Kendrick Getting Shelled–Phils One Step From Open Tryouts.

Jeremy Horst? If You Say So.

I don’t want to hear any more griping about the Phillies’ offense.  The bats are hardly bulletproof, but the pitching is so bad right now, complaining about not getting in guys from third feels like a waste of time.  When you give up 11 runs, you’re not going to win many games.  When your bullpen is the worst in the league and consists almost entirely of minor league arms, you aren’t going to win many games.  Kyle Kendrick is currently offering up the latest in a long line of poor starting pitching efforts.  He gives up two bombs and five runs before a Phillie even stepped in the batter’s box.

This was to be a pretty big game this afternoon.  A win means a 6-4 home stand, which sounds an awful lot better than 5-5.  If you can go 6-4, you can talk yourself into a positive frame of mind.  A .500 record feels like a wasted week and a half.  Of course, two days ago the Phils were sitting at 5-3 on the home stand and faced with an interesting decision.  Should they call up an arm, any arm, from the minor leagues to start the game, or should they turn it over to the bullpen.  There was no obvious choice in the minors, but the Phillies possess the worst bullpen in the NL.  They had to come back today with an ice-cold Kyle Kendrick.  It’s almost like they didn’t want to acknowledge the likely outcome.

You could say the same thing in regard to the decision to call up Jeremy Horst and Brian Sanches.  The Phillies sent Joe Savery back to AAA and designated Chad Qualls for assignment.  That’s fancy baseball speak for, “we can’t trade you and we don’t want you.”  Qualls could end up in Lehigh, or he could be gone.  Either way, his role of setting 7th innings on fire will fall to someone else.  It likely won’t be Horst or Sanches, both of whom feel like a couple of new crash test dummies straight from the box.  The Phillies aren’t really hoping that these guys are going to turn into reliable setup men, are they?

I’m sure they’re not, but it’s just reflective of how few options they have right now.  The combination of injuries (Stutes, Contreras, Herndon) and ineffectiveness (Qualls, Savery, Schwimer) has the Phils searching for an answer that might not exist within the organization.  So, if they don’t make a deal or two, they might start sending guys with JUGGS guns around to your local ball field.  Work on your breaking pitches.

Back To Its Original Time Slot — The Mid-Week Mailbag.

Yoga Bitch.

Welcome back to the picture bag.  It feels good to be back, and even on a Wednesday.  Is it getting a little dusty in here? Before we get back to the bag (with even more photos), last night I sampled Rich & Dan’s Rye IPA from Harpoon.  Considering the amount of beer I drink, I don’t think it would be possible for me to know less about hops and various other ingredients.  Pretty much every time I open a beer I’m thinking, am I going to like this more than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?  The answer has always been “no.”  But, Harpoon’s Rye IPA is pretty tasty, and certainly better than most of the standard summer fare, which I find repugnant.  Anyway, enough on beer, back to your pictures and questions…

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Hotels in Hungary Offer…Teeth Whitening?

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From BK (Not Surprisingly, Slightly Edited for Content):

I Choke Leopard Like This. He Die. I Make Pants.

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Q:  This may sound a bit crotchety, but what is up with referring to winning titles as “chips?”  The people know the word is not Champion-chip, right?  Or, don’t they?  Donald Lieberry, Tampa, FL.

A:  Honestly?  They might not.  I remember the first time I heard this term.  I was surrounded by several young loopers at the time and they were talking about college basketball.  One of them said a certain team, “had a chip.”  Now, I wasn’t really listening to the conversation, it was background noise as caddy banter tends to be, but this term stopped me in my tracks.   I said, “They have a what?”  The kid repeated himself, “a chip.”  Now, I’m paraphrasing, but I think I said, “The f*ck’s a chip?”  I’m 99% sure he answered, “Champion-chip.”  I stood there for a second, thought about my options, and then just walked away.  Sometimes, it’s best to LET IT GO.  The good news was, I didn’t hear this again until we started discussing LeBron 24/7.  LeBron needed his “chip.”  Everyone started saying it and I’ll admit that it started bothering me more and more.  I would like to be crotchety with you, sir.  Shortening things that don’t need to be shortened bothers me, shortening them incorrectly is even more maddening.  If championship is too difficult for you, how about RING?  Why chip?  My only explanation is that there are a lot more Josh Waitzkin fans out there then we ever knew.  I’M OFFERING YOU A DRAW.  

Q:  How come the Phillies haven’t been involved in any bench clearing brawls this season?  Boring!  Robin, Ventura, CA.  

A:  It was last August 5th when Shane Victorino and the Phillies threw down with the San Francisco Giants.  As far as modern brawls go, it was a pretty good one.  LIVELY.  The base-brawl is really a part of Americana. If you remember, I once discussed them at length and described the different roles that each player has in the scrum.  The best part about your basic bench-clearing affair is that they are exciting and they very rarely end in any type of serious injury.  I think more players get hurt punching inanimate objects.   You see, when a guy goes down the tunnel and attacks the bat rack, he’s actually pissed.  In a brawl, 90% of the time, he’s just running around looking for someone to grab.  You need animosity for a good brawl, and a lot of people think the modern players are too CHUMMY with the opponents.  Why fight when you can glad hand and bro-hug before the game?   The closest the Phillies came this year was probably the Hamels/Harper debacle, but that never materialized into a fight probably because Hamels is a weirdo and Harper is 19.  The question is, would a brawl help bring this team together?  In hockey, guys pick fights to try to swing the momentum.  Worth a shot in baseball?  We could always drill McCutchen in the ribs tonight and see what happens.  

Q:  Do you think putting individual players into the Hall of Fame was a mistake?  Wouldn’t our lives be so much easier if we just had some Pete Rose memorabilia in the HOF, but we didn’t have to debate whether or not to put a plaque of him in there, etc. etc.  Preston E. Donahue, Rye, NY.  

A:  I think this is an advanced position on the “Museum Argument,” which is essentially the Hall of Fame exists for the fans to preserve the history of the game and to provide a place where that history can be displayed.  Is there really a need for the Hall of Fame to become a moral arbiter?  It’s easy to see your point when you hear things like Bert Blyleven has come out and said that Roger Clemens should not be in the Hall of Fame.  Really, Bert?  Here’s a guy that spent years trying to get in the damn place and now he’s trying to limit his company.  How about you just be quiet and be thankful you finally wore down the voters?  When the Hall of Fame started it probably felt like such a great idea, a no-brainer.  Babe Ruth?  SURE!  But what has happened is the HOF has become a misery for a certain type of player.  The borderline guy.  A guy like Derek Jeter probably never thinks about the Hall of Fame, because he knows he’s getting in when he retires.  It’s great, but it’s probably not on his mind.  Same goes for someone like, oh, I don’t know…Joe Blanton.  Blanton knows he has NO SHOT, so no big deal.  But for fringe guys, guys like Blyleven, it’s this excruciating yearly event.  Do I get to attach “HOF” to my autograph?  It must eat at you.  It’s going to kill a guy like Jamie Moyer.  If we could go back in time and take the individual players out of the Hall, I think you might really be onto something.  Because if you are such a part of the game’s history, you’re going to show up in Cooperstown in some form and if that’s how it was from the start, maybe it would be enough, but unfortunately we can’t go back.  Get ready for more years of debate on Clemens, Rose, Bonds, etc.

Q:  Is it a violation to get chicken fingers as an appetizer, or a chicken quesadilla as an appetizer if you’re going to have chicken for your meal?  Chick Pollo, Boise, ID

A:  So, you want to walk into Chili’s, have a chicken quesadilla TO START, and then have the chicken finger platter as your meal?  You know what, I’m FINE with that.  It’s a little odd, but hey, sometimes you just have that need for chicken.  I try my best not to judge what people eat.  I might say, “Oh my god, that looks terrible and I would never eat that–ever.”  But at the same time, I’m thinking, my goodness I sure hope YOU enjoy it.  I also think I might have doubled up on the chicken in my life.  Maybe in some type of “group appetizer” scenario.  You know, THE SAMPLER?  Maybe I had a finger or two before a chicken sandwich.  It can happen pretty easily.  You know who completely blows this rule out the water?  Pizza places.  What you might like before your pizza?  Cheesy bread sticks.  AKA, pizza in stick form.  So go ahead and enjoy your double chicken friend, hold your head high. And get back to me if you can ever incorporate chicken into a third course.  Then, you’ve got something.  

Q:  I saw the other day that McDonald’s is changing their uniforms–how do you feel about walking into Mickey D’s and seeing a guy in a skinny tie?  What do you think the employees think about this change?  Mick Nugget, Oakland, CA.

A:  I can’t remember being in a McDonald’s recently.  I’m picturing black pants?  Do they wear visors?  I feel like the big, foam-brimmed visor might actually be back in style now?  Let’s take a moment to peruse the McDonald’s unis past and present:

There’s the Visor!

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The New: Great Use of Brown.

Ok, that’s not exactly what I was expecting in the new uniforms.  Is this really what they’re going to be wearing in your basic, Middle America McDonald’s?  I can see someone saying, “Give me my dadgum nuggets before I shove that dipsh*t painter’s hat up your butt, corn cob.”  It seems that only the bigwigs will be in the skinny ties, though, which is a relief.  I think if I do ever return to a McDonald’s I’m not going to be in the mood to see a high school kid in sloppily thrown together hipster attire.  Uniforms are really a funny thing.  Depending on your job or your point of view, you could be striving for the uniform or striving to get out of the damn thing.  I’ve never had to wear a uniform for work (at least not in the strictest sense) and I am thankful for this, because your basic, everyday retail uniform seems to have those black pants I mentioned before.  I assume this is so you can wear them Monday through Friday with no worries, but I hate black pants.  Can’t tell you why, it’s just another one of my THINGS.  I did have a pair of black jeans back in the day, but that’s some history I’d like to revise.  

Q:  Phillies fans have been a little ornery this year.  The booing has become an almost nightly occurrence at The Bank.  To my knowledge, Chase Utley has never been booed by his home fans, but apparently he received a smattering of boos in Clearwater after a late-inning strikeout.  Is there any way Utley, set to return, faces the wrath of the fans?  Boo Radley, Maycomb, AL.

A:  The other day before Jim Thome hit his walk-off home run, Papelbon blew his first save of the season.  He gave up two runs in the ninth and was greeted with boos as he walked off the field.  I was listening to the game on the radio and Larry Anderson was pretty annoyed with the fans, saying they shouldn’t be booing a guy who had been so consistent up to that point.  What LA didn’t mention is that the boos weren’t necessarily directed at Papelbon.  He was taking the brunt, but the boos down at the stadium this season have been more a reflection of the general condition of the team.  Everyone knows Papelbon had been perfect in save situations to that point, but when faced with yet another blown game, what are the fans supposed to do?  I think the booing of Utley in Clearwater was a similar occurrence.  Fans are trying to show their displeasure in any way they can.  That said, coming back to Philly from the DL is a far different situation than a A-ball rehab game.  Utley will be showered with adoration, as is the custom, tonight and into the near future.  I once ranked the players in terms of how bulletproof they were with the fans.  Lee and Utley were at the top of the list, but they’ve since been bumped by Chooch.  Ruiz is the new gold-standard.  This is what happens when Utley spends months on the DL.  Cliff Lee has been pushing his luck, but even a terrible month hasn’t led to any boos.  I’d say Utley has a pretty long leash, but if he does end up getting booed–that’s the point when you probably know for sure that the season is over.  

*Note*–I received a question this week about what game show I’d like to be on.  I actually addressed this with a full post way back in the early days.  So, instead of repeating myself for those with great memories and to be sure I don’t contradict myself, if that question interests you, check out the old post.

Utley May Be Philly’s Last Shot.

Chase Didn’t Exactly Tear Up Clearwater.

Wednesday.  That could be the day.  Chase Utley will spend Tuesday night playing for the Iron Pigs and then if all goes well could join the Phillies for the last two games of the Pirates series.  Chase will be returning to a scene far more grim than the one he encountered last year when the 1st place Phillies were struggling offensively, but on the whole, were still one of the best teams in the National League.

When Utley returned last season, I joked that he would be asked to carry out a Winston Wolfe style fixing job.  You’ve got a baseball team minus an offense, in a clubhouse, take me to it.  On the whole, Utley did a pretty good job with that task last season.  With his return and with the addition of Hunter Pence, the Phillies scored plenty of runs from June through the end of the regular season.  Utley’s individual stats were not gaudy, but that was hardly the point, the team just played differently when you put him in the lineup instead of Michael Martinez.

If Utley was given a tall order when returning to a first place team last season, what he faces this year is either monumental or insurmountable.  The Phillies are firmly in last-place.  Much of their troubles don’t seem to fall into a category that Chase Utley could fix.  To be blunt, Utley doesn’t pitch.  Yesterday’s double-header loss to the Rays showed exactly the kind of team the Phillies have become.  In a tough pitcher’s duel, the Phillies scratched out a slim lead, only to see it tossed away by the bullpen.  Then, given a chance to tie the score, they couldn’t get that final big hit.  In the nightcap, Cliff Lee continued his terrible June and the Phils looked lifeless and defeated from the start.

Before losing his patience with the media yesterday, Charlie Manuel made the comment that the Phillie were not pitching well enough to put together a winning streak.  On the surface, that is true.  A team that puts together a winning streak finds a way to beat Tampa 1-0, or 2-1 in that opening game yesterday.  They get an occasional shutout from Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.  They have lockdown 7th and 8th inning guys.  The Phillies get none of that, so they can’t go three days in a row without a starter getting lit up, or watching a AAA reliever play kerosene man in the late innings.

The worst part about this pitching situation is that there doesn’t appear to be a quick solution.  The Phillies could use several bullpen arms.  They need Halladay back and they need Lee to start pitching like the streaky Lee of last summer.  Again, Chase Utley has nothing to do with this, but if you look a little deeper, take a bit of an optimist’s view, you could look at the Phillies as not a team without pitching (though that is a huge problem), but as a team that has played all season without a rudder.  The Phillies can’t get out of their way, and if you want to remain hopeful for the 2nd half of this season, you want to believe that is because they haven’t had anyone step up and take the reins, drag the team back onto the right course.

If that’s true, if the Phillies aren’t quite as bad as they look, then they are suffering from a colossal lack of leadership.  That would fall into the lap of people like Jimmy Rollins and Charlie Manuel.  Manuel, a noted player’s manager, hasn’t been able to motivate or to relax his players this season–two of his supposed strong suits.  Manuel’s latest tirade, after a loss in Toronto, hasn’t helped the results on the field.  The players aren’t responding, and they’re not responding to someone like Jimmy Rollins, either, who has stepped up his own game, but hasn’t brought any of his teammates with him.  In the past, a hot Rollins always meant a winning team, but that hasn’t been the case this season, another thing making 2012 unrecognizable to the modern Phillies’ fan.

So, when Utley returns, assuming it is this week, he’ll be a welcome addition to the lineup.  The removal of Michael Martinez, who is 6/45 since returning from the DL, should help the offense.  Why Charlie continues to play him every day, I have no idea, but you hope Chase’s return would mean Martinez’s return to AAA.  But more than taking that black hole out of the lineup, you’d hope Utley can bear the burden.  Whatever pressure the team is feeling, whatever is causing the constant negative reinforcement needs to go away if this team has any chance, so in my opinion it has to be Chase who is saddled with all that.  The rest of the team has proven quite incapable.

Why did the entire offense look better when Jim Thome was crushing away in the cleanup spot during the interleague road trip?  Because Thome isn’t bothered by hitting fourth.  He had a dreadful April and spent the next six weeks in Florida, but Jim Thome is a middle of the order hitter.  He always has been.  That’s what he’ll be when his current hot streak ends, and he’ll be one when he retires.  He’s the only one the Phillies have on this team right now, so it’s a shame he’s 41 and can’t play in the field.

Utley has that kind of presence, as well.  Even if he comes back and hits second, even if he comes back and hits .240, you hope his name in the lineup changes the approach of everyone else just enough to make a difference.  If it doesn’t the Phillies are likely cooked, because by the time the next wave of relief could come, it would likely be too late.

 

The Mailbag.

Loathe The Pug.

Well, I didn’t get any photo submissions this week.  Not any usable ones, at least.  The well has run dry.  Perhaps my dedicated contributors realized how difficult it is to keep coming up with new content.  Hopefully the lack of pics isn’t too much of a letdown as we embark on a traditional mailbag.  Read it while you take a break from the heat.

Q:  Do you find it odd that in today’s politically correct culture people can express such distaste for certain breeds of dogs.  Even people who like dogs will say things like, “look at that little rat dog.”  What I’m saying is, why are we so accepting of dog racism?  Chi Chi Huahua, Mexico City.  

A:  I’ve never really thought about the concept of dog racism.  Maybe because humans have risen to the top of the food chain they’ve decided it is OK to pass judgment on other creatures.  Sort of like, if you can domesticate something, you’ve earned the right to call it ugly.  Doesn’t that sound awful?  I am guilty of this, though.  I dislike certain breeds of dog, most notably the pug you see pictured above.  I would never discourage someone from pug ownership, but they are just simply not for me.  Even that sounds a bit dog racist, doesn’t it?  Oh, you only like the PRETTY dogs.  What did the pug ever do TO YOU?  Nothing, of course, and I’m sure there are pugs out there with fabulous dispositions–personalities if you will.  My conclusion is, we should all be thankful that the world of political correctness hasn’t quite penetrated the dog world.  We don’t need that headache.  Not everyone has to love every dog, we just need one person for each dog–something we fail at miserably.  If we ever got to that point, maybe we can then tackle dog racism.  

Q:  Let’s talk gum flavors.  I’m noticing a distinct lack of peppermint on the shelves.  Isn’t that one of the big mints?  Wrigley Field, Lexington, KY.  

A:  I think peppermint is one of the big mints.  How many mints are there?  Are they called varietals?  We all know spearmint and peppermint, but what else?  Let’s google…has anyone ever heard of apple mint?  Bog mint?  Me neither, so lets MOVE ON.  As far as I know, peppermint was once a pretty powerful force on the gum market.  Isn’t Doublemint gum peppermint?  At the very least, it has a catchy JINGLE.  In my opinion, gum flavor technology has gotten a little out of hand.  We’ve lost sight of our storied past.  Everything is becoming more complex, but we usually don’t ignore the building blocks.  Just because there are now 100 kinds of ice cream, doesn’t mean you stop making VANILLA.  That doesn’t seem to be the case with gum, though.  If you want a gum in the mint genre, you’ve got WINTER FROST, POLAR ICE–it’s very difficult to distinguish between gum and flavors of purple Gatorade.  Nine out of ten grocery aisles have spearmint and a fake mint.  Spearmint has beaten peppermint for the hearts of the traditionalists.  I don’t know why.  It’s TROUBLING.  Spearmint is a little gross, isn’t it?  A little pungent?  You don’t see any spearmint patties out there.  

QWhy are people hell-bent on spitting their gum into the urinal?  They realize no urinal actually flushes solid objects, right? Do they realize they are simply making another human being scoop their gum out at the end of the day? Do they realize all bathrooms typically have a trash can?  Bubba Lee Schous, Hillside, PA.  

A:  Another gum question, although this is more of a why are people so AWFUL question.  I think part of the problem is, men get quite bored while they’re using the restroom.  It sounds ridiculous, you’re talking about seconds, but you’d be surprised how much your mind wanders.  This is why some places have TVs in the can, or more primitively attach a newspaper above the old john.  Anything to pass those ticks of the clock before you hurry back to the game, or the bar.  I think some guys probably think, “Hey, I’ll spit my gum out.”  That’ll take .124 seconds.  I’ll practically be FINISHED by then.  There is also the competitiveness factor.  “Can I spit my gum into such a SMALL TARGET?”  Then you feel like an accomplished marksman when you pull it off–and at that point, who cares about a lowly janitor?  Your greatness should be CELEBRATED.  I imagine that much like restaurant workers and bartenders are the best tippers, anyone who has ever had to clean a urinal probably keeps their gum to themselves.  That’s all just fancy talk though to dance around the point that people are slobs and inconsiderate.  And more than anything else, we love when things aren’t our problem.  Gum in the pisser?  Someone else can worry about it.  

Q:  Seeing as we’re in the 1st real heat wave of the year, what do you think is the hottest you’ve ever been?  I mean, temperature wise, not the time you put together a real cute outfit.  Pete Stroke, Death Valley, CA.  

A:  Well I once attended a wedding in near triple-digit heat and sweat through my suit pants–class.  I also had to pitch my sweat-soaked undershirt in the bathroom after we moved into some air conditioning–DOUBLE CLASS.  I was never in danger of really overheating, though.  I was simply wearing too many clothes for the CONDITIONS.  When I was about 13 I played on a baseball team that had all black uniforms.  Not just black jerseys, but also black pants.  The fighting Pirates.  We were very ahead of the curve on black unis, and my goodness were those puppies suffocating.  Again, I don’t think I ever really pushed myself over the limit.  It was just BASEBALL.  I think the hottest I’ve ever been was probably on a day pretty similar to the one we’re experiencing here, I thought it’d be a good idea to go for a jog.  It wasn’t the middle of the day, but I had allowed plenty of time for things to get a bit sticky.  You see, this was during a real good running streak, and I was just TOO COMMITTED to let a day go by because it was a little humid.  As I jogged by someone on the street who was pulling in a trash can, they said, “You’re crazy.”  No, I thought to myself, I’m just that dedicated to my exercise program.  Feel inferior as I jog by.  Then I got home and I didn’t feel quite right.  I thought I was going to puke.  I really had to sit down and GATHER myself.   I didn’t pass out, or have to go the ER to TAKE ON LIQUIDS, but I think I was pretty close to the brink.  Lesson learned.  I took the next day off.  

Q:  Are you satisfied with a 4-team college football playoff?  I hate the bowls as much as anyone, but I have the feeling no one is ever going to be satisfied with this thing no matter how much progress we make.  

A:  Well, I think the games will be great to watch.  Will it stop people from complaining?  Oh, HELL NAW.  Playoff structures seem like they should be an easy thing to figure out.  We all know a Beirut tournament should be double-elimination.  Why isn’t everything that simple?  As far as I can tell, only the NFL has a perfect playoff structure.  The NCAA basketball tournament is a great event, but you could argue that there are too many teams.  Why does the #1 seed have to play the #16 seed?  Waste of time.  Baseball had always been good, but now we’ve got two wild-cards and division winners opening on the road.  For at least this year, it’s a total mess.  The NBA and NHL playoffs have too many teams and take far too long.  It’s almost the end of June.  They’re STILL playing basketball.  That’s pushing it, and as great as it was for Kings fans that they made that amazing run as a number eight seed, did they really deserve to win the Cup after the regular season they had?  It’s a fine line between rewarding the regular season and keeping as many teams in it as possible to aid fan interest.  The Kings had 95 points, third fewest of any playoff team and went 40-27-15 during the regular season.  Another way to read that would be 40-42.  Yet, they’re champs.  It doesn’t quite sit right with me.  So, what I want out of college football is for the eventual champion to feel like the champion.  I think the 4-team playoff will help.  

Q:  What would you rather have crazy chef knife skills, or a tricked out, gourmet kitchen?  Ginsu Weber, Ames, IA.

A:  This would be an easy question for someone who wasn’t lazy.  They’d take the kitchen and teach themselves the knife skills.  It can’t be that hard, right?  WRONG.  I’m pretty confident I could never learn to dazzle with the knife, mostly because I like my fingers TOO MUCH.  They’re precious.  I think every chef at one time or another, and probably quite often actually, has done a number on one of their digits.  Blood on the veggies is never a good thing.  There goes the CRUDITE.  And really as much as I admire some good knife work, I’ve never encountered the situation where I thought my life would be easier or better if I could slice and chop like a human Cuisinart.  My kitchen, on the other hand, really stunts my growth as a chef.  I’ve got zero counter space.  The temperature gauge on my oven is a LOOSE APPROXIMATION.  My range has two working burners.  My hood vent is complete sh*t.  It’s a miracle any decent meal ever comes out of the place.  It’s a real testament to my commitment to simplicity.  But think about what I could do with one of these cusses.  I’ll take the kitchen.  

Q:  If you had to pick a TV family to live with, which family would you choose?  Glen Bishop, Lakeville, CT.  

A:  Pretty good question, right there.  Where do you want to live?  Do you want your parents to be rich?  How many siblings do you want to have?  My first inclination is to think of my favorite shows.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a Draper.  I think I would like to know the Draper family, but I’ll pass on being a member–look what it’s doing to poor Sally.  For a second I thought it might be a good time be Zach Morris’s brother on Saved by the Bell.  He seemed to have a pretty long leash, he had the cell phone, Bayside High was pretty incredible, but you have to think about living in Zach’s shadow.  That’s quite the BURDEN. For some reason I keep coming back to Roseanne, but I don’t think I want to be related to D.J. Connor.  Kid was odd.  In the end, I think I might take the Cosby Show.  Sure, it’s New York, and I’ve have 30 sisters, but as far as sons go, Theo sets the bar pretty low.  His best friend is named Cockroach.  It was a hot miracle if he got a C+ on a test.  I don’t remember him being particularly good at anything, really.  I could just sit back in my big house, let the Bs roll in, have some moderate JV success and I’d be the STAR CHILD.  Feels like a pretty easy choice in the end.  

 

Hanging on For Dear Life; A Phillies Live Blog.

Phils Have Been as Helpless As a Puppy on a Clothesline in the Late Innings.

Welcome to the Phillies live blog.  Things are shaping up pretty nicely.  When I saw the pitching matchup for tonight’s game (Hamels vs. Outman), I wondered if I had chosen too soft a spot for the live blog.  Then I remembered it isn’t 2011.  Cole Hamels has been pedestrian in his last four starts and as bad as Colorado is playing, the Phillies are playing worse.  To make things even worse, injured folk hero, Freddy Galvis, has been suspended for 50 games in accordance with the MLB’s banned substance policy.  Galvis claims he’s innocent and his OPS would be a great argument he’s clean, but he’s gone for a long while.  On to the game…

*The Phils are up 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth, so this game is playing out like countless Phillies losses this year.  In fact, the Rockies just ran themselves out of a possible threat in the top of this inning that would have made things VERY interesting.  It cannot be overstated how awful the Phillies’ starters have been with a lead this season.

*Ty Wiggington and Michael Martinez both ground out as part of the Phillies’ sixth.  I can’t wait to get both these guys out of the lineup.  It’s amazing how much this team misses the little guys too.  Guys like Laynce Nix and even, wait for it…David Herndon.  Qualls has made Herndon look like Rollie Fingers.  That reference was brought to you by Tim McCarver.

*Hamels is at 92 pitches through six innings, which already has me a bit worried about the eighth.  The bridge to Papelbon has been terrible, but it’s also been much longer this year.  The starters are not working as deep into games, and haven’t been nearly as economical with their pitches.  Hamels, Lee and Halladay have 0 complete games this year.

*Hamels looks pretty sharp to start the seventh, which is a relief.  I’m not sure the Phils know what they’re going to do with Cole.  For a long time I thought there was just no way they could spend that much money, but considering how this season has gone, there could be wholesale changes in store for this team.  If it’s true that he really wants to stay in Philadelphia, perhaps he sticks around as one of the few pieces the Phils will keep to build on if they blow this thing up.

*In contrast to Hamels, there’s no other potential free agent that jumps out as someone the Phillies need to keep.  In fact, they’d probably be better off parting ways with most of these players.  Victorino, Polanco, and possibly even Pence could be elsewhere next season.  All three of those players are complimentary pieces and all three aren’t going to help the Phillies get any younger.

*Hamels leads off the bottom of the seventh with a single.  So, it’ll be his game in the 8th, despite being at 103 pitches.  It’s another great indication of the state of the bullpen.  In years past this game would have been Madson to Lidge, or Bastardo to Madson and you’d already have it in the win column.  The Phillies no longer have that luxury.

*Tom McCarthy says Rollins, “really looks into the game tonight.”  He’s 2-2 with 2 walks.  Thanks for trying tonight, Jimmy!  Rollins has actually had a hot June, which has corresponded with the Phils’ swoon.

*Placido Polanco is squaring to bunt with 1st and 2nd and no one out.  Again, the Phillies have a 2-run lead.  My head has just exploded.  The announcers have just said that Charlie has talked about busting games open late.  Do you bust games open by playing for one run?  Polanco already has an RBI double tonight, how about playing for a very big inning?  Polanco gets the bunt down, but now Pence must get Hamels in from 3rd.

*Pence luckily gets Hamels in with a 4-hopper to short.  Hamels is the only pitcher and perhaps one of only four (?) Phillies that score on that play.  It bails Charlie out a bit.  It’s 75% on the hitters in that situation, but Manuel has been pretty rough in tight games and has bunted WAY TOO MUCH this year.

*Well, Ruiz homers to make it 7-2, nullifying the point, but also you get the idea of exactly how big an inning the Phillies could actually have if they let everyone hit.  Great to Ruiz has hit four screamers tonight and could be coming out of his mild slump.  He’s had an absolutely incredible season.

*My main concern right now is that this game by 10 so I can watch Storage Wars in its entirety.  Storage Wars is no Duck Dynasty, but at 10 pm on a Tuesday, it’ll do.  I have not yet checked in on the NBA Finals, because if you remember I no longer hate LeBron.

*Hamels still starts the 8th, despite a 5-run lead and being over 100 pitches.  Makes NO sense to me.  Scutaro starts the inning with a double off the left-center field wall.  Charlie thinks maybe he should finally get someone up.  Great idea.  I don’t think there’s any way that Hamels goes the distance, so this is just further proof the Phillies have no confidence in anyone in the bullpen.

*Rollins makes a really nice play to end the eighth.  I assume it’ll be Paps for the ninth, despite it not being a save situation.  Papelbon hasn’t exactly been overworked of late.  Kudos to the modern bullpen structure for the Phillies having terrible set-up men and an underworked closer.  Worth every penny.

*John Mayberry Jr. doubles in the 8th, adding a 2nd extra base hit to his homer from earlier in the game.  He’s homered in 4 of his last 5 games, and like Rollins has been having a very good June.  Could Mayberry possibly see his way out of his terrible funk?  At least the kid keeps working at it, but I’m not sure you can trust him not to go cold.

*Chad Qualls coming in to pitch the 9th.  I shudder.

*Chad’s ERA is 4.39.  I would have guessed 11.  Qualls gets the first batter to pop to 2nd.  Two outs to go, four runs to play with for Quallsy.  Qualls strikes out the 2nd hitter, the ball gets away, but Chooch makes an incredible throw from the backstop get the man at 1st.  Nothing is going horribly wrong yet.  I’m confused.  Rosario flies to center, Phils win easily, Hamels gets his 10th.  Is there a problem with this team?

*To wrap it up, the Phillies beat a very bad team tonight, the only thing surprising was that they looked like a halfway decent team.  For a night.  There’s 9 games left on this homestand.  Two more against the Rockies, three against Tampa Bay, and then the Pirates for 4.  The Phillies have to win all of these series, or figure out another way to go 7-3 on this homestand.  We’ll see what this rag-tag bunch has left.

Letting Go My LeBron Hate

It’s Not About the Decision.

Driving through western New York this weekend I saw some interesting abodes.  It’s not exactly an area that features your standard cookie cutter developments.  The houses I saw were decorated with a unique style.  One in particular caught my eye.  It looked like it was being held together with a patchwork of corrugated metal siding.  Decorating the metal were several #3s, spray painted in black.  I assume they were a tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt.  In some areas of the country, Earnhardt probably belongs on the short list of the most popular athletes of all-time.

His legend is so strong, his fans so loyal, that many of them have flocked to his son, Dale Jr.  Earnhardt Jr. is perennially voted the most popular driver in NASCAR despite his inability to live up to the promise of his early career.  After six wins in 2004, Earnhardt has won just four times in the last eight years and just ended a drought that saw him without a win in three full seasons.  He’s never finished higher than 3rd in the season ending points race, but none of that seems to matter to his fans.  Earnhardt Jr. could be judged less on performance by fans than any other any athlete.

It’s difficult to compare NASCAR to the NBA, and certainly within the racing world Earnhardt has plenty of detractors, but it’s hard to imagine LeBron James winning many popularity contests.  In contrast to Earnhardt, James is judged solely by his results, and not individual results, but how his team finishes each year.  His obvious greatness and how he is perceived by the media and fans lead to every season being judged by one question: did LeBron’s team win the title?  If they didn’t, even in a year where James was clearly the league’s MVP, the season is a failure and LeBron is saddled with another layer of criticism regarding his abilities as a winner.

Any athlete who fails to win titles begins hearing questions.  The early part of LeBron’s career could be compared to what Peyton Manning faced in his early years with the Colts.  Manning was an MVP, a regular season record setter, but he often failed in the NFL Playoffs.  Those failures defined him to a certain extent until he finally broke through and won a Super Bowl.  LeBron was starting to hear those same murmurs in his final years in Cleveland.  The Cavs had made a trip to the Finals, LeBron was an MVP, but there was no ring to show for his efforts.  In addition to that, he had turned in several shaky efforts in key moments, his final playoff series with the Cavs being the most notable.

When LeBron left Cleveland, he accelerated the wave of sentiment against him with his television special.  This is what people cite when they explain why they root against LeBron and the Heat.  For me, my mind was made up long before The Decision.  My general stance as a sports fan is to take a contrary position when confronted with a certain level of greatness.  Unless a player wears the uniform of my favorite team, being a perennial MVP isn’t the way into my heart.  Players and teams that win too much annoy me–think Jordan, or Tiger, Federer or Kobe.  LeBron was such a prodigy that I put him into that category before he actually started winning anything.

Rooting against a player or team is a powerful part of sports and for years I’ve spent these months waiting for a particular NBA team to lose.  It might have been LA, or Chicago, but the last two years it has been the Heat.  Every year LeBron went without a title was a success for me, even as my interest in the NBA as a whole waned.  This year as I watched bits and pieces of the Western Conference Finals I found myself rooting for the Spurs because I thought they had a better chance of beating Miami.  This despite the fact that if I was forced to pick a team between San Antonio and OKC, I’d take the Thunder every time.  I almost like Kevin Durant.  If I had any chance of coming back around to the NBA, you’d think I’d want the Thunder to move on and beat the Heat, but that wasn’t the case.

And so I was unimpressed with the Thunder’s effort last night.  I felt Miami and LeBron inching closer to what may be an inevitable title.  If not this year, you still have to like LeBron’s chances to win one eventually.  I saw the Heat take a 2-1 lead, and thought to myself–see, the Spurs should have won.  But had San Antonio won it all, that would have been five rings for Tim Duncan.  How does that fit into my theory on excessive winners?

The conclusion is, I shouldn’t be spending any time rooting against LeBron James in a sport I hardly care about.  So rest easy tonight, LeBron, there’s one less person against you out there in the world.

Thoughts on the Weekend.

Disgruntled Westwood Fan?

It’s always entertaining listening to sports radio the morning after a U.S. Open that Tiger didn’t win.  The course is always too hard, the action is always too boring.  There weren’t any great shots.  It was nothing like the Masters.  I agree that it was nothing like the Masters, but you don’t have to string together eagles and birdies to be playing great golf.  Webb Simpson’s 68-68 weekend was a ball-striking clinic.  Most casual golf fans don’t comprehend that not all 68s are equal, and so they bemoan the lag putting and Tiger’s demise.  This is why golf is in no danger of supplanting the NFL, only so many people actually find it compelling without Tiger or highlight reel shots.

Instead of charging with a back nine 30, Simpson stayed steady while the players around him crumbled.  Several contenders didn’t survive the opening six holes (see Tiger Woods).  Ernie Els, who vaulted himself into contention with an early eagle, couldn’t hit a fairway on the back nine.  Hacking out of Olympic’s rough, to its dangerously sloped targets ended Ernie’s quest for a 3rd U.S. Open.  Some young contenders, Michael Thompson and John Peterson, missed crucial putts late.  Jason Dufner didn’t make a putt all week.  And, of course there was Furyk, hitting the granddaddy of all rope hooks on the 16th hole.  Simpson won because he played mistake free golf, which on Sunday was as rare an accomplishment as blitzing the back nine at Augusta National.

Simpson’s win made it three straight majors for young American players.  It made it 15 straight majors without a repeat champion.  Parity was also exhibited by the atrocious performance of several of the game’s supposed elite.  Luke Donald, world number 1, was alleged to be a perfect fit for Olympic.  He shot a million.  So did Rory McIlroy, who is suddenly facing questions about his dedication.  The defending champion has been stringing together missed cuts like he once strung together top-3s.  Phil Mickelson and Bubba did their parts as well.  The left-handed section of the opening dream threesome was throttled by Woods over the first two days and never had a chance.

Nothing against the skills of a Cinderella story like Beau Hossler, but if a high school junior can navigate Olympic, the game’s best players should at least make the cut?  Without a dominant player, you have to wonder whether the hot golfer winning every week is a good model for the PGA Tour.  The powers that be, the media, clearly want a dominant figure, but could the wide open nature of a big golf tournament become appealing if people can move past the Tiger era?

My closing thought on Olympic is, how tough will the PGA Championship be at Kiawah Island?  What struck everyone, especially Johnny Miller, was that the week passed with almost no wind.  What would have the winning score have been if there were some gusts, or a sustained 15 mph breeze?  Eight over?  10?  The water added to the course Friday night kept things reasonable, and still no player broke par.  I wonder what the PGA of America was thinking when they saw this setup.  At Kiawah, you’re talking about  a course widely regarded as one of the most difficult in the entire country.  You expect the wind to be up there, so if it blows and they get the course as firm and severe as Olympic was, what kind of numbers could we see in August?  The USGA wants the toughest test, but the PGA will be in a position to make Kiawah as hard as they’d like–how far will they go?

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Blog Schedule for the Week:

*Later Today–Some more tidbits on the weekend, LeBron, etc.

*Tomorrow Evening–Late Inning Phillies Live Blog.  The Phils are a total train wreck right now.  Most of the pain has come late in ball games.  I’ll use tomorrow’s game to touch on all the painful Phillies’ topics.

*Thursday–The Mail and Picture Bag.  Already have a picture or two, and a couple of questions, so keep them coming.  Also, if you fancy yourself a humorist, feel free to send a picture w/caption and I’ll be happy to give you full credit.

The Mail and Picture Bag Upstages Tiger/Phil/Bubba.

He’ll Just Blow it on Rawhide.

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Part Three of the Swiss Triathlon?

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Wal-Mart’s Lingerie Aisle.

Q: I saw a commercial for Golden Corral the other day.  Please keep in mind I’ve never been and couldn’t find one with 11 iPhones, but they are selling all you can eat cotton candy.  Did the ghetto meter just explode?  Sunday Bar, Nashville, TN.

A:  Is Golden Corral more, or less, budget than Old Country Buffet?  I’ve seen this commercial.  They also have all you can eat waffles.  I don’t get to these places as much as I’d like, so I’m not aware of the range of tasty treats you can put away.  I imagine the mac & cheese is always popular, the mashed taters–maybe meatloaf?  BAKED ZITI?  Like I said, I have no idea.  The last time I went to an establishment that did not limit my portions I suffered a mild case of chicken finger poisoning.  It’s as serious as it sounds.  Since then, I’ve been wary of your basic quantity over quality joint.  There must be a differentiation problem in this restaurant genre.  You can’t roll out some filet mignon and charge people $8.99 at the door for their feed bucket.  So, the challenge to the marketing teams–what is cheap that we aren’t already selling?  The answer?  Spun sugar.  Since going to Golden Corral has to be akin to attending your local carnival, I think the cotton candy is appropriate.  

Q:  I was in a store the other day and a woman was trying to leave.  She decided she wanted to take her son (aged approx 11 yrs) with her, so she called to him that they were leaving.  The kid’s response?  “Hold on, I’m on the phone.”  You leave the kid in the store at that point, right?  T. Mobil, San Antonio, TX.

A:  I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak to the temptation of giving your kid a phone.  It has to be a powerful feeling, being able to reach into your wallet, spend the cash and bestow upon your progeny a lifetime of  having no attention span.  I don’t think we can win the battle of keeping phones out of the hands of today’s youth.  They are going to have their phones and I suppose if I was being honest, I guess it’s not a great deal different than me toting around my Game Boy in a not so convenient carrying case.  Motocross Maniacs was the SH*T.  The real issue here is making sure that the phone doesn’t turn your kid into an insufferable prick.  This kid in the store is either a) a precocious douche who speaks to his mother as if she were a secretary, or b) repeating something he’s heard people say a million times before at a very inopportune time.  Do you want to give the kid the benefit of the doubt?  I’m not inclined to, but I think the real lesson here might be: don’t call out to your kid from across a crowded store, because you really have no idea what the little bastard is going to yell back.  

Q:  What do you think is the most embarrassing scenario for calling the wrong person, or sending an email to the wrong recipient?  Miss Taken Identity, Ludwigs Corner, PA.  

A:  I guess you are only limited by your imagination in this scenario.  What immediately comes to mind is someone who is having an affair sends a message to the wife instead of the girlfriend.  Also, back when Texts From Last Night was real hot and trendy, I saw a few that fit the scenario you describe–think mother and girlfriend having the same first initial, or same first name.  Those, assuming they were real, had to be pretty dicey.  In my life, I’ve sent only one such message.  It wasn’t because of a similar name, it was just one of those times when you have two conversations going and you aren’t paying ENOUGH attention.  When I realized what I had done–that’s a sick feeling.  My mind immediately started racing.  Why must I TALK JUNK behind people’s backs?  It’s one of those moments where you pledge to quit cold turkey.  I will NEVER send another text again.  Luckily for me, the person who received the message accidentally eventually let it go.  I think most people realize their friends have said something nasty about them at one point or another, you just never want to see it in writing.  I do try to differentiate people in my phone, though, if they have similar names–I’ll use a nickname or something.  Not because I am always sending inappropriate messages, but just out of convenience.  I’ve sent multiple harmless messages to the wrong person, prompting responses like, “What the cuss are you talking about?”  

Q:  I was leaving a restaurant the other day and there was a sign on the door that said they still proudly accepted Diners Club cards.  Have you ever seen a Diners Club card?  Would you ever want one just to see the look on waiter’s faces when you handed it over?  Billy Ray Valentine, Philadelphia, PA.

A:  I have never seen a Diners Club card in real life.  There is something romantic about the idea of them, though.  This look you describe would be pretty incredible.  I’ve gotten looks simply for using cash, especially for a large purchase.  You know someone swipes credit cards all day when you see the smoke coming out of their ears when they try to make change–or when they have to call a manger because there is three ones and a quarter in the cash drawer.  If we do ever get to the point where cash is wiped from the planet, I might look into a Diners Club card.  I’m just afraid that I would be rejected.  You see, Diners Club is not a credit card.  It’s a CHARGE CARD.  That balance is due at the end of every month.  IN FULL.  You don’t get a Diners Club card to pay off your Visa bill.  This is a device of convenience for people who can actually afford what they buy.  What a novel concept.  Diners Club was the pioneer in this market, but has since been mostly pushed out of the market by American Express–according to Wikipedia.  Getting back to my first sentence, I have seen a Diners Club card in the fictional universe.  I believe one made an appearance on Mad Men, and Louis Winthorpe III had one in Trading Places.  If you remember, Winthorpe had charged goods and services all over the world.  Sounds like a pretty amazing lifestyle.  Maybe one of these days Diners Club will send me a pre-approved application.  

Q:  Suppose they were making a movie about your life–would it be a comedy, drama or a sports flick?  Who would be in the starring role?  Speck Script, Detroit, MI

A:  Unfortunately, unless someone thought it appropriate to chronicle the year I hit 1.000 in T-ball, I’m not sure if I’ve accomplished anything on the athletic fields that would be worthy of a motion picture.  Was the 81 I shot through the snow flurries at Hershey Country Club gritty?  Yes.  Could you squeeze 90 minutes out of that historic day?  PROBABLY NOT.  I guess the movie would have to be a comedy, or at least have its comedic moments.  It would have to have a hell of a star, because like I said, my life hasn’t been that interesting.  I’ve had my fun, but we’re coming up on summer blockbuster season.  I’m not a Transformer, or a comic book hero.  I would need a commanding performance in the leading role to get people into the theaters and the actor would have to be engaging enough that people would enjoy watching him putter around being a smartass.  If we can ignore the fairly large difference in age, I think I might choose Bill Murray.  Not all the way out there Caddyshack Murray, but maybe Groundhog Day Murray?  I think that might be my guy.  I’ll shoot Aaron Sorkin an email, get him working on the screenplay.  

Q:  If you could caddy for one professional golfer, who would it be?  Fluff McKay, Phoenix, AZ.  

A:  Well, it wouldn’t be Rory.  I can say that with certainty.  You’ve got to weigh a lot of factors.  Money.  Consistency.  Schedule.  And, story potential.  I think a guy like Jim Furyk has probably made his caddy a bunch of money for about 20 straight years, but Furyk seems a little mundane.  Do you really want to look at those shirts all day?  I DON’T.  I think Mickelson probably treats his caddy as well as anyone, but I imagine doing anything with Phil can get a bit EXHAUSTING.  He’s always asking questions, talking everything to death–I bet he’s like that ALL THE TIME.  He probably spends 20 minutes discussing the menu at a restaurant.  If I could go back to about 1989, I’d take Fred all day, every day, but at this point his back could pop at any moment and that’d be a career.  That’s quite a risk to take, but would I rather caddy for Fred once, or for Furyk for 20 years and make millions?  I’m thinking…Honestly, I might try to catch on with John Daly and hope he can manage a Champions Tour career down the road.  Daly is a wild ride.  You’re either flush, or you’re bust.  Anyone who has spent any time around some caddies knows that this is inherent to the profession.  If you want to see $120 disappear, give it to a looper.  Shouldn’t it be the same at the professional level?  Plus, I’ve got a feeling Daly might make some hay on the Champions Tour–if he can stay out of jail for the next 4 years.  

Firm and Fast Olympic Owes Me One: Massive US Open Preview.

Beware the Lumberyard.

Last year a soggy Congressional turned into a one-man runaway.  Rory McIlroy threw darts, embarrassed the field and perhaps embarrassed the USGA.  The weather can hardly be controlled, but a trip to Olympic could be the perfect remedy.  The northern California air has a way of reining in the long hitters as do some of Olympic’s claustrophobic fairways.  In addition to that, the early word from Olympic is that the course is already quite firm.  It should only become more severe as the week goes on, which will make hitting fairways extremely difficult and should deepen the field of potential winners to even the shortest hitters.

The last time the U.S. Open was played at Olympic was 1998.  I was on summer break and at the height of my golf fandom.  It was fortuitous that Payne Stewart built himself a lead heading into the final round.  His main competition appeared to be Tom Lehman, who was in the middle of a run where he blew the chance to win several US Opens.  Lehman played in the final group four straight years and ended up winning ZERO.  Payne was four shots ahead of Lehman and Bob Tway with Nick Price and Lee Janzen another shot back.  Classic late-90s leaderboard.  As contenders started to melt away, Stewart’s position looked even more commanding, especially when Janzen got a ball stuck in a tree on the 5th hole.  But as Janzen was walking back to the tee to take his penalty, the ball came loose.  Janzen salvaged par and his round.

From there, Payne started leaking a bit of oil.  He made a couple of bogeys, he drove his ball into a divot in the middle of the fairway, he was even put on the clock for slow play.  He was eventually caught and passed by Janzen and his bid to tie on the 18th came up a few inches of borrow short.  Lee Janzen was suddenly a two-time US Open Champion.  Both of his wins came at Payne Stewart’s expense.  I was physically ill.  Now that I know that Payne would come back and win the Open the very next year, the loss doesn’t sting quite as much, but at the time, that afternoon was one of my most disappointing in terms of viewing sport.

Olympic has a way of disappointing, though.  Ben Hogan lost there.  Arnie Palmer was clipped by Billy Casper.  It’s the home of some unlikely champions.  It’s where Nathaniel Crosby, Bing’s son, made his unexpected run through the U.S. Amateur.  But is the course really a graveyard of champions?  Can a handful of results over 40 years really make a trend? Perhaps we’re all due for an epic, blockbuster leaderboard at this year’s U.S. Open.  Or perhaps D.A. Points is going to win this thing.  Picks coming later, but first, some story lines…

1.  The First Six Holes.

There are plenty of golf courses that have tough stretches of holes, but rarely does a world class venue hit you this hard right out of the gate.  Often an especially difficult opener is offset by chances for birdie soon after.  Think the second and third holes at Augusta National.  Olympic makes you wait until the seventh for a realistic birdie opportunity.  The first is a converted par-5 that measures 520 yards.  It could end up being the hardest hole on the course.  After that are four more par 4s that AVERAGE 463 yards and the par-3 third which is listed at 247.  Mid-irons and birdie chips could be the theme of the opening six.  The challenge will be players being able to accept a 1, 2, 3-over start and trying to bounce back from there.  I’d expect to see several rounds spiral out of control early, and I think it might be an advantage to start the 1st round on the 10th hole.

2.  Pairings and Controversy?

The USGA is known for manipulating pairings, but they’ve gotten a bit predictable in recent years.  They pair Asian players together.  They pair long hitters together.  American veterans usually find themselves in the same group.  The question is, have these made for TV pairings impacted the competitive balance.  Two groups stand out in that regard this year.  Tiger/Phil/Bubba and Westwood/Donald/McIlroy.  Putting Tiger and Phil together is likely to create a nightmare in the gallery.  Throwing Bubba into the mix won’t help.  Watson has proven to be temperamental at times with the galleries.  Mickelson had issues at Memorial and ended up WD’ing–due to “mental fatigue” or to make a statement about the galleries and cellphone policy.  Not only will this group have to deal with the sea of people following them, but so will the groups immediately surrounding them in the draw.  And, will crowd control further slow the pace of play?

In regard to the top Euros being grouped, I’ve always wondered if knowingly putting players who are comfortable together in the same group is fair to the field.  There’s no proof that playing partners affect a player’s score, but even if the advantage is marginal and only mental, I wonder about putting guys together who are so comfortable playing with each other.  We know that Tiger doesn’t enjoy playing with Phil.  It shouldn’t keep him from contending, but I imagine he’d much rather play with oh, I don’t know…Sean H2O’Hair.  Westwood and McIlroy are no longer best of friends, but putting these three Euro Ryder Cuppers together is a great grouping for them.

3.  Casey Martin Returns.

Casey Martin, who became famous for his fight against the PGA Tour to ride a golf cart during competition, made it through qualifying and will play in his 2nd US Open.  Oddly enough, his first appearance was also at Olympic back in 1998.  After going all the way to the Supreme Court, and despite the dissension of many prominent players, Martin was allowed to use a golf cart in competition.  Once out on tour, though, Martin struggled to keep his card and he would eventually leave the tour to coach golf at the University of Oregon.  He’s had a successful coaching career at Oregon and this week will be his first appearance in a major competition in over a decade.  One of the fears of the Martin case from the PGA Tour’s perspective was that the ruling would open up the floodgates and players with less severe disabilities would attempt to gain an advantage by riding a cart.  That hasn’t been the case, and about 15 years later, Martin remains the only player to ever ride a cart on the PGA Tour.

4.  There’s a Flippin’ 14-yr old Playing.

Andy Zhang is about to become the youngest player ever to compete in the U.S. Open.  The 14-year old was the 2nd alternate, but got into the field when both Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey withdrew this week.  Zhang is from Beijing, and breaks Tadd Fujikawa’s mark for youngest competitor.  Zhang’s presence will make two prominent American amateurs, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth, feel like elder statesman.  Cantlay was in top form at Congressional last year and was one of the main stories supporting Rory’s runaway win.  Spieth is a multiple US Junior Am winner, who hasn’t fared as well in professional events outside of his native Texas.  The last time the Open was at Olympic, Matt Kuchar was the low amateur, finishing in a tie for 14th.  Matching that accomplishment will be a tall order for any of these three, or any of the lesser known amateurs in the field.

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The Definitive Top-10:

I’m going to pick Steve Stricker to win, because that feels like an appropriate level of boredom for Olympic, and because he actually played well here in ’98.  I think the course will give the wild drivers fits and you’re going to have to get up and down a bunch regardless of how well you’re hitting it.  And, of course, putting.  Make some putts.

  1. Steve Stricker
  2. Lee Westwood
  3. Jim Furyk
  4. Justin Rose
  5. Hunter Mahan
  6. Sergio Garcia
  7. Phil Mickelson
  8. Aaron Baddeley
  9. Luke Donald
  10. Jason Dufner

***

Mailbag will be Thursday around lunchtime this week.  So, if you want to keep up the historic momentum from last week go ahead and send in some pictures and questions.

Yikes.

New Meaning.

It was quite a week.  Six days ago the Phillies had a 3-0 lead against Miami and were looking to go a season-high four games over .500.  They blew that game and haven’t won since, squandering more leads and coming up with new and excruciating ways to lose along the way.  The whole season fans have been tapping the breaks of panic, but now we’re in a full fishtail, laying rubber all over the road.  The cussing dam has burst.  Was it Halladay’s injury that sent them over the edge?  Was it cumulative?  Was the team playing over its head to get to three games over .500?

When I watch the Phillies this year, the two things that seem drastically different than they have been in the past are the pitching and defense.  They definitely didn’t hit enough this past week to win a bunch of games, but the team of last year or two years ago would have managed maybe a 3-3 stretch, despite the dip in production.  The Phillies pitching has become middle of the pack.  Their team ERA is approaching 4.00, nearly a run off their pace from 2011 and of late it’s been even worse than that.  As a team the Phillies don’t make a lot of errors, but more than that there is a noticeable lack of range–in left field and at both corner infield positions that reveals itself at inopportune times.   The result of all of this is that the Phillies have lost their magic in 1-run games.  They are 5-10 in such contests this year.  In past years, that number would have been reversed.

Of course, you can’t ignore the injuries.  The Phillies started Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre, Mike Fontenot, Brian Schneider and John Mayberry Jr yesterday.  Does that look like a lineup for a team with a 170 million dollar payroll?  For some teams, those five guys would encompass a barely serviceable bench, but the Phillies have them playing a regular role. The Phillies don’t put enough talent on the field right now to be a contending team.  That’s just the truth.  Charlie Manuel said as much the other day.  When you take that everyday lineup and combine it with Blanton getting shelled, Hamels cooling off, and Kendrick taking a regular turn the losing streak makes a lot more sense.

The first third of the season has been a test of patience, but to this point there’s been hope that things will get better.  The Phillies will get healthier.  This team “knows” how to win.  Is that really the case, though?  There aren’t many faces around that tasted the World Series victory in 2008.  There are guys playing a regular role that have hardly been on a winning team in their career–let alone a true contender.  If anything, signs point to this team not knowing how to win.  In close situations the bullpen has failed, the key hit hasn’t come and the team continues to spin its wheels.  So where does that leave us in terms of actually getting better?

Health will be the biggest factor for this team going forward.  The sooner Chase Utley can get back, the better.  Ryan Howard feels like a much bigger question mark at this time and counting on him is probably even more foolish than counting on Utley.  But, it’s not only Utley.  Roy Halladay needs to return on schedule.  If that six to eight week time frame stretches much further, it’s hard to see the Phillies keeping it together.  You see how Doc’s first week on the DL went.  The team also needs Laynce Nix back and being nearly as productive as he was before his calf injury.  Playing Mayberry and/or Wigginton against right-handed pitching is killing this lineup.  Nix also has much more pop than Pierre and plays a better LF.  And, this goes without saying, but the team can’t afford to lose any more starters to injury, especially now that Galvis has hit the DL.

The rest of the considerable project of salvaging this season will fall on three guys who do wear rings:  Rollins, Victorino, and Blanton.  Oddly enough, Rollins had one of his best weeks of the year during this skid, but he’s got to keep that momentum going.  Shane Victorino is playing for a contract.  It shows–in all the wrong ways.  The Phillies already have the most high-strung outfielder in the game, Hunter Pence, they don’t need Victorino challenging for that crown.  Shane has got to do better left-handed, he’s hitting just .228 from that side, where he gets the vast majority of his at-bats.  And, Blanton doesn’t have to be great, but he must keep the Phillies in the game.  He hasn’t done that in almost a month.  Last year there were four aces.  Now, there are three guys who make you cross your fingers.  Blanton has to be better than that.

I’m not sure what to offer in terms of a prognosis.  Like I said earlier, there is a talent deficiency on the field right now, so predicting a big hot streak feels foolish.  They are heading out on the road (thank goodness) for a nine game trip against Baltimore, Minnesota and Toronto.  You’d think they have to figure out how to win at least five of these games.  The division lead, which has always been within shouting distance is getting a lot smaller on the horizon suddenly.  There’s also the three other teams the Phillies need to pass.  Heading into AL cities with this pitching staff going the way it is right now is dangerous business, but I’m confident the Phils will encounter at least five winnable games on this road trip.  The question is, will they be able to convert them?

***

**UPDATE: I’ll Have Another Scratches With Tendon Injury**

Giant horse race tomorrow.  I’ll Have Another is going for the Triple Crown.  It hasn’t been done since Affirmed in 1978.  Eleven horses have failed at the Belmont Stakes to break the long drought.  There was a Triple Crown Winner in 1973, 1977 and 1978.  Then Spectacular Bid looked like a sure thing in 1979 before a minor injury and poor ride cost him the Belmont.  Since then–nothing.  The consensus among the trainers and experts is that I’ll Have Another has as good a shot as any horse in recent memory.  Enough of a shot to make him the 4:5 favorite.  Keeping with my promise, I’m going to guarantee right now that I’ll Have Another will not end the Triple Crown drought.

***

In the past I’ve always done a Happy U.S. Open Week post and there’s a good chance that will come out sometime next week, but since I’m not exactly sure when I’ll get it posted, here are the tee times for Thursday and Friday.  Of note, the USGA has paired Tiger, Phil and Bubba.  I think they’ve gone a bit far with the “feature pairing” in recent years, but I guess if you can win a US Open, you can survive two days in that three-ball.