Friday, October 05, 2007
Even for an optimist like myself there really is no way to spin yesterday’s 10-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies as anything but a disaster. Losing the first two games in a best-of-five series at home? The Phillies have dug themselves a hole that they aren’t likely to climb out of.
The culprit last night was the Phillies Achilles Heel, their pitching. Kyle Kendrick got rocked, allowing five hits, two walks and five runs while getting a mere two strikeouts in just three and two-thirds of an inning of work. I had more confidence in Kendrick than was warranted by his pedestrian stats. While there is no disgrace in surrendering home runs to Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrick is also culpable for Kazuo Matsui’s devastating grand slam off Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning that might end up being the nail that sealed the Phillies fate. The massive blast from a player who hit four home runs all season shattered the Phillies for the rest of the game. Matsui’s triple in the sixth inning pretty much put the game out of reach for the Phillies.
The Rockies pitching, so good in Game One, was just good enough to win Game Two. They gave the Phillies chances to get back into the game – specifically I turn my eye to the Phillies bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the eighth inning when Carlos Ruiz grounded into an inning-ending 5-3 ground-out to leave the score at 10-5 – but they were better than the Phillies battered pitchers. Kendrick got rocked, Lohse surrendered the devastating grand slam, and Jose Mesa got hammered for another three runs. It was a horrifying game for the Phillies, who can ill-afford another performance like this from their hurlers.
So let’s look forward to Game Three on Saturday at 9:37 PM Eastern time in Denver, Colorado. Jamie Moyer vs. Ubaldo Jimenez.
The numbers are against the Phillies in Game Three. Jamie Moyer is 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA in his career against the Rockies. In his only start this season against the Rockies, in Colorado on July 7th, Moyer went five and one-third innings and gave up eight hits, three walks and five runs, while getting just two strikeouts on his way to losing 6-3 to the Rockies. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
History isn’t entirely out of the Phillies reach. In the modern wildcard era four teams have rallied from 0-2 deficits to come back and win their series. It hasn’t happened, however, since 2003:
1995: Seattle Mariners dropped their first two games to the New York Yankees and rallied to win the series.
1999: The Cleveland Indians blew out the Boston Red Sox 11-1 in Game Two to take a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, then watched as the Red Sox won the next three games 9-3, 23-7 and 12-8 in an explosion of offense after scoring just three runs in the first two games.
2001: The Oakland A’s took the first two games of the ALDS in New York 5-3 and 2-0. This is the series that the Phillies must hope to emulate, because the Yankees went on to win games three and four 1-0 and 9-2 in Oakland, then they won the fifth game in New York 5-3.
2003: Once more, the A’s took a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, having won game one 5-4 in dramatic fashion when catcher Ramon Hernandez bunted to score Eric Chavez in the bottom of the twelfth inning. The Red Sox took the next two games in Fenway and then eked out a 4-3 win in Oakland to face the Yankees in the ALCS.
The ’01 A’s – Yankees series gives the Phillies the best hope to emulate. A team has lost both of the opening games at home and rallied to win the road games. The key is going to be a fast start for Game Three. The Phillies have to jump on Jimenez in the first inning and give Jamie Moyer a cushion.
Now the series is going to shift to Coors Field in Denver. Coors is unlike any other ballpark in baseball.The idea that Coors Field is a haven for home run hitters is something of a misnomer that needs to be corrected. If you look at the 2006 Park Factor numbers for Coors Field, the park’s Home Run Factor was 114, in other words: a team / player was 14% more likely to hit a home run at Coors Field than in a neutral ballpark. That ranked Coors Field just seventh amongst sixteen National League ballparks. Not so bad. Once you look at batting average park factor numbers, the conclusions shift more dramatically: Coors rates a 111, which is tops in the National League. Run Factor was 115, also tops in the N.L.
When you looked at the numbers spread for 2004 – 2006, there was an event bigger change: Coors park factor was 115 for batting average, and 128 for runs scored, which was 10 and 18 points higher, respectively, than the other N.L. parks. Coors Home Run park factor was just 112, ranking them sixth of sixteen N.L. parks.
The thin air in Denver results in the ball carrying a great distance through the air, faster and longer than it would closer to sea level. As noted in Baseball Between the Numbers chapter on Coors Field (Chapter 8.2: “How Much Does Coors Field Really Matter?”), a ball hit in Denver will travel 300 feet about 0.3 seconds faster than it would in Boston, and thus cut down on the range of an outfielder by eight or nine feet. This won’t pose an issue for Shane Victorino or Aaron Rowand, but in the late innings of a game, if the Phillies are leading and don’t need Pat Burrell’s bat, Charlie Manuel should replace Burrell with a defensive replacement like Chris Roberson. To leave Burrell in the bottom of the ninth of a one-run Phillies lead would be criminal.
This also suggests that Jamie Moyer is probably the worst pitcher to have the ball for the Phillies for Game Three. Of the Phillies four starting pitchers he is the most fly-ball oriented:
Don’t be surprised if Moyer doesn’t make it out of the first inning.
The pressure is going to be on Charlie Manuel to win the next three games. I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast Manuel and Clint Hurdle, the Rockies skipper. The two have contrasting styles, though their philosophies are evolving: Hurdle has embraced the small-ball approach to baseball, while Manuel, an American League manager, is moving from “Moneyball” to a hybrid approach. Here are some differences between the two taken from last season's Bill James Baseball Handbook:
Manuel / Hurdle (2006)
SBA: 117 / 135
SacA: 79 / 155
DS: 49 / 22
PR: 42 / 17
RM: 69 / 109
SBA: Stolen Bases Attempted; SacA: Sacrifice Bunts Attempted; DS: Defensive Substitutions; PR: Pinch-Runners; RM: Runners Moving.
A few definite traits emerge in each manager: Hurdle’s Rockies led the N.L. in sacrifice bunts attempted. This is a weapon Hurdle likes to employ more and more as a manager: he attempted 44 in 2002, when he managed 140 games as the Rockies skipper, then he tried 82 in 2003, 126 in 2004, 114 in 2005 and 155 last season. For a team that plays in a home run hitters haven, these are a lot of attempts to play small ball.
Employing speed seems to be the trend in Hurdle’s managing style: in 2006 he had runners moving 109 times, and in 2005 he did the same 119 times. The previous two seasons he had the runners moving 26 and 52 times. The Phillies tend to stay put with Charlie Manuel: 69 runners moving in 2006, 76 in 2005. I suspect that is changing a little though: the Phillies ran more in 2007 and actually finished second in the N.L. in stolen bases thanks to the presence of guys like Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino in the lineup to supplement Jimmy Rollins.
Hurdle also tends to stick with his starting pitchers longer. Hurdle’s 52 “slow hooks” of his starting pitchers ranked him first in the N.L., alhtough he made a wise decision by yanking the struggling Franklin Morales from the game yesterday. Charlie Manuel’s 43 slow hooks was pretty average.
Hurdle’s 22 defensive substitutions ranked him next-to-last in the N.L., while Manuel’s 49 ranked in the middle. I think this suggests that Manuel won't leave Burrell in the game if he can at all help it.
Prediction: the Phillies 2007 campaign comes to an end with a 7-3 loss to the Rockies. I hate to say it, but the history is pretty much against us.
I am not giving up on the Phils just yet, they have bounced back before. One loss and that's the season though, that is for sure.
Looking forward to talking with you on our next show! I'll email you soon,
Also, unfortunately, most probably true as far as late Saturday's results.
The Good News?
Well, At least I can get some sleep on Sunday night since the Phillies won't be playing at 10:00 PM ESt that night.
The Hopeful News?
Well, not that I wish pain and suffering on anyone, if we do lose, perhaps that thinner air in Denver will allow a sharply hit ball back to the mound hit Mesa so hard that his career, at least with the Phillies, is done.
Then in the next inning, may a similar incident, by pure end-of-season luck, occur with Alfonseca at bat.
May I spend time in Purgatory for thinking such thoughts. I'm only looking forward top a successful next season.
At least Beltran's knee-buckling came on a unhittable Wainwright hook... in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Oh, and before you get on your high horse and start spitting all over your screens, don't even dare to pretend Phillies fans exude class and taste. On the Saturday of Maine's 14K 7 2/3 no-hitter, four trashy thugs with Phillies hats and "CHOKE '07' shirts taunted their way through the mezzanine swinging Mr. Met on a noose.. while the Phillies were at home that exact moment playing their second-most important game of the year. And during Pedro's home start a few weeks prior, the upper deck was filled with drunken frat boy Phillies fans, starting "Eagles" chants and fights. One got dragged out in cuffs after punching a cop.
No seriously, you guys are the classy ones. Congrats on the embarrassingly-short playoff appearance.