Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now A Word From Tampa Bay

If it’s any consolation, the city that owns Philly isn’t making it easy on its followers.

Tampa Bay has beaten Philadelphia in too many key games recently, in particular: the 2003 NFC Championship game victory over the Eagles as the Buccaneers went on to win the Super Bowl—in the last Eagles game at the Vet—and also the 2004 Eastern Conference finals Game 7 win over the Flyers, as the Lightning eventually won the Stanley Cup. (Yeah, it's hockey, but we'll still count it.)

Now, though, the Phillies have the Rays and their fans on the edge of a season-ending, World Series-failing precipice.

“I’m losing a lot of sleep over it,” said Mike Alstott, the former Tampa Bay running back who was part of the Buccaneers’ 27-10 win over the Eagles in the 2003.

I interviewed Alstott for an ESPN story and we got around to talking about the Phillies and Rays. Alstott knows several players through a variety of ways, including charity work, namely Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, J.P. Howell, and Jonny Gomes.

Alstott has season tickets to the Rays and attended the World Series games in Tampa Bay. He’s a good guy with a key to the city of St. Petersburg, a Super Bowl ring, and an active charitable organization.

But here’s hoping he’s a lousy prognosticator.

“We were up 3-1 against Boston and ended up having to go to a Game 7,” Alstott said. “So my prediction: We’re going to a Game 7.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

One And Done

One more win. The Phillies are one win away from a city’s citizens celebrating an end to 100 seasons of title-less Philadelphia teams, dating to the 1983 76ers.

That means the city is less than 24 hours away from a possible celebration that would be a Philly fan’s version of the first moon landing, V-E Day, and the ’80 Phillies and ’83 Sixers parades combined. The wait has been too long, the build-up too intense.

Until then, here are a few nuggets to consider heading into Game 5.

* The Phillies’ bullpen has been unhittable in the postseason—and getting better with each series. Here are the bullpen’s numbers for each of the three series:

World Series against Tampa Bay: 8.2 IP 2 H, 1 ER, 12 K, 1.09 ERA

NLCS against L.A.: 18.2 IP, 13 H, 2 ER, 17 K, 0.97 ERA

NLDS against Milwaukee: 10 IP, 13 H, 4 ER, 9 K, 3.60 ERA

* This is the fourth time the Phillies have won three games in a best-of-seven postseason series: the 1980 World Series against Kansas City; the 1993 NLCS against Atlanta; and the 2008 NLCS against Los Angeles. Each of the previous three times, the Phillies won the next game to take the series.

* The team has 9 World Series home runs in just 4 games—only the 1993 Phillies had more homers in an entire postseason (13 in 12 games). The 2008 team’s 19 this postseason in 13 games is a Phillies record.

* The Phillies are perfect at home in the 2008 playoffs (6-0) and are 23-6 in their last 29 games overall.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mail Call For Jimmy Rollins

Dear Jimmy,

Thanks for doing Oaktown proud by getting to the Series! But from one Oakland-raised, undersized, National League MVP middle infielder to another, all I can say is, I feel your pain.

Your postseason and World Series nightmares are nothing, trust me. I know, I’ve been there.

But let me pass on a little secret. If you win a World Series (or two, as I did), all’s forgiven. What’s that? Say it ain’t so, Joe?

It’s true. I’m in the Hall of Fame—and not all my former World Series star teammates can say that. (Bet you thought I wouldn’t throw you under the bus, huh, Pete.)

But here’s the thing, Jimmy. Shake it off. Yes, you have the worst postseason batting average of any full-time starter for the Phillies or Rays (.191). And yes, you’re 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the World Series—geez, you’re not alone on your team there, are you?

But I was worse, a lot worse in the postseason. Ready for this—it’s ugly, but I’ve seen your postseason, so I know you’re used to ugly:

.100 in the ’73 NLCS loss to the New York Mets
.000 (0-for-7, with six walks) in the ’76 NLCS win over the Phillies
.000 (0-for-11) in the ’79 NLCS loss to Pittsburgh
.154 in the ’80 NLCS loss to the Phillies
.067 in the ’83 NLCS win over the L.A. Dodgers

And if you just want my World Series stats (good thing I had some clutch teammates!), here they are. Maybe they’ll be a little pick-me-up for you:

3-for-24 in ‘72 (.125) 6 walks
7-for-27 in ‘75 (.259), 5 walks
5-for-15 in ‘76 (.333), 2 walks
5-for-19 in ‘83 (.263), 2 walks

Ready for more, Jimmy: Bill James called me the best second baseman of all time and I hit better than .273 just once in 11 different postseason series. And the kicker: I hit .235 in 23 World Series games, with just seven hits and eight RBIs in four different World Series appearances.

So don’t worry, Jimmy. It’ll all work out in the end. If you have Hall of Fame teammates to bail you out—hallelujah for Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose (he's a Hall of Famer to me)—all’s good.

Because believe me, nothing’s worse than having teammates like the ones I had when I was an Astro before I got traded. Ask Brad Lidge—getting out of Houston makes all the difference.

Your Oaktown pal,

Joe Morgan

Thursday, October 23, 2008

World Series picks

Note: All picks below were made prior to the first game of the World Series.

Hey all,

Following the genius of Carnac, I'm laying down a one-week rule: This week's picks have to be World Series picks. And I don't mean World Series of Australian Rules Duck-Duck-Goose or FIFA/CONCAFAFACFAFAC soccer.

You're on the line for a Phillies/Rays World Series pick. Choose whichever game you want, factoring in the pitchers, catchers, DHs, home-field advantage, Phanatic mojo—whatever, it's your call. — John

Boy, you sure are keen on regulating even the minutest aspect of daily life. Ever think about running for office? But I digress…

Game 2, Thursday Oct 23: James Shields gets shelled, but feels OK knowing he’s not Brett Myers, who gets shelled more. Rays win 9-7. — Kurt

May I pick there will be at least 4 games? — Phil

You may if you can name the four combined Hall of Famers from the Phillies' 1950 and 1980 World Series teams. There were 2 each. No internet checking, but you can ask your co-workers. — John

My guess (I’m going for extra credit points…): Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts; Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. — Kurt

Give that man extra credit points! You get to watch the game tonight for free! — John

I wish…. My cable system doesn’t carry cricket matches. — Kurt

Hard to believe that less than 1 1⁄2 years ago (April 18, 2007), Charlie Manuel challenged the Burger King character and 610 WIP host, Howard Eskin, to a fight. Eskin’s constant criticism of Manuel had finally come to a head after an 8-1 loss to the New York Mets, when Eskin challenged Manuel on the lack of emotion demonstrated during and after the game. Eskin’s question? “Don't you think it would help your players if they saw you fired up a bit more?”

Fast-forward to today: The Phillies have outplayed the Mets for the National League East lead two years in a row. Not only that, but this year the Phillies have fought their way through the playoffs and now find themselves in the 2008 WORLD SERIES—the first appearance since 1993. Manuel has rallied his team to the pinnacle of baseball.

Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard are going to step up and play exceptional baseball this round, providing that extra boost to the beginning of the batting order. Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and company will continue their great playoff efforts. Pitching will remain consistent, and let's not forget that the Phillies have something the Rays don’t: a closer. The Philly Phanatic will continue the antics—unmatchable! And finally, Manuel will do what Terry Francona, manager of the Boston Red Sox, was unable to do, and that’s beat the Rays in six games and give this city something it hasn’t had since 1980—World Series Champions!!! Phillies win game 1, 3, 4, and 6.

Enough “fire” for you, Eskin? — Troy V. of Yardley

That's a well-researched, well-thought-out pick—and it comes with a Burger King reference, too! What's not to love about it. — John

Phillies = political harbinger? Consider: Every time the Phillies win the World Series, a Republican wins the White House. — Kurt

I believe I told Phil 6 months ago that there was going to be a parade down Broad Street for our 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. However, I am worried about this series. The Rays come out of the best division in baseball and the best league in baseball. The experts keep waiting for them to fail yet they keep winning. With that being said, I am still predicting the Phillies in 7 games, with Jamie Moyer picking up wins in games 3 and 7. The young Rays will struggle with his off-speed stuff, much the way Moyer has dominated the Florida Marlins over the years. I have no faith in Myers winning a game, so Moyer is the key. — Dave

My pick makes it unanimous: Phillies in 6 and a winter of warm memories! — John

Second To None

Chase Utley could do something no second baseman has done in almost 50 years: become a World Series MVP. Utley’s Game 1 fireworks—2-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 stolen bases—put him on pace to become the first one since New York’s Bobby Richardson in 1960 against Pittsburgh.

Utley showed no rust after a week off, pounding a 2-2 first-inning pitch into the right-field seats in his first World Series at-bat. He gave the Phillies a lead they’d hold for their first Series win 15 years.

“I don’t think [the layoff] threw off our timing too much,” said Utley.

While Richardson is one target for Utley, past Phillies second basemen are simply low-hanging fruit. In only one game, his chase to match the output of past Phillies second basemen in the World Series is already over when it comes to driving in runs.

There have been six second basemen on the Phillies’ five World Series teams:
1993: Mariano Duncan/Mickey Morandini
1983: Joe Morgan
1980: Manny Trillo
1950: Mike Goliat
1915: Bert Niehoff

Those six combined drove in just seven runs in 26 games. Utley already has as many as Duncan, Trillo, and Morgan each managed. Coincidentally, Morgan opened Game 1 in 1983 much like Utley, going 2-for-4 with a home run.

Of the six, only Duncan came through in the World Series, though, hitting .345 (10-for-29) with 2 RBIs. Morandini (.200), Morgan (.263), Trillo (.217), Goliat (.214), and Niehoff (.063) produced largely forgettable results.

“When you watch Utley day-in and day-out, and the way the guy goes about playing baseball, I think he’s one of the best players in the game,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “His mindset is, I know I’m going to do good.”

Perhaps also worth noting about Richardson and that 1960 Series: His American League team lost to a team from Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Men in the Mirror: The '80 & '08 Phillies

What a season: A mad-dash scramble to make the playoffs when the season appeared lost midway through September. An MVP-caliber season from a Hall of Fame-worthy power hitter. Perhaps the best infield in all of baseball. A dominating lefthanded ace on the mound, followed by a tall righthanded set-up man and a no-doubt-about-it closer.

Yep, that 1980 season was something, alright.

If it seems that this is finally the Phillies year, it may be because the 2008 Phillies have so many similarities to that powerhouse 1980 team. In terms of the players—and how the season played out—’80 and ’08 are close to mirror images.

The 1980 team finished 91-71 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day. The 2008 Phillies went 92-70 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day.

Each team featured solid to standout players at every position. Six of the eight everyday players on the 1980 team were an All Star during their Phillies years (amazingly, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride weren’t, though both finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting in one Phillies season).

Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley are the only ’08 All Stars so far, but that serves to highlight the one key difference between the teams: age.

In ’80, all but two of the starters were in their 30s (Manny Trillo and Greg Luzinski being the 29-year-old exceptions). In ’08, all but two of the starters are in their 20s (Pedro Feliz and Pat Burrell are in the 30+ Club).

In ’80 Mike Schmidt collected 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, and the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty McBride finished in the Top 10. In ’08, Howard had 48 home runs, 146 RBIs, and could win the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty Chase Utley figures to have a Top 10 finish.

Both teams’ infields were among the Majors’ best and match up well in comparison with each other: Pete Rose-Howard, Trillo-Utley, Larry Bowa-Rollins, Schmidt-Feliz. Each teams’ left-side defense was up to Gold-Glove standards.

As for pitching, the comparisons are downright eerie. Each team was led by a dominating lefty (Steve Carlton, Cole Hamels) and had four starters pitch at least 150 innings. The ’08 Phillies have five relievers with 50+ innings pitched; the ’80 Phillies had four.

And when the late innings rolled around, ’80 manager Dallas Green turned to 6-foot-6 righty Ron Reed for a set-up man, much like ’08 manager Charlie Manuel goes to 6-foot-6 righty Ryan Madson. The closers (Tug McGraw, Brad Lidge) were nothing short of spectacular, putting together perhaps the best relief seasons in Phillies history.

McGraw went 5-4 with 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA in 92.1 IP, with 75 strikeouts in the regular season. Lidge finished 2-0 with 41 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 69.1 IP with 92 strikeouts.

Finally, the way the two teams reached the playoffs makes the comparison all the more fitting. The 1980 team scrambled down the stretch, going 13-5 after sitting 2.5 games back on Sept. 16. The 2008 Phillies finished 13-3 after being 3.5 games back on Sept. 10. In ’80, they won 6 of their last 7; in ’08, the Phils won 6 of their last 8.

So far, the two teams even have the same number of postseason wins—7. But can the ’08 team bring home the ring like the ’80 Phillies?

“In terms of personnel and the way they play the game, [this team is] very competitive with the ‘80s guys,” said Dallas Green. “You’ve got a lot of similarities in power and defense. They have good pitching. And they have a lot of heart, which should carry them through.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sports, Sports & More Sports (I think)

Anybody know who won Wednesday night???? I’m so giddy, I could wear a Cowboys shirt (almost). This is going to be such a great next 2 weeks that I wish I were unemployed so I could really soak it in….

Time again for the Carnac Invitational, as the weekly picks should be known until Carnac gets one wrong. I'll send mine in a bit, but I'm almost considering picking Jamie Moyer's game again, based on Phil’s theory—don’t jinx things now. I HAVE to pick Moyer—that’s why the Phillies won the NLCS! – John

Trinidad & Tobago won, 2-1. The score’s deceiving because the U.S. squad came in “light” having already sewn up a place in the CONCACAF finals.

Oh, did you mean something else? Obama won. McCain sounded like a broken record. — Kurt

You could have made all that up for all we know! And NOOOOOOObody will bother to verify the facts. GO PHILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – Carnac

Well played, Kurt!! Premier League's back! After the brief WC qualifying hiatus, the boys are back on pitch. Toughest decision, though: Which game to pick? Carnac’s making a stink of things being 2-0. To keep pace it’d be easy to weigh in on the Liverpool (17pts) Wigan (9) match. Or nearly as certain is the Middlesbrough (9) Chelsea (17) fixture.

But I'll show Carnac, that sometimes it’s more fun to go out on a limb. I’m going with Stoke City, who is enjoying their first season in the Premier League, to continue Tottenham’s worst start since 1912, with a win at home in Britannia Stadium. (For those of you uninformed on Premier League, this is the equivalent of picking the Bengals over the Lions—few really care, but I know our host, John, has a soft spot for the Hotspur!)

Bonus pick: 13-0-0 Wake over 6-5-1 Dook Saturday night in Winston-Salem. And yes, I'm talking NCAA men’s soccer here) — Phil

Well, I figured everyone (except Phil) is going to be weighing in on MLB, NFL or College FB, so I’m going to weigh in on the Australia Tour of India. The 2nd test begins tomorrow, after a tightly contested 1st match that ended in a draw. Despite playing on foreign soil, I’m going to say Australia will prevail. (Of course, we won’t know until Oct. 21 when the cricket match is over.) [John: Note that this is just for the 2nd test, not for the entire Tour, or for the 3rd and 4th tests.) — Kurt

“Australia Tour of India?” The only good Australians touring India are Midnight Oil. — John

My stone-cold pick for Week 7—the Philadelphia Eagles will not lose this week in football! My Jimmy Johnsons predictions for this weekend:

* Defensive coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Johnson, will have his most successful run defense outing, as his “Sieve of Eratosthenes” which usually allows prime numbered running backs—and all other numbered running backs—to gain insurmountable rushing yards, will be resting through the Eagles’ bye week.

* NASCAR driver, Jimmy Johnson, currently number 1 in the Sprint cup point standings, will win at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday, and avoid getting into a fight with dueling duo’s Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

* Ex-Dallas Cowboys/Miami Dolphins head coach and current FOX sports commentator Jimmy Johnson, will continue his flawless hair day streak this weekend as he fights off a hoard of beauty pageant contestants in the FOX studio local shopping area while trying to purchase all available hair-care products.

And finally, my congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for their amazing run through the NL Championship! Hello, World Series! — Troy V. of Yardley

Who gave you guys homes in this area without checking your allegiances? When you'd rather talk Eratosthenese then errors-by-Furcal-ese on a day like this, I question why I even continue to lose playing poker with you.

I’m sneaking in my pick before Kevin even realizes Penn State plays this weekend: No papers, no TV, no idea, I figure. With apologies to Jamie Moyer for ditching him after he provided the Phillies their only 2008 postseason losses, I'm going with the Nittany Lions over Michigan—to snap a nine-game, 12-year losing streak to the Wolverines.

Sorry, Troy, but Michigan has two Johnsons on their roster—it appears it won’t be a perfect weekend for Johnsons everywhere.

Since I do not have TV, I have decided to go to the PSU game! I will tell stories at our next poker game. The spread was 23 1/2 the other day. Tough to beat that spread. – Kevin

Starting off with some boxing as 26-year-old Kelly Pavlik takes on Philly tough guy Bernard Hopkins, who is John’s age, tomorrow night in Atlantic City. Have to believe Pavlik will win but might not be able to knock him out. My pick: Pavlik by unanimous decision.

On to the Pennsbury Falcons who are back on the gridiron tonight traveling to William Tennent (wherever that is). Pennsbury is 6-1 and, to my surprise, has actually thrown a few passes this year. I think they completed 3 last game. Tennent hasn’t won a game so I am picking Pennsbury by 40 points.

Lastly, if you stayed up to watch the Boston Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit entering the 7th to win 8-7, you have to believe that Tampa will have a tough time rebounding from a tough defeat. They had the champagne all ready and now have to travel back to Tampa. — Dave

Nice pick on Pavlik. That’s definitely the big event of the week. Hopkins will stay close in, make it hard for Pavlik to drive that hook, but I think Pavlik’s the hungrier one here.

Things did not bode well in Game 4 of the NLCS when Rafael Furcal ran through Larry Bowa’s signal to hold up at third on Ramirez’ single and narrowly missed the tag. Furcal was lucky there, but he burned up his Baseball Karma with that measly run, and paid dearly in Game 5, committing three costly errors that contributed to two runs. Luckily for us Philly fans, third-base coaches can’t be substituted for shortstops (even if they were legendary shortstops in their prime). And so we move on to the World Series! I like Hamels pitching in Game 1. The Phils begin with a BIG win in Tampa. — Carnac

If Carnac’s going with the Phillies, I'm liking our chances! And finally, some Phillies talk! — John

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The National League Champs!

The Phillies are going to the World Series. I didn’t expect to write those eight words when I started this blog, but it’s such a beautiful sentence that I think I’ll be repeating it over and over for the next week until the World Series starts.

So many crazy things to consider, so much time over the next week to write about them, but here are a few random thoughts to consider after last night’s 5-1 NLCS championship victory.

Look Out, Lefty
Cole Hamels has now pitched two of the top seven postseason games in Phillies history. His line from last night: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 104 pitches (68 strikes).

As noted yesterday, he’s now the first Phillies pitcher to win three straight postseason starts. And with more of the same—meaning two good World Series outings—he could end the season just behind the legendary Steve Carlton in career Phillies postseason victories (Carlton has 6, Hamels 3).

It’s Outta Here!
With Jimmy Rollins’ first-inning home run, the 2008 Phillies moved past the 1983 Phillies for most home runs in a postseason. They’ve hit 10 in 9 games, and now trail only the 1993 Phillies (13 in 12 postseason games).

What’s surprising, though not if you’ve seen the games, is who’s not leading the charge. Ryan Howard has none and Chase Utley has one. Pat Burrell (3), Rollins (2), and Shane Victorino (2) have done the most damage.

Looking at the numbers below from every Phillies postseason, it’s amazing to consider that the 1980 Phillies hit just four postseason home runs—and went homerless in 7 of their 11 games. Mike Schmidt had a team-high of two.

Here are the Phillies all-time postseason home run leaders, thanks to the Phillies’ Larry Shenk: Lenny Dykstra (6), Greg Luzinski and Gary Matthews (5 each), Schmidt and Burrell (4 each).

2008: 10 HR in 9 games
2007: 5 HR in 3 games
1993: 13 HR in 12 games
1983: 9 HR in 9 games
1981: 4 HR in 5 games
1980: 4 HR in 11 games
1978: 5 HR in 4 games
1977: 2 HR in 4 games
1976: 1 HR in 3 games
1950: 0 HR in 4 games
1915: 1 HR in 5 games

The Game Actually Mattered
Isn’t it an odd coincidence that Brad Lidge ended up being the pitcher who decided the home-field advantage for the World Series—which now works against the Phillies?

In the 15th inning of the All-Star game—after having warmed up six times and thrown upwards of 100 pitches—Lidge allowed the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly to Texas’ Michael Young. Since the American League won the All-Star game, the AL team gets to host the World Series.

Other Philly-related quirks from that game: ex-Phillies manager Terry Francona guided the AL to the win, and Public Enemy No. 1, J.D. Drew, was the game’s MVP.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Will Hamels Make History?

The Phillies’ rich pitching legacy—from Grover Cleveland Alexander to Robin Roberts to Steve Carlton—includes Hall of Famers and Cy Young winners. But heading into tonight’s NLCS Game 5, Cole Hamels could make history by doing something no pitcher in the Phillies’ 126 years has accomplished: win three straight postseason games.

The Phillies couldn’t wish for a better starter heading into their potentially series-clinching game. Hamels has been exceptional in his three postseason starts—two this season and a loss to Colorado in 2007.

He has not allowed more than three earned runs or six hits in any outing, has reached the seventh inning and at least 100 pitches, and has a glittering 2.08 ERA. He's even hitting .333 (2 for 6) with a run scored.

When the games matter most, Hamels has been at his best.

“Going out there in the big game, you want to be that guy that can dictate it,” Hamels said. “And I think if you have the mind-set and the talent to do so, then you should be able to go out there and have success. That's something I have the confidence that I can go out there and do.”

Hamels’ success has come without the benefit of much run support. In his three postseason starts, the Phillies have scored a total of eight runs (2 against Colorado, 3 each against the Brewers and Dodgers).

Carlton, who started a Phillies-record 13 playoff games, came closest to winning three straight starts. He took Game 3 of the 1978 NLCS and Game 1 of the 1980 NLCS before registering a no-decision in Game 4 of the ’80 NLCS.

He then won two straight in the ’80 World Series against the Royals, including the deciding Game 6, before losing Game 1 of the ’81 Division Series against Montreal.

Roberts and Alexander each pitched just two postseason games for the Phillies. Curt Schilling started four, going 3-1, but he suffered a loss in Game 1 of the 1993 World Series before winning Game 5. John Denny, the 1983 Cy Young Award winner went 1-2 in the ’83 postseason.

“I know I have the talent to do it,” Hamels said. “It's just a matter of time and getting the opportunity to do it. I've had the opportunity this year, and I've been able to not only come through but hopefully put us into more situations where I can do it again, and again, and again."

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Nasty Boys, Part 2

Lost in Sunday’s 7-2 NLCS ugliness, after the five-run first, beanball battles, and Manny being manic, was the quiet brilliance of the Phillies’ strongest asset in the playoffs: the bullpen. Once again, the team’s relief pitchers took the mound and took control.

In Game 3, Clay Condrey, J.A. Happ, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, and J.C. Romero allowed just four hits and one earned run in 6.2 innings of fort-holding-down work.

In three NLCS games, the bullpen has been spectacular, yielding just seven hits and one earned run in 12.2 innings of relief, for an amazing 0.73 ERA. For the 2008 playoffs, they’ve allowed five earned runs in 22.2 innings for a 2.02 ERA.

“From top to bottom, this is the best bullpen I’ve ever been on,” said Brad Lidge.

It hasn’t just been Lidge, who has two saves in this series and four overall in this year’s playoffs to raise his career total to 10. With another save, he’ll trail only Dennis Eckersley (15) and Mariano Rivera (34) for career postseason saves.

So far, the Phillies have used seven relief pitchers against the Dodgers: the five from Game 3, plus Lidge and Ryan Madson. While Lidge’s 45-for-45 perfection stands out, it’s easy to forget that the Phillies’ bullpen led the National League in ERA this season with a 3.19 ERA and had just 15 blown saves, lowest in the league.

The bullpen’s success echoes great ‘pens from the past, including the 1996 Yankees (John Wetteland, Rivera, Jeff Nelson) and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds (the Nasty Boys of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton). Both of those teams took home World Series titles.

If the Phillies’ relievers continue their success against the Dodgers for the rest of the series, their numbers could be similar to the ‘90 Reds’ bullpen, which allowed 3 hits and 1 earned run in 18.1 innings against Barry Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the 1990 World Series, the Reds’ bullpen was even better: they gave up just three hits in 13 innings and no earned runs in a four-game sweep. In that Series, the Reds upset a heavily favored defending World Series champion (the A’s of Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire).

Coincidentally, if the Phillies beat the Dodgers to reach the World Series, they could face a heavily favored defending World Series champion (Boston). If so, the bullpen seems ready to answer the call.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guessing Games

Same friends, same feature, new picks of the weak. All picks were made prior to the Phillies' Game 1 NLCS game:

Brian Westbrook—two broken ribs, a sprained ankle, and still in the game last week—amazing! Westbrook can win the game on his own. The only problem is, I think he found where he left his glass jaw at the beginning of his Eagles' career.

Unfortunately, Westbrook's shoes are going to be hard to fill, and if he doesn't play to his potential, Correll Buckhalter is going to have a hard time picking up the slack. Also, Andy Reid did not do Donovan McNabb any favors this season, as he was unable to provide the team with reliable support from a number one wide receiver.

McNabb, an exciting player and definitely in the top 15 of active NFL quarterbacks, does not have the ability to single-handedly win a game like his comrade, Westbrook. Both teams are evenly matched, and the Eagles are traveling across the country to play in hostile territory. It will be a close game, and will take an incredible team effort from the Eagles to win this week in San Francisco. Eagles 45, 49ers 10. — Troy V. of Yardley

Finally, the red-headed step child of professional sports is off and running, and none too soon… this baseball season needs to be cut in half, seriously. But I digress. The Flyers will not be intimidated by the Rangers’ good 2-0 start. Largely because the Rangers will be weary from their time in and flight from Prague. That, and a band of gypsies will steal their gear. — Kurt

Y'all busted on me last week for picking soccer matches. Now Kurt goes with hockey! Hockey?!? Seriously??? I thought the NHL shut down a few years back? — Phil

We may need a new rule for the picks: to choose a game, the sport's athletes must have more teeth than fingers and toes combined. Sorry, Kurt, that could hurt the chances for hockey. — John

I will once again go back to the Eagles flying out West to play the 49ers but they will win by a field goal only. I’m concerned that the Phils will lose the series to L.A. and end their season. And Pennsbury will again win (this time by 3 TDs) to Bensalem on Friday night. — Dave

I'm not sold on the Eagles this week—Pennsylvania’s best football team this year is probably Penn State, right Phil? I do know one thing: no matter what happens against the 49ers, Reid will make sure they don’t lose next week. “Bye” is a beautiful word.

I'm going back to the well for my pick: Jamie Moyer and the Phillies in Game 3 Sunday against the Dodgers. I’ll even go out on a limb and say the victory will give the Phils a 3-0 lead. I’ve got to put my misplaced faith in Philly teams somewhere now that the Eagles are playing like the Golden Era of Ray Rhodes. — John

I'm glad to see we're talking more about “the beautiful game.” Anyway, moving on...I’ll continue discussing futbol partly because I enjoy the game, but mostly because it requires John to look up soccer scores to see if I’m right or not!

As we all know, the Premier League is on hiatus whilst World Cup 2010 qualifying is underway. So I, too, will turn my attention to WC10 qualifying. There are more things [certain] in heaven and earth, Horatio [Dave], than a Pennsbury victory...like England taking care of Kazakhstan in Wembley on Saturday. England leads its group with 6 points and is undefeated while Kazakhstan has lost its last two matches by a combine 6-1. — Phil

My Pick: Dodgers over Phils, Game 3. The Phils will probably be 2-0 before this game, thanks to the home-field advantage and ever-so-slight pitching advantage. But when the action shifts to the Left Coast, expect a new series to emerge. The Dodgers will be red-hot once again, and the patient and disciplined squad managed by Torre and Bowa will break things open with at least two wins in L.A. Expect things to be tense when the action comes back to the Bank! — Carnac the Magnificent

Two weeks in and some of us already have our routines: John = Old Man (Moyer); Carnac = ManDate wannabe (Bowa); Phil = Futbol (But really, Kazakhstan? I'd have thought we'd make at least a month til they made the blog); Dave = Scary Gambling (betting points on HS football). Then the surprises: Troy V. of Yardley picking the Eagles? Hockey mentioned? And I thought our poker table talk was strange. — JR

Impressive work by all of you. I now know what is going on in the sports world without a TV! — Kevin

Just a Little Patience

If Charlie Manuel had a plan for his hitters to get to Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe and his snake-level sinker in Game 1 of the NLCS, it probably was as simple as the good ol’ boy’s mannerisms: Patience, boys, patience.

And, boy, did Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell follow the Charlie manual perfectly.

Lowe cruised through the first five innings, allowing four hits and a walk. But something about the at-bats Howard and Burrell put together the first two times through the line-up gave a hint at things to come.

They patiently laid off Lowe’s out-of-the-zone sinker, making him work hard during each of their at-bats through four innings.

To that point, 14 Phillies had come to the plate, with Howard and Burrell combining for four of the 14 appearances (28%). However, they saw 25 of Lowe’s 57 pitches—a whopping 43% to just two hitters.

And it wasn’t because Lowe was loading up the pitch count on strikeouts; Howard had none and Burrell collected a single and a five-pitch strikeout.

The payoff to waiting out Lowe’s low balls came in the sixth. Lowe was tiring after throwing 75 pitches through five innings, and with the fatigue and the need to throw strikes, he wasn’t as fine with his location.

Suddenly—boom, home run on a sweet-spot pitch to Chase Utley, another home run to Burrell on a 3-1 pitch that had to be a strike, and just like that the home team was on its way to a 3-2 comeback win.

The same pitcher who had been 5-0 with an 0.85 ERA in his previous seven starts against the Phillies got the boot with one out in the sixth, down 3-2 after 90 pitches.

For the game, Howard averaged 5 pitches an at-bat, Burrell 6—both team highs by far. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, the top-of-the-order guys whose job is to work the pitcher, each saw just 3.25 pitches per at-bat.

Looks like they need to borrow Howard and Burrell’s Charlie manual.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Phillies’ All-Time Best Opponents

Oh man, oh man, enough with almighty Manny already.

With all the dread about Manny and his dreads, you’d think Ramirez will single-handedly beat the Phillies in the NLCS, or that the Phillies had never played anyone so good in their postseason history. You’d be wrong on both counts. If baseball history shows anything, it’s that pitching wins, and rarely can one man do it alone. (And what ever became of the beast from the last series, C.C. Sabathia, anyway?)

For further proof, just look at the Phillies’ own brief postseason history. The team has faced 14 opponents in 11 different postseason appearances; the Dodgers will be the 15th foe. And while Manny certainly ranks among the better players the Phillies have faced, he’s not at the top of a powerful list.

Here are the best players the Phillies have faced in the postseason, by position, listed in my order of preference at each spot. Got an opinion? Send it along!

The list certainly brings up a few questions: With so few ’08 Dodgers listed—and Maddux and Kent way past their primes—anyone else think the Phillies should take this series easily? How did the Phillies lose to the Rockies in ’07? How did the ’93 Phillies beat the 104-win Braves? And can anyone name two pitchers from the dominating 1976 Reds—who swept the Phillies and Yankees? Ahhh, I sense future blog topics….

C: Johnny Bench, ’76 Reds*
C: Yogi Berra, '50 Yankees*
C: Gary Carter, ’81 Expos*

1B: Eddie Murray, ’83 Orioles*
1B: Tony Perez, ’76 Reds*
1B: Johnny Mize, ’50 Yankees*
1B: Steve Garvey, ’77, ’78 Dodgers
1B: Todd Helton, ’07 Rockies
1B: Fred McGriff, ’93 Braves

2B: Joe Morgan, ’76 Reds, '80 Astros*
2B: Roberto Alomar, ’93 Blue Jays
2B: Jeff Kent, ’08 Dodgers

SS: Cal Ripken, ’83 Orioles*
SS: Phil Rizzuto, ’50 Yankees*
SS: Dave Concepcion, ’76 Reds

3B: George Brett, '80 Royals*
3B: Pete Rose, ’76 Reds
3B: Pedro Guerrero, ’83 Dodgers
3B: Terry Pendleton, ’93 Braves

DH: Paul Molitor, ’93 Blue Jays*

OF: Joe DiMaggio, ’50 Yankees*
OF: Tris Speaker, ’15 Red Sox*
OF: Manny Ramirez, ’08 Dodgers
OF: Rickey Henderson, ’93 Blue Jays
OF: Andre Dawson, ’81 Expos
OF: Harry Hooper, ’15 Red Sox*
OF: George Foster, ’76 Reds
OF: Tim Raines, ’81 Expos
OF: Joe Carter, ’93 Blue Jays

P: Greg Maddux, ’93 Braves, ’08 Dodgers
P: Nolan Ryan, '80 Astros*
P: Tom Glavine, ’93 Braves
P: Whitey Ford, ’50 Yankees*
P: Jim Palmer, ’83 Orioles*
P. John Smoltz, ’93 Braves
P: C.C. Sabathia, ’08 Brewers
P: Fernando Valenzuela, ’83 Dodgers
P: Don Sutton, ’77, ’78 Dodgers*
P: Vic Raschi, ’50 Yankees
P: Tommy John, ’77, ’78 Dodgers
P: Steve Rogers, ’81 Expos
P: Jeff Reardon, ’81 Expos
P: Pat Hentgen, ’93 Blue Jays

* - Hall of Famer

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

With the Phillies' success and the Eagles being the early-season Eagles (2-3 for the third time in five or six seasons), I haven't focused too much on them yet. But a friend, BBoz, brings up an interesting observation about the Eagles, the Cowboys, the Super Bowl, and political history. All of what follows comes from him:

Who will you vote for on November 4, 2008?

A vote for a Republican President is a vote for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have appeared in two Super Bowls: Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981, and Super Bowl XXXIX on February 6, 2005. In both of those years, the President was a Republican: 1981 – Ronald Reagan; and, 2005 – George W. Bush.

Conversely, a vote for a Democrat for President is a vote for the Eagles' nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have played in and won a Super Bowl during every Democratic presidential administration in the Super Bowl era. The Cowboys have appeared in eight Super Bowls: Super Bowl V (1971), VI (1972), and X (1974) were played during a Republican administration.

However, subsequent to 1974, the Cowboys were in Super Bowl XII (1978), XIII (1979), XXVII (1992), XXVIII (1993), and XXX (1995). In those five years, the President was a Democrat: 1978/1979 – Jimmy Carter; and 1992/1993/1995 – Bill Clinton.

Remember, when you throw that switch for President this November, you are deciding more than the direction of the nation, you are sealing the fate of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Super Bowl






Oakland Raiders (win) vs. Philadelphia Eagles


January 25, 1981

Ronald Reagan, Republican


New England Patriots (win) vs. Philadelphia Eagles


February 6, 2005

George W. Bush, Republican

Dallas Cowboys:

Super Bowl






Baltimore Colts (win) vs.

Dallas Cowboys


January 17, 1971

Richard M. Nixon, Republican


Dallas Cowboys (win) vs. Miami Dolphins


January 16, 1972

Richard M. Nixon, Republican


Pittsburgh Steelers (win) vs. Dallas Cowboys


January 18, 1976

Gerald Ford, Republican


Dallas Cowboys (win) vs. Denver Broncos


January 15, 1978

Jimmy Carter, Democrat


Pittsburgh Steelers (win) vs. Dallas Cowboys


January 21, 1979

Jimmy Carter, Democrat


Dallas Cowboys (win) vs. Buffalo Bills


January 31, 1993

Bill Clinton, Democrat


Dallas Cowboys (win) vs. Buffalo Bills


January 30, 1994

Bill Clinton, Democrat


Dallas Cowboys (win) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers


January 28, 1996

Bill Clinton, Democrat

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Magic Number: 103

It’s safe to say no one considered the 2008 Phillies a threat to tie a franchise record for victories in a season after the Marlins beat them, 7-3, on September 10. The Phillies were 3.5 games behind the Mets and clinging to hopes of a wild-card berth at 79-67.

That was then, this is now: “We can get to 103. That’s the number.” That’s what Jimmy Rollins said after the Phillies’ NLDS victory over Milwaukee, which just happens to be the opponent that kick-started the Phillies’ turnaround a month ago.

The Phillies are 16-4 since that four-game September sweep of Milwaukee. And, even more amazingly, if they beat the Dodgers in the NLCS and then win the World Series, a team that looked dead in the water on Sept. 10 will go down as the winningest in team history, tied at 103 with the 1993 Phillies.

After 92 regular-season wins and the three playoff victories over Milwaukee, the Phillies are on the trail of the ’93 team that won 97 regular-season games, four NLCS games over the Braves, and two against the Blue Jays in the World Series. Their 103 tops the 102 total wins of the 1976 and 1977 Phillies, who each won 101 regular-season games and then just one NLCS game.

Now, granted the 2008 Phillies picked up three wins in a divisional series that earlier playoff teams didn’t get to play in. But it’s amazing what the Phillies have pulled off within the last month.

103 wins? Who’da thunk it, Harry?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Picks of the Weak

Here’s a new regular feature I’ve roped a few of my poker friends into playing. Now, to be fair, I call them my friends—but they’re really only guys who don’t run screaming in the other direction when they see me in public, though that may be only because they’re not coordinated enough to run and scream at the same time.

We each have to pick one weekly winner—straight up, no point spreads, any game, any sport. Sounds easy, right? Not to anyone who has ever played such a pool before; if you get it right for five straight weeks, you’re on a great roll.

So, enough blah, blah, blog, onto the picks and the reactions:

I'll pick the Phillies in Game 3 on Saturday in Milwaukee. Jamie Moyer gets the start and all he's done in big games for the Phillies is win the division title-clinching game in two straight seasons. He's older than me—and that's saying something!—but he still went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA. The Phils were 22-11 in Moyer's starts, and he was 9-1 with a 3.22 ERA over his last 15. Plus, one more big-game stat: He's 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA in his four career playoff games. The guy is clutch. — John

Normally I would be all over the Sunday Birds/Skins game, but we've got playoff baseball and for the first time in 15 years the Phils have not blown their first 2 playoff games. However, much as I trust Jamie Moyer in the pinch, he's going to need help on offense and defense, and I just don't think this team has the discipline to run the sweep after winning the first two in such dramatic fashion.

If Larry Bowa were the coach, I wouldn't worry, but Manuel's aw-shucks approach to coaching won't keep the giddiness in check; expect some sloppy play. Get ready for a let-down on Saturday, but—the good news—expect a Mike Schmidt e-mail or dugout visit afterward to inspire the gang one more time, and they'll shut this thing down in Milwaukee on Sunday. — Carnac the Magnificent

Good pick if Hamels is pitching. The Brewers looked like me golfing—big swings at the dirt, but no contact. — John

The Eagles win by at least 2 touchdowns on Sunday. Washington will be very flat after beating the Boys last Sunday.

The Phillies close out the Brewers on Saturday, as they will be swinging like wild at Jamie Moyer’s changeup.

I don't believe St. Joe’s plays this weekend. So my top play is Pennsbury beating Harry S Truman Friday night by 5 touchdowns. Pennsbury will not throw a single pass (just as they didn’t 2 weeks ago in beating Council Rock) but rush the ball up and down the field. Not the prettiest of teams to watch but very efficient.

I need to get a life. — Dave

I'm happy to join in the football discussion, boys.

Things don't look great for Chelsea hosting Aston Villa on Sunday. Several of the Blues' best are injured (Drogba, Deco, Carvalho, and Essien), while Villa has gone five straight Premier League matches without a loss in this matchup. Kiss your sister, we're looking at a draw here between two of the Premier League leaders.

Back in the states, bank on the defending national champions and undefeated Demon Deacons (2-0-0 in ACC, 9-0-0 overall) to easily handle the Hokies (0-3, 3-5-1) Saturday night in Winston.

Cheers! — Phil

Soccer and Wake Forest football? The only thing more boring is golf without Tiger. The things you put your poor kids through.... — John

Um ... both of my predictions are "soccer." Wake doesn't play American Football until next week. I'm thrilled/frightened that you thought Wake's football was "defending national champions!" Nice editing, editor! Sheesh. — Phil

They play for a national championship in college soccer? Wait, someone actually plays college soccer? I thought everyone outgrew that once they turned 11. And I thought you were being delusional about the "national champion" Wake football team. An Orange Bowl appearance every century or so can do that to a guy. — John

John, this is what you get when you “give an inch” and give Phil complete latitude on what he can write about! — Carnac the Magnificent

You guys need to get a life, too. — Dave

I had a feeling the college soccer line would get a reaction from our reigning triathlete champion, Dave. And before anyone asks, yes, they did actually have a hoops team at D-III De Sales. It had the excitement factor of D-II badminton. — John

Am I to infer you don't think badminton is a real sport? — Carnac the Magnificent

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hooton Hears a Boo

Paging Burt Hooton. Burt Hooton, please pick up the white bullpen phone, you have a collect call from C.C. Sabathia regarding a new outbreak of Phillie fan stress syndrome.

If there’s one person who could appreciate what happened to Sabathia in last night’s raucous 5-2 Phillies win—particularly during Brett Myers’ second-inning at-bat—it would be Hooton. The Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher became similarly unhinged, also in the second inning of a Phillies playoff game, in this case, the 1977 National League Championship Series.

Having attended both games—each now legendary for the unofficial “fans’ interference” that rattled opposing pitchers—I can attest to the eerie similarities.

Last night, down 0-2 in the count, Myers managed to foul off enough pitches and wait out Sabathia long enough to draw a nine-pitch walk. Halfway through the at-bat, as Myers walked back to the dugout to get a new bat after breaking his, the crowd began to reach Hooton-level hysteria, and kept it up until Sabathia had walked Myers, Jimmy Rollins on four pitches, and surrendered Shane Victorino’s grand slam, the first ever in Phillies postseason history.

And somewhere in Texas, where he’s now the pitching coach for the minor-league Round Rock Express, Hooton probably unfurled his never-ending scowl that earned him the sarcastic nickname “Happy” from Tommy Lasorda, and muttered something under his breath about Phillies fans.

What happened to Hooton was worse than what Sabathia endured.

It was Game 3 of the NLCS, the series tied 1-1 after two games in L.A. Hooton had been handed a 2-0 lead when he began the bottom of the second inning. With men on first and second and two outs, Hooton faced weak-hitting eighth-hitter Ted Sizemore, whom he walked on four pitches to load the bases.

Next up, just like for the Phillies last night, the pitcher, Larry Christenson, who promptly fell behind in the count, 0-2. A ball, a foul ball, another ball, and the Vet crowd was in full frenzy as Hooton threw two more balls to walk Christenson and allow a run. Bake McBride drew another walk, which added another run, and, amid absolute bedlam, Hooton then walked Larry Bowa on five pitches to make it 3-2 Phillies thanks to four straight walks.

Hooton, pulled for Rick Rhoden, left the mound just as “Happy” as ever.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Game for the Ages

Cole Hamels delivered more than just a dominating outing in the team’s 3-1 NLDS Game 1 victory. He pitched arguably the best game in the franchise’s 61-game postseason history.

His two hits allowed were the lowest in Phillies’ playoff history. Curt Schilling, Steve Carlton, Charles Hudson, and Jim Konstanty each allowed four hits in other standout gems, though each of them allowed at least one earned run (see chart below).

Hamels finished with nine strikeouts and only one walk in eight shutout innings, while throwing 101 pitches, 67 for strikes. He retired the first 14 hitters he faced, as well as the last eight, and only one runner reached second base in Hamels’ first postseason victory.

It’s easy to say that his numbers top any previous Phillies playoff performance. The question becomes, does hurling a standout game in the NLDS trump a top pitching effort in the rarefied air of a championship game or the World Series.

It’s hard to look past the two previous top playoff efforts: Steve Carlton’s 1980 Game 6 victory over the Royals and Curt Schilling’s 147-pitch complete game in the ’93 Game 5 win over Toronto. Carlton’s win gave the Phillies their only title, while Schilling’s win came after a bruising 15-14 Game 4 loss that depleted the Phillies bullpen. Incidentally, Schilling’s win was the Phillies’ last playoff win.

My pick: Carlton’s clincher, with Hamels a close second and Schilling third. But isn’t it nice to be mentioning Hamels at 24 alongside the two greatest big-game playoff pitchers in Phillies history?

Here is my ranking of the Phillies’ top 10 postseason pitching outings, with World Series games in bold; all others were in the NLCS or NLDS and all were victories, except Konstanty's Game 1 loss.

1980 Carlton: 7 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 7 K 110 p (72 strikes)
2008 Hamels: 8 IP 2 H 0 R 0 ER 1 BB 9 K 101 p (67 strikes)
1993 Schilling: 9 IP 5 H 0 R 0 ER 3 BB 6 K 147 p (99 strikes)
1983 Denny: 7.2 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 0 BB 5 K 109 p (73 strikes)
1980 Carlton: 7 IP 7 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 3 K 105 p (66 strikes)
1950 Konstanty: 8 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 4 BB 0 K no pitch count
1983 Hudson: 9 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 9 K 120 p (84 strikes)
1993 Schilling: 8 IP 4 H 2 R 1 ER 3 BB 9 K 131 p (79 strikes)
1915 Alexander: 9 IP 8 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 6 K no pitch count
1993 Jackson: 7.2 IP 9 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 6 K 112 p (70 strikes)