Are the Flyers playing for pride tonight or do they actually have a chance in this series? Down 3-1 to New Jersey, and down Claude Giroux, the team could certainly be in better position. I hope that this isn’t a pride game, because the Flyers have a poor history in such affairs in my revisionist memory. I remember completed sweeps, embarrassing losses, and getting ousted on home ice. When all that’s left is pride you’re usually woefully outgunned. It doesn’t seem like that should be the case with this series. The Flyers transformed themselves from fringe contenders to a legitimate threat with their throttling of Pittsburgh. The series with New Jersey has exposed many flaws–likely too many to overcome. So, if you sit down to watch the action tonight and the Flyers are getting beaten to every puck, if the Devils get out to an early lead–I’m afraid you’re watching a pride game. Prepare for the worst.
Is Charlie Manuel killing the Phillies? I’ve done my share of lamenting on Manuel. If you’d like a different voice, here’s a post and long line of comments complaining about Cholly over at Beerleaguer. It’s hard to rank this season’s, or even this last week’s most troubling losses. The bullpen seems to be the newest cause for concern, but last night every button Charlie pushed was wrong. It might be superficial to blame Charlie, but his decisions are the ones in front of us, and he always gives plenty of room for his doubters. Much of this season has been about the Phillies’ small margin for error, and you wonder if Charlie is the right guy to be pulling the strings in these tough situations. Last night Charlie fell back in love with the bunt.
In the 7th and 8th innings the Phillies got their first two men on base. In the 7th he took the bunt off for John Mayberry and the struggling OF failed to move the runners. The inning later ended on a Hunter Pence double play which was supplemented by Shane Victorino’s weekly abortion on the bases. In the 8th, after a Wigginton leadoff single, Manuel opted to bunt the team’s most productive hitter, Carlos Ruiz. When the Mets botched the bunt the Phillies were 1st and 2nd with no outs for the 2nd consecutive inning. At this point Manuel bunts Placido Polanco, one of the team’s hotter hitters who had blasted a double earlier in the night.
Polanco got the bunt down, but behind him were Freddy Galvis and the pitcher’s spot. OK, you thought, he’s going to pinch-hit for Galvis. Nope. I guess this is a spot where Manuel wanted to show faith in Galvis (but couldn’t you argue he didn’t show faith in Polanco to not GIDP). He has a couple of big hits this season, but he’s also hitting under .200. He hits very few fly balls deep enough to score Ty Wigginton. Galvis tapped back to the mound. After that came the signature Charlie move where he wastes his better bat off the bench. He sends Nix out only to see the pitcher get changed and then he’s left with call-up Eric Kratz as his last chance to get the big hit. Kratz struck out. For whatever reason, Manuel always seems to be one step behind the other managers. He bites at the easy jump in a checkers game, only to set up his opponent to go crisscrossing over a half-dozen checkers.
It’s certainly not all Manuel’s fault. Hunter Pence could have hit a sac-fly. So could have Galvis. And Papelbon got hit hard in the 9th anyway, but maybe Papelbon doesn’t look as rusty if he’s protecting a 1 or 2 run lead. Also, Charlie is responsible for Papelbon’s rust. After the game he seemed almost unaware that it had been a week since Papelbon pitched.
I think the biggest adjustment for Phillies’ fans this year is how the team has played in close games. They’ve already lost a half-dozen games in the 9th inning or later and in the past the Phils always scratched out those tight wins. They had the reliable bullpen. They came up with the unsung hero. Not this season. It’s turned what should probably be a team that’s a few games over .500 into a last place team that hasn’t been able to win three in a row. The troubling thing is, even if the Phillies start playing even better, you don’t envision many comfortable wins on the horizon. Can this bullpen, this bench and this manager still win the close ones?
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Phillies had an uber-prospect? A wunderkind? With the promotion of Bryce Harper, I suppose it’s time for a new prospect obsession. How does the name Dylan Bundy sit with you? Bundy and his obsessive health/workout/long-toss habits were recently featured in a Sports Illustrated piece. Bundy was drafted in the 1st round by the Orioles last summer and has quickly become the prize of the Minor Leagues. He did not allow a hit in his first 13 innings of work. He’s struck out 25 in 17 innings. He still has a 0.00 ERA. Opposing hitters are 1 for 50 off him. That’s not a typo. They’re hitting .020. As a high-school senior (last year) he was 11-0 with a .20 ERA and 158 Ks in 78 innings. Before games he often stretches out his long-tossing regimen to 400 feet. Long toss has been phased out in many organizations, but young phenoms like Bundy are helping to revive the practice. The Orioles still have Bundy on a strict pitch count, however, but you wonder how much longer they’ll be able to keep Bundy toiling in the Sally League.
I meant to post this yesterday as my Derby follow-up, but it slipped my mind. Perhaps you heard that I’ll Have Another took home the rose blanket. For accuracy, that’s I’ll Have Another (cookie) not I’ll have Another (Vodka wave the Cran-Wand). That’s the owner’s story, anyway. The shame of the Derby is, it’s just become a spectacle. Unless I’ll Have Another threatens the Triple Crown no one will remember this horse a couple of months from now. What will we remember–Tom Brady’s dazzling sartorial choices, of course. Should have known he’d go no hat. Ultimate power move.