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Friday, October 12, 2007

Blueprint for 2008 

With the 2007 season over, I am busy writing my Year in Review and mulling over what the 2008 version of the Phillies is going to look like. I have some thoughts on who will return and who is as good as gone from the Phillies. Here they are:

Starting Pitching. The Phillies will need five starters for 2008. Pencil in Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer into slots #1 and #2. That’s two. Kyle Kendrick seems to have a firm grasp on the #3 slot. The logic choice, partly due to his contract, for #4 would be Adam Eaton, which means that the Phillies need a fifth starter for the rotation again. Possibilities here include trade deals involving Jon Garland, Rich Harden, Dontrelle Willis, and, tantalizingly, Johan Santana. Expect this to be the area where the Phillies devote the bulk of the $20 million or so they have to spend this off-season to, and also expect the Phillies to deal something from their minor league system to acquire pitching.

The Bullpen. Pencil in Brett Myers as the Phillies closer for 2008. It’s a job that he’s proven himself to be quite good at and it would give the Phillies the lights-out closer they desperate need and lacked for years. Setting up Myers are J.C. Romero, who needs to be re-signed, and Geoff Geary. Perhaps Ryan Madson can work his way back here. The other three slots in the Phillies bullpen are up for grabs. Look for the Phillies to spend some time and money to upgrade these slots.

The problem, as Pat Gillick has noted, is that pitching is at a premium in the major leagues and when you want to buy it off the open market (i.e., free agency), you tend to pay outrageous prices. It’s basic economics. Expect pitching to once again be at a premium in the off-season, and expect the Phillies to be forced to over-pay. Either in bringing free agents to town or in affecting a trade to secure help in the bullpen.

Third Base. Wes Helms was not the answer. He hit just five home runs and had a mere 39 RBI. He hit .198 with runners in scoring position. His On-Base Percentage was .297. Utility infielder (calling him “light-hitting” would imply that he hits something) Abraham Nunez isn’t the answer either, because the Phillies elected to not exercise their $2.5 million dollar option for him for 2008. The Phillies need someone who can play the hot-corner and provide some pop to the lineup. I wonder if Tadahito Iguchi, the Phillies acquisition from the White Sox, can do the job. He’s not a power-hitter – just a .138 ISO – but he’s a good contact hitter who has some speed and makes good decisions. After getting a fifth starter, this is where the Phillies will spend some dough. I wonder: Mike Lowell as a Phillie?

Who’ll be back. Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Lohse, Adam Eaton, Brett Myers, J.C. Romero (hopefully), Geoff Geary, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Tadahito Iguchi, Michael Bourn, Pat Burrell, Wes Helms. That’s basically sixteen of the Phillies twenty-five players right there. Notable is how young the core of the Phillies roster is: Cole Hamels is 23. Bourn is 24. Werth is 29. Kendrick is 23. Myers is 28. Victorino is 27. You get the idea.

What is really exciting about the 2008, 2009, 2010 Phillies is that the core of the team is 30 or younger and these guys are going to be around for years. If the Phillies can hold off the Braves and Mets, this could be a dynasty in the making, a team a lot like the mid-1990’s Cleveland Indians, which dominated their division with a young core of talent.

Who’s Gone. Abraham Nunez, Rod Barajas, Antonio Alfonseca, Jose Mesa, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Kyle Lohse. Lieber won’t be back despite pitching some strong performances in 2008. The team that signs him will be getting one heck of a pitcher, but that won’t be the Phillies. (The Mets?) Garcia, likewise, won’t be back because he can command millions on the open market place despite his arm injury last season. I see him in a Yankees uniform in 2008. Lohse is being represented by Scott Boras, so count on him leaving the Phillies and signing a mega-deal ($12-14 mil) for some team desperate for pitching. Nunez, the non-hitting utility infielder, is gone now that the Phillies won't exercise their option. The Phillies have also declined options on catcher Rod Barajas (4 Home Runs, 10 RBI), which is addition by subtraction as far as I am concerned.

On the bubble. Aaron Rowand. Will the Phillies re-sign him? Will they over-pay? My guess is that the Phillies will let Rowand walk rather than sign him to the $10 to $11 million a year he’ll command on the open market (Gary Matthews, Jr. inked a 5-year, $50 million deal last season, can Rowand be expected to ask for less?), and that’s not completely a bad thing. I’ll expand upon this next week a little, but Rowand has some flaws as a ballplayer. Sure, the fans and his teammates love his passion, fire and walk-through walls mentality. However, Rowand's got some flaws in his game. E.g., Rowand’s 47 walks (.069 BB/PA) is a rarity for his career. He’s a free-swinging hitter who rarely works counts, rarely draws walks and is the most consistent producer of outs on the Phillies roster after Jimmy Rollins, and he lacks Rollins speed on the base-paths. Rowand’s ability to get on base is predicated on his ability to get a hit, and players who are purely dedicated to hits at the plate tend to be inconsistent. Rowand had a good year at the plate – he hit .309, better than the .262 and .270 he hit in 2006 and 2005 – but that’s probably a fluke. Rowand’s BB/PA over the last few seasons is utterly abysmal: .040 in 2006, .050 in 2005, .056 in 2004 … And Rowand’s defensive skills have been a disappointment after he was so good manning center field for the White Sox in 2005. No … I see Shane Victorino or Michael Bourn as the Phillies starting center fielder on Opening Day, 2008.

Farm Hands. Lost in all of this talk is the Phillies farm system. They’ve got a lot of great talent sitting down in Ottawa and Reading and Clearwater and you can expect to see a lot of it up in Philadelphia in 2008. Mike Costanzo, who hit .270 with 27 Home Runs and 89 RBI in 2007 with the Reading Phillies, will probably being playing with the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs in 2008, the Phillies new Triple-A affiliate. A mid-season call up is a definite possibility. Carlos Carrasco, the Phillies spectacular pitcher who finished the season in Double-A Reading, cold head to Philadelphia by mid-season as well. Carrasco is the top prospect in the Phillies system and could wind up being their fifth starter ultimately. Costanzo, Carrasco, Josh Outman, Jason Donald, Adrian Cardenas, and Kyle Drabek are all potential minor-league trade bait for help on the mound.

These are all very preliminary thoughts. I’ll expand on some this week coming up a little.

Posting schedule:
Monday:
Aaron Rowand
Tuesday: Will Johan Santana be a Phillie?
Wednesday: No Post
Thursday: Musings on Citizens Bank Ballpark
Friday: Chris Coste

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Speed, A Reflection 

Here is the basic argument against speed from the sabremetricians: stealing bases is risky because it takes a lot of effort to get a runner on base in the first place, so if someone is caught, you’ve squandered a potential run. The benefit, moving a runner closer, is out-weighed by the risk of running, and the potential for a home run or double scoring the runner at the base he currently sits at sometimes renders the benefit of an extra base moot.

Case-in-point: I was at a Cardinals – Pirates game and watched how Tony LaRussa’s small-ball cost his team a run: he sent Edgar Renteria to steal second base with one out. Renteria was called out. Two outs. The next pitch, Scott Rolen walked. Two pitches later, Jim Edmonds hammered a fastball for a home run. Renteria’s run was gone. Had he been successful stealing second it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because Edmonds home run cleared the bases. All LaRussa did was cost his team a run and turn a three-run home run into a two-run homer.

In the book Baseball Between the Numbers, James Click illustrates in Chapter 4.1, “What If Rickey Henderson Had Pete Incaviglia’s Legs?” how Ricky Henderson’s base-stealing in 1982 didn’t add much to the Oakland A’s offense. Henderson stolen 130 bases that season, breaking the modern record held by the Cardinals Lou Brock in 1974 (118 steals), but was caught 42 times. He gained 130 extra bases for the A’s, but cost them 42 base-runners. The stats say that Henderson’s base-running gained the A’s 22.2 runs with his steals, but he cost them 20.6 when he got caught. Total benefit to Rickey Henderson’s running? 1.6 runs. Click goes on to note:


Stolen-base totals still garner a lot of attention, as teams like to point out how they play “Smallball” or emphasize the running game. But very little attention is paid to the number of times those same runners are thrown out and the damage those outs can do.

Click ultimately values the stolen base at .1593 runs and a caught stealing at -.3687 runs. This is partly calculated by looking at the “Win Expectancy Matrix”, which shows how many runs a team can expect to score when runners are on base in a particular situation: a team with a runner on first with no outs can expect to score 0.9259 runs in an inning. Sending the runner to second and succeeding raises that to 1.1596, and increase of 0.2337 runs. Getting caught plunges your chances down to 0.2866, or a decline of 0.6393 runs. Getting caught can cost you half a run or more, while succeeding usually improves your chances slightly. That’s why the numbers say it is a bad move.

In his article Click de-constructs the argument that base-stealing threats significantly distract pitchers as well, noting that while there is evidence that they do indeed improve hitters performance, the effect is pretty negligible.

I looked at the 2007 Phillies and wondered what sort of impact the Phillies running game had on the team. My position all this season has been that the Phillies decision to emphasize the running game this season has sharpened the team’s focus, made them better and more precise base-runners, and helped the stretch the defense. Do I have any particular evidence this is true? No. But I suspect that it is and I want to try and put the numbers to the test.

The Phillies got some nice performances in 2007 in terms of base-stealing: Jimmy Rollins did his usual thing and take 41 of 47 steals. Shane Victorino came out of nowhere, after succeeding 4 of 7 times in 2006, to swipe 37 of 41 bases he tried for. Michael Bourn came out of Triple-A like a bat out of hell and stole 18 of 19 bases. I have harkened back to Bourn’s performance against the San Francisco Giants in May when he entered the game as a pinch-runner, stole second, then stole third and scored when Wes Helms tapped a weak grounder to the infield, but they couldn’t catch Bourn, who was streaking home. Bourn’s legs carried him from first base to home, a true manufactured run if there ever was one.

The 2007 Phillies stole 138 bases and got caught just 19 times. The Phillies ranked second in steals and still managed to rank dead-last in getting caught. That means that the Phillies were successful 87.9% of the time, the best percentage in the N.L. This is absolutely stunning and one of the finest performances in baseball history by a team. The Mets, by contrast, led the N.L. with 200 stolen bases but were caught 46 times, 81.3%.

Applying the formula that a stolen base is worth .1593 runs and a caught stealing costs you .3687 runs, I ran the numbers and figured out who benefited from a running game in 2007:

SB Runs:
Phillies: 14.9
Mets: 14.9
Diamondbacks: 8.5
Giants: 6.8
Rockies: 4.5
Marlins: 4.2
Reds: 4.0
Brewers: 3.5
Dodgers: 3.4
Nationals: 2.5
Cubs: 1.5
Pirates: -0.2
Braves: -0.9
Padres: -0.9
Astros: -1.8
Cardinals: -3.3

Who would have expected the Rockies, of all teams, to generate about 8.5 runs with base-stealing? The Phillies stole 62 fewer bases, but were also caught 27 fewer times. In the end, the benefit to the Phillies offense was just as much and the Phillies put far less effort into it: 89 fewer attempted steals.

So the Phillies score 14.9 extra runs thanks to the running game in 2007. How much extra did they score in 2006? Well, the Phillies stole 92 bases and got caught 25 times. Answer: 5.4 runs. So the Phillies running added nine and a half more runs to their offense this season over last season. Given that the Phillies scored thirty more runs in 2007 than they did last season, it does look like the running game is responsible for the Phillies offense continuing to be so strong.

Individually, here are who on the Phillies contributed to the 14.9 extra runs:

Victorino: 4.41
Rollins: 4.31
Bourn: 2.50
Utley: 1.06
Others: 2.68

One thing that I am very curious about is the Bill James Handbook's projections about how each individual player does in terms of base-running. Good base-runners can take extra bases on balls put into play and affect the game there too. Chase Utley, for example, can run from first base to third or first base to home on a Ryan Howard single. That’s a piece of team speed that doesn’t show up in the stats pages usually, but James has been keeping tally and I expectantly await the 2007 results contained in the 2008 Bill James Handbook. In 2006, James determined, Chase Utley was the second-best base-runner in baseball, with +27 bases gained. He probably added another 4-to-5 runs to the Phillies offense with smart base-running.

There is another thing to discuss along with base-stealing and base-running: triples. The 2007 Phillies led the N.L. in three-baggers with 41. Jimmy Rollins was the prime architect of this, taking 20 himself. A triple, especially when leading off an inning, has a major effect on the game, raising the run expectancy for an inning from 0.5379 with none out to 1.4535. With one out, from 0.2866 to 0.9722. With two outs, from 0.1135 to 0.3623.

Hitting triples is a testament to a player’s speed and skill at running the bases. The triple has been on the decline in the majors for years because of the trend towards the static station-to-station style of the game. Well-hit balls became doubles as hitters played it safe and pulled into second rather than trying to stretch their hit and take third base. Jimmy’s aggressiveness and skill at running the bases is why he was able to hit twenty three-baggers.

So if base-stealing added 10 or so runs to the Phillies offense and better base-running added another 10 or so, we can safely assume that superior base-running skills and aggressiveness added 20-25 runs to the Phillies offense, which is basically how much better the 2007 team was over the 2006 team. Credit Davey Lopes, the Phillies new base-running tutor, for the positive changes made here. He succeeded in making the Phillies more aggressive and faster and that helped to add a new dimension to the Phillies offense. Base-stealing might be a bad move sabremetrically, but I think it paid off handsomely for the Phillies in 2007. Speed was a major reason for success last season.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

LCS Preview 

The NLCS: Diamondbacks vs. Rockies. The battle between the Rockies and D-Backs in the NLCS is a battle of teams that didn’t even exist prior to 1993. Two expansion teams dueling for the chance to head to the World Series.

On one side are the D-backs, a collection of young players whose chemistry got them a division title and the best record in the National League. Led by Eric Byrnes and Brandon Webb, the D-Backs are built around pitching, defense and speed. On the other are the Rockies, a collection of sluggers and underrated pitchers who have blazed a historic trail into these playoffs, winning 13 of 14 games to close the regular season, then a one-game playoff, then they swept the Phillies. Aside from a loss to the D-backs, the Rockies have been perfect over the last 18 games. Can they keep it up?

Rockies hitters vs. D-backs pitching: The Rockies are loaded on offense and are much more multi-dimensional than is years past when Dante Bichette and Larry Walker were crushing home runs at Coors. These Rockies can bunt, steal bases, leg out doubles and belt home runs. They had the second-best offense in the National League in 2007, scoring 5.28 R/G, just under the Phillies 5.51.

The D-Backs have a great pitching staff, which is led by potential N.L. Cy Young candidate Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA), who allowed just 12 home runs in 236 innings of work in 2007. After Webb the D-Backs pitchers aren’t quite as good, so I give a slight edge here to the Rockies.

Rockies pitching vs. D-Backs hitters: The D-Backs don’t have that good of an offense. The D-Backs averaged 4.40 R/G and were dead-last in the N.L. in On-Base Percentage. They didn’t hit with much power (.413 slugging percentage vs. ,423 for the N.L.) and they didn’t hit with runners in scoring position (.249 BA/RISP vs. .269 for the N.L.). The Rockies pitching, in contrast, quietly rolled up some good numbers on their way to a middle-of-the-road statistical season. I give the edge here to the Rockies. If they could blank the Phillies hitters, then the D-Backs don’t stand a chance.

Prediction: Rockies in five.

Let’s move onto the Indians – Red Sox ALCS. Indians hitters vs. Red Sox pitching: The Indians are a solid, if unspectacular, collection of speedsters and sluggers. Grady Sizemore is their best hitter. Uniquely talented, Sizemore can run (33 steals in 43 tries) and he can hit for power (24 home runs, 34 doubles). He sets the table –and occasionally clears it – for players like Travis Hafner. The Red Sox are going to be led in the post-season by Josh Beckett, whose astonishing domination of the Angels in the first game of the ALDS doomed the Angels to defeat. The Red Sox are deep on the mound and possess a number of talented starters, ranging from Beckett to Curt Schilling to Daisuke Matsuzaka. The only weakness the Red Sox have is the transition between the starters and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Eric Gagne and the rest of the Red Sox bullpen can be leaky. Still, advantage: Red Sox.

Indians pitching vs. Red Sox hitting: I like the Indians pitching a lot. Fausto Camona (19-8, 3.06 ERA) pitched a very nice game in the ALDS against the Yankees in the infamous bug-out game. C.C. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21 ERA) is a potential CY Young candidate. Overall, the Indians pitching staff might be the second-best in the American League after the Red Sox. The Red Sox hitters, in contrast, are reliant on David Ortiz and Mike Lowell to generate offense, although Manny Ramirez was electrifying in the ALDS. Can the Red Sox continue to generate runs with J.D. Drew in the lineup? Bottom-line: they need Manny to come up big in this series. Slight edge to the Indians here.

Overall, my prediction is: Red Sox in seven games.

Tomorrow, speed ... Friday, the future.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why Charlie Manuel Should Come Back… 

Just a few weeks ago Charlie Manuel’s job was as good as gone. This season was Manuel’s third managing the Phillies since taking over from Phillies legend Larry Bowa after Bowa’s team flamed out in 2004 and never contended despite playing in a brand-new ballpark with a revamped roster. The Phillies had come close in 2005 and 2006, but were ultimately undone when their slow starts at the beginning of the season came back to bite them later in the season. The 2007 likewise got off to a slow start and the Phillies were little more than an after thought in the playoff picture. Manuel’s frustration with managing the under-achieving Phillies boiled over early in the season when he nearly got into a fist-fight with a writer. On his bench was Davey Lopes, the aggressive assistant coach who once managed to Brewers and seemed like a logical fit to succeed Manuel as manager. September, it seemed just a few weeks ago, belonged to the Mets, Padres and the Atlanta Braves. And Charlie Manuel’s days were numbered.

Oh, what a difference a month makes. The 2007 Phillies pulled off the impossible upset and secured the first playoff berth and division title for the team since 1993. Despite the Phillies playoff flame-out, Charlie does deserve, and hopefully will get, an extension to coach the Phillies again in 2008.

It is hard not to like Charlie Manuel. The Norfolk, West Virginia native played briefly in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for the Twins and Dodgers before moving into Japanese league baseball, then on to the realm of managing. At age 56 he got his first chance, managing the 2000 Cleveland Indians to a 90-72 record, while narrowly missing the playoffs. The next season Manuel led the Indians to a 91-71 record and an A.L. Central division title. In the post-season his Indians lost to the 116-win Seattle Mariners three games to two. Ironically, Jamie Moyer helped pitch the Mariners to victories in game two and five of that series.

The next season Manuel was fired on July 11th, after the Indians got off to a 39-48 start and were hopelessly out of the playoff race. Manuel found his way to Philadelphia to help advise General Manager Ed Wade as an assistant. When Wade and the Phillies fired Larry Bowa in 2004, Manuel was given the reins.

While Manuel wasn’t won 90 games like he did with the Indians, his record does speak for itself:

2005: 88-74 2nd place
2006: 85-77 2nd place
2007: 89-73 1st place
Total: 262-224 (.539)

I’ve always been a big fan of Manuel’s because the experience of managing in the American League has shaped a lot of Manuel’s thinking. In contrast to the fiery, small-ball oriented Larry Bowa, Manuel was been a calm, stabilizing influence on the team and has really tailored the Phillies strategy on the field to their strengths: the power offense. The 2005-2007 Phillies ran modestly, bunted rarely and relied on power in their cozy ballpark to make the difference.

But Manuels’ finest performance has been this season. How chaotic has it been? Well, the Phillies began the season with six starting pitchers: Jon Lieber, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Adam Eaton and Brett Myers. The Phillies were expected to deal Lieber for help in the bullpen and rely on new acquisitions Eaton and Garcia to give the Phillies the edge over the Mets and Braves for the division. Instead, Freddy Garcia injured his arm on his way to throwing just 58 innings and posting a 1-5 record with a 5.90 ERA. Eaton was a major bust, going 10-10 with 6.29 ERA. Lieber ended up pitching well, but injured his foot and was lost for the season after getting off to a very, very impressive start. Sure, his 3-6 record with a 4.73 doesn’t seem impressive, but you have to see that Lieber allowed few walks and home runs and was generally done in by shoddy defense. Myers got shelled and was moved to the bullpen, which was shattered after Tom Gordon got injured.

Suddenly the Phillies deep pitching staff was thin and the team stumbled to a 4-11 start that saw the phillies with the worst record in the majors and left them six and a half games out of first place, just fifteen games in. The Phillies rallied, and since that point posted the best record in the National League. Along the way they started rookie pitchers Kyle Kendrick and J.D. Durbin thirty times, saw second baseman and MVP candidate Chase Utley miss a month with a broken hand, saw former MVP Ryan Howard struggle and dealt with numerous other bad breaks. Overall, the Phillies 89 wins were second to just the Arizona Diamondbacks 90.

Any man who could pull off the job of keeping the Phillies stable with all of their injuries and get them to the playoffs deserves another year as Manager.

Tomorrow, I'll review both LCS series, as promised.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Phillies - Rockies Series Review 

What a horrible week for Phillies baseball. After Sunday ended with the Phillies triumph over the Mets for the N.L. East crown, nothing went right for the Phillies.

First, the San Diego Padres blew a lead to the Colorado Rockies and sent to the Rockies to the playoffs as the N.L. wildcard. The Rockies had concluded their season with victories in 14 of 15 games. They were the only team in baseball playing with more confidence and more momentum than the Phillies.

Then the Phillies dropped both of the opening games at home, before going onto Colorado and dropping the final game of the series 2-1 Saturday Night (late, I might add, I stayed up until 12:30 AM to watch it) in the Mile-High City. The quick exit tarnished the Phillies September run and has left a sour taste in the mouths of Phillies phandom.

Let’s go back and give a few reasons why the Phillies lost in the first place. Good pitching always defeats good hitting and vice versa, said Yogi Berra. Good pitching was the difference here. The Rockies managed to hold the Phillies to eight runs and a .274 OBP, about eighty points under the Phillies season average. The Phillies .366 slugging percentage was ninety-two points lower. The Phillies OPS in the series was just .640, compared to their .812 in the regular season.

More stats of note: in their 27 innings of work, the Rockies struck-out 26 Phillies and issued 12 walks.

As I poured through the numbers it became apparent that the Phillies never got going against the Rockies hitters. They hit poorly in the clutch: 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position (.091 BA/RISP), but part of that was that the Phillies rarely had runners in scoring position. Aside from their five home runs, there were just two Phillies hits for extra-bases: a triple of Jimmy Rollins and a double by Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies also only stole three bases.

Every Phillies hitter struggled. Aside from hitting solo home runs in Game One, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell were virtually automatic outs. Rowand was 1-for-12 and Burrell was 2-for-11. Throw out those home runs they hit, and the two went 1-for-21 with no runs, no RBI and seven strike-outs.

Chase Utley was 2-for-11 with five strikeouts. Ryan Howard was 3-for-12 with seven strikeouts. The supporting cast wasn’t a help either: Wes Helms was 0-for-2, Jayson Werth was 0-for-3, and Greg Dobbs was 0-for-3. Jimmy Rollins went 2-for-11, but he also had a triple, a home run, hit four RBI, had a stolen base and drew two walks. Out of all of the Phillies, he played the best.

The Phillies pitchers deserve some of the blame for the debacle, but you have to acknowledge that Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer pitched well. Moyer, in particular, was a surprise since he hadn’t beaten the Rockies in his career, his start in Denver this season had gone so poorly, and his soft-tossing style seemed to promise hits sailing into the outfield. Yet Jamie Moyer tried to keep the Phillies in the series with a brilliant performance in Game Three, allowing just one run on five hits and two walks in six innings of work.

Cole Hamels pitched well in Game One, allowing just three runs in six and two-thirds of an inning of work, tagging seven strikeouts and allowing just three hits and four walks. He seemed in control of the game and had he gotten some run support from his brethren, he might have won Game One for the Phillies.

The rest of the Phillies pitching staff is another story entirely. Kyle Kendrick pitched poorly in Game Two and Kyle Lohse allowed the pivotal home run in Game Two that effectively sank the Phillies chances in the series. J.C. Romero failed the Phillies in the eighth inning Saturday Night. Jose Mesa’s ERA in the series was 81.00. ‘Nuff said.

Simply put, the Phillies couldn’t hold a candle to the Rockies pitching staff, which is vastly under-rated and under-appreciated. As I watched the Rockies on Saturday Night, I thought: poor Diamondbacks. They don’t have a chance. The Rockies pitching staff is very good and was the real difference-maker. If they pitch this well against the D-backs more punch-less offense, I don’t see how the Rockies could lose.

What of Charlie Manuel? He certainly made mistakes in the series. His decision in Game Three to take out Tom Gordon and put J.C. Romero in can be second-guessed. His decision in Game Two to intentionally walk Yorvit Torrealba was baffling and came back to bite the Phillies when Seth Smith hit an infield single to load the bases, then Manuel brought in Lohse to surrender the pivotal grand slam to Kaz Matsui. The walk to Torrealba looms large as a blunder, but allowing Romero to pitch while saving Brett Myers for the ninth-inning and extra-innings seemed like a reasonable strategy in Game Three, and bringing in Lohse to pitch to Matsui seemed like a good move given that Kendrick had thrown a number of pitches by that juncture. I don’t think you can pin this loss in the series on Charlie Manuel. That would be unfair.

The odd thing I noticed in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer was how upbeat the coverage of the Phillies was. Despite the tragic sweep, the people who cover this team seem to be optimistic about its future. E.g., check out Jim Salisbury's take. It’s players seem to be optimistic. The fans need to be too. This is only the beginning of the Phillies run, not the end.

In summing up, let me just comment on the stunning fact that three of the four divisional series were sweeps: the Rockies over the Phillies, the Diamondbacks over the Cubs, the Red Sox over the Angels. I’d like to add that I got every one of those series wrong. The Cubs are a much stronger team on paper than the Diamondbacks and I was certain they’d take the series, especially with the momentum they’ve been playing with. Lou Pinella’s decision to pull Carlos Zambrano in Game One of their series looks to be the thread that unwound the Cubs tapestry. Burdened by decades of history and expectations, they folded quietly. Wait ‘til next year.

Over in the American League, I was stunned by how the Red Sox pitching utterly dominated the Angels. I really thought that the Angels would have an edge here, but they did not. Josh Beckett’s nine-inning, four-hit, eight-strikeout masterpiece in Game One set the tone. Meanwhile, the Yankees kept alive, but I think the Indians will win the series regardless. That one will go to five games.

Alright, so here is the posting schedule for the week coming up:

Tuesday: Rockies – Diamondbacks Analysis
Wednesday: Bring Back Charlie Manuel?
Thursday: Speed & the Phillies in 2007
Friday: The Blueprint for 2008

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