Saturday, April 10, 2004
The Best Week Ever! (Baseball Edition)
So what team had the best week ever?
ta-da! The Oakland A's. Okay, maybe taking two out of three from the Texas Rangers isn't that big of a deal, but the A's have looked very strong in all of their first five games. Even losing to the Rangers 2-1, Barry Zito looked strong. These guys are legit. These guys are better than last year, and they won 96 games last year!
(Close runners-up: The Detroit Tigers.)
Let's give that honor to Mr. Pat Burrell, shall we? I know his .467 BA isn't going to last, but over the first four games of the year he's looked strong. Given how awful his 2003 was, this is good news for the Phils.
What blog had the best week ever?
I'm giving that honor to our friends over at AthleticsNation. Terrific site, terrific analysis of the A's. I read it every day.
-I wish I could have watched the Seattle - Oakland game today. The A's are my second-favorite team, and they are off to a terrific start this year. Difficult not to be impressed by the Big Three's start. I know that four consecutive ALDS exits are hard for A's fans to take, but I really am starting to think that the A's might be the second best team in the AL after the Red Sox. If it ain't the Sox, its going to be the A's in the series.
Hudson looked awesome on the stat-line: one run in nine innings of work, no walk and just four hits allowed. The stat that jumped out at me was that Hudson needed just 86 pitches to retire the Mariners. Wow. How's that for brutal efficiency? Now if the A's could score some runs with frequency ... these guys are gonna be good this year. Mark my words.
-Hmm, 3-2 Phillies in Florida, but the bases are jammed for Conine.
I know that following the game on CBS Sportsline is tough, but its the best way when you aren't there...
Alright. More later, no doubt.
On the plus side, the Burrell reclamation project is going along swimmingly: 3 RBIs, a .467 BA.
Discouraging to say the least. On the plus side, this evening, it was very enjoyable watching the Braves drop a 2-1, 15 inning marathon heart-breaker to the Cubbies on TBS. Get 'em tomorrow, boys. They better not go into the Reds series 1-5 ...
Friday, April 09, 2004
3 down, 159 to go … The opening series of the season has been a mild disappointment: I had anticipated the Phils taking two of three. I think that the opening of the season really matter little, and given that players like Jim Thome don’t come on until May or later, this probably isn’t an accurate indicator of how the Phils season is going to go.
(I wonder if the weather played a factor – I can vouch for the fact that Monday was insanely cold here in the ‘Burgh. Far colder than usual.)
Well, Burrell and Wagner's perfomance these last few days have been good. Now if they can just keep it up...
The most disturbing fact about these first three games have been the way the Phillies bats have been silenced. We don't want to repeat last year.
The Pirates pitching staff is better than advertised, but... the Phillies should have done better than 3 for 32 with runners in scoring position.
The Florida series coming up will be important to the Phils for psychological reasons as well as baseball ones. Realistically, the Phillies competition for the NL East comes down to two teams: the perennially contending Braves and the upstart Marlins, both of whom seem much weaker in '04. The Phillies definately don't want either team to think that past glories are an opinion in '04, so putting them away early is crucial:
The Phillies want to beat both teams in head-to-head matchups to gain a little space in the standings. The Marlins were the team that owned the Phillies last year: they won 13 of 19 games. The Marlins strength in the head-to-head matchups in '03 just killed the Phillies by sapping their morale down the stretch. It wasn't just that they were losing ground, it was that the team that they were chasing was the very team that was hurting them. Taking two out of three from the fish in Miami will help the Phils by getting them to .500 as the home stretch for opening of Citizens Bank Ballpark is in the offing. It will also enable the Phillies to get ahead of the Marlins for the first time since last August.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
Thome hit .227 last April, and .210 in May, 2002. Both times he followed up the next month by going on a tear: .297 in May, 2003; and .330 in May, 2002.
Imagine Thome's numbers without his April starts!
I remembered, the other day, Sports Illustrated's 50 States, 50 Years issue which covered Pennsylvania last year in early August. I thought the polling results were interesting. When asked which baseball team people rooted for, Pennsylvanians said:
Yankees 9% (everyone in Scranton & the Northeast must be a Yankees fan, I guess)
I thought it was an interesting, and surprising, result given that the Philadelphia Metropolitan area comprises 5.1 million people, compared with just 2.4 million in Pittsburgh. I suppose people in the "T" (Erie, Altoona, Scranton, Harrisburg) root for the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins over the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers, because the poll had pretty much uniform results of Pittsburgh sports teams winning by about 5%-8% each. (Click here for the poll.) I wonder why that is: general antipathy in the state towards Philadelphia sports teams? Why do the Pirates and Penguins, who struggle to bring people to PNC and Mellon Arena, poll ahead of the Phillies and Flyers?
I leave it to you, dear reader: which is Pennsylvania's team?
(Interestingly, the rivalry between my alma mater (Pitt) and Penn State is the state's biggest rivalry despite the fact that they haven't played since 2000 (when Pitt won 12-0) and won't play again for a long time.)
There is lots to be happy about: Wagner getting his first save as a Phillie, Worrell looked good in the eighth, and Burrell got two more hits. Looks like he's put '03 out of his head. Now if the bottom of the order can start hitting, we'll be made in the shade!
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
I'll comment tomorrow!
The first time I logged onto Baseballblogs.org and began reading what fans had to say, it was a revelation for me: communicating with fans about my favorite team, sharing my thoughts, hopes, feelings and frustrations has been enormus fun ... and I've only been at it a few weeks! I've missed, for the longest time, not being able to communicate with Phillies fans. I loved, after watching monday's game, logging onto other Phillies blogs like The Citizens Report , Shallow Center and Philles Fan to see what their takes on the game were. (Bill over at Philles Fan made a great point in my comments about how dumb Bowa's decision was to bunt in the eighth.)
Thanks for your thoughts and praise. I'm proud to add my voice to the (as one person referred to it) blogosphere!
Anyway, on with the show! Go Phils!
Let's see how it goes...
Dye's fast start, in particular, must be good news to Bay Area fans. Since he was added to the team in '01, he's been a disappointment. If he's having a big year, and if Durazo breaks through, I think that the A's might run away with the AL West.
I might have to re-think my pre-season predictions!
As I watched the images of Veterans Stadium imploding on Sports Center a few weeks ago…
…and my thoughts turned towards hot summer nights at Veterans Stadium. Back then going into Philly was a big deal: I grew up in the suburbs. (Downingtown, in Central Chester County, to be exact.) (My hometown is the sort of place that most people want to live in: quiet, peaceful and pretty. And green. As an aside, just having a yard is something that, after having lived in a major city for the last nine years, I’ve found that I really miss. Urban life has its advantages, but there are things that you lose.) When I was twelve and thirteen, a city like Philadelphia was a massive, scary metropolis of gray concrete: towering buildings and traffic and people bustling all about. The weather here in Pittsburgh turned nice a week or so ago (high-60s - low-70s, blue skies) after a brutal winter and the transition to summertime has begun. As I was walking on my school’s campus last week and I smelled freshly-cut grass and felt the sun on my face and I remembered lazy summer days when I was a kid: swimming in the pool, playing baseball in the backyard all summer, etc.
Phillies games at the Vet are a big part of those summer memories: My grandfather, who lived in Philadelphia for years, took me to Steve Carlton Night back in '89, which was a thrill. To be there when the Phillies honored a legend like Lefty... After that we went to Geno's for a cheesesteak and cheese fries. (Still one of the best meals I've ever had: nothing beats Genos.) My grandfather also took me to J.D. Drew's second game against the Philles in '99: I still remember the outfield crowd hurling Drew's fifth inning home run ball back onto the field amid thunderous cheers.
My Father took me several times too. Father-Son trips to the ballpark are part of growing up: My Dad & I bonded a lot sitting in our seats at the Vet, my dad explaining what was going on to me (until I finally caught on to why someone could still score on a sacrifice fly). We saw some great games: Von Hayes blasting a walk-off home run against the Giants in '90, sticks in my mind, as well as several Barry Bonds moonshots (I probably saw Barry hit three or four home runs).
Those are some of my memories. I'm sad to see her go, but Citizens looks like a palace, a gleaming cathedral of baseball:
I'm sure plenty of Fathers & Sons, and Grandfathers & Grandsons, will have the same memories I have. It's what being a kid is all about.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
It is difficult not to be impressed by both pitchers performance yesterday:
Wells / Millwood:
INN: 6.0 / 6.0
Hits: 5 / 7
BB: 3 / 0
K: 7 / 4
ER: 0 / 2
Wells looked very good, but it struck me that Millwood had good stuff too: he pitched with real authority out there and probably could have given another quality inning or two if the Phillies hadn't needed the run.
Defensively, I think the Phils looked fine. Redman's RBI double was the crucial play of the game:
It was a sharply hit ball to his left and I don't see how Thome could have played it any better. Aside from that hit and we've got a 1-1 game.
The only discouraging sign was that the Phils bats went so cold, aside from Polanco and Burrell. Burrell in particular looked good: imagine come June or July when Thome starts heating up and Burrell is in stride ... these guys really could hit 100 home runs this season. Or at least eighty. But the rest of the lineup needs to heat up. It was frustrating, watching them flail at Wells fastballs.
Anyway, the bottom line to me was that it was a close game. Wolf will just have to get 'em tomorrow.
Monday, April 05, 2004
-Kevin Millwood looked pretty good for his six innings of work. Four K’s, no walks … He looked like he had good stuff. Another strong year from him coming...
-Pat Burrell looked very good. 3 for 4, run scored is a nice way to open 2004.
So why did the Phillies lose? Things just broke the Pirates way today. Kip Wells is the Pirates ace and he looked very good out there, which bodes well for the Pirates chances. (The Pirates can at least trade him for a decent player in July.) Simply put, the Pirates caught a few breaks: Tike Redman's line-drive falling just out of Thome's grasp ... Wolf will just have to come back and get them on Wednesday.
I'm very curious to see how Millwood does today. I think its important for all concerned that the Phils ace get off to a good start.
My thoughts on the Phillies-Pirates battle for Pennsylvania: It is going to be really cold today (a high of 42 today), so I wonder if the Phils might be operating at a disadvantage because they are on the road. Must be more comfortable to play in extreme cold at home.
I wouldn’t count on having a raucous crowd at PNC today: as this Post-Gazette article sums it up, the Pirates fans simply don’t care or expect too much because the Pirates have spent the last eleven years losing. Worse, management doesn’t look like they much understand how to build a winner. Also, this really isn't a big game for either team. They don't play each other much under the new scheduling, and the Pirates aren't likely to challenge the Phils for a playoff slot. Historically, there isn't much of a rivalry between these two teams, but there is, sort-of, a rivalry between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in general. Penguins-Flyers games tend to be bitter and nasty. Steelers fans flat-out despise the Eagles.
But I think the rivalry is mostly felt by Pittsburghers: people from Pittsburgh dislike Philadelphia in general, and Philadelphia sports teams in particular. Why? I think there is a stronger sense of cultural identity to this region amongst Pittsburghers: two years ago, on election day, I was visiting a YMCA north of Pittsburgh with my fiancée. I had already voted at my home in suburban Philadelphia by absentee ballot. I was taking my fiancée home to vote and we stopped off at the Y to help her mother with a catering job. I struck up a conversation with one of the older guys there about the election: he asked me who I voted in the Gubernatorial race. I voted for Philadelphia Mayor Rendell, and I expressed my enthusiasm for his candidacy. The guy listened to my arguments, smiled and politely told me that he voted for Mike Fisher, not because he agreed with Fisher, but because Fisher is from Pittsburgh and he would never vote for someone from Philly. I don't think that people from Philadelphia would ever dislike a candidate because he was from Pittsburgh. I simply don't think that they'd care.
(The Pittsburgh v. Philadelphia war, as played out in the 2002 Governor’s race here in Pennsylvania was a real farce: Fisher ended up running commercials in Pittsburgh assailing Philadelphia cheesesteaks as being inferior to Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros. cheesesteaks ... Seriously.)
I think that shows up in sports too. People in Philadelphia hate and despise New York teams, and Philly fans are often a little perplexed about the depth of dislike Pittsburgh sports fans have for our teams. I remember listening to Penguins fans root against the Flyers in the 1995 Eastern Conference finals and thinking: "What do you people got against us?"
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Tomorrow against the Pirates! It's going to be cold! (38 today and it is April!) People here in Pittsburgh are pretty apathetic, so I don't expect much excitement from the locals at the game tomorrow. Depressingly, MLB had to schedule the Phillies to come to my locale right when I'm deluged with work, so I can't go. (Depressing, I know.)
I predict the Phils will take 2 out of 3 from the Bucs.
Opening Day here we go!!!!!