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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Going To Take ... 

a miracle ... or if not devine intervention, then a lot of luck.

Last Night’s Recap: For all intent and purpose the Phillies season came to an end last night in Washington. To put it mildly, it was a disastrous defeat and a disastrous series. While the Dodgers swept the Rockies, the Phillies dropped their second of three games to the Nats and suffered their third loss in four games. After a four and a half hour rain delay the Phillies utterly failed to get anything going against the Nats. Lieber didn’t pitch a great game, but he wasn’t bad either. The problem was the Phillies offense, which managed just five hits and two walks and couldn’t get a single extra-base hit. After playing so brilliantly, they choked at the most vital moment of the season.

The Nat’s Matt O’Connor pitched the Phillies well all season and he did a good job last night.

Series Preview: Phillies vs. Marlins. And so it all comes down to this. Tonight the Phillies will send Jamie Moyer to the mound to face-off with the Marlins. I’ve been impressed with Moyer’s performance since he joined the Phillies, though I was skeptical that the 40-year old pitcher would contribute much to the Phillies. I was wrong. He’s actually been a good mentor to Cole Hamels and he’s done a great job pitching. He has a 4.6 strikeout to walk ratio, and while he’s surrendered eight home runs, he’s been pretty tough to face. Moyer has also pitched the Marlins well this season. He’s started two games against them and won both, with a 3.86 ERA. He pitched well in his start at Dolphins Stadium, going eight innings and surrendering just one run on five hits, while getting four strikeouts and no walks. Tonight’s game is vital to the Phillies playoff chances, and I like having Moyer out there. He is a strong pitcher to be going tonight.

Tomorrow night the Phillies send Randy Wolf. Wolf pitched just one game against the marlins this season, going four and a third innings, surrendering three runs on three hits and five walks. Let’s hope that Randy does a better job than he did this year or last year, when he gave up a 7.71 ERA to the Marlins. I was reading in the Philly Metro paper that the Phils might switch things around and try to move Myers up to Saturday and fit Cole Hamels in for the final game of the season, but I am skeptical we’ll see that.

Sunday, should the Phillies still be in the hunt, the Phillies will send Brett Myers. Brett hurled twenty innings this season against the Fishstripes and went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. He gave up just two home runs and K’d 18 batters while walking just six. He’s a good guy to have closing out this season for the Phillies.

What is interesting to me is that matchup on the final day of the season. The Phillies close against Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins terrific pitcher. Yes, Willis has a 6.75 ERA against the Phillies this season, but he’s pitched much better than that indicates: he’s K’d 20 Phillies and walked just five. He also has a 1.13 WHIP and a .225 batting average against. Aside from giving up some big hits to the Phillies in those games, Willis has generally pitched the Phillies well. One thing: with how shaky the bullpen is these days, I’d expect to see Cole Hamels close out the game on Sunday if the Phillies hold the lead.

Wildcard Watch! … I am skeptical – as I am certain everyone else in the Delaware Valley is – about the Phillies chances this weekend because … well, I am a Phillies fan. We’ve seen this before. I feel that the decisive moment of the Phillies season was their 4-3 loss on Tuesday to the Nats, a loss than put them a game back with just six left, a loss that left them needing help to make the playoffs, rather than controlling their own destiny. Now, two games back with three left, the Phillies need the Dodgers to lose at least two of their three games this weekend and the Phillies have to sweep the Marlins. No margin of error here. And I don’t see that happening. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

Wildcard:
1. Los Angeles: 85-74
2. Philadelphia: 83-76 (2.0)

Monday I’ll post-mortem the Phillies – Marlins series. I’ll either be discussing the Phillies foe in the NLDS if they made the playoffs, or I’ll be discussing the Dodgers – Phillies playoff game, or (and let’s face it, this is the most likely) I’ll be giving a brief overview of the Phillies season before moving on to talk about the playoffs.

Keep reading A Citizen’s Blog, because even the end of the season won’t stop me from talking about the Phillies. I still have my Season In Review series, and I have a long-term project that I intend to unveil for everyone. Stay tuned!

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Throwing it all away.... 

Last Night’s Recap: I ended up going to bed after watching Tom Gordon’s awful performance in the ninth inning, so I was relieved to see the Phillies pulled things out in the fourteenth and escaped with a victory. It was a good thing too, because with the Dodgers 6-4 comeback victory over the Rockies, the Phillies ought to have fallen another game behind in the wildcard race last night. That, quite frankly, should have been poison for the Phillies playoff chances. But despite trying to give the game away more times than I could count, the Phillies found a way to win. The performance by the bullpen was pitiful: Geoff Geary’s throw to first on Logan’s bunt ought to have been scored an error, but it wasn’t. Gordon’s performance was atrocious. The Phillies can’t afford to have this guy back as their closer next year.

Other problems with last night: the Phillies committed four errors (at least) and allowed the Nats to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the third inning, putting them behind the eight-ball the entire night.

This series was supposed to be an easy three game sweep on their way to the big Marlins showdown in Miami, but the Phillies have allowed the Dodgers to seize control of their own destiny. If the Phillies don’t make the playoffs these last two games are the reason why: they blew opportunities to close out victories and were forced to play catch-up.

One aside: with their loss to the Cardinals last night, the Padres saw their lead for the NL West shrink to a game. With the way that the Dodgers are streaking towards the playoffs right now, the Padres might actually be the team the Phillies have to catch after all.

Let’s hope Jon Lieber can pull out a clutch win tonight in his final (regular season) start.

Wildcard Watch! … Cincinnati falls out of post-season contention with their loss last night. With just four games left the Astros have no chance, being four games back, but are still theoretically in the hunt for the wildcard.

1. Los Angeles: 84-74
2. Philadelphia: 83-75 (1.0)
3. Houston: 80-78 (4.0)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Black Tuesday 

Last Night’s Recap: Well, if the Phillies lose out on the wildcard they will likely point to last night’s game - a 4-3 loss to the Nats - as the reason why. From Chase Utley’s home run / foul ball to Michael Bourn being thrown out trying to steal second in the eighth, the Phillies were the victims of a lot of mistakes, some their own fault. Utley’s home run is a bad break and something the ump ought to have picked up on, but it was a close call. Stranding ten base-runners and sending Bourn to second when Coste, who is hitting pretty hot right now, was at the plate is inexcusable. So the Phillies ended an inning with a runner on. Coste led-off the ninth with a double: with Bourn’s speed he might have been able to score, but he almost certainly would have gotten to third, giving the Phillies the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second for Jimmy Rollins. It was a bad call and might have cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers pitched a good game: he allowed just two extra-base hits – both doubles – and twelve of the sixteen balls put into play that he allowed were ground balls. Good performance, he really gave them a chance to win.

Well … enough dissecting last night’s performance … I outlined the Phillies series with the Nationals yesterday, so I figured that I might outline the Dodgers road ahead since what happens to them weighs heavily on what the Phillies do over the next few days. The Dodgers faced off again tonight against the Rockies, whom they beat 11-4 last night, then again tomorrow, followed up with a weekend series against their hatred archrivals, the San Francisco Giants.

The Rockies are a weird team this year: once a collection of sluggers and bad pitchers, they’ve transformed themselves into a group of defense-oriented small-ballers. I never imagined that I’d see the Colorado Rockies rank eighth in isolated power instead of first, or seventh in Fielding Independent Pitching instead of fifteenth or sixteenth. Or that the Rockies would be the second-stingiest team in the majors to hit a home run against.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

But they are exactly like the Dodgers, a team built on base-stealing, small-ball and pitching. The Dodgers are second, after the Phillies, in OBP, but fall below the league average in slugging percentage. The Dodgers have relied on clutch hitting all season: they rank first in BA w/ RISP at .282, a key factor in driving in their runs. The problem is that their offense is so keyed on getting guys on base and getting them home with timely singles that when the bats fall silent the Dodgers struggle. The Dodgers are so bizarrely streaky that just after the All-Star Break they when 1-13, then rebounded, won eleven games in a row and eventually went 17-1. Later in August they proceeded to lose four games in a row and then turned around and won seven in a row before losing another three. The Dodgers could lose their final five games, or they could win all five. Either result to me is more likely then them going 3-2 or 2-3.

Tomorrow the Dodgers send Derek Lowe against the Rockies. I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen from Derek Lowe since he left the Red Sox following the ’04 season. Unlike what the Phillies got with the inconsistent Jon Lieber, the Dodgers got exactly what they wanted when they signed Lowe: a groundball pitcher who would keep the ball in the park, keep the walks low and get the fielders lots of chances to make 6-3, 5-3 and 4-3 groundouts. What has Lowe done? 0.61 Home Runs per nine innings, 2.4 walks per nine innings, 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. His 3.65 FIP is right in line with his 3.57 ERA. He’s also induced 28 double-plays this season. Last year’s leader in GIDP’s induced was Tim Hudson with 32, so that is pretty good. Lowe has helped his fielders out too: just 15.4% of the balls he put into play were line-drives. He is a tough, tough cookie to crack.

Tomorrow the Dodgers send Brad Penny, the former Marlin, to the mound. Penny is another Dodgers hurler having a good season: 16-9, he’s pitching better than his 4.21 ERA indicates (3.73 FIP). Like Lowe he’s tough to homer off of (0.87 HR/9), keeps them off the bases (2.4 BB/9), but unlike Lowe Penny gets some strikeouts (7.0 K/9).

Friday the Dodgers send Hong-Chih Kuo to the mound against the Giants. The rookie hurler is pitching much, much better than his 1-5 record indicates: his FIP ERA is 3.03. The scary thing is that he’s struck out 28% of the batters he’s faced (65 K’s against 236 batters faced). After that, the Dodgers send Greg Maddux (4-3, 3.26 ERA as a Dodger) on Saturday Night, followed by Lowe on Sunday. If a one-game playoff were needed for Monday against the Phils, I’m assuming that Brad Penny will make the start.

I am deeply impressed by the depth and quality of the Dodgers pitching staff. Man-for-man, they are all better than their Phillies counterparts, Cole Hamels excluded. Maddux in particular looks to have been rejuvenated at the age of forty since his trade to L.A., lowering his ERA almost a run and a half. The Dodgers FIP ERA is third-best in the N.L. after the Mets and Astros. They are stingy with the walks (3.1 a game) and even more so with the home runs (a league-best 0.9 a game).

As I look at the Dodgers right now I fear that they are clicking on all cylinders. This is a streaky team, but right now they look like they are on a hot streak rather than a cold one. With last night’s loss, I think the Phillies playoff hopes are looking bleak.

Wildcard Watch! … Now the Phillies need Cole Hamels to come up big. They cannot drop three in a row right now and they cannot put their playoff destiny in the hands of another team any more than it already is. I wouldn’t call tonight a Must-Win, but a loss would leave the Phillies with little margin of error going into their series with the Marlins.

1. Los Angeles: 83-74
2. Philadelphia: 82-75 (1.0)
3. Houston: 79-78 (4.0)
4. Cincinnati: 78-79 (5.0)

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Six Games to Go 

Last Night’s Recap: The Phillies bullpen squandered an opportunity to move ahead of the Dodgers by a full game last night, surrendering three runs in their three and two-thirds of an inning. It is a pity that the Phillies final home game of the season was a loss, given how the team has surged in the last several weeks at home. While the Astros are playing good baseball down the stretch, it is pretty disappointing to lose a chance to control your own destiny. On the bright side, Jimmy Rollins is on a tear, having hit a home run in four of his last seven games. Let’s hope he keeps this up in D.C.

Series Preview: Phillies vs. Nationals. After doing surprisingly well in 2005, actually winning 81 games and having a .500 record despite sitting in last place, the Washington Nationals took a bit of a step in the wrong direction in 2006. Assured of a losing record, the Nats are just trying to avoid losing 90+ games, which looks to be a given. Sitting so near the Orioles home base in Baltimore and forced to compete with the Braves, Mets and Phillies, I refuse to believe that the future has much to offer the Nats. They look to be destined to be a junior player in the National League.

The team’s worst decision this season was to not deal Alfonso Soriano to the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, whomever … I refuse to believe that the market was so terrible that their interests were better served keeping him on the team for a stretch run where they had little, if any, chance at getting into the wildcard race.

The Nats don’t have a lot of weapons here: they have one of the worst pitching staffs in the N.L., they are average fielders: they’ve allowed more runs than any other N.L. team. Offensively, they are a wreck: they don’t hit for power, they don’t get on base particularly well, etc. They hit worse with runners in scoring position than the Phillies (.255 vs. .250). After Alfonso Soriano they have two very good players: first baseman Nick Johnson (.428 OBP) and likely Rookie of the Year Ryan Zimmerman (.348 OBP, 101 RBIs). But the rest of their offense is pretty average and they don’t go as deep as the Phillies.

Tonight the Phillies send the core of the rotation into the fray, starting with Brett Myers. Myers has pitched well in September, going 2-0 in four starts with a 2.40 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Myers seems to have put his arrest for assaulting his spouse to the back of his mind after a rocky August. At the moment he might be the Phillies best pitcher, but he’s struggled in 2006 against the Nats, going 2-1 but with a 7.52 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP. Tonight’s game ought to be a mismatch, however, as the Phillies are batting against Ramon Ortiz, who is 0-2 against the Phillies with a 12.91 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP. With the way the Phillies have hit Ortiz and Myers good run, they ought to win. Myers is slated to start the final game of the season, Sunday, October 1, against the Marlins.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA

Tomorrow the Phillies send Cole Hamels in his final start to the 2006 campaign. Hamels campaign was a triumph, particularly of late. Since the All-Star Break he’s cut his walks allowed in half, from 24 in 44 & 2/3 innings to 23 in 81 & 2/3 innings (or from 4.84 per nine innings to 2.53 per nine innings). He’s also dropped his ERA from 5.44 to 3.31. Hamels has pitched the Nats well this season, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA (and a 1.05 WHIP), K’ing 18 and walking just five. I am very confident that Hamels will win this one, particularly given that Hamels is going against Pedro Astacio (5-5, 6.12 ERA, 1.59 WHIP), whom the Phillies hammered for fourteen hits, six walks, two home runs and ten earned runs in his two starts against them for a 11.74 ERA and a 2.61 WHIP. This ought to be a major mismatch.

If the Phillies win the wildcard, Hamels will almost certainly hurl Game One of the NLDS.

Finally Jon Lieber starts his final game of a season he’d probably prefer to forget: if he wins he’ll even his record at 10-10. Lieber improved slightly after the All-Star Break, but he’s had a rough year. He only threw two innings against the Nats back in May in a game where he left with an injury and didn’t return until July 6th. While Lieber has won five of his last six decisions, he’s also surrendered a lot of home runs this season. This could be a tough game for him, particularly given that the Phillies face Mike O’Connor, a rookie who has pitched them well, going 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA. Ominously, O’Connor never surrendered a home run to the Phillies in eleven innings of work.

Wildcard Watch! … It’s just a two-team race (three if you factor in the Padres) for the wildcard. The Giants and Braves were mathematically eliminated last weekend and the Marlins would have to sweep their series with the Reds and hope the Phillies and Dodgers both get swept in their final games just to force a tie. Not bloody likely. The Astros are still theoretically in the mix, but they are really chasing the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central crown and they stand a pretty good chance at making it happen. The Reds are just trying to play spoiler. No, this is a race between the Dodgers and Phillies. Kinda like the 1950 pennant race all over again, when the Phillies captured the crown on the last day of the season with a ten-inning, 4-1 victory over the Dodgers that saw Richie Ashburn gun down what would have been the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth at home plate. Are we going to see as dramatic an ending?

1. Philadelphia: 82-74
1. Los Angeles: 82-74
3. Houston: 78-78 (4.0)
4. Cincinnati: 77-79 (5.0)
5. Florida: 76-80 (6.0)

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Monday, September 25, 2006

A Good Weekend 

I said Friday that the Marlins – Phillies was going to be a vital, vital series to the Phillies playoff chances and it was. If the Phillies go on to win the NL wildcard, this was the series where they did it at.

On Friday the Phillies won 5-2, largely on the strength of a three-run home run by Ryan Howard in the third inning and a superb six and two-thirds inning performance from Cole Hamels, who allowed just one run and K’d ten Marlins. The next day it was Lieber’s turn to be commanding on the mound, allowing just two runs on seven hits in seven innings, striking six Marlins out while not allowing a single walk or home run. (This is the sort of start that the Phillies thought Lieber would be hurling when they got him.) The surprise hero of the day was Carlos Ruiz, who went two-for-four with a walk and three RBIs. Jimmy Rollins got home run #23 as well. Sunday Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Chris Coste and Pat Burrell clobbered home runs in a 10-7 win for the Phillies. It was J.Roll’s 24th home run of the season. Jamie Moyer hurled a solid six innings, surrendering five runs, to get the win.

What really surprised me from the weekend were the contributions from players who weren’t even on the Opening Day roster: Hamels, Ruiz, Coste. The Phillies Young ‘Uns turned in a great performance this weekend. Ruiz went two-for-four with three RBIs on Saturday and Coste went five-for-ten with three RBIs and a run scored this weekend. Hamels? Well, Hamels is the Phillies best pitcher. These are significant contributions from guys who weren’t even going to play this season. The farm system is doing something right.

So the Phillies go back to Citizens tonight to play the Houston Astros. The Phillies send Randy Wolf (4-0, 5.47 ERA) against the Astros rookie pitcher Matt Albers (0-2, 6.00 ERA). This is the final home game of the season for the Phillies, aside from the post-season (?) I hope Citizens is filled to the brim with screaming Phils phans for this one. You’d have to give the edge here to the Phillies here: the Astros are a below-average offensive team that actually hits worse in “clutch” situations like with runners in scoring position than the Phillies. Their pitching and defense is much better than the Phillies, but you have to figure they have negated their advantage in the former by sending a rookie against Randy Wolf, even though Wolfie is not having a good season: 1.82 home runs allowed per nine innings and 5.11 walks per nine innings allowed.

Nice 38-24 win the Eagles got in the City by the Bay. (Pardon me for the quick diversion into football.) McNabb riddled the ‘Niners D for 296 yards and two TDs on 18-of-33 passing. The Eagles D scored a touchdown and did a good job bottling up the ‘Niners offense early before slackening off and allowing some cheap second-half yardage. Here are the 49ers yards by quarter:

1st Quarter: 12
2nd Quarter: 93
3rd Quarter: 177
4th Quarter: 90

The Eagles out-gained the ‘Niners 172 to 12 in the first quarter, and 318 to 105 in the first half.

My only gripe … well, my two gripes are that the Eagles turned in another miserable second-half performance and they really didn’t run the ball again.

First, the Birds netted -16 yards in the third quarter while the ‘Niners got 177. Time of Possession in the second half was lop-sided: the ‘Niners held the ball for 21:15 while the Birds had it for 8:45.

Second, the Birds really didn’t try to run the ball. Sure Brian Westbrook had 117 yards of rushing. He also only carried the ball eight times and 61% of those yards came on a single play. Look at what the Eagles did in their second-half drives: run by Westbrook for five yards, McNabb incomplete, McNabb incomplete, Punt. Next drive: McNabb completes a pass for negative one yard, Buckhalter runs for two yards, McNabb sacked, punt. Next drive: McNabb incomplete, Westbrook runs for seven yards, McNabb passes for five yards, McNabb passes for sixty yards, Westbrook rushes for touchdown eight yards. Next drive: Moats runs for eight yards, McNabb incomplete, McNabb incomplete, Punt. Next Drive: Buckhalter for three yards, Buckhalter for four yards, McNabb sacked, Punt.

Second-half play selection: ten passes, seven runs. They still need more balance.

Next-up: Monday Night against the 1-2 Packers and Brett Favre, who had his best game in probably a year or two yesterday against the Lions (25-of-35, 340 yards, three TDs). Not an easy game, plus the Eagles have to avoid the temptation of looking forward to October 8th against the Cowboys.

Back to baseball …

Wildcard Watch! … Teams that are officially eliminated from the playoffs? Colorado, Arizona, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Chicago Cubs … oh, yeah, and the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies can officially eliminate the Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants as well tonight with a win. At the moment the only way both teams could catch the Phillies would be to win every game and have the Phillies lose every game. Not likely. So it is really a three-way struggle for two playoff slot between the Dodgers, Padres and Phillies. This is going to be a fun week.

1. Philadelphia: 82-73
2. Los Angeles: 82-74 (0.5)
3. Houston: 77-78 (5.0)
4. Cincinnati: 76-79 (6.0)
5. Florida: 76-80 (6.5)
6. San Francisco: 75-80 (7.0)

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