Thursday, April 02, 2009

Batter up: Philadelphia Phillies

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a baseball team who you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. At bat: The Philadelphia Phillies.
  1. A gut feeling says they don't get back to the World Series due to the sheer randomness of post-season baseball. Besides, it's more fun, from afar, when Philadelphia teams are having a meltdown.

  2. The doomsday scenario involves a major injury to a regular, getting less from the four starting pitchers whose names don't rhyme with Whole Camels and having the fielding drop off badly, since Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins (pictured) are bound to regress a bit after being so fabulous in 2008, while immobile Raúl Ibáñez evokes bad memories of Pete Incaviglia in left field. Brad Lidge also might actually blow a save one of these nights.

  3. First-year GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is walking into a buzzsaw, taking over a World Series champion team. At least he probably knows what happens in the NFL in no team scores after 15 minutes of overtime.

  4. There is little to no chance this is anything less than an 85-win team. They have so much offence, plus Cole Hamels is a Cy Young Award waiting to happen.

  5. The Phillies are moving into the post-Pat Gillick era. Ask a fan in Baltimore, Toronto or Seattle how that usually works out. The Phillies won't tail off for a while, but they were among the NL's older teams in 2008.

  6. It's a put up or shut up season for Ryan Howard, who's only averaged 51 homers and 144 RBI in the past three seasons but has been losing control of the strike zone, along with flailin' and failin' against left-handed pitching (.923 OPS in his 2006 MVP year, .826 in '07, .746 in '08).

  7. Their first five hitters, Rollins, centrefielder Shane Victorino, Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard and Ibáñez, each swing from the left side. That's not great for Howard unless he makes some drastic changes.

  8. The best way of expressing Jamie Moyer's age. Terry Mulholland played forever as a so-so starter, then as a pretty good middle reliever, then as a LOOGY (Lefty for Only One Guy) pitcher and finally retired in 2006. He's younger than Moyer by more than a year.

  9. Chan Ho Park won the No. 5 spot in the Phillies rotation, which promises to be interesting since Philly's ballpark is such a bandbox.

  10. J.A. Happ, one of the few 2007 Ottawa Lynx who's still in the Phillies organization, didn't win a spot in the rotation. He ain't happy, but he's starting the season in the majors, at least.

  11. What does it say that the Phillies' most major-league ready pitching prospect, Carlos Carrasco, couldn't beat out Chan Ho Park?

  12. By The Fielding Bible's reckoning, Jimmy Rollins was far and away the slickest-fielding shortstop in the biz in '08, yet he was on Team USA's bench when Derek Jeter made a crucial error during the semi-final of the World Baseball Classic. Pointing that out will never get tiresome.

    Rollins stole 47 bases last season with only three caught-stealings, not too shabby for a guy who was out a month after injuring an ankle.

  13. Nor will calling Shane Victorino the Flyin' Hawaiian.

  14. Lidge going 41-for-41 in save opportunities, plus another 7-for-7 in the playoffs and it probably wasn't even his best season. That probably came in with the Astros in 2004 (the year when he had 157 strikeouts and allowed just 57 hits).

  15. Seventh- and eighth-inning relief will be a question mark early on while lefty J.C. Romero sits out his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

  16. The Beep notes righty reliever Chad Durbin was third among NL relievers in double plays inducted in DP situations. Like Andy Van Slyke said during the last big recession in the early 1990s, who says there's an unemployment problem? Just give everyone a baseball stat to keep track of.

  17. The Phillies' three-game margin over the Mets last season came by virtue of their dominance of the Atlanta Braves. They were 14-4 vs. 'Lanta, while the Nye Mets were only 7-11. In 2007, both teams split their 18 games vs. Atlanta and Apu Naheesapeemapetilon's favourite squadron won the division by a game. There's the rub with the unbalanced schedule.

  18. Third baseman Pedro Feliz is coming off back surgery, and he's not that good when he's healthy. The Phillies have not been afraid to make moves, so third base could be a hole to fill, as long as they do it with a right-hander.
  19. Minor-league right-hander Kyle "Son of Doug" Drabek has a lot of promise. Of course, TNSTAAPP (There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect).

  20. One similarity between the current Phillies and their successful early '80s teams (World Series in 1980, NL pennant in '83) is that it's a tough roster for a young player to crack. It is notable that prospects guru John Sickels did not give any of their top 20 prospects a grade higher than a B.

    In the '80s, the Phillies let Ryne Sandberg and George Bell get away from them. This time around, they don't have anyone who's quite that good. Does that mean the Blue Jays were smart not to trade A.J. Burnett to Philly last season and take the compensatory draft picks instead?

  21. It might bode poorly for recently released outfielder Geoff Jenkins that his old team "has long considered Jenkins and 41-year-old Matt Stairs to be too much alike." (Philadelphia Inquirer.) When your ballplaying analog is a short, stocky bald high school hockey coach who has half-a-dozen years on you, it doesn't bode well, although Jenkins will probably find work at the league minimum. If Kevin Mench could ....

  22. There is actually a Phillies fan upset with Jenkins (salary: $8 million) being cut instead of Stairs ($1 million). This confirms all of the Philly fan stereotypes.

  23. May 28 marks the 20th anniversary of Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's final major-league game. Allen Barra's book Clearing The Bases is a few years old now, but he has a chapter arguing that Schmidt, not Willie Mays, should be considered baseball's greatest living player.

    Michael Jack Schmidt was a three-time MVP. He came third another time, but in retrospect it's really astounding that he could have a season like the one he had in 1977 and end up 10th in the voting. In '77, Schmidt OPS-plused 151 (fourth in the league), had 38 homers and 101 RBI while scoring more than 100 runs and drawing more than 100 walks, won the second of his 10 Gold Gloves at third base and just for good measure, was second in the league with 11 triples.

    Unfortunately for Schmidt, he hit third and Greg Luzinski, coming up behind him, hit 39 homers and 130 RBI. That was the last time a Phillies player was overlooked in MVP voting by a teammate with titillating counting stats, except for Chase Utley in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
  24. It is a wicked burn that the Phillies' Triple-A team got moved from the capital of a G8 country to a place that was the subject of a depressing song by Billy Joel.

  25. Matt Stairs, at age 40, finally got a World Series ring after playing for 23 teams in 20 seasons, in places such as Japan and Edmonton. Using Toronto media logic, you're supposed to feel bad for cheering for him.

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