Charting a Course to March: College Basketball Notes

Throughout the college basketball season, I’ll give my observations on random teams and players, assessing where they are at that point of the season, and looking ahead to where they could be in March.  We’ll give it the highly creative name of “Charting A Course to March.”  If nothing else, it could eventually be used for help in filling out those brackets.

November 27th: #7 Duke 68, UConn 59, at Madison Square Garden

Duke:

scheyerAs usual, Coach K’s team will be led by the perimeter players (whatever happened to the Shelden Williams, Carlos Boozers and Elton Brands?).  Kyle Singler is being called a National Player of the Year candidate, but he might be slightly over-rated.  Senior PG Jon Scheyer might be the best player on the team and should have a great year.  Nolan Smith is getting a lot of hype, but there’s a reason he was benched last year.  He’s been moved off the ball, but is still a big of a question mark in my book.  The big men are nothing special but look improved from last year, and they’ll add a highly-touted freshman, Mason Plumlee, when he returns from an injury in a few weeks.  They have only 3 scholarship guards on the roster, and one is a freshman, so depth could be an issue there.

Best-Case Scenario: Final Four appearance.  I don’t think the Singler/Scheyer duo is championship material.

Best Guess: Sweet 16. It will be interesting to see what Plumlee brings to the table, though.

UConn:

A lot of talent has left Storrs, but there’s still a fair amount left.  Kemba Walker is a championship-caliber PG, and will be one of the most exciting players in the country.  Jerome Dyson is a steady veteran with him in the backcourt.  Stanley Robinson is an NBA-level athlete, but isn’t very skilled.  The rest of the frontcourt is inexperienced, but with Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi, they could make a run at leading the nation in blocks for a ridiculous 9th straight year.  This team’s biggest weakness will be outside shooting, as they made ZERO 3’s in this game.  But if Jim Calhoun can work his magic, they could be tough enough defensively to win a lot of games.

Best-case scenario:  Final Four appearance

Best Guess:  Sweet 16

Relatively Encouraging Start for the Owls

I know the baseball season just ended, but it’s college hoops already (I guess World Series trips don’t give us nearly as much of a “break,” huh?).  Everything is different under Dunphy than it was under Chaney.  Under Chaney, the Owls were almost always the last team in the country to start their season, and often didn’t play a home game until around Christmas.  Under Dunphy, they play early and often, including the requisite mid- and low-major teams as “warm-ups” (I’m not opining either way on Chaney’s schedule decisions versus Dunphy’s, just making observations).  Well, it’s only November 18, but the Owls are already two games into their season.

Now with back-to-back NCAA tournament trips under their belts, the Owls should return to, at least, a class of team that handles mid-majors early in the season.  Well, they did just that in their season-opener at the Carpenter Center in Delaware.  The Owls put up 76 points in a 20-point victory over the Blue Hens.  Ryan Brooks had 23 points, and Lavoy Allen pulled down 15 rebounds.  If this Temple team is going to secure its first at-large bid in recent memory, they are going to have to be carried by those two because the depth on this team is a bit questionable.  The newest Owl starter is Juan Fernandez, who is going to be a special player, and could be complete a solid three-man nucleus.  Fernandez, who is so calm and collected on the floor, added 14 points and 5 assists in 29 minutes.  The other two starter, Michael Eric (the big, raw Nigerian) added 7 points, and Luis Guzman chipped in with 8.  Two freshman, Rahlir Jefferson (a pure freshman from Chester) and Ramone Moore (the 2007 Public League MVP, who had an academic redshirt in ’07-08 and a medical redshirt last year) both played a solid 14 minutes.  Personally, I think that both are pretty decent options off the bench, with Moore being a potential starter by conference play.

Then yesterday, the Owls got to tussle with the nationally-ranked Georgetown Hoyas, down in DC.  Temple struggled to get going in the first half (as did the Hoyas–it was 19-13 at the half), but played a really solid second half.  They outplayed the Hoyas for much of the second half.  “Big Smooth” Craig Williams hit a game-tying three-pointer with 4:52 left, and it looked like the Owls were going to pull this one out, as they took and extended their lead in the closing minute.  But, back-to-back three-point plays by G’town’s stud sophomore, Greg Monroe, pulled the game close again.  The Owls did have the ball and a 1-point lead with :23 seconds left, when Ramone Moore was sent to the line for a one-and-one.  Moore missed the front end, and Monroe drove the length of the floor for the go-ahead basket.  The Owls got one last chance, but a Guzman turnover ended the upset hopes.

As good as Brooks was against Delaware, that is how bad he was yesterday, scoring just 6 points on 2-14 from the field.  Allen, however, had another big day on the glass, with 14 more rebounds (and 12 points).  Guzman didn’t score in 36 minutes, but Moore picked up some slack with 8 off the bench.  All in all, it was a solid effort for the Owls, but they will not be beating any good teams on the road with only 2 FGs from Ryan Brooks.

I would have to say that most encouraging thing about the first two games is the play of Lavoy Allen.  Now, a junior, he can no longer be talked about as “going to be good;” he has to be “good.”  And, he has been really good in the first two games.  One knock on him has been a bit of a lack of aggression on the glass, but he has 29 rebounds in two games, so maybe he’s solved that problem.  Allen has the talent to be a first-team all-A10 performer, so maybe this is the year he shows it.  The Owls will need that because you can expect Brooks to be streaky, and there is no way they can rely on Fernandez just yet.  Allen has to be the rock on this team this year.

It should be interesting in the next week, as the Owls come home for 4 games in an 8-day span.  They host two really good mid-majors, Siena (Nov 21) and Ball St. (Nov 24), before hosting the Philly Hoop Classic at the Palestra on the 27 & 28.  The Owls drew two big-conference teams with the ACC’s Virginia Tech on Friday and St. John’s, from the Big East, on Saturday.  If the Owls can take care of business (no small task) this week and enter the weekend 3-1, they can really put together a nice non-conference resume with wins in either or both of the games at the Palestra.

Tuesday’s Top Twelve: Most Memorable Athletes

Two news stories broke yesterday that hit me pretty hard.  There is an outside chance that two of the most memorable Philadelphia athletes of my lifetime have each played their last professional sporting event.  So, for this week’s edition of Tuesday’s Top Twelve, I wanted to focus on the “most memorable” athletes of my lifetime. 

I know I was raised on stories of Johnny Callison home runs, Richie Ashburn bunts, Steve Carlton sliders, and Dick Allen’s attitude problems.  So, for this list, I am using the criteria of “in 40 years, when I’m talking to my grandkids, which Philadelphia athletes am I most likely to talk about?” 

As always (and as necessary), there are a few limiting conditions to this list:

  1. I am limiting it to Philadelphia athletes, so guys like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. are certainly going to be talked about, but won’t be on this list.
  2. I am limiting it to “my sports lifetime,” which I often refer to and define, loosely, as 1990 and beyond.  I was born in 1979, so I do remember sports as far back as the mid-80’s, but it’s hard for me to remember really understanding sports prior to 1990 or so.  Because of this, guys like Dr. J and Ron Jaworski are not going to appear.  And, though it was really tough to do, I am sticking to the rules and eliminating Michael Jack Schmidt from eligibility because he retired in 1989.
  3. This is not a list of the “best.”  It is the most memorable, for whatever reason.  The guys that I will most likely tell stories about.
  4. I am going to try and project careers, as much as possible, so it’s not a “it their career ended today” kind of thing.  Obviously, I didn’t go too crazy and even consider guys like Kyle Drabek or Michael Taylor, but I did try and make conservative estimations of where guys would stand when they decided to hang ’em up.
  5. I am limiting it to “major sports,” so there will be no lacrosse players, soccer players, or whatever that sport is called on ice that they only play in Canada and the Olympics.
  6. And, as always, this has no science whatsoever, is totally based on one man’s opinion, and I am very much open to arguments and debates–that what these lists are designed to create.

So, without further fanfare, let us get down to the list, starting with the honorable mentions:

  • Brian Dawkins – This was BY FAR the hardest omission to make from this list, and you can write it in stone that if this list had 13, he would be on it.  I have said many, many times that Brian Dawkins is my favorite all-time Eagle, and that there is something missing from the Eagles this year, and it is directly attributable to B-Dawk being elsewhere.  However, maybe it was the position he played or the all-business personality, but there is just something about him that never totally stood out–even to die-hard Eagles/Dawkins fans, like myself.  It is no slight on his play WHATSOEVER, and being #13 on this list is nothing to be ashmamed of.
  • Jameer Nelson – This was another tough omission and would easily be #14 if this list came out on Friday, and I used the alliteration of Friday’s Fourteen or something.  But, we have to stick to our guns and go with twelve, right?  Anyway, even as a St. Joe’s hater, I would not bat an eye and say that Jameer Nelson is the best Big 5 player I have ever seen in my 20+ years of watching the Big 5 closely.  And, that includes all those vaunted “city” teams that happen to play on the Main Line.
  • Jimmy Rollins – Again, real tough, but I think when it’s all said and done, there will be four or five guys from his own team that will be mentioned, in memorial of the title, before J-Roll.  Again, this takes nothing away from his importance or ability.  And, if you had told me two years ago that we would win a title in 2008 and J-Roll wouldn’t be the most memorable player from that run, I would have told you you were crazy, but it’s true.
  • Curt Schilling – Amazingly memorable performances.  Amazingly memorable personality (and not in a totally positive way).  Amazingly forgettable teams, with one large exception.  In the end, I just kind of want to forget that Schilling ever really existed, though somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to do that.
  • DeSean Jackson – In only his second year, it was really difficult to even consider him.  And, even if he hits his absolute ceiling (which is incredibly high), he might not crack the Top 12.  But, with the one and a half seasons he has put in so far and his brash style, he’s got a shot to be one of the all-time memorable Eagles.
  • Terrell Owens – Speaking of brash style, TO actually came very close to making this list because, like him or hate him, can you imagine ever really forgetting about TO?  I can’t.
  • Mark Macon – The only reason he is not on this list (and probably top 3) is because I am a stickler for “rules” and “conditions.”  I said, myself, that I was starting in 1990, and though Macon graduated in 1991, his most memorable season was his freshman year in 1988.  But, just know, for certain, that my grandkids will be hearing about Mark Macon and the ’88 Owls, who got hosed by the officials in the first official “Referees For Krzyzewski” campaign.
  • Other guys that got consideration, but did not crack the final list: 
    Eric Allen, Dionte Christmas, Darren Daulton, Lynn Greer, Kerry Kittles, Cliff Lee, Andre Waters, Turk Wendell, and Mitch Williams.

And, without any more fanfare, here is what I came up with for the Top Twelve Most Memorable Philadelphia Athletes of My Lifetime

12). Brad Lidge.  There is absolutely no question that the 2008 World Series was the defining moment of my sports fandom.  And, the one image that I probably evoke multiple times every day is Brad Lidge falling to his knees after striking out Eric Hinske.  Throw in the fact that he had the “perfect season,” and it would take about a hundred more 2009’s for me not to be talking about Lidge’s 2008 in forty years.  The only reason he is this far down is because there is really no way of knowing whether or not 2008 will the only memorable year for Lidge in Philadelphia.

11). Reggie White.  I went back and forth about this one in my mind.  I left Dawkins out and put Reggie in because I think that the Eagles defense in the early 90’s was not only slightly better than that of the 00’s, but I think it was much more memorable.  And, with all due respect to Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen, Andre Waters, and that ESPN radio personality who was actually better than he lets on on the air, Reggie White is the guy we will most remember from that defense.  It did hurt me–a lot–the way he left and how he made post-Super Bowl comments about “forever being a Packer,” but I have almost forgiven him.  And, he was (like Dawkins) one of the all-time best players to ever play his position.

Continue reading “Tuesday’s Top Twelve: Most Memorable Athletes”

Tell Me I’m Crazy: Trading Werth Might Make Sense

werthOK, I’m borrowing Bry’s “Tell Me I’m Crazy” column here because I definitely think I might be crazy for proposing that the Phillies should trade Jayson Werth this off-season.  Before I make my case, let me acknowledge the multitude of reasons why this might seem like a terrible idea at first glance:

Reason #1:  To put it simply, Jayson Werth is awesome!  I’ve said that many times over the past year and a half, and I’m not backing down from that stance at all now.  After an injury-plagued start to his career, Werth has emerged as one of the premier right-fielders in baseball.  Much has been made of the “leap” he made this year to 36 homers, but he had a very similar season in 2008, but only hit 24 homers because he had almost 200 less plate-appearances (as a result of platooning with Geoff Jenkins for the first half of the season).  He also led baseball in pitches-per-plate-appearance this year, which not only wears down the opposing pitcher, but also gave him a stellar .373 on-base percentage.

Aside from what he can do with the bat, he’s also stolen 40 bases over the last two seasons, while being thrown out 4 times.  And in the field, he’s played a Gold Glove-caliber right-field, and has the ability to play a solid center-field if you need it.  Like I said, Jayson Werth is awesome

Reason #2:  It’s been well-documented that the Phillies have a lack of right-handed bats.  Their other three 30-home run guys of this year are all lefties.  Not only is Werth the only right-handed power hitter on the team, but he also crushes  left-handed pitching like few players I’ve ever seen, which is exactly what you want sandwiched in between guys like Howard and Ibanez.

Reason #3:  He’s clutch.  He pounded seven homers in 51 AB’s this postseason, and he hit .444 (8-18) with a homer and three doubles in the World Series against the Rays in 2008.  Have I mentioned that Jayson Werth is awesome?

Reason #4:  Although he’s getting a big raise next year, a $7.5 mil. price tag (up from $2.5 mil.) is still a steal for what Werth gives you.

So, those are some very compelling reasons to NOT trade Werth.  Here are the reasons why the Phillies SHOULD trade Jayson Werth this off-season:

Reason #1:  Starting off with one of the weaker arguments: the payroll.  As Bry detailed a few days ago, the Phillies have a lot of players getting raises in 2010, and with all the talent they have assembled, it will take a ridiculous amount of money to keep all of the key players on this team here for the long-term.  It’s not our money, but Ruben Amaro does have a budget, and every dollar spent in one place is one dollar less spent somewhere else.  Choices will have to be made about what players will get mega-contracts, and which ones won’t.  Werth will be a free-agent after next year and, make no mistake, he will be looking for one of those mega-contracts if he does anything close to what he did this year.

Reason #2:  Even if they can find a way to keep all of the current core for the long-term, they’d be setting themselves up to have an old team in a few years.  When Spring Training starts in February, Victorino will be the only Phillie regular under 30, and he turns 29 in a couple weeks.  Could we be setting ourselves up for a repeat of what happened after the 1980 championship, when the Wheeze Kids won a pennant in ’83, then the Phils spent the next decade in the basement?taylor

Reason #3:  His value will never be higher.  As I’ve said, I don’t think his production these last two years is a fluke, but that means that general managers around the league probably don’t think it was either.  I’m pretty sure there are more than a few teams out there that would be interested in a five-tool player that can hit 35 homers.  Werth could be used to bolster the pitching staff, or to stock up with some more nice prospects to secure the future of the team.

Reason #4:  Michael Taylor (and Domonic Brown).  As we heard about plenty during the Roy Halladay negotiations this summer, the Phillies have two elite outfield prospects.  Taylor absolutely dominated AA in the first-half of ’09, and then was rock solid at AAA in the second-half.  He’s basically knocking down the door, and the Phils will need to find a spot for him sooner rather than later.  Obviously, he could eventually replace Ibanez in left-field, but the presence of Brown means that the Phillies might have to open up two outfield spots in the coming years.  Taylor could replace Werth in ’10, and Brown could take over for Ibanez in ’12.

beltreReason #5:  Adrian Beltre.  Obviously, the Phils want to set themselves up for a title next year, and while I think Taylor would be solid, you can’t expect him to replace Werth’s production in the line-up as a rookie.  That’s why, if Werth is going to be traded, I think it’s imperative that the Phils sign Beltre to play third.  Beltre is the youngest (30) of all the third-base options on the market, and he’s also the best.  He might actually be an upgrade over Feliz defensively,  as he took the AL Gold Glove in ’07 and ’08.  He had an injury-plagued ’09, but he was really consistent at the plate from ’06-’08, with HR totals of 25, 26, and 25.  He was also playing in one of the best pitcher-parks in baseball.  Based on his road splits (which were not surprisingly much better than at home) and what it’s like at the Bank, it’s not hard to imagine Beltre duplicating Werth’s production.  After all, we only have to look at Ibanez to see what can happen with the move from Safeco Park to the Bank.  So, Beltre could slot into Werth’s 5-hole, and Taylor could hit 7th.

So, that’s my case.  Tell me I’m crazy.

The First Annual BSB MLB Postseason Awards

We here at BSB love and respect our readers.  In fact, most of our readers are much smarter than we are.  So, instead of just posting who Doogan and I think should be the AL MVP, we decided to reach out to some of our most trusted and dedicated readers and let them vote.  It worked out so well, we think we’ll do this more often.  Plus, with multiple opinions, from multiple perspectives, the analysis of these awards is more interesting.  We had 11 ballots cast, in 12 different categories (6 from each league), ranging from the standard awards to some interesting choices, like “Pleasant Surprise” and “Most Disappointing.”  The ballots consisted of 5 slots for each award, but the readers were allowed to rank as many as they wished.  We awarded five points for a first place, four for second, and so on.  Fifth place and anything after that were all given one point.

So, without further ado, here are the First Annual BSB MLB Postseason Awards, as voted by the best of the best of BSB readers (the points are listed and then the breakdown of places on the ballots):

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, NL:  Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
There was no surprise or drama in the BSB choice for the Most Valuable Player in the National League, and it went, unanimously, to the best hitter on the planet, Mr. Albert Pujols.  Pujols garnered a clean sweep, with all 11 first-place votes.  Two Phillies finished in the top 5 (Howard 3rd and Utley 5th), but Marlins talented shortstop, Hanley Ramirez finished a clear second to Pujols.  Prince Fielder rounded out the top 5, with a fourth place finish.  Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki made a strong showing, appearing on three separate ballots.  The only head-scratcher was one fourth-place vote for Mets 3B David Wright, who appeared to, in my opinion, have quite a down year. 

  1. Albert Pujols, STL – 55 points, 11 ballots (11-0-0-0-0)
  2. Hanley Ramirez, FLA – 26 points, 9 ballots (0-4-2-1-2)
  3. Ryan Howard, PHI – 22 points, 8 ballots (0-2-3-2-1)
  4. Prince Fielder, MIL – 20 points, 8 ballots (0-2-2-2-2)
  5. Chase Utley, PHI – 9 points, 4 ballots (0-1-0-2-1)
  6. Troy Tulowitzki, COL – 4 points, 3 ballots (0-0-0-1-2)
  7. Pablo Sandoval, SF – 4 points, 2 ballots (0-0-1-0-1)
  8. Mark Reynolds, ARI – 3 points, 1 ballot (0-0-1-0-0)
  9. Ryan Braun, MIL – 2 points, 2 ballots (0-0-0-0-2)
  10. David Wright, NYM – 2 points, 1 ballot (0-0-0-1-0)
  11. Adrian Gonzalez, SD – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, AL:  Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Just like in the National League, the American League MVP voting produced a unanimous selection, and it was Minnesota Twins catcher, Joe Mauer.  Mauer took all 11 first-place votes to win in a landslide.  Obviously, this voting was done before the postseason, as Yankees unclutch 1B Mark Teixeira took second place easily.  Miguel Cabrera was the clear third choice.  Despite not receiving any first- or second-place votes, Derek Jeter edged rival Kevin Youkilis for 4th.  Ichiro only landed on two ballots, but with second- and third-place votes on those two ballots, he finished only one point behind Jason Bay for 6th place.  And, of course, the great Bobby Abreu landed on two ballots (I wonder who one of them was…)

  1. Joe Mauer, MIN – 55 points, 11 ballots (11-0-0-0-0)
  2. Mark Teixeira, NYY – 28 points, 9 ballots (0-5-1-2-1)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DET – 21 points, 7 ballots (0-2-4-0-1)
  4. Derek Jeter, NYY – 12 points, 6 ballots (0-0-2-2-2)
  5. Kevin Youkilis, BOS – 11 points, 5 ballots (0-2-0-0-3)
  6. Jason Bay, BOS – 8 points, 4 ballots (0-0-1-2-1)
  7. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA – 7 points, 2 ballots (0-1-1-0-0)
  8. Bobby Abreu, LAA – 2 points, 2 ballots (0-0-0-0-2)
  9. Aaron Hill, TOR – 2 points, 1 ballot (0-0-0-1-0)
  10. Kendry Morales, LAA – 2 points, 1 ballot (0-0-0-1-0)
  11. Chone Figgins, LAA – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)
  12. Adam Lind, TOR – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)

CY YOUNG AWARD, NL:  Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
And, the St. Louis Cardinals sweep the major awards in the National League, as Chris Carpenter edges Giants ace Tim Lincecum for the Cy Young Award.  In what was supposed to be a close, three-horse race, it really only came down to two guys.  Carpenter and Lincecum combined for 10 of the 11 first-place votes, and both made all 11 ballots.  Adam Wainwright finished a distant third (though still very much ahead of fourth place).  Carpenter won two more first-place votes than Lincecum and was in the top 2 in all 11 ballots, while Lincecum fell to third on three different ballots.  The Atlanta Braves duo of Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens had nice showings, in 4th and 6th, respectively, with Dan Haren sitting in 5th.  Young’ins J.A. Happ, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Clayton Kershaw may vie for future Cy Youngs, as they all found their way on to a ballot in this voting.

  1. Chris Carpenter, STL – 50 points, 11 ballots (6-5-0-0-0)
  2. Tim Lincecum, SF – 45 points, 11 ballots (4-4-3-0-0)
  3. Adam Wainwright, STL – 32 points, 10 ballots (1-2-5-2-0)
  4. Javier Vazquez, ATL – 9 points, 5 ballots (0-0-1-2-2)
  5. Dan Haren, ARI – 8 points, 5 ballots (0-0-1-1-3)
  6. Jair Jurrjens, ATL – 8 points, 5 ballots (0-0-0-3-2)
  7. Matt Cain, SF – 5 points, 4 ballots (0-0-0-1-3)
  8. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL – 2 points, 1 ballot (0-0-0-1-0)
  9. Jonathan Broxton, LAD – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)
  10. J.A. Happ, PHI – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)
  11. Clayton Kershaw, LAD – 1 point, 1 ballot (0-0-0-0-1)

CY  YOUNG AWARD, AL:  Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
In a race that could have been a lot closer, actually turned out a pretty wide margin of victory for the Royals young ace, Zack Greinke.  Greinke received 8 of the 11 first-place votes and finished in the top 2 on all 11 ballots.  Future Phillie Roy Halladay actually finished third, despite receiving more first-place votes than second-place winner, Felix Hernandez.  CC Sabathia actually finished fourth, despite appearing on more ballots that both Hernandez and Halladay.  This vote only rendered seven total names anywhere on a ballot–the fewest number for any award, including both leagues’ Manager of the Year Award, where there are only 16 or 14 possible choices.  Justin Verlander rounded out the top 5, followed by distant 6th and 7th place finishes for Mariano Rivera and Jon Lester of the Rich Teams.

  1. Zack Greinke, KC – 52 points, 11 ballots (8-3-0-0-0)
  2. Felix Hernandez, SEA – 32 points, 9 ballots (1-3-5-0-0)
  3. Roy Halladay, TOR – 29 points, 9 ballots (2-2-2-2-1)
  4. CC Sabathia, NYY – 21 points, 10 ballots (0-1-2-4-3)
  5. Justin Verlander, DET – 14 points, 6 ballots (0-1-1-3-1)
  6. Mariano Rivera, NYY – 5 points, 4 ballots (0-0-0-1-3)
  7. Jon Lester, BOS – 3 points, 3 ballots (0-0-0-0-3)

Continue reading “The First Annual BSB MLB Postseason Awards”

The Next Steps…

amaroThere is absolutely no shame in the Phillies season.  But, it was not a World Series championship.  That means that there is room for improvement.  Hell, there is always room for improvement.  Last year, they won the World Series and then their goal became to repeat.  This year, they will try and win a fourth straight division title, a third straight pennant, and a second World Series in three years.  And, that quest starts now.

The players got some much-needed rest, probably playing some golf and hopefully NOT filming any more stupid commercials (that was directed at you, Cole Clooney). 

The fans get to sit back and get some sleep, finally (not that we mind late-night October heart failure). 

Even us BSB’ers took about a week off (it wasn’t easy “moonlighting” as an actual journalist–wait, we aren’t accredited?  We don’t have press passes?  We make a living doing something else?  Well, that sucks, I kind of enjoyed writing about sports all day every day).

But, the GM and his staff started right back up Thursday morning with laying the groundwork for another run in 2010.  And, thankfully, we have a dedicated, experienced, and incredibly competent group of people making these decisions.  But, for the sake of fandom, let’s try and go through, position-by-position, what we can look for in this offseason.  (Oh, and then we can dive headfirst into the Eagles, since it is mid-November already).

Catcher – Carlos Ruiz has proven, despite some doubters, that he is an every day catcher in this league, and just in time, both for him and the Phils.  He is now arbitration-eligible, so he is due a nice little raise.  I don’t think there was ever real danger in the Phils non-tendering him, but even that remote possibility has obviously been erased.  The only question in its place is whether to go for the one-year arbitration, sign a one-year deal before getting to the courts, or sign him to a long-term contract.  If it were me, I would go with that last option and lock him up, but that would depend on a lot of things, most importantly, what he is thinking, in terms of contract specifics.  There are a lot of salary questions coming up for the Phils (we’ll definitely get to them later in this post), so it’s not like they can just throw him whatever he asks for.  Ruiz can look at his postseason numbers and the team’s success and ask for a pretty hefty contract.  Or, he can look at the regular season numbers and the probably lack of big-time suitors and ask for marginal money.  The answer probably lies somewhere in between, which is reasonable.  My guess is that when the Phils traded away Lou Marson in the Cliff Lee deal, they basically resigned themselves to signing Ruiz long-term, at a decent price.  And, if you ask me, that’s a great decision because he should be relatively affordable, and he brings a TON to the table.

Firstbase – Obviously, the big guy is coming back (and has his salary go from $15 mil to $19 mil, which is no problem).  His struggles in the World Series were VERY well-documented, but I am not concerned.  He was dominant in the first two rounds, and, for all of his production, you have to know that he’s going to struggle a bit against left-handed pitching.  And, the Yanks threw him a healthy dose of left-handers.  Howard is getting paid hansomely and his offseason weight loss a year ago has lessened my fears of his slippery slope after age 30.  That concern is still there, but I’m no longer thinking that he’s a “must-go” after the current contract.

Secondbase – I should be well into my “middle-ages” before the Phillies ever have a concern at secondbase again.  We will be telling our grandkids about how lucky we were to get to see Chase Utley play every day.  Do not ever take that for granted, folks, as we are potentially watching one of the all-time greats.  Utley does get a $4 million raise this year, from $11.3 mil to $15.3 mil.

Continue reading “The Next Steps…”

Live Blog: World Series, Game 6

5:49 PM:  OK, just over two hours until game time.  Check out Bry’s post below for a preview of the next two games (that’s right, I said two games).  This will be a more sporadic version of the live blog, as I don’t think I have it in me to post too much in what promises to be a tense game with the Phils facing elimination. 

The line-ups have been handed in.  The Yankees are sticking with Nick Swisher in right field (no surprise) and Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have flip-flopped in the 5-6 spots (with Matsui 5th) from where they were in Game 1 (also no surprise).  For the Phils, Shane Victorino is in the line-up, and Ben Francisco will play left field and bat 8th.  The article I saw only said that Francisco is hitting 8th and didn’t say who was 9th, but I’m assuming it’s Ruiz.  I guess Charlie doesn’t put much stock in the theory that it’s nice to have speed in the 9-hole.

7:06 PM:  I know you can say this for literally every baseball game ever played, but it would be huge for the Phils to get on the board first tonight.  Of course, there’s Mariano Rivera looming at the end of the game and it would put the crowd on edge.  Also, after the Game 5 win, even a two-run lead early on would move the Pressure Meter from the Phils to the Yankees.

7:32 PM:  An interesting thing to keep an eye tonight will be how the Yankees approach Chase Utley.  The combination of his hot hitting and Ryan Howard’s struggles may mean Chase won’t see nearly as much to hit.  Also, we’ll see if the Yanks decide to throw at him.  A-Rod has been hit 3 times, and Posada made a comment yesterday about wanting to make Chase “uncomfortable”.  Former Yankee David Wells wrote a guest column in the New York Post today saying that they should throw at Chase tonight.  He’ll get a first inning at-bat, so we’ll see.

8:02 PM:  Victorino was still shaking his hand after that swinging bunt single.  We’ll have to keep an eye on him when he has to throw the ball.

8:39 PM:  Well, bad start.  Two-run homer by Matsui, and 3 of the 6 outs Pedro’s gotten (Jeter, Teixeira, Cano) have been on pretty hard-hit balls.  I think he could settle in here, but obviously the bullpen needs to be on call from here on out.

8:47 PM:  OK, maybe Charlie does believe in speed in the 9-hole!  Ruiz rips a one-out triple, as the ball takes a nice bounce off the wall, and J-Roll brings him in with a sac-fly.  Attaboy, Chooch!

9:12 PM:  4-1 Yankees through 3.  McCarver and Buck made way too big of a deal about Pedro not having his good stuff.  His stuff is the same tonight that it’s been in his other starts, but his command has been TERRIBLE.  He’s walked two and hit another.  He got very lucky on that strike three call on A-Rod, then he didn’t get the 0-2 fastball to Matsui up as high as Ruiz wanted it.  I’m ok with Charlie leaving him in to face Matsui there, but any more trouble at all, and Pedro has to be out.  Also, Victorino’s throw on that single was really bad.  The Yankees will probably be running on him.  Some good news announced as Damon is replaced by Jerry Hairston after pulling a muscle.

9:24 PM:  That was really weird. Andy Pettitte definitely mouthed to Posada, “Backdoor slider”, then threw one to Feliz on a 2-2 pitch with two runners on.  Not sure I’ve ever seen a pitcher do that, and this seems like an odd time for the first.  In any event he gets Feliz on the next pitch, and the Phils are down to 3 innings before its Rivera time.

10:03 PM:  7-1 Yanks through 5, and we’re officially in “it’ll take a miracle” territory.  Not much to say about that 5th inning.  Charlie made the logical moves to Durbin and Happ, and they just didn’t have it.  It’s a tough line-up, and nobody can get Matsui out.

10:19 PM:  Ryan Howard! Welcome to the World Series!  One step on the way to a miracle. 7-3.

10:30 PM:  With Damon out of the game and replaced by the righty Hairston, it’s an easy call to go to Park with the top of the order coming up.  After the double by Matsui, Happ actually pitched pretty well.

10:36 PM:  I think Charlie should let Francisco hit to start the 7th.  You don’t want Stairs leading off an inning, and when was the last time Dobbs even had an at-bat?  Plus, if you use either of those guys for Francisco, you’ll have to put Bruntlett in LF, which could bring him up in a potentially key spot in the 9th.  Let Francisco hit.

10:47 PM:  Huge opportunity here, with Utley batting and two men on.  By the way, note to Ruben Amaro: let’s not even go to arbitration with Ruiz.  Just hand the guy a 4-year deal and make him our catcher for the foreseeable future.  He’s a fan favorite, great defensively in every way, and a clutch hitter.  What else do you want in a catcher?

11:11 PM:  Heading to the 8th.  Mariano Rivera is due to just totally blow it, right?  This is baseball, even Hall-of-Famers fail miserably sometimes.  He’s due, right?

11:58 PM:  Well, I’m not really up for a World Series or season re-cap right now, but I do know that this loss doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it would have had we not won this thing a year ago.  Also, it was probably the most impressive title defense of any team this decade, and virtually everybody will be back for another run at it next year.  Here’s hoping for more sleepless Octobers in our futures, and here’s to a great season for the Fightins.

Counting Outs & Measuring Blood Pressures

pedro world seriesWell, here we go again.  After one much-needed day off (for the fans), we are right back to the heart attacks that are involved in being a fan of either of these World Series teams tonight with Game Six.  Andy Pettitte, on short rest, versus Pedro Martinez in an epic game that has everything in place as “one for the ages.”  I think it’s pretty safe to say that neither pitcher will be dominant, the way Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett were in the first two games of the series.  And, there are some absolutely red-hot hitters on both sides of the diamond right now, so it’s safe to say that there will be quite a few runs scored tonight, and the bullpens may be in play rather early.  All of this adds up to a brutal, brutal game for the fans tonight.  Think about these factors, and how they will probably take years of the lives of Phillies fans tonight:

  •  Game 6 of the World Series
  • At Yankee Stadium
  • Do-or-die
  • A 37-year old starting pitcher who probably won’t pitch more than 7 innings, no matter what
  • A very, VERY shaky bullpen, consisting of exactly ZERO pitchers in which we can have a lot of confidence
  • Lots of runs scored, so it should be close throughout, with no one ever out of it
  • A potent Yankees lineup, featuring two first-ballot Hall of Famers who are red-hot, hitting 1st and 4th
  • The best relief pitcher of all-time, who probably comes into play as early as the 7th inning
  • Cole Hamels (who probably doesn’t even instill confidence in his own mother, at this point) scheduled as tomorrow’s starting pitcher, if we can even get there

So, let us think about what has to be done for this Phillies team to repeat as champs.  As, I often like to do when watching a baseball game–especially in the playoffs–is to start “counting outs.”  I talk about it all the time when I do live blogs because it’s usually reserved for once a game gets underway and you start to surmise who each manager is going to use his bullpen.  But, with the Phils needing two wins to win the title, it might be relevant to start doing so already. 

The Yankees, in all intents and purposes, need 21 outs.  You can safely assume that Mariano Rivera is available for 2 innings…at least.  I heard Girardi say that he’s looking at 35-40 pitches from Mo, which, he feels, does put him in play possibly as early as the middle of a Phillies’ 7th inning.  But, let’s say, for argument’s sake that Mo is going to give the Yanks a two-inning save to win the title.  And, let’s also say that, chances are, the Phillies do not get to the best reliever of all-time.  So, the Yankees need 21 outs from either Pettitte + middle relief OR Sabathia + middle relief.

Doogan started this discussion in yesterday’s post, when he talked about how the Phillies were going to piece together the 54 outs they need to take this series.  54 outs.  That is what is staring at the Phils right now.  And, to be honest, it’s hard to imagine that they have the horses to get 54 outs right now, period–let alone the daunting task of doing it in Yankee Stadium against the AL’s best lineup.

But, let’s do some math.  Absolute best-case scenario over the next two nights from the starting pitchers is about 40 of the 54 outs needed.  Pedro will not go more than 7 innings tonight, and realistically, if you go into the 7th with Hamels (or Happ or a combination of the two) in Game 7, you’ve gotta be pretty happy.  Yes, Hamels can throw a gem, but he can also struggle to get out of the 4th.  Getting 6+ from him is probably the most we can hope for. 

This leaves the Phillies, in the absolute best-case scenario, needing 14 outs from the bullpen.  It’s definitely realistic to eyrethink that Scott Eyre will get a big out against a left-hander in each of the two games.  In fact, I could see him getting back-to-back hitters, since Posada and Tex are much better left-handed, so you could get a Damon-Tex combo or a Posada-Matsui combo, at some point in the later innings.  So, let’s give Scott Eyre 3 outs.  That leaves 11, with 6 of those outs, most likely, having to be 9th-inning outs in Yankee Stadium. 

If we’re operating under the assumption that both starters have good outings, J.A. Happ is not going to be a long man (and if he is, his outs in that role will be counted above).  Can we say that some combination of situational appearances from LH Happ and RH Durbin will get three more outs?  I think that’s fair. 

This leaves eight.  Eight big outs in the 8th or 9th innings in World Series games in Yankee Stadium.  If all of the above goes as described above (and, again, that’s a HUGE “if”), we need eight outs, in some combination, from Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chan-Ho Park, Brett Myers, and dare-I-say-it Cliff Lee.  That’s what this season may come down to–can that motley quintet of a head-case closer, a head-case former front-line starter, a former big-dollar starter turned budget reliever, a great setup man who has never shown the guts to close, and an elite starting pitcher on TWO DAYS’ REST get eight outs in the next two nights???

Can they?

I just may be-LEE-ve in miracles…

Two Tough Ones Left to Go

utleyA big Game 5 win is behind the Phillies and they now have today to catch their breaths and prepare for what is still an uphill climb to another title.  From the very start of this postseason, there have been two big questions with the Phils: how will they use their starting pitchers?  And, is the bullpen good enough?  So, it’s fitting that, with a maximum of two games left, those are still the questions that need to be answered.

The good news is that if they can pull this off, if they can go into Yankee Stadium and win Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, their legacy will be written in stone.  They will go down as one of the most clutch teams in the history of the sport.  And Charlie Manuel, given the magic act he’s had to perform with his pitching staff, will have done as much as any manager I’ve ever seen to earn a championship.  This is the opportunity the team is faced with in the next couple of days and, knowing this team, I’m guessing they couldn’t be happier about it.  Teams like this aren’t just “not afraid” of pressure-packed situations, they look forward to them and thrive in them.

That being said, this sport comes down to getting people out, and it will be endlessly interesting to see how the Phillies go about getting the 54 outs that they’ll need to win the next two games.  The one thing we know for sure is that Pedro Martinez will get the ball to start Game 6.  He’s looked great in his two postseason starts so far, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t expect another solid outing.  Also, I don’t see any reason why we can’t expect the Phils to put up some runs on Andy Pettitte.  He didn’t shut them down in Game 3 (6 innings, 4 runs) and he’ll be going on three days rest, for the first time in three years, at the age of 37 (and sans steroids, let’s just add).

But what does Charlie do in the late-innings of a close game?  Is it time, in Game 6 of the World Series, for a major madsonoverhaul of the bullpen?  I have very little confidence right now in Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson.  Chan Ho Park and Chad Durbin have looked better than them in the last few weeks, but do you decide to throw one of them out there in the 8th or 9th inning of a one-run game in Yankee Stadium? I really don’t know.  One thing I do know, though, is that Charlie needs to go back to using Scott Eyre.  Eyre definitely should have started the 9th inning last night (with Posada and Matsui coming up) and he definitely should have finished it (with Damon batting, after Madson had nearly imploded).  The Yankees got two pretty big hits by left-handed hitters, while Eyre sat and watched in the pen.  Why?  Either way, Charlie will have some very tough decisions to make if the Phils have a small lead in the late-innings tomorrow night.

Of course, the final big question surrounding Phillie pitching is who would get the Game 7 start.  Now, I’m not going to jump in on the Cole Hamels psycho-analysis.  Let’s just say that everything I said in the second paragraph about “teams like this”, simply don’t apply to Hamels.  And so, yes, it’s pretty scary to imagine handing him the ball in Game 7 in Yankee Stadium.  The only alternative, J.A. Happ, is a rookie, who would be making his first start in weeks, and would be doing it in the most pressure-packed situation possible.   But, Happ did pitch well in Yankee Stadium in May (6 innings, 2 runs) and, is he really that much bigger of a question mark than Hamels at this point?  It would be a tough call, and I have to think Charlie would go with Hamels, but if the Phils can pull off a win on Wednesday, we’ll just have to wait and see what they do.

The good news for Phillie fans: Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are red-hot.  Jimmy Rollins is starting to get on-base.  Shane Victorino should benefit from the day of rest today after the injury to his hand.  And, oh yeah, you’re two wins away from a world championship!