Phils Hire Vasco Da Gama to Explore for Good News.

In Search of the Lesser Achilles.

Well, Roy Halladay is serving up home runs like Bert Blyleven this spring.  Two more today to the Twins in what was another rough outing.  Roy didn’t make it out of the third inning.  I’m not going to get panicky about Roy Halladay, but we’re getting close to the time of Spring Training where we won’t be able to shrug off such a performance.  According to Halladay and other observers it’s been mostly a location issue.  His last two outings have reminded me of poor Cliff Lee starts from 2011.  You could tell right away that Lee didn’t have it, balls were moving into the center of the plate–that type of thing.  The great thing about Halladay has been that even his off days don’t get away from him.  He hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding over the last week.  Not a huge deal, but there will be more eyes than usual on Halladay’s next start.

I’m going to get all the negative stuff out of the way at the start and then finish with a flurry of optimism.  Next up on the cringe list?  Jimmy Rollins’ assessment of Ryan Howard’s Achilles tendon.  Rollins offered the most pessimistic viewpoint of Howard to date on Wednesday, wondering if Howard would play at all this season.  He also added that you could forget about the 1st two months.  I’m sure the Phillies will be thrilled with J-Roll’s candid opinion.  When I saw Howard go down to end last season my initial thought was say goodbye to 2012, but eventually I got caught up in all the “ahead of schedule” stuff like everyone else.  It now appears that Phillies fans will need to get used to the sight of someone other than Howard manning 1st base.

Rollins went on to other some grim thoughts on Chase Utley.  As we know, Utley has yet to appear in a Spring Training game and with Opening Day three weeks away that is getting a little troubling.  A lot of the regulars have already gotten a good 25 ABs.  Utley will be able to get a lot of at-bats in minor league games to catch up some, but is that the ideal preparation?  I think most fans would be more comfortable if Chase had played once a week so far, just to show his face.  Now you have to think about whether he’s had a flare in the knee, or if all the talk about being much better off than last year was just bluster.

Ok–Enough of That.  Plenty of good from Phillies camp as well.  At least we don’t have Chipper Jones, who by all accounts looks horrific, like Joe Namath in a Rams uniform.

1.  Vance Worley had a dazzling 2nd start.  If the Phillies do go into a worst-case scenario mode on offense, they’ll need great pitching to carry them through until Howard comes back or until they can maybe make a move at the deadline.  The big-3 might not be enough, the Phillies will need some wins out of Worley and Blanton and early signs on their form have been encouraging.

2.  Carlos Ruiz is hitting .600ish.  Ruiz has been very limited in his action, but he’s spraying the ball all over the field.  If Ruiz can be the guy who is one of the team leaders in OBP and can hit in that .280 range, it’ll be a huge bonus.

3.  Placido Polanco looks 100 times better than he did at the end of last season.  He’s also been spraying base hits to all fields, which is, what Polanco does.

4.  Those who were concerned about Juan Pierre’s ability to hold up as a 4th/5th outfielder or even start in left if necessary can shift their focus to Scott Podsednik.  Podsednik is having the kind of spring that Pierre wishes he was having, and if he’s worst case scenario for a bench outfielder–it could be much worse.

5.  Dom Brown has continued to struggle in the field, but has shaken the funk that engulfed him at the plate at the end of last season.  Brown has hit several balls hard of late, including a long home run on Tuesday.  It appears that Brown might be returning to prospect form at the plate.  Whether he’ll ever master left field remains to be seen.

 

Live Blog Coming, Wheels on the Wind.

Mikey Mart Can Boot Balls With His Eyes Closed.

Two games into Spring Training and the only Phillie in mid-season form is Wheels.  There are certain things that Wheels loves talking about.  He’s a bit like one of those automated things you see at a museum or Zoo or something.  Every time a new person walks over and pushes the button he goes off on the same spiel.  A little known fact about Wheeler is his fondness for talking about wind.  He’s a bit of a weather buff, who catches a chill any time the mercury dips below 84 degrees, but wind is his true calling.  I’m honestly surprised he didn’t land the role opposite Matthew Modine in the movie Wind.  What does Jennifer Grey have that Wheels doesn’t?  Anyway, whether it be Wrigley Field or the blustery confines of a Grapefruit League Park, Wheels is on the edge of his seat waiting to say, “It’s going to be one of those days here…”

That’s Wheels’ speak for windy.  And, windy means WACKY.  One Hunter Pence home run on Saturday and Wheels was chuckling like a madman and all but guaranteeing a 19-18 final.  Then no one scored for about 4 innings. Wacky. Things have a way of getting a little tedious and dull during Spring Training, so to liven things up for myself, I’m going to Live Blog the first few innings  this afternoon.  It is Joe Blanton’s debut.  I think the game is on TV.  We’ll see.  So, check back at 1 pm for some WAY TO EARLY Spring Training thoughts.

Ok, getting ready to start here.  Pineda vs. Blanton.  A bit of a mismatch.  Those of you still holding onto the belief that if Blanton has a strong Spring the Phillies will be able to move him will want to pay close attention to this one.  Good news is, Mikey Mart will not be behind Blanton today.  Thanks to the MLB Network for reminding me yesterday that Martinez hit .196 last year.  One Ninety-Six.  At least he can field…

Top 1st–

Wind’s down.  This game will be slightly less cray-zee.  Also, we’ve got ourselves a Placido Polanco sighting.  The head looks as big as ever.  Another of Wheelz’ interests?  “High Sky.”  Granderson grounds out to Wigginton at 1st.  You know who looks great at 1st?  Mayberry.  Guy’s a defensive savant.  Smooth top of the 1st for Joe.  Let’s get some AL teams on the horn.  We’ll pay 3.5 million of his salary…

Bottom 1st–

Anyone else hoping the Mariners get the better of this Pineda deal?  Polanco’s tombstone “Prototypical 2-hole Hitter.”  Wheeler obsession part III–Times to the plate.  According to Wheels, “Pineda looks like a 1.3, 1.4 to the plate.”  Wheels can distinguish tenths of seconds with his naked eye.  Here comes Jim Thome.  As my 13 Twitter followers know, I’m very high on Hunter Pence this year.  Thome?  Not so much.  Thome strikes out to end the inning with Rollins on 2nd.

Top 2nd–

I’m reading the Mets owe another 83 million for their Ponzi involvement.  Where are the Mets getting 83 million?  How long until China owns the Mets?  Eric Chavez, according to Hollywood, the 8th or 9th most important guy on the Moneyball A’s leads off the 2nd with a quick 3-1 putout.  Blanton breezes through the 2nd, he’s throwing a lot of ground balls.  Odd.  I’d go ahead and get him out of there.

Bottom 2nd–

Here’s Hunter Pence who appears to be in violent, flailing mid-season form.  That’s how we like him, but Pineda gets him to pop-up to 1st.  Dom Brown lines out to 3rd.  Hopefully that’s the end of Pineda’s day.  I’ve seen enough.  Scott Elarton is coming into the game for the Phillies. Is this the same Scott Elarton that won 19 games for Houston when I was in High School?  Yep, it is.  Between Elarton, Piniero and Bush the Phillies could have a buy one 6th starter, get 2 free sale.

Top 3rd–

According to Wheels, Utley has learned to “gear himself down.”  Must be the new baby.  On cue, McCarthy mentions the kid.  Elarton is 36 and threw 0 innings anywhere last year.  Wheels is an expert on what everyone used to be.  “At one time, Elarton had a REALLY heavy sinker.”  “At one time, he could REALLY run.”  “At one time, I had my own hair.”  Three up, three down for Elarton.  All ground balls.  Perhaps that sinker still has some heft.

Bottom 3rd–

Brian Schneider leads off the 3rd.  I’d rather have a backup catcher with more stick.  McCarthy says Schneider hit a long home run today…in BP.  He pops out to left.  Kevin Fransden pops out to 1st.  Fransden is one of about a dozen guys I have on my depth chart ahead of Michael Martinez.  Rollins is also expecting a kid, well, his wife is expecting.  Wheels loves his fatherly potential.  He’s got a 4.7 WAR in Dadability.  Rollins walks and has been on base both times today.  RBI single Polanco after Rollins steals 2nd and 3rd!  Phils lead, 1-0.  SMALL BALL!!!!

Top 4th–

More Elarton.  Here’s Nick Swisher, star of How I Met Your Mother.  Another ground out to 1st.  Elarton is the new Brandon Webb.  According to Sarge, “The Phillies still aren’t squaring up enough balls.”  Sarge, go organize your hats, it’s the 3rd day.  Elarton breezes through the 4th.  Warming up in the Phillies bullpen:  Pat Rapp, Wilson Alvarez, and Carlos Perez.  Kidding.

Bottom 4th–

Thome has adopted Utley’s practice of taking ground balls on a chair.  I don’t understand how this helps.  Seeing hops?  Long double into the gap for Thome.  I should clarify my earlier statement, I don’t like Thome as a pinch-hitter.  If we had a DH in the NL, I’d be good with him.  Brown hits another ball hard the other way.  He certainly doesn’t look “lost.”  I’m ready for Mayberry at 1st and Brown in LF.  I’m underwhelmed by Nix.  Phils rip three balls in the inning, but get nothing out of it.  I think I have one more inning in me.  First sign of Hector Luna and I’m out.

Top 5th–

Austin Hyatt in for the Phillies in the 5th.  I’m losing steam.  Nick Swisher just stole 2nd.  Does he have a Spring Training steals incentive clause?  Laynce Nix has a brother.  Jason.  Or excuse me, JaYson.  Obviously.  Sac-Fly for Nix, perhaps the family felt short-changed in the last name category so they started adding arbitrary “ys” to their first names.  Sisters: MaYgen, AYmy, and ShaYron.  Hyatt escapes the 5th without further damage, we’re locked at 1-1.

Bottom 5th–

The Phillies “on-deck” series this year is April 2nd and 3rd against Pittsburgh.  Tickets still available.  Yankees going to Dan Burawa for the 5th.  You have no idea who that is.  I could have said the Yankees have gone with Dusty Pennypacker for the 5th and you would have no idea.  We’ve derailed.  Rollins rips a single off the 1st baseman’s glove.  He’s 2 for 2.  GREAT APPROACH.  Base-hit Polanco. Flare.  Right-center.  I’m worried about a “Polanco Shift” where all outfielders stand 225 feet away from home plate.  Victorino grounds into DP to end it.  DANG it Shane.  OK Phils, finish strong.  I’m out.

 

It’s President’s Day.

Act Accordingly.

President’s Day always sneaks up on me a bit.  I’m not sure what that says about my respect for the office.  It’s definitely the holiday I’m most likely to show up at bank, or a post office and get a little surprise.  I think President’s Day needs a gimmick.  There are no gifts.  No candy.  No fireworks.  No grilling.  No fictional character.  And, depending on who you talk to, no revisionist history.  That’s boring.   Anyway, let me get this over with before I hit up Obama for a quick nine.  All that guy does is play golf.  

***

Cole Hamels press conference at 1 pm today on Comcast and CSNPhilly.  Tune in to read between the lines.  I’m not sure the fan base can handle a full season of Hamels speculation.  That is, if Hamels pitches well.  If he throws in a couple bad starts the standard Hamels distaste will seep in (People from California are Weird) and we’ll be fine with a wait and see approach.  Let the Yankees have him.  He’s no Cliff Lee.  I’m expecting Hamels to have a good year, though, which means heightening pressure on Ruben Amaro.  I think there’s a 25% chance the Phillies definitely don’t have the money for Hamels, Ruben just doesn’t know how to say it yet.  

The Phillies seem very aware of the luxury tax for this season and next, shaving a few hundred thousand off the payroll here and there.  The Valdez trade, adding a year to Kendrick’s deal (why sign Kendrick for 1 year when you can sign him for two?), all this points to the payroll having a definite ceiling.   I’m just not sure the Phils are ready to dump 160 million on Cole and wait for the fabled “TV money” to kick in.  Anyway, listen to the press conference.  Maybe Cole sets a deadline for negotiations, hints at going to the highest bidder, who knows.  Just remember his creepy West Coast voice does not impact his pitching.  

***

Roy Halladay bought Jamie Moyer's 1st Car.

The most interesting things to happen in Spring Training so far (DAY 2–get pumped) are new closer Johnny Paps gifting Antonio Bastardo a Rolex in exchange for #58 and Roy Halladay showing up to the complex in this 1932 Ford.  If some superstar wanted my number I’d be a TOTAL d*ck about it.  I’d say things like, “Oh, baby wants his number?”  Then I’d demand insane ransoms.  What am I going to do with a watch?  In all seriousness, I think I’d give up the number for nothing or not give it up at all.  Do you want to walk around all year with “that watch that Paps bought you,” on your wrist?  That seems odd.  As for Roy, I’m not totally comfortable with him having any interests outside of baseball.  You like cars?  Does that interfere with your plyometrics, Roy?  I better not see Auto Trader on your iPad when you should be looking at video of hitters.  I’m going to let this go for now, but the next time I see Roy, he better be behind the wheel of something a little more nondescript.  

***

Raul Ibanez to the Yankees for Laynce Nix money and Roy Oswalt is still without a team.  Oswalt is throwing off a real Favre vibe all of a sudden.  Look at the timeline.  He doesn’t know if he’s going to play at all.  Then he is going to play.  He’s drastically overestimated his own value.  He won’t play for certain teams.  He’s not in a hurry to sign anywhere–why would some guy who has trouble staying healthy need Spring Training?  I guess we’ll always owe Roy for that hot stretch to close out 2010, but he never quite sat right with me for some reason.  It’ll be interesting to see where he finally ends up.  I’m sure Ruben is still trying to figure out how to afford the guy.  

***

Philly Mick, the old swashbuckler, the man who brings that goofy grin to your living room every weekend kept me on the chilly periphery of picking golf winners.  After Thursday Phil had very little going on, especially with the putter.  An event he could have (should have?) won going away ended up in a playoff only because of dueling 18th hole heroics by the left-hander and Keegan Bradley.  I’ll say the tail-end of 5 straight weeks could have sapped Phil’s closing ability, but it was still a good stretch of golf for a guy who was supposed to be cooked a few weeks ago.  My takeaway from the weekend was the strong U.S. showing.  Three Americans in the playoff, and several others playing well.  This is great fuel for my anti-Euro bent, especially with the World Match Play coming this week.  Here are the brackets.  I’m sure the experts will be heavily invested in Rory, Luke, Marty Kaymer, but they’ve had their day.  I’m ready for an All-American final.  Let’s take this b*tch over like Wimbledon in ’99.  

***

The Flyers are trying to corner the market on 3rd and 4th defensemen.  They traded for Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina over the weekend.  This came on the heels of a 6-4 thrashing at the hands of Pittsburgh on Saturday.  The Flyers have also been linked to Rick Nash.  To this point, the Flyers haven’t mortgaged any of their young stars in these deals.  Typical Flyers M.O. right now would be to swiftly send Schenn, Courturier, JVR and Read out of town for some veteran like Nash.  I’m praying that doesn’t happen.  This is not the year for the Flyers.  I said on my wildly unpopular Twitter feed (If I don’t hit a million followers by Thursday, I’m quitting) that the Flyers are just trading for the sake of trading at this point.  Their issues go deeper than a fix that Grossman or Kubina could bring.  

***

All right, that’s it for now.  As the great Keith High says, “Happy Holidays.”  

 

Spring Advice for Phillies Fans:

Keep It Old School.

As the days tick by here we’re starting to see some baseball stories with substance.  You have to understand these writers have been sitting on their Spring Training Previews for a couple of months now, waiting impatiently to unleash them.  In the meantime, there’s been a lot of  “Jim Thome’s a Nice Guy,” and “Shane Victorino is on Hawaii Five-O” stories floating around.  Well, all of that is either coming to and end or has already ended.  No more fluff.  Pretty soon it’s going to be, “What Kind of Team Do We Have Here?”  My advice is, if you want to remain in good spirits, if you want to enjoy the ride a little bit this year instead of wrapping yourself into a taut ball of expectation–I’d be careful what stories you digest.  I have a feeling the national media, the SABR guys and pretty much everyone with access to Baseball Prospectus is going to be a bit down on your Philadelphia Phillies.

This is a team that is built more on names than numbers right now.  There’s not a single Phillies position player in the top-30 Fantasy projection at ESPN.  A few years back there would have been three or four Phillies manning spots in the early rounds of mock drafts.  Now, the highest regarded everyday Phillie is Hunter Pence.  Not even a member of that famous core (Utley, Rollins, Howard) that made up perhaps the best Phillies offense ever.  No, the Phillies have too many veterans, have too many guys battling injuries to rate highly in fantasy circles.  When you feed all those ages into a computer, 33, 32, 31, 35, it’s almost impossible to come up with a positive trend.

Last week there was an article at FanGraphs titled, Is the Phillies Offense Good Enough?  It’s an interesting article.  It’s one that supports my belief that the Phillies had a solid offense long before they were true contenders.  Now, there’s a lot of stats on the page, plenty of numbers you won’t see on the back of an old baseball card, but the overall theme seems to be that the Phillies offense has been getting worse for some time, and that is only going to continue.  Among the advanced metric guys you hear a lot about the stat, “Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).”  It’s one of the metrics that is used to measure “luck,” and therefore is one of favorites.  I love the quantification of luck.

Every player has an “expected” number for the BABIP and an actual number.  If you’re expected number is .305 and your actual is .340 you are considered to be on an incredibly lucky streak and a slump is right around the corner.  Hunter Pence hit .360 on balls in play last year.  This is considered an unsustainable number, but it was also considered an unsustainable number at the trade deadline last year and then Pence came to Philadelphia and performed even better.

BABIP is not always right as you can see, but it’s a good indication of how unbiased modern projections and stats can be.  You don’t get any bonus points for being Chase Utley.  A player is reduced down to a point where their name no longer exists, and it’s just their numbers.  My stance is, the Phillies could use the benefit of some name recognition.  In the coming weeks there will be more stories like the one at FanGraphs.  I imagine the Phillies preview written by the stat-heads at Grantland will be quite ominous.  I expect the Braves and Marlins (maybe even the Nationals) to be trendy upset picks in the NL East.  Of course, that was partially the case last year and the Phillies still slugged out 102 wins.

This is a team in dire need of an old-school, nostalgia prone sportswriter.  Of course, the Phillies writer that fits that description resigned in a cloud of shame, disgrace and controversy, so I’m not sure there is a true source for the type of story I’m talking about.  Will anyone predict a bounce back season for Chase Utley simply because he at one point was Chase Bleepin’ Utley?  Will anyone treat us to a glorious lede like, “Call me crazy, but I think the Phillies invited Ponce de Leon to camp this Spring.”  This Phillies is team is good mostly because they just are and have been.  How do I know they’re going to win games?  Because that’s what they do.  They win games.  Just don’t go looking for too many numbers to prove it.

 

Into The Weekend.

Blake Griffin: Coming Live Tonight to Elton Brand's Head.

A lot of keystrokes have been spilled lamenting the loss of the NFL season.  The NFL is so penetrating that it dominates the landscape even when it departs the scene for seven months.  Well, what are we supposed to do now?  The internet this week was full of people writing eulogy type pieces lamenting the loss of their Sunday fun.  I play into this a little bit.  The NFL certainly provides plenty of material.  I think I’m going to be all right, though.  I don’t feel myself missing the football.  Maybe it’s because football in Philadelphia has actually been over for about six weeks.  For the true die-hards, for those who cannot function without “Shefty” there will be mock drafts and Peyton Manning speculation.  For the rest of us, a guide to the weekend…

***

I think a Sixer is going to get dunked on tonight.  Possibly in a dramatic manner.  But, the beauty of the Sixers is that is all part of their game.  They never have the leading scorer, the leading rebounder, or the most famous guy on the court, but they win some games.  The Clippers tonight provide them a chance to bounce back from Wednesday’s loss to the Spurs and pull off the rare L.A. double.  I actually think beating the Clippers would be more impressive than beating Kobe.  I also have on good authority from a Sixers insider that Elton Brand and Blake Griffin have a bit of “thing,” so keep your eyes open for that one.  Sixers games, according to more than one article, are becoming the place to be.  Ticket prices bear that out.  If you want to see the Sixers play someone other than the Wiz or the Kings, it’s going to cost a nice chunk of change to sit in a decent seat.  How quickly things change.  Sixers favored by 3.5 tonight.  LAY THOSE POINTS. 

***

I wish I had known Dustin Johnson was going to shoot 63 in the opening round when I took Tiger to win yesterday.  Talk about horses for courses.  Johnson made Pebble Beach look like your standard 6,000 yd. Muni.  It wasn’t a total jinx, though.  Tiger managed a 68 at Spyglass Hill, the toughest of the courses being used in the “National Pro-Am.”  I partially blame Romo.  The lauded scratch golfer apparently had trouble breaking 80 from the pedestrian tees and contributed just one birdie.  Not acceptable.  Tony and Tiger get the more vulnerable Shore Course at Monterrey today.  Time to make that move.  The odds on Tiger have actually gone up after the day-one birdie binge.  He’s sitting at 9/2.  Don’t have to tell you guys, I liked him at 4/1, love him at 9/2. 

***

The Phillies equipment truck has left for Florida.  Pitchers and Catchers can be on whatever day you’d like, but for all intents and purposes Spring Training is underway.  Several players are already in Florida.  And, baseball is a year-round endeavor.  The days of guys spending the winter in Sears Hardware selling appliances and packing on 15 lbs of beer weight were over about 40 years ago.  Aside from your occasional ode to the past by guys like Brett Myers, Joba, Panda and Miggy Cabrera all these guys show up on day one in great shape.  It actually makes the lead-up to the first exhibition games even more pointless.  So, I’m going to have to ask for some more patience.  Settle down, and go back to reading your Oswalt rumors. 

***

Grammys are this Sunday.  I imagine that’s going to be 3 hours of Adele walking to the podium, back to her seat, over to the stage, back to the podium, etc.  Can someone explain to me the difference between song of the year and record of the year?  Or whatever those two things are that give an award for the same thing.  Adele is 1/9 to pick up album of the year.  ONE TO NINE.  That’s like Secretariat at the Belmont territory.  This thing is over.  There’s no real drama or value in award show betting.  Take my word for it.

***

New Conversation Heart Slogans:

  1. Nice Tweets
  2. You’re in my Cloud
  3. Siri Picked These Out
  4. Cage Free
  5. Pinterested