Phillies Take 2 of 3 From the Nats

The Phillies just barely squeaked out a 1-0 win over the Nationals today thanks mostly to great pitching.  Cole Hamels was scheduled to start but was unable to go as he has the flu.  So Roberto Hernandez, who had not gotten out of the 6th inning yet this season, filled it.

Hernandez was outstanding, going 7 1/3 innings without allowing a run to score.  When he first started to pitch, it looked like he would not be able to throw a strike as he walked 2 batters in the first inning.  But he settled down and wound up with 3 walks and only 4 hits allowed.
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The lone Phillies run of the game came in the first inning.  After a Jimmy Rollins triple, Chase Utley singled to score Rollins.  Utley had a very strange day.  After that RBI, he sprinted around the bases on a Marlon Byrd pop fly and got doubled up.  Maybe he forgot there was only 1 out?  And then later he committed an error in the field when he totally missed the feed from Jayson Nix at third on what may have been a double play.

But those blunders did not come back to haunt the Phillies luckily.  And that is a very good thing especially considering the Phillies only managed 4 hits in the game, including a Ben Revere triple.  They also had some very nice plays in the field, which helped.
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The weather was very interesting as well.  It was cold, very windy and bits and pieces of wrappers, bags and dust were floating around everywhere.  Some of the shadows in the field were brutal by the time the relievers came in too.
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My eyes were so dry, at one point, I thought maybe I was seeing things.  See the first photo below to the left…there are 3 guys there, right.  Nope…check out the 2nd photo on the right.  I guess Nix is just so small he blended right in.
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Check out the full Photo Album from the game for more interesting stuff.  There are very nice photos of Domonic Brown with his mother and VERY pregnant girlfriend pre-game during the Mother’s Day celebration.  I also took some photos of our old friend, Kevin Frandsen.  Miss him….sigh!

So a weird 2-game home and away series stars tomorrow with the Blue Jays; 2 games here and 2 in Toronto.  Game time Monday is 7:05pm and Kyle Kendrick will pitch.

 

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Hamels the Humanitarian

Cole Hamels is a true humanitarian.  He has adopted a child from Africa and created a foundation to fund programs both there and in Philadelphia.  And now, apparently, he has also adopted the New York Mets.

Hamels gifted the Mets with 6 runs and a win in Tuesday night’s game that ended in a 1-6 loss for the Phillies.  He especially loves Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese, whom he walked in the 4th inning with the bases loaded to score another Mets run.  You know how pitchers just have that little extra warm feeling  for other pitchers?  Well Cole was man enough to wear his heart on his sleeve.  Touching, really.

Many Mets were beneficiaries of Hamels’ generosity.  Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Chris Young all raised their batting averages by at least 20 points!  It was like Christmas for the Mets.  They probably sent him a very nice fruit basket after the game.
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Joking aside, in only his second start this season, Hamels crashed and burned.  It was ugly.  Afterwards, Hamels told the press he was “embarrassed” by his performance.  I guess we can give him brownie points for that.

The only offense for the Phillies was a Marlon Byrd home run.  Ryan Howard had 2 hits as well but was left stranded on base both times.

The Phillies are supposed to play the Mets again tonight, but with the forecast looking grim, it is hard to say if that will actually happen.  Tuesday’s game was delayed by an hour and a half and that rain was much lighter than predicted for tonight.  If they do play, Kyle Kendrick is scheduled to pitch.

 

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Phillies Win Series Amidst More Home Plate Rules Controversy

The Phillies took 3 of 4 games from the Dodgers this week, ending with last night’s 7-3 win.  The only game they lost was in Cole Hamels’ return from the DL.  Hamels pitched well, but once again, the bullpen blew the lead.  Ugh.

Yesterday’s win was much more pleasant, although nerve-wracking at times.  Kyle Kendrick pitched pretty well considering he allowed 10 hits and a walk and only 2 runs scored.  He would have gotten the win, except Mike Adams immediately gave up the lead in the 7th with a home run ball to Adrian Gonzalez.  Adams pitched 2 innings for which he earned BOTH a blown save AND the win.  Go figure.  This is a perfect example of why I hate the win/loss rules for pitchers.

Speaking of rules I hate, let’s talk about home plate.  This no blocking the plate, anti-collision thing is officially on my last nerve.  Tony LaRussa, the former manager who fought for this rule, can take his big ideas and stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine.

Yet another play at the plate was challenged last night when the Dodgers purported that Carlos Ruiz did not give Hanley Ramirez a lane to the plate.  I guess they thought the edge of the nail of his little pinky toe was touching the imaginary parallel line from his foot to where the plate meets the dirt?  I am exaggerating, but how utterly ridiculous is all of this?

Ramirez was still called out after review, but this brings up a bigger issue.  Why would anyone NOT challenge an out call at home plate with this rule in place?  Seriously.  There is a very high probability, as we have seen in previous Phillies games, that they runner will called safe.  Because it seems that if even a small part of the catcher is in front of the plate before the ball arrives, he has been a bad boy and thus unworthy of an out call.  This means EVERY out call should be challenged.

Complicating matters, no one is exactly sure what the rule really is.  On April 13th, the Phillies lost a run due to a replay review at home and Tony Gwynn Jr. was called out.  The next day, MLB called to apologize for getting the call wrong.  If the people in charge do not even know the rule, how is anyone else supposed to?
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Besides that, the rule is insane to begin with.  I understand they want to limit injuries and all that, but it seems to me this is likely to create MORE injuries.  If the catcher cannot be in front of the plate until he gets the ball, this forces the catcher to move very quickly and awkwardly from the point where he catches the ball (away from the plate) to the point he makes the tag (in front of the plate usually).

This “sweep” tag is fine when the catcher is not overly concerned with where the end of his foot might be.  But this rule will force guys to be even further away from the plate to make sure that little toe is not considered an obstruction, turning a “sweep” into an outright dive to make the tag.  Not allowing the catcher to properly set himself means any type of collision will be made worse as he won’t be braced for it.

The runner is not allowed to charge or go out of the way to hit the catcher, but in making a tag, avoiding a collision of some kind is nearly impossible.  So please, please just go back to the old rules and add a clause that runners cannot charge or take cheap shots.  Or here’s an idea…forget the tag altogether.  The runner and catcher can just meet at home plate and thumb wrestle to determine the winner.  Much safer.  Or rock, paper, scissors anyone?  Food for thought.

It has already been reported that MLB is going to make “adjustments” to the rule, but no word yet on specifics.  I will assume thumb wrestling is probably not an option.  They are no fun.  But let us hope they do not screw this up further.

The Phillies begin a series tonight in Arizona against the Diamondbacks.  Game time is 9:40pm.

 

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Lee & Burnett Leading the Way

The Phillies have taken the first 2 games in their series against the Dodgers in large part due to great starting pitching.  Both Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett have set an example for all Phillies pitchers and given them something to aspire to.  It has been a real treat to watch.

On Monday night, Lee went 8 innings, allowing no runs, 4 hits and striking out 10 baffled Dodgers batters.  Since his awful Opening Day start, Lee has been nearly unhittable.  And the intangibles he brings to the team are priceless.

This is a guy who never gets rattled.  His drama-free attitude and generosity towards fans has endeared him to all who observe how he goes about his business.  If you do not love Cliff Lee, go to the doctor and make sure your heart is still beating.
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And then there is one of the newest Phillies, A. J. Burnett.  Tuesday night he pitched 6 2/3 innings allowing only 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk.  He also had 3 hits in the game!  The week before that, he pitched 7 scoreless inning against the Braves.  And he did all of this while nursing a painful inguinal hernia.

The fact that Burnett is willing to play through the pain is admirable.  And as long as he keeps pitching well, I have no problem with this.  But he is not just tough, he is also quite the jokester, as witnessed after his first hit last night.  After Yasiel Puig attempted to throw him out at first all the way from right field, Burnett turned and motioned with his hands to Puig to settle down.  There is a great GIF of this on Philly.com.  You gotta love a man with a sense of humor.

The Phillies other ace pitcher, Cole Hamels, is set to come off the DL and pitch tonight.  Could the Phillies actually have 3 studs in a row once again?  And, although I hate to say this too loudly, this team appears to be mostly healthy…gasp!  Shhhhh!  Don’t tell the universe…too dangerous.

Have you also noticed the improvement on offense?  The big 3 there, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, are all hitting well.  And Ben Revere is heating up again, like he did last year before getting hurt.  The one thorn left in the Phillies side is the bullpen, which did actually hold up the last few games.  Keep your fingers crossed for that trend to continue.

If Lee, Burnett and Hamels can pitch like they are capable of, the bullpen will certainly benefit.  It starts with the starters.  Hamels gets his first shot in 2014 tonight at 10:10pm.

 

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

Rocky Mountain High and a Bunch of Lows

The Phillies just barely escaped Colorado last night with a win to avoid the 3-game sweep against the Rockies.  The first two games of the series were utterly pathetic as the Phils went down by scores of 1-2 and 1-3, respectively.  The Sunday night 10-9 win was a welcome sigh of relief.

The Phillies offense had been so bad going into this game, they officially recorded 131 at-bats in a row without an extra-base hit.  In baseball terms, that is an eternity.  And it was the worst mark for the franchise since 1968.

Not quite as awful as that, but still very bad, the Phils pitchers blew the lead in last night’s game 3 times.  And Roberto Hernandez still has yet to pitch a full 6 innings.  He was pulled from the game after only 75 pitches.  This is not promising.

Howard MountainsBut the better news is that Ryan Howard may have found his pre-ankle injury swing again.  He sort of, but not officially, hit for the cycle.  The last hit was not scored a double as many contend it should have been; it was marked as a single with a 1-base error.  The Phillies will appeal the call to MLB to see if they can get that double for Howard.  Honestly, I’d have loved it to be a cycle.  But I do not see MLB overturning the call…the outfielder should have gotten that ball.

Everyone else hit as well.  Jimmy Rollins had 3 hits and both Ben Revere and Marlon Byrd had 2 hits each.  Even more amazing, no one committed an error in the field.  Yippie!

Speaking of offense, remember way back on Opening Day when Cody Asche had 3 hits?  And the next day manager Ryne Sandberg sat him?  And then remember when I said what a bad idea that was, sending Asche the wrong message, killing his momentum, etc…?  Yeah well, guess who has had only 6 hits in his last 42 at-bats (the entire month of April)?  Yup, Cody Asche.  And he’s had only 2 hits in the very last 23 at-bats.  That is a .087 batting average.  Yikes.

Asche has been losing playing time as a result.  Obviously, that Game 2 benching may or may be contributing to the massive slump, but it is still an interesting observation.  The question now is, can he bounce back?  I have not yet heard if he will be in the line-up tonight against the Dodgers, but this is one story line you may want to keep an eye on.

Game time is 10:10pm EST.  Yuck…West Coast swings make me sleepy.  Hopefully, the Phillies offense will keep me awake!

 

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Howard Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Phillies Weird Week

The Phillies finally squeaked out a win against the Braves yesterday.  Whew!  But that 1-0 win was not the only oddity of the week.

For starters, the Phillies lost by the exact same score the night before.  Cliff Lee pitched a gem and the Phils could not bother to score a single run.  Ugh.  Here are a few other weird notes from the week:

-          A.J. Burnett, Thursday’s winning pitcher, claims that his newly formed hernia is helping him pitch better.  Maybe the offense should start straining themselves to achieve a similar injury and then they can score more than 1 run per game?  Genius!

papelbon gas-          Speaking of genius, Jonathan Papelbon does not see pitch velocity as an issue.  Granted, he has been much better of late.  But really?  Can I pitch then?  I can probably hit around 60mph on the gun and since speed does not matter, I should do just fine against major league hitters.  Put me in, coach!

-          In other Pap news, Crossing Broad had reported that the Phillies closer not only went off verbally on the media about his velocity, but that he actually aimed a fart in their direction.  Monty Python, Holy Grail fans are loving this (”I fart in your general direction!”)  If you have never seen this move, I highly recommend it.

-          In the same article, Crossing Broad also claims that Cliff Lee belched at the media.  It seems there is a lot of hot air in the Phillies locker room.

-          It looks like whoever yells the loudest really does win.  Because after Brewers manager Ron Roenicke complained that Logan Schafer’s 8th inning at-bat on 4/9/14 was not scored a hit, MLB overturned the error originally given to Ryan Howard.  Wow.

-          And while this is not Phillies news, I am sure all Phillies fans will enjoy it.  The new book, Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots, reveals that the Secret Service actually threatened to kill Mr. Met, the Mets bulbous-headed mascot.  Seriously.  That may be the best story ever in the history of baseball.  You will have to read the excerpt to believe it.

The Phillies start a 10 game West Coast road trip tonight against the Rockies.  Game time is 8:40pm.

 

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Bullpen Killing the Phillies

This Phillies bullpen sucks.  There are few more accurate ways to describe it.  The young pitchers are up one day and way down the next; the veterans are too inconsistent and have the threat of injuries, both past and present, constantly haunting them.

But the real shame of Monday night’s 9-6 loss to the Braves was the wasted 8th inning 5-run rally, including a 3-run shot from Domonic Brown.  That gave the Phillies a 6-5 lead, which was wiped away in the 9th inning with a Dan Uggla Grand Slam.  Ugh.

It seems the 2014 Phillies may actually have the spirit and possibly the offense to carry them to a winning season.  But without the pitching, they are sunk.  It is only mid-April and this team is already breaking records, and not in a good way.

BJRB.J. Rosenberg gave up 3 home runs to consecutive batters last night.  That feat has not occurred in literally over 100 years of MLB history.  Sure, he has a nice fastball.  But clearly, he has no idea what to do with it.

Jake Diekman has a big arm too.  But the lack of experience, recent overuse and general wildness is holding him back.  Pretty much every guy in the Phillies pen is suspect.  Mike Adams is back, but after being out for so long with such an array of injuries, the expectations of him are low.

Even the starting pitching has major issues.  Roberto Hernandez looked winded last night after only 5 innings.  He has yet to make it through 6 innings.  And now A.J. Burnett has been diagnosed with a hernia.  He will pitch through the pain, which is not a comforting thought.

Some of these guys have real talent, like Diekman.  But even the smartest students do not always get good grades.  Many times, the results depend on the teacher.  So why are the Phillies seemingly unable to develop their talent?  And how deep within the organization does this disconnect go?  This is not a new problem.  It seems like every year, the Phillies bring up young pitchers who are just not prepared.

I wish I had the answers to those questions.  Thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.

Game 2 with the Braves begins at 7:05pm tonight.

Feast or Famine: Phillies Sweep the Marlins

After losing 3 straight games to the Brewers, the Phillies bounced back with 3 straight wins over the Marlins.  This all-or-nothing week ended with big offensive performances from 3 players today.

Chase Utley, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Nieves all had a 3 hit day.  Nieves knocked in two runs in the 5th to tie the game at 3-3.  And then Utley had the big bang in the 8th with a go-ahead home run, making it a final 4-3 Phillies win.
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Kyle Kendrick pitched mostly well, although he was up and down.  His game started a bit shaky thanks to another Ryan Howard error on the very first batter of the game.  So Kendrick started in a hole right away, but he hung in there.
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Other than the one error, the fielding was fairly clean.  There was one base running blunder as Gwynn Jr. stumbled around third base and went home anyway where he was thrown out.
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But the bullpen came into the late innings and actually held the lead.  In fact, all 3 guys, B.J. Rosenberg, Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon, retired each of the 3 batters they faced.  Finally!
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Speaking of the bullpen, Justin DeFratus has been sent back to the minors after some rather disastrous outings recently.  Luis Garcia has taken his place.

And just one fun note about today’s game, it was Kid’s Opening Day.  As part of that, some children were apparently commissioned to render their best images of Phillies players which were shown during each players first at bat.  Some of the drawings are hysterical.  Check out my Photo Album from the game to see those and more game shots.

The Braves come to town tomorrow.  Game time is 7:05pm.

 

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

Phillies Field of Nightmares

These are the things that dreams nightmares are made of.  This Phillies – Brewers series has thus far been a horror show of epic proportions.  I awoke at 3am yelling, “How do you miss a routine ground ball?”  I thought, whew, just a bad dream.  And then I remembered, it wasn’t just a dream.

This does beg the question, how does a veteran major league player miss a routine ground ball?  Sure, no one is perfect, stuff happens, etc…  But this “stuff” is happening at an alarming rate.  The Phillies have 5 errors in 2 games and that doesn’t include the many, many other mistakes made that do not have a place to be recorded in the box score.
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For instance, a pitcher gets ahead of batter with a 0-2 count.  He then proceeds to walk the guy.  How does that happen?  Just ask Antonio Bastardo.  Even the Boogeyman, who spends weeks or months hiding under beds, has had better days.

Just as scary, both Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, two of the more veteran guys and biggest salaries on the team, both booted bouncing ground balls yesterday.  But how often does a ground ball take a weird hop?  Answer: All the time!  A major league player should be able to handle this.

As I write this, I realize it is very early in the season and all that.  Still, even this small handful of games is telling of a larger issue.  Even manager Ryne Sandberg admits, “We talk about some of the plays being routine, but we haven’t been making too many of the routine plays lately.”  So, why is that?

Sandberg preaches fundamentals and fielding practice.  All of that is nice, but a guy who has been a professional baseball player for many years knows fundamentals.  The issue is focus and execution.  Why have these veteran players lost their focus, which then leads to a lack of execution?  Are their pockets so heavy now that they lack incentive to concentrate?  I think that is a fair question.

There are exceptions, of course.  When Ben Revere smashed his face into the wall on Tuesday and dropped a fly ball, he did not show a lack of effort.  He looked towards the fence for a second and lost the ball.  I never see a lack of effort from Revere, as was witnessed during two diving attempts in Wednesday’s game, one of which was a spectacular, highlight reel catch.  He dropped the second one, but clearly put forth maximum effort and focus.

This doesn’t mean other guys aren’t trying.  They just do not try as hard and are not as invested in each individual play.  In short, they are a bit too laid back.  This is a big problem.

Think about your own job.  There are days you give full effort and other days where you do not feel like doing much.  If you work in an office, this probably doesn’t hurt anyone.  But if you have a job where other people depend on you, this is a recipe for disaster.  If I am a surgeon performing my fourth surgery of the day and I feel a bit tired and do just enough to get by with patient #4, bad things can happen.

Baseball is not brain surgery, obviously.  But one person’s actions can affect their teammates and the outcome of the game.  If someone wants to pay me millions of dollars to file papers in an office, you can be assured I am going to be the best, most organized filing machine that ever lived.  And it won’t even matter if anyone else is affected.  I would be singularly motivated by just the fact that someone was willing to pay me top dollar for my services.  I worry that not everyone on this Phillies team feels the same way.  And no amount of practice is going to cure that problem.

 

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Braun Puts a Roid Rage Hurting on Phils Opening Day

Do not make Ryan Braun angry.  You won’t like him when he’s angry.  The Phillies found that out the hard way during Tuesday’s 1-day delayed Home Opener.  First it rained (Monday), then it poured (Braun).

The day must have been cursed from the start as Chase Utley was sent home with the flu before the game.  But aside from that, the day started off so nice, who would have guessed it would turn into a massacre?  The pre-game festivities, as always, were colorful:
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Of course, for the umpteenth, the Navy parachuters jump was cancelled due to wind.  I seriously do not know why the Phillies bother scheduling this every year.  It almost never happens.

Instead, we got 2008 World Championship pitcher and current broadcaster, Jamie Moyer to toss the first pitch with his baseball idol, Steve Carlton looking on.  He had a nice reunion with Carlos Ruiz as well:
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And then the game started and it was all downhill from there.  In his typical inconsistent behavior, Kyle Kendrick followed up a good 1st start with a horrible one on Tuesday.  Adding insult to injury, he pitched against former Phillie Kyle Loshe and gave up the first 2 of Braun’s 3 home runs.
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A former All-Star, Braun is actually best known for his steroid use and overall bad behavior.  He got away with a positive test by blaming the Fed Ex man, who was then fired from his job after Braun’s adamant denials.   But then Braun did finally get caught afterwards and was suspended 65 games.  The number of people Braun hurt with his lies is what makes him, in my opinion, one of the worst offenders in baseball.  It is also what prompted all of the boo’s and chants of “Cheater!” throughout the ballpark.

But those chants did nothing but fuel Braun’s fire to beat the Phils.  He even killed a Phillies rally in the 2nd inning with a diving catch in right field that would have scored 2 runs.

The Phillies did manage to scatter some hits throughout the day and made a few nice plays in the field.
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All of the good plays were unfortunately overshadowed by 3 errors and some head scratching misreads in the outfield.  The worst of the day was Ben Revere in deep center, who had the ball lined up to catch and then just missed it.  The 3rd photo below is the most interesting as you can see Revere’s head and face smashed into the fence.  That pretty much sums up the day:
040814 Revere

That misplay put another run on the board for the Brewers.  Then in the next inning, Braun hit his third homer of the day.  He finished with 7 RBI and single-handedly crush the Phils.  I seriously hope someone checked his urine after the game (insert your own sarcastic remarks here).

The 4-10 loss was a disappointment, to put it mildly.  But today is another day and maybe the Phillies can bounce back with a strong start from Roberto Hernandez.  Game time is 7:05pm.

Here is the full Photo Album from the Home Opener, including batting practice, pre-game festivities and more.

 

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

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