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Philadelphia Phillies Report by Ari Bluestein

September 17, 2008 Leave a comment

What a weekend for the Philadelphia Phillies!

Following a disastrous series loss to their division rival, the Florida Marlins, the Phillies rebound in a big way.  With the Milwaukee Brewers coming into town for a four-game series and the Phillies four games behind them in the National League Wildcard race, it seemed like it would be too good to be true for the Phils to sweep and tie the Brewers for the NL Wildcard lead.

But that is just what those Fightin’ Phils did and now the Phils are tied for the lead in the NL Wildcard race and, thanks to the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets bullpen, are now only one game back in the NL East division race.

In game one of the Brewers series, the Phillies got some runs early off of All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets with a two-run home run from Ryan Howard in the first inning.  Jamie Moyer held the lead for the Phillies and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge both did great jobs out of the bullpen, leading the Phils to a 6-3 victory.

After a rainout on Friday, Saturday provided for a matchup of crafty left-handers as Milwaukee’s Manny Parra opposed Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.  Parra got lit up early by the Phillies offense, giving up five runs in 1 1/3 innings.  Meanwhile, Hamels was cruising only giving up two runs 6 1/3 innings of work, leading the Phillies to a 7-3 victory.

As a make-up for the rainout on Friday, the Phillies and Brewers played a day-night doubleheader on Sunday.  Most Phillies fans realized that the tough game to win would be game one of the “double dip” with inconsistent right-hander Joe Blanton taking the hill. 

Despite giving up a two-run home run in the first inning, Blanton settled down and pitched seven strong innings, giving up only three earned runs.  The Phillies struggled against Brewers starting pitcher Dave Bush up until the sixth inning.  With Chase Utley on base, Howard hit an opposite field home run to tie the game at 3-3.  In the eighth inning, the Phillies put the finishing touches on a big with a game-winning RBI single by Pat Burrell followed by a big three-run home run by Shan Victorino, giving the Phils a 7-3 win.

With three wins in the books, the Phillies were nice and relaxed for the night cap of the day-night doubleheader while the Brewers looked like a beaten team.  Once again, the Phillies scored early and often providing more than enough offense for Phillies starting pitcher Brett Myers.  Myers pitched a complete game two-hitter, giving the Phillies a 6-1 victory and a share of the lead in the NL Wildcard race.

Looking at this four-game sweep of the Brewers, there are many things we can take away from it.  Not only does this put the Phillies in a very good position in the National League playoff race, but it also takes the pressure off the Phillies the rest of the season.

After the Marlins series loss, Myers was quoted saying the Phillies were putting a lot of pressure on themselves to make up ground in the playoff race.  Now, the Phils control their own destiny and that will certainly alleviate some pressure.

Another important fact you can take away from this series is that the Phillies scored a lot of runs.  In four games, the Phillies scored 26 runs and they scored six runs or more in every game.  So not only are the Phillies scoring runs, but they are doing it consistently.

From the pitching perspective, you could not ask for four better starts than what Moyer, Hamels, Blanton and Myers gave in this series.  The start the Blanton gave on Sunday afternoon was extremely encouraging since he was not able to go more than five innings in his last several starts.

Not only was the starting pitching great, the bullpen did a great job as well.  In 7 2/3 innings, the bullpen only gave up one earned run the entire series.  Considering how inconsistent the bullpen has been as of late, that is another encouraging statistic.

This week, the Phillies have their final road trip of the regular season with a three-game series in Atlanta against the Braves and a three-game series in Miami against the Florida Marlins.

If Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel elects not to pitch Blanton on three days rest, then he will have to go with right-hander Kyle Kendrick on Wednesday in the second game of the Braves series.  If Manuel were to do that, the Phillies would need a big game from the 24-year old Kendrick to keep the Phillies in the game.

Looking ahead to the Marlins series, the Phillies will most likely have to face the right-handers Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad.  These are two pitchers that the Phils have not had a lot of success against this season.  However, the good news is that the Phillies will face right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who the Phillies beat in this past three-game series when the Marlins were in town.

Overall, I would hope for nothing less than a 4-2 record on this road trip.  This season, the Phillies are 6-0 in Atlanta and are 10-2 overall against the Braves.  Therefore, winning two out of three is the minimum most Phillies fans would be satisfied with.  If the Phillies were to sweep the Braves, perhaps winning only one of three in Miami would be permissible.  However, every game counts so the Phillies need to go out, play hard and give a total team effort during this all-important road trip.

In past Phillies Reports, I have used the words “rollercoaster” and “inconsistent” to describe the Phillies play.  But consistency and total team effort are words that can describe this four-game sweep over the Brewers.  If this is any indication of the way the Phillies will play in these final 12 games of the year, then I would say Phils fans are in for some October baseball.

Philadelphia Phillies Report – 9/8/08

September 8, 2008 1 comment

This past week, the Phillies finished out their second-to-last road trip of the year.  They started the trip with a split against the National League-best Chicago Cubs, which followed a solid 7-2 home stand.

One would think that going to Washington to take on the lowly Nationals would be a blessing for a team in a pennant race.  But of course it was the exact opposite and the Nationals played the role of spoiler and took two of three in the series.

In both losses against the Nationals, the starting pitching was extremely weak.  In game one, Kyle Kendrick could not record an out in the fifth inning and officially pitched four innings giving up six earned runs in a 7-4 loss.  Granted, the Phillies offense was once again shut down by National starting pitcher Tim Redding and when Kendrick does not have run support, he does not succeed.

Then in game three, the inconsistent Joe Blanton took the hill and had another poor outing.  Blanton, who came into town as an “innings eater,” could not get out of the fifth inning either.  His official line was four innings pitched and four earned runs.  Blanton left the game when the score was 4-4, so he got another no decision.  Chad Durbin ended up taking the loss with giving up four runs in only 2/3 of an inning.

In the middle of these two disastrous games was a solid pitching performance from the staff ace, Cole Hamels.  In a 4-0 win, Hamels pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up no runs, five hits and striking out six Nationals hitters.

So with the two losses to the Nats, the Phillies stood three full games behind the Mets in the NL East division standings entering their big weekend series in Shea Stadium.  Depending on how this series went, the Phils could have either been tied with the Mets for the division lead, two games back, four games back or a whole six games back.  The two latter situations would not have been good heading down the stretch here in September.

On my radio show, which can be heard on the Sports Journey Radio Network, I stated that it was extremely important to win game one of the Mets series.  Not only in order to set the tone for the particular series, but for the remainder of this season.  A win in game one would give the Phillies confidence that they can make another run at the division and it would give the Mets the feeling that they can lose their lead just like they did last year.

Brett Myers must have heard what I said because he pitched an absolute gem in game one of this series, leading the Phillies to a 3-0 victory over the Mets.  After an early first inning run, Greg Dobbs hit a two-run home run over the right field fence to give the Phils a permanent 3-0 lead. 

After Tropical Storm Hanna washed out Saturday’s game, a day-night doubleheader was then schedule for Sunday.  In the day game, 45-year old southpaw Jamie Moyer faced off against 36-year old future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez. 

The Phils got to Martinez and manufactured two runs in the second inning with a Matt Stairs sacrifice fly and a Carlos Ruiz RBI-single.  Then the Phils got another big home run from Dobbs, this time it was a three-run shot in the fourth inning.  Moyer pitched an efficient seven innings of shutout baseball and the Phils went on to win 6-2.

The night cap features a great pitching matchup with Mets’ ace Johan Santana and Phillies ace Cole Hamels.  After the Phillies got a run in the top of the first inning off an RBI-single by Ryan Howard, the Mets answered three runs of their own in the inning and never looked back.  With the lead 3-1 in the third inning, Howard blasted his 40th home run of the year off Santana, bringing the Phils to within one run at 3-2.

But then came Carlos Delgado, who has been one of the best hitters in the MLB in the second half of the season.  In the bottom of the third, Delgado had the answer to Howard’s homer with a solo shot of his own.  He then hit another solo home run in the fifth inning to solidify the Mets lead.  The Mets went on to win by a score of 6-3.

So now the Phillies sit two games behind the Mets in the NL East division with 19 games left to go.  The Phillies start their road to the end of the season with a seven-game home stand.

Starting tonight, the Phillies have a three-game series with the Florida Marlins followed by a four-game series against the NL Wildcard-leading Milwaukee Brewers. 

The first two games of the series feature the two inconsistent pitchers on this Phillies starting staff with Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick.  It is very important to get quality starts from both Blanton and Kendrick to take some pressure off the bullpen.  These two pitchers pitched a combined total of eight innings last week and that number certainly needs to go up.

The Phillies finish the Marlins series with a pitching matchup of Brett Myers versus Ricky Nolasco.  Myers has been the Phillies top pitcher over the last month or so, while Nolasco has been the pitcher over the last month for the Fish.

In the following series against the Brewers, the Phillies catch a huge break as they do not have to face Brewers ace and MVP candidate C.C. Sabathia.  Without facing Sabathia, the Phillies have a great shot to take at least three out of four games from the Brewers.

The Mets enter their final road trip this week with a four-game series in Washington and a three-game series in Atlanta.

It’s coming down the stretch, which makes every game, no matter who the opponent, even more important.  The Phillies need to take advantage of playing at home and try and take three out of four from Milwaukee and at least two out of three from the Marlins.

Philadelphia Phillies Report – 9/2/08

Of course we all know the song, “Your love is like a roller coaster baby!”  Well, I would like to leave a message for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel saying, “Your TEAM is like a roller coaster baby!”

 

Even though the ‘Nats’ are hot, the Phillies need to find a way to beat them two games in a row. The Nationals are one of the worst teams in baseball and if the Phillies want to prove that they are a playoff team, they need to win these games.

Lakers vs. Celtics – Rivalry Renewed?

Russell vs. Chamberlain. Magic vs. Bird. Garnett vs. Kobe? Does that seem to fit? Or perhaps Pierce vs. Kobe? Or just the Big 3 vs. Kobe? How does this Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals stack up with those of the past?

Starting with the 1969 NBA Finals, Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics were at the end of their large dynasty. On the flip side, the Los Angeles Lakers had the newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain along with Hall-of-Fame players Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The Lakers were the heavy favorite with the younger, more athletic team and Russell was at the tail end of his career. However, the Celtics managed to make it all the way to the Finals after being seeded 4th in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers took the first 2 games at home, then the Celtics bounced back to win games 3 and 4. The Celtics and Lakers then split games 5 and 6, leading up to the always dramatic Game 7. A huge 3rd quarter and a game-ending injury to Chamberlain allowed the Celtics to prevail and win the NBA Title.

The 1984 NBA Finals would be the next time the Lakers & Celtics would meet, this time with completely different teams. The Lakers were led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and James Worthy and the Celtics had a farm boy named Larry Bird. Bird ended up winning MVP and the Celtics won the NBA Finals in 7 games. These two teams would meet again in the 1985 NBA Finals, this time with the Lakers winning the series in 6 games and Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received MVP honors. Then again, 1987 gave way to another Lakers-Celtics NBA Final with the Lakers winning again in 6 games.

Now, 21 years later, the Lakers and Celtics meet again. The Celtics are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since that 1987 defeated at the hands of the Lakers, while L.A. has been much more successful winning a few championships since then.

So with all those great players mentioned in the 1969 NBA Finals and the Finals in the 1980’s, does 2008 really compare? Kobe Bryant is this year’s MVP and is certainly a future Hall-of-Famer. Other Lakers players like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher will be remembered as great players, but are not necessarily Hall-of-Famers. On the flip side, the big three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are all potential Hall-of-Famers. But with no championship to their names, they are not yet considered to be locks to enter “The Hall” like Kobe.

This is the time to shine for Boston and the big three. It’s time for the Celtics to revive their storied franchise and it’s time for Garnett, Pierce and Allen to put a cap on their great careers.

With that said, can it be done? The Lakers are playing great basketball and have the MVP on their side. They also have head coach Phil Jackson, who is running out of fingers on which to put his championship rings. It will be a tough task for Boston to beat L.A. in a 7-game series, but it can be done.

The Celtics do technically have the home court advantage. But if they lose one of the first two in Boston, then L.A. can win the next 3 games at home and take the series and the championship.

There were two things that allowed the Boston Celtics to beat the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals: Good defense on the road and Ray Allen playing like Ray Allen. If those two things happen again in this series, the Celtics could win. But Boston also needs to control the defensive glass and not allow Gasol and Odom to give the Lakers a ton of second chances.

My personal prediction is the Lakers in 5 games simply because of Kobe, Phil Jackson and the way the team is playing. But Boston certainly has the talent to get it done. They just need to put it all together. It’s now or never.