caught looking

a blog about the philadelphia phillies. not to be confused, exactly, with "caught looking" the debut album by independent/unsigned/unheard of singer/songwriter greg roth, who is, coincidently, yours truly.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Beats Working for a Living

An open date on the schedule had us musing on the meaning of leadership and what make s leader. Balls, Sticks & Stuff prompted this with a post, and we shared the beginning of our thoughts, but we have more on this. We'll be at the game Sunday vs. the Reds, so there's more time for us to develop our outlook on this key aspect of our team. That post will appear by early next week, we're thinking.

Thanks to knowing the right people, caught looking will work tonight as the celebrity member of the Washington Nationals grounds crew at the Nats-Mets game. It provides a rare instance of us pulling for the home team. But it also illustrates why this is a great country. This is one of the dream jobs we've had on the list for quite a while, probably since little league. We hope somehow there's a camera phone to catch it on "film."

What's it like to work the grounds crew? We'll know when we do it, but here are the conditions sent around prior to the experience. Notice that it actually pays, $40.

Tarp crew members must report to the game 2 hours prior to the start of the game. The tarp crew GM or assigned member will meet you at the gate and provide a game credential so you may enter the stadium. You are able to park for free in lot 8a.

As you enter stadium parking, provide the attendant your name and he/she will verify that you are on the parking list.

In terms of attire, please wear khaki shorts / pants and sneakers. A tarp crew t-shirt will be provided upon arrival. No hats may be worn other than a Nationals' hat.

From start to finish, the day is usually 5 hours long. As staff, you are able to bring food and drink into the stadium. You may also purchase food and drink from vendors, but they only take cash and it can be a bit costly.

During the National Anthem please stand in a straight line about a yard from the photo dugout. When we are tasked on the field, please hustle, no idle strolling.

Upon completion of the game, the Crew GM will collect your credential and provide payment. Payment is $40 per game.

-No drinking of alcoholic beverages
-No fraternization with the teams
-Your t-shirt must be tucked in while working and if you wear a hat, the bill must be faced forward at all times.
-When we finish our workday leave the stadium, no loitering in unauthorized areas.
-Stay out of dugouts and bullpens unless on a specific task.
-Most of all….. have FUN because we have some of the best seats in the house!

We won't be able to wear our Chase t-shirt, though.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some, Expect the Same

And therein lies the problem. While Monday's 9-6 win over the Braves produced the template for how the Phils will win games for the remainder of the '06 season, Tuesday night's 3-1 klunker shows exactly how they will lose them. On both nights, the starting pitching was good enough to win. Unfortunately, the better of the two performances, by rookie and ace-in-waiting Cole Hamels, did not gain a win, or even a no decision for that matter. Able to squeeze out a run
on a sacrifice bunt byu the pitcher, the Braves did what the Phils could not -- get on the board in teh fist 7 innings for its starter. And so the game the team seemed most likely to win, they drop quietly, setting up a must-win start for Randy Wolf's Rehab in Progess Tour.

Look, there is no reason to think the wild card spot is unattainable. With their recent above average play, the team's standing hovers around 3 games back, certainly striking distance in the soup that is the NL wildcard. But ther are reason this team hasn't been able to take hold of the race thusfar, and recent roster dumpings nonwithstanding, too many of those same problems still fester:

-RiSP: The team still does not hit with runners in scoring position. Utley and Howard are gamers through and through, while Dellucci and Cinderella-story Coste have provided some stropng support. But after that, the dropoff is monsterous. Rowand, Nunez, the pitcher's spot, Rollins and Pat Burrell, when in the lineup, constitute more than a black hole. They've become a veritable Dead Zone. Rowand can't pull balls anymore it seems, and is hitting .223 (51-for-223) since returning from injury on May 27 and less than .200 so far in August. Reports have been that he's battling a host of minor injuries. A good game from Nunez means he still went hitless, but didn't cost the team anything in the field. Tonight's 1-4 performance raised his average.

-Top of the order: Is there a less patient one-two combination that Manuel's recent concoction of Rollins and Victorino. Both are talented, tough-minded players. Neither seem to be able to shake off the need to hack. Both have OBPs around the .330 mark, which is lackluster. While neither strikeout excessively -- 600 ABs would find both somewhere in the 70s, neither walk enough. Which brings us to our next point.

-Patience: In the dog days of August, and with Pat Burrell out of the lineup, the team sees too few pitches on average. As an excellent post over at PhilliesNation details, the team simply doesn't walk enough to expect to win as much as it needs to. Just to show we're not trying to twist the numbers, an encouraging flip-side to this is that this mark is improving relative to the rest of the league: Coming into tonight, the team with 4th in batting average in the NL the past 30 days and ties with the Nationals for most walks in that timeframe with 105. They are also tied with the Nats for the best team OBP at .371. However, their ERA in that timeframe is 4.74, good for the top of the bottom third of the NL. The reds are the only team in front of them in the wildcard who is worse in the department, which segues to our next point...

-Numbers game: Sooner or later, the numbers will catch up with this team. Their starting pitching for the season is among the worst in the league by ERA, although that's skewed somewhat by banished rotation members Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson. While its been betetr lately, its still below average in the league itself, and it remains to be seen what can realistically be expected of Scott Mathieson and Randy Wolf. Likewise, Dellucci and Coste are both hitting around the .340 mark. There is no way in Hell that is going to continue. That means some of these 6 runs bursts are going to be more like 2 and 3 run bursts very soon. Coste is already showing a few chinks in the armor, with a propensity to chase the slider. Its more liekly that both will end up hitting in the .280 or .290 neighborhood by year's end. That means each of their averages will dip 50 point in 50 games.

-Us. vs. them: We're no scientist or even sabrematrician, but much like last year's national's team, the runs for vs. runs against line is not promising. The team currently has a run differential of -4. Theya re 4 games under .500. That's about right, give or take. While it's not a fool-proof predicter of win-loss, some of the other records aren't too good either: 11-17 in one run games comes to mind.

All of this points, in our mids, to another near miss, barring lightening being caught in a bottle the final few weeks of the season. The schedule the remainder of the season contains 10 games collectively against the Mets and faltering Reds and no other games against teams with winnings records. Lots of Marlins, Nats, Cubs and Astros games. So, it's certainly possible. Not probable, however.

Of course, we'd like to be wrong.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Wake Up Bomb

While it may be bad form to blame Charlie Manuel for the bad plays his team makes in the field, one still has to ask: would a quality manager allow this stuff to happen time and again? How can a major league team have a starter essentially throw the game down the first base line on two consecutive nights? This team has never played consistent ball in any aspect of the game under this manager and there is no reason to think it's going to change. He simply can't figure out how to plus the multiple holes in the wall as the water rushes through to the other side. Get timely hitting and pitching buckles. Good pitching outings are ruined by poor play in the field. Bad decisions at the plate beget mistakes on the basepaths. And so on. It never ends with this team.

Following yesterday's rock-bottom prices giveaway, rookie Scott Mathieson couldn't get out of the 4th inning tonight after cruising through the first 3, yet he left having surrendered only two earned runs. His first audition in the Big Apple against his nemesis-to-be, the first-place Mets, started attractively, but ended with a bag over the head. The kid has good stuff and for a 17th round pick who, again, was pitching in A ball at this time last year, he's come a long way. Giving up a bunch of runs to the NL's best offense is nothing to be ashamed of. Walking Endy Chavez does you no favors, however.

Fabio Castro was sited at the end of the game and all fingers pointed to the mound. The diminuative lefthander has a live fastball and a pretty nice curve to go with it. He's got control issues, and leaves alot of pitches high, but he is in no way someone who should be hiding on the roster. With Daniel Haigwood getting rocked in the Rangers' minor league sytem, this looks like a nice little pickup. The team appears to be on cusp of putting together a decent, cheap bullpen for 2007.

While Mathieson and Castro may be ready for primetime next season, if not later this season, Pat Burrell should officially be cancelled and shelved for retooling. The Met killer did nothing in this series to warrant anything more than platoon status the rest of 2006, regardless of how big an albatross his contract is. He is officially overpaid, and has become unwatchable at the plate. Likewise, there is no way that Abraham Nunez will do anything the rest of this season to dispel the notion that he is absolute trash. Imagine this great combination: zero hitting stroke along with nonexistent strikezone knowledge. Nunez isn't good enough to bat 9th for most teams, let alone 8th. Third and finally, whatever the Phils can get for Aaron Roward would constitute the steal of the season on the trade market. Unable to pull anything, Rowand is worthless at the plate and his defense is comparable to Shane Victorino's, which means he adds nothing above what the team has in its unproven 4th outfielder. His folk hero status nonwithstanding, he isn't doing anything on the field to help this team play .500 ball. Not excel, mind you, but play .500 ball.

A humbling experience tonight that shows the team isn't ready to overachieve its way into the postseason just yet.

This Country Was Founded on Property Rights

Someone want to explain to me how a control pitcher who doesn't walk anyone in a complete game against the leagues best team is unable to throw a ball 15 feet to first base? Anyone else see the extemely sad irony in that? Jon Lieber may say that he takes his fielding seriously, and he may only have 2 errors all year, but we've seen them both, the first one being when he sustained this season's DL injury. This is not a man who takes his fielding seriously enough to work on it. That's the most galling thing about it. Throwing to first base, if he knows he can't make that throw, should be a top priority for a supposed staff ace on a semi-contending team. But, hey maybe we're over-reacting. It's not like he's making $7 million per and it's not like he's got other pitching woes to worry about.

As much at fault as Lieber is the starting leftfielder, who we've defended in the past. Well, that stops here. This team, if it is going to get over the hump, needs players that take charge. Not taking charge and catching that ball in leftfield is bad enough -- a major league outfield busts his ass to reclaim that ball from the shortstop after a bad jump. A major league outfielder takes OWNERSHIP of the play. OK, forget that. In the 9th inning, the same guy took three strikes on the way to a backwards K, a department he leads the league in. Sure, the other team's closer has a reputation for striking hitters out. Striking out is not the crime -- not taking control of the at-bat is. This a game with a playoff atmosphere on the road, on national TV. This was the same pitcher who called you a 'rat' earlier in the season. A major league hitter takes OWNERSHIP of that at-bat. He doesn't look for a walk and leave it to the next guy. He goes down swinging if he has to. Shameful.

Giving away a game like that last night is inexcusable. It should suspend thoughts of the post-season for while, seeing as how's it's enough to make one squawk. So, instead of the playoff-tested veteran getting a series win, now the ball and the responsibility are passed to the rookie Scott Mathieson, he of A ball at this time last year. Let's hope he takes some ownership.

Friday, August 04, 2006

(Baseball) Heaven Isn't Too Far Away

Call us cynical, but there is no sweeter sound than hearing the boos reign down in baseball heaven as the Phils polish off a sweep of the hurting Cardinals (interesting point: the Cards' run differential this year is +1, yet they are 9 games over .500 with a seven game losing streak. anyone else see a paper tiger?). Unfortunately, we had to watch it all from a hospital bed this week, following a false alarm diagnosis of appendicitis. No matter, things are improving on all fronts, baseball and non. On the field, thanks to explosive run production -- sometimes by longball and sometimes not -- along with competant pitching, the Phils have won 8 of 10, have pulled back into eyeball range of the wildcard stew, and remain above the fold in the nightly national media, althought he last point is mainly due to Chase Utley and the thing that will not be mentioned here.

How can such an underachieving team pull things together so quickly and so convincingly? If only we knew, definitively. But, things are clicking, including:

*Lineup construction: Finally! The current Phils lineup appears perfectly constructed for how the Phils produce. Rollins, when hot, is a fine leadoff hitter with some pop. When he isn't it's depressing. Right now, he's hot, to the tune of 321/389/679 thanks to that two homer game the other night, after having a little injury time off. Dellucci appears to be patient enough to be a good number 2, while the Utley, Howard, Burrell arrangement affords both Utley and Howard more lineup protection than they were getting previously. The new black hole, Rowand and Nunez, is currently split by Cinderella, otherwise known as Chris Coste, the 33-year-old rookie with a hot bat, excellent situational hitting, and occasional pop. If this guy doesn't have a fan club (Coste's Ghosts? Coste's Hostesses) by the next home stand, there is no justice in south Philly. Top to bottom, the team is having excellent at-bats more often than not, fouling off pitches and running deep counts. This maximizes the chances of getting to the starter in the 5th or 6th when he tires and seeing an extra mediocre reliever afterward.

* Starting pitching: Myers and Hamels, a combined 47 years old -- or one Julio Franco, if you're scoring at home -- have emerged as dual aces on an otherwise scattershot staff. Although neither are complete-game workhorses, both have shown to be battlers this year. Myers has pitched reliably since coming back from his incident and Hamels is starting to take off -- he has 44 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings in his past five starts. Together, Myers and Hamels also form an almost perfect twin-bill: Myers is a right-handed power pitcher with a splitter, big curve and a workhorse mentaility. Hamels is a lefthander with a killer change, improving location, and absolutely no lack of self-confidence. They may not be Santana and Liriano, but one can't help but get excited.

* Bullpen management: Sure, cutting Ryan Franklin helps, but somewhere along the line, Charlie Manual decided that he no longer has set roles for every reliever in his bullpen. He's pitching Geoff Geary in the 8th some nights, Aaron Fultz in the 6th or 7th or in mop up, and Arther Rhodes in games when he can't walk in the winning runs. This is a tentative plus, since it means that right choices could leverage more positives out of a fairly inexperienced/washed crew. Much hinges on Madson's production in his new old role and if fairly exciting Fabio Castro earns a promotion from nowhere to Rick White territory. Its hard not to like this card-shuffling though, since it's very un-Charlie.

Another plus of these blowout victories has the been the resting of the presumed back of the bullpen, Rhodes and Gordon. If the mess that is the wildcard truly does come down to the wire and the Phils are truly in the hunt, having these two fresh is a must. Gordon has been everything the team could have asked for this year, aside from blowing that game against the Mets a few months ago.

Which brings us to our last point. This weekend is a golden opportunity for the team to prove its mettle to the baseball public. They face only one of the Mets' big 2 starters in Flushing and will be on national TV both Saturday on FOX and Sunday night again on ESPN. We will see how much Jon Lieber still cares, how Randy Wolf's arm hold out and how Scott Mathieson, who at this time last year was pitching in A ball, does under the bright lights of the Big Apple.

Wild card race or no, there's alot of pride on the line this weekend.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Darkness on the Edge of Town

This past winter, Billy Wagner had too much to say about the south Philly clubhouse. This guy doesn't want to win. That guy's a rat. Nobody wants to hear the truth from me. Well, anyone who thought that element was expunged was dead wrong. Now, Cory Lidle's learned the melody to that tune. His comments earlier today, the hole still crisp and round on his punched ticket to the AL East race:

"I'm the kind of player that goes to the field every day expecting to win," Lidle told New York reporters. "Unfortunately, the last few years, I haven't had a clubhouse that expected to win with me. It was almost a coin flip to know if the guys behind me were going to be there to play 100 percent. I know that's not going to be the deal here in New York...That's the reason I'm most excited to come over here. I think I'll fit in well and be able to take my game to the next level."

later on...

"It was a mixture of veterans and young players, and sometimes there were mixed signals," Lidle said. "Sometimes it seemed like winning was all that mattered and sometimes it seemed like winning didn't matter at all. That was the opinion I had. I don't know how true that is. A lot of the other guys in that clubhouse didn't all go there with one goal in mind. Everyone liked to win, but they didn't expect to win. I think being with 24 other guys that come to the clubhouse every day and expect to win will raise my level of play."

Lidle's an interesting guy, being the good poker player that he is and all, as well as someone with a reputation for obsessive preparation between starts. These comments ring differently from him than they do out of Wagner, who by most accounts seemed miserable yet duplicitous the entire time he was here. Wagner, along with his bullpen sidekick Tim Worrell saw fit to rip the Philly fans after leaving town, while Lidle stood in front of the local media on his way out and claimed that the negative fan factor was overblown.

By all accounts this season, the additions of Aaron Rowand as keg party host and beer pong champ, along with Arthur Rhodes as bullpen spiritual leader, did some sort of good for the vibes in the clubhouse. That was the line anyway. Granted, that was back before an atrocious June did the team in. So what of these lack of motivations? Is it all Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal's fault? Was Ryan Franklin that much of a rattle-shaking crybaby over not getting to start and vie for the league lead in HRs surrendered? Did David Bell's stone-faced mediocrity finally get on Lidle's nerves enough to push the big red button? Are the new guys too quiet still? Perhaps the offseason dropoff at the scrap heap will finally lay this Jimmy Carter-esque aura of malaise hanging over this franchise to rest. Maybe?

What's interesting here is that hours before the Lidle story hit the wire, Bobby Abreu finally stepped out of his decade-long nice guy character to touch on the most popular criticism levied at him:

"I play hard," the rightfielder said last month as trade rumors swirled - to many fans' delight. "I might not dive. I might not run into walls. I play every day. I play when I'm hurt. I hear what people say. They say I don't play hard. They say I don't care."

Abreu whipped a red uniform sock and tugged it on.

"I care," he said then.

His face set harder than it ever had been in his nine seasons as a Phillie.

"We'll see how they feel about me when I'm gone," Abreu said.

Well, if you're in to connecting dots, its hard to turn this opportunity to draw down. While pure stat heads and overally numerical minds love to downplay the importance of the clubhouse chemistry or individual makeup or sum-of-the-parts thinking or whatever you want to call it, is there not at least something to be said for basic human behavioral tendencies? What is fostering this dull, flatlining culture? Why does it survive year and year out? What assurance is there that it won't pop up again around a new nucleus? Who was the last player to leave Philadelphia and say "I enjoyed my time there?"

Our problems go way beyond a bad trade or two, folks.