Monday, January 25, 2010

Will History Hurt Kentucky?

Kentucky's rise to the Number 1 spot in both college basketball polls this week signals a major triumph for a program that was so bad last season it missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years and cost coach Billy Gillispie his job.

What John Calipari has done in resurrecting Kentucky is virtually unprecedented and shows the power of recruiting. Why? The players flourishing at Kentucky could just as easily have been overwhelming Conference USA opponents as members of Calipari's old Memphis team this season.

Four of Kentucky's top seven scorers are freshmen thanks to Calipari, including All-America candidate John Wall (17.0 ppg., 6.9 apg.), forward DeMarcus Cousins (15.4 ppg., 9.5 rpg.), and guard Eric Bledsoe (11.3 ppg.).

Junior forward Patrick Patterson (15.9 ppg., 7.8 rpg.), a possible NBA early-entry candidate last year, is icing on the cake.

The Wildcats still face an historical uphill battle this season.

Syracuse in 2003 and Louisville in 1986 are the only teams since 1985 to win the national championship the year after missing the NCAA Tournament the previous year.

For Syracuse, freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara led the way, as well as Philly native sophomore Hakim Warrick.

Before that, the 1986 Cardinals were led by--you guessed it--freshman Pervis Ellison, the tourney's Most Outstanding Player. The 1985 season was the first year 64 teams were invited to the tournament.

Historical precedent offers Kentucky a good news/bad new scenario. Since '85, just four teams have even reached the national championship game after missing the tourney the preceding year: Georgia Tech in 2004, Syracuse in 2003, Michigan in 1992, and Louisville in 1986.

The good news: Every team except Georgia Tech was led by freshmen in prominent roles. Syracuse had Anthony and McNamara, Michigan had the Fab Five, and Louisville featured Ellison.

The Wildcats aren't the only team hoping to repeat the success of Syracuse and Louisville. Other current top 25 teams that missed last year's NCAA Tournament include Kansas State, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Mississippi, and Baylor.

Are Kentucky's freshmen up to the challenge?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Making History

The last time the Phillies played a World Series Game 6, it ended with Joe Carter jumping around the bases after his Series-winning home run in 1993. With that unpleasant reminder out of the way, here are a few historical notes heading into tonight's do-or-die Game 6.

Chase Utley, with his 5 World Series home runs this season, and Ryan Howard, with his 12 Series strikeouts, have tied major-league records, but there are plenty more records out there for this year's team.

With 10 home runs already in this World Series, the Phillies now have 24 this postseason, breaking last year's club record of 18. The major-league high is 27 held by the San Francisco Giants in 2002. Only the Rays last year and the Houston Astros in 2004--both had 26--have hit more in one postseason. (The Yankees this year have 5 against the Phillies and 19 overall.)

Howard holds the franchise playoff record with 25 career RBI (in 31 games), but he's not alone in breaking the old Phillies mark of 16 set by Mike Schmidt in 36 games. Shane Victorino (23 in 31 games), Utley (19 in 31), and Jayson Werth (17 in 30 games with the Phillies) did as well. And Raul Ibanez (13 in 14 games with the Phillies) and Carlos Ruiz (13 in 31) are close.

Also, Howard's 15 RBIs this postseason is just 4 behind the all-time single-season record, currently held by Boston's David Ortiz in 2004, Anaheim's Scott Spiezio in 2002, and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar in 1997. However, New York's Alex Rodriguez has 18 this postseason.

And one last follow-up on a previous post, the Phillies still have yet to get a pinch-hit this postseason. Pinch-hitters or players who replaced starters are now 0-for-20 in 2009. The last Phillie to get a pinch-hit in the postseason was Geoff Jenkins, whose sixth-inning double in Game 5 last year ignited a rally.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In A Pinch

How long has it been since a Phillies pinch-hitter got a postseason hit? The last guy to do it is no longer with the team.

Players who either pinch-hit or replaced starters during the game are 0-15 this postseason. The blame can be shared across the board as four players are among the hitless. Miguel Cairo, not on the World Series roster, is 0-5 this postseason. Ben Francisco is 0-4 as a pinch-hitter or mid-game replacement, while Greg Dobbs is 0-4 and Matt Stairs is 0-2 with two walks.

The last Phillie pinch-hitter to get a hit played a significant role in the team's 2008 World Series title. Geoff Jenkins ripped a sixth-inning double during the re-start of Game 5 in 2008.

The last Phillie on the 2009 World Series roster to get a pinch-hit was...surprise, Eric Bruntlett, who hit a home run in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One And Done

How important is it to win the first game of the World Series, especially if you're the visiting team? If history is any indication, it's simple: lose and you're toast.

Only once in the last 26 World Series has the visiting team lost Game 1 and then won the Series. That occurred in 1992 when Toronto dropped the first game, but rallied to beat the Braves in six games.

And it's not just the visitors who can't afford to lose Game 1. Just three teams have lost Game 1 in the last 21 World Series and still managed to win the series. Those were the Angels in 2002, the Yankees in 1996, and the Blue Jays in 1992.

Historically, Phillies teams have done well in the first game of a postseason series, going 12-6. They're also 4-2 in the first game of the World Series, having lost Game 1 in 1950 and 1993.

The current group of Phillies are 5-0 in the first game of their last five series, with their last loss coming in Game 1 of their 3-0 series loss to Colorado in 2007.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Phillies' Postseason Stars

It can be easy to take this talented group of Phillies for granted, even with one World Series title and another possibly on the way. That's because they're the deepest team in Phillies history; when several players are off, several others step up.

How else to explain the fact that six--six!--Phillies are having postseasons that so far rank among the best in team history. (On a previous blog entry, I looked at the best single-series NLCS postseasons in team history.)

For argument's sake, I'm considering only those players in team history who played at least two postseason series in one year, meaning players from 1915, 1950, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 2007 are disqualified. Jay Johnstone went 7-for-9 in 1976, but it's not fair to say he had the best-hitting postseason in team history. That means players from 1980, 1983, 1993, 2008, and 2009 merit consideration.

This year's top performers include NLCS MVP Ryan Howard--on pace for the best postseason in Phillies history--two-game winner Cliff Lee, earned-run-free Brad Lidge, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. Surprisingly, neither Jimmy Rollins nor Chase Utley has enjoyed a noteworthy postseason either in 2008 or 2009.

Including those six, whose final numbers depend on the 2009 World Series, here are the top postseasons in Phillies history, including the 10 best by everyday players and the seven best by pitchers.

Player Year G H BA R HR RBI OBP Slg % OPS
  • Ryan Howard 2009 9 11 .354 8 2 14 .461 .741 1.202
  • Lenny Dykstra 1993 12 15 .312 14 6 10 .450 .729 1.179
  • Shane Victorino 2009 9 13 .361 8 3 7 .439 .722 1.161
  • Gary Matthews 1983 9 10 .333 5 4 9 .411 .733 1.144
  • Jayson Werth 2009 9 9 .281 10 5 10 .394 .812 1.206
  • John Kruk 1993 12 14 .298 8 1 9 .431 .468 .899
  • Carlos Ruiz 2009 9 9 .345 4 1 7 .500 .500 1.000
  • Pete Rose 1980 11 14 .325 5 0 3 .431 .348 .779
  • Pete Rose 1983 9 11 .343 4 0 1 .388 .375 .763
  • Larry Bowa 1980 11 15 .348 5 0 2 .391 .372 .763
Pitcher Year Rec. IP H ER BB K ERA Saves
  • Cliff Lee 2009 2-0 24.1 14 2 3 20 0.74
  • Cole Hamels 2008 4-0 35 23 7 9 30 1.80
  • Brad Lidge 2008 0-0 9.1 6 1 3 13 0.97 7
  • Brad Lidge 2009 1-0 4.0 6 0 3 4 0.00 3
  • Steve Carlton 1983 2-1 20.1 18 3 8 20 1.50
  • Curt Schilling 1993 1-1 31.1 24 9 7 28 2.61
  • Steve Carlton 1980 3-0 27.1 25 7 17 23 2.32

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catching On

What is it about catchers starring in the National League Championship Series? Through four games, the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz leads the team in batting average (.500) and on-base percentage (.667), is tied for the lead in hits (5), runs (4), and walks (4), and is second to Ryan Howard in RBIs (4), slugging percentage (.900), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) at 1.567.

If it weren't for Howard, Ruiz would be the runaway leader for NLCS MVP. That's not so uncommon among National League catchers.

In the past 10 years, three catchers have been named NLCS MVP--while none have ever won the award in the American League since its AL inception in 1980. The three were Ivan Rodriguez with Florida in 2003, Benito Santiago with San Francisco in 2002, and Atlanta's Eddie Perez in 1999.

Two other catchers have won the award since it began in the NL in 1977: Atlanta's Javy Lopez in 1996, and Darrell Porter of St. Louis in 1982.

Ruiz's numbers so far compare favorably with the best NLCS showings of recent years. Here's a comparison:

2009 Carlos Ruiz .500 BA, .667 OBP, 1.567 OPS, 5 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI
2006 Yadier Molina .348 BA, .423 OBP, 1.075 OPS, 8 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI
2003 Ivan Rodriguez .321 BA, .424 OBP, 1.031 OPS, 9 H, 5 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, MVP
2002 Benito Santiago .300 BA, .364 OBP, .964 OPS, 6 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, MVP
2000 Mike Piazza .412 BA, .545 OBP, 1.487 OPS, 7 H, 7 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI
1999 Eddie Perez .500 BA, .524 OBP, 1.424 OPS, 10 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, MVP

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Perfect In The Clutch

Cole Hamels has history and experience on his side in Wednesday's NLCS game against the Dodgers. The Phillies, ahead 3 games to 1, will advance to the World Series with a win, and the team is historically perfect in such series-clinching situations.

The Phillies as a franchise are 6-0 in games in which they can possibly clinch the NLCS or World Series. Hamels is one of just four Phillies pitchers to start such a game. The others: Steve Carlton, Marty Bystrom, and Tommy Greene, with those last two names making for a great trivia question.

Bystrom was the first Phillies pitcher in team history to start a possible series-clincher, when he took the mound against Houston in Game 5 of the best-of-five 1980 NLCS. He pitched 5.1 innings, allowing 7 hits and 1 earned run. Dick Ruthven, a starter working in relief, got the win in the 10th inning.

Carlton twice won series clinchers, first taking Game 6 of the 1980 World Series against Kansas City, and then Game 4 of the best-of-five 1983 NLCS against the Dodgers. Greene won Game 6 of the 1993 NLCS by defeating the Braves with 7 innings of 5-hit ball.

Hamels, of course, started both deciding games for the Phillies in 2008, beating the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS. He got a no-decision against the Rays in rain-delayed Game 5 of the World Series, as J.C. Romero took the win.

In those six games, Greene is the only starter to allow more than 2 earned runs. Here's a list of all six.

1980 NLCS Bystrom 5.1 IP 7 H 1 ER no decision
1980 W.S. Carlton 7 IP 4 H 1 ER Win
1983 NLCS Carlton 6 IP 6 H 1 ER Win
1993 NLCS Greene 7 IP 5 H 3 ER Win
2008 NLCS Hamels 7 IP 5 H 1 ER Win
2008 W.S. Hamels 6 IP 5 H 2 ER no decision