October 2009

Phils: Winning Stats, Losing Series

So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.


You’re winning the Series, right?
If the Game Three loss were not critical enough – throw in the wasting of a two-clout night from Jayson “Stop Calling Me Dennis, Olbermann” Werth – please note Swisher is a breathing cliche of a streak hitter and a road hitter. I am still not a believer in using starters on short rest, but to tie the Series, the Phils must now defeat, or at least not be defeated by, Sabathia, again. 

Swish

Game 3 – We Need The DH… Why?

The Phillies’ three-run rally in the second hinged on the high-quality bunt by Cole Hamels (and the Yankees’ inability to handle it – but ultimately that might have been incidental: a bad bunt is fielded easily by either Andy Pettitte or Jorge Posada).

The Yankees’ three-run rally (thus far) in the fifth hinged on Pettitte lacing a mediocre Hamels curveball into center for a one-out RBI single, part of the cascade that chased Hamels with one out.
Why do we assume that with the better training, better athleticism, better nutrition, of today’s players, that pitchers in a post-DH world would be automatic outs? Tonight they were integral – maybe the integral – offensive figures.

Game 3 – Why Was The Camera There?

There is no question that Alex Rodriguez’s fourth-inning shot hit a television camera just over the railing near the rightfield foul pole, and thus per the ground rules, was correctly reviewed by the umpires and judged a home run.

The question is, why was the camera put in such a position that it was partially in play? In short, while it was conclusive that the ball hit the camera, the intent of the ground rules, and the ‘primary directive’ for judging their application, is: what would’ve happened if the camera, or the fan’s hand, or whatever, had not been there.
It certainly was not conclusive that if the camera had not been there, the ball would’ve gone into the stands, nor hit the top of the railing and bounced back into play. The camera lens seems to have been projecting a few inches past the railing. It should not have been placed there, for the exact reason brought into focus by the Rodriguez homer. It acted like a fan reaching over the rail and interfering with the natural descent of the ball.
This should’ve been a no-brainer. All it would’ve involved was placing the camera a foot further back. It’s startling that the umpires and the stadium officials who routinely survey all potential obstructions at a Series game, two hours or so before first pitch, didn’t see the problem. And more lightly, it is continually amazing that the game of perfect distances can be so precise that a 350-foot blast is either a home run, or just a double, on the basis of a camera lens about four feet in diameter sticking out only about half a foot too far.

Game 3 – Opener

Notes from a hospital waiting room…

I have heard so much about how baseball-savvy the Philadelphia fans are (to be fair, I hear this mostly from Philadelphia fans). But how savvy are you if, when your opposing pitcher hits the opposing team’s superstar with a pitch after he started the Series 0-for-8 with six strikeouts, you cheer?
 

Game 2: So…

…pretty much all of my complaints and critiques before Game Two were wrong. And not just wrong, but comprehensively, even spectacularly so. Not only was A.J. Burnett crisp but Jose Molina kept him focused, and the timing of Jorge Posada’s appearance facilitated Pedro Martinez’s exit, and it secured the Yankees’ first World Series game win since 2003, and they head to Philadelphia in exactly the situation (1-1 with two southpaws ready to dominate Ryan Howard in that ballpark) even though I thought Sabathia would win and Burnett would lose. So I’ll just shut up for awhile.

But first: you think Ryan Howard had a tough night with four strikeouts and now six in nine at bats? Or A-Rod? Six in eight AB’s, without a hit? How about Brian Gorman? I wanted to wait to see the video, but live from behind the plate it seemed pretty clear that Gorman had falsely called “catch” on Johnny Damon’s dying liner to first in the seventh – leading to a critical Phils’ double-play. In the following half inning Gorman did it again, calling Chase Utley out at first on a 4-6-3. Kevin Millar, seated a few rows closer but about eight more farther away from the bag, called Utley safe, and the replay backed him up. Umpiring is ever more difficult as video improves, but when did the arbiters ever have a worst post-season than the current one? If you and your colleagues blew as many big decisions in as short a span, either you’d all be fired or your company would be out of business by now.

I Got Blood Coming Out My Ears

Nothing against the multiple talents of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys but the pregame performance is a LITTLE LOUD.
This is not specific to such programs. They appear to have borrowed Spinal Taps control knob for the Yankee Stadium PA System. An Air Force flyover would probably be drowned out by the Yankee Trivia Quiz.
Nick Swisher, benched tonight in favor of Jerry Hairston, to a Yankee employee wishing him luck: Yeah Ill need it for my next at bat – in Game Seven.
One other thought before Game Two starts: wasnt there a time in the games history when a pitcher like Cliff Lee making a basket catch as he did last night would be greeted by an angry batsman charging the mound?

Game 2: Posada Sits!?!

The sense if the Yankees treating this like another mid-season game against a Detroit or maybe even a Cleveland is underscored by news that Joe Girardi is starting A.J. Burnetts personal catcher Jose Molina and not even keeping Jorge Posada in as the designated hitter.
In Burnetts last start with his essential, vital spirit guide, he gave up four runs in the first inning and then managed to avoid falling further down the stairs – an unfortunate bit of temporary success insomuch as it allowed him to be around to blow the lead produced by the Yanks late six-run rally against John Lackeys successors.
It is a luxury that may not be at all luxurious and is a little overpriced for a team that needs all the lefthanded hitting it needs tonight against Pedro Martinez.
The silver lining of course is that Posada can pinch hit for Molina. Possibly in the first or second inning after Burnett gets shelled again.

Game 2: Pre-Game

Funny that A.J. Burnett said he cant remember much about his kaboom start against the Phillies in the Bronx in May, but Pedro Martinez seems to recall every detail of every nanosecond he spent at the old Yankee Stadium, and in fact each moment inside the city of New York, and probably which of Don Zimmers fingers first touched him during their still remarkable brawl.
I wonder if the Phillies were not reminded by the travails of Brad Lidge of the intensity and focus required to win a Worlds Championship, while the Yankees might have begun to believe all of the exaggerated things written about them in the New York papers. They still dont seem even slightly worried, and given that Burnett has proved himself the most easily rattled pitcher since Nuke LaLoosh, they should be.

CC Yawns

The view from the not-so-cheap-seats:

If attitude foretells outcome, Game One might have been over when CC Sabathia yawned while completing his warm-ups before facing the Phillies in the bottom of the first. Not that Sabathia pitched poorly nor was expecting the Phils to roll over, but for symbolic contrast you can’t beat Sabathia’s yawn compared to Carlos Ruiz calling time, up 6-1, two out, bottom of the 9th, 0-2 on Jorge Posada – and running out to talk to Cliff Lee when Lee was an out away from one of the modern Workd Series pitching masterpieces. Turned out he was reminding him there was a runner on. 
Also disturbing, and far more visible on the tv replay than in the ballpark, was Hideki Matsui’s vapor lock on the bizarre Jimmy Rollins trap-catch of Robinson Cano’s dying liner in the 5th. Matsui’s obligation, in the absence of conclusive guidance from the umpires, is to get his butt back to first base as soon as Cano has passed it. As it proved, Matsui was entitled to return to the base and Cano was out. But even if it was the other way around, Matsui, forced at second, then standing at first does not in any way endanger a Cano who is safe at first. The umpires also did a mediocre job making clear that Rollins had caught the ball and not trapped it, but it’s Matsui’s responsibility to not let himself get tagged out for a deflating double play.
I don’t think any Yankee other than Derek Jeter hit one of Lee’s pitches squarely, and there by itself is another decisive contrast: those two homers by Chase Utley were, as you’ve doubtless heard, the first surrenderred by Sabathia to a lefthanded hitter at Yankee Stadium this year. One good team played above expectations, the other, well below them.

Big Mac, Big Mistake

So the last time we saw Mark McGwire he was giving the worst possible answer to questions from Congress about steroids. And then he vanished without a trace, and the location of his supporters and defenders shrank to one area code in Missouri, and every day somebody hoped he’d figure it out: his reputation was shot anyway, he wasn’t going to the Hall of Fame, he had been given by fate a license to tell kids not to get involved with performance-enhancers and thus redeem much of his own unacceptable but easily forgiven perfidy.

Instead, crickets.
In March, that ludicrous “I’m not hear to talk about the past” announcement will have been five years ago. And now we are informed that McGwire, who never had a reputation as much of a student of the game (although he was secretly tutoring several Cardinals including Skip Schumaker and Matt Holliday, and they swear by him), and who never addressed his past, will suddenly emerge from nowhere to coach the Cards’ hitters next season. 
Just a guess here, but he might get a question about PED’s from the media, and he might get an occasional taunt from the fans. Look, this isn’t going to be 1998 in terms of reportorial attention, and it’s not like hitting coaches run out to the plate as pitching coaches do to the mound so the booing will probably be at a minimum. But who thought this was a good idea, or one that won’t be mocked, debated, and questioned in every city except St. Louis? If Tony LaRussa feels the 2010 Cardinals will need a distraction from questions about their pitching, hitting, fielding, and team chemistry – he just provided it.
THE CURSE IS OVER
I congratulate the National League Champion Phillies who made it to the World Series without my help (snark) for the first time ever. There go any free tickets I might have gotten in the next few years. I’ll live.
I suspect the Yankees will win the Series in six, possibly five. I would expect the Phillies to pound A.J. Burnett mercilessly in Game Two but otherwise be largely thwarted by the Sabathia/Pettitte combo. A monster Series out of Dennis Werth, himself the stepson of a long-ago Yankee, would be the key to an upset.
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