Monday, April 03, 2006

Excited About Baseball

can't believe i'm saying this, but i'm excited about baseball again. it's been a while, but getting pat gillick in place is the best thing that this team has done in over 10 years. it's nice watching an actual professional GM in place. he's even taken the pressure off the team by setting the expectation that "we're not going to win this season", thereby assuming the pressure himself. now they're in a no-lose situation. if they don't win, then pat told us so. if they do win, then it's a pleasant surprise.

i actually think this team is going to be good.

ben schuchardt emailed his season preview:
Dear Bill Lyon and other Baseball Fans,

You walk out of the house in the morning and you sense it. The air smells like new life. The grass and trees tingle, itching to blink eyes and stretch after a longer winter nap. The Sun shines, courage restored, invigorated. You feel good and you know why. Spring is here. Your job doesn’t suck anymore, your wife is interesting and sexy (still), and your future is bright. Baseball begins again.

The Season starts next week and you have strong feelings, confidence almost, that the Phillies will win the National League East. You’re willing to endure ridicule to defend your theory, because you know that as March turns to April, others feel it to. It’s impossible to ignore.

Why you believe the Phillies will win 94 games (and win the division)

The Lineup
1B Ryan Howard. The kid is for real. Unless National League pitchers find a hole in his swing that hasn’t materialized over the last two seasons, you think this guy could be sitting on a monster year. In route to winning Rookie of the Year, Howard sprayed homers all over the yard, seldom pulling the ball with authority or showing his true power. This spring, you had a chance to see happens when he catches up with the ball. As much as you loved watching three clutch grand slams last year, you think you’ll enjoy seeing a few 500 foot jobs this year even more. You know, you know, the second time around can be tough, and Spring Training is a lap dance, but you don’t think the 10 homer, .351 BA, .784 SLG clinic Howard flashed so far is a particularly bad omen. Would anyone be shocked if he hits 35 home runs and drives in 110? You won’t be.

You hope Jim Thome rediscovers health or steroids in Detroit, but you know that trading him was the best and most significant move your team could possibly make in the off season.

2B Chase Utley. There are a couple of very good reasons Team USA picked this guy for its roster: character and ability. Will he hit 28 home runs this year or drive in 100+ runs? You don’t want to hang that kind of pressure on the kid, even tough you saw him do it last year with your own eyes, but you don’t see a good reason to think otherwise. The starting job is his. The team is his now. Why not, especially since he seems to have learned to hit against lefties and couldn’t hit them a lick until the end of summer last year? You grin when you remember the perceptions and snickers that he lacked range or couldn’t field his position. Hogwash.

SS Jimmy Rollins. You smile whenever the ball is hit to his side because you know he is the slickest shortstop in the National League. Egad, you think, how good could he be if he’d learn to take a pitch, drag a bunt, or smack a line drive instead of a warning track fly ball? But then you remember the last six weeks of 2005. You think of the possibilities if he can just get on base. You forget about the Streak and focus on the possibilities. All-star.

3B David Bell. Thunk. You start to sweat and try to think of ways to compensate for the ailing back, the egregious fielding errors, the poor situational hitting, and the declining power. You imagine the diamond beauty had Scott Rolen still been part of the infield mix and healthy. But then you cowboy up and recall the practical imagination of moves made by your new professional GM this off-season. Wait a minute, Nunez and Gonalez can play the hot corner, and play it at an average Major League level. And you remember that David Bell hit .400 against left-hand pitching last year. Can Charlie Manuel summon the guts to make this a workable situation? You have some legitimate doubts, but you feel confident that Pat Gillick understands the strengths and weaknesses of personnel and holds the hammer over the manager.

C Mike Lieberthal. You don’t care that he’s hit .331 so far this spring because you know he can’t hit in the clutch and that he’s a clubhouse cancer. Your ace doesn’t like to pitch to him and your staff seeks out opportunities to praise the back up receiver (no matter who he is). But you have a silver lining. Your professional GM parted ways with a popular quality back-up (Todd Pratt, age 39) expressly because he needed to find a replacement (Sal Fasano, age 34) to catch significantly more than 40 or 50 games this year. You smile when you consider the obvious implications because you know that contradictions do not exist. Fasano will catch 60 games, limiting Lieberthal’s menace, adding panache.

LF Pat Burrell. You’ve been hard on him in the past because he is overmatched by quality pitching (and by any pitcher who tosses close to 95 mph). You grimace when you see him dive away from fastballs down Broadway. You know he has no chance to handle the hard slider from a right-hander deft enough to paint the outside black. He looks great to the girls, but he looks like a slump waiting to happen to you. But then you glimpse at the statistics he posted during the 2005 comeback campaign. Will any of his weaknesses matter if he belts 32 homers and knocks in 117 in 2006? Did they matter in 2002 when he blasted 37 and knocked 116? Shine on you crazy diamond.

CF Aaron Rowand. You can’t believe the Phillies got this much back from the White Sox. There has to be a catch, you think, especially since Haigwood and Gonzalez seem like legitimate prospects and not lint. He didn’t hit much last year, did he? You enjoyed watching the ageless Kenny Lofton and surprisingly effective J. Mike, and you wonder how much you’ll miss the offensive production. But then you summon Dream Rolodex and conjure images of Gary Maddux’ erasing the defensive deficiencies of Bake McBride and Greg Luzinski at the Vet and you get it. He doesn’t have to hit. If he does, it’s a bonus. You peek at Grapefruit statistics because you’re still skittish after Rowand’s anemic start. You’re pleasantly surprised that the average is back from hell and over .250 and he’s getting on base at a .365 clip. You’ve seen him make three or four sensational plays in the outfield and remember how Lofton lost 3-4 games all by himself last April by not catching balls hit over his head. You hope someone, anyone, will explain to Mr. Rowand that the ball carries – seriously, dude – at the Bank.

RF Bobby Abreu. You defended his lackadaisical attitude for years until you started going to games again and realized that the Eskinites were right. You pray that this year he will swing the bat after the seventh inning and realize that Big League teams pay guys like Steve Jeltz to look for walks in key situations and not guys like Bobby Abreu. You grouse, but you know you can deal with what he gives you now, because the Phillies have relieved him of leadership responsibility. Rollins, Utley, Howard and Rowand run this team now. Rather than harp on his limitations, you vow to route for him this year, hoping secretly to win an invitation to the party at his house after the game.

Reserves. If Coste makes the team, you consider making good on a promise to carry Thomas Perez’ bags to the airport. Coste’s favorite position is catcher? Oh my, what a bonus. Everyone seems to be able to play third base, which makes you smile. Can anyone play outfield? You elect to wait to see.

So you run through the lineup and convince yourself that the Phils have what it takes to win 94, but the beast still lurks behind door #2, and you know it. Chicks dig home runs, but defense wins games. You’ve heard all grumbling…They need another arm. They have too many back of the rotation guys, no legitimate ace. They should have paid Billy Wagner. They should have taken whatever pitcher they were offered for Bobby Abreu. Franklin couldn’t win a game when he was ON steroids. They got NOTHING back for Padilla, who was a head case, but at least had good stuff. You know that pitching is the key to winning but you think the staff may surprise the pundits. Spring sunshine has that effect on you. You start to worry so you write down some positive thoughts to keep the vibe alive:

- They almost traded for Bronson Arroyo but didn’t pull the trigger. Ed Wade might have, if only to keep the idiots off his back. You chuckled when you read in print that Arroyo equated his trade from Boston with a traffic accident or plane crash involving his kids. A snide thought occurs to you: “He’s got a million dollar arm, but a 5 cent head.” That he once wore absurd island-style braids on national television confirms your suspicion. Better he go to the Jamaican Bob Sled team than peddle his act in South Philly.

- Brett Myers is ready to be an ace. He’s always had the stuff, but he seems more confident now. You loved it when he tired of spring training and campaigned for the season to begin. He’s 25, the same age most of us became adults. You’re convinced he can win 18 games, strike out 200, and make the All-Star team. You’ve seen this enough times to believe it can happen and remember when Curt Schilling started to pull it together.

- Flash Gordon had to learn something watching Sandman in New York. Sure, he’s 38, but that seems like such a small number to you nowadays. A part of you thinks gutsy Geoff Geary could fill the role if necessary. The kid throws hard, throws strikes, and seems to dare the world to take him seriously. If he had a better hair cut and didn’t have to throw for more than one inning at a time, who knows?

- Arthur Rhodes knows how to pitch. In an era of bullpen mediocrity, your professional GM picked up a bargain, but no one seems to realize it yet.

- Corey Lidle will probably pitch more innings this year than A. J. Burnett, who already has a sore elbow and cost the Jays $55 million.

- Ryan Madson is really a starter and his Grapefruit numbers have you giddy: 3-0, 1.50 ERA. He flamed out last year because Charlie used him up, but you don’t worry too much about bad personnel decisions this year because you now have a professional GM. At the Bank, the Head is once again a place to drain $6 beers. The kid has jerky motion, but a devastating change and a curve to die for. The 94 mph fastball doesn’t bother you either.

- Gavin Floyd looks like the guy we dreamed he’d be. His 4-0, 2.08 ERA Florida line looks as good as anyone’s. You forget about the shaky last start in Philly, and you focus on the big picture. The real significance of his making the team. You wonder if Ed Wade would have signed Franklin to an off-season free agent contract, seen him put good numbers in the spring, and still have had the courage to say “So what? The kid earned the spot. The best player wins.” You ask yourself if Chase Utley or Ryan Howard might have had an earlier impact if Gillick had been in town two years ago, but you know the answer and move on.

- Brito, Haigwood & Hamel may not be names you want on your opening day roster, but you’re sure as hell glad they’re around to give you a shot in the arm if you need them. You still hold out hope that Randy Wolf can do the same come Dog Days.

- Cy Young pitches middle relief for every team in the league except the Phillies. Sure he does. You hope that Adam Fultz, Rheal Cormier and anyone else who touches the horsehide gets swept up in the magic and contributes to the best of his ability.

- Jon Lieber has you worried, but it you’re worried about Lieber, you know it’s time to crack open a cold one and relax.

You were born in Philadelphia and haven’t sipped from Cinderella’s slipper since you were a college kid, chasing dreams. You’re conditioned for failure, but you don’t care. It’s Opening Day. Anything is possible. You vow that you will enjoy the ride no matter what happens.

Happy Baseball, everyone. Play ball!
i think i may actually go to a few games this season...



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I go to one game a year with my dad and some friends. It's always one of the fireworks games. The fireworks at Phillies' games have always been stupendous. This year it's July 5th. I don't know whom the phillies are playing, and I don't honestly care. While I do slightly get into the game while I'm there, I don't think I will ever again have that rush for a baseball game I had when I was a kid.

- Joe

10:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Phil said...

While I will not be along for the ride, I do wish all Phillies fans a good year. I'll even help celebrate the city's good fortune if they win the word series. Otherwise - shrug.

1:25 PM EDT  
Anonymous Phil said...

Um, 10-0 Cards in the 4th. Has a season's hopes ever ended quicker?

4:21 PM EDT  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

not to fear. burrell just jacked one now that the game is already over.

4:27 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

damn it! 13-2 in the 5th.
what the hell kind of opening day is this for the Phillies hopes for winning the NL East?

4:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got a good a$$ kicking today. It happens. Myers turns it around on Wednesday. I'm not ready to jump ship just yet. Keep the faith.


7:47 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are one hundred and sixty some games this season. I'd never jump ship after one disappointing one--it was just not what was expected after such a strong showing in pre-season. Check back in about 70 games and see where we stand. Go Phils!


8:51 AM EDT  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

Myers turns it around on Wednesday.

i hope so. seems like the phils have been waiting on that guy forever. hopefully this is the year he puts it all together.

my read is that gillick kept publicly saying "we don't have a top of the rotation starter" to get on myers. hopefully myers uses the anger effectively.

11:27 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Myers is only 25. Let's be a little careful with words like "forever." Based on last year's numbers, he's right on schedule. You're spot on with regard to Gillick's motivational effort, however. He was also lighting up the bullpen guys.


3:16 PM EDT  

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