Opening Day… Technically

Despite the countdown at the top right of Crashburn Alley, the Major League Baseball season officially started at 6 A.M. when the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox duked it out in front of nearly 45,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome.

If you were sleeping or working and couldn’t catch the game, you missed a doozy. Before I begin my recap of the game, I just have to vent and say that I just have a strong disliking of ESPN’s broadcasters. I’m sure some of it is irrational, but it was so annoying to watch the game this morning because at the end of every inning that Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched, Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips would comment on how many pitches he’s thrown and that it’s unlikely that he’d be back for another inning. This started in the third inning and Matsuzaka went five.

Anyway, Mark Ellis started the scoring with a first inning solo home run to left field, and Bobby Crosby, later in the inning, knocked Daric Barton in with a grounder to pitcher Matsuzaka. Both pitchers looked good, as it was 2-0 until the top of the sixth inning, when Joe Blanton began to tire. Dustin Pedroia led off with a well-struck double to right-center field, and Kevin Youkilis followed with a four-pitch walk. Blanton got David Ortiz to a full count and forced him to foul out on the sixth pitch, but Manny Ramirez backed him up by ripping a first-pitch double to left field, scoring both runners. Later in the inning, eventual hero Brandon Moss — a last-minute substitute for the back-troubled J.D. Drew — singled to right field to score Ramirez, bumping the score to 3-2.

In the bottom half of the sixth, right-hander Kyle Snyder relieved Matsuzaka in a most unimpressive fashion. He allowed a lead-off single to Bobby Crosby and a meatball two-run homerun to Jack Hannahan, immediately blowing the lead the Red Sox were holding. To Snyder’s credit, he cut the Athletics off there and quickly got three outs to end the inning.

Fast-forward to the top of the ninth, where Athletics closer Huston Street was attempting to nail down a 4-3 victory. He retired lead-off hitter Mike Lowell, but Moss nailed Street’s fifth pitch of the at-bat — down and inside — into the right field stands for a game-tying solo home run. That wouldn’t be the end of Street’s night.

Athletics manager Bob Geren decided to leave Street in for the top of the tenth inning. In retrospect, that wasn’t exactly a wise decision, but it’s always easier to second guess when you know the results. Street got Julio Lugo to ground out to third base, but it was hit too deep and combined with his speed, he was safe at first. Pedroia promptly bunted him over to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Street appeared to rebound by striking out Kevin Youkilis on a high fastball, but after intentionally walking David Ortiz with first base open, he had to get by Manny Ramirez, who already had a two-run double to his credit. He’d make it two. On a 1-2 count, Ramirez drove a high fastball to deep center field, and based on his reaction — he stood at home plate admiring his hit for a good three seconds — he thought it was a home run. Instead, it was a two-run double that brought the Red Sox ahead 6-4.

Cue Jonathan Papelbon, celebrated dancer and closer. Normally lights out, Papelbon was wild enough to allow this game to continue to be captivating. He walked Daric Barton, who gave him a tough at-bat. Jack Cust worked the count to 1-2, then chased a high fastball to strike out for the fourth time in the game (he’s on pace for 648!). Emil Brown, formerly of the K.C. Royals, had a chance to be a hero, and turned into a goat with some extremely poor base running. He took a first-pitch fastball — high, as had been Papelbon’s style throughout his inning of work — and drove it to deep right-center. Barton scored easily, but Brown got greedy and tried to take third base on the throw in to home plate, but it was cut off and he was forced into a run-down and easily tagged out after a couple back-and-forth throws. Instead of it being a one-run deficit with a runner in scoring position and one out, it was a one-run deficit with no runners on base and two outs. To pour salt on Brown’s wound, both of the hitters immediately following him — Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan — both singled, so he would have definitely scored if he had been on second base (of course, we’ll never know if either would have singled had that been the case, but it’s fun to assume). The game was wrapped up when Kurt Suzuki grounded out to first base, giving Papelbon a very hard-fought save, and Hideki Okajima — the other Red Sox player from Japan — the win.

If you had been up early enough to catch the game, it was well worth it. I think Major League Baseball is starting a new trend: instead of afternoon and evening baseball, we can have morning baseball; instead of hot dogs, popcorn, and beer, we can have scrambled eggs, French toast, and coffee with our game. I like it!

In other news…

John Patterson

In case you hadn’t heard, the Nationals released Patterson, author of a 130 ERA+ and 1.195 WHIP in 2005. Since then, though, he’s been ineffective and injury-prone. Still, you have to wonder why the Phillies didn’t extend a helping hand his way. The team is in desperate need of a #5 starter not named Adam Eaton, and none of the other contenders are doing much to earn that spot. If Kris Benson, who is more injury-prone and ineffective, is worth the flier, why not Patterson?

I am left befuddled by some of the non-moves by the Phillies’ front office. Apparently, Kyle Lohse isn’t good enough for them, but Kris Benson, J.D. Durbin, and Travis Blackley are.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have — and had — a few arms who could and should interest the Phillies.

First off, the Tribe released left-handed reliever Aaron Fultz, a former Phillie. Fultz has been a great reliever in two out of his last three years: in ’05, he put up a 196 ERA+ and a 0.968 WHIP for the Phils, and last season, he put up a 158 ERA and a 1.324 WHIP for the Indians. Even in ’06, bad by Fultz’s standards, was above league-average: a 103 ERA+. The Phillies are in need of another left-handed reliever to complement J.C. Romero, and Mike Zagurski may need “Tommy John” surgery.

From David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News:

The Indians released former Phillies reliever Aaron Fultz yesterday, but don’t expect him land in Philadelphia. Ruben Amaro said the team has no interest in bringing back the lefthander, who pitched for the Phillies in 2005 and 2006.

Unless the Indians have a really good reason for cutting Fultz, the Phillies ought to look long and hard at themselves if they pass up on Fultz.

To continue on the theme of the Indians, I cite Nick Cafardo of Boston.com:

The Phillies are in the market for both a lefty reliever (someone to go with J.C. Romero) and a starter. Looks like rehab project Kris Benson may take the No. 5 spot since Adam Eaton has been horrible, but the Phillies are concerned about their pitching and Cole Hamels’s poor start.

Colorado pitcher Brian Fuentes remains a target of a few teams, the Tigers, Yankees, and Phillies in particular.

The Indians have an interesting scenario that could result in a trade. Cliff Lee is taking the No. 5 job with a very good camp, but the Tribe also has Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey in the hunt. There are plenty of teams out there – including the Cardinals, Phillies, Astros – eyeing the lefties.

That article is from more than a week ago, but it’s still relevant. The Indians officially named Lee as their #5 starter, which makes Sowers and Laffey available. Neither has been particularly impressive, but both are around league-average, which is all the Phillies need. Laffey pitched 49 and one-third innings last season, his only season of Major League experience, and put up a 101 ERA+ and a 1.338 WHIP. Sowers has two seasons of Major League experience, and he averages about a 95 ERA+ and a 1.349 WHIP. His ’06 season was much more impressive than his ’07 season, however, so he remains a bit of a question mark.

The article also mentions Brian Fuentes of the Colorado Rockies, another left-hander, but he’s much more pricey, and the Phillies don’t need to overpay for a second left-handed reliever. The price they’d pay for Fuentes would be worth it if they desperately needed a set-up man or closer, but they have four pitchers who can pitch in those roles interchangeably: Brad Lidge (recovering from surgery and will start the season on the DL), Tom Gordon (the team’s de facto closer in Lidge’s absence), Ryan Madson, and Romero.

Questionably, Cafardo states that the Phillies are in the market for a left-handed starter as well, but I can’t see that as being accurate. The Phillies already have Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, both left-handers, in the rotation. There’s no reason to need a third. If you have three, great, you have three. You just don’t go hunting for a #5 starter who is specifically left-handed — you take what you can get.

Options

Should the Phillies add one or more relievers from the outside, they would risk losing Francisco Rosario (who is on the disabled list), J.D. Durbin, Travis Blackley, and Clay Condrey because they are all out of options and can’t be sent back to the Minor Leagues unless they clear waivers, where the other 29 teams have a chance to claim them. Granted, they are nothing special, but given the dearth of reliable arms in the Phillies’ system, these guys are really the best they have.

A Look at the Phils by the Numbers

Michael Salfino contributed to ComcastSportsNet.com with a Sabermetric look at the 2008 Phillies. It’s very well-done — check it out.

We’re using three different projection systems. The father of the sabermetric movement, Bill James, is represented as published in “The Bill James Handbook.”

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections come courtesy of BaseballThinkFactory.com, which consistently lives up to its name. ZiPS looks at similar skills more than players in calculating projections. Because I don’t want this piece to turn into a wall of numbers, let’s focus primarily on OPS (on-base plus slugging pecentage).

We’ll work our way down the Phillies’ projected lineup, starting at the top with the reigning MVP.

Joey Gathright — Holy Smokes!

You have got to be kidding me. Joey Gathright has already jumped over a car, but in an actual game, he jumped over a pitcher attempting to tag him!

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1 comment

  1. MoonDog

    March 25, 2008 04:59 PM

    I didn’t see it – I was probably having another bout of acid reflux or something. I think Steve Phillips is starting to get into full-blown ESPN mode. That is, he likes listening to himself talk.

    As you mentioned, if Fultz isn’t damaged goods, what’s the harm in the Phils giving him a look? They need arms and he’s as capable as anyone currently on the market.

    Perhaps after spring training is officially over some teams will release a player that may interest them more.

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