Rockies vs. Phillies – The Philly Perspective

October 13, 2009

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40 Tech, a site that claims to be “Tech for those over 40, but not yet over the hill.”  In actuality, though, it’s a good tech site, regardless of your age.]

What a game. What a series. Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies have a concoction of NoDoz and Maalox coursing through their bloodstreams today, following the 2:15 a.m. finish on the East Coast for game three, and the tension of three of the four games of the series. Like two heavyweight prizefighters, the two teams traded near-knockout punches in the eighth and ninth inning of game four, with the Rockies climbing off the deck to take the lead in the 8th, before the Phillies rallied to take the lead for good with two outs in the ninth. In the process, the Phillies took the series, three games to one. So, what is the take on the series in Philadelphia?

Evenly Matched
It might seem odd to call two teams evenly matched when a series only goes four games, but the last three games of this series were close, tense, and exciting. You had the feeling that the results of each game would have been different if they played one more inning in each game. The talk in Philadelphia is that the experience the Phillies gained in last year’s World Series’ run made the difference, helping them to remain patient and never panic.

Carlos Gonzalez is a Stud
Manny Ramirez may have seemed unstoppable in the National League Championship series last year, but Gonzalez topped that. Phillies fans are glad they won’t see him again during this postseason. Baseball doesn’t hand out a Most Valuable Player award during the Division Series, but if it did, Gonzalez might be one of the rare players who wins a series MVP award while playing for the losing team.

This isn’t the Last We’ve Seen of the Rockies
The Rockies have a young core that any team would love to have. Troy Tulowitzki had some rough spots in clutch moments, but is one of the better shortstops in the game. Despite his implosions in games three and four, Huston Street was one of the premiere closers in the game this year. I also don’t think I’ve seen so many live arms in the bullpen as I saw in this series.

Most Clutch Philly Team Ever
This team is the most clutch team in Philadelphia sports history. You have to understand the pessimism of Philadelphia sports fans, beaten into us by years of our teams finding new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This Phillies team is an abberation, coming up big time and time again. From the record-breaking sprint to overtake the Mets for the Division Title in 2007, to the epic ninth inning last night, this team exhibits resilience not often seen in these parts.

The 9th Inning of Game 4 Will Go Down in Philadelphia Sports Lore
If the Phillies manage to repeat as World Series Champions this year, the ninth inning of Game 4 will go down in Philadelphia Sports lore, alongside Matt Stairs’ home run in the NLCS last year, the infamous “Black Friday” game I attended in the 1977 NLCS, and the legendary comeback against Nolan Ryan in the 1980 NLCS to cap off four straight extra inning games. I’m sure the 9th inning was just as frustrating to Rockies’ fans as the 8th was to Phillies’ fans. Regardless of where your allegiances rest, cherish this series. We were treated to three close, exciting games, capped off by a heart-stopping finish. Now bring on the Dodgers.

Where Does a Baseball Fan Go in the Offseason?

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Former commissioner Bart Giamatti (yes, father of the actor Paul Giamatti) said it best in his essay The Green Fields of the Mind. Here is the short version of his masterpiece:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. – A. Bartlett Giamatti

Tonight, on the 12th of October, just as the temperatures in Iowa have begun consistently flirting with the freezing mark, it would appear that baseball has once again deserted me.  After all, my Rockies have been eliminated from the playoffs.  After salvaging a split against the Phillies in the City of Brotherly Love, they returned to the Mile High City needing simply to defend their own turf and win their two home games to continue on in the playoffs.

Sunday night’s game was a wrenching defeat, made even more difficult by the phantom hit of Chase Utley.  After the game, the umpire admitted that he had the call wrong, and that the play should have been ruled a foul ball, forcing Utley back into the batter’s box, rather than allowing the result of the play to stand.

Monday night’s game, if possible, was even more heartbreaking.  At long last, it appeared that the Rockies were getting a few breaks.  In the seventh inning, trailing by a run, Seth Smith reached second when Raul Ibanez misplayed a ball in the outfield.  Unfortunately, Barmes and Spilly stranded Smith.

In the eighth inning, the luck finally turned the complete 180 I had been waiting for.  With one out in the inning and speedster Dexter Fowler on first base, Todd Helton hit a ball to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley that should have been an easy double play to end the inning.  Fowler – who was running behind Utley (because running in front of Utley would have screened Utley from the ball and would have been interference on Fowler) decided to leap over Utley.  In the midst of the chaotic play, shortstop Jimmy Rollins mishandled the toss from Utley – Fowler and Helton were both safe.

If Fowler was able to hurdle Utley without making contact, this would have been a legal play.  If he did make contact, I believe this could have been ruled interference, although I’m not 100% sure of this.  In any case, it seemed that the balance of “weird sh*t” plays had been restored, with the Fowler play compensating for the Utley play on Sunday.  It seems impossible that he could have jumped over Utley without touching him, right?  Then again, Fowler is a great athlete.

Sure enough, the hits kept coming.  Jason Giambi knocked home Fowler to tie the game and Yorvit Torrealba doubled to plate two more runs to push the Rockies out to a 4-2 lead.  After three Phillies had come to the plate in the 9th inning, there were two out and a runner on first base.  Victory was easily within grasp.

At which point the floodgates opened.  After Utley walked on a full count (meaning that the Rockies were just a strike away from victory) big bopper Ryan Howard tied the game with a double and Jason Werth put Philly ahead for good, plating Howard.  The Rockies put on two runners in the bottom of the ninth, but Troy Tulowitzki struck out the end the season.

So, then, where do we go from here?

Well, first of all, the playoffs are still ongoing, despite the absence of the Rockies.  Each series has a team that I hate (Dodgers and Yankees), making it easy to pull for the Phillies and Angels.  Certainly I will watch much more post-season baseball – and when I am unable to watch, I will be listening.

OK, but after the season actually ends.  Then what?

Well, free agency isn’t far away.  The one pending free agent who is near and dear to my heart, of course, is Matt Holliday.  Will Holliday sign with a team I like (Cardinals) or a team I hate (Yankees – ack)?  Certainly, I will engage people in banter about why the free agent compensation is horribly flawed and needs to be completely redone.

There is the Arizona Fall League and winter leagues in Latin America, of course.  I intend to follow them with much more passion this year.  I’ll even pick out a team at some point.

There are many baseball books in my personal library that I need to finish – everything from books of the physics of the sport to Tim Kurkjian’s feel good  book “Is This  A Great Game, of What?

Then, of course, the new books will come out.  Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster (The Bible of Fanalytics) is the one I eagerly anticipate each year, but surely another one or two books will catch my eye.  I’ll dust off my printed copy of the baseball collective bargaining agreement and read a few more sections.  While I can’t say for certain that I am more familiar with the CBA than the typical player, I wouldn’t be shocked if this were the case.

I’ll spend some time researching things on the web, of course.  Baseball has wonderful tools, and I’ll have to make sure to use them all at some point.  John Sickels will certainly be at work during the winter, informing the world about minor league players on Minor League  And my peeps at Purple Row will be chattering about the Rockies all winter long.

Then, of course, there will be a short break for the winter Olympics, which features luge and a bunch of lesser sports.  By the time luge wrap up, spring training will be here, and the cycle will begin anew.

You see, there really is no offseason – simply a different phase of the year-long baseball season.

Baseball Playoff Update (Mostly Rockies)

October 12, 2009

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Three teams were quickly eliminated from the playoffs, with the Dodgers bouncing the Cardinals, the Yankees beating the Twins, and the Angels defeating the Red Sox. All three of those series went the minimum three games.

The most heartbreaking loss had to be the Cardinals loss in game two of their series. Holliday had hit a homer earlier in the game, and with two outs in the ninth inning, a ball was hit directly at him for a certain out. Unfortunately, Holliday lost track of the ball. It bounced off his, er, “cup” and the batter reached base. A rally ensued, and the Dodgers won the game. Holliday’s mis-play didn’t hand the game to the Dodgers – it merely gave them life. If the pitcher manages to strand that baserunner, we forget about the Holliday play. Unfortunately, the sequence of events that follow was walk, single (tying run scores), passed ball, walk (winning run scores).

Perhaps Holliday will want to avoid leaving St. Louis on a bad note and will sign with them as a free agent after the season. If Holliday doesn’t sign with the Rockies (unlikely) I’d love to see him with the Cardinals. The Cardinals fan I conversed with after the game don’t seem to be turning Holliday into a goat.

Alex Rodriguez appear to be making strides toward removing the label of post-season choke artist from his resume (an unfair label, in my opinion). In the three games against the Twins, A-Rod homered twice and drove in six runs. In game two, he accounted for all of the scoring in regulation with an RBI single in the sixth and a game-saving 2 run homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, where the Yankees won on a Mark Teixeira homer. Give the game two game ball to A-Rod.

One series is still active – the NLDS series pitting the Phillies against my Rockies. In game one, Cliff Lee pitched a great game. Lee went the distance in the game and allowed just 1 run on 6 hits and walked none, while throwing 79 of his 113 pitches for strikes. I tip my hat to Lee.

In game two, Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook was sailing along through five innings, allowing just four hits and two walks. The Phillies got three hits to start the sixth inning (all three runs would score) and Cookie headed for the showers. The Rockies would hang on to win the game 5-4. The big hit in the game was a two run dinger by catcher Yorvit Torrealba off Phillies starter Cole Hamels. The following day, Hamels became a father for the first time. Congratulations, Cole.

The series was supposed to resume on Saturday. To my great disappointment, this did not happen. The game was snowed out, pushing game three of the series to Sunday and game four to Monday. An interesting side note is that that Pedro Martinez – noted for his dislike of cold weather – was the scheduled starter for Saturday. When the weather pushed the games back, Jay Happ was put into the starter’s role for game three (with Lee and Hamels the likely starters for games four and five.

Game three was a back and forth game early, with both starting pitchers gone by the end of the 4th inning. The Phillies pulled ahead on a 9th inning sacrifice fly RBI by Ryan Howard in the 9th inning and Brad Lidge stranded Carlos Gonzalez and Eric Young Jr to end the game and notch the save.

The runner who scored the winning run for the Phillies (Jimmy Rollins) moved to third base on an awkward dribbler of an infield hit by Chase Utley. It is unclear whether the ball hit Utley while he was in the batter box or not. If it DID hit Utley, it should have been ruled a foul ball, and the at bat would have resumed. However, the umpire apparently believed that it did not hit Utley, which is possible. Once of the announcers noted that a batter who is hit by a foul will often “freeze” in the batter’s box. For most batters, this is true – but Utley is a savvy player. If the ball did hit him (which, agin, I admit, it might not have) he may have realized that the smart move was for him to pretend that it hadn’t, and race toward first base and allow Rollins to move to third.

The Rockies and Phillies will face off again on Monday. Hopefully the Rockies can pick up a win against Cliff Lee and push the series back to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the lefthanded starters for the Phillies are forcing some of our good bats to the bench because of matchup reasons.

The start times for this series have been awful. Two early afternoon starts in games 1 and 2 and a very late start time for Sunday’s game. The game started at 8 PM Denver time, which is 9 PM in the land of Kosmo and 10 PM in Philadelphia. The game was quite long, ending more than four hours later. 1:15 is kind of late for me to stay up … but luckily I don’t have to work in the morning!

(Yep – I finished writing this up after the game – it’s 1:25 local time right now!)

Eight Burning Questions About the Playoff Teams

October 6, 2009

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Colorado Rockies

Can the magic carpet ride continue? Huh – do you really think I’m going to throw my team under the bus? The Rockies dug themselves a huge hole early in the season, and played well enough the rest of the season to be on the cusp of the top record in the National League on Saturday. It didn’t happen, but they controlled their own destiny at that point.

The Rockies aren’t a team of superstars, though. There’s not a 40 homer slugger or a 20 game winner. In fact, there’s only one .300+ hitter – Todd Helton.

The team does have interesting depth, though. When catcher Chris Iannetta was struggling, Yorvit Torrealba provided some productive at bats. 24 year old Ian Stewart grabbed the starting 3B job from Garrett Atkins early in the year and hit 25 homers – but the former All Star Atkins was available as a right handed bat in the lineup. Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and Seth Smith all logged quality time in the outfield.

On the pitching side, although nobody racked up more than 16 wins, all five starters won at least ten games, and all five also finished above .500.

The post-season is more of a sprint rather than a marathon, though, and the days off between series provide more rest than in the regular season – making depth less important.

Then there’s also the issue of the Phillies having a lefty heavy starting rotation to throw at us. Still, strange things happen in the post-season (remember that grand slame by, of all people, Kaz Matsui? Surely, you remember that, Evan) and I predict that the magic carpet ride does indeed continue! Rocktober redux, Rockies!

Philadelphia Phillies

Is Jamie Moyer a Hall of Famer? Ok, I’m stealing this ridiculous question from an poll earlier in the season. Sadly, half the people that that Moyer either was a HOF caliber player, or could grind his way in. In actuality, even if the septuagenarian (OK, he’s “only” 46) does get the 42 more wins he needs to get to 300, he won’t make it into the Hall of Fame – although he’d be a great candidate for the “Hall of Pretty Good for a Really Long Time and Cashed a Lot of Paychecks Along the Way.”

OK, my actual question. Is Charlie Manuel making a mistake by going with Brad Lidge as the closer? I understand that Lidge has been a fine closer over the course of his career. This year, however, Lidge has been bad, bad, bad. His BEST monthly ERA this year is the 5.91 he posted in July. Righties are hitting him, lefties are hitting him, his walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down. Sure, he had 31 saves, but he also blew 11 save opportunities and was saddled with 8 losses (but, alas, not a single win). Are the bright lights of the post-season really the best environment for him to work out his issues?

St. Louis Cardinals

Are the Cardinals the best team in the National League? Pujols and Holliday are a formidable force in the heart of the lineup. On the pitching side, you could make a case that Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter (or Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright) should be 1-2 in the Cy Young voting.

You want leadership? How about John Smoltz on the pitching staff. Or manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan in the dugout. You want more supportive fans than the Busch faithful? You’ll be hard pressed to find them. St. Louis is a baseball town and darn proud of it.  My wife came to grips with this realization during a recent trip to St. Louis when she noticed that there were roughly 417 stores selling Cardinals merchandise for every one store selling Rams stuff.

I’d love to see the Rockies in the World Series, but I suspect that the Cardinals will emerge with the pennant.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Are the Dodgers toast? Yeah, stick a fork in them, they’re done. They stumbled to a 31-28 record after July 31 and very nearly coughed up the division title to the Rockies (who had trailed them by 15.5 games back in June).

This really hasn’t been the same team that burst out of the gates and established itself as the best team in baseball early in the season. Their rotation has been a bit in flux, and they’ll run up against Wainright and Carpenter in the first two games on the NLDS. I predict a quick exit for the Dodgers.

Wonder if the Dodgers are kicking themselves for not trading straight up for Jason Bay instead of Manny?  Interesting how Bay seems to get left out of conversations that center around how AL players always get better when they go to the NL – Bay hit 36 homers this year, in his first full season in the AL.

New York Yankees

Will A-Rod finally get the post-season monkey off his back? A-Rod drove in 7 runs in a single inning on Sunday. Certainly a fine achievement, but it wasn’t in the post-season, so it really doesn’t count, huh?

Would you believe me if I told you that A-Rod has put up better career post-season numbers than Derek Jeter?

Well, if you use OPS – a stat that any people swear by – it’s true. A-Rod’s career post-season OPS is .856, Jeter’s is .845. Jeter has more than a few post-season series in which he put up less-than-stellar numbers – but the fact that he has so many post-season plate appearances (563, to just 170 for A-Rod) has simply given him more opportunities to shine – and that’s what the fans remember.

Enough about Jeter, though. Will A-Rod shine this post-season? Sure, why not? He’s a hell of a hitter – the law of averages is bound to swing his way.

AL Central Winner

Do the Tigers or Twins have a shot against the Yankees?


Even if they didn’t have to face a team that won 17 more games than them during the regular season, the scheduling creates a huge disadvantage for them. Unlike one game playoffs in the past, there is no off day in between the one game playoff and the first game of the ALDS. So the team wins the game, jets off to New York, and then awakens to face the New York media before facing off against the Bronx Bombers with a depleted pitching staff?  Yikes.

This seems doubly unfair to the Tigers. They have absolutely no control over the scheduling conflict on Monday (Packers at Vikings on Monday Night Football), yet they suffer the consequences. I realize that the Twins won the right to host the one game playoff, but shouldn’t there be a stipulation that you have the ability to provide a venue on the specified date?

Note: This does, of course, assume that the Yankees choose to start their ALDS series on Wednesday, rather than Thursday. I can’t imagine why they would choose to give their opponents a day to recuperate – I wouldn’t.

Boston Red Sox

Is David Ortiz finished, done, kaput? Seriously, how can you ask this question? Are you still looking at his early season stats? The dude finished with 28 homers, 99 RBI, and within spitting distance of a .800 OPS. Those aren’t the fantastic numbers that we expect from Ortiz, but neither are they the dreadful numbers that we saw early in the year. From May 31 through the end of the season, Ortiz posted an OPS of exactly .900, with 27 homers in 368 at bats. Watch for Big Papi to have a strong post-season.


Did the Angels disrespect Nick Adenhardt? During the Angels’ celebration of their AL West title, some members of the team sprayed the jersey of Adenhart with champagne and beer. The 22 year old Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver after making his first start in April.

Honestly, it took me a second to even figure out what the fuss was. It was the fact that alcohol was a connection – being used both in the celebration and in the accident. However, I feel that Nick’s teammates were simply trying to include him in the celebration, much as they tried to include his memories in activities all season long.

I can never write more than a few sentences about Adenhart without getting choked up at the sadness surrounding his death. RIP, Nick.

Want more playoff coverage? Check out the SBNation blogs of all the playoff teams.

Down to the Wire

October 5, 2009

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My Colorado Rockies started the season 20-32. They had the second worst record in the National League, trailing only the dreadful Washington Nationals. Heading into Saturday’s game with the Dodgers, the Rockies’ record stood at 92-68. Not only was this the best in franchise history, but it also left the Rockies within striking distance of finishing the regular season with the best record in the National League. They simply need to win the final two games to surge past the Dodgers, claim the National League West title, and sail into the playoffs as the #1 seed.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers halted the six game winning streak of the Rockies on Saturday, handing them the loss that eliminated them from contention for the division title, relegating the Rockies to the role of wild card participant. While this is disappointing for a number of reasons (including the fact that we will not face off against Matt Holliday’s Cardinals in the first round), it is worth noting that the 2007 World Series participant Rockies also qualified as the wild card.

In my quarter century of following baseball, I have now been a fan of five playoffs teams – the 1984 and 1989 Cubs and 1995, 2004, and 2007 Rockies. While this is not a particularly strong track record, it does tend to magnify that magical feeling of the playoffs.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been a catalyst during the Rockies surge. Through June 6, Tulo was batting a lackluster .216 with 5 homers and 16 RBI in 167 at bats (.683 OPS). Since June 7 Tulo has pulled a complete 180 and hit .332 with 27 homers and 76 RBI in 377 at bats (1.038 OPS). In early June, nobody could have guessed that he was going to finish with 30+ homers and 90+ RBI.

AL Central

In the AL Central, the Twins and Tigers were locked in a tight battle going into the final day of the season. The Twins were seven games out of first place on September 7, but a streak of eleven wins in twelve games between 13th and 26th brought them within striking distance of the Tigers.

On Tuesday, they had faced off against Detroit in a double header, with the Tigers protecting a 2 game lead. A sweep of the two games would have pushed the Twins into a tie for the division lead. The Tigers managed to win one of the games, keeping their advantage at two games. A win the next day pushed their advantage to 3 games with just 4 games remaining in the season. This was a nearly insurmountable lead.

Someone neglected to mention this fact to the Twins, who surmounted the lead by beating Detroit in the series finale and taking the first two games in a series against the Royals. Meanwhile, the Tigers lost games to the White Sox on Friday and Saturday. Heading into action on Sunday, the AL Central was dead even. If one team won on Sunday and the other team lost, the winning team would be in the playoffs. If the two teams both won or both lost, they would face off in a one game playoff to determine the division winner.

One game playoffs are typically played the day after the regular season concludes. However, in this case, Minnesota had won their right to host the game (via a coin flip) but there was a scheduling conflict on Monday night – the Vikings and Packers were scheduled to face off in a Monday Night Football game. This would push the game to Tuesday. The extra wrinkle was that their first round playoff opponents – the #1 seed Yankees – would get to decide whether the AL Division Series would begin on Wednesday or Thursday. The prudent move for the Yankees would be to choose Wednesday – forcing the winner of the one game playoff to fly to New York to play a game the next day and eliminating any possibility of rest for the pitching staff.

Of course, Sunday’s results could make this a moot point. So, what happened?

In Detroit, the Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Chicago and weathered a late White Sox rally to pull out a 5-3 win.  In the Metrodome, Jason Kubel  hit two early three run homers off Royals starter Luke Hochevar en route a 13-4 Twins victory.  The Twins have won 16 of their last 20 games and take that momentum into the one game playoff on Tuesday.  Will Tuesday be the final baseball game in Metrodome history, or will the ‘Dome feature post-season baseball once again?