It’s been a difficult season thus far for the Phillies. Not only is the offense struggling with about $40 million worth of payroll on the disabled list in the form of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but in the last 2 weeks in particular, the 7th and 8th innings have been very troublesome for the bullpen.
(I’ve already called out Ruben Amaro for 3 non-moves last week, and suggested two weeks ago that Jose Contreras will be released before too long. I also compared Chad Qualls to Danys Baez in my season preview, and after proving me wrong for about 3 weeks, Qualls is falling apart fast.)
But as bad as it’s been, the Phillies get another crack at the Washington Nationals early next week in their upcoming 6-game homestand, and could continue to narrow the gap between the teams with a good showing. It sure helps to come back home riding a 5-game winning streak – even if it was at the expense of the Padres, Astros and Cubs – and be above .500 for the first time since Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon shut out the Pirates 1-0 on Opening Day.
The first 3 games of the homestand are against a team that is not only underachieving, but also seems to be coming apart at the seams.
The Boston Red Sox circus is coming to town.
One tiger – Carl Crawford – has an injured paw and won’t even make the trip. Another tiger – Dustin Pedroia – has had some problems with his trainer, Bobby Valentine. So far, Valentine had managed to escape a serious mauling.
The high wire act: After letting Papelbon walk via free agency right into the Phillies’ bullpen (and where would the Phillies be right now without Papelbon?), the Red Sox shipped out a significant amount of young talent via trade to acquire Andrew Bailey from Oakland and Mark Melancon from Houston – both of whom were closers last year. This year, Bailey got hurt in spring training and will be out until July, while Melancon was so bad that he was sent to AAA for a while. Alfredo Aceves became the closer. His claim to fame prior to that was hitting Marlon Byrd in the face with a fastball last season.
Guess what? The Red Sox outfield has been so depleted that Boston traded for Byrd a few weeks ago. At the time, he was hitting .070 for the Cubs (3 for 43). Byrd is playing every day for the Red Sox now, and had one extra base hit (a double) in 110 at bats, before connecting for a home run Thursday night. And you thought the Phillies couldn’t hit.
And of course, what circus would be complete without a clown?
In this case, the clown is none other than 2-time World Series winner, former World Series MVP and ALCS MVP Josh Beckett.
Last season, there were reports that Beckett enjoyed fried chicken and beer in the Red Sox clubhouse, during games, on days he wasn’t starting. The beer drinking then apparently escalated to involve others on the team, and was cited as a significant reason behind the dismissal of Terry Francona and the hiring of Bobby Valentine.
Valentine came in to institute a more draconian set of rules for the team than Francona could ever imagine, let alone implement. Just days into the season, Valentine called out Kevin Youkilis publicly – potentially a calculated move to rally the team around something – and all he got was a cold-shouldered, “we don’t do things that way around here” response from former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.
One rule involved every player needing to ride the team bus to away games in spring training. It wasn’t long before Beckett tested this by showing up for a road game in a rented limo. Nothing came of it.
Fast forward to May 2. The Red Sox announced that Beckett would be skipped a full turn in the rotation due to a stiff latissimus dorsi (lat) muscle. The next day, an off-day for the team, Beckett went golfing with fellow starter Clay Buchholz. Eyebrows were raised, since the obvious question was if Beckett was not well enough to pitch, how come he was well enough to play golf?
Valentine tapped-danced around that question, tepidly supporting Beckett – at least in public.
The next day, Friday the 4th, Aaron Cook, normally a long reliever, took Beckett’s turn. On Sunday the 6th, the Red Sox, down a man in the bullpen after having used Cook and with Beckett not on the DL, played a 17-inning game and lost to the Orioles because outfielder Darnell McDonald was summoned to bullpen duty (maybe the Red Sox should have traded for Wilson Valdez instead?).
By Thursday the 10th, a week after the ill-advised golf outing, all eyes were on Beckett as he took the mound at Fenway against the Indians. Beckett was booed off the mound in the third inning – matching his shortest career start – after giving up 7 runs on 7 hits (6 for extra bases).
After the game, the following Q&A ensued:
Q: Do you have any regrets that it (playing golf) could have hurt you because you did have the lat (injury)?
A: No. It’s — my off day is my off day.
(different questioner) Q: Given that you were skipped a start, do you think that people have a right to question why your were playing golf when the team said –
A: Not on my off-day.
(same questioner, follow-up) Q: Do you understand the perception (Beckett begins shaking his head) that leaves when the team is playing as poorly as it has?
A: You know, we get only 18 off-days a year. You know, I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves.
(See it for yourself here)
One can only imagine that if Beckett was as aggressive on the mound as he was in defending the sanctity of his off-day, he would have silenced the doubters and re-set their raised eyebrows to a default position. Beckett did bounce back to throw 7 shutout innings at home against Seattle on his birthday Tuesday, and is in line to face Cliff Lee on Sunday.
I can’t even imagine Lee, Roy Halladay, or even Cole Hamels – who’s been known to occasionally say things that have you question his determination – acting this way.
For all the criticism bubbling under the surface about how Charlie Manuel runs the Phillies, Manuel has a firm enough handle on things here that the peanut shells and elephant droppings will be found in the other dugout this weekend.
Feast or famine: Hunter Pence dropped a fly ball last week and misplayed a ball this week, both of which factored into the outcome of games. Pence also had a pair of home runs in each of 2 different games 9 days apart, including a walk-off in the 10th inning off Brett Myers Tuesday – just an inning after his latest miscue helped send the game into extra innings. Clearly, Pence was eager to redeem himself, so he could go eat. And Pence, unlike Josh Beckett, has the sense to wait until after the game to eat.
Is Holmgren running the Phillies? Chad Qualls’ season has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. That turn coincided with a report the Qualls has an injured knee. The Phillies have denied that Qualls has a lower body injury. Qualls, with Jonathan Papelbon apparently unavailable Tuesday, gave up 4 hits and the tying pair of runs while trying to protect Cliff Lee’s 8 innings of 1-run ball in a 3-1 game. It was Qualls’ fourth blown save of the young season, all of which have come in a span of 8 appearances, dating back to April 30.
Diekman’s debut: One of the moves I called out Ruben Amaro for not making was one he was on the verge of making – bringing up Jake Diekman from AAA. As long as Amaro waited to pull the trigger, it seemed Charlie Manuel couldn’t find a spot for Diekman, either – even though he managed to use Chad Qualls 4 times in 5 games. Finally, when Qualls was booed off the mound after the Astros tied Tuesday’s game, Diekman was called upon to get the final out of the ninth, and pitched a perfect 10th. All he did was strike out 3 of the 4 batters he faced and earn his first major league win in his debut.
What took them so long?
Diekman looks physically like a lefthanded Ryan Madson, and even wears the #63, which Madson wore before switching to #46. Diekman stands 6’4″ 200 (Madson is 6’6″ 202) – but unlike Madson, Diekman throws across his body. Despite his unorthodox delivery, which makes it look like the ball is coming from first base, Diekman’s fastball reaches 94-95 mph and he was getting his off-speed pitches over, too. With Diekman’s ball being so tough to pick up, even for right-handed hitters, and with his command – especially in the lower part of the strike zone – he could work his way into permanent a late-inning role very quickly. As we saw Thursday night, however, Diekman can be a bit wild – and free passes can hurt you in tight ballgames.
Polanco’s milestone: Placido Polanco got his 2,000th major league hit Monday. Uncharacteristically, it was via home run – only the 102nd of his career. In fact, over 75% of Polanco’s career hits are singles. Despite the ball leaving the yard, Polanco was able to ransom a signed bat for the milestone ball.
As special as that feat was, there will likely be another 2,000 hit milestone on the Phillies later this season, as Jimmy Rollins is sitting on 1,902 career hits – all as a Phillie. Here’s a trivia question: Who is the Phillies’ all-time leader in hits? First with the correct answer (before we post the next Phillies notebook; use “Comments” section below) gets a pair of ticket vouchers to see the Camden Riversharks.
Luna gets in on the fun: With the Phillies discovering that the Cubs’ bullpen is even worse than theirs, by tacking on 6 insurance runs in the 9th inning Wednesday, Hector Luna made his first at-bat in a Phillies uniform memorable, launching his first career grand slam over the ivy in left-center field. We’ve had the Wolf Pack, Padilla’s Flotilla, Doc’s Patients…can Luna’s Ticks be far behind?
Worley’s tender elbow: The toughest news of the week is that Vance Worley was skipped in the rotation Wednesday, in favor of Kyle Kendrick, and then placed on the 15-day DL due to elbow discomfort. What’s disconcerting is that Worley said the elbow had been bothering him for about a month. Considering that Michael Stutes had a balky shoulder in spring training, but was rushed back, pitched ineffectively – often laboring on the mound – and now is on the shelf with a rotator cuff strain (not to mention Jose Contreras not looking ready to return from last season’s Tommy John surgery and Qualls’ “lower body injury”), the news that Worley was pitching through discomfort of his own leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the way the Phillies’ pitching staff is being handled.