By all rules of the hex, the jinx, and the reverse hexola–I shouldn’t be writing this post. The Phillies are 6-1 since I banished them from the blog. Just what the doctor ordered and as Crash Davis says, you must always respect the streak. But I also kind of guaranteed a Phillies post today and Hunter Pence commented on Tuesday afternoon that he welcomes adversity. Say no more. Before we get into the Phillies in that explicit detail that only two or three people will read, a few quick hits…
1. Eagles sign LeSean McCoy. He receives just under 21 million guaranteed. That’s the only number that truly matters. Perhaps some day this is how contracts will be reported, but for now, we’re still hit with the gaudy numbers. What else matters? Having a happy running back. Having a training camp without holdouts and questions about disgruntled skill players. The Eagles have now officially paid everyone. Like the Phillies, minus the crippling guaranteed years.
2. Charlie Manuel is suspended for tonight’s game against the Red Sox. Welcome to the Pete Mackanin experience. Maybe Mackanin can show the Red Sox they should have hired him in the off-season. Manuel was suspended for his confrontation with Bob Davidson, which was highlighted by extensive profanity. Back in the day, I used to say people had different styles of insults. Some people get creative. Others just get mean. In this “discussion” it appears that Manuel and Davidson took the latter route. Davidson was also suspended, something that I can’t remember ever happening before, but a well deserved punishment for a guy who is always picking fights, taking off his mask and hurtling profanity all over the place. The Phils will survive without Charlie, and maybe Davidson learns that no one comes to a game to see him eject someone.
3. Kerry Wood is retiring. Wood was one of my first phenom obsessions. Only a select few of you are aware of this, but my career as a website contributor started back in the late 90s. Writing for a now defunct site called, “The Patio Room,” I offered a Quote of the Week. They ranged from corny to wildly low-brow. One of my quotes was, “I’m more sinister than Texas schoolboy legend Kerry Wood’s fastball.” At some point in the Wood hype process, I heard the term “schoolboy legend,” and became enamored. As a schoolboy myself it sounded fabulous. Anyway, some of the other quotes were better. I’m sure. Wood ended up being taken 4th in ’95 Draft behind Darin Erstad, Ben Davis and Jose Cruz Jr. Hmmm. Wood had a strange career. Huge highs (20K game) and huge lows as well (becoming essentially a journeyman set-up guy). I guess the 2003 playoffs will be his signature moment, that lost series against the Marlins when he and Mark Prior couldn’t seal a World Series trip. I rarely root for other teams, usually rooting against a team is as close as I get, but I would have like to see the Cubs evade Bartman and their own implosion that year. Partly because of the bond Wood and I forged in the quote of the week. Happy Trails, Kerry.
Ok, the Phillies. They’re having an offensively charged May. Scoring over 5 runs a game this month after they finished off April at the bottom of most offensive categories. They’ve drug themselves up to the middle of the pack–a pretty reasonable place for this lineup. I read a stat that the Phillies have led 19 of their last 22 games, yet for the season they’ve only won 20. That should reiterate that most of the Phillies’ troubles this year have been bullpen oriented. I’ve tried to illustrate that, and things haven’t changed. The volatility was on display last night. The truth is, the Phillies have scored enough runs to be very close to (if not in) the division lead, but complaining about the offense has just become fashionable. Fans must realize that there will be ~27 failed at-bats in every game, regardless of outcome.
Leading the charge on offense is Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz is having an absurd start to the season, obliterating career averages and making up for the deficiencies of some of his lineup mates. You would think his .363/29/112 pace is not sustainable, but it’s going to be fun while it lasts. A lot has been made of Ruiz being stronger, but I’m seeing uncanny pitch recognition from Ruiz. Think the opposite of Hunter Pence. He swings at strikes and hits the ball where it is pitched. It’s the simple, but almost impossible to implement mantra the Phillies are preaching this year. Ruiz has made it look effortless. I feel like part of it is just confidence from a) being in better shape, and b) carrying over from an absolutely torrid spring.
In the slightly less good news department, I think Roy Halladay has settled in as the Phillies’ 3rd best starter. Keep in mind this is a minimal demotion. A lot has been made of Halladay’s velocity this year, and there have been several questions about his health. I think he perhaps just doesn’t throw as hard anymore. It can happen. Add in that this year he’s made more mistake pitches, and is striking out fewer batters and I think he’s been passed by Lee and Hamels. It’s not the end of the world. Halladay can still be incredibly effective. If Jamie Moyer can win games at 50 with a 79 mph fastball, Halladay should certainly be able to get by throwing 89-90. He may just have to make some more adjustments to accommodate his changing stuff.
The Phillies are about to embark on a very important stretch of games. They just finished a run against some middling opponents. The schedule doesn’t provide another gift like that until a series with the Twins in about a month. In the coming weeks the Phils will face Boston, Washington, St. Louis, New York and the Dodgers. They’ll play divisional games and contests against teams with glittering records. The reason it is so important is because it feels like the closing stretch in terms of waiting out Howard and Utley. The two continue to make progress and it seems like if they are going to play this year, we should have a pretty good idea when in the next few weeks. Assuming their return gives the Phillies the expected boost, you want to make sure you’re within shouting distance. That’s why the last week was crucial and that’s why it’ll be important to get through the next 15-20 games without losing much ground. Beating the Sox in a series would be a great way to start.
*Last second news–Roy Oswalt has apparently thrown for a handful of teams including the Phillies. Prior to Worley’s DL trip I wouldn’t have had interest, but now…maybe. I feel the Phils may get outbid and their slow start makes them slightly less attractive.
Ok, that’s it for the week. Enjoy the weather and enjoy the Preakness. Hansel, aka “White Lightning” and my Derby pick, is not running. I’ll take Creative Cause this time around. Another year with no Triple Crown.