Friday, October 06, 2006
For the last year or so I’ve been kicking around ideas about an extended project on the 1950 Phillies, the Wiz Kids. When most Phillies fans are asked to talk about what teams they remember they usually name three: the ’64 Phils, the team that choked on their way to the National League Pennant; the ’80 Phils, the team that won the franchise’s sole World Series; and the ’93 Phils, that loveable crew of misfits who nearly won the World Series that year. I’ve always thought it a little odd that the 1950 Phils don’t really get their due.
The Wiz Kids were a heck of a team. They were the youngest in the National League and they dethroned the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers, winners of the NL pennant two of the three previous years, in dramatic fashion. Had the team gone on from 1950 and realized its promise, perhaps the history of baseball in Philadelphia would have been different: instead of the Giants – Dodgers hegemony the NL saw in the early 1950s, the Phillies might have been in the mix, they might have been a contender, they might have even been a dynasty.
Instead the Phillies belly-flopped to fifth place in 1951, twenty-three and a half games behind the New York Giants. From 1951 to 1957, the Phillies record hovered around .500 and the team finished fourth or fifth each year. The players that made up the Wiz Kids – Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons – could never recapture that magic. The team collapsed during the 1958 season, finishing dead-last in the NL. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Phillies returned to .500, and a big factor in that was the presence of the expansion Houston Colt .45’s and the New York Mets, teams the Phillies went a whopping 31-5 against that season while going 50-75, .400, against the rest of the NL. Two years later the Phillies would have their epic collapse which would scar the team for the next decade.
I intend to dissect the Wiz Kids every way I know how. Those familiar with my writing will see my usual stats (Gross Productive Average, Isolated Power, Runs Created), as well as a few new ones (Base Runs). I also intend on branching out and giving my readers biographical sketches of key Wiz Kids, including players like Ashburn, Simmons, Ennis and Roberts. I’ll also be giving a narrative of the season.
But as I said, I'll continue to take a look at the post-season: I think the Mets are well-set for continuing along to the NLCS against the Cardinals. I am very surprised that both teams won because the Mets are so short on pitching and the Cards are essentially a one-man team. Without gaffes by the Padres and Dodgers in this series (e.g., the Padres botching a run-down of Pujols yesterday and the Dodgers sending two guys to get tagged at home on Wednesday), these series might be very different. The Yankees lost yesterday too and A-Rod turned in a less-than-impressive performance: 0-for-4, three K's. Ouch. Maybe the Tigers can win this after all?
So sit back and kick your feet up. Tuesday: The Wiz Kids Part I, The Road to 1950
Thursday, October 05, 2006
The playoffs rolled on with the Cardinals & Padres taking the day off as planned, the Yankees and Tigers taking a rain delay, and the A’s took a 2-0 lead over the Twins.
I am utterly stunned that the Oakland A’s took both games in Minnesota and now head to the West Coast just needing to win on Friday to close out the series and advance to the ALCS. I hope the A’s do it, because I want them rested and ready to take on the Yankees when the ALCS kicks off next week. History is not exactly on the A’s side here: they blew 2-0 leads in the 2001 and 2003 ALDS (the A’s were the last two times that a team blew a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, which has only been done four times), but you sort of feel like the A’s have momentum behind them.
Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher have both been great in the series for the A’s, but the real star of the series has been the A’s pitching and defense, which allowed just four runs in the first two games. I think their strength there bodes well for their series with the Yankees.
Meanwhile, much to my chagrin, the Dodgers shot themselves in the foot and dropped Game One 6-5. The bizarre play at home plate in the fifth inning where Kent and Drew were both tagged out was a shocker and utterly killed whatever momentum the Dodgers had for this game. Without that gaffe, I am confident that the Dodgers would have won Game One of this series. That said …
Today Hong-Chih Kuo goes against Tom Glavine. Sort of a must-win for the Dodgers, as they don’t want to go to L.A. with a 2-0 deficit and need to dig themselves out of the hole. I’ve seen plenty of teams rally from 0-2 deficits in the playoffs. Specifically, it has been done four times since 1995: the Red Sox did it over the A’s in 2003 and the Indians in 1999, and the Yankees did it against the A’s in 2001. The first time a team rallied from 0-2 was in ’95 when the miracle Seattle Mariners rallied from 0-2 to upend the Yankees.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I think that 2007 will be Manuel’s make or break season: if the Phillies don’t make the playoffs, they will probably cast him off to make room for Gillick’s guy. I am mildly surprised to see Manuel return at all, in truth, because I figured that Pat Gillick would want to install his own manager with his own philosophy rather than keep the old regime’s man on the job. It is a surprising move to me, but I like it.
Long-time Phillies organist Paul Richardson died at age 74. Gayle Sims wrote a nice article about his passing here.
The Playoffs … this afternoon we get Game 2 of the Twins and A’s. I am stunned by yesterday’s 3-2 A’s victory. I assumed, like the rest of the baseball world, that the A’s were a sitting duck for Johan Santana is Game 1 and they’d have to salvage victories in the next three games to win the series. Not so much. Barry Zito out-dueled Santana for the win and the A’s picked up a 1-0 lead. Today’s match-up favors the A’s: Loaiza is a cagey vet and Bonser is a rookie who spent time in the minors. I think the A’s can win, which means they’ll be carrying a 2-0 lead going back to Oakland.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Padres take the day off after the Cards won Game 1, 5-1. The Dodgers and Mets kick off at Shea at 4:00 PM, which is a series that I definitely have my eye on. Game 1 is a good match-up for the Dodgers: Lowe against El Duque. The Mets are so short on pitching that they are going with a three-man rotation for this series, which I think is a major mistake on their part. If this gets into games four and five, El Duque and Glavine could be pitching with dead arms, whereas Brad Penny and Lowe will be fresh and ready to roll. I really think that the Dodgers are going to take ‘em.
Oh, and the Yankees and Tigers go again tonight. Yawn. Let’s get this mercy killing over with.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
First up …
Dodgers vs. Mets. Everyone is assuming that the World Series is going to be a Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees, as it was in 2000. I think the Dodgers are going to have something to say about that. Yes, the Mets were clearly the best team in the National League in 2006. Yes, the Mets have a lot of power on offense and their pitching was good. Yes, the Dodgers were streaky.
And I am going with the Dodgers. This is a team that is streaky, but has played well of late, when it counted. I think the Dodgers rotation of Greg Maddux, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny is far stronger than the Mets depleted rotation of Tom Glavine and … who is pitching for the Mets now that Pedro is gone? The Dodgers pitching is easily better than the Mets and that is the edge. Sure, the Mets are explosive on offense, but the Dodgers are leading the N.L. in BA/RISP. When their offense is clicking, nothing can stop them. Since nobody is predicting the Dodgers to win, I guess I am going with the upset.
Dodgers in five.
Cardinals vs. Padres. This is, quite possibly, the dullest matchup I have seen in years. The Cardinals have the look of a loser on them. They very nearly turned in a more spectacular collapse than the 1964 Phillies and they look shell-shocked and banged up. The Padres are clearly the stronger team: they have the best pitching in the N.L. and they are the best fielding team in the N.L. as well. The Cardinals look like a shell of the team that they once were. Their pitching – specifically their Fielding Independent Pitching – was actually worse than the Phillies much-maligned pitching staff. They are average in terms of fielding. Their offense just isn’t explosive anymore and looks to me like it has become a one-man show: the Pujols show. The Padres don’t score many runs – they might actually be the worst team in the N.L. on offense too – but they are going to shut the Cardinals down and win these games 1-0 and 2-1.
Padres in three.
Tigers vs. Yankees. I badly want the Tigers to win this series. I do. Everything about the 2006 Yankees offends my sense of decency and fair play. Big market team, New York City, Derek Jeter, A-Rod (that god of metrosexuality) … Outside of the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area, does anyone – aside from the bandwagon jumpers – actually like the Yankees? Rooting for these guys is like rooting for the Storm Troopers to kill Luke Skywalker. This is such an arrogant, obnoxious, spoiled team that I think they’d be stunned to take a look and discover that they are the villains of baseball. As Susan Sarandon said in Bull Durham: “The world is made for those not cursed with self-awareness.” The Yankees are befuddled why people hate them. If they could just look at themselves, they’d know why.
So I want the Tigers to win. Ain’t gonna happen. It is going to be close, in part because the Tigers have a better pitching staff than the Yankees, but the Yankees are loaded on offense and will find a way to score ten, eleven runs a game. The Tigers don’t have the horses on offense to compete with that.
Yankees in four.
A’s vs. Twins. The marquee matchup. This series might end up being the best in the playoffs. Curse the Twins for winning the AL Central and getting to play the A’s at home rather than playing the Yankees on the road. This series pits the two teams that I am rooting for, the Twins and the A’s, so one team will advance to the ALCS, but one team is headed home. The problem that I had with this series is that I thought that the A’s and Twins were both headed for the ALCS. I like the Twins and I think they would have matched up against the Yankees absurdly well: the young, pitching-dominated group would have shut down the Yankees mighty offense, split the first two at Yankee Stadium and then capture two at the Metrodome. Meanwhile, the A’s were going to knock-off the reeling Tigers in four. Not to be.
I love the A’s. They are my favorite team after the Phillies. (The Twins, by the way, are my favorite team after that.) I really want to see them in the ALCS after they fell short four times between 2000 & 2003. The first team to apply sabremetrics to the actual game. A small market powerhouse. A team that played in Philadelphia between 1901 and 1954. I hate to say it, but I don’t see the A’s getting past the ALDS again. This is a great team, very deep and talented, but they just aren’t as good as those Giambi / Tejada-led teams that fell short at the beginning of the decade.
What I like about the Twins is Johan Santana. This guy is unstoppable. He’s the Sandy Koufax of this era. He’s the Robin Roberts of this era. Simply put, if the series goes to five games the Twins have it in the bag because Santana will be hurling game five. I think it will be a Twins victory because they look very deep in their bullpen and have a good offense.
Twins in five.
After that I like the Twins to beat the Yankees in seven games and the Dodgers to beat the Padres in six games. The Dodgers – Twins World Series, a replay of the 1965 series, will be won by the Twins this time in six. But I’ll preview the LCS’s when those matchups are set: I know better than to talk about games that are probably hypotheticals.
Let’s talk some football … Do you know what really pisses me off about the Eagles 30-24 OT loss in week two to the Giants? We’d be 4-0 heading into this Sunday’s matchup with T.O. with games right after that against the over-rated Saints and the ripe-for-the-plucking Buccaneers. We could have been 7-0 heading into the pre-bye game against the Jaguars.
Still, 3-1 is good and the Eagles turned in a dominating performance last night. The defense did a great job with Brett Favre. Sure they never sacked him, but they got pressure in on him the entire evening and forced him to throw two interceptions and twenty incompletions. The Packers never got anything going all night long.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles looked like the old pre-T.O. team. McNabb ran for 47 yards, something that he got away from once T.O. joined the team and he injured his hernia last year. Donovan looked good out there, juking and jiving around the field, spreading the ball around and throwing lasers. His 21-yard toss to L.J. Smith was literally perfect – the only way he could have gotten the ball to him was to thread the needle and lay it in over the defender’s hands. McNabb looked confident and in-control.
I thought the Eagles run-game was so-so. They did a decent job given that they didn’t have Brian Westbrook in the backfield. Moats and Buckhalter combined for 71 yards on 18 carries which is … so-so. They need to commit to the run more late in games to close them out. In McNabb’s final drive of the game they were still throwing the ball. They need to commit to the run at the end of games more.
Anyway, with the Eagles season just heating up and the Phillies season winding down I am anticipating doing more posting at The Bird Blog in the coming weeks, especially with T.O. vs. McNabb in the offing next week. I’ll continue to follow the MLB playoffs, work on my season in review series and pay attention next Tuesday morning for the first post on my big, big project.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Am I pessimistic about the future? Well, I count the Phillies 2006 campaign to be a rousing success actually. Few people gave them much of a shot at making the playoffs anyway, and after the Phillies dealt Cory Lidle, David Bell and Bobby Abreu, even I, the cautious optimist and proud contrarian, agreed with the conventional wisdom and figured that they were finished for the season. What did the Phillies do? They posted the best record in the N.L. after the All-Star Break (45-30, .600) and played some pretty darn good baseball. To make the wildcard, the Phillies needed to vault over nine teams and they very nearly did.
The 2006 season saw the emergence of Ryan Howard as the team’s superstar. The Phillies also got to see players like Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels, two future stars, play and make significant contributions. Chris Coste, Chris Roberson, Carlos Ruiz and Michael Bourn played significant time as well. These are all players who are going to factor into the Phillies plans for 2007 and 2008. I am heartily encouraged that the team gave the fans a look at the future and they ended up playing so well. Dealing Bobby Abreu (and probably Pat Burrell in the off-season, if they can find any takers) has freed up money from the team’s payroll and enabled the Phillies to get younger while still playing good baseball.
I see this team’s future as being very bright. Pat Gillick stated that he had an eye on competing for 2008. This team will contend in 2007 instead.
Tomorrow I will preview the playoffs a little and offer my thoughts on how I think they will unfold. Never fear, however, just because the Phillies are out of the playoffs this doesn’t mean we won’t talk about the Phillies. I have a couple of thoughts on issues facing the Phillies going into the 2007 season, and I have a big project on the Phillies past that I plan to unveil next week. Big project. Huge.