Posted on: August 9, 2011 2:47 pm
LOS ANGELES -- All credit to the all-world Phillies rotation. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels leading the way, it is pitching for a place in history.
And we've all seen the damage wreaked by a highly decorated lineup led by Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
But you don't compile baseball's best record based behind just eight or nine players. And as such, the Phillies are getting plenty of help from these easily overlooked parts in their machine:
-- Reliever Antonio Bastardo: With closer Brad Lidge on the shelf for most of the season, Bastardo has played a key, late-innings role and currently is holding opponents to a .128 batting average -- second lowest among NL relievers. His 1.49 ERA is fifth-lowest among NL relievers.
-- Starter Vance Worley: With Joe Blanton done for the year, Worley is 8-1 with a 2.35 ERA and currently has won six consecutive decisions. He's fanned 66 hitters against only 28 walks in 84 1/3 innings.
-- Infielder Michael Martinez: With third baseman Placido Polanco hurt again, it is Martinez, plucked from the Nationals as a Rule V pick last winter, who is providing steady relief. Martinez's 15 RBI during the month of July ranked third among all NL rookies, behind Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (18) and the Padres' Jesus Guzman (18).
-- Outfielder John Mayberry Jr.: Acquired from Texas in a trade in November, 2008, Mayberry, 27, continues to develop into a serviceable backup outfielder with an intriguing future. Of his past 23 hits, 17 have gone for extra bases (and overall, 52.5 percent of his major league hits, 31 of 59, have been for extra bases).
-- Infielder Wilson Valdez: He's plugged in at second base, third base and shortstop at various times this season and, in an extra-innings pinch against the Reds on May 25, became the first player since Babe Ruth in 1921 to start a game in the field and then become the winning pitcher. Though light-hitting overall, Valdez is batting .390 with runners in scoring position this season.
Shane Victorino, twice a Rule V pick himself (the Phillies took him from the Padres in 2004 after the Padres took him from the Dodgers in 2002), raves about Martinez and the "energy" he brings.
"Little pieces," Victorino says. "It always takes 25 guys. Somebody gets hurt, somebody else steps in."
Recalling when the Phillies signed pitcher Pedro Martinez for the stretch run in '09, Victorino said he was extremely wary of Martinez because of the reputation the pitcher brought as a fiery headhunter. But Martinez went 5-1 for Philadelphia in nine starts, pitched the Phillies into position to beat the Dodgers in a key NLCS game and Victorino now calls Martinez "the greatest teammate I've ever had."
"Here, it's all about winning, and winning right now," Victorino says. "If you don't care about winning, don't show up.
"We have so many superstars in here -- MVPs, Cy Young winners, All-Stars, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers. But Martinez is no different from me because it's all about winning."
That's the way it is throughout the Phillies' clubhouse right now, an impressive culture that is steamrolling everything in its path.
Likes: With the trade deadline having passed and at least a little more free time in August, looking forward to a big date night with my wife to see Crazy, Stupid Love sometime soon. ... Lots of TV to catch up on as well: Last couple episodes of Treme, last five episodes of Friday Night Lights (that's only with trepidation, though, because it's the last season and while I can't wait to see the last few FNLs, I don't want to get through them because then one of my favorite shows in recent memory will be done, sniff, sniff) and the first few episodes of Entourage. ... Haven't gotten all the way through it yet, but I'm liking Sky Full of Holes, the new Fountains of Wayne disc.
Dislikes: I realize there are plenty of parents out there who disagree with me, but man I hate to see summer dwindle down to its last few weeks before school starts again. Summer is never, ever long enough.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Then she wakes me with coffee
"And kisses my head
"And she starts to explain
"About something she's read
"I say, 'Darlin', you haven't heard a word that I've said'
"And I love that girl."
-- John Hiatt, I Love That Girl
Tags: Antonio Bastardo, Babe Ruth, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Fountains of Wayne, Friday Night Lights, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Blanton, John Hiatt, John Mayberry Jr., Michael Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Vance Worley, Vance Worley, WIlson Valdez
Posted on: August 8, 2011 10:41 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 12:54 pm
LOS ANGELES -- Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino declined Monday to address his three-game suspension for his role in Friday night's brawl in San Francisco.
But he was happy to discuss the latest test the Phillies passed with phlying colors, winning three of four games over the weekend and beating the Giants at their own game, pitching.
Naw, let's not go there Victorino said. But as the weeks roll by and the Phillies blaze on toward what is shaping up to be another very special season, let's just say that leaving the Giants in ruins over the weekend just reinforced what some folks have been believing for a long time.
"Best team in baseball," one scout says.
"I don't want to use the word 'statement'," Victorino said. "But it shows we can do it. Not that we ever doubted that we can, but they're the champs. To be the champs, you have to beat the champs.
"In October, it's all about 5-7-7 [the round-by-round best-of series']. We tip our caps to the Giants for beating us last year. But I think this was a test for us, and we're good.
"I think people are understanding how good we are. We won in San Francisco because of our pitching. And they didn't even face our No. 1."
Instead, Roy Halladay was slotted to pitch the series opener against the Dodgers here Monday night, and the Phillies are making Jimmy Rollins look conservative. It was Rollins who predicted in February the Phillies would win 100 games.
It made headlines at the time because, well, in February, any sort of bold statement makes headlines.
But all you can say as the Phils maintain a pace to win 103 games is, the season is playing out just as many thought it could for them.
Winners of nine of their past 10 heading into this Dodgers series, they owned the game's best record at 74-40. Last time they had played at least 113 games and suffered only 40 losses, it was 1976.
Charlie Manuel's club is an equal opportunity outfit, shredding left-handed starters (against whom they're 21-9) and right-handers (53-31) alike.
Though they're only seventh in the NL in runs scored, their pitching is so dominant that their run differential (+127) is third-best in the game, trailing only the Yankees (+167) and Boston (+144).
Phillies starters lead all major-league rotations in wins (55), ERA (2.96), strikesouts (640), complete games (14, six from Halladay), quality starts (76) and fewest runs allowed (261).
Are the Phillies reaching their potential that, as far back as spring training, was set in the stratosphere?
"It's hard for us to say because we're striving to get to the World Series and win it," starter Cole Hamels said. "It's definitely a good question for when we're in the World Series.
"We definitely like our chances. We're confident. Guys are at their peaks. In '08 when we ended up winning, we were trying to find it and we ended up finding it."
As for the San Francisco series, Hamels said, "We're playing the right type of baseball. That's what you have to do in August. It's very tough for teams. It's 100 degrees, you've been pitching for 22, 24 starts [Hamels is 13-6 with a 2.53 ERA in 24 starts], your body's fighting it, and you have to keep pushing.
"It's the countdown."
He meant for stretch-run baseball in September, and playoff ball in October.
But for the Phillies, there's a lot of counting going on right now.
And the numbers are adding up impressively.
Likes: GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland extended in Detroit. They've earned their keep by keeping the Tigers relevant. ... A few days off in early August right after the trade deadline, summer sun still warm, the days long and free. ... Sandy Point in Ferndale, Wash., quarterback Jake Locker's land, right down there on Puget Sound. Beautiful. ... The oh-so-fresh halibut and salmon at Barlean's fishery down the road. Few things finer on the grill with the sun dropping behind the ocean water. ... The burritos at Chihuahua's in town. ... Jimmy Buffett's Encores disc. ... The new disc from John Hiatt, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. Not as good as Slow Turning or Perfectly Good Guitar, but that's setting the bar awfully high. Check out I Love That Girl, Detroit Made and Adios to California.
Dislikes: All the best to Colorado right-hander Juan Nicasio. One minute, you're pitching in the majors. The next, you've got a broken bone in your neck after being hit by a line drive, and you don't know if you'll ever pitch again. Tough summer for the Rockies. Hope we see Nicasio back soon.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Wrote a note, said 'Be back in a minute'
"Bought a boat and I sailed off in it
"Don't think anybody's gonna miss me anyway
"Mind on a permanent vacation
"The ocean is my only medication
"Wishin' my condition ain't ever gonna go away
"Now I'm knee deep in the water somewhere
"Got the blue sky breeze blowin' wind thru my hair
"Only worry in the world
"Is the tide gonna reach my chair
"Sunrise, there's a fire in the sky
"Never been so happy
"Never felt so high
"And I think I might have found me my own kind of paradise"
-- Zac Brown Band, Knee Deep
Posted on: March 13, 2010 1:16 am
Edited on: March 13, 2010 1:20 am
PEORIA, Ariz. -- You've gotta have a whole lot of patience not to go crazy when the trade rumors have you surrounded.
Quick, name the hitter who led the National League in walks last year. Hint: It ain't Albert Pujols.
"I walked all year, but mainly because pitchers were walking me as opposed to pitch selection," says Gonzalez, who wants to establish an even better eye this summer. "It's something you can work on. The more pitches you see, the better."
Gonzalez walked 119 times last season, including a crazy 24 times over an 11-game span immediately after the Padres shipped Scott Hairston, Gonzalez's main protector in the lineup, to Oakland.
It was right around then that the slugging first baseman (40 homers, 99 RBIs) lost a little of his patience and began taking a whack here and there at pitches he couldn't reach very well.
He still had a sensational season -- All-Star, Gold Glove, career-high .407 on-base percentage -- but his midseason funk still bothers him. Surrounded by upheaval in the organization at midseason, Gonzalez knocked in only eight runs and hit just .235 during the month of June, then batted just .198 during the month of July.
Gonzalez says this "personal funk" helped reiterate to him that he must take his walks.
"[Patience] is one of the parts of the game you have to learn," he says. "Sometimes the best thing you can do for the team is to take the walk rather than expand your strike zone."
The great ones have done it. Barry Bonds. Pujols. Alex Rodriguez.
Gonzalez, already a superstar, is looking to get better.
Sunblock Day? Ah, maybe it's time to open that bottle of SPF. Predicted highs in the 70s all weekend in Phoenix.
Likes: Former Padres general manager Kevin Towers to the Yankees as an assistant to New York GM Brian Cashman. But the best part is, after the Padres tried to extract $250,000 from the Yanks while attempting to recoup some of the fired Towers' 2010 salary, the Yankees stiff-armed them and the Padres settled for only $50,000 in compensation, according to a source. ... Can't wait to see Reds' lefty Aroldis Chapman sometime in the next few days. He may be the most exciting thing to hit Cincinnati since Skyline Chili. ... It is amazing how much Tony Gwynn Jr. sounds like his Hall of Fame father. If you haven't heard him speak yet, check out our video interview. ... Did you see Evan Turner's game-winning 37-foot buzzer beater as Ohio State avoided getting upset by Michigan on Friday? Unbelievable. Let the March Madness begin. ... And on a smaller madness note, a huge congratulations to the Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central Falcons, who stunned 20-2 Dundee for a Class C District title Friday in the boys' high school basketball tournament. Great win for first-year coach Randy Windham, who replaced the legendary Ray Lauwers this year. ... Pretty good sour cream chicken enchiladas the other night at Los Olivos in Scottsdale. But alas, no spotting this year of actor Timothy Busfield. ... First John Hiatt (Thursday) then the Drive-By Truckers (Friday) on the Late Show with David Letterman. The man is on a roll.
Dislikes: Nomar Garciaparra's tenure in Boston ended unceremoniously with a trade, and after he bounces around the game like a foul ball for several years, he and the Red Sox get together so he can "sign" a minor-league contract and "retire" as a Red Sock? And he hated dealing with the media, and now he's headed to become a talking head on ESPN? Look, I have no personal ax to grind here -- I've always gotten along just fine with Nomar -- but count me out of this entire dog and pony show. The Red Sox, of all organizations, should be above a publicity stunt like this. And Nomar on television after avoiding the media as often as possible? Whatever.
"There ought to be a law with no bail
-- John Hiatt, Perfectly Good Guitar
Posted on: September 16, 2008 8:01 pm
It's a long way from fleeing Fenway Park in a gorilla suit all those years ago to becoming King of the Red Sox, but Boston general manager Theo Epstein, on the verge of signing a contract extension, is just about there.
Boy Wonder, Boy Genius, The Man ... call him what you want. He's been the architect of two World Series championship rosters in the past four seasons, with the strong possibility this year of making it three titles in five years.
Based on Boston's woeful October history before that, you'd think owner John Henry and Co. would be signing Epstein, who has made a series of brilliant moves again this year, to a lifetime contract any day now.
The contract part is about to come through, though maybe not quite a lifetime deal.
"I got a little ahead of where we are today in comments over what have been refreshingly private negotiations," Henry e-mailed in response to inquiries after he had e-mailed Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy earlier in the day that a deal essentially was done. "We are not done, but we expect to have an announcement in the near future.
"I have asked all involved not to comment until this is finalized."
So an impending extension for Epstein has turned from a poorly kept secret to a very poorly kept secret.
"I can't imagine being here without Theo," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It should get done. I'm excited it's getting to that point.
"I'd love to say it's a done deal. I'd love to talk about it for awhile."
Francona said it "seems like" Epstein has met just about every goal he spoke of since he became the Red Sox GM in November, 2002 (pre-dating the manager's arrival by more than a year. Francona was hired before the 2004 season, during the fallout from the ill-fated Grady Little decision with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS).
The working relationship between Epstein and Francona has been one of many key pieces that has allowed the Red Sox to thrive more often than not over the past five seasons.
"When things get going real tough, it's nice to know he's there," Francona said. "When we're up against it, I know one guy I can go to and talk to, and I appreciate that."
Likes: Boston at Tampa Bay, a real, honest-to-goodness meaningful series in September. ... Boston's farm system. Dustin Pedroia and Jed Lowrie up the middle are outstanding. ... Direct TV on airlines. I had connected in Atlanta on Monday and was headed toward Florida when I clicked on the television on the seatback in front of me and read the crawl on the screen that said Milwaukee had fired Ned Yost. Nothing like being plugged in all the time, even at 30,000 feet. ... San Francisco when Tim Lincecum is pitching. ... Evan Longoria, back in the Tampa Bay lineup. ... Satellite radio in the rental car. ... Another fine story featuring Detective Dave Robicheaux in Swan Peak, the latest by James Lee Burke. The guy writes descriptively as well as anyone you'll read today. ... Read great things on the new disc by The Hold Steady. Can't wait to pick it up and hear it.
Dislikes: The Mets, Brewers, Diamondbacks, White Sox and Twins losing more often than not these days. Stretch runs are a whole lot more fun when everybody is winning, rather than working on backing into playoff spots. ... The middle seat on airplanes, especially on coast-to-coast flights. ... My iPod landing on the disabled list over the weekend. Not only was I crushed in a middle seat, I didn't even have tunes to get me through!
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"There oughta be a law with no bail
-- John Hiatt, Perfectly Good Guitar
Posted on: May 15, 2008 1:26 am
Look out, the Los Angeles Angels just got stronger.
A lot stronger.
Maybe that sounds funny on a night that saw the Angels endure a 5-1 beating by the Chicago White Sox. But that's small picture stuff.
Big picture? Ace John Lackey, who finished third in last year's Cy Young voting and led the American League in ERA, stepped onto a big league field for the first time in 2008, and all he did was look like he hasn't missed a step.
Lackey slammed the door on the White Sox for seven innings, holding the Sox to one run and six hits.
He was dominant, retiring 10 consecutive Sox batters during one impressive stretch and holding Chicago to one hit from the second through the seventh.
He worked ahead, pumping first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 26 batters he faced -- including eight of his first 10.
He threw 99 pitches, 67 strikes, and basically looked like a Triple Crown thoroughbred out for a training jog. Of course, part of that may have to do with the fact that the White Sox rank 13th in the AL in batting average, seventh in runs and ninth in on-base percentage.
He was, quite simply, just as the Angels remembered him.
"It's good to have him back," said Jered Weaver, who took Lackey's opening day start and is 2-5 with a 4.86 ERA in nine starts. "We all work off of him, that's for sure."
"The challenge now for John is to maintain that from start to start," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
If you would have asked the Angels this spring whether they would have taken a 24-17 record and first place in the American League West in mid-May while playing without their top two starting pitchers, they may have strained their hamstrings leaping to say yes.
And who knows? Maybe this missed time will be beneficial down the stretch.
Lackey led the Angels with 224 innings pitched last season and, though he remained reasonably strong into the playoffs, he did get bounced around by Boston in his lone playoff start (four runs, nine hits in six innings).
Assuming he remains healthy the rest of the way, Lackey figures to clock in somewhere around 160 innings pitched by season's end. You figure that can only help come the stand-tall days of September and October (if the Angels advance to the postseason for the fourth time in five years).
"We'd rather have had him these last six weeks and take the chance that he wouldn't be fresher in October," Scioscia said. "If the benefit is that he'll be fresher, I don't see any silver lining."
Lackey won 19 games last season and Kelvim Escobar, who remains on the disabled list with shoulder issues, won 18. Escobar continues rehabbing at the Angels' spring training base in Tempe and the reports now are far more encouraging than they were this spring when the right-hander became so frustrated he said he thought he'd be out for the season.
Still, there is no timetable for when -- or if -- Escobar will return in 2008.
Likes: My pal Sam calling to tell me I overlooked a couple of key points in my rave about the burgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Mich., in the Bull Pennings post from the other day. In addition to everything else I said, two other cool things about Miller's: There are only four things on the menu -- hamburger, cheeseburger, onion rings and fries. And, it's all on the honor system -- when you finish eating and drinking, you simply walk up to the bar and tell them what you had. Sam, who has spent a few evenings in Miller's in his life, has very good input -- these are two more endearing aspects to the joint. ... Angel Stadium. The remodel they did several years ago was terrific, and they keep it in great shape. ... The Marlins and the Rays, what fun we're having now, eh? ... The Sunday New York Times.
Dislikes: Gas prices. Nice summer we're about to have.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"She is beautiful, she is small
-- John Hiatt, Georgia Rae
Posted on: February 18, 2008 6:48 pm
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Reclusive Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax has an aura about him that I've seen from very few others. Muhammad Ali, certainly, when he made an appearance at the Los Angeles Angels' camp last spring in Tempe, Ariz. Other than that, I'd have to think a long time to come up with someone else.
What's interesting when Koufax appears at Dodgertown, as he usually does a few times each spring, is that the players react almost like fans themselves. And that's partly how it was Monday morning when Koufax showed up for a special tutoring session with a couple of Dodgers pitchers.
"I didn't know anything about this stuff until this morning," manager Joe Torre said. "It's a treat."
Koufax, tanned and trim in a lime green golf shirt and khaki shorts, spent 30 minutes or so working with reliever Scott Proctor and non-roster invitee Chan Ho Park on some back mounds just off the Dodgers clubhouse and administrative buildings.
"Park and Proctor both asked about it when they saw him here," Torre said. "He's aggreable to helping out when he can, but he's got a schedule."
Koufax has a good relationship with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and appears to have a comfort factor with Torre. The two have known each other since the 1960s, when Koufax was at the top of his game and Torre was breaking into the majors. Both men are from Brooklyn, which gave them something in common, and each played in the National League, which sometimes put them on the same turf.
"I remember a Saturday in Milwaukee when he was pitching against us," Torre said. "I was 20, 21, and went up to hit and he struck me out three times in a row.
"The fourth time I said, 'I'm not going to let him strike me out this time' and I popped up. All you wanted to do against him was not strike out. He put that in your head.
"That night, we happened to be in the same restaurant, and that was the first time we talked socially."
Koufax sent Torre a telegram when the manager won his first World Series with the Yankees in 1996, and when Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he said Koufax was one of the first people who called.
"He's been a very special friend," Torre said.
After that '96 World Series win, appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, Torre remembered it was raining so hard that his leather jacket was ruined and he looked like "a drowned dog."
"I get home and the phone rings, and it's Sandy," Torre said. "He didn't even say hello. He just said, 'I bet you're glad you said yes to that, huh?'"
Torre said that he expects Koufax to drop by to visit, help coach or offer tips a handful of times this spring.
Likes: I like Andy Pettitte, I really do. But he needs some time to pass and he needs the season to start. That's going to do him a whole lot more good than Monday's press conference. ... Don Mattingly in Dodgers camp and, hopefully, for now, the troubles with his estranged wife in his rear-view mirror. Mattingly, thought to be Torre's eventual successor as DOdgers manager, will be a special assignments coach this year. He was going to be Dodgers hitting coach but personal issues -- which came to a head when Kim Mattingly was arrested for public intoxication and refusing to leave his property -- interrupted that. ... Tommy Lasorda back as Dodgers manager for a week in March when the other half of the club is playing exhibition games in China. ... Who knew there was a Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter?
Dislikes: Eric Gagne's tepid "apology" to his Mitchell Report appearance. ... Disappointed in Shelby Lynne's new disc Just a Little Lovin' covering some of the songs of the legendary Dusty Springfield. My first mistake probably was in not simply cutting to the chase and picking up a Springfield disc insteada. Lynne's effort is intentionally stripped down, but there's no grit. No soul. It's like the music of Dusty Springfield for Lovers of Elevator Music.
Sunblock day? Odd mix of morning rain and mugginess yielding to a hot Florida sun meant you'd better have the sunblock within reach. Zoomed up into the upper 80s today despite the stiff breeze.
"There ought to be a law