Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kapler is Quite a Field General

He's not only right, he's perfect.

And, he's keeping them in the hunt, while teaching them. Not easy to do. It takes a special manager to do that.

Look, the Phillies need to find out things, like who can play and who can't. Who can take the pressure of closing in the ninth and who can't. If they play just eight players, maybe they don't find out. For manager Kapler and the Phillies, this is the proving ground year.

And Kapler has a unique style that is perfect for this team. Go back weeks ago to the Nice Williams incident. Williams voiced his concern about not playing. He griped about the computer picking the lineup. So, Williams rode the pines for a while; not just a game or two, but a number of games. It wasn't Mr. Williams' first encounter with management. In the minors, he sat for not running out balls.

So Kapler sat Williams and all the time praised him. Kapler is a first-class praiser. I've never heard him put down a player. So Mr. Williams sits for a week or so and is called on to pinch hit. He comes through and the next day he's back in the lineup with Kapler praising him up and down.

So what do you think Mr. Williams and the Phillies learned from that ordeal? A lot. You keep your mouth shut at least in the papers, and then you sit. Now you have to come off the bench and pinch hit. Nick Williams passed with flying colors.

Next, it was Maikel Franko's turn. Same scenario. Benched. Praised. Pinch hit — comes through — and back in the lineup. Franco also passed and he's a better ball player for it. Franco looks a lot better. Give the credit to Franco but also give it to Gabe Kapler.

Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera have had similar experiences. Odubel is hitting again. Credit Gabe Kapler.

The two catchers are getting similar treatment and are responding. Jorge Alfaro has some defensive problems, sure, but Kapler is staying with him and, yea, you guessed it, praising him along the way. Kapler's praisees go right to the bone and they're sincere. Someday Alfaro will be a great catcher for the Phillies. Knapp has problems too, including a .182 batting average.

Praise, praise, praise. Work, work work.

He uses the bullpen in the same manner. One never knows who's coming until the bullpen gets active. Don't worry the players don't know either. And look how he handled Hector Naris. All the time Naris was getting rocked Kapler praised him. And when the Phillies send him down, all that came from Kapler was praise. Someday Naris will be a real gem in the bullpen.

Here's the thing. Gabe Kapler has taken a young team — with more to come from Lehigh Valley and Reading — and forcing to take on different roles and they are coming through. There's no question about who is the field general down there. Kapler has his hands on the young players and he's molding them.

Is Gabe Kapler right for the Phillies?

You bet he is!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Philly wouldn't be Philly if it didn't kick and scream when a "new" Phillies manager came in and made changes.

Winning, of course, can sweeten the most critical and obstinate of the Faithful and silence the birds that warble their dissatisfaction in deep-throated calls as infamous to Philadelphians as the coo of the hungry pigeon.

Technological change is everywhere, most notably in some Philadelphia schools where students no longer carry books, pencils, and paper, and do all of their lessons through an 8-inch iPad screen. Bringing new meaning to the lyrics of, "No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks."

Watching a Phillies game is also a lesson in change, surely more subtle than the schools, but just as profound for those of us who remember when; as uncomplicated as a sunny afternoon on the ballfield where 12 and 13 year-olds choose up sides without the consent or interference of adults. Try to find that on a playground today.

In this city, the change on the field happens to coincide with the change in the dugout, where a manager leads a team of "techies" that view a game much like some school children now view an assignment: through a computer screen.

Play close attention when a new hitter strolls to the plate and the Phillies' outfielders pull 3x5 cards from their rear pockets, study them, and adjust their positions: sometimes they move a few feet, sometimes a few yards; they'll move in or further out or shift to the right or left.

Who writes the cards? It's my guess the techies who calculate the analytics of each hitter.

Managers coming out to argue an umpire's call is now gone from the game. Instead, video crews trained to watch a close play make quick decisions as to whether or not the call should be challenged.

Mr. Kapler has been the focal point of the changes because he just doesn't allow them, he's part of them. He is them. It's why he was hired. The Pete Mackanin, Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel style of managing, like the books and paper in some of the schools, is long gone. At least for now in Philadelphia.

But there are things about Mr. Kapler I'm starting to like. I like the way he brought the relief pitcher Hector Neris (Naris) in to pitch the last out in the ninth to build his confidence. Mr. Neris blew two save opportunities, costing the team two games and a chance to move into first place over Atlanta. It was a smart and heartfelt move by the Phillies skipper.

I like the way he uses his bullpen — closer by committee. It's a fresh strategy and not the same old, same old. It seems to be working.

Another fresh strategy is moving players around to different positions; a shuffling of who's in the outfield today and where is Scott Kingery playing this game? As the season moves into the warmer months, he's sticking with his starters longer and isn't shy about yanking even the most experienced pitcher, like Jake Arrieta.

But you know what I like about Mr. Kapler the most? The strategy and technology are working and the team is winning. The Phillies are nine games over .500 and staying on Atlanta's backside like a fox terrier yapping at the wheels of a moving van. They are young and exciting and they've brought baseball back to Philadelphia.

It's electrifying and Mr. Kapler deserves a lot of the credit. So let's give it to him.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

The cherry blossoms have peaked along the banks of the Tidal Basin in our nation's capital, signifying the start of the baseball season. That's the baseball season played in weather baseball should be played in, not the frigid conditions of April where temperatures favored an Iditarod race.

The Phillies organization — and the Faithful that watch pitch after pitch, game after game — has seen enough to determine which way to go with this team.

Take the rotation, for example. The first two spots seem solid: Nola and Arietta — unless Arietta lives up to the rumors that say the speed of his fastball has dropped to the equivalency of the average SUV speed on the Capital Beltway.

If it has — Lord have mercy on us all.

Nola is 4-1 and probably should be 5-0 if his rookie manager Gabe "watch how I change baseball" Kapler, in the season's opener, didn't foolishly pull him in the sixth up five runs. We know Kapler is doing OJT and if he flunks the final exam Dusty Wathan will take over faster than you can say "he should have had the job in the first place."

Veteran reliever Pat Neshek told USA Today that, "There's anger in the (Phillies) clubhouse; nobody knew what's going on, and a lot of guys were questioning him, like, is this how it's going to be all year?"

Quote, unquote.

And then there's outfielder Nick Williams. Last season Mr. Williams hit .288 and 12 home runs after his call-up at the end of June. Not bad for a rook. Lots of promise in his numbers. But this year Williams has fallen off his horse. In 25 games he's hitting .200 with one home run.

An April slump? Don't think so. Look, here's the thing. Williams has 55 at-bats; Rhys Hoskins has 102; Scott Kingery, 96 — and would have more, but he got hit with a pitch. Odúbel Herrera has 112, as does César Hernández; Carlos Santana, 110.

Maybe you think, Oh come on, what does that matter? But it's huge. Baseball is like golf; you have to play to stay sharp. Ballplayers need to play consistently and sitting out Williams for whatever reasons — analytics, pitching match-ups, weather forecasts — is killing him. Williams spoke out to an Inquirer reporter — surprising for a player of Mr. Williams's minute MLB experience to do. If it continues — keeping him out of the lineup — it could damage Mr. Williams' baseball career.

The other players see what's happening to Williams and they begin to think. You can't have ballplayers thinking. Like Yogi said, "You can't think and hit." So true.

It could upset the balance of the Phillies' clubhouse — if it hasn't already — and send the team into a losing spiral. Once a manager loses the respect of his players, and they start talking behind his back, losing usually follows and you know what follows after that.

They've never fired the team.

This weekend the Phillies are a mere cannon shot from the banks of the Potomac – where General George B. McClellan formed and trained a sizeable army named after the river — facing a Nationals team that is coming out of hibernation. A city where Nick Williams and other position players need to play and not be managed by a computer.

Play consistently or unravel.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bring Cole Back

If the Phillies are at all serious about winning this season, they better get serious with the rotation. Right now, it's semi-good and semi-bad and way too right-handed.

Take a look.
Jake Arrieta, 3-0, 1.82, right-handed
Aaron Nola, 3-1, 2.58, right-hander
Nick Pivetta, 1-0, 2.57, right-hander

So far, so good. Not just good but good-good.

But then it goes downhill, fast
Vince Velasquez, 1-3, 4.50, right-handed
Ben Lively, 0-2, 6.85, right-handed, on the DL
Jake Thompson, 0-0, right-handed, just brought up to replace Lively
Jerald Eickhoff, on the DL, right-handed
Zach Eflin, right-handed, 0-0

What is it the Phillies don't see here that you and I do? Where are the left-handers? Granted, if an all right-handed rotation is pitching the lights out, who's complaining? But the Phillies rotation is far from lights out. It needs a left-hander.

It needs Cole Hamels.

It's not that Mr. Hamels is setting the world on fire this season in Texas. He's 1-4, 4.41, in the six games. But he hasn't pitched badly. Typical of Hamels — like a shadow that follows him — he's had little run support.

The 34-year-old Hamels is in the final year of a six-year contract at $22.5 million, with a club buyout option of $6 million next season. Compare that to Jake Arrieta's contract: First-year of a three-year $75 million deal; $30 million this season, $25 million next, and $20 million in 2020. All these millions are getting me tired. I think I need a nap.

Lookit. If the Phillies organization is so big on analytics, why have a completely right-handed rotation? Doesn't that go against the grain of analytics? You think there are line-ups around the league that don't do well against left-handers? Duh! So if we're so big on analytics, make the rotation analytical, too. It's not rocket science.

The Phillies could certainly afford Mr. Hamels, a homegrown, hometown favorite, and MVP of the 2008 World Series. Texas is not going anywhere this season and might want to unload Mr. Hamels' salary for a couple of low-level prospects. The Rangers are 10-17 and mired in last place in the American League West.

But here's the thing. Mr. Hamels has a limited no-trade clause with the Rangers, which means there may be a list of teams Texas can't trade Mr. Hamels too.

And here's another thing. Texas would be better off holding Mr. Hamels until the trade deadline, figuring a number of teams will be in the division and wild-card races. The Yankees, for example, might give more than low-level prospects to acquire Mr. Hamels in mid-July.

But this is what they pay GM's for — to sweeten the pot. Go get Hamels now, Mr. Klentak.

Arrieta
Nola
Hamels
Piveta
Velasquez, Thompson, Eickhoff, and Eflin

Nice.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Pope Francis put in a good word for Philly Sports
Ron, are you awake?
Of course not. What, I'd be asleep in a dream?
Don't get smart; this is Heaven speaking.
Is this God?
No, God assigned this to me. I'm about third down.
Oh, okay, what do you want?
God wants you to know that he likes your sports blog. And He's noticed that you've been to Rome a few times and hung out at the Vatican. But He doesn't like that you drink too much wine, over there. And sneaking glances at the Italian women? Tisk, tisk.
Oh, hehehe, he noticed that?
Ron, He's God.
Okay, sorry about that. So what's this dream about?
God wants you to know that when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia, the Pope gave God a glowing report. Because of that, He's sending some blessings to what you call, Philly. God likes that word..
Really? Like feeding the poor or washing feet?
No. He's sprinkled some Good Dust on the Eagles, Sixers, Flyers, and yes, the Phillies, too; although they needed more dust than the rest.
Get out of town!
Yes, you'll see soon. You'll see the results of God's Good Dust. So when you do, just be thankful, and tell those people in South Philly to clean up when their dog's poop on the sidewalks. God doesn't like that.
Yea, I agree. They should get fined. So what will happen to Philly sports because of the Good Dust?
Oh, you'll see Ron. You'll see. You can wake up now.

Sometimes, dreams come true, and what an amazing time to live in Philadelphia.

First the Eagles Super Bowl win and parade. Now the Sixers are in the first round of the Eastern NBA playoffs and hold a 3-1 lead over the Miami Heat as they return to Philadelphia and play Tuesday night. I'm looking for tickets.

I love the Sixers.

The wildcard Flyers are playing today in game six of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and are down 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. A loss and the Flyers' season is over. Another win and it sends the teams to the showdown Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

And what about those Phillies?

They are 13-7 in the NL East and a game behind the first place Mets. Once they taste winning, there'll be no stopping them. They are good enough to either win the NL East or grab one of the two NL Wild Card spots and here's why.

They are the youngest team in baseball and if you have the right combination of players — the Sixers? — youth can overcome experience. Moreover, younger players do not get injured as often, and younger players are hungrier.

Their rotation is as good as the Mets, if not better. With Arrieta and Nola at the top of the rotation, they'll create a competition for the younger pitchers that follow them: Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ben Lively, and when they come off the DL, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter, Jr., and Zach Eflin.

The Washington Nationals have a great rotation, perhaps the best in baseball, but Scherzer and Strasburg have pitched a ton of innings and could break down in the stretch. The Nationals are weak in the four and five slots of their rotation.

When the Phillies bullpen is healthy — when they get Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter off the DL — it too can be as good as the Mets or Nationals bullpens.

Late in the season, the Dodgers, Rockies, and D-Backs play each other often, which might benefit the Phillies in the two Wild Card slots. Perhaps the Phillies can sneak in.

Here's the thing: It's great to be a Philadelphian. All four of Philadelphia's professional teams are made up of young, hungry players. Lookit, they have you know Who on their side.

They've been doused in the Good Dust.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Philly fans gave Charlie a rough time.

Philly being Philly; it is what it is.

Managers and coaches come and go, but sometimes not without a whipping. They are the most scrutinized in the city — more than the mayor, more than city council, and more than the, ugh, school board.

Joe Kuharich came from Notre Dame, at the time the only losing coach in Notre Dame's history, finishing 17-23 at his alma mater. He came to Philly in 1964. Four years later, with the worse record in the NFL, the Faithful had seen enough. Kuharich couldn't even lose correctly: the Eagles won the last two games of the season and missed out on drafting O.J. Simpson. They went 2-12-0, and the Juice went to the Bills.

During that final season, some 60-plus fans wore "Joe Must Go" buttons and an airplane flew over Franklin Field pulling a banner: Joe Must Go.

Charlie Manuel was ostracized for the way he spoke. Lots of his sentences ended with, "Dontcha know." Plus, the Faithful hated him from the get-go because the popular Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland was left at the altar. Leyland was a no-nonsense manager and a winner, but the organization went with a "country bumpkin."

Even yours truly, in this blog, imitated the way Charlie spoke. Shortly after that, I received an email from Phillies broadcaster, Chris Wheeler, who said: "Ron you don't know Charlie, you're being unfair." Wheels, the good man that he is, was right. I apologized.

So the Faithful greeted Charlie Manuel the only way it knew: "Boooooooooooooooo."

Now, Charlie Manuel gets a standing ovation any time he visits and sticks his head out of the dugout. And they chant, "CHAR-LEE, CHAR-LEE, CHAR-LEE..."

Philly being Philly.

From the start, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was criticized for not being "brainy enough" to be an NFL head coach. How, of which half the Eagles crowd is rowdy and drunk by halftime, the hooligans could come to that conclusion, is beyond me.

They were cranky to begin with. Chip Kelly, the brainy Oregon coach, ran the team into the ground. Then the Eagles hire a 'stupo' to replace him? Pederson was seen, too — as Charlie Manuel was Jim Thome's lackey — as Andy Reid's lackey.

Longtime NFL executive Mike Lombardi said, "Everybody knows Pederson isn't a head coach. He's less qualified than anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.

That's all they needed. "Boooooooooooo."

We attended the Phillies home opener on April 5th, where Doug Pederson threw the ceremonial first pitch. During introductions, Phillies new manager, Gabe Kapler, was booed. Pederson received a standing ovation as he walked out to the mound.

It is what it is; Philly being Philly.

Speaking of Kapler, it's bandwagon time. Everybody wants on. First, it began with the coconut oil question at Kapler's introductory press conference, by local radio and television jockey Howard Eskin. The question was embarrassing and out of order, two areas of which Eskin prides himself on.

During the first six games of the season, all on the road, Kapler made some apparent coaching blunders. That's all the Faithful needed on opening day; they were waiting for him to pop out of the dugout.

"Booooooooooooooooo."

But suddenly something's happened. Gabe Kapler's team is winning. Six in a row, sweeping the lowly Rays and moving up into second place in the NL East, behind the Mets. The benchings and analytics don't seem that important now.

If the Phillies keep winning, Gabe Kapler may get the keys to the city, instead of a boot out of town.

That being, of course, Philly being Philly.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Carlos Santana, off to a slow start in April.
When the Phillies signed Carlos Santana, two thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) Does the club really need this guy? His stats aren't much better than Tommy Joseph's, and 2) Santana is a solid big league player, perhaps they want him to mentor Maikel Franco.

Well whoop de do, twelve games into the season Franco is hitting .258 with two bombs and 12 RBI's, a considerable upgrade over how he ended 2017, carrying a .230 batting average into Halloween.

I suppose Santana is mentoring a lot because he sure isn't hitting: a buck fifty with two home runs in 11 games. Only two players have played in 11 of the 12 games: Santana and Rhys Hoskins.

Meanwhile, Tommy Joseph is languishing in the Texas League with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Rangers Double-A club 25 miles north of Dallas, where he'll help open the season tonight at Dr. Pepper Park.

I hope he likes Country Music, where Bob Wills is still the king.

But enough of that. Twelve games into the season Santana isn't the only Phillies' slugger doing the Limbo under the Mendoza Line: Aaron Altherr .074; J.P. Crawford .103; and catchers Jorge Alfaro .167 and Andrew Knapp .176.

Speaking of catchers, Cameron Rupp is sitting right on the Mendoza Line hitting .200 with the Texas Rangers Triple-A club, the Round Rock Express, just north of Austin. Bob Willis is really the king there.

The Yankees placed CC Sabathia on the DL with a hip strain. At 37 (38 in July), this didn't come as a surprise. What is a surprise is that the Bronx Bombers passed on Jake Arrieta — knowing Sabathia is, delicate? — six years younger than Sabathia unless...

After Arietta got semi-hammered in his Phillies debut — giving up three hits in three runs over four innings — maybe the Yankees passed for a reason. We will see. Arietta is scheduled to pitch Saturday in Tampa Bay.

On a side note, how 'bout them Sixers? It's great to see their coach, Brett Brown, enjoying success after he spent the tanking years with the team. Perhaps it would have been professional — nice? — for the Phillies to have given Pete Mackanin a shot with some real players after, like Brett Brown, he managed the team through the stinko years.

Naw, that wouldn't have worked. Besides, look who we've got now!

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