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Opening Day 2010

Here it is.  The moment we’ve been waiting for since the Phillies walked off the field last November.  We are priveliged to live in a new Golden Age of Phillies baseball.  You may know by now, but the Phillies have a chance to do what no National League team has done since the Cardinals of the 1940s: Win three consecutive pennants.

What to expect from the Phillies?  What else?  Homeruns by the bushel.  Excellent fielding.  Consistent base stealing.  What you may not be expecting is the emergence of a new pitching powerhouse.  The addition of Roy Halladay to a staff that already includes a potential ace in Cole Hamels, along with veteran Jamie Moyer, sophomore J.A. Happ, and young buck Kyle Kendrick, gives the Phillies one of the best rotations in the National League. 

Game 1.  Countless predictions will be based on today’s performance, but its important to remember what today is: 1/162 of a regular season.  Win or lose, there’s still a lot more season to go.

Blanton to DL

Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton is headed to the 15 day disabled list with an oblique strain. The recovery timetable is three to six weeks, but oblique injuries tend to stick around, so figure on six weeks.

Kyle Kendrick, this is your time to shine.

We all know the story.  Cole Hamels was the Phillies 1st round draft pick in the 2002 draft.  He dominated at every level of the minors with his plus plus changeup.  In 2007, he went 15-5 and in 2008 led the league in WHIP on his way to winning World Series MVP.  In 2009, after a winter spent promoting himself, his wife, his trophies and his long hair, he had a mediocre season, going 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA, number that aren’t great for a number 4 pitcher, much less the ace he was supposed to be. 

From where I sit, it’s obvious what Hamels’ difficulties were.  Hamels isn’t tough.  I’ll be the first to say that I think all pitchers are babied.  The increase in the use of pitch count as a means of determining a pitcher’s ability to remain on the mound has turned many pitchers into whiny malcontents.  In my opinion, Cole never bothered to learn the focus and mental toughness it takes to succeed consistently at the major league level. 

Sabermetricians have lots of statistics they can use to tell you that Cole’s struggles weren’t his fault, that the real problem was his unsustainably high BABIP and an increase in fly ball and home run rates.  There is some validity to that, and the future will show whether or not Cole failed because of factors out of his control.

Now I’ll admit that some measure of Cole’s failure isn’t his fault.  A lot of people believed that he would be the next great Philadelphia pitcher, that on day his name would be mentioned in the same breath of greats like Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton and even Curt Schilling.  With expectations that high, Cole was set up to fail. 

I think the problem with Cole is that he bought into his own hype and stopped working.  Baseball is a sport where players need to constantly make adjustments and adapt to the game.  The second a player stops doing that, they lose their edge.  What worked yesterday won’t work today and definitely won’t work tomorrow. 

Thankfully, Cole is still young and seems to be growing a head on top of his shoulders.  We’ll all just have to wait and see.

“I miss Brett Myers”

Today’s Grapefruit League game isn’t a marquee matchup, but to loyal Phillies fans, it should at least be a somewhat emotional one. 

Today the Phillies play the Houston Astros, and starting for the Astros is long time Phillie Brett Myers, who was signed to a one year deal by the Astros this offseason.  Myers was the Phillies first round daft pick in 1999, and played eight seasons with the Phils.  He threw out the last pitch of the 2007 season, sending the Phillies to the playoffs.  In the 2008 postseason he went 2-1 on the way to winning the Phillies their second world championship.  Injuries sidelined Myers for much of 2009, and when his contract expired,  he was informed by Ruben Amaro, Jr. that he would not be granted a new contract. 

Despite Myers contributions his reputation in Philly will always be a negative one.  Involved in a domestic dispute with his wife in 2006, Myers was always known for his attitude, barfights, and generally less-than-classy behavior.  Ater being signed by the Astros, Brett vowed to “stick it” to the Phillies whenever he played them. 

All that being said, I love Brett Myers.  I love Brett Myers because of, not in spite of his ability to be an asshole.  The man never wanted to come at a game.  The man never wanted to quit on his team.  The man never wanted to leave the Phillies.  A lot of great pitchers have great egos and great attitudes.  Myers was one of the Phillies great personalities of the last decade, and whether or not he was contributing on the field, he was always contributing something, be it a prank, a fight or a spraying beer can. 

Echoing these sentiments was Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who when asked about Myers after yesterday’s loss to the Braves responded, “I miss Myers. Really. I miss getting on him. I miss his mouth. I miss everything. I think in our camp this year, it’s been a little quieter without Myers.”

Though Myers might have contributed to his share of dissappointments during his time in Philly, he’ll be anxious not to dissappoint whenever he plays the Phillies.

The Phillies front office recently named the organization’s All-Decade team.  Headlining the team are a number of current Phillies, but more surprising are the players that made the team but are no longer with the Phils.

Catcher: Mike Lieberthal.  Kind of the obvious choice, catching almost twice as many games as Carlos Ruiz and earning an All-Star appearance in 2000.  Though he went on to play 38 games with the Dodgers, he’ll always be remembered as a Phillie, even signing a one day contract allowing him to retire as a Phillie.

First Base: Ryan Howard.  Not necessarily a surprise to see his name here, but it is worth mentioning that he beat out the man he replaced, Jim Thome.

Second Base: Chase Utley.  No real achievement here, considering that he beat out Placido Polanco and Marlon Anderson.  We all know that Chase is probably the best second baseman in franchise history, but it’s good that the organization is giving him this disticntion.

Third Base: Scott Rolen.  Here’s where the fun starts.  Rolen came up through the Phillies minor league system, debuting in 1996 winning Rookie of the Year and a few Gold Gloves.  Though Rolen left the city on bad terms, he’s definitely earned himself a place in Phillies lore.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins.  Rollins was named the organization’s player of the decade, and no one is more deserving.  Jimmy is one of the premier shortstops of the game, and the Phillies organization did the right thing in honoring him this way.

Outfield: Bobby Abreu.  There is no question as to whether Bobby belongs on this list.  In the last decade he had 1,131 hits, 158 home runs, and 644 RBIs with the Phillies.  He also made it to two All-Star teams, won a Silver Slugger, and even a Gold Glove.

Pat Burrell: Pat the Bat is one of the great Phillies not just of the past ten years, but in recent memory.  For years, he was loved, then booed, then loved again, and even when he wasn’t his best, he was still out there every day.  Over the years, Pat hit 235 homers and racked up 763 RBIs.  Pat is now withering away with the Rays.

Shane Victorino:  Shane has been one of the most valuable Phillies of the past few years.  On a team featuring obvious role players, the Gold Glove shortsop, the slugging first baseman and the soft spoken, gritty second baseman, Shane does everything pretty well.  He knows how to get the team fired up, and in the clutch, he’s one of the guys I want on my All-Decade Team

Starters:  Cole Hamels, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and…Cliff Lee.  This is where it really comes out that this “All-Decade” team is a public relations move as much as it is a chance to honor deserving players.  Cliff Lee  won seven regular games with the Phillies.  That’s forty games less than Moyer.

Bullpen: Ryan Madson was chosen for the All-Decade team over J.C. Romero and Rheal Cormier.  This seems fair to me, as Madson led the team in holds over the course of the decade and remains a fixture in the Phillies bullpen.

Brad Lidge:  The man who holds the distinction of having the worst single season ever by a closer is the closer of the Phillies All-Decade team.  This doesn’t say as much about Brad Lidge as it says about the Phillies bullpens of the last ten years.  Also, if the Phillies public relations department promotes the hell out of Lidge, maybe they build up his confidence so we don’t have another 2009 season.

These lists aren’t voted on by the press.  They’re a public relations tool and anoher link on the website.  On the upside, it’s another link on my website.  Let me know what you think and remember, you’re just as qualified to write your own all-decade team.

Cliff Lee of the Seattle Mariners recieved a 5 game suspension after throwing at Chris Snyder of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Monday’s spring training game.  The story was broken by Ed Price of Fanhouse.com.

This brings to light a number of question.  I grew up hearing stories about Nolan Ryan throwing at the head of anyone who hit a homer off of him.  Since the 80s, there seems to have been a decline in the use of the premeditated beanball.  In a sport where one well-placed fastball could end a career, or worse: a life, does the beanball have a place?  Should it be banned entirely or do the players accept that risk when putting on the uniform and stepping on the field?

The warmonger in me believes that throwing at an opposing player’s head is a part of the game.  I’d like as much as anyone to see Jose Reyes take one to the head after some of his excessive and obnoxious celebration, but at the same time,  it was a shame when David Wright was hit, and he never really bounced back after taking that ball to the head.

I’d like to hear opinions on this.  Feel free to sound off.

Why We Care

It’s a tough life being a sports fan in Philadelphia. The Flyers are perennial contenders, but it’s been a while since the city really went crazy over hockey.  The Sixers have already played themselves out of contention this season and it doesn’t look too much better for next season.  Eagles fans don’t need to be told how hard it is to support a team that year after year comes so close, shows so much promise, and then falls flat.  Invariably, when a team from Philadelphia sputters and collapses in front of the finish line, a city of cynics shakes their heads and blames themselves, not for the team’s failure, but for once more believing in a team destined to let them down.

It’s lucky for all of us Phillies fans that we’re getting to experience a historic stretch in Phillies history.  With each game, we get to watch legends grow.  Every Summer, titans walk the Earth.  Jimmy Rolllins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and now Roy Halladay.  These are players that don’t come around more than once in a lifetime.

Look at Philadelphia’s other teams.  Decades from now we’ll look back on players like Donovan McNabb, Allen Iverson, and Eric Lindros as great players, but their time in Philly will always be tainted not by what they did, but by what they didn’t do.

It’s easy to be spoiled by a championship.  We have to acknowledge that these are amazing times to walk the Earth wearing red pinstripes.  It isn’t going to be like this forever.  We may have reached the high water mark already, but someday when things aren’t looking as bright, at least we’ll be able to talk about the years when we watched heroes play the game.

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