Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Utley's Power Outage

The Phillies' crawl toward the playoffs has highlighted a few problems that could await when they get there, in particular the bullpen troubles, and Cliff Lee's inconsistency. But one more question is worth asking: Is something wrong with Chase Utley?

Utley is having the worst month of his career. He has 2 RBI in his last 14 games, just 2 home runs in September--none in his last 17 games--and no multi-RBI games in a calendar month for the first time since 2003, when he played just half of August as a rookie.

After an 0-for-4 game against Houston Tuesday, he's now 3-for-27 in his last seven games with 0 HR and 1 RBI. His numbers have fallen to season lows: .286 average, .402 OBP, .924 OPS (on-base % plus slugging %). It's the first time he's threatened to drop below .400 in OBP all season.

One reason Utley's slide has fallen under the radar: He still leads the team in runs (111), OBP, and OPS. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, with a weak .294 OBP, dreams of "falling" to Utley's .402.

Still, Utley's slippage is reminiscent of his 2008 power outage, when he had a 27-game homer-less streak in August and September, and finished with just 2 HR in September. Utley also needed hip surgery after the season, an injury he played through, but one that contributed to his struggles down the stretch.

So that brings us back to the question: Is something wrong with Chase Utley?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rushing To The Top?

The Philadelphia Eagles have had legendary running backs, including Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, Wilbert Montgomery, Ricky Watters, Herschel Walker, Keith Byars, and Brian Westbrook. None of those players, however, holds the team's all-time record for rushing yards by a rookie.

The record-holder is none other than Correll Buckhalter, who ran for 586 yards in 2001--his highest total as an Eagle--and is currently on pace to top 1,000 yards for 3-0 Denver.

Rookie LeSean McCoy looks to give Buckhalter's record a challenge this season. With 148 yards after three games, McCoy is on pace to reach almost 650 yards. (Westbrook ran for just 193 yards as a rookie.)

Of course, Westbrook's injury boosted McCoy's playing time against Kansas City. But with McCoy showing such promise in the Eagles' version of the Wildcat offense, he hardly figures to be banished to the sidelines for long when Westbrook returns.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Closing Arguments

Brad Lidge has endured one of the worst seasons in history for a Phillies closer—and that’s saying something considering the years had by the likes of Jose Mesa, Mike Williams, and Jeff Brantley.

Lidge has 10 blown saves and a 7.24 ERA, which puts him on pace to have the worst ERA in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 15 saves in a season, according to Colorado’s Shawn Chacon is the current leader with a 7.11 ERA and 35 saves in 2004.

And, according to’s Jayson Stark, no team has won a World Series with a closer who blew at least 10 saves.

With just 12 games remaining, Lidge should be safe from breaking the major-league record of 14 blown saves in a season, held by four players, most recently Ron Davis in 1984.

Oddly enough, Lidge (31 saves) and Ryan Madson (8 saves) could team up for a bit of Phillies relief pitcher history. A Phillies reliever has recorded 30 saves 12 times. Prior to this season, just twice has one reliever reached at least 30 saves while another had more than four. And no second reliever has ever topped eight saves.

In 1996, Ricky Bottalico (34) and Ken Ryan (8) teamed up on a 67-95 team, while in 1995 Heathcliff Slocumb (32) and Toby Borland (6) combined for a team that went 69-75 in a strike-shortened season.

Not exactly legendary names from the past. Then again, Lidge and Madson aren’t exactly having legendary seasons; they’ve also combined for 16 blown saves.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Win 90, Reach The World Series

Here's some good news for this year's Phillies team, which had 87 wins heading into the doubleheader with Florida. When they reach 90 wins, they will have punched their ticket to the World Series, if history holds form.

The last four times the Phillies have won at least 90 regular-season games they've gone on to reach the World Series (2008, 1993, 1983, and 1980). They are the only major league team to have a streak of four years during the league championship series era, which began following the 1969 season.

In fact, just two teams in major league history have longer streaks. The New York Yankees reached the World Series every time they won at least 90 games nine straight times (1960-64, and 1955-58), and also eight straight (1947, 1941-43, 1936-39). And the New York Giants (now San Francisco) did so eight times (1921-24, 1917, 1911-13).

The last time the Phillies won at least 90 and failed to make the World Series was 1978, when the team went 90-72 and lost to Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Roster Roulette

Could two Phillies who provided memorable images from the 2008 postseason find themselves on the outside looking in during the 2009 postseason? Philly-area native Jamie Moyer, who celebrated the team's title by digging up the pitching rubber, and big-swinging, Los Angeles Dodger-beating Matt Stairs could easily be bypassed when the Phillies choose their postseason roster.

The team simply has too much talent for 25 spots. That's a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The Phillies have 12 position players that appear to be locks: Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Feliz, Ibanez, Victorino, Werth, Francisco, Dobbs, and defensive backups Bruntlett and Bako.

There are 9 pitchers that seem to be safe: Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Martinez, Happ, Lidge, Myers, Madson, and Durbin.

That leaves 4 spots for 9 likely candidates, by my count: Moyer, Eyre, Romero, Condrey, Park, Walker, Stairs, Cairo, and Kendrick. The injury/recovery status of Eyre, Romero, Condrey, and Park will affect the decision.

Walker's strong outings have made the decision even tougher for the Phillies brass. He has appeared in six games in September--among the bullpen leaders--and has a 1.93 ERA since his June call-up.

The decision on Moyer and Stairs could be the team's toughest. Happ's emergence this season could make Moyer's role in a postseason bullpen redundant. And Stairs has slumped for large stretches of the season; still, he's a lefthanded bat off the bench.

Last season, the team kept 11 pitchers on the postseason roster. If they keep 12 this year, it would seem likely to be the 9 definites plus Walker, Eyre, and likely Romero. That would leave the 12 position player definites, plus perhaps Stairs. Or will the Phillies keep 13 pitchers (Moyer?) and 12 position players?

In the absence of a N.L. East challenger, the postseason roster dilemma may be the most compelling question this September for the Phillies.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kolb And The 2007 Quarterback Class

Two Texas-born quarterbacks likely will lead their teams into Sunday's Eagles-Saints game. That's where the similarities end, unfortunately for the Eagles.

Unlike three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees (Austin, TX), Kevin Kolb (Victoria, TX) has struggled on the rare occasions he's taken the field during his three seasons. In fact, at this early stage, he's one of the worst of the 10 quarterbacks taken in the 2007 NFL Draft. Of the 10, one became a wide receiver (Isaiah Stanback) and another is out of the NFL (Jeff Rowe).

Kolb and Cincinnati's Jordan Palmer are the only 2007 quarterback draftees without a career touchdown pass. And Kolb, Palmer, and Drew Stanton are the only ones who have yet to start an NFL game. Kolb alone hits the trifecta, though: he has the worst career quarterback rating of the bunch (25.0).

The other draftees are JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, the two quarterbacks taken ahead of Kolb at 36th overall, as well as John Beck, Trent Edwards, Troy Smith, and Tyler Thigpen.

The majority of the NFL's star quarterbacks are full-time starters by their second season, players such as Brees, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Eli and Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. There are exceptions, including players who started in their fourth season, such as Jake Delhomme, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Cassell. And the Eagles' newest acquisition, Jeff Garcia, spent years playing in the Canadian Football League before becoming a four-time NFL Pro Bowler.

For now, however, Kolb's ranking among the worst of the 2007 quarterback draft class stands out, even more so compared to this week's opponent. Brees has 174 career touchdown passes and 107 career starts. If he does start, Kolb will at least get rid of one zero on his quarterbacking resume.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Eagles New Rushing Leader?

Brian Westbrook could pass an Eagles legend in Sunday's game against Carolina, on the way to a potentially record-breaking season for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Westbrook needs just 74 yards to pass Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren and become the second all-time leading rusher in Eagles history. Westbrook currently has 5,721 yards to Van Buren's 5,860. Wilbert Montgomery is the all-time leader with 6,538, putting him just 817 yards ahead of Westbrook.

Montgomery's record is easily within reach this season for Westbrook, who has topped 817 yards rushing each of the last three seasons. However, those are the only three seasons he has started more than 12 games in his seven-year career, so while a healthy Westbrook would surely catch Montgomery, an injury-free season isn't guaranteed.

Westbrook, a third-round pick who was taken 91st overall, was a steal in the 2002 NFL Draft. Of the seven running backs picked higher than Westbrook, only two-time Pro Bowler Clinton Portis (9,202 career yards) has outplayed him.

In fact, Westbrook alone has outgained the combined rushing totals of the two running backs picked in the first round, William Green (2,109 yards) and T.J. Duckett (2,814), both of whom are now out of football. The other backs picked ahead of Westbrook include DeShaun Foster (3,570), Maurice Morris (2,612), Ladell Betts (2,966), and Lamar Gordon (774).

Assuming Westbrook plays 16 games, he needs to average a little more than 51 yards a game to pass Montgomery. If Westbrook can stay healthy, he'll run his way into Eagles history by season's end.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Phillies All-Time 9 Poll

The Phillies website has an interesting poll: The All-Time 9 allows voters to select the best seasons by players at each of the nine positions. It's pretty comprehensive and provides a look at many of the best seasons in team history. (Each player only has one season chosen, so players like Mike Schmidt who had several monster seasons only have one season included.)

The players I chose looked awfully familiar to the all-time Phillies team I picked in a blog entry earlier this year. Except, oddly the All-Time 9 offered no Bob Boone season to choose from--he had his best Phillies season in 1978. However, while Boone's longevity and consistency make him the team's best catcher ever, he didn't have a standout season better than the ones presented.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Phillies vs. MLB's Best

ESPN's Peter Gammons wrote a column Saturday about the strength of the National League West and referenced the winning percentages of division teams when playing outside their own division. At first glance, it didn't look good for the Phillies compared to other playoff contenders.

Gammons wrote: "In games played outside their own division (versus teams from the NL East, Central and interleague play) the NL West this weekend was 24 games over .500, the NL Central five under, the NL East 24 under; in the American League, the West was 33 over .500, the East 28 over, the Central 37 under."

It'd be easy to assume that the NL East-leading Phillies might be in trouble in the playoffs considering their division is 24 under--and second-worst among all divisions. But that's where statistics lie.

The Phillies clearly play in a bad division, as reflected by Gammons' numbers. But that doesn't mean the team itself has played badly against teams outside of their division. That distinction matters as the Phillies head toward the playoffs.

The Phillies were just 20-22 against teams outside of their division through June. But they went 23-10 in July and August, and overall they're 45-37 for the season. Even better, the team has a winning record against two of their three potential NL playoff opponents: Colorado (4-2) and St. Louis (4-1), as well as possible World Series foe New York (2-1). On the down side, the Phillies are just 3-4 this season vs. Los Angeles and 1-2 against Boston.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Eagles Stand Alone

Andy Reid recognized the importance of a quarterback to a team's success when he drafted Donovan McNabb with the team's top pick in Reid's first NFL draft in 1999. And for all of the team's success since then, including five NFC championship game appearances and one Super Bowl showing, the Eagles still stand alone when it comes to yardage-compiling quarterbacks and Super Bowl titles.

Philadelphia is the only NFL team without a single-season 4,000-yard passer in team history nor a Super Bowl title among teams in existence since Super Bowl I. The other teams without 4,000-yard passers either won a Super Bowl (Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Tampa Bay) or haven't been around since Super Bowl I (Seattle, and the Houston Texans).

The lack of a 4,000-yard passer in team history is particularly stunning considering the Hall of Fame-, MVP-, and All-Pro-caliber quarterbacks to play for the Eagles. Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen didn't reach the mark, nor did 1990 NFL MVP Randall Cunningham, or standouts such as Ron Jaworski, Roman Gabriel, Norm Snead, or McNabb. All except Van Brocklin had 3,000-yard seasons for the team.

So which comes first for a team in existence since 1933: a 4,000-yard passer or a Super Bowl title? Both are long overdue.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hitting A Wall, Or Hitting Awaits?

What you make of the Phillies' current hitting struggles depends on your perspective. There's supporting evidence for optimists and pessimists alike.

For pessimists: The Phillies have scored just seven runs in their last six games--a run of ineffectiveness unlike any stretch this season or last. In 2008, the team twice scored just seven runs over four games, but they had nothing approaching such a bad six-game swoon.

In fact, the Phillies weren't shut out over the final 47 games of 2008 on their way to a World Series title. And in all of September, they scored less than three runs only once.

Now, for the optimists. The 2009 Phillies have scored at least seven runs in a game 37 times this season and still have 30 games left to play. Last year's world champs scored seven or more a total of 42 times, so this year's team is on pace to top last season.

Plus the 2008 team was shut out eight times last year; the 2009 Phillies have been shut out just six times and, with two shutouts already in September, would seem to have topped their quota for the month.

So, do the struggles of the last six games signal the just the tip of a season-dooming iceberg? Or are the Phillies about to break out for another epic September slash through the National League? Optimist or pessimist--history's on your side either way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Major League Record In Sight?

The Phillies, with a long list of prodigious home run hitting teams, have never had one with four players having seasons like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez.

All four could top 30 home runs, which would tie the major league record for most players on one team to reach 30. It would also be the first time it’s happened in Phillies history.

Howard (37) is already there, with Utley and Werth (29 each) locks to reach 30, barring injury. Ibanez (27, with 33 games left) would seem to be a sure thing as well, except he has just one home run in his last 30 games.

The closest prior to this season? Three Phillies reached 30 homers three times in team history, including each of the last two seasons. Last year, Howard (48), Utley (33), and Burrell (33) did, while in 2007, Howard (47), Rollins (30), and Burrell (30) hit the mark.

Prior to Howard’s arrival in Philly, the only other occasion was 1929, when Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (43) teamed with Lefty O’Doul (32) and Don Hurst (31).

Speaking of Howard, with three home runs he’ll have hit at least 40 home runs for a team-record fourth straight season. Before Howard, the team record was two straight seasons: Jim Thome in 2003 (47) and 2004 (42), and Mike Schmidt in 1979 (45) and 1980 (48).