Posted on: May 31, 2009 3:20 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2009 11:00 pm
As bad as some of the Phillies hitters have started this season, the pitching has been the team's downfall so far. The entire staff ranks 27th in MLB in team ERA, and they were ranked even lower until the pitchers have turned in good performances over the past week.
Cole Hamels: The ace has gotten off to a slow start. He missed most of spring training and his Opening Day start due to an elbow injury which he attributed to going off his normal offseason throwing program. He also suffered a couple of freak, but minor, injuries. He got roughed up a little bit last night against Washington, and had one really bad start early in the season, but for the most part he's been pitching better each time out and is rounding into form. Q1 grade: B-
Brett Myers: Make no mistake, the Phillies suffered a big blow when Myers went down with a hip injury last week which will most likely sideline him for the season. The injury, which has affected him all season, could explain his ineffectiveness this season. While not a superstar, he's a solid major-league pitcher who could give you 190-200 innings a year. Q1 grade: C
Jamie Moyer: Moyer has struggled all season, and had a 7.42 ERA heading into today's game against the Nationals. He got lit up in his first 3 starts in May (2 vs. the Mets, 1 vs. the Dodgers), but he's pitched better in his last 2 starts, and is looking good so far today. You have to figure that he's going to turn it around at some point, as he wouldn't forget how to pitch overnight after 20 years in the majors, but he's gotta get it going SOON. Q1 grade: D
Joe Blanton: Blanton's been inconsistent all season. When he's been on, he's been ON. When he's off, he's getting rocked. In 9 starts this year, he's been lights out in 2, brutal in 2, and so-so in the rest. Especially now with Myers out, Blanton has to step up. Q1 grade: D+
J.A. Happ: Since Chan Ho Park pitched himself into the bullpen (where the Phillies really wanted him all along anyway), J.A. Happ was tabbed to take his spot. He's pitched well in 2 starts, but it's too early to grade him. Q1 grade: incomplete
Clay Condrey and Ryan Madson have been great so far. Scott Eyre, Jack Taschner, and Chad Durbin have pitched all right. The big problem in the bullpen has been the back end, with Brad Lidge. He's definitely not the "Lights Out Lidge" of 2008. He's had a nagging knee injury all season, but insists that it's not affecting his pitching. In the bullpen's defense, the ineffectiveness of the starters has forced them to pitch a lot of innnings, and they're without one of their key members in J.C. Romero, who will return soon from a 50-game suspension. Q1 grade: Condrey and Madson get A's; Eyre, Tashcner, and Durbin get C's; Lidge gets a D+.
Having shed the "Charlie from Mayberry" tag placed on him by one of the crappier sports radio hosts in Philly with the World Series championship last year, Charlie Manuel has managed to keep the Phils in or near first place most of the season despite slumps by players like Jimmy Rollins and pretty much the entire bench except for Matt Stairs, and the problems with the pitching staff. And in what has to be a first for ANY coach or manager in Philly, he said last week that the fans are being "too easy" on the team. That's not really a problem; if the bottom falls out, the boobirds will be back. Q1 grade: A
June will provide the first real tests for rookie GM Ruben Amaro Jr. He needs to find more pitching (especially now with Myers gone for the season), as well as more help for the bench. He'll also run his first draft, which is critical with the loss of assistant GM (and former director of scouting) Mike Arbuckle. The Fightin's farm system is pretty depleted, especially at the higher levels, and needs help. But right now, you have to give him insane props for letting Pat Burrell go and bringing in Raul Ibanez. Q1 grade: A-
Posted on: May 28, 2009 11:43 pm
One of the critical problems facing the NHL today is the instability of certain franchises, the vast majority of which are teams that were part of the late-90s expansion or relocated during that era. The biggest issue facing the NHL right now in this area is the Phoenix Coyotes.
But the Coyotes are just the poster child for problem franchises in the NHL. There are several other franchises in trouble.
The once-proud New York Islanders have been struggling with attendance for the past decade, finishing near or at the bottom of attendance during that time. They have also been in a struggle to replace Nassau Colisseum with a new arena. Several plans have been proposed, but nothing has happened as of this point. The Atlanta Thrashers, one of the late-90s expansion teams, has, with the exception of a few years in the middle of this decade, struggled to produce a winner. They have also been plagued with ownership problems, to the point where the owners are in court to see who has the right to buy out who. The troubles of another of the late 90s expansion teams, the Nashville Predators, began before the team even took the ice. Founding owner Craig Leopold had to deny rumors that the team would be relocated before ever playing a game when they only sold 6000 of the 12,000 season tickets the NHL required. They even got Nashville to pay over 30% of the $80 million expansion fee to the NHL, as well as cover any operating losses from their arena. In May 2007, Leopold agreed to sell the team to Balsillie. This deal fell through when Balsillie, who had told Leopold that he'd keep the team in Nashville, started selling season tickets for the Hamilton Predators. The team instead was sold to Boots Del Biaggio, a venture capitalist who has since filed for bankruptcy, and a group of buyers based in Nashville. The team also has a buyout clause in place with Nashville, which allows them to pay a modest (compared to Phoenix's lease) $20 million buyout to Nashville if the team loses at least $20 million and fails to average 14,000 per game attendance by the end of the 2009/10 season. Del Biaggio's financial problems has led to a federal investigation into his business dealings involving the Predators. Other teams reportedly losing money are St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, Washington, and Columbus.
Posted on: May 28, 2009 5:27 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2009 11:04 pm
We're just over a quarter of the way into the season, so let's review how the offense for the defending champion Phillies has performed out of the gate...
C: Carlos Ruiz: Ruiz has played well this season, making some key defensive plays and quietly having a steady season at the plate, hitting .280 so far. A Hall-of-Famer he's not, but the Phils could be a LOT worse off. Q1 grade: B
1B: Ryan Howard--If there were any knocks against Ryan Howard, it was that he strikes out too much, and he's weak on defense. He worked hard on his defense during the winter, and it's shown, with a .998 fielding percentage and making some nice plays in the field. The Ks are still high though, with his 54 putting him 3rd among NL hitters and 6th in the majors. His .263 average is also 15 points below his career average, but his power stroke is still there, with his 12 home runs so far. Q1 grade: A-
2B: Chase Utley: Chase has continued to prove that he is "The Man", as the late, great Harry the K would refer to him. While other 2B (namely Ian Kinsler) have become great players in their own right, Utley is still the best 2B in baseball. A slump has dropped his average to .289, but he still has 11 HR, 31 RBI, and 32 runs scored. One thing Utley needs to do, however, is learn to get out of the way. No one's going to question his toughness, or willingness to take one for the team, but the tradeoff of getting a pass to first base in exchange for possibly being injured and missing a significant amount of time is not worth it. Q1 grade: A-
3B: Pedro Feliz: Arguably one of the Fightin's 2 weakest positions (along with catcher), Feliz has been quietly been having a good season. While he has only 2 HR so far at a traditional power poistion, with the rest of the power in the lineup, he doesn't need to hit HRs. He's currently batting .307, 50 points above his career average, and has been solid defensively, committing only 2 errors so far.
Q1 grade: B+
SS: Jimmy Rollins: Rollins got off to a brutally slow start, being unable to keep his average above .200 on a consistent basis until his recent hot streak. Even now, he's only hitting .223, with an OBP of only .271, which is really low for a leadoff hitter. His failure to produce in the leadoff spot led manager Charlie Manuel to drop him in the order a couple of weeks ago, which Rollins voiced his displeasure about. Q1 grade: D
LF: Raul Ibanez: I think the only negative thing you could say about Raul Ibanez so far this season is the fact that for some reason, he's only 6th in NL All-Star voting. The stat line he's posted so far (.339/17/44/38) puts him at or near the top in all hitting categories, and he hasn't disappointed in the field either, being the defensive upgrade over Pat Burrell that everyone expected him to be. While he has gone on torrid tears like this throughout his career, and he will eventually cool down, he deserves all the praise he's earned so far. I'm giving him the top grade Buddy Ryan would give people--an A double plus. Q1 grade: A++
CF: Shane Victorino: The Flyin' Hawaiian has started to get hot after a slow start. He continues to make plays at bat and in the field, and has been one of the spark plugs for the Phillies' offense, helping them to overcome Rollins' slow start. His numbers are OK right now (.280/4/25/31), but they'll really start to improve now that he's on a tear. Q1 grade: B-
RF: Jayson Werth: A self-proclaimed "streaky" player, Werth has definitely been that this year. He's either tearing the cover off the ball, or not producing at all. He's on pace for a 30-30 season, with close to 100 RBIs thrown in, and the .255 BA will come up. Werth has also been perfect in the field, and thrown out 4 runners so far. Q1 grade: B
Bench: Could be a lot better, and GM Ruben Amaro has made it clear that upgrading the bench is one of his goals. The only one who's produced in a pinch-hitting role is Matt Stairs, who's hitting .300 with 3 pinch-hit HRs on the season. Greg Dobbs is slumping horribly, only hitting .135. Eric Bruntlett is hitting even worse (.118), meaning if Chase Utley goes down for any length of time, the Phils are in real trouble. Chris Coste is a borderline major-leaguer. Newcomer John Mayberry hit a home run in his first game last weekend at Yankee Stadium, but won't see regular playing time ahead of Ibanez, Victorino, and Werth. Q1 grade: D-
That's my review of the offense so far. Up next: pitchers, Charlie Manuel, and Amaro.
Posted on: May 22, 2009 1:34 am
Edited on: May 31, 2009 11:14 pm
Of all the things necessary to fix the NHL, step # 1 is simple: Fire Gary Bettman.
Bettman has been NHL commissioner since February 1, 1993. Since that time, the league has hit a series of low points, including 2 major work stoppages, the loss of national television revenue, an increase in the amount of goonism in the game, poor expansion strategy, unstable owners, the neutral-zone trap, and a lack of respect for the league's history, among other things. All this has led to a league that was ready for a breakthrough into the mainstream in the early 1990s to a league that is on the verge of slipping into complete irrelevance in less than 15 years. How did this all happen? Let's start at the beginning.
When Gary Bettman took over the NHL, he became its first commissioner (the head of the NHL to that point had been the league president). After having spent most of his career in the NBA, where he rose to third in command, the NHL hired him to replace interim president Gil Stein. Bettman worked in the legal and marketing departments in the NBA, and was one of the people involved in developing the NBA's salary cap. This was key to the NHL owners, who had just gone through the first work stoppage in league history, a 10-day strike late in the 1991-92 regular season. The strike was a victory for the players, but the CBA that was signed lasted for only one season. The owners fired then-NHL President John Ziegler and replaced him with Stein on an interim basis. Bettman was eventually hired with the goal of instituting a salary cap in the NHL.
The 1993-94 season was arguably the high point for the league in at least the past 30 years, if not ever. Hockey was on the verge of becoming a true major player in American sports, due partly to the Rangers' drive to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years (and the resulting media attention); expansion to new markets in California (San Jose and Anaheim--with the resulting backing of Disney, who named their team the Mighty Ducks after their hit movie franchise), Florida (Florida and Tampa Bay), and Ottawa; and a surge in merchandise sales due to the expansion teams, as well as crossovers such as rappers wearing hockey sweaters during videos, giving the league exposure to a new audience. However, the seeds of the league's downfall were also in place.
Bettman, who had never even BEEN to a game before taking over as commissioner, showed his lack of hockey knowledge by snubbing his nose at league tradition by changing the name of the conferences (Wales and Campbell) and divisions (Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe), which honored some of the league's founding fathers, to generic geographical names, taken right from the NBA. He also tried to turn the NHL into the NBA on Ice by taking steps to remove fighting from the game, angering fans and creating disciplinary problems on the ice. The league also played without a CBA in place during the season, and when the NHLPA wouldn't agree to a salary cap, Bettman locked the players out right before the start of the 1994-95 season. When an agreement was finally reached, half the season had been wiped out. The league, which had signed a new national TV contract with FOX to begin showing games that season, suffered a blow that it still has not recovered from.
Even after losing half the season, Bettman and the owners had only managed to get a salary cap on rookies, and not on all players. The CBA was eventually extended to the 2004-05 season, when the league decided to make another push for a salary cap. Backed by hardline teams such as Chicago and Boston, the NHL gave Bettman the right to veto any offer from the union as long as just 8 of the 30 owners backed him. The league's insistence on a salary cap eventually cost them the entire season, as the NHL became the first pro sports league to lose an entire season to labor issues.
By this point, the league suffered a major blow to it's revenue, as NBC was only willing to do a revenue-sharing deal with the NHL, instead of paying a rights-fee upfront (putting the NHL on par with Arena Football as far as American network TV was concerned). Also, ESPN declined the option on their contract with the NHL, causing Bettman to take the league from a basic cable staple seen in almost every household in the country to Vs. (the recently renamed Outdoor Life Network), which is a much smaller network lacking ESPN's availability. This loss of television revenue has also caused teams to shift more of the cost burden onto fans attending games.
And let's not forget that just last week, the NHL was forced to alter its playoff schedule due to a Yanni concert. Yes, you read that right.
I don't want to go too long in this post, and I'll go into greater detail in future posts about the following topics:
What else has Bettman done? He's pushed for eliminating fighting in the game, which angers hockey fans, as well led to an increase of ugly on-ice incidents due to the players' inability to use fighting to police the game because of the stricter penalties. Out of the 10 longest suspensions in NHL history (handed down due to cheap shots by players), 9 of them have come in the last 15 years under Bettman's regime. While incidents such as this have unfortunately happened throughout the history of the game, they have increased as the league has cracked down on fighting.
The NHL has also done a half-assed job when handling expansion. After seeing the revenue rush into the league coffers in the form of expansion fees and new merchandise sales from the early 1990's expansion, the NHL rushed to add more teams and relocate existing teams into new markets in the American South, relying on the retirees living there to support the new teams, a strategy which has, for the most part, failed. While trying (and failing) to grow an American audience, he's done nothing but spit at the league's Canadian fans.
The league has also had problems with owners (and potential owners). Bruce McNall, who owned the Kings during their glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was sentenced to 70 months in prison due to fraud, and the Kings were forced to file for bankruptcy due to his dealings. Disney bailed on the league, selling the Ducks at a loss in 2005. The Penguins went into bankruptcy, forcing Mario Lemieux to take ownership of the franchise because they couldn't afford to pay him. The Islanders have been gimping along trying to get a new arena built for a decade now. The Predators and Thrashers are struggling. The NHL is currently in a court battle with Phoenix owner Jerry Moyes to see who controls the Coyotes. And Bettman has been carrying a years-long feud to keep Jim Balsillie, CEO of the company that makes BlackBerry smartphones, out of the league. Balsillie is currently trying to buy the Coyotes out of bankruptcy and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, after being blocked from buying the Penguins and Predators.
A major on-ice issue that emerged during the Bettman Era was the use of the neutral-zone trap, in which teams would score a goal to take a lead, then clutch-and-grab opposing players in the neutral zone (and pretty much all over the ice) in order to prevent them from moving the puck and be able to score. This led to a steep reduction in scoring, and a very boring style of hockey to watch. This style of play, which took hold in the mid-1990s, was not addressed for 10 years, with rules to crack down on it going into effect during the first season back from the lockout. Somehow, I can't imagine the NFL letting something like that go on for so long.
Then there was his suspension of Sean Avery for his "sloppy seconds" comment earlier this season. While I am not a fan of Avery at all, and yeah, it was a crude comment, it did not merit a 6-game suspension (which was announced as "indefinite" at first). While there's a LOT things Avery's done in his career that could've merited suspension, this was the least of them--but it's the one Bettman went after.
While there is one--and only one--thing I'll give Bettman credit for (The Winter Classic), even THAT'S tainted by the fact that he told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that he didn't see it as something the league would do every year. Bettman HAS to go. This league can never succeed to it's true potential as long as he's in charge.
My choice to replace him: Flyers owner Ed Snider. He knows hockey, having been in the league over 40 years as the Flyers' founding owner, and has turned them from one of the "Second Six" in a non-hockey town to one of the strongest franchises in the league. Hockey went through an incredible rate of growth during the Flyers early years, and they continue to try to create new fans, going as far as taking over the operation of city-owned rinks in Philadelphia when the city was going to shut them down due to budget problems. They also run clinics for inner-city kids to expose them to the game, as well as promote youth hockey throughout the Philadelphia area.
Posted on: May 21, 2009 12:45 pm
It might be too late for this to be an option, as the Padres have reportedly agreed to trade Jake Peavy to the White Sox. However, the trade has not gone through yet as Peavy has a no-trade clause, and has not approved the deal yet. He has made it clear in the past that he'd be willing to waive the no-trade so that the Padres could deal him, but he's also stated his preference to go to another National League team so that he can hit.
Posted on: May 16, 2009 3:31 pm
After watching Brad Lidge blow another save last night, you have to wonder if the "knee inflammation" he was diagnosed with a few weeks ago is more serious than reported. Going into today's DH at Washington, his numbers for the season are this: 0-1, 9.19 ERA, 5 saves, 2 blown saves. He's also allowed runs in 6 straight appearances. He's gone from "Lights-out Lidge", to "Light 'em up Lidge" as one of my buddies put it last night.
Lidge did develop a rep as a closer who was "damaged" (for lack of better words) by the home run he gave up into Albert Pujols in the playoffs a few years ago, and definitely struggled for the Astros after that, becoming a prime example of a player who needed a change of scenery. He got it with the trade to the Phillies last year, and he responded great, going 38-for-38 in save opportunities.
Watching him pitch rght now, i don't think it's mental. I think that his knee is still bothering him and affecting his ability to pitch. Lidge himself said that it's most noticable when he pushes off from the rubber. If that's the case, it's gotta be affecting the speed on his fastball, and probably him being able to locate his slider.
This is the same knee that he had surgery on twice last year. An MRI he had a few weeks ago revealed no major damage, just inflammation, but maybe a couple of weeks on the DL will give him a chance to rest and let it heal. With the way he's pitching, they might as well put him on now, but if they can hold out for a couple of more weeks, they could put Lidge on the DL, have Ryan Madson close, and make J.C. Romero (back from his supension) the setup man. I think the best thing they can do right now is put Lidge on the DL, get him healthy, and bring him back at 100% for the second half of the season.
Posted on: May 15, 2009 12:19 am
Edited on: May 16, 2009 9:23 pm
Back in the early 1990s, the NHL was poised for a breakthrough into mainstream American sports. Rappers wore hockey sweaters in their videos; the Rangers brought a lot of attention to the league by winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994; the league expanded into new markets (San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Florida, and Anaheim), and got the resulting revenue from merchandise sales for the new teams; after a short-sighted decision to abandon nationwide coverage on ESPN to go after a bigger-money contract with Sports Channel in the late 1980s, the league went back to ESPN, as well as showing a game of the week on FOX; and Sports Illustrated even ran a cover story in their June 20, 1994 issue, titled "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not". That all came to a crashing halt by the fall of 1994. The 1994-95 lockout was the league's second labor stoppage in two-and-a-half years, and cost the league half of its season. Fifteen years later, the NHL still has not recovered.
2. Fix the problem franchises like Phoenix
3. Get rid of the instigator and third-man in penalties to allow the players more leeway to police themselves, and accept that fighting allows them to do that
If i think of any other changes, i'll add them to the list.
Posted on: May 14, 2009 1:58 am
Jimmy Rollins was dropped to fifth in the Phillies' batting order on Tuesday night (and again on Wednesday night), and as John Gonzalez reported in his Wednesday column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rollins is none too happy about it. When asked by Todd Zolecki of mlb.com about where he would place himself in the order if he was Charlie Manuel, Rollins replied that the question was "unnecessary". He went on to say, "I don't see where else I would hit in the lineup. Today, I'm batting fifth. That's that. I'm a leadoff hitter. That's what I do. It doesn't matter what the numbers say. I'm going to produce. Pretty much--especially in this lineup with all these power guys--it wouldn't make sense to keep me down in the lineup where my game is speed."
Ummm, I think that with an OBP of .239, a batting average that was RAISED to .200 with a 1-for-4 night, 2 stolen bases, and 6 walks on the season, yeah, at this point it makes sense for him to NOT be leading off.
I'm sure we've all heard about how the Oakland native grew up idolizing Ricky Henderson, and has always wanted to be a leadoff hitter because of it, and he's not happy hittiing anywhere else in the lineup. But the fact is, right now, he's killing them in the top spot. I've heard some people say that it's because he's swinging with too much of an uppercut, trying to have another 30-home run season. I haven't actually sat down and watched videotape to analyze his swing (and I'm not exactly an expert on hitting anyway), so I don't know for sure what the problem is. If he is trying to swing for the fences, it kinda defeats his "my game is speed" argument. He just needs to make contact, get on base, and use his speed. In this lineup, he doesn't need to worry about hitting home runs, but playing half his games at the Bank, they're gonna come.
No one expects this to be a long-term situation. It's actually a pretty standard move in baseball to switch a batter's position in the lineup if he's in an extended slump to try to snap him out of it, and put him back in his original spot in the order once he gets going again. Considering Charlie Manuel's history as a hitting coach, if I was Rollins, I'd have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he's doing. Rollins is too good of a player to slump for too long. At some point, he's going to break out, get really hot, and wind up posting numbers closer to his career averages. Hopefully this switch will be the spark for that hot streak.