TTB

Blogging about the 5x NL East Champion Phillies

Season Preview: NL East

Before I begin my NL East season preview, I’d like to take a few sentences to thank John Russo for not assigning me the AL West this year. That division is almost as exciting as a glass of milk. Key word being “almost.” Milk can spoil and that’s exciting.

Expectations: Will lead the league in wheel chairs.
Key Addition: RP Jonathan Papelbon (signed from Boston)
Key Loss: SP Roy Oswalt (free agent)
Projected Record: 100-62 (get 100th win on last day)
Summary: As mentioned in my last column here on TTB, the window is closing. However, it hasn’t shut quite yet. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. While the Nationals and Marlins have certainly gotten better in the off-season, they’re not there yet. The Phils are still the cream of the crop and it’s still their division to lose.

The addition of Jonathan Papelbon gives the Phillies their first closer since the 2008 version of Brad Lidge (the 2009, 2010 and 2011 updates sucked. Thanks, Windows) and Jim Thome gives the Phils a nice bat off the bench and a healthy achilles on first base. Re-signing Jimmy Rollins gives the Phillies a healthy infielder (for now) and guarantees all of us our daily dose of first pitch pop outs.

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The Quest For Six: The Phillies are still favorites this season, but the competition is steeper than ever

Phillies 41-year-old 1B Jim Thome talks hitting with catcher Carlos Ruiz. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

I don’t have a lot in common with the Philadelphia Phillies. I can’t throw a 90 MPH fastball. I can’t hit a homerun. I can’t even hit the ball.But for all our differences, there is one thing the Phillies and I have in common – we’re both going to die.

Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, right?

But it’s true. I’m getting older, and one day I’ll kick the bucket.

The Phillies are getting older too. The average age of the expected everyday lineup is 31.9 years. That’s 223.3 in dog years. And that’s including Ryan Howard, who isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. Instead, plug in Jim Thome and his 41 years. Somebody call the AARP.

But age isn’t the problem; it’s just part of the problem. You can still be old and be good. When the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, their average age was 31.3.

The Phillies could win the World Series this year just as easily as anyone else. But the team’s age does show us something: the window is closing. Maybe it won’t slam shut this year or next year, but don’t be fooled, it’s going to happen soon. Just look at the trend.

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The Natch: Still the best team ever?

Phils manager Charlie Manuel (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s almost that time of year.

The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping and the Philadelphia Phillies are playing in the post season. That last part wasn’t always true about autumn – seeing the Phillies play past September – but in the last five years, Phillies baseball has almost become synonymous with the word “fall.”

And what does that mean? It means it’s the time of year when the expectations rise and the pressure mounts. Losing streaks no longer become something to joke about – like the last slide the Phillies were able to put together. Instead, each loss is looked upon as one step closer to failure and disaster. Every year for the past four years now the expectations have remained the same: World Series or bust.

But this year feels different.

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Immediate Impact

The acquisition of Hunter Pence has already had a positive impact on the Phillies' lineup. (Photo: phillysportslive.com)

Since becoming the General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies back in November of 2008, Ruben Amaro Jr. has proven one thing; his only concern is on the immediate future.

Trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt have taxed the Phillies’ farm system, sacrificing the team’s long term future for immediate success.

Last Friday’s trade for outfielder Hunter Pence was just another example of Amaro choosing “now” over “later,” trading away highly rated prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton in a four-player package to Houston for Pence’s services. Just like the Lee trade in 2009 and the Oswalt trade in 2010, the Pence trade fell on the same day, July 29th.

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The Natch: Objections and Ejections

TTB staff writer Christian Hetrick also runs and operates “Taking the Ride.” Here is his most recent column featured on the site and TTB.

Baseball, a sport that’s all about the numbers, may have to add a new column to the box score. Right next to At-Bats, Runs and Hits, baseball may soon have to add “ejections.”

Going into Wednesday’s games, there have been 16 ejections so far in this first week of July. Here’s another concerning stat: 64% of umpires who have presided over an MLB game have ejected at least one person this season. It seems umpires and players can’t agree on anything. Why is this? Because the officiating has been horrific as of late.

Tuesday’s robbery of a game tying run from the Toronto Blue Jays is just another recent example of umpires blowing calls, and in turn, blowing games. Between missed calls at the plate and missed calls on the bases, players, managers, and teams have found themselves arguing with umpires on a daily basis. Players and managers are even finding themselves out of the dugout and into the clubhouse earlier than expected on a daily basis as well.

Read the rest on “Taking the Ride.”

It’s not you Bautista, it’s me.

Cheaters like Barry Bonds have me convinced that every home run hitter is on the juice. (Photo Courtesy:sanfranciscosentinel.com)

With one swing of the bat, Jose Bautista sent his 27th baseball into the seats on Sunday.

With one swing of the bat, Bautista gave his Blue Jays a 5-4 lead over the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth inning.

And with one swing of the bat, Bautista instantly put one thought in my mind.

Steroids.

How quickly the word came to my mind took me by surprise. It was as if the word had become synonymous with Bautista. And why not? Bautista sends every 90 mph fastball over the fence like it’s batting practice.

He has come out of nowhere too. He has hit 81 homeruns in the last year and a half, and before that he hit just 74 homeruns in his six previous seasons. Guys don’t hit 13 homeruns one year and hit 54 the next. Guys don’t do that, unless…

Steroids.

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The Natch: Roy Halladay Has Been Better Than Advertised for the Phillies

TTB staffer Christian Hetrick also operates “Taking the Ride.” Here is his newest piece on Roy Halladay:

Roy Halladay is one rich dude. He makes $60 million over three years through 2013 and has a vesting option for another $20 million in 2014. But the way he has been pitching since joining the Phillies, it still feels like the man is under paid.

Halladay, arguably the game’s best pitcher, has found a way to exceed the high expectations Phillies fans had for him when he was traded to Philadelphia before last season. As a Phillies fan, I can say the fan base expected a lot out of the ace, but could Phillies’ fans have possibly expected this much out of Doc already?

Halladay is not even half way through his second season in Philadelphia, and he has already given the Phils 31 wins, 14 complete games, one perfect game, one playoff no-hitter, and one Cy Young Award. His 31 victories in his first 50 starts with the Phillies makes him only the sixth pitcher to record that many wins over his first 50 starts with a new team. This year Halladay has already reached ten wins, and has done it in one fewer start than last year. His three losses this year are four fewer than he had this time last year. Halladay’s four strike-outs in Sunday’s complete game victory over the Athletics, gives him 123 on the year, second most in the National League.

Read the rest over at TTR

The Natch: The Designated Fence Sitter

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano is leading the NL among pitchers with a .313 average (10-for-32).

It’s the most wonderful time of year, but this isn’t Christmas.

It’s that time of the baseball season when the Phillies are in Seattle, the Yankees are in Wrigley, and Ben Francisco is a designated hitter.

Ah, Interleague play, my favorite time of year. The only time of year that almost breeds as much anger, frustration, and debate as the All-Star game (Thanks, Bud Selig).

I love turning on ESPN this time of year, only to hear the exact same arguments I have heard debated for the last decade:

“Should Interleague play be abolished?” “Is it fair that the Mets have to play the Yankees every year, while the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins do not?” “Which league is better?” “Should the designated hitter be abolished?” “Should the National League grow up, put down the Walkman, turn off the VHS, and adopt the designated hitter?” “Was George W. Bush a good president?”

Alright, I made up that last one, but every time I see interleague play I think of Bush Jr. because he was the only owner at the time to vote against interleague play. Maybe he saw all of this coming – the debates, the criticism, the uproar.  Maybe he was just choking on another pretzel, and couldn’t raise his hand to vote “yes” for interleague play.

Either way one thing is for certain: Interleague play isn’t going anywhere. You know why? Because it’s a cash-cow.

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Lee shuts out Marlins 3-0 to complete series sweep

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee rips a two-out, RBI double in the 4th. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

For the third straight start, Cliff Lee was on his game.

Lee provided a complete game shutout, and the offense provided enough run support to give the Phillies the 3-0 win. The win completes a four game sweep of the Marlins and extends the Phillies’ winning streak to seven games. The Phillies finished this most recent home stand with nine wins in eleven games.

Lee went nine innings, allowing no runs on just two hits while striking out four. Lee has now allowed a total of two runs in his last three starts, and has three wins during this home stand.

Instead of piling up the strike outs, Lee was using his breaking pitches to pile up the easy ground ball, pop up and fly outs for his defense. His plan was so effective, it took until Mike Stanton’s two-out single up the middle in the 6th to end his no-hit bid.

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Rare Polly blunder, Madson BS costs Phils the game

Phillies fans at the ball park and on the couch stayed up through the rain delay and through extra innings, hoping for another memorable extra-inning game. But a rare throwing error by Placido Polanco allowed Tyler Colvin to score in the 11th to give the Cubs a 4-3 win.

Fans have named every fifth day, “bullpen day” because of the poor performance by Phillies’ fifth starters. Tonight was once again a “bullpen day,” but not because of poor pitching.

After the Phillies’ first rain delay of the season and a blown save by Ryan Madson, the bullpen got a lot of work in the 4-3 loss. The Phillies bullpen allowed a respectable three runs in eight innings, but were outdueled by the Cubs bullpen which allowed no runs in 8.2 innings.

Jimmy Rollins opened up the scoring in the bottom of the second, homering to right to score Raul Ibanez and Dane Sardinha to make it 3-0. It would be the only three runs the Phillies would score tonight. After an easy top of the third for Kyle Kendrick, the tarp had to come on to the field in the bottom of the inning for a rain delay.

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