By Bill Campbell

The Phillies

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The Phillies have a lot of problems these days. Cliff Lee is just one of them. At 35, Lee has returned to the pitching rotation following a long recovery from an elbow injury. He had a rugged start on Monday night against the San Francisco Giants which did nothing to boost his confidence. This followed an outing where he was roughed up down in Clearwater last week, in a third assignment before returning to Philadelphia. Lee’s three relief efforts down south had yielded a 5.06 ERA, 13 hits, 8 strikeouts and 2 walks. After being blasted by the Giants on Monday, he said that he felt fine, “but there can be no denying that they swung the bats and hit a lot of balls.”

Before opening against the Giants on Monday, Lee hadn’t pitched since May 18, as he was placed on the disabled list on May 10 with an elbow strain. Lee returned home with a record of 4-4, an ERA of 3.18. He has fanned 61 and walked 9 in 68 innings. His inauspicious return amounted to an audition for any takes as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches, but it wasn’t a good performance. Lee is signed through 2015 with vesting options through 2016. He could be a valuable asset for a contender if he’s healthy, though the Phillies could let him finish out the season with the hope that they might get a better return for him in the off-season – assuming he can return to something close to his previous form.

Add to the Phils’ woes, the problems of Ryan Howard, who entered last weekend hit less in his last twelve at-bats, two for his last 25 and an on-base percentage of .381. He ranked eleventh among first basemen in the National League  after going 0 for 12 in the recent home-stand against the Nationals, striking out five times and reaching base only once. This month he has batted .106 (5 for 47) with one homer, five RBIs and 14 strikeouts. Many believe that Howard may be finished as a productive professional and we should watch to see if the Phillies begin to decrease his playing time, as Howard has not started the last two games. Ryne Sandberg’s comments on Howard yesterday even suggested platooning the once-bright star. Catcher Carlos Ruiz has been on the DL since June 27th with post-concussion symptoms. He had been rehabbing at Reading but was called back to return to the team this week. Back-up catcher Wil Nieves also is at Reading though he too has been called back as of this writing.

It has been said that both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers have expressed an interest in Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon. Several other teams are rumored to be watching Marlon Byrd and Grady Sizemore. Trade-able players might also include Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels if they are willing to waive their no-trade clauses. Both Utley and Rollins have said they do not want to leave Philadelphia and many here feel that all three players should complete their careers here. Other rumors have centered upon the Baltimore Orioles’ interest in pitcher, A.J. Burnett who, at 37, has posted a 4.08 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 this season. However, opening against the Braves in Atlanta last weekend, Burnett had a poor outing, losing 6-4. He had a 2-0- lead in the second inning, but it didn’t last long. Burnett allowed a leadoff homer to Jason Heyward in the bottom of the second inning and gave up four two-out hits, and then three more runs as his 2-0 lead become a 4-2 deficit.

After giving up ten hits and six runs in five innings, Burnett said, “Everything was up, man. The changeups were up. The curveball was up. A few innings in the middle I got it where I wanted to, but I was inconsistent and you can’t pitch against this club and be inconsistent. You want to come out when you get an early lead and put up a shutdown inning and I just didn’t do it.”  This loss came after Burnett had pitched seven straight starts and allowed three earned runs or less so. After the disappointing second-half opener, Manager Ryne Sandberg acknowledged Burnett’s inconsistency but added, “I’ll say this for our team: they bounce back each day and they come out to win the game each day. They don’t beat themselves.” Despite this optimistic statement, there has to be a level of desperation felt by both Sandberg and General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. now. Sandberg did remark, “Going forward, if there are deals to be done, [Amaro] will do them but first we have to concentrate on every day coming back healthy and ready to win. If there are conversations to be had, we’ll have them deal by deal. After two more weeks, we will have to get down to play by play.”

Kyle Kendrick also was battered by the Braves, pitching two innings in the rain. The 29-year-old right-hander pretty much eliminated any trade value he had with his third straight poor outing, resulting in an 8-2 Phillies loss. Four runs scored in the third inning after Kendrick walked two and hit two. He appeared overmatched, to say the least. Manager Sandberg criticized Kendrick, saying, “He tends to pitch away from contact, then free passes happen and they result in runs on the board. Today’s game, he just put us in a hole early.” They never dug out.

Hall of Fame inductions will take place in Cooperstown, New York, on July 27th. As noted, the deadline to trade a player without securing waivers in July 31st. The deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to their eligible former players who became free agents will be the fifth day after the World Series, which will begin on October 22nd.  The deadline for free agents to accept qualifying offers will be the twelfth day after the World Series. December second is the last day for teams to offer 2015 contracts to unsigned players.

The British Open

Rory McIlroy may be working a bit harder, sweating a bit more but, in truth, his British Open victory last weekend was really never in doubt. The twenty-five-year-old got and kept the lead, six shots at the end of Day One, and went on to break par in every round, finishing with a 17-under-par total of 271 at Royal Liverpool last weekend. He led from start to finish and won by piling up birdies and eagles on the course’s par fives, playing with tremendous energy when possible and great caution when necessary.  His short game was accurate as was his long driving and both helped him to stave off final-round challenges from Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler, who finished in a tie for second place at 15-under. Garcia shot a 66 on Sunday, with Fowler (who tied for second in the United States Open earlier this season) shooting 67.  Tiger Woods, showing no signs of the back problems that required surgery in March, finished 23 shots behind McIlroy in the tournament. A disappointed Woods said, “I just made too many mistakes.” This was his third competition since being sidelined early this spring.

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McIlroy, a native Irishman, will have his name engraved on the claret cup alongside two other pros who won the British Open early in their careers: Jack Nicklaus, who did it at age 23, and Tiger Woods who won it at 24. Nicklaus and Woods are the only other players to win three majors by age 25 since 1934.  McIlroy won the U.S. Open in 2011 and the P.G.A. in 2012. Now that he’s taken the British title, he has to win the Masters at Augusta to become the sixth player to win career grand slams. The way he’s playing right now, he’s primed to do it. As McIlroy put it, “I’ve really found my passion again for golf. It’s what I think first about when I get up in the morning and what I think about last when I go to bed. I seriously think about being the best golfer I can possibly be and I know I can do that.”

In women’s golf, New Zealander Lydia Ko at 17 became the youngest player to top $1 million in LPGA winnings with a one-stroke win over So Yeon Ryu in the Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio. She broke free from a late tie with Ryu, hitting a wedge to four feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to take the lead. Ko is roughly seventeen months younger than Lexi Thompson, previously the youngest LPGA millionaire. She has shown great consistency in her rookie year on tour, making the cut in all fifteen tournaments she has entered. She has six top-ten finishes in addition to her wins, with five of them in the top-fives. There’s more to come from Lydia Ko.

Things to Ponder

Nearly a month after being overlooked in the NBA draft despite being a first-team All American, University of Cincinnati forward Sean Kilpatrick played the past few weeks for the Philadelphia 76ers entry in the NBA’s Summer League. He averaged 11.5 points in six games in an average of 20.3 minutes per game. He made 26 of 59 shots from the field for 44 percent and was 9 for 29 from three-point range for 31 percent. His agent, Zach Curtin, said, “There’s a reason he was an All American. He’s one of those guys who could be hidden in plain sight. When the Dust settles, he’ll have a good opportunity with an NBA team.” You have to wonder what the back story is on Kilpatrick.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been hit with a few injuries lately. They lost Hanley Ramirez after he was hit on the left hand with a pitch a few days ago. Yasiel Puig already was out of the lineup after being hit on the left hand earlier in the team’s weekend series against St. Louis. He had been hit in the face in June in a brawl against the Arizona Diamond-backs that cleared the benches.

Casey McGehee, who’s had a turnaround year with the Miami Marlins, is said to be the subject of several inquiries by teams who need a strong hitter. After playing a year in Japan, McGehee is hitting .322 with 56 RBIs after signing with Miami for $1.1million. He has only two homers but he’s been good protection behind the Marlins’ star Giancarlo Stanton, who is not on the trading block.

The San Diego Padres’ right-hander, Odrisamer Despaigne, lost a no-hit bid against the New York Mets on Sunday with two outs in the eighth inning. Daniel Murphy

logged the first Met hit of the game with an opposite-field double. Despaigne then gave up an RBI single to David Wright, after which point he was lifted from the game. His day ended with five strikeouts, three walks and two hit batsmen. Of his 123 pitches, 75 went for strikes. Despaigne entered Sunday’s outing with an ERA of 1.35 after four starts. He was signed by the Padres as an amateur free agent out of Cuba this past off-season.

We can’t ignore the NFL: Philadelphia Magazine has an interesting cover story on the Eagles quarterback, Nick Foles, this month. Is he ready to have the big season so may expect of him? Training camp starts on July 25th and Birds fans will be watching Foles, his teammates and his coach. Are you ready for some football?


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