Results tagged ‘ Chase Utley ’

2012 Previews: N.L. East

11 homers, 44 RBI, and a .769 OPS, in 103 games.

It’s kind of hard to believe that looking at those numbers, or more correctly looking at the loss of those numbers, would lead lots of folks to completely write off the 2012 chances of one particular club.

Those are, of course, the 2011 statistics of Chase Cameron Utley, who may or may not be the second baseman in PHILADELPHIA for part of 2012. Filling a similar role of not-quite-two-thirds-of-a-regular last year, Utley was part of a Phils squad that won its division by 13 games. In slightly fuller part-time duty the year before, Utley’s Phillies won the East by six games. In 2009, his last complete year, they also won by six games. In 2008, his last great year, they won by three.

It’s ludicrous to suggest that the Phillies have gotten better the less Utley has played. But it’s just as ludicrous to suggest that he is somehow irreplaceable. They replaced him fine the last two years, and even when he came back to hit .438 in the NLDS, they still managed to lose with him. But now Utley is a complete maybe, and the Phillies are supposedly dead.

Bolshoi.

The actual argument about the loss of Utley is that a healthy version would have compensated for the real damage done by the absence of Ryan Howard. Yes, he basically can’t hit lefties any more (in 2008 counting the post-season he drove in 52 runs against left-hand pitching; last year, 28, including 0-for-6 against Cardinal southpaws in the playoffs). But he’s still like the big fat kid on the playground: he tends to win nearly all the wrestling matches.

Utley’s presence was ultimately necessary because of Howard’s absence. Hell, they could’ve played him at first and saved a little wear and tear on him. But as immobile as Howard appears as the dawn of a new season breaks, his problem now is largely down to recovery from an infection that sounds suspiciously like a hospital bed sore. If and when it is fully knocked out, he will heal up quickly, and his stamina will recover adequately.

In short, the message to the assumed contending trio of the Braves, Marlins, and Nationals is: you’d better bury Philadelphia while Howard is still out. Because if you don’t, you won’t when he comes back. There’s just too much there there, especially in pitching, especially with the seeming Nostradamus act of Ruben Amaro almost re-signing the destined for injury Ryan Madson only to suddenly pull Jonathan Papelbon out of the hat. If the Phillies get any worthwhile production out of Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre and Freddy Galvis, they’ll be good if not great (and surely Galvis is a defensive upgrade at second base).

The three other contenders in this division are hard to sort out, and are probably all overrated. WASHINGTON has no pennant race experience, ATLANTA has too much, and MIAMI thinks it isn’t necessary.

The Braves are the likeliest to provide the challenge. Jair Jurrjens’ incremental velocity loss is a major concern, as are the horrific springs of Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. So is the prospect that last season they actually burned out – rather than just wearing down – Jonny Venters. There are, however, waves of pitching options, and a strong offense that cannot again crater the way it did last September. I don’t think much should be expected of Chipper Jones, but on the other side of that coin, the Braves may have stolen a Jose Bautista-like player from Cincinnati in last Sunday’s trade for third baseman Juan Francisco.

Francisco has always had a reputation for tremendous power and a throwing arm not exceeded anywhere in the minors. But the Reds had transformed him from prospect to suspect by bringing him up in each of the last three years – and not having him do anything. We all know Dusty Baker’s inexplicable twist of the ’60s catchphrase: Don’t Trust Anybody Under 30. But Francisco may be Baker’s most appalling victim, worse even than what he did to Todd Frazier. Until September 1st of last year, Juan Francisco had started consecutive major league games once in his life. With little to play for down the stretch, Baker gave him a few more shots – three streaks of three starts in a row and three more of back-to-backs. Francisco responded with what was basically a 19-games-as-a-starter sample slash line reading 3/15/.280/.314/.500/.814.

I know straight extrapolations are dangerous it stretches out, but in just 114 games in a theoretical platoon with Martin Prado, Francisco’s line stretches out to 18/90/.280/.314/.500/.814. The kid has a thick body and needs to work harder, but countless are the examples of the underachievers who blossom when somebody has no choice but to play them regularly.

I do not see the Nationals competing offensively unless Bryce Harper ascends early, and all the indications from spring training implied this would be a 2013 event. Desmond and Espinosa can be a valuable offensive tandem but strike out fearfully often, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche begin the year hurt, and there is still no indication that Jayson Werth’s 2008-10 run was not his peak. The bullpen is very nice and the rotation is probably second in the division, but who has felt the heat, close and late? LaRoche, Werth, Lidge, and the ever-relocating Edwin Jackson.

The problem with the Marlins is that all of their offensive stars – Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Reyes, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison – could live up to expectations and the team could still linger around .500. I do not like this rotation. Josh Johnson is overpowering, but though he has been with them off-and-on since 2005, he has only once thrown a full complement of starts. Mark Buehrle is an innings eater but no all-star, and if you’re depending on Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, or Carlos Zambrano, you haven’t been paying attention. It is intriguing that 74 percent of the homers hit by Morrison and Stanton last year came with nobody on board, but that rotation and most of that bullpen seems shaky.

As an aside, the Miami experience will be as important at the gate as on the field. If the Marlins underachieve – or achieve and the fans still under-attend – there could be a quick fire sale, or a desperate effort to move the mega-contracts. And this isn’t just about South Florida. It reflects no great insight to realize that the willingness of the state of Florida, and the cities of St. Petersburg and/or Tampa to contribute to a new ballpark for the Rays, is almost wholly dependent on what happens in Miami. If the Marlins don’t draw, there is no other conclusion to reach than that the Rays will almost certainly have to move before 2017. They have developed a winning machine in Tampa Bay, and a loyal fan base, but very few of those fans seem to want to express their loyalty by paying, and fewer still want to pay their way into that nicely redecorated aircraft hangar.

I don’t have the heart to be rude about well-meaning NEW YORK. It is infuriating, knowing how that organization is infused from almost the top, to the very bottom, with earnest, hard-working people, that a team in a smaller market and a younger mega-tv deal spent the winter vacuuming up Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, while this club with its own tv channel couldn’t even make a serious offer to Jose Reyes. Worse yet, despite a few bright spots on the horizon, there is no immediate hope of improvement. Barring somebody collapsing above them, the Mets are likely to finish last this year and for several to come.

2012 N.L. EAST FORECAST:

The Phillies hang tough long enough for Howard to return in time to beat back the Braves, Nationals, and calamity-stricken Marlins, in a tight but possibly anger-filled race. The last-place Mets will sparkle on some days and Johan Santana’s comeback will be heart-warming – and then they might still have to deal him off.

Fantasy Baseball Advice For The Late Drafter

You don’t really want to know about my fantasy teams (well, except the name of the American League one, which I think achieves our league’s annual goal: the ideal conflation of current events and baseball – The Moammar Garciaparras). But you may yet gain some useful info from the two fairly early drafts, one for each league, which occupied much of my weekend.

Biggest news I can now share is that while in Florida, every Philly source I talked to – from the casual ones who talked a lot, to the in-the-know ones who tried to say nothing – left me with the same impression: Chase Utley is not going to play baseball this year. Supposedly they are trying rest and minor rehab now, which will tell them whether there is a remote possibility that more rest and more extensive rehab later could preclude surgery. If not, they’re going to cut him. Even if they decide they can get away without opening up the knee, that rest-and-rehab route could just as easily cost him the season.

So I guess nominating him in our auction this afternoon while there was still decent money on the table makes me a stinker?

Still, I’m not the one who paid $16 for him. Other injuries of unknown duration also did not scare a free spending NL-only league (sixth year, second auction, some real sharp fans). Mat Latos went for $20 even though the Padres are so strapped that Tim Stauffer will start on Opening Day. Brian Wilson still fetched $17 (comparison: Heath Bell, $18). Very late – after Francisco Cordero had gone for $15 and Brandon Lyon for $7, we shelled out $13 for J.J. Putz and $6 more for Brad Lidge. Both Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson were picked up as collars for Lidge (I think it’ll be Contreras) and Daniel Hernandez was an excellent no-risk flyer for Putz.

There was the usual star-sniffing inflation among the impact players. Most valuations of Hanley Ramirez place him at around $39 in an NL-only operation. He sold for $45. I reached past his likely $36 value to pay $42 for Carlos Gonzalez, and if Troy Tulowitzki’s inflation from $28 to $38 shocks you, or David Wright’s growth from $27 to $38 – you’d better sit down for these next two. Several of us must have read Matthew Berry’s note on how well Dan Uggla has hit lifetime in Atlanta, because he may have been valued at $22, but I gave up on him at $33.

And best of all was Mike Stanton of the Marlins, whom most analysts have pegged at a value of $20 or so. I think Stanton is going to bust through all ceilings this year, and so did another bidder. I won him – at $36. Before you think we’re daft, I won the league last year and the fella who was willing to pay $35 finished second.

I suspect his Florida teammate Logan Morrison will also turn heads before October, and the Pedro Alvarez I saw at third base in Florida two weeks ago had the confidence of an All-Star. What else did I pick up that you can use? Ian Desmond will lead off for the Nationals this year and Jayson Werth will inexplicably hit second. This means lovely things for Mr. Desmond. Brian McCann is saying all the right things after the Luis Salazar nightmare, when he was ready to retire when he thought he’d killed the man. But he hasn’t hit a lick since. He’s still the best, but be careful.

Lastly: on NL pitching, if you wait for it, it will come. Lincecum cost $33, Halladay $29, Kershaw $27 (the Commissioner is a Dodger fan who brings a radio with him to the games), Cain $24 (one guy named his team “Your World Champion Giants”), Cris Carpenter, Tommy Hanson and Ubaldo Jimenez $22 each. But I put together a perfectly respectable starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, James McDonald, Javier Vazquez and Carlos Zambrano for $22 (and stashed Johan Santana and – what the heck, Strasburg – for another $3).

If you care, here are my guys and their values. All but Soriano ($15) and Carlos Lee ($14) were on my “Favorites” list – and I happily took them at what I saw as 25-30% discounts. The rest of these choices I firmly endorse (although Alex Gonzalez may be wildly overpriced at $2). SP I mentioned. Bullpen: Axford $11, Lyon $7, Romo $4, Contreras $1 (we count holds). C: Buck $3. IF: Sandoval $19, Alvarez $16, Kelly Johnson $16, Lee $14, Espinosa $3, Alex Gonzalez $2, Chris Johnson $2. OF: C. Gonzalez $42, Stanton $36, Victorino $22, Hart $19, Soriano $15, $2 Morrison. Santana and Strasburg will go on our two-man DL to be replaced by a free agent starter and another set-up man.

My American League info will be of less use to you because in this one we do not start annually from scratch. There are keepers – up to six of them – and not everybody has the same idea what they are for (I kept an underpriced Nick Swisher at $12 and five guys at a buck apiece; a dear friend of mine kept Mauer and Teixeira – at $42 apiece). But I do have some useful info, most of it pertaining to the wonders that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer appears to be working for Kansas City. Kila Ka’aihue is powdering the ball and will push Billy Butler to DH. Melky Cabrera has lost weight and regained bat speed. And the Siren’s Call is being heard again: “Alex Gordon! Al Exxxxxx Gorrrrr Dun!” Line drives are flying off his bat and witnesses say he perfected first his new swing and then his new timing mechanisms. In any mixed league you should be able to get these guys very cheap, and probably only in an AL-only league is Ka’ahuie on the radar.

Also: fear of injury just doesn’t seem to register. Kendrys Morales went for $25 in our league, even though a likelier estimate of his contribution this year is about $18. Francisco Liriano still got a $21 pricetag, and in one of the more mystifying results, David Aardsma, who a year ago went healthy at $9, went this year, injured, for $12.

My team will indicate who I expect to flower in the AL this season. The freezes were Swisher, J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson. More relevantly, these are the new purchases: (SP) Haren $26, G. Gonzalez $9 (most reports from Arizona agreed: Most Improved Pitcher this spring), Pineda $2, Matsuzaka $1 (I think he will do very well this year; he seems to be really listening to the new pitching coach Curt Young), Niemann $1. (RP – again, holds count): C. Perez $15, Jenks $3, Farnsworth $1. (C) Napoli $12. (IF) A. Gonzalez $38, A. Rodriguez $38, Nishioka $15 (this is a rookie of the year candidate), Hardy $5 (another bounce back year – he was described to me as “the 2007 J.J.”), C. Guillen $2, Dan Johnson $2. (OF) Crawford $40, Raburn $15, Ordonez $7, Gordon $6, Cabrera $2.

The only other insight I have from the AL is the Rays’ bullpen. It is unlikely that Joe Maddon will make Jake McGee his closer early or maybe at all – too valuable as a lefty specialist. Like dozens before him, he will give Farnsworth a try. If you don’t have to invest too much in him, you can, too. The real story of the spring has been how good the much traveled Juan Cruz has looked, though he’s more likely to wind up as the 8th inning man.

Final point: drafting has its rewards and I’m not going to call anybody who prefers it names, but if you want to be tested and challenged, once you go Auction, you’ll never go back. There is a palpable energy curve during the thing and a tremendous sense of fairness – you never get stuck with the 10th pick and thus miss on the best (and your favorite) nine players. If you didn’t get Pujols, you have nobody to blame (or commend) but yourself.

But it is essential that you price every player and stick – within reason – to individual price. It is also necessary to push players – the ones you want and the ones you don’t – up to within at least a couple of bucks of where you’ve priced them. And until you’ve nominated about 10-12 guys do not nominate a player you actually want. It is your job to get as much money off the table as possible. Are there guys in your league who are more loyal to their real-life team than the one they’re putting together? Bleed them. Make sure Aubrey Huff goes for more than he could be possibly worth, and make sure you shove those ailing stars out there as early as you can (I not only nominated Utley, I also nominated Brian Wilson). Eventually the madcap money will vanish – all at once you will look up and realize you can’t afford to pay more than $6 for anybody (and neither can anybody else) and the second half of the draft will be filled with a mix of bargains and desperation. It is essential to be able to stock 15 roster spots with $75 or less and be happy with the outcome.

In both leagues we play ESPN’s version and its auction function is pretty darn good. But a glitch seems to have developed this year that cost one owner in each league dearly – irreparably, in fact. If you let the computer literally do your bidding for you, unless you go in and set your own personalized values for each player, the program will bid conservatively – often stopping five or six bucks shy of the “official” ESPN value of a player – on some sort of computer-logic premise that it can spend your money much more efficiently later. This left our owner who couldn’t attend the auction with no fewer than 18 $1 players and $192 in unspent auction money that doesn’t even buy him a discount on ESPN The Magazine. Even last year’s second-place guy who did put in his own values still got screwed. He came home with Ryan Howard, Wright, Tulo, Lincecum, Cain, and ten $1 pitchers. So if you want the highest form of Fantasy Baseball fun, go with the auction. And if you want to survive the auction, do not do it on auto-pilot.

Besides which, why would you want to? As one of our more astute owners said today, counting holidays and his exciting film and tv career and, I assume, even his exciting dating life, this is the happiest day of his year.

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

The Josh Hamilton-Bengie Molina Series

They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.

Simply put, for whatever degree of offensive incompetence the Phillies didn’t create themselves, Lopez did it for them. He pitched in all six games and faced Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each time. And they were 1-for-12 off him, completely mesmerized by his left-handed sidearming.
Josh Hamilton faced him this year, went 0-for-1. He faced him three times in 2008, went 1-for-3 with a double.
Past performance, as they say, is not a guarantee of future results, but even if Lopez continues his hot streak (and remember his ERA for the Red Sox in ’09 was 9.46), Hamilton just isn’t as easily dominated by lefthanders. If his ALCS home run details don’t tell you that (Game One: Sabathia; Game Three: Pettitte; Game Four: Logan — all LHP, plus a fourth game off Sergio Mitre in garbage time), just check out his 2010 splits:
                                    AB    HR     RBI     AVG    SLG
At Home Vs LHP           82       5       13     .305     .524
On Road Vs LHP           84       3       10     .238     .393
Overall Vs RHP           352      24      77      .401     .716
That last one is thrown in there for the edification of Brian Wilson. Josh Hamilton hit .401 against right-handed pitching this year.
This underscores the Giants’ obvious problem: Hamilton is the only essential lefthanded bat in the Texas line-up. These are not the Phillies. The bats who surround him, particularly Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero, are all righties. The other lefties in the Texas lineup are fungible.
In short, unlike the Phillies, the Rangers are not going to whiff themselves out of big innings by virtue of their power being suffocated by a same-side sidearmer. 
The other salient issue of this Series is Bengie Molina. We are in new territory here. Never before did the catcher for one of the World Series teams open the season catching for the other World Series team. Pressed about this in interviews, Molina has been taciturn, almost blank, insisting he doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage. I think Benjie wants us to believe that, but if for no other reason than the Giants have to completely rejigger the pitch signals and any lingering dugout-to-coach or coach-to-hitter signals, he will inconvenience San Francisco mightily.
For my money, the kind of scouting Molina can offer on San Francisco pitching is the kind of information for which teams scramble at this time of year. The Yankees’ National League scouting under the supervision of Stick Michael was so startlingly good that during the ’99 Classic it seemed as if few Yankee fielders had to step more than a foot or two to field or grab a ball, so well did the Yankees know what and where the Braves would hit it. My guess is Molina can provide that – only in real time, on the field – for all of the Giants’ pitchers (and imagine during his own at bats, his familiarity with their pitch qualities, selections and patterns).
The most recent vague comparison to this unique situation would probably be Ted Simmons, who moved from the 1980 Cardinals to the 1981 Brewers, then wound up facing his old team in the ’82 Series. Simmons caught Game One and the Brewers pounded his old St. Louis battery-mate Bob Forsch 10-0 (with Simba hitting a homer). They faced Forsch again in Game Five and beat him up for six runs in five-and-two-thirds. In the other starts they lost to John Stuper (a 1982 rookie Simmons had never caught) and Joaquin Andujar (who joined St. Louis half a year after Simmons was traded). In the other Milwaukee victory, the Brewers were largely stymied by Dave LaPoint (one earned run). He had gone from Milwaukee to St. Louis in the Simmons trade.
For these two reasons alone (we haven’t even mentioned Cliff Lee) I like the Rangers and fast: five or six games.
Just for the record, Molina will join very, very select company when he appears against the Giants in Game One. Only Lonnie Smith, who started 1985 with the Cardinals and then played against them for the Royals in the Classic, has previously pulled off the both-teams stunt. The year before, reliever Sid Monge went from the Padres to the Tigers but did not pitch in the post-season for Detroit. Of all the MLB-issued media guides to all the World Series I’ve covered, the one I cannot find is 1984, so I can’t check my memory that Monge was indeed eligible but just wasn’t used.
If not, he falls into a slightly larger club: playing for both Series teams in one year, but not being eligible for the Classic. Jack Kramer (1951 Giants and Yankees), Johnny Schmitz (1952 Dodgers and Yankees), Jim Bruske (1998 Padres and Yankees), and Chris Ray (2010 Rangers and Giants) are on that list, and if you want to stretch it, so is catcher Eddie Tucker of the 1995 Indians, who wound up the property of the Braves the same year but never playing for them.
So there.

NL Preview: Phillies, Giants

Nothing would please me more than to see Bobby Cox walk off a field for the last time, on his way to a World’s Championship Trophy presentation (well, except maybe watching him get ejected on his way to the presentation, but now I’m just being silly).

I don’t think it’s going to happen. As much as Cox patched together just enough breathing players to manage to hang on to the Wild Card, the tank is pretty empty now. The Braves were barely surviving the loss of Chipper Jones by turning super-sub Omar Infante into a regular, when Martin Prado followed Jones on to the out-for-the-year-list. This reduces the Atlanta infield to Infante, Alex Gonzalez, a Derrek Lee who has been pretty lethargic since coming over from the Cubs, and Brooks Conrad, who has shown a strong bat at the plate, but some evidence that he brings the same bat with him onto the field.

Similarly the Bravos’ rotation is a mess. Jair Jurrjens turned his season around after his first injury, then came back from his second one overweight and ineffective, and then injured himself for a third time. Tim Hudson has been effective all year, but Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson have been up and down, and heaven help Coxy and Roger McDowell if they have to rely on either Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy.

The one wild card for the wild card team is production from the outfield. When you have Jason Heyward plus a combination of any two of Ankiel, Cabrera, Diaz, Hinske, and McLouth, the possibilities that Cox could catch lightning in a bottle for a short series in CF and LF, should not be discounted.

But we haven’t even started trotting out names like Buster Posey or Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum yet. The Giants, barring a dry-up of biblical proportions, should handle the Braves easily, possibly by sweep. If they don’t, they have some serious explaining to do.

Similarly, as fond as I have been of the Reds’ chances since last March, I cannot see them getting past Philadelphia. The depth of Cincinnati’s rotation – such an advantage during the regular season in the fluid N.L. Central – means that they could get everything or nothing from Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto.

More over – understandably under the radar in a year of chaos, injury, and perseverance in Philadelphia – were remarkable improvements Ryan Howard and Chase Utley made against lefthand pitching. This, you’ll recall, was Philly’s undoing in the World Series last fall (particularly in the case of Howard).

But look at Howard’s splits this year:

VS LHP                 12 HR     39 RBI    .264 BA      .492 SLG
VS LHP at home      6 HR     16 RBI    .260 BA      .470 SLG

The cohort is not exactly small, either. Howard had 193 at bats versus lefties, 100 of them in Philadelphia. He obviously learned something. And while he went just 2-for-12 against Reds lefties during the season, one of the two was a game-winning two-run blast off Arthur Rhodes to win a game in Philly on July 9th. Howard has not seen Aroldis Chapman, but unless Dusty Baker plans to use Chapman as his specialist against lefty bats and switch Rhodes or some righthander to 8th inning duties, the onus will fall on Rhodes, not Chapman.

Utley actually did better against southpaws this year than righties:

VS LHP                 10 HR     27 RBI      .294 BA      .581 SLG
VS RHP                  6 HR     38 RBI      .266 BA      .381 SLG

Those numbers are even a little more extraordinary than they seem. Utley had 289 ups against righties and only 136 against lefties yet his power came against the southpaws. He has no track record against the Reds this year – 1-for-3 off Cueto in the June 28th game in which he hurt his thumb.

So if the Chapman versus the Phils’ power bats thing may not really be an issue, we’re back to the idea of which trio of starters is more likely to get punished: Volquez, Arroyo, and Cueto, or Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt? It would be a bigger upset than the Braves over the Giants if the answer turns out to be the latter.

 

Beerless Forecasts

How The Phillies Can Still Win

So,
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:

- CC
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?

- Chase
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?

- Two
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?

- Joe
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?

- Cliff
Lee would have pitched a complete game?

- The
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?

- Ryan
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
daring base-running?

- Mark
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?

- Joe
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?

These
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.

The
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
season.

But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
rest tonight.

Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.

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.

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.

Yankees, Quickly

I know, I know – the Yankees have not even made the World Series yet. George Steinbrenner would file a protest if somebody told him I was already picking them to beat the Phillies.

But I speak to you as a season-long skeptic about New York, who now looks at this team and believes they should’ve swept the Angels, but for some over-managing by Joe Girardi. I still think the Yankees have some holes and I wouldn’t leave my season in the hands of A.J. Burnett and I still don’t like starting CC Sabathia on short rest. 
But one set of statistics should make Phillies fans shudder: 

1-8-.178-.290-.290.

Those are Ryan Howard’s numbers against lefthanded pitchers, during the regular season, in Citizens Bank Park, in 2009. And it’s not a small sample, it’s 107 at bats, and he struck out in 51 of them. And no matter whether Girardi is going to push the envelope on Sabathia and try him on three days’ rest again, or play it safe, there will be two games at home in which Ryan Howard will have to face Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. He has seen nothing like them individually during the post-season, and nothing like them in tandem, conceivably in consecutive starts, during the regular season. The Phillies might as well bench him in those games over Halloween weekend.
It’s not like he’s good against lefties out-of-town, either. Howard’s line this year is 6-33-.207-.298-.356. And he will open at Yankee Stadium against Sabathia, who during the season gave up twelve hits, and no home runs, to lefthanded batters, in fourteen starts. Pettitte has been less dominant than Sabathia against lefty hitters in New York, but even he has only surrendered five homers to them at home.
The other Phillies do not fold entirely against southpaws but they become less imposing. Here are their key lefthanded or switch batters versus lefty pitchers:

Ibanez:   13-40-.285-.359*-.639*

Rollins:     7-22-.230-.266-.425*

Utley:      11-33-.288-.417-.545

Victorino:  2-12-.314*-.385*-.459*

  * better LH than RH

The problem becomes apparent when you consider the way the two ways the Yankees could set up their rotation:

Game One, Wednesday 10/28, @ New York: Sabathia*

Game Two, Thursday 10/29, @ New York: Burnett

Game Three, Saturday 10/31, @ Philadelphia: Pettitte*

Game Four, Sunday 11/1, @ Philadelphia: Sabathia* or ?

Game Five, Monday, 11/2, @ Philadelphia: Burnett, ? or Sabathia*

Game Six, Wednesday, 11/4 @ New York: Pettitte* or Burnett

Game Seven, Thursday, 11/5 @ New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

If the Phillies get to the seventh game, and if Joe Girardi plays it conservatively, they will have already had to face starts by three southpaws, and then beat Pettitte in the finale, with Sabathia available in the bullpen. It is absolutely plausible that Girardi will not be conservative at all, and will have already started both Sabathia and Pettitte twice each, with Sabathia gearing up for the start in the decider.

It’s a slightly more daunting task than beating the Rockies with no lefty starters, and then flummoxing a slumping Clayton Kershaw and beating, in a do-or-die game for the other team, a starter who was released by Texas two months ago and on whom you can always rely – he’ll always let you down. And they don’t have a power plug-in for the DH in The Stadium (unless Charlie Manuel were to pull a real rabbit out of his hat, like John Mayberry, Jr.).

I don’t think they can do it. Congrats on that pennant.
PS: For whatever this is worth, Howard went 2-for-14 in the three-game clash at Yankee Stadium in May. The hits were both off Sabathia, and both infield singles to the left side.
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