Results tagged ‘ Joe Blanton ’

They Might Be Phillies

This will not be as exhaustive a preview as was the one for Yankees-Rangers because I see this one more in terms of momentum, and expectations not met and others exceeded.

The Braves were in such desperate straits that they had to stick a career pinch-hitter at second base because he was less worse there than at third. Their closer’s career came to an end in the middle of an inning. Their rookie relievers barely held it together. Their outfield was made up of Jason Hayward and a variety of American League and Pittsburgh Pirate refugees. And they still rallied twice on the Giants’ bullpen and each of the four games of their NLDS was a one-run affair.

The re-loaded Giants couldn’t average even three runs a game off the gutsy, wobbly, fill-in Bravos, and now they’re supposed to go up against Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, and a not-too-shabby Joe Blanton (6-1, 3.48 after the All-Star Break) and produce something closer to four or five a night to have any chance.
I just don’t see it.
Tim Lincecum’s starts might be classics, and Halladay and/or Hamels might repeat their dubious performances from the regular season against the Giants. But I doubt it. And more over, I doubt that a team that survived the season in which the odds caught up with them and put 17 different of their guys on the disabled list is going to be knocked off by anybody but the best – and the Giants are not the best. 
The series might be brief.

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul
ball.

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my
mother.

3.
And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

ATLANTA is
the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

4.
Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

12.
Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

13.
Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

19.
Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

25.
Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

27.
Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

If FLORIDA
could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing -
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

DIVISION PREDICTIONS:
I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.

Tillman1967.jpg

LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….

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 4: Pitchers

CC Sabathia seems to be struggling with his mechanics.

Joe Blanton is (as usual) struggling with looking too much like Turtle from Entourage.
And the conspiracy theorist within is struggling with the possibility that Charlie Manuel used the hit-by-pitch as an intentional walk for Alex Rodriguez in the first inning with the specific hope the umpires would warn both benches and thus take the inside pitch away from Sabathia. 
The latter is unlikely, but certainly the first part of it would be anything but unprecedented.

Bunning And Short And Lidge… And Happ?

I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but it may have been 1987. I never knew his name and I could not then verify his story, but he claimed that he had been at every one of Gene Mauch’s opening days since 1965 (and a lot of other Mauch-managed games, even some in spring training).

His act was always the same. He was there when the park opened, and he stayed till it closed. And any time he thought Mauch could possibly see him, he raised his sign, which read, simply “BUNNING.” If he had one friend with him, that guy carried another sign reading “AND SHORT,” but there was supposedly a three-man version (one fellow with “AND” and the other with “SHORT.”). “He has to be reminded,” I heard the guy say. “He has to be reminded, every year, what he did.”
The vengeful fan’s argument – echoed by a lot of people then and now – was that the infamous Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 was neither organic nor accidental, but the direct result of a crazy managerial strategy pronounced by then-Phils’ skipper Gene Mauch. Around the 13th of September that year, with Ray Culp lost to injury and onetime ace Art Mahaffey shaky, Mauch had pronounced that he wanted the Hall of Fame righty Jim Bunning, and the unsung southpaw Chris Short to each pitch in each of the remaining six series the Phils had to play. “Bunning and Short,” Mauch supposedly said, “these are my men. Bunning and Short.” If Mauch indeed said it on the 13th, he said it when the Phillies still had a six game lead and an 86-57 record.
They would thereafter go 6-13 and between them Bunning and Short would win a total of three games and the Phillies’ collapse would be etched for all-time as the most painful, if not the mathematically worst (they were still 90-60 after play on September 20th, still six-and-a-half up, and then lost 10 of the last 12).
So this fan followed Mauch to Montreal, to Minnesota, to the Angels, and every year trotted out his message of “Bunning And Short.” And Gene Mauch never did get to the World Series, and as history narrows his place in its nooks and crannies, it will be for the collapse, and “Bunning And Short,” that he will be remembered. 
And I wonder if Charlie Manuel isn’t going to join him. Inherent in the criticism of Mauch is that there is nothing unforgivable in a manager, other than inflexibility. Indeed, some of the greatest managers have been the ones who have let go of their deathgrip on consistency. Think of Connie Mack starting the washed-up Howard Ehmke in Game One of the 1929 Series. Ehmke was, in fact, Mack’s seventh starter, behind Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, 24-game winner George Earnshaw, 18-game winner Rube Walberg, and three lesser lights who had each won 11. Ehmke merely set the then-record for strikeouts in a Series. Later skippers like Chuck Dressen used relievers like Joe Black and Clem Labine as Series starters. As late as 1974, Walter Alston was leaning towards starting Mike Marshall – who had only relieved 114 times that year – to start the sixth game against Oakland, if the Dodgers had survived that long. Consider Mayo Smith of the 1968 Tigers deciding, on August 23rd, with his team up by seven-and-a-half games but his shortstop Ray Oyler hitting just .142, that he had better find an alternative – and giving centerfielder Mickey Stanley an audition of exactly nine games before penciling him in at short for Game One of the World Series.
And here is Good ‘Ol Charlie, insistent on closing with Brad Lidge, who has the singular flammability – and more impressive, the endurance - of the infamous Underground Fire Of Centralia, Pennsylvania. I have written before here of the paucity of viable alternatives: Ryan Madson is now at 8/14 in Save conversions this season, but just 13 of 32 lifetime. Brett Myers may not be able to pitch on any nights, let alone consecutive ones. Eyre, Park, and Romero are hurt. Condrey’s a quandary and Durbin’s doubtful.
But whatever his future redemption might be, Lidge is Charlie Manuel’s ticket to Mauch-like infamy. He needs to punt, and he needs to punt now, and he has insisted he will not. And still there is Tyler Walker and his respectable record as a closer, or if this still somehow seems more terrifying than a guy doing the Human Torch act during your three-game failed defense of your World’s Championship, take a page from Chuck Dressen or Walter Alston, mix in a little Mayo Smith, and work in reverse. Nominally, at least, you have six starters, two of whom you will not use as such no matter how long you go in the playoffs.
This is no time to stick to tradition. Crunch the numbers and talk to the men and, if need be, ask for a volunteer. Presumably you cannot envision a world in which you don’t start Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee as often as you can. But are you really risking your rotation if you pick one man out of the other four to serve as your emergency closer? 
Interestingly, just a superficial look at data suggests there are two candidates, one of each arm kind. A closer must have, more than any other attribute, the ability to be effective immediately. If you get that first man out in the ninth, your track record with runners-on or in late innings becomes decreasingly relevant. And one Philly starter offers these numbers in the first innings of his games: .219 opposing batting average, .259 opposing on base percentage, less than one base-runner per first inning, 3.41 ERA. Another maps out at  a.197 BA, .288 OBP, 1.05 WHIP, 1.35 ERA.
The first guy is Joe Blanton. The second one is J.A. Happ.
Charlie – you can’t get by without one of them in your rotation? Hamels, Lee, Happ, Martinez is too lefty-laden for you? What about Hamels, Lee, Blanton, Martinez? (Parenthetically, if you’re wondering about the others, Hamels has a .238 OBP in the first inning, Lee .268, Martinez .369, Moyer .381. Intuition tells you that a still-rehabbing Pedro might be the choice – the numbers don’t).
The point here, of course, is that if the Phillies swap out Lidge for Blanton or Happ, and it fails, Manuel will be criticized. But at least he won’t be criticized for ignoring the possibility that there was a way of avoiding the iceberg. Fate even offers him one righty and one lefty, to fit whichever kind of rotation he thinks will serve him best against whoever he might face along the way.
The other alternative, I’m afraid, is three guys showing up every day for the rest of Charlie’s managerial career. One has a sign reading “Brad,” the second has one reading “Lidge,” and the third one uses the fireplace lighter for comedic effect.
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