Results tagged ‘ Pirates ’

More J-Roll Drama at Phillies Camp

I am sure most of us have heard about the Jimmy Rollins – Ryne Sandberg drama at Spring Training this week. To recap very quickly, J-Roll was being J-Roll and let fly a “Who cares?” when asked about the team’s offense. And then Sandberg let fly a telling, “No comment” when asked about Jimmy bringing positive energy to the club. Rollins was benched for 3 straight days (Mon.-Wed.) without having spoken to Sandberg until Thursday.

Before I offer my thoughts on the situation, I will tell you a little story from Spring Training 2009. I make it a habit to arrive to all games, even Spring Training games, many hours early. That is when some of the most entertaining and interesting things happen. Before one 2009 spring game in Bradenton, FL against the Pirates, I witnessed some real J-Roll being J-Roll behavior.

As the team was stretching on the field, manager Charlie Manual was pacing about, looking annoyed. And one player was noticeably absent from the field: Jimmy Rollins. About 20 minutes into this, Rollins suddenly appeared jogging across the field. When the team noticed him, everyone, mid-stretch, stopped what they were doing and began clapping and cheering for Rollins as he approached. It was group sarcasm, although in good fun, to congratulate Rollins for finally showing up.

As I was right up against the fence where they were stretching, I saw and hear nearly everything that happened next. Manual sauntered over to Rollins with his irritated, head-tilted, almost twitchy swagger that we have seen many time over the years. Usually you saw this when Manual was about to confront an umpire.

As Manual berated Rollins, wagging finger and all, Rollins slouched over like a 5 year old getting yelled at for stealing a cookie. He even pouted. Rollins then made various hand gestures to explain how he got stuck in traffic and then got turned around, etc… A lot veteran players these days don’t like taking the team bus to spring away games, so it was not too unusual that Rollins drove himself. Still, everyone else was on-time.

022509a1Ryan Howard then wandered over and put his arm around Rollins to comfort him, again, like a 5 year old whimpering after being punished. Manual just kept talking. It was very clear that this was not the first time Rollins broke the rules. And as we all know, it would not be the last.

But under Manual, Rollins got used to being “scolded” and then simply going about his business after some comforting words from a few teammates. This has been a decade-long pattern. So does it really surprise anyone that in this most recent incident Sandberg decided to give Rollins the silent treatment? When you were a kid, what was worse? Getting yelled at or being ignored and having to wonder what you did wrong? The silent treatment doesn’t work on everyone; however, I am sure Sandberg felt like at the very least, he needed to try something different than what Manual had done.

I have heard a lot of criticism of Sandberg the last few days for not speaking to Rollins right away. Personally, I think giving Rollins days to stew over what was going on may have an effect going forward. Although Rollins did nearly hang himself in the media afterwards with comments like, “Well, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion. It doesn’t make it right, but he’s the manager so he gets to have the last say.” I am sure that did not endear him to Sandberg at all. But as the new manager, Sandberg is going to have to think outside the box when dealing with player issues, especially with those players who have become used to a very different style of management.

How will J-Roll react now that he and Sandberg have put the issue to rest? Time will tell.

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

The Rumor Mill Begins to Turn…

The Phillies have done themselves no favors during the first half of the season.  Their mediocre play has left them in 3rd place in the NL East and 9.5 games out of first.  Losing 3 out of 4 against the Dodgers this past weekend did not help their case either.

And so the rumor mill begins to turn with names like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon in the mix.  If the team does not pick up their play significantly in the next few weeks, this could signal the end of an era.  It is hard to envision a Phillies team without Utley or Rollins, but that may soon be the reality.

The most persistent rumor recently has the Red Sox making a run at 3rd baseman Michael Young.  The Phillies signed Young as basically a 1-year rental, so his departure would not be surprising.  Utley is in the last year of his contract, so losing him is also a possibility, although not one that most people would be very happy about.

Utley may be the most beloved player in franchise history.  If the Phillies trade him, they run the risk of alienating a large portion of their fan base.  This is guy who blurted out the F-word on national television, not once, but twice, and people still say he can do no wrong.  That is a powerful show of affection, especially in a city like Philadelphia.

Rollins, on the other hand, may not be missed quite as much.  While he is the longest tenured active Phillie and a former MVP, Rollins still has that magical ability to piss people off.  He has made derogatory comments in the past about Philly Fans and he has been criticized for a lack of hustle.  More recently, Rollins said he was “not disappointed” with the team’s 1-3 performance in Los Angeles this past weekend.

While Rollins has a point, that being he believes the team will overcome, it still rubs some people the wrong way.  Personally, I like Jimmy.  He speaks his mind and I respect that.  So seeing him in another uniform would be quite a shock.  It would not, however, induce the same type of freak-out that losing Utley would.

On Tuesday night, the Phillies pulled out a 3-1 win over the best team in baseball right now, the Pirates.  That is still weird to say…  However, even that win may not help quite the trade rumors.  A sweep of the Bucos might be helpful, but even in a win, the Phillies still have some very obvious, glaring problems.

The bullpen, for example, is a huge mess.  It took 3 pitchers who combined to load the bases to get the Phillies through the 8th inning last night.  It did work out, but could have easily ended in disaster.  The offense is getting better, but they are still not hitting consistently with runners in scoring position.  And the defense is very shaky; Delmon Young dropped a routine fly ball last night which is a prime example of the issues on the field.

All we can do now is hold our collective breaths, wait and hope the Phillies can pull out a string of convincing wins before the All-Star break.

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

Phillies Offense on Locke-Down

On Monday night, Phillies rookie Jonathan Pettibone made his major league debut against the Pirates.  He went 5.1 innings and allowed only 2 runs after a fairly shaky start and some good defense.  The Phillies offense put up 3 runs for the rookie, but two of those runs came from a wild pitch and a hit batter.

The lack of offense took another turn for the worse on Tuesday night.  Cole Hamels pitched a great game, allowing 2 runs over 8 innings.  But his teammates did nothing to help him.  As a result of the 0-2 loss, Hamels still does not have a win this year.  This is exactly what happened to Cliff Lee last year, who ended the season with only 6 wins, despite his 3.16 ERA.

There were only 4 hits for the Phillies last night.  Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke had them all tied up in knots that they could not untangle.  Sadly, it was a total Locke-Down.

For example, in the 4th inning, John Mayberry Jr. led off with a triple.  Still, the Phillies managed to squander that opportunity as well.  Not scoring a runner from 3rd with no outs to start the inning is ridiculous.  But that has been the story of the Phillies offense for a number of years now, and it does not appear it will change anytime soon.

These guys get anxious at the plate, swing at bad pitches and watch good ones fly past them.  There is no discipline at all.

Think about that 4th inning again.  With no outs, Mayberry stood at 3rd and Domonic Brown on first after being hit by a pitch. Locke was getting wild and losing his command.  So the only thing Ben Revere needed to do was not pop out or hit the ball the 3rd base side of the infield.  Even a double play would have scored the run with Mayberry going on contact.  So what does Revere do?  He swings at the first pitch and hits the ball to third; Mayberry is thrown out at the plate.

This is not Mayberry’s fault either…Ryne Sandberg told him to go on contact which was verified by manager Charlie Manual after the game.  As for Revere, remember he is only 24 years old.  Clearly, he still has a lot to learn.  But the same excuse cannot be made for the rest of the team.  This is a very experienced ball club.  Yet they continue to approach at-bats like frightened rookies.

When the only relief of the night is seeing bench player Laynce Nix step to the plate, something is very, very wrong.

The Phillies hired not one, but two new hitting coaches this season in an effort to improve the offense.  And even though both Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner have gotten rave reviews from the players, nothing changes once a guy steps to the plate.  Can you teach an old dog new tricks?  Apparently not.

Pretty soon they will have a big offensive day again and the critics will be silent until the next several games when the bats go back to sleep again.  This has become a pattern.  They give us a small bit of hope, and just like that, the hope is squashed the very next day.  I am seriously beginning to wonder if this is fixable.

In the meantime, all we can do is wait and see.  Roy Halladay will pitch tonight; game time is 7:05pm.

 

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Phillies Add More Pitching & Hamels Gets an Unpleasant Surprise

The Phillies have added three right handed pitchers;  Juan Cruz, Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez.  They have each been asked to attend Spring Training as non-roster invitees on minor league contracts.

You may remember Lopez (photo to the right); he started 5 games for the Phillies in 2009.  He spent the last 2 years with the Cubs and in the minors.  Lopez, 37, has a career 4.82 ERA in the majors and compiled a 5.28 ERA in the minors last year over 18 games.

Cook and Cruz are both 34 years old.  Cook posted a 5.65 ERA in 18 starts with the Red Sox last year and will get $1.625 million if he makes the roster.  Cruz was with the Pirates in 2012 and went 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 43 games.

The combined age of all three pitchers is 105.  Clearly, these signings were not meant to help the team get any younger.  These are just more spare parts in case Cole Hamels breaks a finger nail or Roy Halladay’s arm falls off.

Hamels is already having a rough off-season.  In October, the star pitcher apparently had a sore shoulder, which the Phillies have since downplayed as being nothing serious.

And more recently, Hamels found out that the Philadelphia school system flat out lied to him in regards to donations he and his wife made to 3 Philly schools that are now slated for closure.  They were assured these schools would remain open.  The Hamels Foundation is now trying to save those schools so that the playgrounds and library they helped build do not get torn down and turned into apartment complexes or the like.

At least Spring Training is almost here…26 days to go!

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

Kendrick “Happy” With Performance

With a series win on the line, the Phillies sent Kyle Kendrick to the mound against the Pirates yesterday afternoon.  The results were not what they hoped for.

The 5-4 loss ended the home stand with a 5-5 record and a 2-2 split series with the Bucos.  Of the 2 games in the series they lost, the bullpen accounted for one and most everyone had a hand in the second loss.

If you have read my posts before, you may already be aware that I am not a big Kendrick fan.  He gave up 5 runs last night during the first 6 batters he faced, putting the team into a big hole they could not climb out of.  But I was all prepared to spread the blame around and try not to pick on Kendrick.  Because he did wind up pitching 6 scoreless innings after that 1st inning disaster.  And certainly, the offense going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position was out of his control.

But then I read what Kendrick had to say after the game and my mood soured once again.  “I gave us a chance to win,” Kendrick said. “I pitched deep into the game. They needed me to pitch deep into the game. I did that. We were in the game. We had a chance to win the game. Yeah, you never want to give up runs, but I was happy with myself to go deep like that and give us a chance.”

Happy?  He was happy after that?  O…M…G…  Excuse me while I vomit…

Once in a post-game interview after pitcher Vance Worley had a rough game, he declared, “I sucked.”  No excuses, just the simple truth.  It is hard to get mad at a guy who admits his failings without hesitation and takes full responsibility.  My reaction to that is, “Ok, kid.  Go get ‘em the next time!”

But Kendrick’s complete denial of how badly he screwed up is tough to stomach.  Especially when, based on the 6 scoreless innings after the bad inning, it is obvious he is capable of better.  It is that exact attitude/vibe that I have always felt coming from him which has led to my slight lack of respect for the guy.  And now, it appears that gut feeling was absolutely correct.

If I know I can do better and I fail to live up to my capabilities in any aspect of life, I am certainly not happy with my effort.  I would be very disappointed and upset with myself, whether it was all my fault or not.  Because I owe it to myself to be the best I can be.  If you do not respect yourself, you cannot expect anyone else to.

And the idea that Kendrick is either too immature or too delusional to see this is very, very sad.  If he finds this effort to be sufficient, I really do feel sorry for the guy.  He is not only denying his teammates of the best he has to offer, he is denying himself.

So no, this loss was not all Kendrick’s fault.  But he is certainly doing himself no favors by settling for a mediocre performance.

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No Doubt, Chase Utley Has Returned!

Chase Utley is back!  Even better, he is healthy and looks like the All-Star player we have known him to be.  Utley announced his return in his first at-bat of the year with a huge bang.  His fairy tale comeback began with a monster home run to center on a 2-2 count amidst 45,000 fans cheering wildly.

The ballpark exploded with joy from the upper levels down to the dugout where teammates showered Utley with man-hugs, high fives and ear-to-ear grins.  It appears the Chutley magic has returned!

As if that moment were not amazing enough, Carlos Ruiz made it even more special with another home run right after Utley’s and while the crowd was still celebrating the first one.  This had to be sign of better things to come for the Phillies.  For one inning, it felt as if the world was right again.

In honor of Utley’s amazing comeback, here is a montage of some of my favorite photos I have taken of him over the years:

Three cheers for Chase!  And 3 hits as well; Utley went 3-for-5 in his first game of the season.

But the elation of the moment was soon squashed by the Phillies dreadful bullpen, which ruined the day.  Short a starter because of the rain-out last weekend, the Phils were stuck with a bullpen game.  Raul Valdes started and, in the 1st inning, things looked promising.  But by the 2nd, things began to unravel quickly.

Valdes allowed a 3 run homer with 2 outs and the pitcher on deck.  Joe Savery took over in the 3rd and managed one clean inning before things got much worse.  He ended up with 5 runs allowed, two of which scored after Michael Schwimer took over with 2 outs in the 5th.  Savery was sent back to the minors after the game.

But the drama did not end there.  The Phillies actually mounted a comeback and cut the 8-2 deficit to 8-7 by the 7th inning.  It looked like they might actually still have a shot to win, which along with Utley’s return, would have been a massive boost for this team.

But the bullpen even managed to ruin that possibility.  That’s right…Chad Qualls strikes again.  Only he hardly threw any strikes.  Once he walked the first batter, it was clear that a large load of crap was about to hit the fan…again.  Sure enough, Qualls gave up 3 runs, including a 2-run homer.  That handed the Pirates an 11-7 win.

So we are left with three cheers for Chase and about three-hundred boo’s for the bullpen.  If this pen sucked any worse, it would be a little league pen.  Folks, this is BAD.  If the Phillies do not find some better arms soon, it won’t matter how many 3-for-5 games Utley has.  And I am pretty sure that Brian Sanches, called up in place of Savery, is not the answer.

Ryan Howard is starting a rehab assignment today, which should have him back with the team at least after the All-Star break.  But again, the Phillies still need a more solidified bullpen if he is going to be able to make an impact.

The final game of this series begins early, at 1:05pm.  Kyle Kendrick, who has been basically dreadful of late, is starting.  Cross all your fingers and toes that he snaps out of whatever funk he is in so the Phillies can win this 4-game series!

UPDATE: Chad Qualls is outta here!  The Phillies cut him today (“designated for assignment”) after many disasterous pitching efforts.  Excuse me for a moment while I do the happy dance…  Ok, I am back.  Filling his spot will be lefty Jeremy Horst, a rookie aquired in the Wilson Valdez trade.  I do not know much about him except he posted a 2.11 ERA in 26 games in Triple-A and he has to be better than Qualls.  We shall see…

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

Chooch Leads Phillies to a Big Win

If someone had told me that by the end of June this season, Carlos Ruiz would be leading all of baseball in batting average, I may have checked to see if that person was running a fever.  Chooch has always been a good player; but he has never been .361 with 10 home runs-good.  The 10 homers, including one in last night’s 5-4 win over the Pirates, is a career high.  And it is only June…

So yes, Chooch leads everyone in batting average with .361.  That is better than past MVP’s Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton.  Ruiz has also outhit fellow catchers and All-Star voting leaders Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. Soooooo….VOTE FOR CHOOCH!  We have until Thursday to get him to the All-Star game!

But even if that fails, manager Charlie Manuel told reporters yesterday that he plans on calling Tony La Russa, the NL All-Star team manager, to plead the case for Chooch.  Manuel always sticks up for his players, but especially in this case, Ruiz really deserves the honor.

Chooch put his stamp all over last night’s win.  He went 3-for-4 with a homer and 2 RBI.  And while catching, Ruiz saved two runs from scoring by blocking the plate and tagging out the runners.

The biggest of those plays came in the 7th inning after starter Vance Worley got into a real jam.  With no outs, 2 runners on base and 1 run already across, Worley was removed and rookie Michael Schwimer took over.  Schwimer coaxed a ground out and then a short fly ball to left.  One the fly ball, John Mayberry Jr. made a great throw home, which Ruiz caught and tagged the runner for an inning-ending double play.

That play kept the Phillies lead intact and Chooch’s subsequent homer added to that lead.  The home run he hit in the 8th turned out to be a game saver as closer Jonathan Papelbon struggled in the 9th, allowing a solo homer.  But the Ruiz blast made the difference in the 5-4 win.

The Phillies have now won 2 of the first 4 games against the Pirates, which is great news; because tonight’s 7:05pm game is going to be started and finished by the Phillies bullpen.  The rainout on Friday forced a juggling of the pitching staff, leaving them 1 starter short this week.  So Raul Valdes will start the game and likely pitch 3 innings, passing the ball on to the rest of the pen after that.

And while you are watching the game, do not forget to VOTE FOR CHOOCH!

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Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography

How the Phillies Spell Relief: P-I-R-A-T-E-S

After a dreadful Sunday during which the Phillies lost two games to the Rays in spectacularly bad fashion, this team needed a break.  And that break came in the form of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  How do you spell relief?  P-I-R-A-T-E-S!

The 8-3 win was a welcome sight, even if it did come at the expense of what appeared to be a little league team.  Thankfully though, the Bucos took the pounding like men and no tears were shed.

The first inning set the tone as the Pirates fielders tossed the baseball all over the place, as if they were blindfolded at a child’s birthday party while trying to whack a piñata.  The ball bounced all around, smacking dirt, bases and the infield walls.  Still, no candy prizes fell from the sky.  Instead, the Pirates were given 3 errors in the inning, which lead to a 4-0 lead for the Phillies.

The party continued for the Phillies offense, which exploded for 4 more runs.  Jimmy Rollins nailed a home run to right that nearly made it to the second deck of seats.  Carlos Ruiz continued his All-Star campaign, going 3-for-5 and 3 other Phils had a multi-hit night.  This was apparently the precursor to the post-game fireworks that were planned.

On the downside, the Phillies are still struggling with runners in scoring position.  They loaded the bases with no outs in the 7th and only managed one run, which resulted from a walk to Ty Wigginton.  The next 3 batters all struck out.

Starting the game, Joe Blanton pitched pretty well.  He went 7 innings, allowing 3 runs, 2 of which were earned.  But still, in the 8th inning, after the offense failed to add on in the 7th, you could feel the doubt in the air as the bullpen took over.  Could a 5 run lead really not be sufficient here?

It was enough on this day.  But in the past, that has very often not been the case for this team.  And this fact still leaves Phillies fans anxious about what might happen in a similar situation the next time.

The Pirates are a bad team that the Phillies should really beat up on over the next 3 games.  If they can manage to do that, there may be hope for this team yet.

Speaking of hope, it looks like Chase Utley should be back with the team on Wednesday.  He is playing for Triple-A Lehigh Valley tonight.  I will temper my enthusiasm until I see it for myself…

In the meantime, game 2 with the Pirates begins tonight at 7:05pm.

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

Double Disaster as Phillies Lose Two Against the Rays

The Phillies managed to spend only one day out of the basement in the NL East after Saturday’s win.  But Sunday’s twin killing against the Rays propelled them right back to where they apparently belong; in last place.  When your two best starters are pitching and you still lose both games, things have clearly gone very, very wrong.

In the first game, Cole Hamels was practically unhittable.  He did not allow a run over 7 innings and gave up only 3 hits.

Leaving the game with a 1-0 lead, the bullpen was going to have to pitch 2 clean innings.  And as you probably already know, that did not happen.

I try not to say too much about how Charlie Manuel handles this team.  Because frankly, what he has been given to work with is on par with a minor league team.  But after Antonio Bastardo walked 2 batters in the 8th with just a 1-run lead, he should not have been allowed to continue.  Bastardo was awful the day before and clearly, he still has not found proper command of his pitches.  So why then is he left in to pitch to Carlos Pena?

Apparently, he was left in to clear the bases for the next pitcher as he gave up a 3-run homer to Pena.  I saw that coming, as did everyone in my section screaming, “Take him out!”  But Manuel puts blind faith in these guys even when it has become obvious to everyone else that the leash has gotten far too long.

Then again, look at the players Manuel has to choose from.  The pickings are slim.  This bullpen just sucks, so in that regard, it is still hard to blame the manager.  I still don’t agree with the decision to leave Bastardo in, but I am also glad I was not the one having to make that decision.

And then in the 8th with 2 outs and the bases loaded, Manuel left Michael Martinez in to bat instead of pinch hitting.  Martinez is hitting .133 and could not hit the broad side of a barn right now.  After the game, Manuel told the media that neither Juan Pierre nor Mike Fontenot were hitting lefties well, so he left Martinez in.  The issue with that is, Martinez is not hitting ANYONE right now.

Angry at the media for asking, Manuel suggested the reporters should tweet him with their in-game decisions saying, “You guys can float the information down there to me, being as I ain’t smart enough to get it.”  Oh my…

Here are a few other random shots from the 1st game, which the Phillies went on to lose, 3-2.

In game 2, Cliff Lee basically squashed any shot he may have had at his first win of the season by allowing 5 runs over 7 innings.  His last 3 starts have been awful.  Where did our ace go?

Perhaps the strain of not having a win has finally stolen whatever small amount of sanity he had left?   No one really knows what is going on here.

Placido Polanco tried to get this team going.  He went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI and a walk.  John Mayberry Jr. also had a big hit and an RBI.  And it was apparently “opposite day” for Hunter Pence who drew 3 walks in the game.

But the offense literally ended there.  The Phillies managed only 4 hits and left 6 men on base.

And just so Lee did not feel singled out in this one, some of the rookie pitchers decided to help out with 5 walks, a wild pitch and 2 more runs for the Rays in one inning.  It looks like B.J. Rosenberg’s major league career may be over before it began.  He was responsible for all that damage except 1 of the walks.

Adding insult to injury, catcher Brian Schneider was leveled at home plate by Sean Rodriguez coming in to score.  He left the game with a sprained ankle.  Later, Pence almost took out the Rays catcher in a weird semi-collision with Jose Molina’s outstretched leg.

Schneider is now on the DL and the Phillies went down for the count in a 7-3 loss.

Here are the Photo Albums from both games: Game 1: Hamels start, Game 2: Lee start.

The Pirates come to town next for a 4-game series starting tonight at 7:05pm.

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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography

The Phillies Offense: Here We Go Again…??

The Phillies anorexic offense has gotten off to a seriously slim start during the first two games of 2012.  After a 1-0 win in the opener against the Pirates, the Phillies again scored only one run in Game #2 through 10 innings.

The only run starter Cliff Lee allowed was on a rare wild pitch in the 6th inning.  Lee looked a little uncomfortable most of the game, however, he managed to hold his ground.

But while Lee clawed his way through the Pirates line-up, the Phillies offense was mostly absent.  Hunter Pence collected the lone RBI with a single in the first inning to score Shane Victorino.

Throughout the game though, you could not help but expect to see that “magic” moment occur to get the Phils over the hump.  Freddy Galvis is still waiting for his first major league hit; wouldn’t it be great if that happened at a key moment to put the Phillies ahead?  And Jim Thome stepped in as a pinch hitter late in the game; you thought, surely our old friend can conjure something special in his 1st official at-bat as a Phillie again.

But sadly, the magic never appeared.  And so on to extra innings they went…

Joe Blanton, who started Monday’s exhibition game, was called on in the 10th and immediately got into trouble.  He gave up a double to Phillie-killer Rod Barajas that missed going over the outfield wall by about an inch.  And just a few batters later, a single knocked in the winning run.

While it is only two games into the season, these two games are still cause for concern.  Not panic…just worrisome.  Because this is essentially a carry-over from last year where the Phillies offense regularly stunk up the ballpark.

In addition, having 3 ace pitchers will do them no good if they need those 3 guys to toss a shut-out every time.  That whole pitching staff has to thinking already, “Oh no, here we go again…”  And many fans are thinking the exact same thing right now.

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