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Roy Story 2: Oswalt Is Big Piece to October

The Phillies are last team standing on top at the trade deadline. Again.

This time last year, the Phillies added hot pitcher Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians, a grizzled lefty coming off a 2008 Cy Young Award. In the process, the Phillies dumped future prospects while bolstering an already decent rotation with 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels.

Lee added to his legend by posting a 5–0 record, 39 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched, and a 0.68 ERA in his first five Phillies’ games down the stretch to a stellar 2009 World Series performance.

The problem, to most diehards, was no World Series. Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies’ general manager, wanted to supplant the struggling Cole Hamels and helped set up a lethal rotation for years to come.

Another problem, was dealing with money. Aging veteran Jamie Moyer was owed $9 million dollars in 2010, and contracts wavering over hitters Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth put the organization into a corner negotiating the future of Lee.

Amaro solved his problems instantly by hooking his main fish–Roy Halladay, another AL Cy Young Award winner (2003) of the Toronto Blue Jays. The cost? Dealing more minor leaguers including first round pick Kyle Drabek.

The story of 2010 has been the roller coaster standings ride, frustrating fans and the Philadelphia media, entering the season with heavy expectations from two-time defending National League Champions. Aside from a subpar offense this year, the injuries to Jamie Moyer, J.A. Happ, and Ryan Madson have plagued the pitching. With Chase Utley shelved until Labor Day, they’ve been on brink of going over the edge in the standings or going overboard on selling the house, such as Jayson Werth, who becomes a free agent after 2010.

Now Amaro is going big or going home with this deal. Oswalt solidifies the rotation, and with the positive numbers on his career in the second half of the season, (56-16), there are reasons to get amped for a top of the line pitcher. He’s a few months younger than Halladay, and with playoff experience under his belt with teammate Brad Lidge, the locker room should gel in competing for that coveted third straight National League crown.

Questions will linger off of Oswalt and his endurance heading into the future. With his last ‘reported’ shot July 7, it seems coincidental that he pitched a one hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If fans want this chapter to close on a good note, look toward the near future. Chase Utley will return, Jayson Werth may pick up slack after a sluggish mid-summer form, bench players are collecting at bats, and the production of young Domonic Brown might be the best timing in energizing the offense that is now carrying the load for an impressive rotation, just a mere three games out of the NL East and Wildcard.






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MLB: Scene of the Crime Takes Place in Ruben’s Mind

This is not the movie Inception, where Leonardo Dicaprio, and a gang of New York Mets’ fans have infiltrated Ruben Amaro’s dreams to sack fans’ hopes of a third straight National League crown. We are in reality, mind you.

So, wake up and smell the putrid scent of second place and third place in the division.

The Philadelphia Phillies are on the cusp of falling off the pennant chase. They are also endangering the future of their own team, as we know it.

I doubt it takes rag-tag thieves to steal the secrets behind any team’s success or failures, especially just looking at the bitter faces of forty-three thousand Phillies fans at the ballpark. Many of which, are venting their frustration at Ruben Amaro Jr. and his decisions.

Since General Manager Pat Gillick stepped down after the 2008 World Series, Amaro inherited the job and showed gusto when he traded a boat load for 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians. Straight on to the 2009 World Series, he slayed the New York Yankees in two games but could not do much else in winning the main prize.

As fans have read countlessly before, Lee was traded away to the Seattle Mariners for minor league prospects while the Phillies swapped their own for Toronto Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay. The split decision left some divided like rival political parties, but in the end, an ace is still in town.

The question Ruben Amaro refuses to answer is that whether or not the moves were actually worth it now. I’d like to peg the blame on his head right now, but turning back the clocks, let’s go back to the 2008 World Series (which we still all pine for again, admittingly)to find the stitches of the past and how the present has been involved.

The Phillies were left with this rotation to set up their 2009 squad—Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Kyle Kendrick. But in the process, they had to resign Moyer a two year, $16 million contract to keep him with the club through the conclusion of the 2010 season. The next move was signing outfielder Raul Ibanez to a 3-year, $31.5 million dollar deal.

Reverting back to the conclusion of the 2009 World Series, the Phillies had to mangle with $8 million dollars of the aging Moyer along with debating to resign rotation horse Joe Blanton. The odd man out was none other than Cliff Lee, who’d be expected to request a large contract extension after his 2010 season would require a payment of $9 million dollars. 

Strapped with an outlook at the future, rather than heavy weight contracts of hitters Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth added on to the responsibility of Lee, Amaro pulled the trigger on trading Lee for said prospects and landing Halladay (and a contract extension), by trading his own homegrown minor leaguers, including the highly touted Kyle Drabek.

Seems as though Amaro pulled a con man’s magic trick on the Phillies’ fan base. But, that’s all he could have done weighted down by the hefty money. If you kept notes or calculations, that’s nearly $9 million dollars per year for two futile players in Moyer and Ibanez. Given the circumstances, they were (in terms of value) one year deals at best.

If the circumstances above worked out in my favor (or any other Phillies’ fan, ideally), Moyer may have retired after 2008, Ibanez could have been lured to sign a big 1-year deal for 2009, and the team would have enough money to disperse to Lee, Werth, Howard, and Blanton.

Imagine it, having the rotation set up as Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Kendrick, Happ. The Halladay trade may have been executed (or not) given the outlook of the team, but on paper, a great team would be set, and Kyle Drabek would still don Phillie pinstripes. That’s a dream come true.

Back to the nightmare fans are facing now.

Will there be any chance for 2010 or 2011?

Optimists, believers, and ones with unconditional faith will say “Absolutely.” They have legitimate reason to feel confident, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels leading the charge for ample seasons. The spirit of 2008 must roll on (and will do so) for them.

What about the pessimists? Phillies’ fans are quite intelligent and perceptive of the stark realities and what has caused the two-time National League Champs to merely stand back and watch the rival Atlanta Braves and New York Mets make impressive waves.

With the inevitable trade deadline looming, fans will wonder what is concocting in Amaro’s own mind, as his reputation, and job-sake may need a sign at redemption. 





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Phillies’ 2010 Not Quite Mid-Season Report

We’re far from Thanksgiving, but this time of year in the sports world has me comparing the feast to current events. We’re all now stuffed from the NHL Stanley Cup Finals and the tasty NBA Finals, relaxing while enjoying whatever is on television, such as World Cup action.

As for Phillies baseball, its course is still pre-heating in the oven. The All-Star Game is looming, and plenty of questions are barraging the defending National League Champions. Get your pot-holders ready.

Right now, the main question surrounding this hot-potato topic has been the offense. The usually tenacious hitting has been absent for stretches, costing the Phillies key victories. With a staggering scoring differential (93-43 from May 22 to June 12), tensions have been afflicting the organization, players, and fans. Doubters wondering how the club stumbled in that stretch from first place in the National League East to third have taken a toll on no one more than General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.

He might not deserve all the blame. Injuries riddling the team have caused erratic changes to the team chemistry and consistency.

The most prevalent injury hurting the team has been that of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Going down on April 12 with a calf injury, an absence extending to mid-May, and then a repeat of that same injury has put a damper on the offense because of the tempo Rollins sets. With a potential return to the lineup prior to the All-Star Break, there is hope for him to aid an underachieving group of hitters.

The other major injury concern has involved the young left-hander J.A. Happ. Going down on April 15 left the rotation dismantled at times when Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, or Kyle Kendrick struggled in their weakest games. At the same time, the one-two punch of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels anchored the Phillies to their best performances. Happ’s rehab and status, much like Rollins’, gradually signals much hope if he repeats his 2009 rookie campaign.

Other injuries to closer Brad Lidge and setup men Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Antonio Bastardo depleted the bullpen of much of its firepower. But on the bright side, it has shown that the Jose Contreras pick-up paid dividends. As of June 18, he owns a 3-2 record, a 1.23 ERA, and 28 strikeouts in only 22 innings, which has earned him much praise as the most consistent setup man.

Although I mentioned the Phillies’ hitters as an “underachieving group,” that term may be too harsh. Still, when it comes to clutch situations, time in and time out fans have witnessed the struggles, especially from the bats of Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.

Lately, though, they’ve fared well, after a matinee win over Boston and a hard-fought Yankees series. The fates of both outfielders, hazy as they are, depend on their performance the rest of the way. Werth’s impending free agency and Ibanez’s age have sparked trade rumors.

Struggles (aside from those of Werth and Ibanez) appeared in Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard’s game as well. Victorino’s 0-5 game against C.C. Sabathia may indicate his inefficiency from the leadoff spot, but Utley and Howard’s struggles may have turned a corner after their strong outings against the Minnesota Twins in Friday night’s series opener.

It is early to grade this team in 2010—the oven is still heating for my personal views. Let this team ‘pre-heat’ for a little longer, especially after the All-Star Break. Then, we will see if the roster is absolutely healthy and ready to compete with a resurgent Mets squad and a solid Braves team.



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