Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Step One

The Phillies' win over the Astros, coming moments after the Marlins' victory over Atlanta, which actually clinched the 2009 National League East Division Title was step one.

Step 1: Get to the playoffs.

Step 2: Set up the rotation for round one. This appears to have happened almost by accident. With his start tomorrow, Cliff Lee is set up perfectly to pitch Game 1 of the Division Series, and Cole Hamels is set up for Game 2.

Step 3: Rest the regulars. I fully expect Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and the rest of the starting eight to get some time off. Until Tuesday night, they were starting to look tired, so now's the time to get them fresh for October.

Step 4: Win the Division Series.

And that's where I'll leave it for now because in watching the Phillies celebrate on the field, no one could mistake that for this team, this is just Step One.

'64 No More

Last night's win for the Phillies was huge.

First, combined with Atlanta's loss to the Marlins, it lowered the Phils' magic number to 1 and soothed the nerves of millions of fans who were starting to experience the recurrence of PTSDD (Post-Traumatic Stretch Drive Disorder) with flashbacks to the infamous 1964 collapse of our local nine.

Second, the offense returned. Most of the runs came on grand slam by Feliz and the two-run homer by Werth, but seeing the bats come alive again is always good, and there's nothing wrong with home runs.

Third, the Phillies punished an inferior team and a weak pitcher. The loss to Yorman Bazardo on Monday was so galling because Bazardo (and many of the pitchers they'll be facing this week) are just getting a chance to show top management what they've learned this year. Almost none of them will be on a major league roster next year, but for teams just playing out the string, it's a chance to see how the youngsters face the pressure of a major league outing and get a measure of how much farther they have to improve. When facing these pitchers, a line-up like the Phillies should destroy them and make top brass reconsider their call-up, not turn them into the second coming of Greg Maddux.

Fourth, the Phillies didn't look bored. The past few days, this team just seemed to need a long nap, and unfortunately, they decided to take it while still wearing their uniforms and standing on the ball diamond. Last night marked the return of a ball club with some giddyap in their step.

Fifth, and most importantly, following his impressive 4-out save on Sunday, Ryan Madson came in to shut the door with a 6-out save against the Astros last night. More than anything, the Phillies have needed someone out of their bullpen to step up and simply become the guy. The guy who refused to let another game be blown. The guy who didn't care that it was September. The guy who said, Trust me... and had the rest of the team believe him.

With a fastball that is now regularly traveling in the 98 mph range and a change-up that ranks among the best in baseball, Madson has the stuff to be the guy. He's had it for more than a year. But every time he's taken a step toward becoming that guy, he's followed it up with two steps back. Perhaps these two outings will convince the team...and convince Madson himself that now, he is the guy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1964 Redux

NDespite their best efforts to the contrary, this year's edition of
the phightin' Phils is not going to repeat the soul-crushing collapse
of the 1964 team. I still think the Braves' two losses to Philadelphia
in Atlanta earlier this month will prove to be the margin of victory.

After 156 games, though, this year's club has definitely left a bad
taste in the mouth. What happened to the plucky young upstarts who
would never say die?

Instead of a season filled with memories like the 10-9 victory over
Pittsburgh, after a 9-1 deficit in the 9th, this year's squad is going
to leave the locals with too many memories like last night. A
lackluster performance by everyone involved that was just painful to

Is this team demoralized because they realize that with even a
mediocre closer (as opposed to the lousy pair they have in Madson and
Lidge), this season would have been sealed up a week ago?

Yet the faithful keep believing...

Down 8-2 with two runners on, one out, and the Big Man Ryan Howard at
the plate, the crowd went wild...only to be let down again.

Will we be let down even further in a few weeks?

Sent from my mobile device

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Is anybody else starting to see some disturbing similarities between this year's Phillies team and the Mets teams of 2007 & 2008?

With a very comfortable lead coming into the stretch run, the back end of the Phillies bullpen is completely incapable of converting a save, much the way Billy Wagner and company imploded in New York in September of the past two years.

Consequently, the Phillies' only hope for winning games is to generate such a huge lead (6 runs seems to do it) that even their leaky as a sieve bullpen can't blow it.

So far, the primary difference has been the chasing team. Whereas the Phils the past few years went on a tear and really took care of business against the Mets down the stretch, the Braves have been hot against everyone except the Phillies. I'm hoping that taking two of three last week in Atlanta will hold them off.

But I'd feel much more comfortable if they actually reduced that magic number to 0...and quick.

And of course, none of this bodes well for sticking around in October for very long.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lights Out?

Every Phillies fan has been waiting for this. Last night, it happened.

Leading the Nationals by two in the ninth inning, Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel brought in Brad "Lights Out" Lidge to close out the victory.

Instead, Lidge gave up a single to the first batter. Watching on TV, viewers could see Lidge's intensity as he turned around to retrieve the ball from second baseman Chase Utley, and this lip reader could swear he saw Lidge shout, "Let's go."

Unfortunately, Phillies fans know how this story goes. When Lidge lets the first batter on base, bad things happen.

Last night that meant a ground out from the second hitter, follower by a hit batter, and a walk to load the bases.

Manuel had seen enough. And this night, he had options.

In the seventh inning, Manuel had brought in former starter turned closer turned starter turned reliever Brett Myers. Myers got the final out in the seventh and then set down all three in the eighth.

That kept Ryan Madson in the bullpen instead of on the field in the eighth inning.

And when Lidge took the mound, Madson was already up in the 'pen. So, when Manuel decided that last night would not turn into Lidge's 11th blown save of the season, he was able to bring in Madson, with his 97-mph fastball and devastating change-up.

Earlier this season, Madson had failed in the closer's role when Lidge was on the disabled list; but by pulling his closer last night rather than letting him fail.

And even more significantly, by setting up his use of the bullpen to have Madson available to bail out Lidge, Charlie Manuel clearly indicated to Lidge, Madson, and the entire team that his patience has run out.

It's September, and there's no more time to talk about players coming around. This is the pennant drive. Come up short in the next 8 weeks, and the Phillies won't be parading down Broad Street in November.

Will Lidge be back on the mound in the ninth inning tonight in a save situation? Perhaps, but he now knows that his manager has other options and is willing to use them.