The hard road to history

Jimmy SAN FRANCISCO — Hours before Tuesday afternoon’s pivotal Game 3 at AT&T Park, Charlie Manuel said to no one in particular a wish that every Phillies fan was probably hoping for as the game progressed.

“I hope we score a lot of runs today—10, 15 or 20,” he said as he passed the time before the game.

However, it’s not known if Manuel was talking about one game in particular or the entire series. Either way, the Phillies appear to be in trouble. After all, in a postseason filled with tepid offensive performances, Tuesday’s was the worst of the bunch.

The Phillies scratched out just three hits, stranded seven runners and left three of them in scoring position on Tuesday as they were blanked in a playoff game for the first time since time since Game 5 of the 1983 World Series. Has there ever been a worse time for the Phillies to go belly-up with the bats?

“You know what? We can talk about the pitching. The pitching might have something to do with their swing. Our guys are trying. I mean, they might be trying too hard,” manager Charlie Manuel said after the the 3-0 defeat. “Look, when you don’t score no runs [or] you don’t get no hits, it’s hard to win the game. But I don’t know what we’re going to do about it. I can sit here and talk about it. I can go in and talk to them about it, but when the game starts tomorrow is when we can do something about it. You know, when the game starts, that’s when you’re supposed to hit. You’re kind of on your own when you leave a dugout.”

Trailing the best-of-seven series 2-1, there isn’t much Manuel can do about his lineup. Moreover, the players really don’t have too many answers for the hitting woes that began as soon as the playoffs started. Against the Reds in the NLDS, the Phillies batted .212 with one homer and two doubles in a three-game sweep. More troubling is that the hitting has gotten worse through the first three games of the NLCS.

With three hits against pitchers Matt Cain, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson, the Phillies are batting just .195 in the NLCS. Things have reached a point that even the predictably patient Manuel opted to bust Raul Ibanez to the bench for Game 4 and start Ben Francisco in his place. That’s not too over the top considering Francisco, a right-handed hitter, will face lefty starter Madison Bumgarner and Ibanez is 0-for-11 in the series and hitless in his last 15 at-bats in the postseason. However, Francisco has appeared in one game since Oct. 3 and he ended up getting drilled on the helmet by a pitch in Game 2 of the NLDS.

That’s not exactly easing into game action.

“I would say from Raul's standpoint he’s kind of a warrior and he tries hard all the time. That’s who he is. And first of the year he was over-swinging and things like that. I’ve seen that in the last couple of days from him,” Manuel said, pointing out that the right-handed Francisco might be a better option against lefty Madison Bumgarner. 

Again, Manuel doesn’t have too many options. Between ineffectiveness and Chase Utley’s incomplete swing, the Phillies are in a rare position. After all, the recent playoff runs were over rather quickly. As watchers, we’re not used to watching the Phillies fall behind, come back and force the series to go long. Sure, they fell behind 2-1 in the 1993 NLCS to Atlanta to win the series, but that’s ancient history. Plus, the Phillies were underdogs in that series.

This time the Phillies are the overwhelming favorites to win the NLCS with many astute baseball analysts projecting them to reach the World Series with the brute force of the league’s most formidable starting rotation.

Not so fast says Manuel.

The Phillies of 2010 are not the same as they were in 2008 or 2009, Manuel said. The opposition has adapted and adjusted to the Phillies’ offense. For instance, it used to be that hitters like Shane Victorino or Jimmy Rollins would see fastballs because pitchers weren’t too keen on facing Chase Utley, Ryan Howard or Jayson Werth.

That’s all changed now. Instead, the Phillies don’t see too many fastballs at all anymore. Even against hard-throwing right-hander Matt Cain in Game 3 the Phillies didn’t get a single base hit on a breaking pitch.

No, the Phillies aren’t fooling anyone these days.

“One of the problems with our hitting is you’ve got advance scouts and all the TV and Internet and things like that, and nowadays they go to school on your hitters, and they pitch us backwards a lot,” Manuel said. “When I say backwards, that means when we’re ahead in the count they don’t give us fastballs, they give us breaking balls and change-ups and they pitch to us more. Especially our little guys, they don’t throw those guys the fastballs they used to. 

“We’re basically a fastball-hitting team, and a lot of times you see them a count will go 3 and 1 or 2 and 1 or 2 and 0 or something like that they’ll throw us a breaking ball or something like that we swing at it and we put it in play and dribble it. Those counts two or three years ago, those were fastballs because they would look and see the middle of our lineup and they didn’t want to get down to our third and fourth hitter or even fifth hitter in some ways, but at the same time those other guys got more fastballs. They’ve gone to school on us.”

This is not something that can be fixed quickly, either, Manuel said. His hitters are going to have to make some big changes, the manager explained.

“We talk about that a lot. Our guys like to swing, and the whole thing about it is when you get up in the count, you’re supposed to get a good ball to hit. Sometimes we do not get a good ball we can hit or handle,” Manuel said. “We put the ball in play. We try to put the ball in play, of course, with two strikes on you, if you've got to cut your swing, put the ball in play, don’t strike out. We don’t make some of the adjustments.

Vic “And you can talk about these things, but they’ve got to hit home and you’ve got to work on improving on those things. It definitely might take a while. But the league kind of has adjusted to some of our hitters if you sat there and watched the games. If you look at our lineup and you see the adjustments we’ve made in the last couple of years and how the pitchers pitch us now, then we still gotta make some adjustments against how they pitch us.

“Can we? Yeah, definitely we have the talent to do that.”

Teams don’t win 97 games to wrap up a fourth straight division title by accident. But sometimes the best teams don’t win. Remember the Oakland A’s of 1988 and 1990? Clearly those teams were the best in the game, in fact, in 1988 the A’s ranked second in runs and homers, but when the World Series arrived the bats went ice cold. In losing to the Dodgers in five games, the A’s batted .177 and scored just 11 runs while the only victory came in a 2-1 decision thanks to a walk-off homer by Mark McGwire.

It was the same story in 1990, only this time the A’s were swept by the Reds, tallying just eight runs in the series and batting .207. Six of the A’s runs came on homers in the ’90 series.

Are the Phillies resigned to the same fate as the Amazing A’s? Could they become a footnote in history with just one title when it could have been many more?

We’ll find out soon.

Does Howard’s deal put Brown on fast track?

AP100306126622 READING, Pa. — The steady rain and foreboding forecast
leant itself to some light workouts on Monday, so the Reading Phillies’
right-fielder Domonic Brown knocked off a little early. With a doubleheader on
the slate for Tuesday against Harrisburg’s star Stephen Strasburg, a little
extra rest was in order.

Besides, Brown suffered a concussion last week when he
collided with teammate Tagg Bozied when chasing after a fly ball. With a long
season ahead that likely will surpass Brown’s previous career-best for games
played, an easy day here and there isn’t a bad thing.

Then again, that’s just the thing — what are the Phillies
plans for Brown this season? When asked last week, the team’s latest can’t-miss
prospect said he didn’t know what his immediate future held. For now the plan
is to suit up for Reading, get his at-bats and wait for further instructions.

It’s not known if those instructions will include a
late-season call from the big club, because teams aren’t too keen on getting
the service-time clock started on a player sure to command a big paycheck in
the future.

After all, as of Monday afternoon the Phillies are paying
out a lot more cash to a handful of players for the better part of the next
decade. In fact, it might just be because of Ryan Howard’s new five-year, $125
million contract extension that Brown is officially placed on the fast track to
South Philly.

See, if Jayson Werth hits the free-agent market this
winter looking to cash in, then yes, chances are the Phillies won’t be able to sign
him to a contract extension. Sure, the Phillies are making plenty of money with
sold out crowds every night at Citizens Bank Park, but to quote Bill Gates as
depicted in an episode of The Simpsons,
“You don’t get rich by writing checks.”

However, if Werth wants to give the Phillies the ol’
hometown discount, then general manager Ruben Amaro should be ready to listen.

“Naturally we’d like to keep all of those guys, but we’ll
go by a case-by-case basis,” Amaro said from San Francisco during the press
conference to officially announce Howard’s new deal.

That’s kind of like saying, “Water is wet.” It’s obvious
the Phillies will weigh all their options before deciding which players to keep
and which ones to let go. Clearly the team had no trouble in letting Brett
Myers walk away even though he might not look too bad pitching for the Phillies
these days. Along those lines, the Amaro Gang was not averse to shelling out
three years to veterans Raul Ibanez (at age 37) or Placido Polanco (age 34).

Plus, after the 2011 season Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels
and Ryan Madson can become free agents. Theoretically the Phillies will have
enough money to go around re-signing all of those players, but you know what
they say about theories.

So with the harebrained theory that the Phillies will be benevolent with that extra dough they
are raking in from all those sellouts, it might be wise to look ahead at
cheaper alternatives. That’s where Brown comes in.

And by most accounts Brown could have cracked the 25-man
roster this spring if the Phillies needed the depth on the bench. The thing
there is that Brown is at the stage in his development where he needs to play
as much as possible. At 22, Brown has hit .289 in 49 games for Reading,
including a .325 mark this season though he has hit just one homer.

Still, Brown has a .386 on-base percentage this season
and said he hoped to improve his plate discipline since jumping to Double-A.
That’s an interesting notion considering Werth routinely leads the Majors in
pitches seen per plate appearance and has a robust .400 on-base percentage this
year.

Brown was the one player the Phillies would not part with
in any deal even if it meant they would not be able to trade for Roy Halladay.
He rewarded the Phillies for sticking with him by batting .417 in 11 games this
spring with two homers and a pair of doubles with eight RBIs. Only Howard and
Ben Francisco had better numbers in Grapefruit League action.

Here’s the crazy part… Brown was the team’s 20th-round
pick in 2006 and 606 players were taken ahead of him. Yeah, that’s right,
Brown, the untouchable, was a 20th round pick in the 2006 draft for the
Phillies. The reason he dropped nearly off the charts was because he had a
scholarship offer to play wide receiver at the University of Miami (Fla.).
Odder yet, Brown was listed as a left-handed pitcher when the Phillies drafted
him.

Needless to say Brown hasn’t thrown a pitch since turning pro.

“He’s ridiculous,” said former Phillies starter and Brown’s
teammate Scott Mathieson. “He’s one of the best outfielders I’ve ever seen.”

Still, Brown needs some honing. In 49 games at Double-A,
Brown has struck out 46 times. He also has been caught stealing 29 times in 102
attempts in his minor league career. In other words, there are a lot of rough
edges. Still, the potential and the raw talent that project to a five-tool
All-Star is what turns heads at Reading.

“It should be lot of fun to watch him develop,” manager
Steve Roadcap said.

That’s what the Phillies want to see happen. Ideally,
when Ibanez’s contract runs out, Brown could create a seamless transition. But
if the money runs out and Werth moves on, Brown might be needed much sooner.

Catch him in Reading while you can.

From the I-told-you-so file, I told you so…

raulWhiny little ed. note: It was announced on Saturday that Raul Ibanez will have surgery to fix a sports hernia. No surprise here. In fact, we were hearing that Ibanez had the injury dating back to late May and early June. It’s just that the Phillies and Raul would never admit anything.

Is a failure to acknowledge something that was known the same thing as a lie? How about when asked point-blank if he had a sports hernia if Ibanez said, “no.” Does that count as a little fib or is that simply  ballplayer trying to mask a weakness?

Maybe. Who knows. Either way it’s worth noting that Ibanez played the second half of the season and the postseason in incredible pain. Perhaps one day we’ll find out exactly what extreme measures the outfielder went through just to play every day. Then again, I can’t say I’m waiting for a straight forward answer. After all, that stuff seems to be reserved for the national press… even though it wasn’t a secret that he was hurt. Players, coaches and media types are known to tell a story or two.

Anyway, here’s the essay on the initial notice that Ibanez was likely headed for surgery, with the note of something I was told from a publicist/agent friend who worked with internationally known music acts. My friend told me he always implored his artists to talk to the local press before any national or international outlets, because, as he said, “When it’s over and you’re no longer a star, the local guys are the only people who will be there.”

So take heart, Phillies. When the World Series runs end (and they always end), remember who will be with you through thick and thin. On to the essay:

raulOne of my favorite things about writing about sports is knowing something but still not being able to write about it. Call that a quirk or just an example of an off-kilter sense of humor because there are a lot of guys who get all bent about things like that.

Take the case of Raul Ibanez, for instance. A whole bunch of us knew that he was hurt/injured and that he was playing even though he was in obvious pain.

Just watch the guy run, for goshsakes. His form is all over the place like he’s compensating for the pounding one takes with each painful footfall. Swinging a bat couldn’t be easy, either. Just look at the difference between those first and second-half numbers for that proof.

Or better yet, when Raul first arrived in town he was always a fixture in the clubhouse before and after games, but during the second half of the season those clubhouse sightings were rare. It was deduced that he was getting treatment or going through a series of stretches, twists, shots or potions in order to get out on the field.

We didn’t know any of this because no one was saying anything. Even when Raul or Charlie Manuel were asked—point blank—if the left fielder was hurt, injured or needed surgery, the answer was always elusive and ambiguous. The best answer was always something about not being on the list of players getting treatment from athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

The truth was Ibanez was beyond such mundane things as basic treatment.

So when the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes, it was all there for all to read—Ibanez was hurt just like we knew, only more dramatically so.

According to the story, rather than have surgery and potentially miss a large portion of the season he toughed it out as we all saw.

He batted .312 with 22 home runs in his first 2½ months, a welcome splash of cold water for a team still groggy from a World Series hangover. But by the third week in June, Ibañez was suffering from a sore left groin and, unbeknownst to the public, a small but serious muscle tear near his abdomen. On a trip to Toronto he was confronted with an excruciating decision: He could have surgery to repair the tear and miss a large chunk of time, or he could return after a short stint on the disabled list and play his dream season hurt. “We all asked him if he would have the surgery,” Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes says, “and he told everyone, ‘I won’t do that. I’ll do anything but that.'”

After consulting with a neuromuscular specialist in Toronto and a surgeon in Philadelphia, Ibañez chose the DL, followed by aggressive rehabilitation. Every day he drops onto a mat in the Phillies’ clubhouse, performs core and hip exercises with trainer Scott Sheridan and then heads for the field. Lopes believes that Ibañez’s swing, speed and statistics have suffered because of the injury—he batted just .232 with 12 homers in 72 games after coming off the DL—but his clubhouse cred clearly spiked. “A lot of guys in his position would have said, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll just have the surgery,'” says Phillies utilityman Greg Dobbs, who played with Ibañez in Seattle. “But he’s the type who says, ‘You tell me I can’t, then I will.’”

So there are a couple ways to look at this, such as we can laud Ibanez for his toughness and his pain management. These are admirable traits for athletes—especially Philadelphia athletes—as long as the team doesn’t suffer because of it. Though Ibanez hasn’t been himself during the second half of the season, he hasn’t been a drain on the team.

Give the guy credit for going out there as often as possible. Charlie Manuel is the type of manager who rides his regulars and Ibanez got no special treatment despite the injury. He said he was OK, so he played… no complaints.

jackSurely there are second half VORP numbers out there to confirm or deny this claim.

Conversely, it kind of stinks that Ibanez and the Phillies held back a story that the local guys had already sniffed out only to confirm it for Sports Illustrated. In the meantime all some of us could do was drop some not-so subtle hints and force readers to do some between-the-lines reading about the assumed injury. There are other examples aside from this one, but this is what stands out for the moment.

So yeah, we knew something was up. We knew there was something more than what was being trotted out there. But apparently it pays to be a part of the national media as opposed to li’l ol’ Philadelphia.

You want the truth? Can you handle it?

From the I-told-you-so file, I told you so…

ibby.jpg Whiny little ed. note: It was announced on Saturday that Raul Ibanez will have surgery to fix a sports hernia. No surprise here. In fact, we were hearing that Ibanez had the injury dating back to late May and early June. It’s just that the Phillies and Raul would never admit anything.

Is a failure to acknowledge something that was known the same thing as a lie? How about when asked point-blank if he had a sports hernia if Ibanez said, “no.” Does that count as a little fib or is that simply  ballplayer trying to mask a weakness?

Maybe. Who knows. Either way it’s worth noting that Ibanez played the second half of the season and the postseason in incredible pain. Perhaps one day we’ll find out exactly what extreme measures the outfielder went through just to play every day. Then again, I can’t say I’m waiting for a straight forward answer. After all, that stuff seems to be reserved for the national press… even though it wasn’t a secret that he was hurt. Players, coaches and media types are known to tell a story or two.

Anyway, here’s the essay on the initial notice that Ibanez was likely headed for surgery, with the note of something I was told from a publicist/agent friend who worked with internationally known music acts. My friend told me he always implored his artists to talk to the local press before any national or international outlets, because, as he said, “When it’s over and you’re no longer a star, the local guys are the only people who will be there.”

So take heart, Phillies. When the World Series runs end (and they always end), remember who will be with you through thick and thin. On to the essay:

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com One of my favorite things about writing about sports is knowing something but still not being able to write about it. Call that a quirk or just an example of an off-kilter sense of humor because there are a lot of guys who get all bent about things like that.

Take the case of Raul Ibanez, for instance. A whole bunch of us knew that he was hurt/injured and that he was playing even though he was in obvious pain.

Just watch the guy run, for goshsakes. His form is all over the place like he’s compensating for the pounding one takes with each painful footfall. Swinging a bat couldn’t be easy, either. Just look at the difference between those first and second-half numbers for that proof.

Or better yet, when Raul first arrived in town he was always a fixture in the clubhouse before and after games, but during the second half of the season those clubhouse sightings were rare. It was deduced that he was getting treatment or going through a series of stretches, twists, shots or potions in order to get out on the field.

We didn’t know any of this because no one was saying anything. Even when Raul or Charlie Manuel were asked—point blank—if the left fielder was hurt, injured or needed surgery, the answer was always elusive and ambiguous. The best answer was always something about not being on the list of players getting treatment from athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

The truth was Ibanez was beyond such mundane things as basic treatment.

So when the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes, it was all there for all to read—Ibanez was hurt just like we knew, only more dramatically so.

According to the story, rather than have surgery and potentially miss a large portion of the season he toughed it out as we all saw.

He batted .312 with 22 home runs in his first 2½ months, a welcome splash of cold water for a team still groggy from a World Series hangover. But by the third week in June, Ibañez was suffering from a sore left groin and, unbeknownst to the public, a small but serious muscle tear near his abdomen. On a trip to Toronto he was confronted with an excruciating decision: He could have surgery to repair the tear and miss a large chunk of time, or he could return after a short stint on the disabled list and play his dream season hurt. “We all asked him if he would have the surgery,” Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes says, “and he told everyone, ‘I won’t do that. I’ll do anything but that.'”

After consulting with a neuromuscular specialist in Toronto and a surgeon in Philadelphia, Ibañez chose the DL, followed by aggressive rehabilitation. Every day he drops onto a mat in the Phillies’ clubhouse, performs core and hip exercises with trainer Scott Sheridan and then heads for the field. Lopes believes that Ibañez’s swing, speed and statistics have suffered because of the injury—he batted just .232 with 12 homers in 72 games after coming off the DL—but his clubhouse cred clearly spiked. “A lot of guys in his position would have said, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll just have the surgery,'” says Phillies utilityman Greg Dobbs, who played with Ibañez in Seattle. “But he’s the type who says, ‘You tell me I can’t, then I will.’”

So there are a couple ways to look at this, such as we can laud Ibanez for his toughness and his pain management. These are admirable traits for athletes—especially Philadelphia athletes—as long as the team doesn’t suffer because of it. Though Ibanez hasn’t been himself during the second half of the season, he hasn’t been a drain on the team.

Give the guy credit for going out there as often as possible. Charlie Manuel is the type of manager who rides his regulars and Ibanez got no special treatment despite the injury. He said he was OK, so he played… no complaints.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Surely there are second half VORP numbers out there to confirm or deny this claim.

Conversely, it kind of stinks that Ibanez and the Phillies held back a story that the local guys had already sniffed out only to confirm it for Sports Illustrated. In the meantime all some of us could do was drop some not-so subtle hints and force readers to do some between-the-lines reading about the assumed injury. There are other examples aside from this one, but this is what stands out for the moment.

So yeah, we knew something was up. We knew there was something more than what was being trotted out there. But apparently it pays to be a part of the national media as opposed to li’l ol’ Philadelphia.

You want the truth? Can you handle it?

Ibanez hurt? Who knew… aside from everyone

raulOne of my favorite things about writing about sports is knowing something but still not being able to write about it. Call that a quirk or just an example of an off-kilter sense of humor because there are a lot of guys who get all bent about things like that.

Take the case of Raul Ibanez, for instance. A whole bunch of us knew that he was hurt/injured and that he was playing even though he was in obvious pain.

Just watch the guy run, for goshsakes. His form is all over the place like he’s compensating for the pounding one takes with each painful footfall. Swinging a bat couldn’t be easy, either. Just look at the difference between those first and second-half numbers for that proof.

Or better yet, when Raul first arrived in town he was always a fixture in the clubhouse before and after games, but during the second half of the season those clubhouse sightings were rare. It was deduced that he was getting treatment or going through a series of stretches, twists, shots or potions in order to get out on the field.

We didn’t know any of this because no one was saying anything. Even when Raul or Charlie Manuel were asked—point blank—if the left fielder was hurt, injured or needed surgery, the answer was always elusive and ambiguous. The best answer was always something about not being on the list of players getting treatment from athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

The truth was Ibanez was beyond such mundane things as basic treatment.

So when the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes, it was all there for all to read—Ibanez was hurt just like we knew, only more dramatically so.

According to the story, rather than have surgery and potentially miss a large portion of the season he toughed it out as we all saw.

He batted .312 with 22 home runs in his first 2½ months, a welcome splash of cold water for a team still groggy from a World Series hangover. But by the third week in June, Ibañez was suffering from a sore left groin and, unbeknownst to the public, a small but serious muscle tear near his abdomen. On a trip to Toronto he was confronted with an excruciating decision: He could have surgery to repair the tear and miss a large chunk of time, or he could return after a short stint on the disabled list and play his dream season hurt. “We all asked him if he would have the surgery,” Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes says, “and he told everyone, ‘I won’t do that. I’ll do anything but that.'”

After consulting with a neuromuscular specialist in Toronto and a surgeon in Philadelphia, Ibañez chose the DL, followed by aggressive rehabilitation. Every day he drops onto a mat in the Phillies’ clubhouse, performs core and hip exercises with trainer Scott Sheridan and then heads for the field. Lopes believes that Ibañez’s swing, speed and statistics have suffered because of the injury—he batted just .232 with 12 homers in 72 games after coming off the DL—but his clubhouse cred clearly spiked. “A lot of guys in his position would have said, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll just have the surgery,'” says Phillies utilityman Greg Dobbs, who played with Ibañez in Seattle. “But he’s the type who says, ‘You tell me I can’t, then I will.’”

So there are a couple ways to look at this, such as we can laud Ibanez for his toughness and his pain management. These are admirable traits for athletes—especially Philadelphia athletes—as long as the team doesn’t suffer because of it. Though Ibanez hasn’t been himself during the second half of the season, he hasn’t been a drain on the team.

Give the guy credit for going out there as often as possible. Charlie Manuel is the type of manager who rides his regulars and Ibanez got no special treatment despite the injury. He said he was OK, so he played… no complaints.

jackSurely there are second half VORP numbers out there to confirm or deny this claim.

Conversely, it kind of stinks that Ibanez and the Phillies held back a story that the local guys had already sniffed out only to confirm it for Sports Illustrated. In the meantime all some of us could do was drop some not-so subtle hints and force readers to do some between-the-lines reading about the assumed injury. There are other examples aside from this one, but this is what stands out for the moment.

So yeah, we knew something was up. We knew there was something more than what was being trotted out there. But apparently it pays to be a part of the national media as opposed to li’l ol’ Philadelphia.

You want the truth? Can you handle it?

Ibanez hurt? Who knew… aside from everyone

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com One of my favorite things about writing about sports is knowing something but still not being able to write about it. Call that a quirk or just an example of an off-kilter sense of humor because there are a lot of guys who get all bent about things like that.

Take the case of Raul Ibanez, for instance. A whole bunch of us knew that he was hurt/injured and that he was playing even though he was in obvious pain.

Just watch the guy run, for goshsakes. His form is all over the place like he’s compensating for the pounding one takes with each painful footfall. Swinging a bat couldn’t be easy, either. Just look at the difference between those first and second-half numbers for that proof.

Or better yet, when Raul first arrived in town he was always a fixture in the clubhouse before and after games, but during the second half of the season those clubhouse sightings were rare. It was deduced that he was getting treatment or going through a series of stretches, twists, shots or potions in order to get out on the field.

We didn’t know any of this because no one was saying anything. Even when Raul or Charlie Manuel were asked—point blank—if the left fielder was hurt, injured or needed surgery, the answer was always elusive and ambiguous. The best answer was always something about not being on the list of players getting treatment from athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

The truth was Ibanez was beyond such mundane things as basic treatment.

So when the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes, it was all there for all to read—Ibanez was hurt just like we knew, only more dramatically so.

According to the story, rather than have surgery and potentially miss a large portion of the season he toughed it out as we all saw.

He batted .312 with 22 home runs in his first 2½ months, a welcome splash of cold water for a team still groggy from a World Series hangover. But by the third week in June, Ibañez was suffering from a sore left groin and, unbeknownst to the public, a small but serious muscle tear near his abdomen. On a trip to Toronto he was confronted with an excruciating decision: He could have surgery to repair the tear and miss a large chunk of time, or he could return after a short stint on the disabled list and play his dream season hurt. “We all asked him if he would have the surgery,” Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes says, “and he told everyone, ‘I won’t do that. I’ll do anything but that.'”

After consulting with a neuromuscular specialist in Toronto and a surgeon in Philadelphia, Ibañez chose the DL, followed by aggressive rehabilitation. Every day he drops onto a mat in the Phillies’ clubhouse, performs core and hip exercises with trainer Scott Sheridan and then heads for the field. Lopes believes that Ibañez’s swing, speed and statistics have suffered because of the injury—he batted just .232 with 12 homers in 72 games after coming off the DL—but his clubhouse cred clearly spiked. “A lot of guys in his position would have said, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll just have the surgery,'” says Phillies utilityman Greg Dobbs, who played with Ibañez in Seattle. “But he’s the type who says, ‘You tell me I can’t, then I will.’”

So there are a couple ways to look at this, such as we can laud Ibanez for his toughness and his pain management. These are admirable traits for athletes—especially Philadelphia athletes—as long as the team doesn’t suffer because of it. Though Ibanez hasn’t been himself during the second half of the season, he hasn’t been a drain on the team.

Give the guy credit for going out there as often as possible. Charlie Manuel is the type of manager who rides his regulars and Ibanez got no special treatment despite the injury. He said he was OK, so he played… no complaints.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Surely there are second half VORP numbers out there to confirm or deny this claim.

Conversely, it kind of stinks that Ibanez and the Phillies held back a story that the local guys had already sniffed out only to confirm it for Sports Illustrated. In the meantime all some of us could do was drop some not-so subtle hints and force readers to do some between-the-lines reading about the assumed injury. There are other examples aside from this one, but this is what stands out for the moment.

So yeah, we knew something was up. We knew there was something more than what was being trotted out there. But apparently it pays to be a part of the national media as opposed to li’l ol’ Philadelphia.

You want the truth? Can you handle it?

The NLCS: Are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com LOS ANGELES—Lots of interesting plots and subplots to last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS here at Dodger Stadium. The biggest, of course, was the Phillies’ ability to get clutch hits against the Dodgers’ lefties.

Both of the three-run homers and a key double from Ryan Howard came against lefties Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill. The notable one there was the blast off Sherrill by lefty Raul Ibanez. After all, no lefty had homered off Sherrill in 98 games and nearly two seasons.

For a team that went out and got Sherrill specifically to pitch to the Phillies sluggers in late-game playoff situations, Ibanez’s homer was huge. Deeper than that, five of the Phillies’ eight hits in the Game 1 victory were from lefty hitters against lefty pitchers.

So it begs the question… are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

Yeah, yeah, it’s only Game 1, but if Pedro were to dial it up in Game 2 and the Phillies go home with a two-game lead and Cliff Lee ready to pitch in chilly and rainy Philly, this one might be over before it gets started.

So are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads? Certainly based on some of the moves the Dodgers have made it’s not an unreasonable idea. After all, in addition to trading for Sherrill, the Dodgers got Jim Thome to do what Matt Stairs does for the Phillies. In fact, Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti cited Stairs when talking about the move to bring in Thome.

The thing about that is people barely knew Stairs was on the Phillies until he crushed that ridiculously long homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. Reliever Jonathan Broxton has been known to get salty when talking about Stairs’ homer and the Dodgers fans booed Stairs louder than anyone else during the player introductions.

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

We’ll see as the series wears on, but in the meantime Tommy Lasorda (the greatest phony in baseball history according to those in the know), is already chirping. The old Dodger manager was reportedly talking trash about the 1977 NLCS where the Phillies took Game 1 only to lose it in four games.

Really, 1977? That was generations ago. As one of Lasorda’s old players Davey Lopes said in regard to Larry Bowa harboring ill feelings about a controversial call in the 1977 NLCS:

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on.”

Maybe they can’t. Maybe they’re too wrapped up on what happened last year.

Here’s a few fun facts:
• The Phillies are 1-6 all-time in Game 2 of the NLCS. The only Game 2 victory came last year at the Bank against the Dodgers.

• The Phillies and Dodgers are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS, which is tied for the most championship series matchups with the Pirates and Reds. Chances are those two teams won’t be playing each other in the NLCS any time soon.

• The Phillies have won 15 of their last 21 games in the NLCS dating back to 1980.

• Dodgers manager Joe Torre is making his 14th straight trip to the playoffs. He has not been to the World Series since 2003 and hasn’t won it since 2000.

Raul’s two halves

Raul IbanezATLANTA – Statistically speaking, Raul Ibanez is having the worst second half amongst all of the starters in the All-Star Game last July. Actually, it’s not even close unless one considers the Mets’ David Wright or the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton for getting injured and missing a whole bunch of games.

Nevertheless, with just three hits (one extra-base hit) and four strikeouts in the last seven days, there isn’t much Ibanez can do at this point to bolster his second-half splits. Just look at ‘em:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half 64 64 289 259 53 80 18 2 22 60 4 0 22 52 .309 .367 .649 1.015 168 11 4 0 4 2 4 .307 121 166
2nd Half 56 53 224 199 30 47 13 1 9 26 0 0 25 58 .236 .321 .447 .769 89 4 0 0 0 6 2 .288 72 102
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2009.

Remember how well Ibanez hit the ball at the beginning of the season? Remember the three homers and seven RBIs in the doubleheader in Washington? The five RBI game in San Diego? The April where he had just one multiple strikeout game?

Remember all that chatter about the newly acquired Phillie being the early-season MVP candidate? Yeah, those days seem so long ago. You remember, back before the All-Star Game and that groin injury where Ibanez hit homers and drove in runs as if he was doing something mundane like taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher.

“Hey, there are men on base… I guess I have to knock ‘em in.”

The stats are one thing, but maybe the best measure for how good Ibanez was during the first half was the team’s record. Before the injury the Phillies were 39-27 with Ibanez. In the 21 games he was on the disabled list, the Phillies were 10-11.

Since then, the Phillies are 37-32, which lends to the idea that the foundation for the Phillies’ third straight division title was laid when Ibanez was tearing the cover off the ball and playing like an MVP candidate.

Everyone knows what’s coming next… why is Ibanez riding a 3-for-16 jag? Why did his batting average, and slugging go down each month of the season? Just look at those numbers in August where he posted .193/.276/.318 with just one homer.

How does a guy have his OPS drop by .102 during August and half of September?

Maybe he’s still hurt? Maybe they groin injury was more severe than advertised? Sure, Charlie Manuel and Ibanez say the outfielder is healthy and his name isn’t on the trainer’s reports, but c’mon… he has to be hurting a little, right?

Nope, they all say otherwise. Either way, it’s been an interesting season for Ibanez, nonetheless.

Back in the swing

Raul IbanezRaul Ibanez went home to Miami on Thursday and slugged two more home runs to help the Phillies whip the Marlins in the first game of the second half. For a kid who went undrafted out of the city’s Sunset High School and did not receive a single scholarship offer, the schoolboy catcher was hardly a big-league prospect in those days.

Actually, it took a couple of phone calls just to get Ibanez a tryout for Miami-Dade College. Two years later the Mariners snapped him up just before his 20th birthday in the 1992 draft.

It’s safe to say Ibanez just might be the best 36th-round draft pick in baseball right now.

But after six trips back to the minors after making his big-league debut in 1996, a release and two turns on the free-agent market, Ibanez went from a catcher with no baseball future to his first All-Star Game at age 37. In fact, the All-Star Game was just his third game back after going to the disabled list with a strained groin.

In his fourth game back he pushed his team-leading homer total to 24. That’s one more than he had in 2008 at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Better yet, Ibanez missed 21 games with the strained groin in which the Phillies went 10-11. With Ibanez in the lineup the Phillies are 39-27.

But let’s make no mistake about it – Ibanez’s success isn’t measured by statistics. That’s just too easy. No, there’s a pretty good reason why Ibanez is the favorite player of a lot of jaded media types, teammates and fans. Sure, he is turning in a career year in his first season with the Phillies, but if Ibanez had slugged half as many homers it’s doubtful that would make him any less popular with the ink-stained wretches and veteran ballplayers.

Call it simply humanness and grace. Ibanez actually looks at people when he talks to them. He remembers names and faces. He is borderline obsessed with his daily workout regime, but always has time for a quick conversation.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but Ibanez is a regular guy in a business where there aren’t too many regular guys.

“He can go out to eat with his family at Islas Canarias restaurant on a Sunday and nobody will look at him twice,” said Greg Tekerman, a former assistant who coached Ibanez at Miami Sunset High to the Miami-Herald.

Joe Posnanski, the columnist for Sports Illustrated and the Kansas City Star, got to know Ibanez a bit when the player was finding his way with the Royals. Quite simply, Posnanski says Ibanez is his favorite player.

And there is no second place.

Wrote Posnanski:

I thought about this quite a bit during the All-Star Game in St. Louis because there I saw an old friend … Raul Ibanez. I should say that Raul has this ability — and you know people like this — he is everybody’s friend. I would never say that anyone is IMPOSSIBLE to dislike because, let’s face it, some people don’t need any reason at all to dislike. But I would put it this way … anyone who dislikes Raul Ibanez would have a hard time defending it in a court of law. He’s smart and thoughtful and humble, three pretty great things to be. You probably know that Raul was the oldest first-time All-Star position player ever, and so reporters were gathered around him, firing all the questions that get asked at such things — from the absurd (“So, what kind of wine did Ichiro send you as congratulations?”) to the more absurd (“When did you realize you were here?”) — and he answered every question in his usual attentive way (in both accent-free English and accent-free Spanish), and you could see every person (no matter their country of origin) leaving the table with the same “Raul is my friend” expression on their faces.

That expression is all over the place these days. Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis and back home in Miami. A good guy is having a good year… it’s about time.

Back in the swing

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Raul Ibanez went home to Miami on Thursday and slugged two more home runs to help the Phillies whip the Marlins in the first game of the second half. For a kid who went undrafted out of the city’s Sunset High School and did not receive a single scholarship offer, the schoolboy catcher was hardly a big-league prospect in those days.

Actually, it took a couple of phone calls just to get Ibanez a tryout for Miami-Dade College. Two years later the Mariners snapped him up just before his 20th birthday in the 1992 draft.

It’s safe to say Ibanez just might be the best 36th-round draft pick in baseball right now.

But after six trips back to the minors after making his big-league debut in 1996, a release and two turns on the free-agent market, Ibanez went from a catcher with no baseball future to his first All-Star Game at age 37. In fact, the All-Star Game was just his third game back after going to the disabled list with a strained groin.

In his fourth game back he pushed his team-leading homer total to 24. That’s one more than he had in 2008 at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Better yet, Ibanez missed 21 games with the strained groin in which the Phillies went 10-11. With Ibanez in the lineup the Phillies are 39-27.

But let’s make no mistake about it – Ibanez’s success isn’t measured by statistics. That’s just too easy. No, there’s a pretty good reason why Ibanez is the favorite player of a lot of jaded media types, teammates and fans. Sure, he is turning in a career year in his first season with the Phillies, but if Ibanez had slugged half as many homers it’s doubtful that would make him any less popular with the ink-stained wretches and veteran ballplayers.

Call it simply humanness and grace. Ibanez actually looks at people when he talks to them. He remembers names and faces. He is borderline obsessed with his daily workout regime, but always has time for a quick conversation.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but Ibanez is a regular guy in a business where there aren’t too many regular guys.

“He can go out to eat with his family at Islas Canarias restaurant on a Sunday and nobody will look at him twice,” said Greg Tekerman, a former assistant who coached Ibanez at Miami Sunset High to the Miami-Herald.

Joe Posnanski, the columnist for Sports Illustrated and the Kansas City Star, got to know Ibanez a bit when the player was finding his way with the Royals. Quite simply, Posnanski says Ibanez is his favorite player.

And there is no second place.

Wrote Posnanski:

I thought about this quite a bit during the All-Star Game in St. Louis because there I saw an old friend … Raul Ibanez. I should say that Raul has this ability — and you know people like this — he is everybody’s friend. I would never say that anyone is IMPOSSIBLE to dislike because, let’s face it, some people don’t need any reason at all to dislike. But I would put it this way … anyone who dislikes Raul Ibanez would have a hard time defending it in a court of law. He’s smart and thoughtful and humble, three pretty great things to be. You probably know that Raul was the oldest first-time All-Star position player ever, and so reporters were gathered around him, firing all the questions that get asked at such things — from the absurd (“So, what kind of wine did Ichiro send you as congratulations?”) to the more absurd (“When did you realize you were here?”) — and he answered every question in his usual attentive way (in both accent-free English and accent-free Spanish), and you could see every person (no matter their country of origin) leaving the table with the same “Raul is my friend” expression on their faces.

That expression is all over the place these days. Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis and back home in Miami. A good guy is having a good year… it’s about time.

Ibanez takes the high road

Raul IbanezNEW YORK – Raul Ibanez was a quote machine after Thursday night’s victory over the Mets at Citi Field. That’s a good thing. Always engaging and humble, Ibanez was quick to point out how his game-winning home run was just the icing on the cake. The credit, he said, belonged to Shane Victorino and Chase Utley for getting on base to start off the 10th inning.

Needless to say, Ibanez’s humility is as high as his slugging percentage.

But has there ever been a player new to town to ingratiate himself so fully to the team so quickly as Ibanez? It really feels like he has been here for years the way he fit right in with the Phillies. Charlie Manuel says Ibanez has “a lot of Utley in him,” only, ahem, more engaging. “Laughable,” the manager put it. That’s not to say Utley isn’t engaging, he just goes out of his way to be as boring as possible.

There has been very little boring about Ibanez this year. Though he had four rough plate appearances before his 10th inning homer, including a pair of strikeouts (his 10th multi-strikeout game of the year), one had to have the feeling that the mini-swoon would not last. Pity the poor Mets who walked into a swarm of bees in that fifth at-bat.

Here’s the thing that was so interesting – Ibanez knew something good was going to happen. No, Ibanez wasn’t saying he knew he was going to win the game for the Phillies, but he and his teammates had a strong feeling they were going to win the game.

“There always a confidence. You can always feel it in the dugout,” he explained. “It’s not an arrogance, it’s a confidence. It’s a tough team. Everybody puts together good at-bats. Every time somebody goes up there, it’s like that person is going to be the guy and that’s really neat to be a part of.”

Cool quote.

But when asked about the off-the-field controversy sparked in his name, but not really actually involving him, Ibanez lowered his head, narrowed his eyes and glowered. It wasn’t an act of intimidation to the questioner, but it seemed as if he was trying to keep his emotions in check a bit. He seems hurt about the behavior of certain elements of the media. Yes, Ibanez gave it a big shrug off with his comments, but put yourself in his shoes for a second …  he didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before and he’s being questioned for it.

Check out these stats researched by Joe Posnanski:

The reason: When Raul Ibanez is hot, he’s HOT. There’s aren’t many people in baseball like him.

Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.

OK, let’s start in 2002. That year, Ibanez had a 50-game streak — June 7 to August 2 — when he hit .328/.385/.704 with 15 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers. He drove in 54 runs. Few noticed because the Royals were abysmal that year, and it was in the middle of the season. But that stretch, you will note, is about as good as the stretch he’s on now. In some ways, it’s even better.

In 2003, he had a 55-game stretch where he hit .326/.360/.514 … not as good, but pretty damned good.

In 2004, he hit .365 over a 54-game stretch. In 2005, he got off to a dreadful start and then hit .330/.400/.524 over his next 55 games. In 2006, he hit 18 homers and drove in 57 RBIs in a 52-game stretch.

The last 52 games of the 2007 season, Ibanez hit .363/.425/.652 with 15 homers.

Last year, for 55 games, July 12 to Sept. 14, he hit .374/.435/.648 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 13 homers. And that, you might remember, was in Seattle and a lousy hitters’ ballpark.

This is a man who, when he gets hot, absolutely tears up pitchers. I’ve seen it up close. He has had a 50-to-60 game hot streak EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2002. Now, true, this time around, his hot streak started with Game 1. And why not? He was in a new league, in a new ballpark, facing pitchers who had not seen him as much. He’s in more of a fastball/slider/change-up league, which is in his comfort zone (rather than curveballs and split fingered fastballs which, generally, have eaten him up).

Point is: Raul Ibanez got hot, and this is how he hits when he’s hot. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, nothing at all. Now, if he goes on to do this all year, if he goes on to hit 55 home runs, then yes, that would be out of the ordinary, that would be an outlier year like the years of Roger Maris, Davey Johnson, Andre Dawson, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson and everyone else who had a wild and out of character year.

But for now, Raul Ibanez is just continuing what he’s done year after year. It’s just that people are noticing.

So Ibanez should be pissed that his name gets thrown into some ugly gumbo. Worse, the whole accusatory nature of the media and sports isn’t just wrong, it damn right immoral. And no, I’m not just talking about bloggers, either. Mainstream press people do it, too, and it sucks. Accusing an athlete playing well because he is using illicit substances without justification is the same thing as assuming an African-American wearing certain type of clothing is a criminal. It’s a stereotype in its nastiest and ugliest form.

Calling an athlete a juicer because he’s hitting home runs “at that age” is the very worst of human behavior. Even worse, we’re all guilty (well, most of us are).

And what’s with the age question stuff anyway? Haven’t we wised up to the affects of exercise, physiology and the aging process yet? Why shouldn’t Ibanez be just as effective now as he was in his 20s? Hell, when I was Ibanez’s age, I ran a 2:40 marathon and routinely ran 120-miles per week, and guess what – there were (and are) people older than me kicking my ass.

“I’m not really sure about the off-the-field stuff,” Ibanez said. “There is no off-the-field stuff. I go out there and do my job and that’s all I do. I play baseball.”

Reading between the lines there, I’m guessing that’s Ibanez’s way of telling everyone to grow up.

Ibanez takes the high road

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – Raul Ibanez was a quote machine after Thursday night’s victory over the Mets at Citi Field. That’s a good thing. Always engaging and humble, Ibanez was quick to point out how his game-winning home run was just the icing on the cake. The credit, he said, belonged to Shane Victorino and Chase Utley for getting on base to start off the 10th inning.

Needless to say, Ibanez’s humility is as high as his slugging percentage.

But has there ever been a player new to town to ingratiate himself so fully to the team so quickly as Ibanez? It really feels like he has been here for years the way he fit right in with the Phillies. Charlie Manuel says Ibanez has “a lot of Utley in him,” only, ahem, more engaging. “Laughable,” the manager put it. That’s not to say Utley isn’t engaging, he just goes out of his way to be as boring as possible.

There has been very little boring about Ibanez this year. Though he had four rough plate appearances before his 10th inning homer, including a pair of strikeouts (his 10th multi-strikeout game of the year), one had to have the feeling that the mini-swoon would not last. Pity the poor Mets who walked into a swarm of bees in that fifth at-bat.

Here’s the thing that was so interesting – Ibanez knew something good was going to happen. No, Ibanez wasn’t saying he knew he was going to win the game for the Phillies, but he and his teammates had a strong feeling they were going to win the game.

“There always a confidence. You can always feel it in the dugout,” he explained. “It’s not an arrogance, it’s a confidence. It’s a tough team. Everybody puts together good at-bats. Every time somebody goes up there, it’s like that person is going to be the guy and that’s really neat to be a part of.”

Cool quote.

But when asked about the off-the-field controversy sparked in his name, but not really actually involving him, Ibanez lowered his head, narrowed his eyes and glowered. It wasn’t an act of intimidation to the questioner, but it seemed as if he was trying to keep his emotions in check a bit. He seems hurt about the behavior of certain elements of the media. Yes, Ibanez gave it a big shrug off with his comments, but put yourself in his shoes for a second …  he didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before and he’s being questioned for it.

Check out these stats researched by Joe Posnanski:

The reason: When Raul Ibanez is hot, he’s HOT. There’s aren’t many people in baseball like him.


Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.

OK, let’s start in 2002. That year, Ibanez had a 50-game streak — June 7 to August 2 — when he hit .328/.385/.704 with 15 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers. He drove in 54 runs. Few noticed because the Royals were abysmal that year, and it was in the middle of the season. But that stretch, you will note, is about as good as the stretch he’s on now. In some ways, it’s even better.


In 2003, he had a 55-game stretch where he hit .326/.360/.514 … not as good, but pretty damned good.


In 2004, he hit .365 over a 54-game stretch. In 2005, he got off to a dreadful start and then hit .330/.400/.524 over his next 55 games. In 2006, he hit 18 homers and drove in 57 RBIs in a 52-game stretch.


The last 52 games of the 2007 season, Ibanez hit .363/.425/.652 with 15 homers.

Last year, for 55 games, July 12 to Sept. 14, he hit .374/.435/.648 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 13 homers. And that, you might remember, was in Seattle and a lousy hitters’ ballpark.


This is a man who, when he gets hot, absolutely tears up pitchers. I’ve seen it up close. He has had a 50-to-60 game hot streak EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2002. Now, true, this time around, his hot streak started with Game 1. And why not? He was in a new league, in a new ballpark, facing pitchers who had not seen him as much. He’s in more of a fastball/slider/change-up league, which is in his comfort zone (rather than curveballs and split fingered fastballs which, generally, have eaten him up).


Point is: Raul Ibanez got hot, and this is how he hits when he’s hot. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, nothing at all. Now, if he goes on to do this all year, if he goes on to hit 55 home runs, then yes, that would be out of the ordinary, that would be an outlier year like the years of Roger Maris, Davey Johnson, Andre Dawson, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson and everyone else who had a wild and out of character year.


But for now, Raul Ibanez is just continuing what he’s done year after year. It’s just that people are noticing.

So Ibanez should be pissed that his name gets thrown into some ugly gumbo. Worse, the whole accusatory nature of the media and sports isn’t just wrong, it damn right immoral. And no, I’m not just talking about bloggers, either. Mainstream press people do it, too, and it sucks. Accusing an athlete playing well because he is using illicit substances without justification is the same thing as assuming an African-American wearing certain type of clothing is a criminal. It’s a stereotype in its nastiest and ugliest form.

Calling an athlete a juicer because he’s hitting home runs “at that age” is the very worst of human behavior. Even worse, we’re all guilty (well, most of us are).

And what’s with the age question stuff anyway? Haven’t we wised up to the affects of exercise, physiology and the aging process yet? Why shouldn’t Ibanez be just as effective now as he was in his 20s? Hell, when I was Ibanez’s age, I ran a 2:40 marathon and routinely ran 120-miles per week, and guess what – there were (and are) people older than me kicking my ass.

“I’m not really sure about the off-the-field stuff,” Ibanez said. “There is no off-the-field stuff. I go out there and do my job and that’s all I do. I play baseball.”

Reading between the lines there, I’m guessing that’s Ibanez’s way of telling everyone to grow up.

What’s eating Raul?

raulNEW YORK – The word came from the Phillies public relations staff that Raul Ibanez wanted to know if any of the regular scribes covering the team were interested in chatting with the slugging outfielder regarding the speculation of his performance-enhancing drug use. It was a curious thing considering Ibanez is always affable and willing to talk about nearly any topic.

That is, of course, if one can locate Ibanez. A tireless worker, Ibanez is always in the middle of doing something baseball-related, be it studying film, taking extra batting practice, stretching or getting a chiropractic adjustment. So to hear that one of baseball’s truly good guys offered, pre-emptively, to discuss something that was never an issue until a relatively anonymous blog post from a blogger with no access or credibility suggested that Ibanez’s hot start to the 2009 season could be chemically enhanced, was noteworthy.

But there were no takers. No, it wasn’t because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez. It was because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez about something that was never a story in the first place. Had folks in Philadelphia treated something called, “Midwestern Sports Fans” like they always did (you know… as if it never existed), perhaps Ibanez wouldn’t have offered to alter his pre-game preparations to talk about something that no one was even thinking about.

Yet since ESPN picked it up on Ibanez’s comments to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, there was a low murmur around Citi Field about the “issue.”

“To be honest, I don’t want to talk about it,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

But even Manuel couldn’t resist.

“It upsets me,” he said. “I think if you’re going to put that out there he ought to have proof.”

Shane Victorino was less diplomatic, jokingly (maybe?) attacking the Internet and the advances in technology. The Phils’ outfielder pointed out that there are at least a dozen accounts on Facebook and Twitter in his name, but, “I never started one of them.”

That can lead to confusion, Victorino says, when family and friends see his name in places and want to connect with him. However, the biggest issue is the lack of accountability with some blogs. Because the blogger at the “Midwestern Sports Fans,” going by the handle, “JRod” never actually has to face any of his subjects nor ever sees how athletes like Ibanez go about their work, he has very little understanding of what damage his words can cause.

“It can ruin a guy’s life,” Victorino claimed.

It won’t get that far with Ibanez. Yes, he and the Philadelphia media understand how suspicion has invaded baseball. That’s the reality. But it also seems as if Ibanez was thinking about what some guy named “JRod” wrote before Wednesday’s game at Citi Field when he should have been thinking about facing the Mets.

What’s eating Raul?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – The word came from the Phillies public relations staff that Raul Ibanez wanted to know if any of the regular scribes covering the team were interested in chatting with the slugging outfielder regarding the speculation of his performance-enhancing drug use. It was a curious thing considering Ibanez is always affable and willing to talk about nearly any topic.

That is, of course, if one can locate Ibanez. A tireless worker, Ibanez is always in the middle of doing something baseball-related, be it studying film, taking extra batting practice, stretching or getting a chiropractic adjustment. So to hear that one of baseball’s truly good guys offered, pre-emptively, to discuss something that was never an issue until a relatively anonymous blog post from a blogger with no access or credibility suggested that Ibanez’s hot start to the 2009 season could be chemically enhanced, was noteworthy.

But there were no takers. No, it wasn’t because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez. It was because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez about something that was never a story in the first place. Had folks in Philadelphia treated something called, “Midwestern Sports Fans” like they always did (you know… as if it never existed), perhaps Ibanez wouldn’t have offered to alter his pre-game preparations to talk about something that no one was even thinking about.

Yet since ESPN picked it up on Ibanez’s comments to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, there was a low murmur around Citi Field about the “issue.”

“To be honest, I don’t want to talk about it,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

But even Manuel couldn’t resist.

“It upsets me,” he said. “I think if you’re going to put that out there he ought to have proof.”

Shane Victorino was less diplomatic, jokingly (maybe?) attacking the Internet and the advances in technology. The Phils’ outfielder pointed out that there are at least a dozen accounts on Facebook and Twitter in his name, but, “I never started one of them.”

That can lead to confusion, Victorino says, when family and friends see his name in places and want to connect with him. However, the biggest issue is the lack of accountability with some blogs. Because the blogger at the “Midwestern Sports Fans,” going by the handle, “JRod” never actually has to face any of his subjects nor ever sees how athletes like Ibanez go about their work, he has very little understanding of what damage his words can cause.

“It can ruin a guy’s life,” Victorino claimed.

It won’t get that far with Ibanez. Yes, he and the Philadelphia media understand how suspicion has invaded baseball. That’s the reality. But it also seems as if Ibanez was thinking about what some guy named “JRod” wrote before Wednesday’s game at Citi Field when he should have been thinking about facing the Mets.

Historically hot

Raul IbanezSo yeah, Raul Ibanez is swinging a hot bat lately. The homers in four straight games and the 10 this month and seven in the last 10 days is a pretty good indicator of Ibanez’s hotness.

But did you really know how hot Ibanez is? Try historically hot. Like hotter than Babe Ruth hot.

How so?

Well, according to the good folks at Baseball-Reference, only seven players in history have three 100-RBI seasons at ages 34, 35 and 36. They are Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Andres Galarraga, Paul O’Neil, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield and Ibanez.

Ibanez, with a league-leading 42 RBIs in 41 games is well on his way to getting another 100-plus RBI season to join an even more rare group.

Only Babe Ruth, Paul O’Neil, Rafael Palmeiro and Andres Galarraga drove in 100 RBIs during the seasons in which they were 34, 35, 36 and 37. Ruth, Palmeiro and Galarraga added their 38th years to the list, too, with “The Big Cat,” the only man to do it from ages 34-to-39.

Could Ibanez go as long as Galarraga? Sure, why not… he is signed with the Phillies for the next two seasons, so he’ll get his chances in hitter-friendly CBP.

Historically hot

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So yeah, Raul Ibanez is swinging a hot bat lately. The homers in four straight games and the 10 this month and seven in the last 10 days is a pretty good indicator of Ibanez’s hotness.

But did you really know how hot Ibanez is? Try historically hot. Like hotter than Babe Ruth hot.

How so?

Well, according to the good folks at Baseball-Reference, only seven players in history have three 100-RBI seasons at ages 34, 35 and 36. They are Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Andres Galarraga, Paul O’Neil, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield and Ibanez.

Ibanez, with a league-leading 42 RBIs in 41 games is well on his way to getting another 100-plus RBI season to join an even more rare group.

Only Babe Ruth, Paul O’Neil, Rafael Palmeiro and Andres Galarraga drove in 100 RBIs during the seasons in which they were 34, 35, 36 and 37. Ruth, Palmeiro and Galarraga added their 38th years to the list, too, with “The Big Cat,” the only man to do it from ages 34-to-39.

Could Ibanez go as long as Galarraga? Sure, why not… he is signed with the Phillies for the next two seasons, so he’ll get his chances in hitter-friendly CBP.

Hittin’ weather

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Crazy day at the old ballyard yesterday. So crazy that I had four different stories written during the game based on the outcome only to scrap them all when Raul Ibanez smacked his grand slam and when we learned Brad Lidge had an MRI, a cortisone shot AND was taking anti-inflammatory medication.

So yeah, crazy day at the ol' ballpark.

"Good ol' slugfest," Charlie Manuel said.

Charlie calls these early hot days "hittin' weather." He's certainly right about that considering the ball seems to travel a little bit longer when the winds are calm and the temperatures higher at Citizens Bank Park. Ibanez says he noticed the ball carrying well during batting practice earlier on Monday afternoon. But even Ibanez or Manuel would have had difficulty predicting the long shots belted by the Nationals and Phillies.

Not only did two shots clear the center field fence and strike the batter's eye (Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard), but the Nats clubbed two upper deck shots – one to left by Zimmerman and one to right by Nick Johnson – and blasted one onto Ashburn Alley by Elijah Dukes.

Clearly the Nats gained more yards in the air than the Washington football team did all of last season.

Though the Phillies offense seems to be clicking after the two losses to the Brewers late last week and the first part of the Marlins games, Manuel is clearly concerned about the team's pitching. The staff's ERA is far and away the worst in the National League and only the Rangers and Yankees have a worse mark in the Majors.

"Looks to me like they are leaving pitches out over the good part of the plate," Manuel said when asked about his staff's troubles.

And by good he meant from a hitter's perspective.

At this point it seems as if the manager has little flexibility in regard to his staff. J.C. Romero is still serving his suspension (he has 32 games to go), Lidge might have a DL stint coming and the starters aren't giving the relievers too many breaks. So far the Phillies are fifth in the league for innings by relievers and 14th in innings pitched by starters.

Unlike with hitters, Manuel can't sit pitchers when they struggle. In fact, it might be the exact opposite – if a pitcher is struggling the manager might opt to get him more work.

You know, depending on the circumstance.

Surely the pitching will be a topic to rear its head again soon…

*
Not messing around…
Speaking of J.C. Romero, the suspended reliever is not messing around with his law suit against the makers of the supplement 6-OXO Extreme as well as the retailers that sell the product. How so? Consider that he has Howard Jacobs as one of his attorneys.

Yes, that Howard Jacobs.

For anyone who follows cycling, track or doping cases, Howard Jacobs is the go-to name in law. It seems as if he has represented everyone from Tyler Hamilton to Floyd Landis to Marian Jones. If there is one lawyer who knows about the ins and outs of doping tests and drugs in sports, it's Jacobs.

Better yet, Jacobs was a competitive triathlete so he understands all of the aspects of doping and athlete's rights.

The presence of Jacobs on Romero's legal team as well as thoughts from several attorneys weighing in on the case indicates that the pitcher has a strong case.

Still, one lawyer said if the supplement company advertised its product as something that complies with the MLB testing regimen, then yeah, Romero has a case. Otherwise, he might be losing even more cash.

Betting on Raul

raul-ibanezHuge slumps aside, Pat Burrell was an integral part of the Phillies’ victory in the World Series last year. Actually, his only hit of the Series set up the WFC-winning run. As a result, he got to lead the parade down Broad Street atop of a Clydesdale-drawn beer truck with his wife and dog.

C’mon, you remember.

Anyway, it should be no surprise that Burrell’s replacement in left field and the batting order has received a bit of attention as the most-anticipated season in team history quickly approaches.

Both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have pinned a portion of the Phillies’ success on whether or not Raul Ibanez can continue his string of 100-RBI seasons. Hitting fifth in the lineup behind the Phillies’ big hitters, Ibanez should get his chances to drive in a few runs.

At least that’s the reasoning behind why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Ibanez for three years and allowed Burrell to walk.

From SI:

Burrell’s other shortcoming was at the plate, where he was just as prone to kill a rally as a hanging curve. “Raul doesn’t give us as much raw power as Pat, but we felt like he was going to be a more consistent hitter,” says general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Manuel echoed the sentiment when he used the word consistent three times in 10 seconds while talking about Ibañez.) Burrell hit .215 in the second half of 2008 — the same average he had in the first half of ’07 — and he hit .234 with runners in scoring position for the entire season. Ibañez, on the other hand, has been largely immune from peaks and valleys; in his seven seasons as a regular, he’s never hit worse than .260 in a half. And he’s a career .305 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So there’s that. Ibanez makes more contact, has a better batting average and, thus, drives in more runs than Burrell. But Ibanez’s left-handedness also puts manager Charlie Manuel in a tough spot in the late innings.

As SI suggests, maybe a slight lineup adjustment makes sense:

Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibañez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibañez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves’ Mike Gonzalez and the Mets’ Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibañez would force managers to choose between making a pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the right-handed hitter for the bench. Gary Sheffield is all the talk for now, but (for a lot of reasons) doesn’t seem realistic. Besides, Sheffield is a big name that gets people talking – certainly the Phillies have been pretty good at getting people to talk lately.

Maybe a slugger like Willy Mo Pena – recently released by the Nationals – might be the big right-handed bat the Phillies need for the bench?

Betting on Raul

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Huge slumps aside, Pat Burrell was an integral part of the Phillies' victory in the World Series last year. Actually, his only hit of the Series set up the WFC-winning run. As a result, he got to lead the parade down Broad Street atop of a Clydesdale-drawn beer truck with his wife and dog.

C'mon, you remember.

Anyway, it should be no surprise that Burrell's replacement in left field and the batting order has received a bit of attention as the most-anticipated season in team history quickly approaches.
Both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have pinned a portion of the Phillies' success on whether or not Raul Ibanez can continue his string of 100-RBI seasons. Hitting fifth in the lineup behind the Phillies' big hitters, Ibanez should get his chances to drive in a few runs.

At least that's the reasoning behind why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Ibanez for three years and allowed Burrell to walk.

From SI:

Burrell's other shortcoming was at the plate, where he was just as prone to kill a rally as a hanging curve. "Raul doesn't give us as much raw power as Pat, but we felt like he was going to be a more consistent hitter," says general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Manuel echoed the sentiment when he used the word consistent three times in 10 seconds while talking about Ibañez.) Burrell hit .215 in the second half of 2008 — the same average he had in the first half of '07 — and he hit .234 with runners in scoring position for the entire season. Ibañez, on the other hand, has been largely immune from peaks and valleys; in his seven seasons as a regular, he's never hit worse than .260 in a half. And he's a career .305 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So there's that. Ibanez makes more contact, has a better batting average and, thus, drives in more runs than Burrell. But Ibanez's left-handedness also puts manager Charlie Manuel in a tough spot in the late innings.

As SI suggests, maybe a slight lineup adjustment makes sense:

Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibañez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibañez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves' Mike Gonzalez and the Mets' Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibañez would force managers to choose between making a pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.

Meanwhile, there's the matter of the right-handed hitter for the bench. Gary Sheffield is all the talk for now, but (for a lot of reasons) doesn't seem realistic. Besides, Sheffield is a big name that gets people talking – certainly the Phillies have been pretty good at getting people to talk lately.

Maybe a slugger like Willy Mo Pena – recently released by the Nationals – might be the big right-handed bat the Phillies need for the bench?

All rock all the time…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's definitely going to be a crazy week around these parts. Not only do we have Villanova heading to the Final Four and all the pomp that goes with that, but also the Phillies return to Philadelphia this week for a pair of exhibition games against Tampa on Friday and Saturday before kicking off the season for real on Sunday night against Atlanta.

Who knows, the most anticipated Phillies season ever could be sandwiched between 'Nova's national semifinal game and a National Championship on Monday night.

Hey, crazier things have happened.

Anyway, we'll have a bunch of 'Nova and Phillies stories all week leading to the big weekend. Until then, here's a short list of the things I won't write about this baseball season.

Before I start, I know how lame the list is. After all, don't you hate those radio ads in which a station defines itself by what it doesn't play? Then they cue them up and play programmed and contrived crap. I heard one the other day where the station's big calling card was, "We aren't iTunes, we are your tunes."

What? This is what they announce before they launch into Don Henley.

No, take them… they're definitely your tunes.

So from here on out I'm drawing a line and painting myself into a tidy little corner. These are the stories I'm going to work as hard as possible not to write this baseball season:

1.) Jamie Moyer's age

Yes, we all know that Jamie Moyer is old. In fact, he's 46 and there have been just a select few ballplayers that had careers to that age. It's remarkable, sure, but not necessarily such an anomaly anymore.

The fact of the matter is that 46 isn't as old as it used to be. Better yet, a ballplayer only gets old if he allows himself to be that way or injuries add up. Ask Don Wildman about how limiting his age is. Or Dara Torres. Or Chris Chelios. Or Jamie Moyer.

Better yet, don't.

"Some players get injured and others just lose the desire," Moyer told me last August. "Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why."

Along the same vein, Moyer's age won't be used as a crutch, either. He's 46. So what? He's as fit as any player in the league and he hasn't lost a thing off his fastball (tee-hee), so if he's walking out there he's no different than anyone else.

He's 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero's suspension

Oh yes, this is an important issue. It's especially important since the Phillies won't have their workhorse reliever for nearly a third of the season. But stories knocking it down as no big deal or some type of insignificant or unfortunate occurrence don't get it. The truth is MLB did not want Romero to pitch in the playoffs, but they allowed him to do so anyway.

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

Chase Utley to Ryan Howard to Raul Ibanez… deal with it. Certainly the opposing managers will have to figure out a way to deal with it. Last year Utley his .277 with 13 homers against lefties, while Howard hit 14 homers (just .224 though) and Ibanez batted .305 with seven homers vs. lefties.

Oh sure, in the late innings the Phillies will face a ton of situational lefties, but any time a manager goes away from his regular habits to rely on a pitcher generally used to facing just one hitter just might level the odds a bit.

For that middle of the order trio, even odds are pretty good.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 4.) Charlie Manuel's managerial acumen

These are the facts: Charlie knows more about baseball than you. Actually he's forgotten more about baseball than you have ever known. To top it off, he's funnier than you and tells far better stories.

Plus, the way he handled that great comeback against the Mets last August in which he used to pitchers to pinch hit, had Carlos Ruiz play third base and put Chris Coste into the game in the eighth inning and watched him get four hits. The guy is always looking at the big picture and sometimes, just for fun, he'll play a hunch.

What he doesn't do is try to over think or out-fox the game like Tony La Russa or some other new age type. He'd rather beat you Earl Weaver style – sit back and wait for a big home run – but if he has to get some base runners moving with some steals or hit-and-runs, that works, too.

Meanwhile, he likes to put his pitchers into firm roles. Yeah, sometimes that can get him in trouble, but the good part is that everyone on the roster understands their role. Big league ballplayers love that.

And if that doesn't work, Charlie will pull out the old, "Just hold 'em, guys… I'll think of something."

It's worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

Stat heads aren't going to like this one, but Ibanez's superior batting average and lower strikeout rate will matter. It mattered in Seattle and it will matter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, too.

The reason is as simple as the triple-digit RBI totals over the last three years – Ibanez hits the ball a little more. With Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard hitting in front of him, the 20 fewer times Ibanez strikes out as opposed to Burrell could be significant. Figure there are 26 weeks to a season with the potential for one more run a week produced from one spot of the lineup could add up.

Right?

There you go. Now I'm going to go put the iPod on shuffle… yep, my tunes.

Whatever the hell that means.