By Bill Campbell
The Phillies’ Plight
Let’s examine the plight of the Phillies after being swiped in Miami by a team of Marlins that has been struggling of late.
The Phils 3-2 low post Saturday was their nineteenth defeat in the month of June and represented their worst June since September of 2000, as well as their last game with Jim Thome still on their roster. His brief time here and his second appearance in a Phillies’ uniform have been well documented. He now has 609 home runs on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame but he has a bad back which precluded him from playing first base as often as the Phillies had planned. He was fine in the intra-squad games in American League parks where he could be used as a designated hitter and probably come to bat four or five times in a game. He also could pinch-hit a bit and, maybe once or twice a week, play first base — at least until Ryan Howard returns, the guy whose development first closed Thome out of Philadelphia in the first place. That was the Phillies’ plan this time. If they didn’t know about Thome’s bad back, they should have – just as they should have known that Howard probably would miss the first half of the season if not more, and that Chase Utley was, and may always be, a risk. Those missed judgments reflect on this whole week and season – and led to them being some 9 games off the pace as the season enters the second half of July.
The Cliff Lee record couldn’t be predicted nor could the Roy Halladay injury and a few other things. Those are the breaks of the game. They happen to all teams. But mistakes were made that have contributed to a team which won 102 games last year and runs the risk of losing 90 this year. It has been 15 years since Philadelphia has seen a worst first half of baseball than this. As this piece is written, the Phils have a won-loss record of 36-45, have lost 5 straight and are 11 games out of first place. They are 9 games under 500 for the first time since July of 2006. In the better news department, the Phils have had three players chosen for the National League squad in the All Star Game: Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. Along with the honor of managing the National League All Star team goes the privilege of selecting 4 players to the All Star squad. Retired manager, Tony LaRussa, was able to make three of those four picks and they all went to the Phils. A hopeful note.
New Man in Town: Jason Pridie
The Phillies have gone over the 80 mark in games played and Charlie Manuel has used 38 different players so far. The 38th joined the club in Miami when Jason Pridie took Jim Thome’s spot on the roster and pinch hit in the seventh inning. He was without a job in baseball as recently as two weeks ago. Whether or not there will be a personnel fire sale by the Phillies is unknown. If the Phillies are headed that way, it’s interesting to note that way back in 1911 baseball teams used only 42 players in all to get through an entire season back then.
Ruben Amaro has traded only two players from the opening day roster in two days. But if the losses continue, the players’ movement might accelerate. Pridie was grateful to be here and hopes to stay awhile. Three weeks into spring training he was suspended for 50 games by major league baseball because of a second positive test for a recreational drug. He was released by Oakland and was without a job on June 13th when the Phillies signed him to a minor league deal in Triple A. He hit 370 in 216 at-bats with Lehigh Valley. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son, last Wednesday. And after playing one inning on Saturday night with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, he was removed from suspension with marching orders for Miami. The 28-year-old outfielder called it the best week of his life, so far. He can play all three outfield positions and hit 231 in 101 games last season with the New York Mets. He lined out to left as a pinch hitter with the Phillies last Sunday in Miami. For a little more good news, Roy Halladay is improving and is optimistic about his return. Pitcher Chad Quarles has been sold to the Yankees. He was designated for assignment last week and was still owed about $575,000.
And, finally, a last work about Jim Thome, a truly great guy. The Baltimore Orioles inherit the remainder of Thome’s contract which will save the Phillies about $600,000. They may give up the costs but they will miss the man.
The talk of baseball is a 21-year-old rookie outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels from Millville, New Jersey, by the name of Mike Trout. In 2009, he was the Philadelphia Inquirer South Jersey Player of the Year but he’s come a long way since in a comparatively short span of time. He missed most of spring training with an illness and a shoulder injury and began the season in the minors. He was called up on April 28th with the Angels who were off to a dismal start at 6-14. But from the first pitch he saw in the American League, he has taken it by storm, energized the team and electrified the players and the fans. Entering this past weekend, he was leading the league in hitting with a batting average of 345, plus 32 RBI’s, 21 stolen bases in 54 games, sparking the Angels’ overall record to an impressive 43-33. In little more than 2 full months, he has impacted the game in many ways. He came to the majors as a lead-off hitter, certainly not known for power. But he has ranked sixth in the league with a 9-4-4 OPS, a statistic that combines slugging percentage with on-base percentage. Despite his solid numbers and overall accomplishments, his All Star candidacy has been somewhat in doubt because of the brevity of his season. His manager, Mike Scioscia, who is not a fan of how All Star team players are selected, has gone on record with the statement that it wouldn’t surprise him if Trout made the All Star team or was rejected. Scioscia said, “There are a lot of guys on our team who are going to get serious consideration. But it my opinion the whole process is flawed.” Last year, the American League had seven outfielders; the top three were Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista. It would be difficult, indeed, to find 3 or 4 other outfielders who are having better seasons than Mike Trout. The rule that factored into the indecision about Trout is the one mandating that each team have one representative. When asked if Trout has his vote, veteran teammate Albert Pujols said, “Definitely. He’s got everybody’s vote here.” American League players are entitled to elect 9 position players. The manager, Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers, picks four and there is one “final man” vote. Trout definitely has mine.
The Changes in Sports
Goaltender Mike Leighton, who was the Flyers’ hero and “goat” in 2010 and who became known as “the guy who lost the Stanley Cup”, is back with the Flyers. On the first day of the free agency period, Leighton re-signed with the Flyers with the comment that he was excited to return to the NHL. He signed for $900,000 to become Ilya Bryzgalov’s back-up after spending two seasons with the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL. The signing of Leighton won’t please all Flyers’ fans, fairly or unfairly, for the goal he allowed in overtime to Patrick Kane of Chicago which won the Stanley Cup in 2010. That still weighs on Leighton and on a lot of fans but it didn’t prevent the Flyers from bringing him back.
Can you believe that it’s been only a year or so since the Phillies’ pitching rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, was being hailed as the best ever? It’s more than mildly interesting to check their present records. Halladay is on the disabled list with a bad shoulder. Lee is 0 and 5, with no explanation. Oswalt is in Texas and has a 2-0 record with the Rangers. Only Hamels is still going strong with 10 victories and his next move will either be free agency or a trade. Looking ahead, Vance Worley, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will pitch the upcoming Mets series; Kyle Kendrick will open the series against the Braves. Confidence in the bullpen is lagging. And baseball remains a fascinating, unpredictable game.
Last, no matter who does or doesn’t like it, Tiger Woods won the AT&T National last week at Congressional. His third tournament win of the year was the 74th of his career, surpassing Jack Nicklaus and vaulting him into second place on the PGA Tour, eight tournament wins short of Sam Snead’s record.
See you next week.
PHILLIES – JASON PRIDIE – MIKE TROUT – MIKE LEIGHTON – TIGER WOODS