Friday, September 21, 2007
I can’t believe that I didn’t preview the Nats – Phillies series … Here is a quickie preview of the next three games …
Tonight: Adam Eaton vs. Shawn Hill. This is a major mismatch for the Phillies. Hill is 4-4 with an impressive 3.01 ERA this season. In four career starts against the Phillies Hill is 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. Adam Eaton, in contrast, has been the Phillies weakest pitcher this season and a major disappointment. He’s 9-9 with a 6.36 ERA thus far this season. In his sole start against the Nationals he was rocked for four runs in six and a third innings.
Saturday: Kyle Kenderick vs. Tim Redding. Like Hill, Redding has generally pitched well for a very bad team. He’s 3-5 with a 3.73 ERA. He won his sole start against the Phillies earlier in the year, going six innings and surrendering just two runs. Kenderick has been a surprise to me. I really didn’t think he was pitching well earlier in the season, but he’s 9-4 with a respectable 4.05 ERA. Kendrick doesn’t strike players out – just 3.5 K/9 – but he’s good about not allowing walks – 2.1 BB/9 – and he seems to give his fielders the best chance to make plays and get outs. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is much higher than his actual ERA – 4.95 – and I wonder if Kendrick is one of those rare pitchers that influences balls put into play or if he’s just plain lucky.
Sunday: Joel Hanrahan is no match for Cole Hamels. He’s 4-3 with a 6.45 ERA and he has a nearly 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (34 strikeouts to 33 walks). Should be an easy win for the Phillies.
Bottom-line, I think the Phillies will win Saturday and Sunday’s games in a walk, but I worry about tonight’s game. If Adam Eaton can pull together and turn in a solid performance, then Friday might just earn the Phillies a sweep.
Winning tonight is important too because Pedro Martinez goes for the Mets tonight in Florida and I think the Mets will probably play with a little fire tonight. The Phillies can’t afford to lose this game and fall behind the Mets. Every game counts.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The loss and the Mets / Padres / Diamondbacks victories were devastating to the Phillies playoff chances: the Phillies playoff odds dipped to 29%, down from 48% the previous day.
Meanwhile, people in Boston are evidentially freaking out about the Red Sox dwindling lead over the Yankees in the race for the A.L. East. In reality, the race is little more than a psychological contest, as the Red Sox and Yankees have 99.9% and 99.1% chances, respectively, of making the playoffs. The Blue Jays, Orioles and Devil Rays don’t have a chance at the division, so the worst that the Red Sox can do is second-place. If they fall to second, then they will compete with the Tigers for the wildcard. The Tigers stand a 0.82% chance of securing the wildcard.
Basically, there is no chance of the Red Sox missing the playoffs. This is all a psychological battle between the Red Sox and Yankees. The Yankees will be looking to secure the A.L. East for the bazillionth time – well, the tenth consecutive time – while the Red Sox want their first A.L. East title since 1995. If the Red Sox lose to the Yankees it will look bad, but realistically, it might give the Red Sox an axe to grind in the playoffs. Imagine the fury and anger they’ll unleash on the Indians or Angels in the first round of the playoffs.
Interesting fact: the run differential between the Phillies and Mets is paper-thin. The Phillies are +57 and the Mets are +55, but the Mets have the better record because they are 32-26 in games decided by two or fewer runs. The Phillies are 31-31 in those games. I don’t know if that means anything to anyone, but it is interesting information nevertheless.
I’ll post again later, if I get a chance …
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
At this juncture the Phillies are fighting a two-pronged offensive, trying to catch the Mets for the N.L. East, and trying to catch the Padres / D-Backs for the wildcard. As I watch this playoff race unfold, I wonder if the Diamondbacks might end up being the team that the Phillies are pitted against for the wildcard. The Padres play a soft schedule down the stretch and the D-backs are forced to match up with the Dodgers and Rockies. I could see the end of the season come down to the D-Backs and the Rockies series on September 28-30.
Anyway, this playoff run has been exceptional. The Phillies are currently riding a six game winning streak and have survived major pitching woes these last few days, from a bad return start yesterday from Cole Hamels (3 IP, 3 Runs) to a melt-down by the Phillies bullpen Monday night. Meanwhile, the Mets have dropped five consecutive games and look like a sinking ship. Can the Phillies luck continue?
A few odds ‘n ends bits of information … The Phillies lead the N.L. in runs scored in September with 97 runs, three more than the Brewers … The Phillies are second in stolen bases with 20, 2 fewer than the Dodgers. Impressively, the Phillies have been caught just once this month, a 95% success rate … the Phillies, conversely are 13 th in ERA. This team continues to win with offense, offense and offense.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
And so the Phillies ran their record to 81-69, now just 2.5 games behind the Mets as the team from Queens, New York, dropped their fourth consecutive game, losing 12-4 to the Nationals, a loss that might come back to haunt the Mets in the future. The wildcard race remained unchanged, as the Phillies sit just 1.5 games out. Here are the standings:
Phillies: 81-69 (2.5)
Braves: 77-73 (6.5)
Phillies: 81-69 (1.5)
Dodgers: 79-70 (3.0)
Meanwhile, I wonder if the Donovan McNabb era is coming to an end … last night’s 20-12 loss to the Redskins was a mini-disaster for the Eagles. Oh sure, teams can rally from 0-2 and make the playoffs … the 2003 Eagles did that, going 12-2 down the stretch … but the Eagles just looked flat and uneven, especially on offense. McNabb seemed to have difficulty in setting his legs and getting off a good throw. Sure, he threw for 240 yards, but it took him 46 passes to get to that point, or 5.2 yards a pass.
While I think Andy Reid has done a nice job coaching the Eagles, I hate his propensity towards calling passes all of the time on offense. What was the Eagles play selection last night? About 2-to-1 in favor of the pass? Is it any coincidence that the Eagles offense clicked last season when Reid gave over the play-calling duties and the Eagles finally went 1-to-1 on the run/pass ratio? Until McNabb gets back to 100%, the Eagles have to hammer Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter and Tony Hunt into the opposition. Westbrook carried the ball just 17 times last night for 96 yards. True, he caught 8 passes for another 66 yards, but the Eagles need to work him into the rushing game more.
So, a good night for one team and a bad one for another. Tonight, Cole Hamels returns to the Phillies and tries to run the Phillies winning streak to six games.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Did you watch any of this weekend’s series against the Mets? Yet another sweep! Yesterday’s 10-6 victory was the Phillies eighth … EIGHTH … consecutive win against the Mets. The Phillies are 12-6 against the Mets this season, and the sweep helped the Phillies pull to within 3.5 games of the Mets and 1.5 games of the wildcard. It was a wild series to be sure: the Phillies got a pinch-hit grand slam yesterday by Greg Dobbs, and Saturday’s game featured six Mets steals on nine tries against the Phillies pitching.
So how do the Phillies look for the playoffs? Pretty good, although they have a slight problem that I’ll elaborate on later … The good news is that suddenly the N.L. East is “in play” as they say in the political realm, with the Phillies sitting a mere three and a half out with just 13 games left to play.
More good news? The Phillies are 18-14 against their final three foes, the Braves, Nationals and Cardinals. Even more good news, seven of their last thirteen games are against the Nationals, whom they are 7-4 against. The bad news, and the real problem for the Phillies, is that the Mets have six games against the Nationals, seven against the Marlins and a make-up game against the Cardinals to cope with down the stretch. The Mets could very easily blitz through those games 10-4 and make what the Phillies do utterly irrelevant. The Padres? Well, the Padres have games against the Pirates, Giants and slumping Brewers to close the season. Aside from the Rockies, the Padres have so easy foes to dispatch, so when you look at the schedule, I am not confident of the Phillies reaching the post-season.
Tonight the Phillies take on the St. Louis Cardinals, perhaps the weakest team to win the World Series since … the 1987 Twins? … I dunno, but the Cardinals look pretty lousy this season and might actually have a shot at the N.L. Central, a sad commentary on the state of the Central division … The Cardinals are no match for the Phillies on paper. Curiously, for having such a lousy season, it is worth noting that the Cardinals could be worse off than they are right now. Their run differential is -83, a product of being out-scored 650 to 733. The only teams worse in the N.L. in run differential are the Astros (-111) and the Nationals (-114). The Phillies, for the record, at +46, having out-scored the enemy 805 to 759. The Cards are a little lucky, breaking even in close games (27-26). They are five games ahead of their Pythagorean Win-Loss record at 69-76.
Offensively there is no contest: the Phillies score 5.48 R/G to the Cardinals 4.48. The Phillies get on base more – .355 OBP to .336 – they hit for more power – .459 Slugging percentage to .409 – and they’ve stolen 124 bases to the Cardinals pathetic 46. Aside from a slight advantage for the Cardinals in terms of hitting with runners in scoring position – .268 vs. .264 – the Phillies are clearly the better offensive team. Clearly.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
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).
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
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.
Defensively things are much closer: the Cardinals are a little better in terms of team Zone Rating and DER:
Phillies / Cardinals
RZR: .808 / .816
DER: .687 / .690
And the Cardinals are better in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching: 4.62 to 4.86. However, the Phillies pitching has gotten much better as the season has worn on and actually is kind of respectable now. With Cole Hamels back, slight advantage for the Phillies?
The Phillies send Kyle Kendrick tonight and Cole Hamels tomorrow night to face-off with Mike Maroth and Kip Wells. Wells, a long-time Pittsburgh Pirate, is having a season that is a microcosm of the Cardinals campaign: absolutely horrible. Wells is 6-17, giving him an outside chance at being a 20-game loser, with a 5.77 ERA. The Cardinals are desperate enough for pitching that they are sending Wells into the fray. Wedneday the Phillies will try to close out the series with Jamie Moyer, who is 13-11 this season. As I said the other day, I like games where Jamie Moyer follows up Cole Hamels in the rotation. The ying-and-yang effect of facing Hamels blazing fastballs and then struggling to swing as Moyer’s 75mph changeups has to baffle teams that face the Phillies like that.
In the news … I was reading this weekend that the Northwest Passage is real. The European Space Agency says that their satellites have detected an ice-free area north of Canada that ships could sail from Europe to Asia and bypass the Panama canal. The Northwest Passage was long a dream of explorers and Henry Hudson gave his life looking for it, after spending years exploring the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River and Hudson Bay. Now it is a reality. So … does W believe global warming is real now? … Seriously, it is kinda of interesting. Check out this article from The Atlantic Monthly on global warming’s winners and losers. Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry could be a global warming winner, by the way, because experts predict that it will lengthen the growing season here in the Northeast and make Pennsylvania more of an attractive place to farm.
I didn’t post an NFL season preview deliberately this year because I wanted to provide a laser-like focus on baseball waning days. That, and I’ve been really busy this year. The Patriots cheating scandal is problematic for the NFL and I like the way they’ve dealt with it, punishing now in the short-term and promising further sanctions in the future. The taping does raise some interesting questions about the Patriots place in history. What if it is determined that they were cheating in Super Bowl XXXIX? The opening drive of the second half, where the Patriots hammered the Eagles defense with exceedingly well-timed screen passes, changed the flow of the game and helped the Pats narrowly beat the Eagles. What if we see proof-positive of the Pats stealing the Eagles signals? Puts the Patriots three Super Bowls in four years in a new light.
The biggest surprise for the week was the Browns 51-45 upset of the Bengals. I can’t imagine anyone taking the Bengals seriously for the Super Bowl now. Oh, and the Saints are 0-2 this season. Ouch.
As for tonight’s game against the Redskins? Well, I like the Eagles for a 24-14 victory. Look for McNabb to throw for two TDs and for Brian Westbrook to run for the Eagles third. The Eagles new and revamped defense will shut the Redskins down and hold them to just two scores. Bow-wow, Clinton Portis. The only thing is that the Eagles special teams had better step things up next week. They almost single-handedly handed last week’s game to the Packers.