Eighth inning: Oh, those runners left on base

MILWAUKEE – Geoff Jenkins made his first post-season plate appearance to start the eighth after 10 years in the big leagues playing for the Brewers. They really like Jenkins here and some even call Miller Park, “The House that Jenk Built.”

Not quite, but it’s a nice sentiment.

Nevertheless, Jenkins lifted an easy fly to left off once-dominant closer, Eric Gagne for the first out of the eighth before Jimmy Rollins tried to beat out a bunt, but was off on the execution.

Jayson Werth helped the Phillies add to their impressive runners-left-stranded-in-scoring-position totals by ripping a double off the wall in left before Chase Utley ended the inning with a fly out.

Combined, Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell are a combined 3-for-26 in the series. That total fits nicely with the 22 runners left on base during the series, including 15 in scoring position.

Fortunately, the Brewers could not add on against Ryan Madson in the eighth as the Phillies go down to their final three outs against closer Salomon Torres.

We’ll all know what we’re doing on Sunday very soon.

End of 8: Brewers 4, Phillies 1

Pregame: Nice ‘stache

MILWAUKEE – The series has shifted to a new city so that means the players get re-introduced before the game. The Brewers’ fans neither booed, hissed, cheered nor tossed rolls of quarters at the Phillies when they trotted out onto the third-base line. They were stoic with their indifference.

However, when Geoff Jenkins took the field he got loud hoots and hollers from his former hometown fans.

They also clapped loudly when the Brewers exited the field after batting practice, too.

Talk about polite… these people make St. Louis fans look like a bunch of devil worshippers.

The one thing that stood out the most to me when I walked through the corridors to the press box here was the giant poster of the great relief pitcher Rollie Fingers. Quite obviously I was a huge Rollie Fingers fan when I was a kid. Part of that had to do with the fact that Rollie was pretty good – he’s in the Hall of Fame after all. Plus, he had the tremendous handlebar mustache and the unfortunate last name.

So one of my goals before we leave Milwaukee is to have my picture taken beneath the poster. I’m going to make that happen.

On another note, Robin Yount also had a very serious mustache.

11 – Rollins, ss
28 – Werth, rf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
5 – Burrell, lf
8 – Victorino, cf
7 – Feliz, 3b
51 – Ruiz, c
50 – Moyer, p

25 – Cameron, cf
2 – Hall, 2b
8 – Braun, lf
28 – Fielder, 1b
7 – Hardy, ss
1 – Hart, rf
23 – Weeks, 2b
18 – Kendall, c
31 – Bush, p

Just getting there not enough

As far as zaniness goes in the wake of NL East-clinching celebration on Saturday night at the Bank, Chris Coste took top honors when he zipped around the field on a borrowed (at least we hope so) police bicycle.

Other than Coste’s tomfoolery, the celebration was slightly muted. Oh sure, Brett Myers took perverse pleasure dousing anyone and everyone with beer and Pat Burrell made sure his bulldog, Elvis, made it to the party.

Otherwise, the Phillies acted as if clinching celebrations was old hat. After all, last year’s wild bash was 14 years in the making and it took the Phillies until the very last day of the season to sew it up. This year manager Charlie Manuel retreated to his office after the game while the party simmered in the clubhouse and out on the field.

Only when the remaining fans called for him with an echoing chant of, “CHARLIE! CHARLIE! CHARLIE!” did the manager work his way back out to the field to tip his cap and celebrate ever so briefly with his players.

Been there, done that appeared to be the theme as the celebration quickly morphed into a neighborhood cocktail party. Though pulling off the repeat wasn’t easy, the Phillies believe there is much to prove during the second season.

“I think we got a little taste last year of it, short and sweet,” Chase Utley said. “There’s a lot of focus, a lot of drive, a lot of intensity. We’re definitely not done.”

Last year the Phillies were finished in the playoffs pretty quickly. In fact, the team barely got warmed up before the Colorado Rockies sent them packing in three straight. Utley, in particular, went through some growing pains in his first playoffs where he struck out four times on just 13 pitches in Game 1.

It wasn’t just Utley who had trouble, either. In three games the Phillies collected just 16 hits and batted .172 with 26 strikeouts. Of the eight runs the Phils scored during the series, five came on solo homers.

“We didn’t really know what to expect going into the playoffs last year,” Utley said. “This year, you have more of an understanding of how everything works. It’s no different, it’s still baseball. You have to prepare and go out there every day. I never played baseball in October before last year.”

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins says the Phillies worked so hard just to get into the playoffs last season that once they got there they didn’t have much left.

“I think we were so hell bent on that and so focused to win the division that we kind of ran out of steam heading into the playoffs,” Rollins said. “There’s no such thing as pacing yourself, but we know that there is more than just winning the division. We won the division last year and three games later we were watching with everyone else. We don’t want that to happen again, so we’ll be a little more under control and hopefully bring home a championship.”

There is a big difference between the maiden voyage in 2007 and the return trip in 2008. For one thing, every player expected to be on the playoff roster – except Geoff Jenkins and Chad Durbin – have post-season experience. Better yet, six players (Brad Lidge, Eric Bruntlett, Tadahito Iguchi, So Taguchi, Pedro Feliz and Scott Eyre) have appeared in the World Series.

For a change, the Phillies will have experience as an asset.

“Our focus is different this year,” Howard said. “This is the first step, making the playoffs. We didn’t like the feeling [of losing] last year, but we got the experience. We know what to expect this year.”

In fact, manager Charlie Manuel says there won’t be a repeat of last season.

“Believe me – we’re going to go farther in the playoffs than we did last year,” Manuel said.

Nevertheless, the Phillies still don’t know who they will play come Wednesday in Philadelphia. Though Cole Hamels will get a second consecutive Game 1 start in the NLDS, the Phillies must wait for the Brewers and the Mets to settle the wild-card race. If the Mets survive to make the playoffs after blowing a 3 ½ games lead in the NL East just two weeks ago, the Phillies will host the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But if the Brewers come out on top, they will head to Philadelphia to open the playoffs with the memory of the four-game sweep that led to manager Ned Yost’s firing still fresh in their minds.

Manuel says the Phillies matchup pretty well against either the Brewers or Dodgers.

“It doesn’t really matter. All the teams we play we match up well against them,” Manuel said. “The Cubs have a lot of right-handed pitchers and our left-handed hitters match up against them. It doesn’t really matter to me who we play. We’ll see.

“I’m really looking forward to it.”

Jenkins, who had been ranked fourth amongst active players in games played without a playoff appearance, spent the first decade of his career with the Brewers. Needless to say, the irony of facing his old team when he finally gets to the playoffs was not lost on Jenkins.

“I’ve been waiting to get into the postseason for so long. It’s just a happy, unbelievable feeling about getting here. I’m just excited about keeping it going,” Jenkins said. “You picture how it might be, but until you go through it, you can’t even picture how great this is.”

Yeah, the Phillies already know. Now they want to find out just how much better it can be.

“We all have a little experience at this,” Rollins said. “We can hopefully go a little further into the playoffs. We know winning the division doesn’t guarantee you anything. It just means you have a chance to go win the World Series.”

The second trip starts Wednesday.

Barry Bonds, anyone?

barry_bondsIt’s gotten to the point where manager Charlie Manuel will use utility outfielder So Taguchi only if he has no other choices. In fact, Taguchi has just six at-bats in the last month and seven going back to May 30, which was the last time he started a game.

It seems as if the manager is loathe to use Taguchi even as a late-inning defensive replacement for left fielder Pat Burrell after the former Japanese star misplayed a few fly balls in a couple of losses. Even in pinch-running situations Manuel has turned to infielder Eric Bruntlett or sometimes pitcher Adam Eaton.

No, Charlie probably isn’t going out of his way not to use Taguchi, but it sure does seem like it.

Meanwhile, right fielder Geoff Jenkins’ season batting average has dipped to .237 thanks to getting just five hits since June 7, and 11 hits after May 28. Over the last month, the left-handed hitting outfielder is batting just .089 (5-for-56) with one homer, one double and 16 strikeouts.

Some say the Phillies’ offensive swoon has come because of a power outage. Even Manuel and some of the Phillies brass have been critical of the team’s inability to score runs without the long ball as well as its reluctance to manufacture runs with situational hitting. Since scoring 20 runs against the Cardinals in St. Louis on June 13, the Phillies have lost 15 of 22 games. Worse, they have averaged just 3.74 runs per game during that stretch. With a lineup featuring the past two NL MVPs – Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins – as well as perennial All-Star Chase Utley and slugger Pat Burrell, the Phillies should score runs by accident.

But they don’t.

“The biggest problem we have is situational hitting,” Manuel said. “Moving runners or knocking in a guy from second with no outs or from third with one out. We definitely have to have more of that.”

If there is one player to symbolize the Phillies’ feast-or-famine offense, it’s Jenkins. This season he has seven home runs, which account for 12 of his 24 RBIs. Howard, too, has personified this symptom by getting 49 of his league-leading 78 RBIs on 24 homers. Howard is also on pace to shatter his single-season Major League record for strikeouts in a season. With 124 whiffs in 91 games, Howard should be the first man in Major League history to eclipse the 200 strikeouts barrier.

Feast or famine.

“Our offense is generated by the top of our order. We manufacture runs by getting (Jimmy) Rollins and (Shane) Victorino on base with (Chase) Utley. Usually from Howard and (Pat) Burrell that’s where our RBIs come from – that’s where we get our runs. Sometimes some guys pick up the slack, but we’re not doing that right now. We’re not getting too much from the bottom of our lineup.”

So while the Phillies acknowledge that the need help with the pitching and are looking to add a starter (and/or a reliever) by the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, maybe they ought to consider a hitter, too, as they cling by the edge of their fingernails to first place in the NL East.

And if the Phillies are looking for a power bat to come off the bench or to play some right field from time to time against right-handers since Jenkins is hitting just .249 against them as the left-handed bat in the platoon with Jayson Werth, we might have the guy for them.

The guy we’re thinking of has struck out just once every seven at-bats during the past two seasons. Also during that span, he has clubbed 54 homers – or one every 13 at-bats – hit a modest .273, but has a .467 on-base percentage.

Oh yeah, he also has nearly 2,000 career RBIs, seven MVP awards and 762* home runs.

Yes, we’re talking about Bonds…

Barry Bonds.

Yeah, Bonds brings a whole lot of baggage and that isn’t even bringing the upcoming trial for perjury into the equation. He is also two weeks away from his 44th birthday, which would help the Phillies corner the market on mid-40s lefties. And of course there are all the accusations regarding performance-enhancing drug use and all-around surliness. Bonds will never be a candidate for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given each year to a ballplayer who exemplifies character and charitable contributions to his community.

Yes, Bonds’ off-the-field situation is troublesome and quite serious, but the Phillies need a hitter. On Tuesday night Cole Hamels pitched yet another gem by holding the Cardinals to just a pair of runs and three hits in seven innings, but took a hard-luck 2-0 loss.

The lack of offensive support is beyond frustrating for the Phillies’ pitchers.

“Any time you don’t score runs it’s hard to win,” Manuel said. “I say it all the time, but when Hamels pitches like that we have to win the game. We came up short. We won four straight on the road and then came home and lost four straight.”

But enough of the hang wringing. If Bonds can play – and all reports indicate that he wants to – why not let him? Surely his skills likely have eroded a bit, but then again, Taguchi and Jenkins only have a combined six more hits than Bonds.

Heck, they have just six more hits than me.

If someone can explain how Bonds can be worse than Taguchi or Jenkins then call the whole thing off.

Here’s the good part – Bonds will work cheap. The Phillies are paying Taguchi $1.05 million this season with a $1.25 million club option for 2009 or a $150,000 buyout. Not bad work if you can find it. They are also paying Jenkins $5 million in 2008, $6.75 million in 2009 with a mutual option for $7.5 million in 2010 or a $1.25 million buyout. Again, not exactly chump change for a guy hitting .089 since early June.

Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris says his client will work for a prorated share of the league minimum, which is $390,000. In other words, the Phillies could have Bonds for the rest of the season for less than $190,000.

“The fact that no team in Major League Baseball has made an offer for Barry even at the minimum salary has created a level of suspicion that is currently being investigated,” Borris said.

“Let’s look at the facts. Barry performed admirably in 2007. Barry is healthy. Barry has been offered at the minimum salary and Barry’s trial date is in March of 2009, so there would be no interruption of the 2008 season. It defies explanation as to why he is not employed in 2008 with a Major League club.”

There have been grumblings that American League teams Tampa Bay, Seattle, Detroit and Boston have looked at Bonds as a possible designated hitter. There are also some rumblings about the Mets being interested in the star-crossed home-run king. But so far there have been no takers.

Perhaps Bonds could mentor young-ish slugger Howard? Maybe he could teach the Phillies’ first baseman that he can strikeout significantly less without compensating his home-run power?

And who knows, maybe Bonds can still play a little, too. Hey, he can’t be any worse than what they already have.

Fish story

grouperThe sun is shining brightly here in Clearwater, Fla., a city where one can purchase illegal fireworks and a big bottle of Boone’s Farms Chablis with a twist-off cap at the Target on the Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. It should be noted that folks tell me that the Chablis goes nicely with the grouper they like to eat with damn-near everything around these parts.

You got your grouper sandwich…

You got your grouper kabob…

Grouper fritters…

Sautéed grouper…

Buffalo-style grouper…

Blackened grouper…

Grouper Mediterranean…

Also around these parts, the Phillies opened the Grapefruit League season with a resounding 8-1 victory over the new-look Cincinnati Reds yesterday at Bright House Field. The big story of the game, of course, was the Phils’ pitching, mostly because scoring eight runs ain’t no thang for the club’s offense. The truth is, the Phillies are going to bash the hell out of the ball this summer, but we’ll dive into that in a bit.

Back to the pitching…

As noted extensively and exclusively (for the first time since the last time), cagey vet Jamie Moyer was stellar in his three-inning stint. His lack of velocity on his fastball was in mid-season form and, as the lefty noted, his curve and change are a step or so ahead of the hitters at this point in the spring.

“I got away with a lot of pitches. The first strikeout to (Ryan) Freel was a real bad pitch, but those guys are just getting started as hitters. I would never get away with that during the regular season,” Moyer opined. “I don’t like to make pitches like that, but when you do it forces you to figure out what’s going on. I think, if anything, that’s what I take out of it. It took me two innings to figure out the minor things and now I’ll have something to work on for my next bullpen moving ahead.”

Mentioned, though not delved into too deeply, was the fact that Rule 5 pick-up Travis Blackley also tossed three shutout innings in relief of Moyer. Certainly the outing bodes well for the left-handed Australian in his quest (yes, a quest!) to make the ballclub. If Blackley doesn’t make the club he has to be offered back to the Giants, and only if the Giants don’t want him back can the Phillies slip him down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

It’s the same type of deal the Phillies had with Shane Victorino two years ago when the Dodgers didn’t take him back.

Anyway, Blackley says he likes what he’s seen from his Phillies’ teammates so far and really hopes he can fill a role on the pitching staff.

“I’d prefer to start. I’ve always started, but I just want to pitch at that level,” Blackley said. “I’m just down to throw. If it happens to be a bullpen spot, sweet, I’ll take it. If it doesn’t work out here, I’m throwing for other teams as well.”

Bubba, Forrest, Lt. DanGrouper parmesan…

Grouper chowder…

Grouper casserole…

Grouper au gratin…

Pan-seared grouper with curry cous cous…

As for the offense, all the big off-season acquisitions smacked doubles. Infielders Eric Bruntlett and Pedro Feliz went 2-for-2, while Geoff Jenkins went 1-for-3.

The theory floating around is that the Phillies should count on big years from Jenkins and Feliz because they can comfortably slide into the team’s lineup without any pressure to carry the load. For the Brewers, Jenkins was counted on to slug 30-plus homers and to be the team’s main run producer for years, but with the Phillies he will likely bat sixth in the lineup comfortably behind Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell.

Out of San Francisco, Feliz no longer has to protect Barry Bonds in the batting order. Instead, he’ll fit into the battom-third of the order and could be a 30-homer threat at cozy, Citizens Bank Park.

Anyway, here’s the lineup for this afternoon’s epic tilt against the Pirates here at Bright House Field:

11 – Rollins, ss
99 – Taguchi, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
7 – Feliz, 3b
10 – Jenkins, rf
28 – Werth, lf
19 – Dobbs, dh
51 – Ruiz, c

Pitchers: Kyle Kendrick; Joe Savery; Josh Outman; Francisco Rosario; Lincoln Holdzkom.