World Series: Charlie’s big gamble

CC & LeePHILADELPHIA—No matter what else happens, Charlie Manuel will be remembered as the second man to win a World Series for the Phillies. Since 1883 and after 50 previous managers, only Charlie and Dallas Green have hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season.

So whatever happens after the 2008 World Series, Charlie’s legacy is safe in Philadelphia. Winning baseball teams are like Haley’s Comet around here.

But will Charlie’s legacy take a hit if the Phillies lose the 2009 World Series to the Yankees? And if so, will it be because of his decision NOT to send Cliff Lee to the mound for a rematch against CC Sabathia on short rest in Game 4?

Well, that all depends.

First of all, Charlie has painted himself into a corner a few times during the postseason. One time came when he used both J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton in Game 2 of the NLDS. Another time was when he went with five pitchers to get three outs in Game 2 of the NLCS. After each of those instances the question that was asked was, “Did Charlie just [mess] this up?”

Each time the answer was, “We’ll see.”

And that’s where we are once again. Charlie is backed into a corner with Joe Blanton scheduled to start against the Yankees in Game 4. If it works and Blanton comes through with and the Phillies steal one from Sabathia again, the manager looks like a genius. After all, he will go into the pivotal Game 5 with his best pitcher properly rested and ready to go against another pitcher working on short rest.

Better yet, the pitcher (A.J. Burnett) is one pitching coach Rich Dubee is quite familiar with going back to his days with the Florida Marlins. Though he won’t say it one way or another, one gets the sense that Dubee thinks Burnett is a bit of a whack job, to use a popular term.

So in that respect, if the Phillies go into Game 5 with the series tied up at 2 games apiece, Manuel looks pretty darned smart.

Again.

Still, it seems as if the manager has his cards all laid out on the table and is waiting to get lucky with one on the river (to use another term). Clearly it seems as if the Phillies don’t believe they match up well against the Yankees are attempting to use any favorable twist they can to their advantage. The biggest of those appears to be Cliff Lee on regular rest in Game 5 against A.J. Burnett on short rest.

Nevertheless, there is an interesting caveat to all of this and it has to do with Charlie and Lee…

If Charlie was so adamant about not pitching Cliff Lee on three days rest, and says that even if the pitcher had campaigned to pitch in Game 4 it would have no affect on his decision to stick with Blanton. According to the way Manuel phrased it, even if Lee had burst into the office, flipped over a table, knocked some pictures off the wall and screamed at the manager to, “GIVE ME THE BALL!” Manuel says it would not have mattered.

“We didn’t talk very long on Cliff Lee,” Manuel said.

But why did they talk at all?

Let’s think about that for a second… if Charlie’s mind was already made up, why did he ask Lee anything? Could it be that Lee emitted some bad body language or hedged when Manuel asked if he’d pitch in Game 4?

Or could it be that the Phillies placed too much trust in Cole Hamels?

For now everyone is saying all the right things. That’s especially the case with Lee, who says he’s ready for whatever the Phillies give him.

“It was a pretty quick conversation, him asking me if I had ever done it and me telling him no and saying that I think I could,” Lee said. “Basically that was about the extent of it. Pretty quick, brief deal. I just let him know I’d pitch whenever he wants me to pitch. I think I could do it, but he makes the calls.”

So the season comes down to this. If the Phillies fall into a 3-1 series hole and end up losing the series, will it tarnish what Manuel has already done for the Phillies?

We’ll see.

World Series: Lee great not ‘stunning’

NEW YORK— It’s been interesting watching some segments of the New York City and national media express astonishment over the Phillies resounding, Game 1 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night. One word that had been bandied about to describe the Phils’ win was “stunning.”

That was the word used by Washington Post media critic and CNN talk show host Howard Kurtz, who tweeted while watching the game that he was sitting in “stunned silence.”

Really?

Seriously, certain segments of the New York media must really be arrogant if “stunned” is the preferred expression to describe the Yankees’ loss to the defending world champions pitched by the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

Stunned? No way.

Apropos of nothing I was hoping instead of making his basket catch on Johnny Damon’s little pop up in the sixth, that he would have pulled off his cap and caught the ball that way.

But that is not to take anything away from Cliff Lee’s performance, which should go down not only as an all-timer in Phillies lore, but also as one of the great Game 1 iutings in World Series history. Truly, the list of superlatives from the game is pretty impressive. Actually, my favorite of the bunch was that Cliff Lee was the first pitcher to strike out 10 hitters without a walk in Game 1 of the World Series since Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates beat Cy Young (the man himself) in the very first World Series game ever played.

In other words, Lee did something in Game 1 that was done just once and it was 105 years ago.

Simply amazing.

There’s more, too:

• After his six-hit complete game in which he allowed one unearned run with 10 Ks and no walks, Lee’s postseason ledger stands at 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA (two earned runs in 33 1/3 innings) in four starts this postseason. He has the seventh-best ERA of any pitcher in a single postseason in baseball history with more than 20 innings pitched. Waite Hoyt (1921), Carl Hubbell (1933), Christy Mathewson (1905) and Kenny Rogers (2006) had 0.00 ERAs. Sandy Koufax had a 0.38 ERA in 1965 and Harry Brecheen had a 0.45 ERA in 1946.

• Of all the pitchers in baseball history in the postseason, Lee has the best ERA ever for pitchers with more than 30 innings.

• Lee also pitched the first complete game in the World Series since Josh Beckett threw one against the Yankees in the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Now here’s the thing that doesn’t make sense about Lee’s outing… it wasn’t as good as his effort against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS. At least that’s what it says on the Bill James “game score.”

If you page down a bit you’ll find a whole thing I wrote about the “game score” and how Lee’s performance in Game 3 was one of the greatest game’s pitched in the postseason in the last few seasons and the best ever in the playoffs by a Phillies pitcher. Of course the flaw in “game score” is that it is not weighted for the postseason and there isn’t special credence given to Game 1 of the World Series vs. Game 7 or even an elimination game.

For instance, when I think of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen, the top one on the list is Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. For 10 innings Morris hung up zero after zero only to be matched by John Smoltz and two relievers.
Apparently 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 seventh game of the World Series the day after the winning team won Game 6 in the 12th inning on Kirby Puckett’s homer is only good enough for an 84.

Lee’s outing in Game 1 scored an 83, while his eight innings against the Dodgers last week in Game 3 was an 86. Not to downplay what Lee did in Game 3, but the performance in Game 1 was better.

Much, much better.

The animated gif swiped from DMac

The Throwback World Series: Phillies in Six

cliff leeWe’re riding the rails to New York City for the World Series the way Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn probably did on their lone trip to the big city for the big series nearly six decades ago. Only this time around, we media types don’t travel in the club car with the ballplayers and team execs. Those days ended a long time ago.

Frankly, everyone is pleased about that. Oh no, taking the train is fantastic. In fact, why the railway infrastructure in the U.S. is as paltry as it is (compared to other industrialized nations) is a sin. It’s a crime, too. A crime and a sin.

Nope, ballplayers and media guys don’t mix anymore in the same way that people don’t dress up in smart, tweed suits or fedoras to travel anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it’s probably a smart idea not to get into it here, but make no mistake about it…

We’re on the trains.

Fact is, when the Yankees finally figured out a way not to mess up the series against the Angels, the first thing I thought about was the fact that I wouldn’t have to get on a plane and jet off clear across the country to Orange County. Nope, a short ride to the train station for the trip up to Penn Station was all it took.

Just like they used to do it back when the baseball, not the hype, was the star. Back then, the story was Jim Konstanty coming out of the bullpen to make his first ever start in Game 1. This time Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are going to “sing” a song before Game 1 or something like that.

The big story should be the huge matchup between ex-teammates Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia in Game 1. This, to use an old-timey term, is a dream matchup up. Think about it—Lee and Sabathia won the Cy Young Award the past two seasons when they both played for the Indians. But as it works in the days without the reserve clause, Lee and Sabathia had to be dealt away from Cleveland because they were too good.

Success equals a higher paycheck in Major League Baseball. Talk about a slice of Americana.

Oh, but Game 1 might not be the only time this dream matchup occurs and riding the train to and from New York from 30th Street Station might not be the only relic of a bygone era. In fact, Lee and Sabathia could challenge convention wisdom and post-modern baseball smarts by pitching twice on three days’ rest if the series goes seven games.

How cool would that be?

Instead of Yankees manager Joe Girardi digging through sabermetric-riddled binders for his next baseball move while Charlie Manuel leans against the rail in the dugout and chews gum (he already has all those books memorized), it will be like Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer are going at it all over again.

Let the pitchers pitch? Oh yes, this might happen.

The fact is, starting pitchers rarely get three starts in a World Series anymore. But then again the World Series doesn’t go seven games all that much these days, either. Curt Schilling made three starts in the 2001 series against the Yankees and Jack Morris famously started three games in the 1991 World Series.

Before Morris, the three-time starters in the World Series are few and far between. Bruce Hurt in 1986 and Luis Tiant in 1975 made three starts in the World Series. Otherwise, the last time two pitchers squared off three times in a single series was 41 years ago when Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Mickey Lolich of the Tigers went at it in 1968. Better yet, both guys pitched three complete games.

Gibson, of course, was a freak. He made three starts in the 1964, 1967 and 1968 World Series and pitched 27 innings in each one.

Nevertheless, aside from New York-Philly, Amtrak and Lee and Sabathia, there are other reasons why the national media is hyping the 2009 World Series as a chance to be epic. After all, these very modern ball clubs also are contradictions within themselves in that they are throwbacks, too. This applies more to the Phillies than the Yankees, because of that whole un-Yankee like behavior with the pies, post-game celebrations, A-Rod and whatnot.

Nevertheless, this might not be the last time the Phillies and the Yankees are squared off in the World Series.

At least that’s what the Phillies think.

cc“If you look at our core players, we can contend for quite a while,” Charlie Manuel said. “Every time I talk to our team, I just say if we just keep what we got, we’ll be OK. I mean that. I don’t want them changing. I want them to keep the same kind of attitude, the same desire and passion, and I want them to make all the money in the world that there is to make, and keep them happy. If they do that, we’re going to be OK.”

Don’t worry about it, Charlie.

“We have a club that can get to this level every year,” Jayson Werth said. “Not looking too far ahead, we’ve got a good young club, and we don’t really have any guys coming up for free agency that we’re going to lose. Potentially, we have a chance to do this every year for a long time.”

Wouldn’t that be something? That’s the way it used to be with the Dodgers and Reds in the 1970s and the Yankees during, like, forever.

So how does it play out? Who wins? Why is this so short on analysis?

Forget about the analysis. That stuff doesn’t matter. And forget what the national pundits are predicting—they don’t know what they’re talking about. The bottom line is we’re talking about history, dynasties and all of those other media buzzwords. You want analysis? OK, the Phillies have better recent experience. There.

Take the Phillies in six games.

Sizing up the rotation now and later (a.k.a. Hamels for Halladay)

pedroWhile we’re waiting for the Angels and the Yankees to decide the American League champion, and as the Phillies take that last official day off, maybe we oughta play a little hypothetical…

You know, just for fun.

So let’s dive right in with the World Series starting rotation. We know—though not officially—Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1. Chances are Lee will pitch in Game 4 and Game 7, too. After that, it kind of depends on which team the Phillies play. If it’s the Yankees, who wouldn’t want to see Pedro Martinez take the mound at Yankee Stadium? In fact, in the celebratory clubhouse after the Phillies, Pedro was lobbying/serenading pitching coach Rich Dubee about starting a game at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have to get there first, which is another story, but also Pedro has an ERA near 6 in his last handful of appearances in the playoffs against the Yankees. That’s where all that “Who’s your daddy” stuff came from.

Of course, Pedro pitched a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, but that game was at Fenway Park. In Yankee Stadium during the playoffs, Pedro has 15 strikeouts and 14 hits in 13 1/3 innings of two starts. The Red Sox lost both of those starts with Pedro checking in with a 0-1 record and a 5.40 ERA.

The Yankees don’t play in that stadium anymore, though. It’s still standing there empty with overgrown grass and a crumbling interior while the Yankees and the city of New York argue over who gets to tear it down.

No, these days the Yankees have a new Yankee Stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build, has cracks on the cement ramps that reportedly will cost millions of dollars to repair, and the best press-box food in the business.

So there’s that.

Even though it’s not the same place and Pedro pitches for the Phillies and not the Mets and Red Sox, the New York fans are still obsessed with the guy. If the TV Networks are going to ruin the organic nature of the game by forcing longer commercial breaks between innings, night games in November and Joe Buck upon us, couldn’t they mandate that Pedro pitch a game at Yankee Stadium?

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t think you can go wrong with Pedro Martinez,” Brad Lidge said. “He’s such a big-game pitcher. And then when you see what he did against L.A., he’s pretty impressive.”

And oh yeah, Pedro wants it. He lives for the show and the drama. The Yankees in the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Oh yes, bring it on.

“That’s my home, did you know that? That’s where I live, you need to understand. The Yankees? Get your ticket, you’ll find out fast,” he said as champagne dripped off his face following the clincher over the Dodgers.

But does it make sense? With the DH and the American League-style of game in the AL park, the Phillies might be better served with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 2… or would they?

Numbers-wise, Hamels stinks in these playoffs. Six of the 20 hits he has allowed in his 14 2/3 innings have been homers, which is amazing when one considers that Hamels gave up zero homers in seven of his last regular-season starts and just seven total runs in five postseason starts in 2008.

Still, it’s interesting to wonder how different Hamels’ NLCS would have been if Chase Utley would have been able to make a good throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. Hamels made the pitch he needed to get out of a jam.

As (bad) luck would have it, Hamels gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez a couple of pitches after the botched double play.

So what do we have other than Cliff Lee in Game 1 and Pedro and Hamels in one of the next pair of games? Well, there’s Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ who both will start the World Series in the bullpen. If needed, one of those guys could get a start in the series but that probably depends on the opponent.

In 15 career games against the Angels Blanton is 3-7 with a 3.48 ERA and two complete games. In four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA.

Happ has never faced the Angels, but in his first start of the season in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium, he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in six innings.

cole_hamelsMeanwhile, both the Yankees and the Angels hit .286 against lefties this season, though the Yankees’ lefty hitters were significantly better against lefty pitchers.

Still, it’s worth noting that the debate seems to be using Hamels in either Game 2 of Game 3 and whether he’s ready to face the Yankees lefties in Yankee Stadium. But as long as we’re throwing things out there, how about this:

Would you trade Cole Hamels this off-season? Oh, not for just anyone because good pitchers have tough seasons all the time. Hamels is only 25 and his best days are clearly ahead of him—why else would the Phillies have signed him to a $20 million deal last winter?

But the Phillies will be a contender for the World Series again next year, too, and there were times when the starting rotation lacked consistency. Certainly Hamels was one of the biggest culprits in that regard.

So here it is: Let’s say the Blue Jays come back to the Phillies looking to move Roy Halladay, who is headed into the final year of his contract…

Would you send Hamels to the Blue Jays for Halladay? Would that be the one pitcher the Phillies could trade away Hamels for?

Hey, nothing is going on (as far as we know), but think about it—Hamels for Halladay?

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation followed by J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton… that could work, right?

The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

cliff_leeSo how is this for the weather sampler: last week at this time we were watching the coldest playoff baseball in history in snowy and chilly Denver, only to be watching a workout in Los Angeles two days later as temperatures pushed into the 90s.

Now we’re back in Philadelphia where it actually feels colder than it did in Denver simply because we were teased with that dry, hot Southern California air. Plus, it feels windier here in Philly because the put the ballpark down in an area devoid of buildings or large structures and near a geographical anomaly where two major rivers converge.

Yep, it’s chilly.

For Cliff Lee, it will be two straight chilly nights on the mound. Certainly it wouldn’t seem ideal for a guy from Arkansas, but according to Southern California guy Randy Wolf, a pitcher who actually likes to pitch in the chilly weather, the pitcher is always the warmest guy on the field.

“I’ve always had a tough time pitching in Atlanta and Florida and I sometimes I turn about three shades pink and I overheat,” Wolf said. “In the cold I feel more alert, I feel like my energy level is always there and the fact that you can blow on your hands when you’re on the mound in cold weather, your hands are only affected. As a pitcher you’re the only guy that’s moving on every pitch. The pitcher has probably the easiest job of keeping warm.”

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

• Sunday night’s game is the 21st time a NLCS has been tied at 1-1. Of the previous 20 Game 3s played in a 1-1 series, the home team won 13 of them. More notably, the winner of Game 3 in those instances went on to win the series 12 times.
• The Phillies are 2-5 in Game 3 of the NLCS. Both of the Phillies’ wins in Game 3s are against the Dodgers (1978 and 1983).
• Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Phillies are 6-for-60 against Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda. That does not include Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS where Kuroda gave up five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory. Counting that, the Phillies are 11-for-83 (.133).
• Finally, Ryan Howard can break the all-time single season record for playoff games with an RBI on Sunday night. He is currently tied with Carlton Fisk with six straight games in the playoffs with an RBI, which Fisk did during the 1975 World Series. The amount of RBIs Fisk had in those six games? Try six.

The all-time record for consecutive games with an RBI in the playoffs is eight by Lou Gehrig in the 1928 and 1932 World Series.

Game 1: First Inning

cliff leePA announcer Dan Baker just told everyone to stand up and wave their white rally towels because the game was about to go live on TV. Nothing like some manufactured enthusiasm to get these playoffs started.

Apparently the fans in Philadelphia need help to know when to cheer.

They let out a loud one when Charlie Manuel was introduced before the game. The Phillies also introduced their players in reverse order, perhaps to feed Jimmy Rollins’ ego?

But we got a look at how much the wind is going to be a factor in the opener when Cliff Lee’s first pitch of the game was lifted harmlessly to right field but it sent Jayson Werth nearly to the warning track.

Nasty.

Nevertheless, Cliff Lee’s playoff debut got off to a strong start with a scoreless first. He also fired first-pitch strikes to the first three hitters he faced, so that was a good thing.

Speaking of Cliff Lee, if you read one story about the Phils’ starter, make sure it is the one Martin Frank wrote for the Wilmington News Journal. It’s an excellent read.

The difference in the first inning for the Phillies was that they went down in order while the Rockies managed to get a pair of hits. Moreover, Ubaldo Jimenez hit 100 on the stadium radar gun, which probably is not wind aided.

Watch Jimenez. He’s going to be really good.

Who needs a nap?

I’m tired,
Tired of playing the game
Ain’t it a crying shame
I’m so tired

– Lili Von Shtupp

MILWAUKEE — This is the time in the baseball season where the days grow longer, the nights shorter and the turnaround so much more quicker. Not only is there no rest for the weary, but also the only recourse is adrenaline.

Yes, we’re beat, but dammit we’re having fun, too. No one wants to go home because the action starts in October. Sure, we’re tired. All of us. The players, the coaches, the front-office types and, of course, the scribes. We’re beaten down to a bloody pulp like an aimless old boxer who just got his ass waffled. But really, what better place to be?

October baseball is why the players play and why the writers write.

It’s also why the scouts scout. For those who make the rounds from city to city with the Phillies, there are a few more regular faces on the scene. Like writers, scouts travel in packs even though they work for competing organizations. Call it safety in numbers.

But only one of these packs of people has any true bearing on the outcome of games and that ain’t the scribes. In fact, advance scouting offers so much insight into the opposition that birddoggers from all of the Phillies’ potential opponents have been at the ballpark for every game for the past two months. Shoot, even a scout from the Twins has been watching the Phillies in the outside chance that they meet in the World Series.

Most notable though are the guys from the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Braves, who happens to be ex-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Aside from Fregosi, the scouts from the National League-playoff clubs and a handful of American League teams have been out every day.

There are a couple of things to know about scouts. One is they watch the game differently than even the most astute fan or writer. They look for tendencies, nuanced little tells and tips that might not happen but one time in 100 pitches, but that one time could be the difference. Plus, the scouts look at the game objectively. Unlike coaches or the manager, the scouts are looking for what their team can exploit. They zero in on weaknesses like a big schoolyard bully.

At the core, though, the scout is an overt spy. As such, they trade in information and every once in a while they leak like a sieve. Because writers have access and insight that the scouts do not, there is often a quid pro quo between scout and scribe.

Wanna know what a few of them think about the Phillies’ chances in the playoffs? Well, it’s not really that much of a surprise.

“They’re going to have to ride their starting pitchers for as long as they can,” a scout said, noting that the Phillies’ bullpen is a mess.

This will be an interesting week for watchers of the Phillies because reliever J.C. Romero has been activated from the disabled list on Monday, Brett Myers could return to action this week along with Chan Ho Park, and Scott Eyre has not pitched in a game since Sept. 7. Before that, the lefty specialist had pitched just once since Aug. 16.

Then there is the issue of the ninth inning where it appears as if Brad Lidge will not see any significant action aside from mop-up duty to restore his fastball command and confidence. Ryan Madson pitched spectacularly in the ninth inning to save Sunday’s win at Miller Park, but if the lanky righty takes over the ninth, who gets the eighth?

Tyler Walker? Sergio Escalona? One of the guys trying to cram in some work before the playoffs begin? Not Brett Myers, says one scout.

“His stuff was pretty unimpressive in the few games he pitched when he got back [from hip surgery],” a scout said.

The biggest issue just might be the starting rotation, particularly Cliff Lee who is 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his last six starts. One of those six starts was a complete game shutout, which reveals how poor those numbers were in the other five outings. Meanwhile, pedro Martinez missed his last start with a strained neck and J.A. Happ very well could be the answer in the bullpen.

Still, Lee and that rough patch with just one more start to go in the season is also something for folks to pay attention to.

“There are a lot of innings for those starters. Some of them look pretty tired,” another scout said. “But then again, there are a lot of guys out there that look tired.”

Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are a few names that pop to mind when talking about tiredness. Better yet, if a scout from another team notices how tired the Phillies look, Manuel ought to, as well.

Right?

Well, yes and no. Sure, Manuel acknowledges that a couple of his guys are a little burnt, but it’s too late to do anything about it. With a four-game lead with six to go, Manuel can’t give Werth a day off even though he is 3 for his last 30 with just three singles and 14 strikeouts.

The tiredness is even more noticeable in Utley, who, like Werth, is struggling at the plate. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Astros, Utley is 3for his last 27 and batting .222 in September.

Manuel says his all-star second baseman is in need of a day off, but he won’t get one until the NL East is sewn up.

“I think he’s dragging some, but he’s trying really hard. When we don’t play well he takes it real hard and he tries to do too much,” Manuel said. “But at the same time he can come out of it. He can handle it.”

Can he, or is that just wishful thinking by Manuel? The old adage is the regulars get to take a break after the division is won, but even then the Phillies will have home-field advantage on the line. They don’t want to go to Los Angeles for the first round, do they?

Heck, the way the Braves are playing the Phils might have to go to St. Louis.

“A day of rest would be nice. Of course, we could have been getting plenty of days of rest. But things don’t always go the way we want,” Rollins said about the Phillies’ inability to close out the division in a timely manner. “What happens is that at times you have lapses in concentration. You think you have the pitcher right where you wanted him and then, wham! You miss that one pitch.”

Wham!