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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Catching Up on the Phils

After an extended break from sports blogging, coming up with a post that sums up the Phillies season since the last post about the team is almost boring. They’re good. Really freakin’ good.

And as they started to run away with the NL East, Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Hunter Pence at the trade deadline. I honestly didn’t think the Phillies would make a move at the deadline, and thought people were dreaming thinking they absolutely had to add a bat. I just thought at some point the owners would say enough is enough. They’ve already created a pitching rotation that is something rotisserie players wouldn’t dream of.

But then they do it anyway.

I don’t know when we became the Yankees of the National League – admittedly without the many, many World Series championships – but, damn, it’s fun.

I enjoy the everyday nature of baseball, and, like I said, it’s hard to offer a synopsis of the season so far. Instead, here’s some thoughts on the Phillies:

• Can I say it again? I just love Chase Utley . . . as a baseball player, I should add. This guy has a chronic knee problem according to reports, and it’s impossible to tell. He had an inside the park homer recently. He still never misses a game. I’ve said it before and I still believe it even though my fear was that he was never going to be the same with the knee injury that cost him almost half the season – he is the heart of this team.

• There’s an occasional topic that comes up on sports radio that I don’t get – the idea that Ryan Howard is underappreciated. Really? For a brief time people were mentioning his name in sentences with Babe Ruth. He’s tailed off of that pace, but the guy is the centerpiece of the lineup. Opposing managers think about how to deal with the Phillies lineup around him. I know the image of him striking out against the Giants to end last season sticks with a lot of people. But if he’s really underappreciated, which I don’t buy, fans need to get a grip.

• I really didn’t think the Hunter Pence acquisition was as big as the other deadline deals the Phillies have made recently, but so far his impact on the lineup – specifically Ryan Howard – says otherwise. Howard has already said he’s seeing more fastballs with Pence batting behind him. Just look at the numbers for Howard since Saturday: 4 home runs, 9 RBI, and he has 9 hits in 22 at-bats. That pace won’t last, but a buddy of mine put it pretty well: “The haters will shrivel up like an octogenarian’s schl. . .” uh, let’s just say, “manly parts.”

• I’m thrilled the Phillies did not trade Vance Worley. I thought all the people dying to ship him off for a bat were nuts. I get it, this year is about winning it all with the Four Aces. But at some point it has to be assumed the the Phillies will have to pay (in other words, suck) because of the deals that shipped off young talent to make all of the acquisitions they’ve made in the last couple years. It would be good to have some talent left. Besides, it’s kind of fun watching “the young guy” Worley pitch.

• Jimmy Rollins is getting older, which may only be a newsflash to him. I just see too many first pitch pop-ups from the guy, he doesn’t do much on the base paths, and he seems to build his stats when the Phillies are ahead in games. Rollins is one of the last guys I want to see up to bat in the midst of a rally. He recently said there would be no home town discount for the Phillies to re-sign him when his contract runs out next year. I’m not ripping him, or suggesting the Phillies should run him out of town. But I’m not exactly panicked as a fan if they let him walk.

• All of that said, the fun of beating up on Colorado is over, and tonight the Phillies start a huge series with San Francisco tonight. All those fans who want to puff out there chest and say they’re not worried about the Giants aren’t fooling anybody or they’re just stupid. The Giants beat the Phillies in the playoffs last year, and came to Philly just last week and took 2 of 3 games. In fact, the only game the Phillies won was when Tim Lincecum was sick and the Giants had to shuffle their pitchers around. The saving grace for the Phillies was that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and, due to injury Roy Oswalt, did not pitch in that series. Only Halladay is scheduled to miss the upcoming 4-game series and Oswalt is coming off injury. But the Phillies scored a total of 9 runs in the last series with the Giants – 7 in the game Lincecum missed due to illness. If the Phillies can’t hit the Giants, they probably can’t beat ‘em in a 7-game series in October. (The Phillies pitching is good enough that I have to say “probably.”)

• Brad Lidge got his 100th save as a Phillie yesterday, but the stat that jumped out was that the Phillies bullpen is 32 of 33 in save situations this season. Considering Lidge, Jose Contreras, and Ryan Madson, have all missed significant time with injuries, that’s an amazing stat.

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