Where Do the Phillies Go From Here?

They Have Third Baseman At the Swap Meet?

I thought when I got home on Monday evening I might have found the Phillies without a few of their veterans.  The team has failed to respond to any stimulus provided throughout the year.  Charlie Manuel tried meetings.  They brought some guys back from the DL.  Ruben Amaro basically said, “Win the series in Atlanta–or else.”  As you may have noticed the Phillies were swept out of Atlanta, continuing a season of struggles against the NL East.  The optimism that accompanied the 4-game win streak of last week is gone now, and the only chance that remains is a mathematical one.  With a couple of months of what promises to be low-intensity baseball left, the question becomes, where do the Phillies go from here?

1.  Make the Obvious Trades.  Victorino must go.  Pierre should be dealt as should Joe Blanton.  If the Phillies find a taker for Ty Wigginton they can go ahead and trade him too.  Keeping guys like Pierre and Blanton makes no sense, given the standings, and if they wanted to keep Shane it would be simply to save some face this year.  The return for these players will be minimal.  The Phillies could look for relief pitcher.  Maybe you get lucky on a mid-ceiling prospect.  Perhaps you can get Baltimore to part with one of their starting pitchers who has fallen out of favor?  The Phillies should make these deals to get themselves under the luxury tax threshold and to open up a place in the outfield immediately.  Even if they get nothing in return for these players, those are enough positives to move ahead.  

2.  Call up Dom Brown yesterday.  Brown was either wildly overrated or the Phillies did hinder his development a great degree with their yo-yo promotion/demotion tactics, but Brown is no longer THAT young.  Eventually you run out of time for seasoning.  Dom Brown cannot start the 2013 season in Lehigh for the Phillies.  He needs to be on the Major League roster, or the Phillies need to move on.  Brown has displayed a knack for getting hurt this year, but he’s also finally rounded back into prospect form.  He’s hitting .395 in July with a 900+ OPS.  When you first heard about Brown the term was “5-tools.”  What we’ve seen from Brown is that he may, in fact, not have any elite skills.  He can throw, and he can run, but is he ever going to hit 30 homers?  Or develop into a good outfielder?  Probably not.  But, Brown could be a contributing, low-cost piece on the Phillies for the next several years.  A LF that hits .265/20HR would be a revelation compared to what they put in LF this year.  Especially at $500,000 those stats are pretty easy to swallow.  Give Dom Brown 50 starts from now until the end of the year, give him 200 at-bats and see what it looks like.  For those concerned about his defense, have you seen Hunter Pence play RF this year?  And, even if he is a butcher, the Phillies really have an eye toward 2013 at this point.  If he costs you a game or two in the field, what’s the difference?

3.  Watch Halladay closely/Limit His Innings.  You have to keep sending Roy out there at this point, because there is the occasional sign that he’s coming around.  Halladay may never throw 93-94 again, but plenty of pitchers have been effective at lower velocities.  We know Halladay will work at it, but at some point you wonder if he’s pushing himself too hard.  If Roy continues to mix in 6IP/4ER type of outings, it might be time to reexamine the health of his shoulder.  If you shut Halladay down, you could also promote a starter from AAA to see if there’s any shot he could fill the #5 spot in the rotation next year (long shot).  If Halladay is throwing 110 pitches in late August and September (barring a 24-game win streak), someone should be relieved of their duties.  And, I’m not even a pitch count guy.  

4. Treat all other veterans with care.  The Phillies got old quick.  They need some of those veterans to stay healthy throughout 2013.  Chase Utley looks better to me than last year, but it was September when he really trailed off in 2011.  To me, it’s hard to justify him playing even five times a week down the stretch if the Phillies are out of it.  Ryan Howard needs to play to continue to get himself closer to being in shape, but he too should see plenty of days off down the stretch.  Same goes for Chooch.  Does this mean the Phillies are going to trot out some painful/hilarious lineups in September?  Probably.  

5.  Trade Big Salary in the Off-Season.  I don’t see the Phillies moving Lee and/or Pence before Tuesday.  If they do, hopefully it is because they have been blown away by a massive offer.  If they wait until the winter they can give themselves some more time to plan the next two or three seasons for this team.  Yep, it’s finally time to look long-term.  Also, the market for starting pitchers will be very thin this winter when it comes to free agents.  Say Cliff Lee has a big last two months, the price he’d bring from a team who misses out on Greinke this winter would be a lot more than the Phillies could get in the next two days.  And, trading Lee now for any prospects, just for the sake of dumping salary seems like a rushed judgment.  Got to start thinking bigger picture.  

6.  Attitude/Leadership Changes.  Nothing makes a team look worse than losing.  The Phillies had plenty of fire against the Brewers, but when shut down by Atlanta, it looks like they have no heart.  Charlie Manuel appears to be cracking a bit.  The once loyal Manuel has started to publicly say that he doesn’t see “the want” in his players.  Manuel is an old-school guy.  He puts up with Jimmy Rollins’ strolls to first because they were winning 100 games.  Now, I imagine it’s driving him crazy.  I can’t even begin to comprehend the level of frustration among the coaching staff.  So, even with a clean slate next year how are the Phillies going to change the feel of things?   Manuel and Rollins have taken on a bit of a Brown/Iverson feel for me at this point.  Most times, it’s the player who stays, but if the Phillies don’t want to eat Manuel’s fat contract, J-Roll could find himself on the trading block next to Cliff Lee.  

***

So, if I’m a Phillies fan at this point, I’ve closed the book on 2012–minus the blind faith quotient.  This Phillies team is like when I’m watching a golf tournament and thinking well…”If he birdies the last 6 holes and the other guy hits 4 in the water–I’m liking our chances all of a sudden!”  What you hope is that the Phillies do call up Brown, or perhaps a young starter, or maybe they pry away a legitimate prospect from another team.  Then you’d have something to watch the last two months, because it’s been 6 years since we saw a meaningless baseball game in this city.  It’s going to be a hard adjustment for the fans to make (especially the “new” fans), and it’s already been a hard year, but the Phillies have to figure out a way to keep things positive in regard to 2013 and beyond.  Fortunes with the fans can turn quickly.  Just ask the Sixers.  

8 Things I’ve Decided To Say About the Olympics.

Class, Class, Class All the Way.

Technically, the Olympics have started.  The highly touted American women’s soccer team dismissed France the other day and women’s team archery is also underway.  But, I’m sure you already knew that.  All this action takes place before tonight’s opening ceremonies, which is a bit of a divisive event.  I would bet you have at least one female relative who thinks the Opening Ceremonies is the best television EVER.  Others will be bored to tears after twenty minutes.  Most will tune in though, regardless, because you want to see that torch lit and you want to see the funny hats.  On that note…

1.  Who will light the torch?  Does the United Kingdom have any famous athletes?  ZING.  Does Sir Nick Faldo have a chance?  Probably not.  What I’ve decided is that I do not care who lights the flame as long as it isn’t Beckham.  It can’t be Beckham.  According to some light research, the favorites appear to be Sir Steve Redgrave (5 straight rowing gold medals), Daley Thompson (two-time decathlon gold medalist), and Roger Bannister.  If Hugh Grant is unavailable, I’d go with Bannister.  

2.  Can we have a brief discussion on why the United States team always wears berets?  Or a version of the beret?  

Melo’s Face Tells the Beret Story.

I’m not sure what about putting on a suit says, let’s top this sumbitch off with a beret.  Do the uniforms require headgear?  I know that the United States has trotted out several cowboy hats in the past, because that’s what we are–deep down–a bunch of ranch hands, but the beret has taken over in recent years.  Are we over thinking it?  I think we are.  I’d honestly rather see the athletes in snapbacks, at least we can attribute that horrible look to the United States.  

3.  Speaking of ‘Melo and KD, and LeBron and Kobe–this is the best American basketball team in some time.  I don’t like NBA basketball, but you know what I know what I like less?  Scrappy, horsebleep, jacked up lane, incorrect 3-pt line,  International basketball.  The only drawback for the American side is that they’re led by Coach K.  We put aside those feelings for the sake of patriotism, though.  It’s gold medal or bust for both of our basketball teams.  No excuses.   And we’ll hope there’s no repeat of the greatest officiating abortion in the history of sports on its 40-year anniversary.  

4.  Usually I would say that you have to pick between two competitors.  You can’t be a fan of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.  You can’t be “equally happy” for both of them.  You can’t hope they tie.  This is gutless fan mentality.  It’s  the type of thinking that has penetrated Little Leagues across the country.  But, for the sake of the Olympics, I’ll allow you to wrap yourself in the flag.  You can go ahead and celebrate regardless of whether Phelps or Lochte wins their showdowns.  I will pick one myself, but I’m still flip-flopping.  Usually, Phelps’ dominance would turn me off, but in recent weeks it seems like everyone is picking at Phelpsy.  His fellow swimmers, the media, perhaps we need one more reminder of the greatness before he fades away.  

5.  Usain Bolt better do some crazy, fast sh*t.  Bolt set the standard, now he has to live up to it.  I’m not sure what Bolt could do to top his 2008 performance when he won with ease and celebrated with meters to go, but he better figure it out.  I’m hoping this whole stiff back thing is a bit of a ruse, something to create a little drama.  You know what would be interesting?  A handicap.  Set up Usain’s starting block 5 meters behind the actual start line.  

6.  I think everyone has a random Olympic sport that they like to watch.  In the winter games, I can’t get enough Bobsled.  I love it.  It’s so random.  In the summer games, I go with water polo.  I have no reason to like water polo.  I can barely swim.  I usually avoid pools at all costs, but hey, this is the Olympics.  Also, Mike Emrick, one of the great announcers in any sport covers water polo for NBC.

7.  You’ve got to keep an eye on the Medal Table.  This is something I remember doing as a kid.  The patriotism started at a very young age.  In 1992 my two biggest enemies were Soda Popinski and The Unified Team.  What the hell was the Unified Team?  Cheaters!  You aren’t one country any more!  I demand a recount.  Anyway, the Russians and former Russian states don’t “get after” the Olympics quite as hard as they used to.  Now the Chinese team is the new rival.  For the next few weeks I’m going to be staunchly anti-Chinese.  I suggest you join me.  

8.  The Olympics will be available in their entirety online.  You can watch all 302 medal ceremonies.  Other than the web machine, the games will broadcast on NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, Bravo–you know pretty much every random channel that NBC owns.  You should actually be able to see a decent amount of the sports you want to watch, assuming the time differential is not a problem for you and you have tons of free time.  Here’s a place to peruse the TV listings.  The first must-see event after tonight’s pomp is the 400 IM Final tomorrow night.  I finally decided.  Team Lochte!

 

Hey Look Kids, Big Ben. Parliament. A Mailbag.

Warm Up the Car for Me?

***

Poor timing for the Phillies to have an off day.  The walk-off win streak will have to be tabled for a day while the Phils have their ALS festival and fly to Atlanta.  The series against Milwaukee was one of the strangest you’ll ever see.  Three straight 7-6 victories, and even though they were full of red flags–it’s still a winning streak.  The Phils have passed the Brewers and now are a mere 6 teams out of the wild-card.  One step at a time.  Here’s to hoping the series against Atlanta features more:

Christmas Morning Chooch.

***

Q:  Given your choice of pitches and any bat you’d like–do you think you could hit a baseball out of Citizens Bank Park?  L. Screen, Temple, TX.  

A:  Those are some pretty generous parameters.  I certainly couldn’t go deep with a wood bat.  You put a wood bat in my hands and I turn into Rod Carew without the speed.  I’d be muscling balls over the shortstop’s head–AT BEST.  Of course, you have to take into account the cozy dimensions of Citizens Bank Park as well.  She’s a mere 329 ft down the line, and I can pull a ball with ease.  The term is BAIL and WHALE.  I haven’t hit a baseball with any regularity since the late 90s.  Dang, that’s a long time.  Our home field in high school had a 340 foot fence in left field, and, on occasion, I could leave the building in batting practice.   So, at one point in my life I definitely could have hit a ball out of Citizens Bank.  The question is, where are my skills NOW?  In my mind, I’m equally good at baseball as I was back then.  If anything, I may be STRONGER.  Of course, neither of those are likely to be true.  In the end, though, I’m going to treat this as an exercise in self-confidence.  Can I hit a ball out of Citizens Bank Park, Mr. Screen?  You bet your sweet ass I can.  ON THE REGULAR.

Q:  What percentage of Major League players do you think Derek Jeter would recognize out of uniform?  I would guess that every single guy in the league would ID Jeter, but Jeter doesn’t have to know that many people, right?  It’s not important for him.  There’s no way if Vance Worley walked by Jeter on the street he’d have any clue who he was.  Where’s the cutoff?  Do you need at least one All-Star appearance? Kyle Kendricke, Philadelphia, PA.

A:  I assume Jeter knows everyone on the Yankees.  So, right there we’re talking about ~3%.  That’s the basement.  The guy has been in the league FOREVER, so you have to assume he knows most of the regulars in the American League.  The National League, guys with only a few years of experience?  That’s where it starts to get tough.  I want to put the number at 40%.  That’s where I’m comfortable.  What I think is more interesting is: does Jeter pretend to not know someone?  Is there a pecking order in play here?  It’s OK for Stephen Strasburg to go up to Justin Verlander, but can Verlander be like, “Stephen Strasburg–OMG!”  I don’t think he can.  That’s not Big League.  I think there is some expectation that a star player is going to be self-absorbed.  Recognizing a guy from a late night Baseball Tonight marathon?  That’s not really Big League, either.  It’s funny that you mention an All-Star appearance, because I do think there is some sense that you have to earn your way in a little bit.  If you stroll into an All-Star Game clubhouse, then maybe Jeter takes a minute away from running down starlets and says, “should I try to remember who this guy is?”  If Jeter knows you, you’ve made it.  I know that.  

Q: I’m a little curious about the Jean Short Open.  Is it happening this year?  Updates please!  Levi Wrangler, Tampa, FL.

A:  Of course the Jean Short Open is happening.  I suppose the proper buildup to the JSO has been a casualty of the decreased blog schedule.  This year we will heading out on August 4th, so you’ll want to be sure to check in on the blog early the next week to get an eyeful of great ball-strikers wearing denim.  Much of the particulars remain the same for this year.  We’ll be teeing it up at Pickering Valley.  We’ll be starting off the day with the prerequisite 42 Coors Lights, and as always we’ll be hoping that it stays under 100 degrees.  I’m a little worried about my tolerance, to be honest, but I’m not going to let my age catch up to me–I’m still in my JSO prime.  As you can probably imagine, all JSO outfits are kept under lock and key.  “THE REVEAL,” is one of the best parts of the day.  I can say, however, that I attempted to step up my game this year.  I went to great lengths (a 3-minute Google search) to try to recreate your standard Rickie Fowler outfit in denim.  As it turns out, the majority of jean shorts I could find in orange are made for women and have a 3″ inseam.  So, I will not be Puma’d up for the JSO this year, but I’m sure my playing partners will more than make up for this disappointment.  As for me?  I’ll just be hitting up Ross the day before, as usual.  Ross is BOSS.  

Q:  Is what happened with the Marlins this year the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever seen?  The Miami baseball renaissance lasted what? Three months?  Orestes Destrade, Jupiter, FL.  

A: Ah, the joys of professional baseball in Florida.  The Marlins have a checkered history.  One thing they’ve done consistently is sell off veteran players.  They’ve had a surprising amount of success doing this, but horrific attendance and cheap owners have prevented any sustained run.  This year was supposed to be the year it all changed, though.  They opened their new stadium.  They signed a bunch of high-priced talent.  They had Ozzie Guillen to run the show.  I’ll admit that I was swayed by the glitz and glam.  I thought the Marlins had a shot at contending.  Of course, I thought the Phillies had a shot at contending too.  The pieces just didn’t seem to fit in Miami.  And, they gave up on it pretty quick.  They shipped off Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez.  They say they aren’t in full tear down mode, but can you trust Jeffrey Loria?  This is a guy who sold the Expos to MLB to buy the Marlins in a shady series of events.  You forget how close the ‘Pos got to being contracted.  Loria talks a good game, but hasn’t backed it up aside from last winter.  I fear for the future of the Marlins.  The question is, how embarrassing?  It’s definitely up there when you look at on the surface, but maybe trading Hanley was the right play?  The guy has been terrible for a year and a half.  Now, they’re free of his salary.  They still have a lot of talent, so we’ll see.  Plus, when Houston is 2-24 in their last 26 games, it’s a bit difficult to wrestle away the embarrassing crown.  

Q:  Does it ever surprise you what people say in public?  Like they just assume you won’t be offended.  I was strolling through a department store the other day and two employees were standing out in the center of a main aisle, having a conversation.  One of them said as I walked by, “I hate when fat people talk about how much weight they’ve lost.”  Now even if you were thinking this, would you say it within earshot of a stranger?  Take a beat and wait until I pass by?  Noah Filter, West Chester, PA.

A:  Were you at Bloomies?  I feel like only Bloomingdales employees would have such audacity.  Saying something like that takes an old school disdain for the downtrodden and overweight.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t, on occasion, say some pretty nasty things, but it is important to show some decorum.  Or at least have an awareness of your surroundings.  I think I’ve documented some occasions when I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth, and you feel terrible about it.  I bet these ladies didn’t blink.  I hear things at work all the time that are borderline offensive.  I guess because I am your standard white guy, people feel comfortable throwing around their casual bigotry.  One time a lady told me that a certain product had gone downhill after they started making it in China.  The way she phrased it was WAY MORE racist.  On another occasion a guy was spouting off about how “gay” Key West was.  He was going on about the standard fear of being hit on by other men.  Somehow I think the men he was describing would have shown remarkable RESTRAINT.  The point is, he doesn’t know a thing about me, but he’s comfortable saying all this without a hint of remorse.  I want to think it’s a bit of a generational thing.  You’d hope the younger generation would be a bit more exposed to such things, a bit more aware, but I’m not sure that’s the case.  One of these days, I’m going to tell one of these people that they’re a prick.  Should make for an interesting story.    

Q:  What are your thoughts on attending NFL Training Camp as a spectator?  Snake Draft, Colorado Springs, CO.

A:  I’m not aware of a more boring “sporting event” to attend.  I use the quotations there, because it’s really not an event.  Nothing is happening.  It’s hardly a practice.  In my youth I attended Eagles training camp at West Chester once or twice.  I remember it being very hot and little else.  I think the general consensus was…AUTOGRAPHS!  I didn’t get any autographs, which is a shame, because I really could use a scrap of paper with Heath Sherman’s name on it right about now.  The attendance at training camp is just a sign of the desperation people feel in regard to the NFL.  I saw a clip of Broncos’ camp this morning and it was a FULL HOUSE.  It was the first chance to see Peyton Manning, dang it.  You’ve got to understand the mentality of certain fans too.  Say you are out there in Denver, what are you excited about these days–the Nuggets?  The Rockies stink.  The pre-season in sports is a lot about HOPE.  When fans show up to Spring Training they think–maybe this year.  For football this is the time of year for unadulterated optimism, so that can carry you through the slog of training camp.  Because, believe me, it’s terribly boring to watch.  Assuming you have any idea what’s going on (you don’t), it’s still just a chance to break in your new jersey.  Best case scenario you see a fight.  Worse case–heat stroke.  

 

Ruben Breaks Out Some New Plastic, Signs Hamels for 144 Million.

Special Assistant to Ruben Amaro.

When outlining the possibilities for handling the Cole Hamels situation a while back one of the options was, “spend now, figure out the rest later.”  In some ways, that has been the mantra of Ruben Amaro’s entire run as Phillies’ GM.  The 24-million dollar annual value gives the Phillies four 20-million dollar men.  It means that they’ll spend about 130 million on six players next season as currently constructed.  Either the Phillies are going to take a one-year vacation from worrying about the luxury tax, or this signing will be accompanied by some cost-cutting maneuvers.  How is Amaro going to build a team around his aces?  

If you’re going to analyze the signing, you have to look at the contract itself, and then what it means for the rest of the team.  First, how does giving Cole Hamels 6yrs/144 look?

Hamels isn’t worth this much money.  Not objectively.  That he’s left-handed, that the market is thin, that he’s won a World Series MVP–those factors allow Hamels to break the bank when he doesn’t have the statistical track record of some pitchers who have signed this type of mega-deal.  2012 has been one of Cole’s best years, but he still sports a 3.23 ERA.  Moments of dominance have been mixed with more pedestrian outings than you’d like to see from a true ace.  

You could make the argument that aside from his 1-month stretch in the 2008 post-season, Hamels has never been among the top-5 pitchers in the game, and has rarely even been in the top-10.  This year, you’d probably rather  have Gonzalez, Kershaw, Strasburg, Cain, Price, Verlander and Weaver?  The difference is, none of those pitchers got this close to free agency.  Very rarely in baseball are the best players on the free agent market.  That’s just how it ends up working out, the dominant players are usually too young to be free agents, or have already been signed long-term.  So, since the beginning of time, free agents have been getting overpaid, partially because GMs are chasing the idea of a player they can’t acquire.  

The other issue with signing this long deal is that history has almost no contracts like this one that have worked out well for the team.  Hamels is unusually young for a free agent and he’s been quite durable.  Those things make this deal more palatable, but coming into this season the 5 richest contracts ever given to pitchers were handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Brown, Barry Zito, Johan Santana and Mike Hampton.  Sabathia is the only pitcher who even remotely earned his money, and he’s the closest comparison for Hamels–a 28-year old, durable lefty.  But, the Yankees got a durable workhorse, not the most dominant pitcher in baseball.  That has always been the ceiling for this type of deal, and if I was guessing, I think the Phillies will get that for majority of this contract.  

The strange thing is, the Phillies were partially forced into this deal because their two other big money pitchers are having a forgettable 2012 season.  Roy Halladay’s contract looked like a steal after last season, but he’s been average at best this season and 2013 is now a 20-million dollar question mark.  Cliff Lee has at least three years left and this year has featured another DL trip and far fewer appearances where the lefty looks dominant.  If Halladay and Lee had been lights out this season, would the Phillies have made this move?  To me, it feels like they handed out a huge contract as insurance for their other huge contracts.  

The team around Hamels is what is important, though.  As I said, I don’t see any reason to think Cole will be a bust.  He may not exactly live up to the contract, but you are still talking about a very good pitcher, a top-20 pitcher in his prime. The question is, will the Phillies be able to put a competitive team around Hamels?  Some type of restructuring appears to be in order.  When and how does that start?  Unless the Phillies are prepared to have a 200 million dollar payroll next year, there will have to be accompanying moves.  Possibilities…

1.  Trade Cliff Lee.  This is the easiest way out of this mess.  With Lee’s money off the books, and with Victorino, Blanton and Polanco becoming free agents the Phillies would have some wiggle room for 2013.  Saving Lee’s money would allow the Phillies to perhaps pursue a LF option that wasn’t a Mayberry/Nix platoon.  The market for starters is drying up, so it’s possible a team like Texas could want Lee in a deal.  Even if the Phils paid a chunk of his salary, freeing up 15/20 million for the next few years will make a big difference.  

2.  Going cheap.  This is the 2nd easiest way to handle the issue.  The Phillies simply move ahead with their three aces and hope for some better luck.  They hope to get bounce back year out of Halladay and Lee.  They hope Utley and Howard can have productive full seasons.  They hope a young bullpen can develop.  They play a Mayberry/Nix platoon in the outfield and possibly give Dom Brown a shot.  It’s hard to imagine the Phils would surround an expensive starting rotation with this many question marks.  

3. Actual creativity.  This appears to be Ruben’s weakness as a GM.  As I’ve said before, handing out record-breaking deals is something any GM could do.  The Phillies need to at least have the look of a contender for 2013, or else their revenue streams that support a 170 million dollar payroll will dry up.  So, if Ruben really is looking past the next week, or month, perhaps he looks at Hamels as the cornerstone of a new NL East dynasty.  This would mean, getting younger, but sticking with premium talent.  How do you do that?  It probably involves selling in the next week. Pence, Victorino, Rollins–anyone that can return value.  If these guys could bring bullpen help, a future OF, a young third baseman–the Phils need to get some value from the guys they aren’t going to re-sign.  The Phillies are in line to get some payroll relief in 2014, especially if Halladay doesn’t vest his option, but for next year, Ruben has his hands full no matter which path he chooses.  

***

Lost in the Hamels hubbub is the Phils’ three-game comeback streak.  The last two games against Milwaukee were the two most improbable wins of the year,  and it’s great to see the Phillies showing some life.  Nothing makes a team look like they’ve quit more than losing, and it’s obvious now that the Phillies have not quit–they’re just buried in a massive hole.  Even with the modest win streak, the problems are still evident.  Halladay and Lee got shelled in back-to-back appearances.  The bullpen is still a huge question mark.  Even with the offense looking a bit more dangerous, does this team have the pitching to sustain a long winning streak?   Today’s afternoon game against Milwaukee is big, with Atlanta and Washington on-deck a sweep would be great for some momentum.  This is the last gasp, the mathematicians have already written the Phils off, so another bad run of divisional games will surely seal their fate.  

***

Mailbag coming tomorrow.  Send in your last-minute questions and pictures.  

 

Scott Pilots Bogey Train to Buckleville.

Stevie Williams Denied Further Greatness.

In the days leading up to the Open Championship, we heard a lot about how hard the course at Lytham was going to play.  Then for three days, the wind disappeared and the players found a stern, but manageable test.  On Sunday, we got a taste of what a wind-swept event might have looked like.  Even a moderate breeze turned the lush course into a beast and the players, especially those in the later groups saw their scores balloon into the seventies.  Even with the lack of red numbers, the majority of the round felt like a coronation for Adam Scott.  Tiger Woods made an early triple bogey, Graeme McDowell never looked comfortable and Scott’s lead remained robust as he played conservative golf.  The Australian was operating under almost no pressure until Ernie Els starting grouping together some back nine birdies.  

There’s never been much question about Adam Scott as a ball-striker.  The possessor of “Tiger’s Old Swing,” Scott creates the kind of contact that Lytham has typically rewarded, but after the long putter turned balky–his ball-striking began to suffer as well.  It was moments after Els’ birdie roar from 18 that Scott overcooked an approach on 17 and made a bogey that dropped him into a tie with Els.  When his tee shot on 18 found one of Lytham’s famous bunkers, the outcome felt decided.  Scott’s four closing bogeys put him in unfortunate company when it comes to discussing collapses in a Major Championship.  There was nothing spectacular, no one horrific shot that turned the tide, but the trophy was nonetheless handed to Ernie Els.  

Perhaps Ernie was owed one like this, after his own disappointments and after he failed to gain entry into this year’s Masters.  Ernie has his own, long-documented struggles with the putter so the two deciding putts on 18 Sunday in some ways were a reversal of fortune for the South African.  Els was once a great clutch putter, winning two US Opens, matching Tiger Woods putt for putt in a Presidents Cup playoff–Ernie has made plenty of big putts.  He just hadn’t been making them lately, and when he did find himself in contention he never made the putt like did on the final hole Sunday.  

Ernie will be a popular champion, not quite as sentimental as last year’s winner, Darren Clarke, but Els has always been very popular in Europe.  An Open Champion is always revered, and now Ernie joins the far more elite company of multiple gold medal winners.  Other than reviving Ernie’s career (he was nowhere on my radar for the week), we can glean a few more takeaways from golf’s most global Major.  

1.  Tiger again faltered over a Major Championship weekend.  On the biggest stages, it still doesn’t look like Tiger trusts his driver.  That’s one of the few places where Tiger doesn’t look comfortable.  His irons weren’t deadly accurate this week, but if he get’s a different bounce at six, he’s possibly in position to take advantage of Scott’s gift.  And, the manner in which this ended, should provide hope to any top player.  If you can hang around in a Major these days, you never know what will happen in the end.  

2.  Phil Mickelson was a total train wreck.  It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with Phil.  Is it attention span?  Is he not 100% healthy?  There was a time when golfers had shorter primes.  Equipment, guys like Vijay Singh have made us assume everyone can compete into their late-40s, but that wasn’t always the case.  Phil still looks fearless out there, but I wonder how much willingness he has to go back to the drawing board at this point in his career.  He’s been out there for a long time, and you start to wonder about the cumulative grind.  He’s far from done, but he appears to be turning it on less and less in recent months.  

3.  It’s now been five majors since Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by lapping by field and was given his own “era.”  In those five events he’s rarely showed form and a decent start this week dissolved into a poor finish.  If Rory had opened with a 67 at last year’s Open he would have been handed the trophy.  A year later, and he’s already back to being just another 1st day story.  

4.  With so many guys winning majors, I think it adds focus to the players who the guys who continually come up short.  You can now put Scott on a list with guys like #1 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker–what are they all waiting for?  Back when Tiger won almost 1/2 the majors you could argue that the futility of golfers like Mickelson or Monty, or even Els was understandable, but now each major starts wide-open.  It doesn’t make much sense to me how these guys can win multiple times a season and yet look so pedestrian in the biggest events.  The Schwartzels, Bradleys and Watsons of the world have obviously figured out something these guys have not.  

5.  With the Ryder Cup on the horizon in the Fall, I wonder if the Europeans are losing footing as favorites?  Coming into the week, they still held the top-3 spots in the rankings, but Americans resided in spots 4-8.  They also have 11 of the top 20, compared to just six for the Euros.  The Americans always used to hold the edge in the rankings and it was the European’s strong team play and clutch putting that carried them through. When the talent started to even out, the Americans were subject to a couple of blowouts.  With an influx of young talent and Tiger returning to form, we could be headed for another close contest at Medinah.  

An Open Bag.

Have You Heard of the “No-Doubles” Defense?

How early do you get up to watch the Open Championship on a day like today?  My body rejects early wake-up calls.  I go to bed too late.  But I hauled myself out of bed in the predawn light this morning to check in on the 1st round of a golf tournament.  There’s no way I’ll get up early tomorrow, and by the weekend the leaders will tee off at a more reasonable time, but for the opening round, I found myself wanting to get a taste of how the event was going before 10 am.  Tiger was off early and was already under par when I flicked on tube.  The weather was calm–disappointing.  After watching for a few holes, it became obvious Tiger was going to shoot a solid round.  I made an executive decision.  Back to bed.  I needed to rest up for the mailbag.  

Q:  I think Wheels is a nice guy–that said, any opportunity to deep six him from broadcasting?  Can he take McCarthy with him?  What are the chances?  Press Mute, Palermos, PA.  

A:  Wheels is a very nice guy.  He’s also a great sport.  This may be a slight bit of hyperbole, but I’m not sure anyone takes as much sh*t as Wheels.  For most of his adult life he’s been getting picked on like the manager of your high school basketball team.  Pretty much everyone associated with the Phillies rides Wheels pretty hard and he takes it all in stride.  Hell, I once came across Wheels in my youth and I was encouraged by surrounding adults to question him about his hair situation.  No one is really sure what’s GOING ON UP THERE, but I was about eight years old at the time and Wheels was already fair game.   But, none of that has anything to do with his broadcasting.  Wheels is an odd man in the booth, because he’s more of a color analyst, but he never played the game at a high level.  He doesn’t have Harry’s great voice, and he doesn’t have Richie’s credibility and war stories–so a lot of people think, what does this guy know?  What does he bring?  Most times Wheels knows what he’s talking about, but you get the sense that he only knows because he’s been doing it for so long.  Which brings us to the second problem–broadcaster fatigue.  Listen to anyone do a few thousand games and you’ll eventually get sick of them.  Wheels is especially bad at repeating the same things over and over.  No-doubles defense.  Great running counts.  ENOUGH ALREADY!  In terms of getting rid of him?  I’ve got some bad news.  The Phillies don’t really fire broadcasters.  It’s not going to happen.  You’d have better luck ousting a tenured professor.  I’d boot McCarthy first, anyway.  Then Sarge.  

Q:  I had a dream the other night and I was cleaning up after a party.  Massive clean up.  I had this giant trash can full of empties.  Should I feel bad that I didn’t dream about the actual party?  Floater McGavin, Trenton, NJ. 

A:  I very rarely remember my dreams.  Sometimes I have a dream and I think…that was SOMETHING.  But then when I wake up for good–it’s gone.  Wiped clean.  When I do remember my dreams, they are incredibly boring.  I have a tendency to dream only about things that I do in my actual life.  Kind of blows the definition of a dream–doesn’t it?  In my dreams maybe one thing will be out of whack, but I’ll be working at a job that I had in the past.  Oh, you wouldn’t believe this dream I had!  I was working in a golf shop.  So, so freaky.  Sometimes I wonder if my REM sessions aren’t creative enough.  I’ve never dreamed of sharing a gourmet picnic basket with January Jones, for example.  But, getting back to your clean-up dream….I do think you should feel bad about missing the party.  It was obviously epic.  Beers were chugged, bad decisions were made, and WHERE WERE YOU?  But seriously, I happen to be an amateur dream analyst.  I’m afraid this probably wasn’t a dream about a party.  It was a dream about cleaning.  Do you live in a rat trap?  You do, don’t you?  Your subconscious isn’t telling you that you missed the party, it’s telling you to grab a mop and stand a post.  

Q:  Do you think people will ever actually live on the Moon?  George Jetsin, Altoona, PA.  

A:  I’m not so sure.  It’s hard for me to imagine things that aren’t going to happen in my lifetime.  Like someone walks up to me and says, “The sun is going to go dark in 10,000 years–thoughts?”  I have no idea what to say.  I can’t imagine something like that.  It’s too abstract.  As far as living on the moon goes, I sometimes think we get a little bit carried away with the whole futuristic thing.  What I mean is, we don’t predict the future correctly.  We didn’t see the internet coming–we thought we’d have flying cars.  Living on the moon seems like a last-ditch type of thing.  Who would want to go to the Moon?  They’d first have to relocate an NFL team just to get some people interested.  But really, the Moon doesn’t have SH*T.  It’d have to be a situation where we bungled up the Earth so badly that we were desperate for new areas to sully.  If that was the case, would we be in a position to colonize?  Would it be too late?  Would we have used all our resources sucking the last bits of oil from the Earth?  I’m sure how we live will change drastically, but lunar condos?  That’s too far out for me to even fathom.  

Q:  Is two small pizzas the dumbest pizza order ever?  What’s a small run?  7, 8 bucks?  Ever hear of splitting a large?  First time eating pizza?  Come on now.  

A:  On the surface it seems like a dumb order.  Can you imagine if they were the same toppings?  How angry would that make you?  SO ANGRY.  My guess is, the person had two bratty, spoiled kids.  They probably both demand their own personal cheese pizza or else they throw a temper tantrum.  That’s the picture I have in my mind.  The amazing thing about pizza is that people eat so much of it and very few people can order it correctly.  Several things can go wrong ordering pizza.  You can under-order.  More troubling is ordering the wrong amounts of the wrong toppings.  The worst person to get pizza with is someone who says, “Oh, I’ll eat anything.  Olives?  Sure!”  Then you get a few of these people together and they end up ordering some topping travesty.  “Let’s get one pepperoni and one olive, mushroom and avocado.”  This is the point where I start to get really nervous.  Because what inevitably happens is the pizza gets there and the morons have their one slice of clusterf*ck and then they see that glorious pepperoni.  They know what they did.  They screwed up their order.  So, they dive in to the normal pizza because they think their original, “I’ll eat anything,” gives them free rein.  NO.  No, it doesn’t.  Long story short, you’re starving and there are four pieces of olive sitting in the box.  If you are one of the people who does this–hang your head in shame.  To be properly enjoyed, pizza has to be ordered in the right company.  It’s nice to have a friend who has a weak spot for ordering a safety large, or an emergency ‘boli.  

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Bless Her Heart.

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1988 N.W.A. Summer Camp Yearbook.

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Q:  What do you think will be around longer, the USA Today or the SI Swimsuit issue?  Joe Sudoku, Paoli, PA.  

A:  Interesting question.  Unlike lunar habitation, a world without printed, tangible media doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  I know you mention the swimsuit issue in particular, but I don’t see SI staying in print simply to circulate the annual bikini-fest.  So, we’re basically talking about SI vs. the USA Today.  From the numbers I could find, in a very abbreviated search, it seems that Sports Illustrated has fared relatively well in recent years in terms of circulation.  We’re not anywhere close to seeing the last issue of SI, it has millions of subscribers.  It also isn’t forced to cover news in the strictest sense.  Sports Illustrated doesn’t have to report on who won the World Series, it provides the context, the background, the human interest.  There’s a much less strict demand on the news cycle for those types of stories.  What newspapers face is that by the time they get a paper in your hands every morning, it’s likely you already know the headlines.  Unless you particularly like the Jumble, I’m not sure there is a reason to buy a paper, unless you “just like your DAMN MORNING PAPER.”  And, believe me, I understand that argument.  I don’t think it’s going to be enough to sustain papers for much longer, though.  If you were guessing, perhaps the USA is one of the last five papers to die?  NY Times, WSJ, anything else?  It’s going to end, though, and I think sooner than Sports Illustrated stops their presses.  And it won’t hurt to have that swimsuit issue, because if one thing is certain, even if you’ve seen a million pictures of women in bikinis, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to see one more.  

Q:  Considering its prominence in Hollywood, do you think anyone would ever make a movie, say a psychological thriller, about escaping the tyranny of a Scientologist?  Considering what gets made these days, this seems like a layup of an idea?  Kate Cruz, Capeside, MA.  

A:  Was Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining a scientologist?  I think a movie like this would do very well, because there is so much mystery surrounding Scientology, and what you do hear about it only adds to the level of intrigue.  There are levels and thetans–it sounds an awful lot like science fiction.  I remember seeing the Dianetics commercial when I was a kid and to think that has somehow become the chosen religion of many stars is hard to believe.  What struck me about the commercial is that I had absolutely no idea what it was about.  That has not changed.  So, if someone made a movie about Scientology, I would probably watch just out of simple curiosity.  It’d be like unlocking the secrets of the Freemasons.  I think Tom Cruise really holds all the cards here.  If someone is going to make a movie about Scientology, it’ll be Tom.  And if he did there would have to be a reasonable chance that his “vision” got lost in translation.  The big reveal might be–Tom Cruise is out of his flippin’ mind.  

The Dozens Of Teams Ahead of the Phils in the Wild-Card Race.

Looking Up at the Pirates.

Moments of optimism may be few and far between for the Phils for the remainder of the season.  So sitting on a 3-game win streak, Roy Halladay off the DL against a minor league call-up, it feels like we should highlight this moment in case it’s our last chance.  Speculation has been rampant about how many wins the Phillies could need to secure the 2nd wild-card position in the National League.  When you stumble upon one of those numbers, be it 88, or 86, or 90–the math gets very bleak for the Phils.  To get to 86 wins the Phillies would have to go 46-25 the rest of the way, which is .647 baseball for a team that has played at a .440 clip to this point.  That sounds daunting, but there’s also the logjam of teams ahead of the Phils.  They don’t need one team to collapse like Atlanta did last year.  They need to pass most of the National League.  

The winning part of the equation is a given, the Phils pretty much have to win 2 of every 3,  what we don’t know is how the rest of the National League is going to hold up down the stretch.  Some surprising teams, some hot starts, have in my opinion artificially raised the profile of the National League.  There are still plenty of bad teams in the NL, several of which reside above the Phillies in the standings.  If these teams regress back to a more expected level of play, the task of making a wild-card run becomes a bit less daunting.  My point is, getting to 86 or 88 wins is going to be the hard part.  Let’s take a look at the teams residing above the Phillies (40-51) in the standings….

Milwaukee:  42-47 (3 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace:  76.  The Brewers are another playoff team from ’11 that’s taken a plunge.  The circumstances of being the Brewers, and not a big-market team makes a correction for Milwaukee unlikely.  If they trade away Greinke before the deadline, they’ll be lucky to get to 76 wins.  

Miami:  43-46 (4 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace: 78.  The Marlins were supposed to contend this year with their flashy free agent signings, but a dreadful June has put them in a Phillies-like hole.  We still don’t know how invested the Marlins really are.  There was word yesterday that the Marlins could end up selling off some big pieces (Josh Johnson, etc.) if things don’t turn around by the deadline.  No indication this is an 88-90 win team.  

Arizona: 43-46 (4 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace: 78.  Arizona is another team strapped by their small market status.  Last year’s good vibes have exploded like Ian Kennedy’s ERA.  Teams like Arizona and Milwaukee have trouble correcting bad starts, and they’re forced to keep a constant eye toward rebuilding.  There’s talk the D-Backs could even move Justin Upton.  They don’t look like serious contenders this year.

New York Mets: 46-43 (7 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace:  84.  The Mets were picked almost unanimously to finish last in the NL East.  They still have the same collection of talent.  They rode some “us against them,” David Wright’s monster year, and R.A. Dickey to a good 1st half.  But, they haven’t won since the All-Star Break and there’s no real reason to think the Mets can keep their heads above water.  

St Louis: 47-43 (7.5 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace:  85.  The Cardinals haven’t really missed Albert Pujols.  Carlos Beltran has stepped in with run production, and the Cardinals remain one of the better offensive teams in the league.  But without Chris Carpenter and without Adam Wainwright pitching like an ace, the Cardinals have had to rely on Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse to lead the pitching staff.  The competitive NL Central and their starting pitching will make it hard for the Cardinals to finish 2012 with another big run.  

Los Angeles:  48-43 (8 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace:  85.  The Dodgers have been mediocre since their torrid start.  They’ve suffered several key injuries, but you also have to wonder if their early record was a bit inflated.  As great as Matt Kemp is, he’s not going to have many months like he did in April.  The Dodgers are on the rise, and have an infusion of cash, but will they make a serious push this year?  LA’s fate could rest on who they can add at the deadline.  The lineup has some major holes.  

Pittsburgh:  2nd Wild-Card Position, 49-40 (10 Games Ahead of PHI).  Current Win Pace: 89 Wins.  So, here we have a 2nd wild-card team on pace for 89 wins, but are the Pirates really going to get to 89 wins?  Aside from McCutchen, they struggle offensively.  Their rotation has been pitching well above expectations.  The Pirates have held on longer than they did last year, but let’s remember they closed out 2011 nineteen games under .500 in August and September.  It will be difficult for Pittsburgh to maintain their current pace.  

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Those are the teams the Phillies would have to pass as of this morning to make the playoffs.  There’s very little track record of winning there.  There aren’t many teams positioned to add much help before the trade deadline.  You can easily make an argument that the Phillies would need a miracle to catch the red-hot Braves, or the Nationals, or whichever team emerges from the scrum to win the NL Central, but those are teams they do not have to catch.  Their opponents are mostly the rag-tag group that makes up the middle class of the NL.  I can’t picture the Phillies winning 90 games, and even 86 seems like a long, long shot given their form, but if they do happen to make a run–the 2nd wild-card spot could be there for the taking.