Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:15 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 2:38 pm

Up 3, 13 to play

BOSTON -- Teams don't blow nine-game leads in September. It just doesn't happen.

Teams do blow three-game leads with 13 games to play. That does happen.

That has happened.

In fact, it's not hard to find teams that have led by four games, or even five games, with 13 games to play, and still missed the playoffs.

The 1951 Dodgers (four games) did it, although it took maybe the most famous home run of all time.

The 1964 Phillies (5 1/2 games) did it, although it took a collapse that tarnished Gene Mauch's legacy for the rest of his life.

The 1995 Angels, the 2009 Tigers and the 2007 Padres (all three games) did it, too. So did the 1934 Giants (3 1/2 games), the 1962 Dodgers (four games) , the 1965 Giants (3 1/2 games) and the 1938 Pirates (3 1/2 games).

The point isn't that the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs. Most likely, they won't.

The point is that they've moved from "It can't happen because it's never happened," to "It could happen, but it would still be historic."

And yes, the same goes for the Rangers (up 3 1/2 games on the Angels in the American League West), and even the Braves (up 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals for the National League wild card).

Oh, and Mets fans, your 2007 team doesn't make the list. While they were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 games left, the lead was already down to 2 1/2 games by the time the Mets had played their 149th game (and had 13 remaining).

The 1978 Red Sox aren't on the list, either. They led the Yankees by seven games entering September, but led by 2 1/2 with 13 games left.
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.

Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:42 pm

Interleague inequities continue in 2012

Interleague play in 2012 will give us plenty of Tigers-Pirates Marlins-Red Sox and Yankees-Braves.

But it won't bring the Braves to Kansas City.

The Royals have ex-Braves as general manager (Dayton Moore), manager (Ned Yost), and players (including Jeff Francoeur). The Braves have a club president (John Schuerholz) who first made his name as the Royals GM, and checks the schedule every year looking for a trip back to Kansas City.

In 15 years of interleague play, the Braves have never been there.

Make that 16, because they're not going there in 2012, either. But they will play home-and-home series with the Yankees.

Baseball announced its 2012 schedule Wednesday morning, and there will soon be complaints all around about bad road trips, or too many home games early, or not enough home games late.

But the biggest problems, as always, come from the interleague schedule.

It's not fair. It makes little sense. And it doesn't come close to serving one of its main, originally announced purposes, because it doesn't bring every team to every city.

No Braves in Kansas City, for the 16th straight year. No Padres in Toronto, for the 16th straight year. No Rangers in St. Louis, for the 16th straight year. No Twins in Atlanta, for the 16th straight year.

Through 2011, there were nine interleague matchups that had never happened. Not one of those nine is on the 2012 schedule.

But the Tigers and Pirates will play six times, as will the Marlins and Red Sox.

It's fine that interleague play gives us games between natural rivals, which remain popular. But for people outside the two-team markets, interleague play was sold as a way to see every team from the other league, at least once every six years.

Now it's 16 years and counting for nine matchups that still haven't happened.

And it's another year of teams in the same division playing unequal interleague schedules.

The Braves play 12 of their 18 interleague games against the best three teams in the American League East (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays). The rival Phillies don't play the Yankees at all, so they play just six of 15 games against the AL East Big 3.

Yes, that's right. The Braves and Phillies don't even play the same number of interleague games. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL -- no realignment yet -- the only way to make it work is for 12 of the 16 NL teams to play five interleague series, while the other four play six.

I understand, the schedule is ridiculously complicated, mostly because there are 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other. I realize that baseball allows its television partners (ESPN, Fox) to dictate some interleague matchups.

I'll even admit that the 2012 schedule seems a little more logical, with (for the most part) East meeting East, Central meeting Central and West meeting West.

But couldn't they bring the Braves to Kansas City? Just once?
Posted on: September 8, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 11:48 pm

3 to Watch: The 'Discourage them' edition

The Phillies' goals for the rest of the season would seem to be simple.

Stay healthy (or get healthy). Get rested. Figure out a playoff rotation. Try to break the club record for wins (it's 101, and after a win Thursday the Phillies need just a 10-10 finish to break it).

This week, as the Phillies have faced two potential playoff opponents, manager Charlie Manuel threw another goal out there:

Intimidate the opposition. Look as unbeatable as possible.

"If you play really well, it could discourage them," Manuel said, in advance of this weekend's series in Milwaukee.

The Phillies will likely open the playoffs against the Diamondbacks, who were 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers entering play Thursday. In that case, their second-round opponent would be either the Braves or the Brewers.

The Phillies swept the Braves in a three-game series. They opened a four-game series against the Brewers with a 7-2 win Thursday night.

The games barely matter in the standings, with both teams far ahead in their divisions. Manuel thinks they could matter in the minds of the players, especially if one team dominates the other.

"When I managed in the minor leagues, I had some big hitting teams," he said. "I always liked it when the other team watched us take batting practice. It scared them."

So Charlie, someone asked, does that mean you don't want your pitchers watching when Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder take BP?

"My pitchers can," he said, laughing. "My starting rotation can watch them."

Nothing will scare Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee et al, Manuel figures, probably correctly.

But there is some thought in Philadelphia that the one team that would really concern the Phillies would be the Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year and also won two of three in Philadelphia in July (although the Phillies then won three of four in San Francisco).

The Phillies lost two of three to the Brewers in April, but the Phillies don't look at the Brewers the way they look at the Giants.

Not yet, anyway.

If the Brewers play really well this weekend, maybe the Phillies could be the team that gets discouraged.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. With Josh Beckett's ankle injury, the Red Sox have reason to worry about their starting rotation. They don't have to worry about making it to the playoffs. Right? Uh, I think that's right, but I also noticed that Boston's wild-card lead over the Rays shrunk to 6 1/2 games on Thursday night. And I noticed that the two teams have seven remaining head-to-head meetings, starting with Red Sox at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Great pitching matchup Sunday, with Jon Lester going against James Shields, but especially with Beckett out, the Red Sox might be more focused on what happens Friday, when John Lackey faces Wade Davis. Of the 140 pitchers that have started at least 15 games in the majors this year, Lackey (6.11) is the only one with an ERA over 6.00.

2. For the last three weeks, the Angels have had an easier schedule than the Rangers, and that's no doubt one reason why the Rangers' lead in the American League West shrunk from seven games to 2 1/2 games. But the schedule turns starting this weekend, when the Rangers begin a homestand against the A's and Indians, followed by a trip to Seattle and Oakland. Meanwhile, in Anaheim, it gets tougher, including Yankees at Angels, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. At least the Angels have their top three starters set for the series, with Jered Weaver facing Bartolo Colon on Friday, Dan Haren against CC Sabathia on Saturday and Ervin Santana against Freddy Garcia on Sunday.

3. When someone asked Manuel the other day if there's any way Vance Worley could find his way into the postseason rotation, the Phillies manager said: "I think that's a question that should be asked." While the Yankees and Red Sox wonder if they have enough pitchers they would want to start in October, the Phillies seem to have too many. Worley has been outstanding, but it's still hard to see Manuel using him ahead of Roy Oswalt, especially since the manager is on record saying he expects Oswalt's velocity to pick up in October. Worley gets another chance to make his case in Phillies at Brewers, Sunday afternoon (2:10 ET) at Miller Park. It's an interesting case, as the Phillies have won each of Worley's last 14 starts. If the Phillies win Sunday, Worley will tie the Philadelphia club record of 15, set by Steve Carlton in 1972, his 27-win season. The last longer streak in the big leagues was by the 2005 Cardinals, who won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 12:21 pm

Rollins active while Utley gets checked

Jimmy Rollins is coming back from a strained right groin. Chase Utley may have a concussion.

The Phillies don't think Rollins is ready to play, but they're not going to take any chances with a head injury. So while Utley remained back in Philadelphia to get checked out, the Phillies activated Rollins from the disabled list for Thursday night's game in Milwaukee.

Rollins is not expected to play (he said as much on Twitter), but the Phils wanted to make sure they had enough infielders in uniform, in case of emergency.

Utley, who was hit on the helmet by a 91 mph Eric O'Flaherty pitch in the sixth inning Wednesday night, will be examined in Philadelphia by Dr. Rob Franks, the concussion specialist at the Rothman Institute.

Utley showed little reaction after he was hit, and he stayed in the game for another inning. But when he complained of a headache, manager Charlie Manuel pulled him from the game, and the Phillies decided that he would not travel with the team to Milwaukee.

Rollins, who hasn't played since Aug. 21, has been participating in pregame drills. The goal has been to make sure he is fully healthy before the playoffs, and the Phillies' expectation had been that Rollins wouldn't play in a game until sometime next week.

Michael Martinez has been starting at shortstop in place of Rollins, and the Phillies have Wilson Valdez and Pete Orr available to play in the middle of the infield. But with an expanded roster in September, there was no reason to risk being caught short, and Rollins could play in an emergency.
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 7, 2011 7:59 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 7:59 pm

It's not 14, but Phils' reign will reach 5

PHILADELPHIA -- With the Tigers on the way to winning the American League Central, four of the five AL Central teams will have won the division within the last five years. With the Brewers on the way to winning the National League Central, the same holds true there.

More than half the teams in baseball -- 17 out of 30 -- will have won at least one division title since 2007. But only one team in the National League East is on that list.

Compared to the Braves, who won 14 straight division crowns, the Phillies' soon-to-be five-year reign may not seem like much. But in the 43-year history of division play, the Phillies will be just the fifth team with a streak that long.

The A's of the early 1970s won five straight. So did the Indians of the late 1990s. And the Joe Torre Yankees won nine years in a row.

But that's it.

"Everyone always assumes that when you're a good team, it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to win," Brad Lidge said Wednesday, before the Phillies tried to extend their lead to 10 1/2 games over the second-place Braves. "But a lot of teams get derailed by injuries, or the chemistry isn't right.

"We've had countless injuries, and it's still like a machine that keeps going. It's pretty cool to be here right now."

As Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said, "They play more consistently than anyone else, including us. Will they get to 14? That's a long way off."

So many teams don't get to two. Of the six teams that won division titles last year, only the Phillies and the Rangers have any real chance to repeat -- and the Rangers still need to hold off the Angels.

"It's hard," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If you're not careful, when you start the season, there's an expectation that you've already won it."

Category: MLB
Tags: Braves, Phillies
Posted on: September 6, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 6:45 pm

Chipper: Phils Amaro is exec of the year

Chipper Jones' admiration for the Phillies goes beyond the players on the field.

Jones said this week that he considers Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro the executive of the year. He pointed to the Phillies' acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence, and even to last season's moves for Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

"Those are executive of the year type moves," Jones said. "When he swings moves like those, he throws a gut punch at everyone in the division."

Jones said this week that he believes the Braves can challenge the Phillies in the National League playoffs. But that shouldn't be taken to mean he has any less respect for the Phils.

"They play more consistently than anyone else -- including us," Jones said.
Posted on: September 5, 2011 10:58 pm

If Cliff Lee keeps this up . . .

PHILADELPHIA -- If September is like August, Cliff Lee wins the National League Cy Young.

If October is like August, Cliff Lee takes the Phillies to another World Series.

Cliff Lee insists that he separates each and every one of these games, and that works for him. We run these games together, because that works for us.

Cliff Lee thinks about his next start, five days away. We think about the last month, and the rest of this month, and the next month.

If Cliff Lee keeps this up . . .

Well, if he keeps this up, he does win the Cy Young. He allowed one run in 42 innings in June, and two runs in 39 2/3 innings in August, and now no runs in nine innings against the Braves in his first start in September.

If he keeps this up, then he's the guy we're watching when October starts, even more than his rotation-mates Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, just as much as the incredible Justin Verlander or the oh-so-important CC Sabathia.

"We can't deal with October until it gets here," Lee said Monday night, after his 9-0, five-hit win over the Braves.

He deals with his seasons nine innings at a time. He insists he doesn't feed off the success of other Phillies starters, insists that his runs of shutouts and success don't make him feel any more confident the next time out.

"I've had success," he said. "It's not the first time. I expect to be successful every time. I'm kind of over needing to have success to have confidence."

He says this all in the same matter-of-fact way he pitches.

He's not a no-hitter waiting to happen every time out, the way Verlander is, the way Halladay can be. He doesn't throw single pitches that leave you in awe, but at the end of the night and the end of the month, you look back and realize he's not giving up any runs.

"On nights he commands his curve, he's pretty tough," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's tough, anyway."

Does he deserve the Cy Young over Halladay, or over Clayton Kershaw, or Ian Kennedy?

"It's not up to me to answer questions like that," Manuel said.

It is up to him to put Lee, Halladay and Hamels in order for a playoff rotation, but as Manuel said, there's time for that.

There's time to figure out whether Lee is the Cy Young, time to figure out whether he's the guy who leads the Phillies in October.

There's time to decide whether this version of Lee is even better than the Lee the Phillies saw in 2009.

"I don't know," Lee said. "I really don't know. I've definitely got confidence. I think I'm a good pitcher. And any time you go through things, you should get better."

You watch him, and he seems to be doing the things he always did, or at least the things he has always done since his breakout season with the Indians in 2008.

It only stands out when you put it all together, when you say that his six shutouts this year are the most by a major-league pitcher since Randy Johnson had six in 1998, or that no pitcher has had more than six since Tim Belcher had eight in 1989, or that he's the first Phillie with six since Steve Carlton in 1982.

It stands out when you put it in context, when you realize that Lee has been exactly what he was supposed to be, what the Yankees hoped he would be for them, what the Rangers hoped he would be for them.

You realize that Lee has been exactly what the Phillies knew he would be, and that they've been exactly what he knew they would be.

"I knew what this team is about," Lee said. "That's why I came here."

He really does keep things that simple. He really does make it all seem so simple.

It works for him.

Obviously, it works for him.

Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com