin’ Phils, are on their death-bed and Ruben Amaro Jr. must decide wether or not to pull the plug. While you might think there still is a chance, try to look forward. Would you rather watch them put up a fight, only to come up short or start preparing for next year? I think it’s time to start clearing house for next season, but not to rebuild; but to reload. The Phillies can get younger, have a star-studded lineup, a decent bullpen, and Cole Hamels in the rotation in 2013. However, it won’t come without making sacrifices. Here is how they do it:

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Phour Phils Headed to 2011 MLB All Star Game: Is That Enough?

Three of the Phils five starters to begin the season will represent the Phillies on the NL All Star team.

The 2011 MLB All Star teams were announced today and the Philadelphia Phillies have four players representing the leagues best team. Placido Polanco, the Phillies starter at third base will assume the same role for the NL team. Polanco is batting .280 with 39 rbi’s and 4 homeruns. He also boasts a 1.000 field percentage. Polanco started off the season incredibly hot and led the Phillies through the first month of the season. Some say that he is benefiting from significant time missed by both David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman but Polanco’s contribution to the leagues best team cannot be taken lightly.

Polanco was the only position player on the Phils to make the All Star team but the team was certainly well represented when it comes to hurlers. The big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will all represent the Phillies starting staff in Arizona.

Placido Polanco will start at 3rd for the NL team.

Roy Halladay has been stellar once again this season posting an 11-3 record with a 2.44 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 6 complete games in 18 starts. That basically means that he averages a complete game 1 in every 3 times he takes the mound.

Cliff Lee has come on strong lately. He has posted three consecutive complete game shutouts in his last three starts and entered today’s game with a career best 32 consecutive scoreless innings. Lee struggled for a stretch this season but overall he has proved why the Phils brought him back this season. He is 9-5 with a 2.66 ERA with 119 strikeouts and 4 complete games, three of which were in a row.

The final All Star for the Phils is former World Series MVP, Cole Hamels. Many forecasted coming into the season that this would be Cole Hamels’ best season with the Phillies and so far he is proving that even though the hype revolved around the other pitchers that the Phils acquired, he is also a legitimate star and Cy Young candidate in his own right. Cole Hamels is 9-4 with a 2.41 ERA with 110 strikeouts and a complete game.

Shane Victorino will have a chance to be voted onto the All Star team by the fans.

All of these pitchers proved undoubtedly that they deserve to be All Stars but did any other Phillies prove the same even though they were left off the roster? Shane Victorino is once again apart of the MLB’s final vote and has a chance to be voted onto the All Star teams by the fans, something that he was successful in doing in 2008. Victorino is hitting .299 with 9 homeruns, 34 rbi’s, 12 doubles, 9 triples, and 13 stolen bases. Victorino is up against SP Ian Kennedy of Arizona, OF Matt Morse of Washington, 1B Todd Helton of Colorado and OF Andre Ethier of Los Angeles.

Also left off of this year’s team was Phillies 1B Ryan Howard. Many have noted that the NL is becoming deeper at 1B but you cannot deny that Ryan Howard is one of the best hitters in the NL still. He is hitting .253 in a season where he lost his main protection behind him in Jayson Werth and in front of him for most of the season in Chase Utley. The lose of those two bats certainly weakened the type of pitches that Howard was seeing. Despite the drop in quality pitches he has still hit 17 homers and is second in the league in RBI’s with 67.

The All Star game is about having situational players on the roster. Are their players with better averages and who strike out less than Howard? Yes. But those players do not prosper in All Star games. Hitting singles and playing small ball does not win All Star games because the opposing pitching is too stellar. You need players on the roster with pop who can change the game with one at bat. Howard should be on the team for that reason as should Mark Teixera in the AL. Ryan Howard has also proved that he is taking his defense seriously posting a .996 fielding percentage. Ryan Howard certainly has shortcomings in his game. He is not perfect. But the Phillies, the best team in Major League Baseball, would not be where they are without his 17 homeruns and 67 rbi’s especially considering the struggles throughout the rest of the lineup. The MLB put in the DH for a reason for both All Star teams and that was for sluggers, homerun hitters, and rbi producers to make the team.

Ryan Howard was left off the NL All Star this season.

I do not agree with the MLB’s view of the role of the All Star Game. It should not count for anything. It should not include representatives from every team. It should only be about fun and that is it. But if you are going to make it mean something, the best players have to be there. Amongst 1st basemen in the NL Howard is 2nd in AB’s, 2nd in HR’s, 2nd in rbi’s, 4th in runs scored, 6th in hits, 4th in walks, and 3rd in fielding percentage. Say what you will about Ryan Howard, but that is still a relevant and very productive first basemen considering the fact that he faces multiple defensive shifts every night and gets pitched around more than any player in the league.

So Congratulations to Polanco, Halladay, Hamels, and Lee on their All Star selections and in the coming week we will se if any other Phillies get tabbed to make the trip to Arizona.

PhinalLEE

 

Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies this offseason after spending a year away with Seattle and Texas.

The long-awaited day has finally, sorry I mean PhinalLEE, come and gone. When the Phillies  made the shocking move of resigning Cliff Lee, April 2nd was circled on a number of calendars. Cliff Lee was presumed to be returning to Philly as the number 2 starter and he made his 2nd Phillies debut on the hill against the Houston Astros. The crowd was electric when he ran out to the mound before the game, when he was up to bat, and after each one of his 11 strikeouts. Expect every word that ends in “ly” to be converted to ending with “lee” for the forseeable future.

 

Cliff Lee got off to an excellent start in the game. He struck out two hitters in the first and looked quite sharp. He hit his spots for the majority of the game and was only rattled by Astros slugger, Carlos Lee who recorded a triple and a home-run off of Lee. Lee pitched 7 innings, recorded 7 strikeouts and more impressively walked none meaning that the Phillies starting staff has yet to walk a batter this season.

As happy as the fans were to see their lost son return to CBP, they must have been just as happy to see the play of the Phillies lineup. The Phils put up 9 runs on the Astros much in the fashion that they have when the offense was at its peak in recent years. Many experts and fans alike have been skeptical about the Phillies offense minus Chase Utley and Jayson Werth, but the early season returns have proven to the contrary. Jimmy Rollins has taken nicely to his new role as the number three hitter and Ryan Howard has looked comfortable at the plate. The Phillies scored their 9 runs on a stellar 14 hits and got to the Astros starter, Wandy Rodriguez, in the first inning for two runs, which is always a good sign for this team. Anytime the Phillies put up early runs, they have to be confident with the pitching staff that they have.

So far Ryan Howard has hit the ball well going 4-8 at the plate this season.

 

The middle of the lineup, which has been called “thin” by some experts, was anything but today as Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Ben Francisco, and Raul Ibanez all had 2 or more hits. Every starting position player had at least one hit.

On top of that, the bullpen combination of Danys Baez and Jose Contreras, was also quite stellar. Neither pitcher gave up an earned run in their appearance even though both appearances got a little interesting.

The game was not without some suspense. Shane Victorino and Ben Francisco collided in the outfield on a ball in the gap which resulted in Victorino being removed from the game. Charlie Manuel spoke afterwards and stated that he was not too sure of Victorino’s condition other than the fact that he claimed that his calf was tight.

In the end, the Phillies are 2-0. Cliff Lee’s return to Philly was indeed a success and the team will try to complete the first series of the season with a 3 game sweep as Roy Oswalt will take the mound tomorrow against his former team. Unfortunately for the Astros, they had to be the first team to encounter the Halladay, Lee, Oswalt series and they will try to salvage at least one win tomorrow.

Roy Oswalt will look to complete the sweep of his former team, the Astros.

 

Phillies Update: Manuel’s Contract, Utley’s Knee and the Outfield

Having been down to Clearwater earlier this week, and getting a good look at the team, it is very obvious that they are looking overall pretty sharp. The Phillies pitchers have not been perfect this spring but at the same time, they look pretty good. It is clear that they are working on things and fine tuning some pitches so there is really no need to worry about that aspect of the team. The three concerns for the Phillies this spring have been Manuel’s deal, Utley’s knee and the outfield situation.

Manuel certainly has reason to smile in light of his new contract.

Charlie Manuel, the 67-year-old Phillies skipper, has a brand new contract with the team. It was announced early Thursday and really only seemed like a matter of time. The contract will keep Manuel in Philly through 2013 and will pay him $3.5-4 million annually including a raise for this upcoming season. The contract will take Manuel into his 70’s where he can decide whether or not he wants to stay in the game. Manuel’s deal will now place him in the top-tier of managers as far as salary and that is where he belongs. Fans might say “why were the Phils so worried about paying that price”, but they have to understand that the Phillies have never paid this much for a manager, but at the same time, this team could be the best Phillies team of all time and that will certainly depend a great deal on their quality skipper. Manuel certainly played his cards right. He never wanted this to be a distraction going into the season and with this new contract in place, there is one issue to check off the list.

Amongst the other issues is 2nd basemen Chase Utley. Utley is 32 years old and is facing Patellar Tendonitis in his right knee. The reckless play that Phillies’ fans have come to adore Utley for, may finally be catching up to him. The injury has kept Utley off the field all spring training, relegating him to only batting practice. In my time in Florida, all I saw of Utley was batting practice and picking up balls and bats afterwards. He certainly seemed in a somber mood and that could definitely be a bad sign. He has not reacted positively to the cortisone shot he received and now there seems to be some bone inflammation. The team continues to insist that surgery is a last resort, but as the days go by it seems more and more likely. Utley will most likely start the season on the disabled list and surgery could either end his season or he could play through the pain and almost certainly see a major dip in production.

Utley has patellar tendonitis which has kept him out of all grapefruit league games.

The Phillies have internal options to replace Utley if need be. Wilson Valdez filled in admirably last year at a couple of spots and is capable of stepping in for Utley at 2nd. He has shown some good fielding this spring but his bat will not replace Utley’s stat for stat. Another option is Delwyn Young. The Phillies have given him a couple starts at 2nd this spring. He has shown some ability and definitely has a shot at a bench spot. Pete Orr was signed by the team this offseason and will also be a candidate.

If the internal options do not work, the team could explore a deal for disgruntled Texas Ranger, Michael Young. Young has requested a trade and the Phillies have popped up as potential suitors in numerous reports. A Phillies package would almost certainly involve dealing Joe Blanton and his $8.5 million annual salary although the team has insisted on keeping Blanton. Texas is short on starting pitching. Young would be closer to Utley as far as plate production than the internal options but what would the Phillies do if Utley is ready to return later in the season. Having Utley, Polanco and Young could certainly pose a problem. Although this seems farfetched, the Phillies have certainly surprised fans before (Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Lee again).

In addition to being a great acting duo, Utley and Howard have been one of the league's best #3, #4 combinations.

Utley’s absence will be most obvious in the lineup alignment. If any two spots were set in stone, they were Utley at 3 and Howard at 4. Howard will definitely not see many good pitches with Utley out and with Werth gone. With Utley out, a new #3 has to be found. The candidates will include Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino. My vote however, would be for Ben Francisco.

Francisco has undoubtedly won the right field job. He won it even before Dominic Brown’s injury but now it is all but certain. Francisco could be a decent option in the 3 spot because of his combination of pop and speed. He is more than capable of taking the ball deep and can get on base and swipe a bag if need be.

In other outfield news, John Mayberry is making a strong case for a roster spot. Mayberry is 27 and is at that age where it is becoming time to make the major league club. He has been great this spring hitting .286 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, and 4 rbis. A righty outfielder with that kind of pop is something the fans felt the team needed to acquire all off-season and it looks like they already had it in the fold all along.

John Mayberry is having an impressive spring and seems to be in line for a spot on the big league club.

These 3 issues certainly will not be the only ones that occupy the team this season since its only March and a meaningful game is yet to be played, but at least two of them seemed to be taken care of. The fate of Chase Utley’s 2011 is still up in the air.

Live Report From Spring Training

The crowd in Clearwater awaits the pitch from Roy Halladay

It was another beautiful day here in Clearwater Florida. The high temperature was 81, there was a cool breeze in the afternoon and Frenchy’s Grouper Sandwich certainly delivered. That’s right. Brotherly Love Sports is reporting straight from Central Florida to give a little recap of the day for the Phillies.

The Phillies took on the Pittsburgh Pirates today at beautiful Brighthouse Networks Field. The two Pirates fans out of the 9,318 fans in attendance did indeed cheer their team to a 4-3 victory, but you wouldn’t know it based on the atmosphere. The game was relaxing and moved along at such a calm pace that not a single fan in the seats really cared all that much about the score.

The fans cared about seeing the recently named Opening Day starter, Roy Halladay take the mound and he did not disappoint. The Doctor pitched 3 strong innings in his outing today and looked sharp. He located his pitches in and had a thilthy changeup working to most hitters. There were also a great pitching performance by Ryan Madson in the 9th inning to keep the Pirates lead at 1. 

Ben Francisco certainly put his mark on the game as well. He hit a beatiful homerun out to left center to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead early in the game. Francisco also backed that up with a double as well. Francisco is surely beginning to win the hearts of the fans and in the opinion of many who attended the game today, there is little to worry about with Francisco in right. Francisco is 29 years old and in the prime of his playing days. Werth was the same age when he broke out and Francisco’s play today had some fans asking themselves “Werth who?”.  

If Francisco’s stellar play did not already win him the right field job, a freak injury might of done the trick. Dominic Brown, who recorded his first hit of the spring early in the game, apparently injured his right hand during the at bat. Brown, reached first base and dove back for the bag on a pick off attempt. When he stood up, he peered at his right hand and many in the crowd took notice but surely they were not expecting a break. Brown will be down for atleast 3-6 weeks according to reports and that may indeed crush his chances of making the big league team out of camp.

Cliff Lee will be taking the mound tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Rays at BrightHouse Networks Field while Kyle Kendrick will be taking on the Detroit Tigers on the road.

Countdown to Pitchers and Catchers- Rotation and Catcher Predictions

It is just 8 days until Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida in preparation for one of most exciting and potentially historic season of all-time. For the next 8 days, I am going to preview the Phillies from bottom to top, offering my predictions of the starting-nine. Today, we look at the Phillies’ rotation and catcher Carlos Ruiz:

1. Roy Halladay 2011 Predictions

19-6, 2.79 ERA, 220 K’s

The 2010 National League Cy Young award winner is no joke. He came to the National League with high expectations, and exceeded them. But, for an arm that logged 250 innings last season, and for an arm that’s about to turn 34 years old, most pitchers would be unable to duplicate such an incredible season. Well, there is only one Roy Halladay.

Throughout his career, Halladay has maintained an extreme work ethic, which has him up working-out vigorously before your morning news paper even hits your door. With such a regimen, Halladay has been able to be the active-career leader in complete games (58), shutouts (19), and winning percentage (.663). He is truly a baseball marvel; one of few pitchers in baseball who has every pitch he throws work for him. With that said, the Doctor should be operating with much precision in 2011, and will post yet another amazing season.

2. Cliff Lee 2011 Predictions

17-6, 3.25 ERA, 189 K’s

Cliff Lee is truly one of the games most dominant left-handed pitchers today. One clear indicator of this is that the Phillies gave him $120 million. They did it for a reason; because he has Cy Young type stuff.

Since 2008, when Lee won the American League Cy Young award, he has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA no higher than 3.22. He is able to achieve such excellence by doing the one job that some pitchers fail to do; throw strikes. But, just how many strikes does Lee throw? Well, last season, 71% of Lee’s pitches crossed the plate as strikes. A percentage like that surly means walks are a minimum. As a matter of fact, in 2010, Lee only walked 18 batters in 212 1/3 innings, giving him a 0.8 walks per 9 innings for the season. This kind of pinpoint-accuracy is sure to carry into 2011, as Lee has been an aggressive strike thrower throughout the last three seasons. With that said, Lee and his array of pitches, mixed-in with his sharp-shooter type accuracy, will baffle the National League in his return to the Phillies.

3. Roy Oswalt 2011 Predictions

18-9, 2.87 ERA, 203 K’s

This isn’t the first time Roy Oswalt has been paired in a powerhouse rotation, but this is his first time in a rotation that consists of four legit Aces. Opposing the number-three starter for the other team on most nights means the Oswalt will have a season more like his earlier days.

Oswalt, age 33, has been one of the NL’s premier starters over the last 10 years. Since, he first started back in 2001, Oswalt has maintained the 5th lowest ERA of any active pitcher today (3.18), and has won 15 or more games five times in his career. This included a two-year stretch in which Oswalt won 40 games, from 2004-2005. He has been able to be one of the games’ most winningest pitchers, by mastering a pitch that has baffled hitters since the start of his career; the curveball.

Matched up with a high 90’s fastball, an above-average change-up, and a good slider, Oswalt’s curveball is just another piece to a pitching combination that has brought him great success. His curveball, arguably the best in baseball, has kept opposing batters from hitting the ball. With his array of pitches, Oswalt held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average last season. Look for a big season out of the Phillies third starter (that feels so weird to call Roy Oswalt a third starter…)

4. Cole Hamels 2011 Predictions

16-7, 3.10 ERA, 194 K’s

Cole Hamels is just two season’s removed from being the World Series MVP ace of the Philadelphia Phillies. Today, however, he finds himself as the fourth starter, and on most days will be facing the likes of a Randy Wolf or a Chris Young. The days of seeing Hamels go up against power-pitchers such as Johan Santana and Tim Hudson are, for the time being, over. But, what Hamels now becomes is the best number four starting pitcher in all of baseball.

Last season, Hamels bounced back in a big way from his disappointing 2009 campaign. He did so by incorporating a cutter into his list of pitches, and by also improving his fastball placement and limiting his use of his mediocre curveball. Last season, Hamels finished the season with a 12-11 record and a 3.06 ERA. His poor win-loss record was not attributed to bad pitching, but to a lack of run support. In 2010, Hamels had a run support of 3.7 runs per games. If the Phillies get back to hitting like the Phillies, and they very well should hit the opposing team’s number four pitcher hard, then Hamels should have no problem putting together his best season of his young career.

5. Joe Blanton 2011 Predictions

12-7, 4.10 ERA, 154 K’s

Joe Blanton certainly will be pitching with less pressure this year because of the presence of the “Big Four.” But needless to say, he still is Joe Blanton. You can expect tough first innings, solid innings for the next four, and a 5th and 6th that will have your heart racing. That is just how Blanton gets stuff done.Nevertheless, the big man still gives the Phillies a lot of innings, and if healthy, can produce a solid year for a number five starter.

Last season, Blanton pitched horrible for the first-half of the season, posting an ERA of 6.41. But, as the page turned towards the second-half, Blanton too turned the page on his season, going 6-1 with a 3.48 ERA. Overall, he finished the season with a record of 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz 2011 Predictions

.281 AVG., 10 HR, 67 RBI’s

Carlos Ruiz is the man who will sit behind the plate for this rotation for the majority of the season, and a man who’s bat is going to be heavily counted on to produce. Last season, Chooch showed us all he is the man for the job.

Behind the plate, Ruiz is one of the best when it comes to working with his pitchers. When he was catching, pitchers had a 3.31 ERA last year. He also has limited the opponents running game better in recent years, allowing only 50 stolen bases last year and having a 29% caught stealing percentage last year. But, what is truly remarkable is how he has grown offensively. Over the course of his career, Ruiz’s batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage have all went up. He has become a reliable, and consistent bat in the Phillies line-up, hitting .293 with runners in scoring position. If the Phillies do continue to hit like last year, Ruiz’s bat is gonna be counted on more than ever, especially after the departure of outfielder Jayson Werth.

Tomorrow, I bring you my predictions for Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard.

How Cliff Lee’s Deal Changed Baseball Today

Its been a bit of time since Cliff Lee put his signature to a contract worth a guaranteed $120 million. Putting his name to such a contract meant that the Foxsports.com pick for “best left-handed starter” would be pitching under the bright lights of Citizens Bank Park for five-years, and maybe even more. It meant that he would be paired up with the Foxsports.com pick for “best right-handed starter,” the enigma of MLB pitchers today, known as Roy “Doc” Halladay. His signature to that contract meant much more solidifying the MLB’s most dominant rotation. If you think that this signing only effects the Phillies, think again. There is a lot of potential fallout to Lee turning down $30 million from the wide-open wallet of the New York Yankees.

For one, such a move signified that the Yankees don’t have the power to sign everyone. In baseball, if you are a big name free-agent such as Cliff Lee, the preconceived belief is that if the Yankees want you, they will get you. The Yankees wanted Lee; they wanted him bad.

However, Lee put this belief to sleep, by turning down the money he did, and joining a team that offered even less than the Texas Rangers. With Lee agreeing to play for the Phillies, it solidified that the Yankees are losing power on the free-agent market. Now, I’m not saying that the Phillies are becoming the new Yankees. But, after the offseason the Yankees had, specifically Lee snubbing them, one can’t help but see that New York isn’t a players guaranteed first choice on the market.

Another thing to look at is how the market for high-caliber pitchers has changed. Take a second to consider C.C. Sabathia’s contract with the Yankees. He signed for seven-years, $161 million. That set a market for ace-type pitchers that, when entering free-agency, will look towards a payroll that mimics that contract. For one, not many teams can afford a price tag such as that one; especially for a pitcher. As a matter of fact, the Yankees and Redsox are probably the only teams that could. But, Lee signed for  less than that; $41 million less to be exact. Lee, being arguably one of the top-three pitchers in the game, set a new market for pitchers. When a team comes up with an offer for a pitcher after Lee’s deal, they won’t be spending as much as they would have if Lee would have mimicked the Sabathia signing. Teams are gonna look at a pitcher and say, “well, Lee signed for $120 million and is one of the best, if not the best. Why should I offer any more than what he made?” So, as free agent pitchers hit the market, they can expect a smaller offers. Hey, if Lee can sign for less, why can’t a guy like Mark Buehrle, a free agent after the 2011 season?