Saturday, September 29, 2012

And as the 2012 season winds down…


I had my prognosticating hat on a few weeks ago and my predictions are looking pretty accurate. The Yanks are looking good in the AL East, the Tigers are finally in first in the Central and the Rangers are being, well, the Rangers, much as they’ve done in years past.

Over in the NL, it was pretty obvious to pick the Nats to do it in the east. Ditto for the Reds in the Central. I blew it in the West, though. The Dodgers faded badly and the Giants just kept pouring it on. To be honest, watching them the other night, they just might be the class of the 2012 season. I hate to say it (being staunchly behind the AL) that either San Francisco or Cincinnati will be having a big parade in early November. All of the teams in the AL are having issues. The Yanks pitching has had a lot of ups and downs, the Rangers have significant injuries and the Tigers just haven’t looked all that good throughout the season. They’re all takable.

In the Wild Card races, I was smart enough not to predict too much, simply because it’s all incredibly volatile – even in this last full week coming up. Things could change quite radically. There are lots of different way the final week could affect the two wild cards in each league. There could even be a few ties? Gee, Bug Selig didn’t tell us about how they were going to handle that when the second wild card was announced during the off-season. With broadcast schedules as tight as they are, it could really throw a spanner in the works.

Regardless, I going to go out on a limb. Here are my predictions for the two leagues’ wildcard races. In the AL, I think the Orioles will hold on for the first wildcard, if they don’t catch the Yankees outright – which I think might well take place. This is a team that just seems charmed in 2012. I think the A’s will squeak through to get the inaugural first second wildcard in the AL.

Over in the senior circuit, the wildcard is pretty well set: the Braves know how to win (despite last year’s el-foldo) and there’s really no one who can hope to catch the Cards, who would have to lose practically every single game left while either the Dodgers or Brewers go on a huge winning streak. It ain’t gonna happen folks.

See you on October 3rd when I will either be patting myself on the back or feeling like a complete chump!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

They Eat Their Young

This was not the way it was to play-out. What options did Anthopoulos have to fix things? Not much –  a couple of minor trades and raiding the minors for what he could find. It was still not enough because, though the Jays have improved the minor league ranks, they have, for the most part, been brought up too soon to be effective in the majors. They need more time to become what they were expected to be.

The pitching staff has been hit hard. Everyone is apparently working beyond their capabilities. The team has given up 199 Hr’s, 551 walks, 1371 hits, only 1099 strike outs and 753 runs allowed heading for the eighth worst season on record.

Aaron Loup, Joel Carreno, Drew Hutchinson, Henderson Alvarez, and Chad Jenkins came up through the AA and missed AAA all together. Sergio Santos and Hutchinson are on the DL. Yes, Santos had two years in the MLB as a pitcher before this year. He also had 30 saves in 36 attempts the year before.  However, he only spent one year in the minors pitching at each level, then was brought up to the White Sox and now he’s on the DL.

Brandon Lyon has been up and down eight times in his career. Shawn Hill and Brett Cecil seven times. Several have been up and down five times.  It tells me that injury and low skill levels are at play.

Several of the big names have interesting numbers along these lines. Roy Halliday spent 641 innings in the minors and was down and up three times. Matt Harrison did 647.2 innings and down and up 3 times and came from AA. Justin Verlander pitched only 102.2 and came up from AA. The biggest exception is Stephen Strasburg who only pitched 75.2 innings in A ball and now has a WHIP of .81. Too bad they had to shut him down on fears of injury. Go figure.

With all the pitching injuries, pitch counts come into play.  These young pitchers are brought up too soon and, with shortened pitch counts, reducing their innings pitched. I am of the school that the training is bad at the lower minor league levels. The pitchers are coddled into thinking that they can only go 95-106 pitches per game instead of 150 or more. When they hit the majors they do not have the strength to go deeper nor throw their better stuff to deal with the better hitters because they have never gone the distance before. These boys are now not work horses but race horses, and weak ones at that. That’s a topic for another blog.

The Jays are openly talking about the fatigue of both Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva. They are trying to decide if they can get another start. They have only pitched 95.2 and 125.1 innings respectively. Not the 198 innings, as if they had 33 starts at six innings each outing. This is not even counting complete games. Not good enough. 

The current position players are the extreme example of too soon and up and down.  They should still be in the minors honing their skills: Moses Sierra, Anthony Gose, Adeiny Hechavarria and Yan Gomes. In spite of all the talk and sometimes exciting plays, these young men need more time in AAA. Twenty-one year old Sierra has a BA of .242. Twenty-three year old Hechavarria's BA .252. Both Gose and Gomes are below the Mendoza Line. They need to be more seasoned. I wish their careers luck.

Are any of these players ready for next spring? Have they shown enough to even be considered next year? I don’t think so. Maybe Sierra and Alvarez. The rest need more work. I hope this approach to the young players is not a repeat of the Travis Snider stuff of bring them up, put them down, throw them away.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Well, it’s good to be back. I’ve been missing in action the whole of the summer. I had a great time and had hoped to be enjoying the fruits of the spring with the Jays. However, I see that is not the case. This season has come crashing down on the past promise of spring excitement and hope. So many injuries and so many uneven displays of skill and prowess.

When I left, the Jays were flirting with a possible  wild-card birth. Now, of course, they are in the dumper with the unexpected Orioles in the mix. The O’s have shocked all of us with their depth and stamina and, Will is right, they have come from the bottom in the past. I remember the last couple of games in the season of ’89 when everyone was talking the O’s and whether the Jays could best them in the end. The Jays’ owned the Orioles last year, not now. I wish them well and hope they continue to push the Yanks buttons. The Jays certainly don’t.

I want to focus on three Jays that have had different years than expected.

The Good:

Edwin Encarnacion
I have ragged on Edwin Encarnacion since he came here in a trade for Scott Rollin. JP Richardi had to move on Rollin, who rightfully, was very unhappy with a “going nowhere” Jays campaign. Encarnacion could not throw the ball or field the ball and was definitely on his away out with the Reds. He had one good year of hitting – 26 HR – but you could not have him in the field.

So the Jays get him and of course he does the same thing. Then he gets put in the lineup as DH. With the glove out of his hand and no fielding decisions to make, he does better at the end of the year. So what to do with him? They make him into a first baseman and platoon him with the enigmatic Adam Lind, who was also struggling hitting the ball. Encarnacion does better at the end of the season again. He could now play first surprisingly well and catch a ball.

This season is a career one for him. He has increased his range and now plays first like a first baseman. His focus and discipline at the plate have been fantastic. Not just with HRs, but in the number of pitches per appearance and with hits in general. Having him in the lineup everyday has helped him focus – Lind will have to hit lefties to stay with the team at all.

I have to say Encarnacion is the most improved player on the team. I hope this new attitude continues for a long time.

The Bad:

Ricky Romero
Ricky Romero has had the worst year of his career, with now 14 no-decisions in a row. Even when not terrible he can’t get a break – Ichiro had a big day at the plate yesterday – 6 for 8 and 4 for 4 against Romero. It is clear to everyone that Romero has lost his confidence and is no longer the best pitcher nor even the leader of the staff.

The season held high expectations for him and all of us. When the wheels fell off the rest of the staff, with the incredible injury list, Romero could not seem to cope. The pressure has continued to build and no way out of the predicament has been found – it is hard to forget the 8 straight walks issued against the Tigers this season. Romero’s ERA is 5.87 with a WHIP of 1.62. For Romero, last year was much different with an ERA just 2.92 and WHIP of 1.14. Ricky Romero has been the player who lived up to expectations the least this season.

The Ugly:

Yunel “Mr. Sensitivity” Escobar
It should be no surprise that Yunel Escobar wins this title. He’s a too-tall shortstop who has made some brilliant plays but has no plate discipline and who can also offend ball fans. It was simply stupid for him to make comment of any kind on his eye black. What was he thinking? Oh right, he wasn’t. Well, he is paying and will continue to pay the price. I am offended that he is so full of himself that he thinks this is funny. A three-game suspension may be appropriate, but he has damaged his career at least with the Jays and their fans.

It is hubris to think he is beyond the likes of mortal ball players. It is too much for me. His record and career stats do not indicate stardom, much less with Adeiny Hechavarria waiting in the wings and playing somewhat better. He should learn the history of Roberto Alomar. I guess we will find out in the spring if Escobar still has a job as a Blue Jay.

A tip of the cap to Casey Janssen, Jeff Mathis and Darren Oliver who have also exceeded expectations this season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Signings Winners and Losers

Carlos Beltran, signed by the Cardinals to try to fill the big gap left by Albert Pujols' departure, had a great May, hitting .326 with ten home runs and 31 RBIs. He did well in June too - .337 with five homers and 19 ribbies. And we're done. He hit just .200 in July and .211 in August with a total of eight homers for the two months. Though he leads the team with 29 home runs (18 of them at home) his .267 average is well below his .282 career mark. He ranks eighth among Cardinal regulars in OBP and fifth in OPS.  St. Louis won five out of six in late August but have been 6-13 since and are now eleven games out. They could have used a bit more of the the normal Carlos Beltran.

As for Pujols, everybody knows he got off to a horrible start, .217 with no home runs and just four runs batted in for April. May was much better though - just .263,  but eight home runs and 24 RBIs. In June he upped his average to a Pujols type .326 with four home runs and 19 RBIs and was his old self again in July - .330, 8, 20. He hit another nine bombs in August and hit .312. September was not so good (.226 and just one home run). 

Pujols ranks a disappointing 27th in the majors in OPS but he is fifteenth in Slugging Percentage and tenth in RBIs. So Albert had made up for his lousy start and the Angels, who were 5-13 in the first half of August, recovered nicely and lost just three of eighteen games from then 'til September 9. They're at 80-67 now and Albert has certainly been a big part of that - until the last few days at least.

Detroit signed Prince Fielder, who is tied for 30th in the AL with just 26 home runs. But when you think back to  the years when he hit 50 and 46 home runs in Milwaukee you also need to think of the years he hit 28 and 32. His average has been consistent throughout the season (months of .330, 315,.305, and .370). His OPS is 9th best in the AL but he's 21st in slugging and not even in the top 40 in WAR (Wins against Replacement).

The Twins grabbed Josh Willingham from the A's for 21 million over three years. He hit .246 with 29 home runs in 2011.  Willingham's having his best year yet - 34 home runs - and trails only Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton in runs batted in with 105.

The A's signed Yoennis Cespedes out of Cuba after he hit a (Cuban) record 33 home runs in 2011. A terrific center fielder, Cespedes has nineteen home runs this year and is batting .292 with an .842 OPS.

The Orioles got Wei-Yin Chen for $3 million. Though his stats are not all that impressive, he has been an important part of the Orioles' rotation, winning twelve against nine losses and using up lots of innings.

One of the big moves made in the off season was by Tampa Bay, who got Carlos Pena back from the Cubs after he hit 28 homers in 2011 (though he hit just .225). Pena had hit 46, 31, then 39 home runs from 2007 to 2009 with the Devil Rays, but this year he has just 17 and is batting a lowly .194 with 170 strikeouts.

The Rays have fared much better with Fernando Rodney. Though it may not be a shock considering how well closers do in Tampa Bay. They signed him for $2 million even though he had not posted an ERA or FIP (fielding independent pitching) under four since 2007 and last year with the Angles his walk ratio was higher than his strikeout ratio. But eliminating the high leg kick at the start of his delivery seems to have delivered results. This year his strikeout to walk ratio has gone from 0.93 to 5.00. He's saved 43 games (tied for best), his ERA is 0.66, and opponents are hitting just .167.

Hiroki Kuroda, who is earning a cool $10 mill with the Yankees (which probably makes him about average on the team) is 14-10 and among the league leaders (fifth) in WAR. His ERA and WHIP rank seventh in the AL.

Smart re-signings include St. Louis re-inking Yadier Molina. He was 14, 65, .305 in 2011 and is 19, 67, .320  so far this year. The Phillies kept Jimmy Rollins who hit 16 dingers in 2011 and is nearing his career high with 21 this year. Perhaps the smartest of all was the Blue Jays' retention of  Edwin Encarnacion. He had 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 2011 and already has 40 home runs and 102 ribbies this season. His .947 OPS is third best in the AL. Of course laying out big bucks to keep a player is a bit more of a challenge for Toronto than it it is for some teams.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who would want to play for a manager like Bobby Valentine?

Is there anyone in his clubhouse or even in the Bosox organization who likes him and thinks he’s doing the job? I noted last week how he sounded off on his weekly interview on WEEI and said some really unfortunate things.

Well, in Toronto on Friday for a weekend set with the Jays, he said this in a media scrum: “This is the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball. We could use help everywhere.”

Huh? How can a manager who wants to keep his job say something like that?

Well, that fire starter was clarified with in 24 hours like this: “The other day when I made a comment about our September roster, that wasn’t meant to be a criticism of any players or anything in the organization,” Valentine explained. “It’s a statement of fact because of the injuries and our Triple-A team in the playoffs. This is different. We have less people than most September rosters. We have less positions filled than any September roster I’ve ever seen before. Anybody who thought that to be anything other than a statement of what it was, stand corrected on that.”

Okay, well and good on the explanation, Bobby. But how can a manager with half a brain throw a hand grenade like that into his clubhouse (the first statement) and then walk away without clarifying what he meant? Has anyone ever seen a more perfect example of a dead manager walking? Surely he knows by now that he won't make it past the first round of the play-offs to be shown the door. Is that why he's shooting his mouth off like this?

The funny thing is, he does have a point. With the Pawtucket Red Sox playing in the Triple-A Championship, they’ve had to hold back some players who would have been definite September call-ups. The senior team has been absolutely devastated by injuries this season. But Valentine is also a person who’s spent a lot of time in the broadcast booth (in fact, that’s where he came from to take the managerial reins this spring for Boston). Didn’t he learn anything about the art of communication while in the broadcast seat?

The issue here is that Bobby V has always shot his mouth off. I’m sure if he has a family crest it might well have a rampant foot-in-mouth on a red diamond.

It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall in the Bosox clubhouse these days. The club might do well to lock him in his office when the media comes around.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

They Rise (Fly?) From the Ashes Again

They almost did it in '89. Can the Orioles really do it this time? You read here several weeks ago about how much talent this year's version of the Baltimore Orioles has. Can they really elbow out the Yankees and the Rays for first in the AL East? They almost did it in '89 with only one player having a good year! You could look it up. (I did.)

In 1982 the Orioles finished second in the AL East. Earl Weaver retired. The next year, under Joe Altobelli, the O's won 98 games, finishing first (six games up on the Tigers) and went on to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Last week I wrote about the Whiz Kids, the 1950 Phillies. Well in 1983 the Phillies were the Weeze kids, featuring long time ago Big Red Machine machine veterans Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan. 

Scott McGregor (18-7), Mike Flanagan (12-4), Storm Davis (13-7), Mike Boddicker (16-8), and Jim Palmer (in his last post-season appearance) took them out in five games. Palmer, who'd been 15-5 in '82 had won just five in '83 and would go out ignominiously (0-3) the next year. 

The '83 Orioles also featured Rick Dempsey, one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. In '84 Boddicker had another great year (20-11) but Palmer wasn't the only Oriole pitcher to struggle. Flanagan fell to 13-13 and McGregor dipped to 15-12. In '83 Eddie Murray had been great (33, 111, .306) as had 22-year old Cal Ripken Jr. (27, 102, .318). John Lowenstein hit fifteen long flies, DH Ken Singleton hit 18 and fill-in outfielder Gary Roenicke added nineteen. 

Murray (29, 119, .306) and Ripken (27, 86, ,304) did well again in '84 but the supporting cast did not do so well, though Wayne Gross (22, 64, .216) added some power. The Orioles won 85 games and the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox won more. But they were all left in the  dust by the powerful Tigers, who won 35 of their first 40 games and 104 over all.  In '85 the O's were just two games back of Detroit, but the Tigers had returned to Earth with a 84-77 record. The Orioles were sixteen back of the first place Blue Jays.

As you know, things got worse not better. The O's, who had finished first in '1966, '69, 70, '71, '73, 74, and '79, fell to 7th (last) in the AL East in '86. They were 6th in '87 and 7th again in '88.  How times had changed. 

So no one saw it coming when the '89 O's showed signs of life. After 21 games they were 11-10 and their fans were deliriously happy. Why? Because the year before they were 0-21 after 21.  Then they won 13 out of 14 in late May and seven straight in mid-June. They won five in a row in mid-July. Baltimore fans began chanting Why Not? Almost 25 years later you can see a video about the Orioles' '89 season at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o1xcQuXdII 

In '87 the Blue Jays had been swept in a season ending three-game series in Detroit to finish two behind the Tigers, a series still replayed in Rick's nightmares no doubt. They had finished fourth in '88, but a respectable 87-75, compared to the O's dismal 54-107. 

After their first 36 games in '89 it was obvious Toronto wasn't going anywhere. They were 12-24. The fired their manager Jimy Williams. That helped a lot. They played .611 ball the rest of the year. They won five of six in mid-May and went 16-5 from June 2nd to 23rd. The wheels fell off at the end of June as they won just two of eleven, but in mid-July the Jays got going again (12-5) and they were red hot from August 14 to September 8, winning 22 of 27.  

The Orioles won eight out of nine in late August and at the end of the month they were tied with the Jays for first. The Jays played just .500 ball the rest of the way, but it was good enough to edge Baltimore by two games. (Toronto would lose to the A's 4-1 in the American League Championship Series.)

The surprising thing is that neither team got great performances from either hitters or pitchers. Fred McGriff hit 36 home runs and knocked in 92, George Bell and Kelly Gruber hit 18 each. But Dave Steib was the only successful pitcher at 17-8. Jimmy Key was 13-14, John Cerutti was 11-11, and former Oriole Flanagan was 8-10. 

But even worse than Blue Jay arms were the Baltimore bats. Ripken led the way at 21, 93, .257. Catcher Mickey Tettleton (no Rick Dempsey behind the plate) was 26, 65, .258 in his first full season. Hardly Hall of Fame numbers. And this time no one came off the bench to spark the offence. Combined the team hit .252 with just 129 home runs. Gregg Olson had 27 saves and Mark Williamson went 10- 5, 2.93 but their big gun, Bob Milecki was just 14-12 and Dave Schmidt was 10-13. 

In '89 it was all about one guy. In 1987, his rookie season, Jeff Ballard won two and lost eight. The next year he was 8-12. But in 1989, with an 85-mph fastball, he was 18-8. He beat Boston horse Roger Clemens, Oakland's ace Dave Stewart, and Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen. In an August game against the Yankees he struck out Don Mattingly three times. (He struck out only 27 other times all year). He was the darling of Baltimore and was invited back last weekend to be feted with Cal and Brooks et al. Ballard was really the only reason the O's did as well as they did. And that was it for Ballard. In the next two seasons he was an impressive 2-11 and 6-12. The O's dropped to 5th in 1990 and then sixth in '91.

This year several O's are enjoying good seasons, namely center fielder Adam Jones (.298 with 29 home runs), first baseman Chris Davis, third baseman Mark Reynolds (21 homers), catcher Matt Weiters (19), and shortstop J.J. Hardy (another Oriole shortstop with power) with 19 dingers as well.  

Wei-Yen Chen has been their most successful starter at 12-9, though his ERA is 4.06.  Jason Hammel is 8-6, 3.46. Their other starters, Tommy Hunter (4-8, 5.85 ERA and Jake Arrieta (3-9, 6.21) have not fared well at all but Darren O'Day is 7-1 out of the bullpen, a tribute to how many one run games the O's are winning. Their closer, Jim Johnson, has saved 42 out of 45 chances. He's tied with Fernando Rodney of the Rays for most saves in the bigs.

Can this be the year the O's put recent history in the past? They don't have Jeff Ballard But they may do it without him. Alas for Blue Jay fans the Orioles are the only birds flying high this summer.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You’ve got to wonder about Bobby Valentine

I was listening to Jerry and Alan broadcasting the Jays game from a soggy Fenway Park last night, and the way ground balls were playing dead on the outfield and even the infield, you had to believe it was mighty wet. Because of the lengthy rain delay, I imagine, our two intrepid broadcasters were more expansive than usual with the inevitable sidebars to the action on the field.

One of the hot topics was the manager of the Bostons, Bobby Valentine.

On his weekly interview on WEEI this week, Valentine was asked by one of the show’s host, Glenn Ordway, if, as has been accused by many, whether Valentine had “checked out” on the season. Valentine’s response was: “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there right now, I'd punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How's that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that's stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone's here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?”

Another question about being late to the ballpark the previous week brought an even angrier response: “I shouldn't have to explain that. That pisses me off. Whoever wrote that knew what happened. They knew that my son was coming to see me for the first time in this lousy season and that I got to see him on the road, and that his flight was late, and that I was waiting at the airport in San Francisco for his flight  to come in, and that I sent the lineup in and reported to my coaches that I was going to be a little late,” said Valentine. “For someone to say that I was late is an absolute disgrace to their integrity if they have any.”

Okay, Boston has had a ridiculous run of bad luck this year with a revolving door to the DL (most in either league) and they started off with a lot of suspect characters on the team. Times are certainly tough this year in Fenway Park. But this guy claims he wants to continue managing the Sox and he’s talking like this to the hosts of his weekly radio interview? What gives?

I think it’s a pretty open secret that Valentine is rather arrogant. There have been rumors of major discontent on the team due to his managerial style. That’s not news if one remembers his previous two stops on the MLB managerial road (Mets and Rangers). He embarrasses players on purpose, he does not handle the press well, and what he thinks is his hard-nosed approach to the game is quite simply divisive. As rumor has it a large part of the Bostons no longer want to play for Valentine, and that includes some of the team’s biggest stars.

Yes, the Bosox admittedly did already have a problematic clubhouse, and maybe it was thought by ownership that bringing in a no-nonsense manager like Valentine would get the club to straighten up and fly right. But Valentine himself has always been problematic on the teams that he previously managed to the point where he was forced to spend a decade in Japan in virtual exile from MLB. He’s supposed to be a master baseball strategist, but where’s the strategy in his divide-and-conquer style of handling his players? What’s the good of alienating a large part of your team when it really serves no strategic purpose? The Bosox are proving that daily out on the field. The good ship Boston currently seems rudderless with Captain Bligh at the helm.

Then again, maybe Boston’s management and owners have seen the light after the interview quoted above. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bobby Valentine is gone before the season ends. Maybe it will come at the hands of the visiting Jays if they sweep the Beantowners again this weekend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Phutile Phillies: A Tale of Woe

You say your favourite team is having another horrible year? You say it's been painfully obvious for weeks now that their season's over? Well, take heart. As bad as things are ... they could be worse. If you were a Phillies fan in the thirties you knew real pain and suffering.

To cash in on the fan interest in the long ball that Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and others had made so popular, the owners juiced up the baseball for the 1930 season. It worked. The two leagues combined for a .296 average (the senior circuit hit .303) and hit more than 200 more home runs. Things returned to normal the next year, though averages and power were high in the thirties. 

The biggest beneficiaries of the rabbit ball were the Philadelphia Phillies. Chuck Klein (40, 170, .386) and  Lefty O'Doul (22, 97, .383)  led the way and Pinky Whitney (8, 117, .342), Don Hurst (17, 78,.327) did okay too. Actually O'Doul (at right) had done even better in '29 - 32, 112, .398. (Notice how many fans are in the stands - it may be right before the first pitch.) For the 1930 season the Phillies hit .315 which you would think would have made them very successful. 

But as William B. Mead, author of a study of the extraordinary 1930 season, wrote, "For hitting, no team was the superior of the Phillies, except any team they were playing. In the nightcap of a July 23 doubleheader the Phils ripped Pittsburgh pitchers for 27 hits. Not enough, the Pirates won 16-15. The next day the Phillies scored fifteen runs on the Cubs and lost 19-15.

The 280 foot distance to the right field foul pole in the Baker Bowl had a lot to do with the fact that the Phillies scored over six runs a game. But opponents hit .350 there! Errors didn't help. Shortstop Tommy Thevenow committed 56. Captain and second baseman Fresco Thompson had 32. Klein had 17 in left field.

But Philly pitchers, who must have had nightmares about the Baker Bowl's short porch, did not fare well. Ace Phil Collins (16-11) had a great ERA (just 4.78) compared to his comrades. Ray Benge (11-15) was 5.70. Les Sweetland (7-15) was 7.71, Clyde Willoughby (4-17) was 7.59, Hap Collard (6-12) was 6.80, and Hal Elliot (6-11) was 7.67. For a team ERA of 6.71. Fresco Thompson once took a lineup card to the umpire on which he had written in the pitcher slot "Willoughby - and others". 

The team finished in 8th (last) place with a 60-92 (.395) record and forty games back. Things briefly got better, they actually finished fourth, just 12 games back in 1932. But then things got bad - very bad. Their only talented pitchers - Phil Collins and Curt Davis left. And Chuck Klein and Lefty O'Doul were done in '33. (Klein would win a pennant with the '35 Cubs.)

The team coffers got emptier and emptier due to ridiculously low attendance - sometimes less than 200,000! They couldn't even afford to stay in their own stadium, so in '38 they moved into Shibe Park with the Athletics. Here are their records in the next few years. Check out the disastrous winning percentages, especially in the early forties when the team was managed by James T. "Doc" Protho (at right) , the second best manager of all time - who went to dental college. (Casey Stengal was the other.)

Year     Manager                 W-L            Pct.       GB     Place   Attendance     Rank

1930    Burt Shotton              50-102       .338        40         8th         299,007          8th
1931    Burt Shotton              66-88         .429        35         6th         284,849          6th
1932    Burt Shotton              78-76         .506        12         4th         268,914          8th
1933    Burt Shotton              60-92         .395        31         7th         156,421          8th
1934    Jimmie Wilson           56-93         .376        37         7th          169,885          8th
1935    Jimmie Wilson           64-89         .418        35.5      7th          205,470          8th
1936    Jimmie Wilson           54-100       .351        38         8th          249,219          8th
1937    Jimmie Wilson           61-92         .399        34.5      7th          212,790          8th
1938    Jimmie Wilson           45-105       .300        43         8th          166,111          8th
1939    Doc Protho               45-106       .298        50.5      8th          277,973          8th
1940    Doc Protho               50-103       .327        50         8th          207,177          8th
1941    Doc Protho               43-111       .270        57         8th          231,401          8th
1942    Hans Lobert              42-109       .278        62.5      8th          230,183          8th

If you're like me, as you read these woeful records you wondered how the hell they didn't finish last from '33 to '35. Who could have been worse? Well there actually was a team that arguably was as bad some years, the Cincinnati Reds. The sad-sack Reds finished dead last in '31, '32, '33, '34, and '37.  But they would magically rise from the ashes. Bill McKechnie took over as manager and they climbed to fourth in '38 and then won pennants in '39 and '40. Talk about a turn-around. The team that finished last in '35 was the Boston Braves. Their starting pitchers struggled that year, Fred Frankhouse did okay, he was 11-15. But Ed Brandt was 5-19 and Ben Cantwell was 4-25. Ouch.

The Phillies would climb to the top too, but it would take them a full decade longer. After continuing to finish 7th or 8th every year from '43 to '48, the Whiz Kids, led by Del Ennis and Richie Ashburn, jumped to third in '49 and won the pennant in 1950. 

But it wasn't hitting that finally led the Phillies to the promised land after wandering in the desert all those years. As you might have guessed, it was pitching - some fellas by the name of Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, and Jim Konstanty. So there's your happy ending folks. And the really amazing part of the turn-around ... the Phillies led the league in attendance in 1950 with a whopping 1.2 million delirious win-starved fans pouring through the turnstiles. And their shortstop, Granny Hamner, committed only 48 errors.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

As we enter the final month of the 2012 season…

Our recent season here at Late Innings has mirrored the Jays season in many ways. John has been on the DL since late June (or should that be MIA?), I’ve not been writing like my old self: too many work commitments and a new novel about to be released – and boy, does that take up a lot of time! Even our iron man, Will has missed a few posts, probably due to a golf-related injury. It’s been rough filling up those blank blog pages with major league material. And for that, we all apologize. Thanks for sticking with us. Just wait until next year. We will redouble our efforts in the off-season, go after free-agent writing talent, and at the very least stock our farm system with top-rated talent that we can draw on in the years to come, building a perennial blog winner season after season. Blah, blah, blah…

No doubt, it’s been a very strange ball season so far. Some teams (Yanks and Rangers) are doing what they’re supposed to, but a large number of others aren’t (Angels, Detroit, Philly, Miami). A lot of races are still very close, so in the last month of regular play, things could change drastically.

Did the Dodgers (anyone else out there know how they came by that moniker?) make the blockbuster trade of the season with the Bosox? Will all that money the Angels shelled out for two veteran stars pan out for them in the end? Only the baseball gods know for sure – and they sure ain’t telling. It promises to be a very interesting September.

I usually spend a few hours every week, trolling the baseball press for interesting tidbits. I ran across a very interesting article, an excellent bit of baseball journalism on the MLB site. Well, actually, it was only mentioned on the MLB site which directed one elsewhere. You all know what I think of the usual MLB coverage and “journalism”.

This profile of Joe Mauer, the Twinkies main man – or at least the person we thought had that mantle (pun very much intended) until this past week when he was put on waivers – is insightful, well-written, and will really help you understand why the business of baseball is so different from, but yet intertwined with the game of baseball in some quite inexplicable ways. At the very least, you’ll now understand why teams throw money at players in such stupid amounts.

I enjoyed it very much and I hope you do, too. Kudos to Joe Posnanski for the best thing I’ve read so far this season. Read his “Baseball is Business Not Storybook” from sportsonearth.com.

Anyone want to venture a guess with me on who will stand atop the six divisions at the end of September? (I won’t be forced into prognosticating on wild card territory, not even with a 10-foot cattle prod.) My predictions are as follows: Yankees, Detroit, Texas in the AL and Nationals, Reds and Dodgers in the NL (See? I’m thinking that trade with the Bosox will actually bear fruit.)

Come on, don’t be shy. Let’s hear what you think, baseball fans.