The Third Team

What a long strange year its been.

You remember where you were last year. The day the best pitcher in baseball chose less money and chose to call Philadelphia home. That joyous signing wasn’t without a gotcha! moment; to get the best, Philadelphia had to say goodbye to its best pitcher in years. Goodbye the pitcher who was the consolation prize at the 2009 trade deadline. The guy who carried us to our second consecutive World Series.

How could we let him go? We let the guy go who would have solidified one of the best starting rotations in the game. Even with our new guy, we we’re left with a collective sour taste; perhaps to forever wonder, “what if?”

Cliff Lee was the guy I wanted early in 2009 before Roy Halladay was “made available” during that 2009 trade deadline. When we landed Lee I was excited, however feeling like we had settled – that is, until Lee threw his first pitch as a Phillie. He was likable, focused, hard-working, and most important to us Philadelphia sports fans, determined to win. He even took to us as a fanbase, which we all know is difficult to do sometimes. When he was traded away one year ago, I was disappointed, but knew we got the better guy. I was disheartened by rumors that Lee had turned down a three-year deal to lock him up before free agency. He wanted CC Sabathia type money. Maybe it was him. Maybe it was his agent. We’ll probably never know. But with a deal unable to be reached, off to Seattle, eventually to Texas, and yet again to another World Series our once beloved ace went.

Its hard in this day and age for a professional athlete to not go for free agency. To not cash in on their one chance to provide for their families and to live comfortably. However, when you’re being offered millions upon millions of dollars, I often wondered why not take less money for what could be your only chance at winning it all? It’s easy to say you would turn it down boatloads of money that’s guaranteed in exchange for a chance to win in a game with a long season where anything can happen.  In 2010, not many guys are willing to leave anything on the table. Not even in exchange for a chance at greatness.

You knew where you were today (or for many of us, very late last night). You saw the rumblings of this third, mystery team in the mix for Cliff Lee. You glanced at it, payed little attention to it – Cliff Lee was going to the New York Yankees for CC money, wasn’t he? But as the day went on, this little mystery team that could rumor picked up steam. It was everywhere, it took Twitter and the Philadelphia area by storm for hours last night. Our Phillies outed at the mystery team, trying to compete with the seven-year deal from the Yankees and a seven-year deal from Texas. And just before midnight, the tweets came to cross the Yankees off the list. Then the second strike through Texas. Leaving the Mystery Team, who seemingly swooped in at the 25th hour in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, signed their former ace to a five-year contract.

Cliff Lee showed his true colors in this signing. His contract through the next five years will make him a much deserved rich man, but his signing for less money and years at age 32 proves that he cares more about winning above everything else. He recalled being traded away from Philadelphia left him in “shock and disbelief.” We loved him here and he loved us. And while he might have said no to a lot of things sign here, he simply said “yes” to coming home.

While the next few days will be filled with excitement over his return, this signing is of course so much bigger than Cliff Lee. It further solidifies that this ride is not over. This run has yet another unpredictable chapter. And reminds us yet again as fans of this often tortured franchise how far we’ve come from those abysmal late 1990s, to the promising yet disappointing early 2000s, and the greatness of the late 2000s. So here’s to 2011, which could yet be the greatest of them all.

Sleep well, Philadelphia. In just 61 days, Clearwater will welcome perhaps the greatest starting rotation in baseball history.

Hard to believe, isn’t it Harry?


Series Preview: San Francisco Giants (67-52) at Philadelphia Phillies (66-51)

After a quick series win on the road against our foes of New York, the Phillies tied for first place in the National League Wild Card race with the San Francisco Giants. The same Giants who, as fate would have it, are coming to town for a three game set after a offday Monday. San Francisco won the previous meeting in SF 2-1 back in late April.

Charlie Manuel has said he’s not focused on the Wild Card race. And why he should he be? With Ryan Howard expected to return from the DL in the coming days and the activation of Chase Utley today – the Phillies now have their competition and the fate of the 2010 season right where they want them. After injuries to almost every major position player and then some, an unstable bullpen, a never-ending offensive slump -the Phillies stand on the doorstep of September with everything finally coming together for what seems like another incredible second half run.

I typically give stats for my previews; break down the pitching matchups, how the batters fare against certain guys – and for this one, I can direct you to (Realistically, I know you’re much more excited for the returns of Pat the Bat and Chase to care how they stack up against Oswalt or Zito respectively.) This series reminds me a lot of the one in mid September 2008 against Milwaukee.  Behind the Brew Crew by four games for the Wild Card lead when they came to town for a four game set, we swept them and moved on from the Wild Card to take the NL East weeks later.  I bring this series up because when it comes down to it, this team does what it needs to do fate presents such an opportunity.  With  the exception of Matt Cain v. Joe Blanton, I think the other matchups of Barry Zito v. Roy Oswalt and Jonathan Sanchez v. Cole Hamels do favor the Phillies.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself and predict a sweep, but I think after this series  the Phillies will be  in the lead – but forget the wild card, send San Francisco packing with it.  Let’s shoot to end the series atop the National League East and send one final message to Atlanta that the Phillies are coming.

Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (48-43) at St. Louis Cardinals (51-41)

The Phillies will yet again look to break out of another slump after a disappointing series in Chicago 3-1. It will be the second four game series against St. Louis this season.  In May, the Phillies won the series at Citizens Bank Park 3-1.

GAME ONE: Kyle Kendrick (5-3, 4.44) at Blake Hawksworth (3-5, 4.73)

In his last three starts, Kendrick has gone 16.2 innings with 1 win, a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts.  Lifetime he is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA against St. Louis, and in 2010 has limited Albert Pujols to one hit and one RBI in six at bats. The Cardinals lineup is batting .254 against Kendrick with 18 hits in 71 at bats; they have two home runs and just six RBIs against him.  Hawksworth has also pitched the same amount as Kendrick in his last three starts, 16.1 to be exact, however he is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA and 14 strikeouts.  He has faced the Phillies once in his career and lasted just 4.2 innings; going 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA.  In just 18 at bats, the Phillies have five hits, three of them home runs.  Raul Ibanez has two home runs off of Hawksworth in three at bats, and Carlos Ruiz is 2-2 with a home run.  Continue reading

A Look Ahead to the Second Half

Well, here we are on the morning of the second half of the 2010 season off the heels of the All Star Game in Anaheim with the National League’s first win since 1996 headed by Charlie Manuel; and halfway through a strange, unlucky, and sometimes baffling season of Phillies baseball.  It seems like yesterday that many of us made the trek down to Washington for the debut of Roy Halladay back in April. On that day, in my first entry for this blog, I wrote about the kind of team the 2010 Phillies were. And how they showed us on Opening Day; the 11 run offensive outburst, stellar defense, and the first of many dazzling outings from our much coveted ace. No one could have foreseen the offensive slump that has seemed to have plagued us all season, the lack of run support for our starting rotation, or the endless and countless injuries.

But then something funny happened. After a disappointing series with the first place Braves, and some misplaced blame on the fans by Shane Victorino; many of us wondered where this season was going, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who doubted if this was the same team of the last two seasons. It started with the improbable home run from Brian Schneider to open the series. The next night seemed like the Phillies were back in their slump; with no inspiration from the previous night. That is, until Greg Dobbs, Cody Ransom had their say; capped with the exclamation point by Ryan Howard. Then there was the almost perfecto, until a double by Chooch on his first game back from the disabled list,  and a RBI single from Jimmy Rollins to provide the only run they would need. Capping off the four game sweep was a dazzling one run win spearheaded by Cole Hamels.

By now, you already know that baseball isn’t for the faint of heart. The ups and downs aren’t for everyone; a true baseball fan knows to be in it for the long haul takes patience and thick skin. They also know how much sweeter th payoff of a 162 game season is to be the last one standing on a chilly night in October.  And, we can still get there. The Phillies are a second half team in a division race that is anything but over.  We’re still the team of the past two seasons, and perhaps this series is what it took to remind our 25 guys who they are; and reminded a passionate fan base that there is still reason to believe for that one night in October.

So before you change the channel, or leave that game early – remember who this team is. Remember when you think things can’t get any worse, that we’re still the lucky ones – with players and a team and a chance to win that every baseball fan longs for. The ones who can pull off three improbable walks offs in three nights, the ones who see their ace pitch a perfect game, one of the few that despite the countless injuries and endless offensive slump still only find themselves a few games back – a team that may get down sometimes, and in our case really down, but are certainly never to be counted out.

Series Preview: Atlanta Braves (48-34) at Philadelphia Phillies (42-38)

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies After yet another disappointing series on the road, and dropping the season series to Pittsburgh 4-2, the Phillies will return home for a three game set against the first place Atlanta Braves. For a team plagued with injuries and still looking for a consistent level of play, this may be a series that will set the tone for the second half of the season. Play well, and the Phillies could make up some much-needed ground in the National League East. Continue reading

Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (32-29) at New York Yankees (40-23)

After a disappointing start to their American League East roadtrip, the Phillies will look to pull out of their slump in a 2009 World Series rematch against the New York Yankees.  

GAME ONE: Roy Halladay (8-4, 1.96) at CC Sabathia (6-3, 4.01) 

Halladay was magnificent in his last start; going eight innings with one run on six hits with eight strike outs. unfortunately, the Phillies offense could not score a run. Halladay has dominated the Yankees thus far into his career. He has a lifetime record against the Yankees of 18-6 and 2.84 earned run average, and since 2005 his record is 11-2. The current lineup is batting .284 against Halladay with 95 hits in 368 at bats; with just eight home runs and 34 RBIs. Jorge Posada has the hot bat against Halladay with a .278 average with 15 hits in 54 at bats with two home runs. Sabathia has typically been a hot second half pitcher, and against teams that aren’t Baltimore, Sabathia’s record is 2-3 with a 4.69 ERA. Lifetime against the Phillies, Sabathia has a 1-1 record and 4.35 ERA. The Phillies have a .291 average with 41 hots in 141 at bats with three home runs and 19 RBIs. Continue reading

Series Preview: San Diego Padres (32-21) at Philadelphia Phillies (28-24)

It was a road trip that featured the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The Phillies are coming off a pathetic and disappointing road trip against their foes of the National League East, featuring two series sweeps at the hands of New York and Atlanta, a handful of shutouts,and the 20th perfect game in Major League history from Roy Halladay. The Phillies will be home for a seven game homestand against San Diego and Florida before Interleague play begins for the remainder of the month. Last year, the Phillies won the season series 4-2, with just one win at home and a sweep on the road.

Continue reading