BLOG: A Wonder Week In Sports
By Bill Campbell
What a week it turned out to be.
First of all, former Phil, Stan Lopata, passed away. Second, doctors discovered that Darren Daulton had two tumors in his brain and he underwent surgery. Let’s not forget Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots who was arrested on a murder charge — the 28th NFL player to be arrested since last February’s Super Bowl. Then the Phillies scored 16 runs to prevail in one game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.
There have been times during this difficult season when the Phillies were lucky to score 16 runs in a month, so that was a noteworthy win. Plus, they did most of the offensive damage without the slumping Ryan Howard. He was attempting to “clear his head” either by observing from the bench or spending lots of time in the hitting circles. Apparently, the team is pushing Reset on the $125 million first baseman. But we’ll get to that shortly.
By the way, that 16-1 loss was the worst margin of defeat the Dodgers have suffered since July 3, 1947 when they were beaten 19-2 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn by the Giants. Jackie Robinson was a rookie that season, in case anyone should ask. But last week, his Dodgers came back to beat the Phils the next day.
One day before the NHL draft, and on the heels of saying farewell to Danny Briere, the Flyers decided to part ways with their most expensive piece, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The team had to wait until the first day of the following week to get its own draft started, a draft which is reported to be almost overflowing with talent.
Standing in bold contrast to hockey is the NBA draft, where the overall pickings are said to be mighty slim. Maybe that’s why Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie, decided to surprise everybody with his unorthodox moves, trading the Sixers’ only All Star, Jrue Holiday, to New Orleans.
It was nice to hear about Hinkie doing something, though at this writing most reports still had him beating the bushes for a new coach. Hinkie, you will recall, is the “Analytics” guy we’ve heard so much about, coming here from Houston where he helped improve the Rockets.
The past season ended with Doug Collins’ “transition” from head coach to consultant. The latest report in the New York Daily News had the 76ers ready to hire San Antonio assistant coach, Brett Brown, to replace Collins. But Hinkie denied the report saying, “Nothing of that substance happened. We had a lot of things going on but that was not part of what happened in the last several hours.”
So the Sixers remain coach-less today and Hinkie has had little more to say.
Sam Hinkie’s silence seems perfectly understandable. He came into the NBA draft and left with another guy with a bad knee. He traded his most valuable player, Jrue Holiday, and acquired no one to counteract that most. Clearly, he’s thinking “long haul”. Maybe that’s what “Analytics” is all about but these moves can only result in turning more people away from Sixers games for quite some time. The team’s personnel handling in the last several years makes for interesting reading but also for disappointed fans.
The 76ers will have only 7 holdovers from last season to blend with 3 draft picks. That’s 10 of the 11 players allowed on an NBA team. They will have something like $18 million in CAP space to attract players from the free agent class but they need people to play and build with here.
Andrew Bynum and his knees affected the Sixers’ roster, and future, short and long-term.
On the day that Charlie Manuel announced the two-day benching of Ryan Howard, the Phillies trounced the Dodgers, 16-1. But the manager had decided to give the slugger some extra time to “clear his head” and to listen intently to his hitting coaches after a poor performance on base and at the plate the date before. This decision was announced after last Thursday’s game, in a silent club house. That’s what losing sounds like.
Howard sounds like he had come to decision about himself as well. “I cost my team the game,” he said after a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers, acknowledging the problems he’s both having and causing. Manuel said he didn’t need to hear comments from others. He had seen enough and wanted him out of the lineup for at least 2 games. It was time for Howard to account to himself for his failures.
Howard met with Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner, the team’s hitting coaches, who plotted drills for him designed to improve his swing. But most of their meetings concerned clearing the head. When you’re playing badly, your mind can convince you you’re going to keep playing that way. That cannot continue for any pro athlete. There are almost 4 seasons left on Howard’s big contract, for $25 million. So far, the return for the team on that considerable investment has not been rewarding.
Before the benching, Howard had gone 0 for his last 16, striking out 8 times. His 0 base plus struggling percentage against left-handers with at least 250 plate appearances is 0.99. GM Ruben Amaro blames it all on Howard not being healthy, saying, “It’s hard to play at 100 percent when you’re not at 100 percent.”
However, that begs the question. If Howard isn’t 100 percent, why haven’t the Phillies disabled him? Teams send players to the DL for many reasons, but Howard’s name hasn’t come up when possible moves to the DL have been contemplated or discussed by the Phils. If he’s hurting, rest him. Ryan Howard is now on pace to end the season with 20 home runs, his lowest full-season total in 3 years. His OPS has slipped every season from 2009 to 2012.
Charlie Manuel continued to say, “I still think he can be a productive power hitter, knocking in runs.” But from here, it looks like Ryan Howard might be running out of time
According to the latest news, Carlos Zambrano may not be the answer for the Phillies’ pitching woes after all. He departed on Friday after just 2 innings pitching for the Iron Pigs at Lehigh Valley with a shoulder injury, the extent of which is under review. He was reported to be in “serious pain”. Zambrano is eligible to ask for his release this week according to the out clause in his contract. When asked if he is coming to the majors with the Phils, Zambrano is reported to have said, “I would think not.” Zambrano is on the Lehigh Valley DL now, trying to heal that shoulder.
Meanwhile, Phillies reliever, Mike Adams, received a platelet injection at the end of last week and has declined shoulder surgery for the moment. “I have 2 choices to get back,” he said, “If I skip that part and just go straight to surgery that would be my last shot. That’s my one opportunity. If it doesn’t work, then I go to surgery. At least now I have an alternative.” No good news for the bullpen these days.
The First Place Pirates:
I’ve got to write something about the first place Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates who usually are mentioned with the game’s cellar dwellers. But no more. The Pirates of 2013 have baseball’s best record (51-30) at precisely the mid-point of the season. Furthermore, they have a 9-game winning streak on the line and, if they continue to win at this pace over the next 3 months, they could stack up 100 victories. All of this is happening just 3 years after losing 105 games in 2010. Pittsburgh has turned it all around.
One of the reasons the Pirates are hot is the pitching of Gerrit Cole, who’s won his first 4 career starts, making him the first pitcher to do so in more than a century. The last Pirate to win his first 4 was Nick Maddox in 1907. But outfielder Garrett Jones says the difference is “all about confidence”. That’s what has turned a team usually pigeonholed in the negative column into the positive one. “When you are losing,” said Jones, “You kind of get engrained in it and it’s sometimes difficult to escape. Now everything is positive and you can’t wait to get to the ballpark each day. It’s been proven by the way we’ve been playing.”
The confident Pirates hold a 2-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central Division. Right now, their record is the most impressive in all of baseball.
Howard and Hamels:
The two most expensive players on the Phillies roster are not pulling their weight these days. Ryan Howard, at $25 million a year, took that two-day bench rest and we’ll see if it helps. But there’s also Cole Hamels, their $144 million left-handed pitcher, who will make a delayed start after taking a few “mental health” days off. A day after Howard was benched for 2 games, it was announced that Hamels’ next start would be bumped back to Thursday against Pittsburgh. A scheduled day off allows the team to wait out Hamels a bit. These are the latest “head-clearing” moves announced by the Phillies as the current grinding road trip comes to a close. Let’s not forget that this trip included a possible concussion to pitcher Kyle Kendrick, making the need for a clear-headed, effective Cole Hamels even more pressing.
Without doing too much damage to the rotation, pitching coach Rich Dubee explained the moves for Hamels, saying, “This is kind of a second breath of fresh air to get away from it for a couple of extra days. He can release his mind a little bit, kick back a little bit longer before he has to go out there.”
As everyone knows, Hamels leads the major leagues with 11 losses and his ERA Is 4.58, a career worst. In his last 3 outings, Hamels’ ERA is 5.21 and the team’s overall is 3.14 whenever he pitches. They can’t find a hit for Hamels, even when he pitches fairly well.
As for Howard, he is an everyday player and a reiteration of his recent batting troubles hardly needs repeating. Suffice to say, the shortcomings of both players this season are obvious to anyone who’s following the team.
The MLB will unveil the All Star Game roster this coming Saturday night. The Phillies will not have any players voted into the “Dream Game” by the fans though they may have a few representatives. We can’t forget Cliff Lee, who’s having a great season. Domonic Brown is probably a sure shot to be named a reserve player. Jonathan Papelbon may merit some consideration. Charlie Manuel could be named as a coach. Another one for the “wait and see” line.
One For the Books:
The Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox will go into the record books for the longest 18-inning double-header ever. They played last Friday night and Saturday morning. Cleveland really gets the honors because the visiting Indians won both games, 19-10 in the first game which ran 4 hours, 2 minutes, and 9-8 in the second which ran 3 hours, 51 minutes. Nick Swisher hit a homer in the top of the 9th in a nearly empty stadium to bring it all to a close. All told, the two teams racked up 40 runs in 7 hours, 53 minutes – and that doesn’t include a 38 minute break between games and a 25 minute rain delay. Aren’t you sorry you missed that one?
See you next week.