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The Deserving Dozen: Ranking Philly’s Top 12 Pro Athletes

So, who would you choose as Philadelphia‘s Top 12 pro athletes? Who is your No. 1?

Indeed, how does one choose the best of the best who represent this sports-crazed town on our fields, rinks and courts? It is not an exact science, but I mostly considered the following three factors:

1) Current performance level

2) Overall contribution here

3) Popularity and/or buzz generated

After mulling it over, I decided on what I will call The Deserving Dozen—12 athletes who combine enough of the above criteria to compete for the title as Philly’s best.

In so doing, I was careful to have at least one representative of each of the four teams. Philadelphia Union fans, please accept my apologies.

As this is not an exact science, I have not shown the “scores” I tabulated for each.

So, feel free to similarly agree or disagree at its conclusion, even if you don’t show your work.

Let us begin.

One note: The pitcher (pictured) above made the list, but how high does Cliff Lee rank?

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Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and the Top 6 Phillies of the Week: Who’s No. 1?

In this past week in Phillies baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies won three of their five games, bringing their NL East-leading record to 9-4.

The week (defined for our purposes as Monday through Sunday) concluded with a hard-earned 3-2 win over the visiting Florida Marlins, who would have tied the Phils for first place with a win.

The men in red pinstripes split the rain-abbreviated, two-game set, and have yet to drop a series this young season.

As it played out, the Phillies—whose offense had been surprisingly potent the first nine games of the season—only tallied 17 total runs in the five games. On the bright side, they received four well-pitched games from their five-man rotation (who each started one game, starting with an ineffective Joe Blanton).

In such a pitching-dominated week, who are the leading candidates for my third Top Phillie of the Week Award?

A panel of alternate personalities, utilizing the finest technology and expertise imaginable, has identified six somewhat worthy candidates this time around. Interestingly, none of my panelists identified the previous two winners—Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino—as one of the six.

Let’s hope that there’s no jinx at work here.

So, who were the ones who made the cut and boosted their chances for the Top Phillie of the Year Award to be announced in October?

(Note to potential sponsors: Contact me via this site with your cash and/or proposals.)

Let’s get right to the Sizzling Six.

6) Cole Hamels—The best No. 4 starter in baseball—the King of Diamonds if you prefer—pitched very well earlier today in a mid-April version of a big game.

Hamels worked seven innings, yielding two earned runs on seven hits. He fanned seven while walking two. Unfortunately for Cole, the Phils did not score their third run ’til the bottom of the eighth.

5) Ryan Madson—The superb master of the eight inning made three appearances this week, and excelled in each. Madson notched his first win of the season today, and for the week, he gave up only one hit and no walks in three innings. His ERA remains at 0.00, and his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is at a silly 0.40.

4) Carlos Ruiz—Chooch only batted 4-18 this week (.222), but that does not begin to tell the story.

One of Ruiz’s hits was a solo homer in the top of the sixth on Thursday, to break up Washington Nationals’ starter Jordan Zimmerman’s perfect game, and put up the first run for Cliff Lee—the only breathing room he would need.

On Sunday, Ruiz drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eight. He also made a terrific play on a surprise bunt, and a great block of a pitch in the dirt in the top of the ninth, preserving the one-run victory.

3) Placido Polanco—Polly does not grab headlines; he just continues to collect hits and play the game the right way.

Polly hit for .429 for the week (9-21) to boost his season’s average to .373. He hit safely in all five contests, with a homer (the first run in Sunday’s game), six runs scored and four RBI.

2) Roy Halladay—One runs out of superlatives for Doc, who added another chapter to his Philadelphia legend with his 3-2 complete game victory at Washington.

Doc scattered six hits in his complete game performance, yielding two runs and two walks, while striking out nine. The other half of the story?

The man who has more complete games (career) than any other hurler in baseball, showed his toughness one more time. When skipper Charlie Manuel came to the mound with the Phils hanging onto a 3-1 lead with two runners on and one out, Doc waved him off simply saying, “I’ve got ‘em. I’ve got ‘em.”

Well, he got ‘em all right, ending his gutsy performance by striking out two batters looking. For an account of his feat, see more here.


It was swift, no-nonsense and dominant. In a word, iconic. Typical Doc.

1) Cliff Lee—It would take an almost perfect performance to top Halladay this week, and Philly’s co-favorite pitcher delivered one.

Bouncing back from an off-game at Atlanta, Lee had everything working versus the Nats on Thursday.

Lee threw a complete game shutout, yielding only three hits and a walk in the 4-0 win. Amazingly, he fanned 12 Nats on only 99 total pitches. That, my friends, is almost impossible to do.

In recognition of this masterpiece (and we may not see a better pitched game all year, even from this staff), Cliff wins our third Top Phillie of the Week Award.



Here is one of those stats that is hard to fathom, or Hard to believe, Harry if you prefer.

(Per an AP recap piece), prior to Halladay and Lee throwing their complete games, no Phillies’ pitching tandem had done so since  Paul Byrd and Curt Schilling in May of the 1999 season. This tidbit came to my attention in an AP recap, and my head is spinning to try to comprehend it.

Yes, complete games are rare, but how can they be that rare? 

One would think that this pitching staff will not need another 12 years to duplicate what should be very achievable. It may happen again in the next 12 days.


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay and New Names for the 4 Aces

Roy Halladay was dealing once again, throwing eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball on the road versus the Washington Nationals. Well over the 100-pitch mark, he was laboring in the ninth.  The Nats had narrowed the deficit to 3-1 and had runners on first and third with just one out.

Skipper Charlie Manuel walked to the mound, and almost any other pitcher in Major League Baseball would get a pat-on-the-back and an ovation—if they made it to the ninth in the first place.  Per Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News (quoting Manuel), the conversation between manager and ace pitcher went like this:

Manuel: “Well, Roy, here I am.”

Halladay: “I’ve got ’em. I’ve got ’em.”

Manuel: “OK, you’ve got ’em, then.”

As manager-pitcher conversations have always been protected by some form of doctor-client (Doc-client, in this case?) privilege, we’ll have to take Charlie at his word. And yes, I prefer to think that this is all that the no-nonsense Halladay uttered.

Doc goes back to the hill, and yields an infield hit, which cuts the lead to one and places runners on first and second—still with one down. Adding to his legend, what does Halladay do?

He strikes out one-time Phillies-hero Matt Stairs looking, and then rings up surefire Hall-of-Famer Ivan Rodriguez with yet another Backwards K.

The game-ending strikeout means three things:

1. The Phillies win again, and now sit at an impressive 8-3.

2.  Halladay runs his record to 2-0, with a low, low ERA of 1.23.

3.  “I’ve got ’em. I’ve got ’em.” becomes an instant Philly sports quotes


Where Will This Quote Rank in Phillies Sports Lore?

Only time will tell as to whether Doc’s quote will be remembered years down the road, but his terse, ultra-confident statement and the way he backed it up with two called strikeouts may well end up being the stuff of local legend.

Indeed, it may one day take its place next to Ryan Howard’s “Get me to the plate, boys”, which the big man lived up to with a two-out, two run, game-tying double in the bottom of the ninth. Of course, both the line and the line drive were delivered in Game Four of the NLDS in Colorado.

So, RH-2, if you will, may not quite make it to the level of RH-1’s quote, but it sure beats other recent quotes with more pejorative connotations, such as “They’re fair-weather fans” or the iconic “We’re a small market franchise.”

Adding to the Nickname for Our Starting Rotation

In September, 2010, and in this very space, I was brainstorming nicknames for the Phillies three-headed monster, and ended up proposing H20. The nickname went a little viral, even if only some of that virus accompanied that piece.

When Cliff Lee, shocking-Lee and joyful-Lee returned to South Philly, I was among those who proposed (and advocated) R2C2 for the rotation of Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

Some other nicknames have joined the discussion, including variants of Mound Rushmore, the Fab Four (or Phab Phour) and the Four Aces.  For my money, none are as catchy as H20, but I’m not going to advocate getting rid of Cliff Lee.

Still, the Four Aces (I’ve never been a “phan” of overusing the Ph) is a good name, but it seems about time that we define the aces a little more.

Admittedly, I’m not a bridge player, and don’t care for watching poker on TV, playing it with friends or doing so online. But in most people’s minds, the Ace of Spades carries the most weight, so let’s go to it.

Roy Halladay:  The Ace of Spades

Many, including yours truly, have referred to Doc as the Ace of Aces, and he certainly is—among the Phillies, and among all great pitchers in MLB.

Hence, Halladay takes his rightful place as the Ace of Spades: dark, serious and just a little menacing

Cliff Lee: The Ace of Hearts

Lee won the hearts of Phillies fans in a few short months in 2009, forever earning the town’s love with his two wins versus the Yankees in the 2009 World Series, punctuated by his behind-the-back stab and his ho-hum, yawning catch of a weak pop-up.

Philly’s heart was broken when its newest sports hero was traded to Seattle last year, but they loved him even more when he spurned the Yankees’ mega-dollar deal to pitch for the Phillies and their ultra-sensitive fans.

The man from Arkansas is clearly the King of Hearts

Roy Oswalt: The Ace of Clubs

For many years, Oswalt was the lone ace for the Houston Astros, but he has pitched quite well since coming here.

Oswalt is a man of few words, but (a la Big Roy Halladay) lets his play do the talking for him. Given his big stick mentality and the fact that he starred for another ballclub, Little Roy looks just fine as the King of Clubs.

Cole Hamels:  The Ace of Diamonds

A diamond is a high-priced commodity, which can be quite brilliant, or somewhat flawed.

Hamels, sometimes known as Hollywood, has just a little of that blue-blooded, snooty appearance, which belies how fierce of a competitor he is.

And despite a somewhat flawed 2009 season, Hamels has mostly shined brilliantly in his tenure here.

The Ace of Diamonds is a good fit for Cole.  King Cole? Nah…

As for Joe Blanton, an excellent No. 5 starter despite two straight rough outings, I’m thinking it over. King of Clubs doesn’t quite do it for me.


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and the First Phillie of the Week

The first three games of the season are now in the books, and the Phillies—thanks to three fine pitching performances, a terrific Opening Day comeback victory and other timely hitting this weekend—are 3-0 for the first time since Abe Lincoln manned the White House.

Okay, that was a slight exaggeration (Grant Administration?), but to Phillies Nation, the regular season could not have come soon enough or started much better.

What follows is the first of a (planned) weekly series wherein this columnist will feature his Phillie of the Week, evaluating games from the preceding Monday thru Sunday. In this case, there is only the three-game sweep of the Astros to evaluate, but there were still plenty of heroes to recognize.

Here are my Lucky Seven Phillies of the Week, with No. 1, of course, being the Phillie of the Week. Budgetary constraints make it impossible, for now, to make a contribution to a worthy cause in his name, although if any of you would like to do so in my stead, please contact me.

Placido Polanco (.417 BA) and Wilson Valdez (.364) just missed my Lucky Seven.

7) Roy Halladay  Doc took the ball and had his usual terrific command of those nasty pitches he throws. He pitched well enough to tally one in the win column, but his offense did not wake up until after he vacated the hill.

Halladay fanned six, while yielding five hits, no walks and a single run in six innings. His ERA is a tiny 1.50.

6) Ben Francisco – The man who replaced Jayson Werth in rightfield and as the No. 5 hitter behind Ryan Howard, had a terrific week. His series was not perfect, as he misjudged a tricky fly ball in the opener for a two-base error.

But after that one miscue, he played a solid rightfield, including a catch up against the fence on Sunday that earned him a warm ovation. At the plate, Francisco is now batting .462 (six for 13) with a homer, four RBI and five runs scored. Jayson Who?

5) Jimmy Rollins – With his usual double play partner Chase Utley sidelined, Rollins started the year in the No. 3 hole, and had a terrific series. J-Roll hit a cool .500 (six for 12), scored four runs, and stole a base. The nifty shortstop also drew two walks on Sunday. That’s a great sign for Phils fans.

4) Roy Oswalt – Following Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and pitching in front of Cole Hamels, is not an easy task. Oswalt also had to do it against his former team. Not a problem, as Little Roy pitched six strong innings (yielding two earned runs on five hits, one walk and a hit batsman) in the 7-3 victory. Oswalt fanned six Astros.

3) John Mayberry, Jr. – Mayberry only had one hit this series (in three at-bats) but it was momentous. Mayberry lined a pinch-hit single to center off imploding reliever Brandon Lyon in the bottom of the ninth to cap a three-run rally. It was a walkoff RBI and the biggest hit of the young season.

2) Cliff Lee – The return of Cliff Lee before his once-and-present adoring fans in Game Two was an event every bit as memorable as Opening Day.

Mr. Lee did not disappoint whatsoever. He worked seven mostly dominating innings, giving up three runs on just four hits. Lee struck out 11 Astros without a walk, but did hit a batter on an offspeed pitch that grazed Chris Johnson’s foot.

Lee may have been awarded the No. 1 spot if it were not for that other Lee (Carlos) who belted a triple, a homer and all three runs batted in.

1) Ryan Howard – When you’re the biggest, most powerful hitter on a World Series favorite, one suspects that you are used to a disproportionate share of the spotlight and scrutiny. And with the departure of Werth and the injury to Utley, there has been even more attention paid to the Big Piece.

Howard has responded with a torrid star: Seven for 13 (.538 average) with three runs, a homer, a double and six RBI. Howard’s on-base percentage is a scintillating .500, and his slugging average stands at .846; his OPS is a gaudy 1.346.

Yes, it’s only been three games, but the three games have been quite remarkable.


Roy Oswalt walked Michael Bourn with two outs in the top of the ninth. That stuff happens, and Oswalt, (only one walk against six strikeouts) exhibited impressive control.

Except when compared to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who did not issue any free passes. Collectively, the three starters fanned 17 and walked one in 19 innings. Your turn, Cole!

According to Todd Zolecki, of, the Phillies opened the season with a three-game sweep at home for the first time since 1899. How is that possible? And yes, that was during the William McKinley Administration.

In case you were wondering, the Phils finished 94-59 that year, but they finished one game behind the Boston Beaneaters and eight back of the pennant-winning Brooklyn Superbas.

I will guarantee you that the Phils will not finish behind either of those juggernauts in 2011.


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage. 

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Philadelphia Phillies of 2006: What a Difference 5 Years Makes

Despite a tough, injury-plagued spring training, today’s Philadelphia Phillies are about to break camp surrounded by the type of lofty expectations that are attached to very few ballclubs.

Yes, injuries to Chase Utley and Brad Lidge have scaled down some of the unchecked optimism about the regular season (okay, they won’t win 115 or so games), but they are still the odds-on choice to advance to the World Series for the third time in the last four years.

Charlie Manuel’s bunch has won the last four National League East pennants, and No. 5 is but a formality. The Phillies always win. Don’t they?

If you cut your baseball teeth in 2007, it’s hard to think otherwise. But it hasn’t always been this way, and one does not have to conjure up images of the horrid choke of 1964— featuring Jim Bunning, Chris Short, Chico Ruiz and Gene Mauch—to appreciate how special the last four seasons have been.

Please travel with me all the way back to the year 2006 for a reminder of the way it used to be.


The Phillies of 2006

In the early spring of 2006, the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.23, stadium hot dogs cost a dollar, and the Atlanta Braves were coming off their zillionth straight NL East title.

I’m just kidding about the price of gas, but stadium hot dogs did cost you a buck—on Dollar Dog Days.

The Phillies had finished the season with a quite respectable 88-74 record under first-year manager Charlie Manuel. Although 88 wins wasn’t bad, it was yet another season—their 12th consecutive—without a playoff berth.

For the glass-half-full fans, there was consolation to be found in finishing only two games out of first and one game behind the Astros for the wild card.

For most Phillies fans, it seemed like Groundhog Day. And who exactly was this glorified hitting coach with the strange accent who was mismanaging our team?

As the Phils geared up for Opening Day, nobody was comparing their starting rotation to the 1971 Baltimore Orioles or the 1990s Atlanta Braves. R2C2? The Four Aces? Mound Rushmore? Please.

The 2006 Phillies started the season with this rotation: Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson. Maybe they should have been called Five Guys, if a certain burger joint wouldn’t have sued. This wasn’t Mound Rushmore. It was more the case of Mount NeedMore.

By the way, the Phillies opened the 2006 season with four straight losses, and one win out of their first six. All six games were played in front of their ever-patient fans. Their first victory was earned by reliever Tom Gordon.

To reassure you that I’m not describing some alternate universe played outside of Citizens Bank Park, I will add that a certain Cardinals player named Albert Pujols left Philly with a .500 batting average, three homers and six RBI after the first three games. Some things stay the same.

The Phillies did have a pretty good hitting team back then, if in a bit of transition from an offense led by Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal to one sparked by the young emerging corp of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

In 2005, Jim Thome battled injuries, which finally gave Howard his long-awaited shot. He capitalized with 22 homers and 63 RBI in only 88 games, winning Rookie of the Year honors.

Utley got his chance to play everyday in 2005, posting a slash line of .291/28/105 and Rollins, just 26, was coming off his first All-Star season.

The Phillies cut ties with Thome prior to the 2006 season, and Manuel presented the following lineup card to home plate umpire Gerry Crawford:

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS

2. Abraham Nunez, 3B

3. Bobby Abreu, RF

4. Chase Utley, 2B

5. Pat Burrell, LF

6. Ryan Howard, 1B

7. Aaron Rowand, CF

8. Mike Liebertahal, C

9. Jon Lieber, P

Even the most fervent Phillies fans may be surprised to see that Utley was hitting hitting cleanup, and Ryan Howard (who would slug his way to the NL MVP award with 58 homers and 149 RBI) was in the six-hole.

The lineup would soon see more changes. Bobby Abreu, who always struck me as both the most overrated and most unappreciated Phillies player, was traded to the Yankees in midseason.

Shane Victorino would emerge as an important outfielder before season’s end. Mike Lieberthal (starting to show signs of wear and tear) would finish 2006 and 2007 as a Phillie, but was losing playing time to Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

Even Aaron Rowand, a fan favorite just acquired in 2006, would leave after the 2007 season. Third base? Don’t ask. David Bell, never a Philly fan favorite, saw the majority of the playing time.

The 2006 Phillies, despite big years from Howard, Utley, Rollins and Burrell, dropped to 85-77 and—check the record books—12 games behind a talented New York Mets team. They did not even make it as a wild card, extending that Groundhog Day scenario to 13 seasons.

Unlike the Phils of last year and for the foreseeable future, the starting pitching was never strong enough. Lefty phenom Cole Hamels came up midseason and posted a 9-8 record with a 4.08 ERA. Only Myers (12) and Madson (11) had more wins than Cole.

In the final analysis, that long, lost season of 2006 yielded a 2007 spring training of equal parts optimistic and uncertainty. That spring training gave birth to a 2007 team that nipped a collapsing Mets team by one game at the wire.

The rest, as baseball fans and archivists alike tend to say, is history.

For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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2011 Philadelphia Phillies: How Well Do You Know the Team?

Opening Day (for the Philadelphia Phillies, anyway) is only eight days away!

I’ve been told that I can hardly contain my excitement, and I won’t disagree with that assessment.

In that regard, I don’t know if today’s thirty degree, rainy weather is getting me more or less geeked up for the April Fools’ Day opener.

The proximity of the regular season baseball opener does have me staying up late posting the following Phillies quiz for all of you fans to enjoy.

And yes, some of these questions may be easy, but others my challenge you just a bit. And there are a few that may have you screaming, “Who gives a da_n.” Or worse.

All of the questions are focused on current players, but down the line (and still in fair territory), I may unleash some questions that will test your expertise on Phillies history.

Please close your books, sharpen your pencil, and get to it.

There are a dozen questions, so each is worth eight points, for a subtotal of 96. If you either spell or say Antonio Bastardo correctly, award yourself an extra four.

Good luck, and feel free to post your score in the comments section.

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2011 Philadelphia Phillies: Can Roy Halladay Match or Surpass His 2010 Season?

In 2010, Roy “Doc” Halladay joined a new team, switched leagues in the process and pitched better than ever.

In Doc’s case, that’s saying something. He was coming off eight consecutive stellar seasons as the Toronto Blue Jays ace (which included six All-Star appearances, a Cy Young Award and four other top-five finishes), and although he pitched in relative obscurity, many already considered him to be the best pitcher in the game.

Those who did not know the Phillies’ new ace of aces all that well before 2010 were astonished by his combination of work ethic, nasty stuff and humility.

Those who knew him from his AL East days—where he led an inferior team into battle against the likes of the Yankees and the Red Sox—still marveled at how easily he dominated the National League.

No matter how you choose to view Halladay’s inaugural season in the season circuit, you come away quite impressed.


Traditional Stats: 21-10, 2.44 ERA with 219 strikeouts against only 30 walks in a league-leading 250.2 innings pitched. He also led the majors with nine complete games.

Halladay posted a 2-1 record with a 2.45 ERA in his first ever postseason.


Inside Numbers: A WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 6.98 and career-best full-season marks for WHIP (1.041 walks and hits per nine innings) and ERA-plus (165: the higher the better—100 is average).


Geeky stats aside (and there are tons more that show Doc to be at or near the head of his class), we haven’t even mentioned his special accolades.

Halladay, of course, threw a regular-season perfect game at Florida and hurled a no-hitter against a powerful Cincinnati Reds team to open the playoffs.

He capped it all off by capturing the NL Cy Young Award. In a season that featured very strong performances by the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez, Halladay won the award unanimously.

To a team player like Roy Halladay, the opportunity to pitch for a championship contender made 2010 his most memorable campaign.

Indeed, after receiving his Cy Young Award last November, the modest right-hander was quoted by several news sources as saying, “It’s by far the most fun I’ve ever had playing this game. It was just tremendous from Day 1 to the end.”

The beauty of Halladay’s demeanor is that for all he has attained personally in a career that will one day earn him a plaque in Cooperstown, he is motivated by team accomplishments. Setting the stage for new teammates Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee, Halladay wanted to pitch in Philadelphia—for a team and a city that he could help bring a championship.

Last year, for all of his heroics, the team fell six victories short. This year—injuries to Chase Utley and Brad Lidge notwithstanding—the sky is the limit, and expectations are extremely high.

To which this columnist poses the following question:

What can Phillies fans and baseball pundits expect to see out of Halladay this season?

After all, with only 31 wins this year (and if a relative journeyman like Denny McLain could do it…) Doc will earn his 200th regular season victory this year.

Okay, it’s fairly safe to say that no pitcher will win 30 games again, and earning 20 is no mean feat. But what’s a reasonable number?

On the one hand, Halladay, who will turn 34 in May, is certainly pitching like he is in his prime. He is also coming off a combined 272-plus innings of work last year. Can he manage a similar workload in back-to-back years?

Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings in seven of his last nine seasons, including the last five.

There are two ways to look at this.

Pessimistically: It’s bound to catch up with him.

Optimistically: He’s used to the heavy workload and thrives on it—and can one question his preparation and work habits?

(Did I mention that in the history of Major League Baseball, no pitcher born in Colorado and past the age of 30 has ever pitched more than 250 innings in consecutive years? You can look it up. I didn’t, but you can.)

My own middle ground is to hope that Halladay finishes the regular season with somewhere around 230 innings and a full tank for the expected postseason run. Doc has been so consistent the last several years that it is reasonable to expect an ERA at or under 2.75 and about 19 wins (he will be at the mercy of an offense that may not produce as much this year.)

Then, as he everyone knows, it’s all about the playoffs.

Toward that end, the man widely regarded as the best pitcher on Planet Earth took the ball yesterday in a matchup against AL Cy Young contender Jon Lester and the powerful Boston Red Sox.

Halladay (now 3-0) outdueled his Red Sox counterpart, scattering five hits and yielding only one run in 7.2 innings of quality work. Ryan Madson got the last four outs to earn the save.

Alas, it was only March 21, but it was an encouraging sign.

If the same box score unfolds seven months from now, it will be huge.

When it comes to Roy Halladay, is anyone betting against it?


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report home page.

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Charlie Manuel and Philadelphia Phillies Sign 2-Year Extension

The Philadelphia Phillies announced earlier today that they have inked manager Charlie Manuel to a two-year extension that will keep him at the helm through the 2013 season.

While the exact terms have not been released, both and expect Manuel to earn between $7 million and $8 million for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Reportedly, the team has also sweetened the payout to Manuel for the 2011 season, the last year remaining on his former contract.

This season will be the seventh for Manuel as Phillies skipper, in which time he has compiled a 544-428 win-loss record in the regular season.

More importantly, the Phillies have won the National League East the last four seasons, advancing to two World Series and winning in 2008 under Manuel.

As a reward for his success, it is reported that Manuel’s new contract will pay him as a top five Major League manager.

It would appear that most Phillies fans would applaud the move that will see Manuel hold the reins through his 69th birthday. The franchise and the manager will have a chance to reassess his future during the next three years, but without the cloud that would hang over Manuel if he were managing as a lame duck.

It would be an understatement to say that the Phillies—despite some recent uncertainty over the health of star second baseman Chase Utley—are built to win right now.

Having the services of a manager who has taken them to the top of the mountain for at least three more years seems to be a sound decision, baseball-wise and business-wise.


Manuel’s Transformation and Journey

While no public figure, in sports or out of sports, is universally liked, Manuel has become one of the more popular sports figures in Philadelphia during his six years in town.

However, it wasn’t always that easy for him to win over Philly’s demanding, outspoken fanbase.

Manuel started his current job in South Philly in 2005, taking over for franchise hero Larry Bowa, who was still popular with much of Phillies Nation. Popular as Bowa was with his fans, the fiery former shortstop had a bellicose manner that tended to alienate most of his players.

His teams also tended to finish in second place (if not third) in the NL East behind the perennial champion Atlanta Braves.

Of course, Manuel promptly started out with two second-place finishes, managing teams that would be just good enough to not make the playoffs. It is hard to remember now, but the Phillies did not qualify for the postseason between 1993 and 2006.

With his redneck, southern drawl and penchant for sounding like a rube in postgame press conferences, the moniker Uncle Cholly was not uttered in an endearing fashion.

Although Manuel had just a little success in his two-and-a-half years managing the Cleveland Indians (winning one AL Central title), he was regarded by many as a glorified hitting coach who could not even master the NL art of the double switch.

Perception started to change in 2007, when the Phillies staged a furious comeback to wrest the division from the favored New York Mets. In retrospect, it was a combination of a Big Apple collapse and a South Philly hot streak that got the job done.

By the time, the Phillies took the baseball world by storm and became—in the words of immortal broadcaster Harry Kalas—world champions of baseball in 2008, Manuel had improbably won over the hearts of most of Phillies Nation.

The inept, poor communicator became lovable and truly avuncular.

While not considered a master strategist, it was apparent that the team clad in red pinstripes fought to the finish on a nightly basis for Uncle Cholly.

And yes, Uncle Cholly now connotes a loveable, wise baseball man who loves his team and his fanbase.

For Manuel, his managerial second life mirrored his renewed life as a player. Born on January 4, 1944 in Northfork, West Virginia, Manuel mostly collected splinters (and only 384 at-bats) as a left fielder for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers. Manuel packed up his career .198 batting average and two homers and headed to Japan.

From 1977 through 1981, Manuel terrorized Japanese baseball, becoming a .300-plus hitter who belted close to 40 homers a year for the Yakult and Kintetsu franchises.

After returning to the States, Manuel paid 17 years of dues as a scout, hitting coach or minor league manager before the Indians gave him a shot to manage the parent club in 2000.

The rest is the history that most of us have witnessed.

The man with the Southern drawl and the ability to speak Japanese is now beloved by most Philadelphians.

If he helps to usher in another parade or two in the next few years, Uncle Cholly Manuel just might become a bonafide legend.


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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Philadelphia Phillies 2011: Who Is Their Team MVP?

So, who would you say is the Philadelphia Phillies team MVP?

By this, I am not asking Who is their best player? Rather, who can they least afford to lose for long stretches, if not the entire season?

Truth be told, I would rather be asking, “Will the Phillies win 100 or 105 games this year?” Or, “When they win their 11 postseason games, will they lose five games or fewer?”

These questions may, hopefully, still be asked down the road, but admittedly all the talk about second baseman Chase Utley’s patellar tendinitis and rookie rightfielder Domonic Brown’s hook of hamate injury has me wondering whose loss would impact the team most negatively.

While we’re on the subject, I liked H20 much better when it did not mean Hook of Hamate, and yes, I’d much rather talk about Hamels’ hook (and how frequently he throws it) than this new hook that I would prefer not to know anything about.

But let’s not get hooked on semantics here.

Which player could the Phils least afford to lose for an extended period of time?

I was going to do this in a slideshow format, but I’ve been fighting carpal tunnel syndrome from all the grueling typing I’ve done on my last few shows, so here is my list in a standard article format.

As one of the five most valuable members of my household, I can’t afford to be disabled.

Before reading my list, please note that I gave some consideration to who each player’s backup is.

So, without any more hemming and hawing, here is how I would rank the 10 Most Valuable Phillies in ascending order (of value) from 10 to one.


10) Roy Oswalt

Oswalt is considered a No. 3 or a No. 4 on this staff, but only on this incredible rotation.

He was absolutely brilliant with the Phils last season (7-1, 1.74 in 12 starts) and figures to have another strong season as a co-ace.

Then again, the squad has three other stud starters and a pretty good No. 5 as well.


9) Cole Hamels

Hamles rebounded in a big way last year, even if his won-loss record (12-11) did not do justice to how well he pitched.

Just like Oswalt, if it weren’t for the other three members of R2C2, his placement would be higher.


8) Shane Victorino

Shane is becoming a veteran, emotional leader for this team who contributes much needed speed and terrific Gold Glove play in center field.

If he thought more like a speed demon than a power hitter at the plate, he would be even more valuable.


7) Brad Lidge

We’ll never see him approach his amazing 2008 campaign, where everything worked out perfectly, but Lidge pitched quite well the last couple months of 2010.

And as well as Ryan Madson (just missed my list) has pitched as a setup man, Lidge is still the man for the ninth.


6) Jimmy Rollins

A few years ago, it would have been silly to have rated J-Roll this far down the list. After all, he won the National league MVP in 2007.

But Rollins, whether due to age, injuries or a combination of both factors, has not been that same compelling offensive player since. Still, his glove and his effervescent leadership are huge for this team, and when he does hit, the team wins a great majority of the time.


5) Cliff Lee

Lee, despite missing some turns with injuries, was second in all of baseball (to new teammate Roy Halladay) in complete games last year.

Given his postseason success, he merits a higher place on this list than either Oswalt or Hamels. Given the presence of the other three aces, it’s hard to rank him any higher.


4) Roy Halladay

If Halladay entered 2010 as the unofficial “best pitcher in baseball,” then last season only cemented this status in most pundits’ eyes.

Perhaps winning the Cy Young unanimously in your first year in a new league and throwing a no-no in your postseason debut will do that.

Funny how that works.


3) Carlos Ruiz

I actually thought of placing “Chooch” at No. 1.

My reasoning? I’m aware that he still has not won a Gold Glove or been voted onto the All-Star team, but the man plays the most important defensive position of the starting eight and does so brilliantly.

He calls a great game, throws runners out when given the opportunity, and he has developed into arguably the best No. 8 hitter in the league.

What other No. 8 hitter batted .302 with an OBP of .400 and a .293 batting average with runners in scoring position?


2) Ryan Howard

Yes, he still has a hole or two in his swing, and he still makes Phils fans nervous whenever he has to throw the ball to second base. I also realize that he had a down year—by his very high standards—in 2010.

But what other Phillie can give you his consistent production and inspire as much fear in opposing managers and pitchers?

That was a rhetorical question.


1) Chase Utley

The Phillies weathered the regular season storm pretty well last year when both Rollins and Utley lost significant amounts of games due to injuries.

Phillies Nation, obviously, hopes that the team—to say nothing of most pleasant surprise Wilson Valdez—is not put to such a test in 2011.


If you’re reading this column, I don’t have to sell you on Utley’s worth. The perennial All-Star is their only logical candidate for the vital No. 3 spot in the lineup, plays terrific (if slightly underrated) defense and spurs his team with his all-out, hardnosed play.

While the Phillies would not relish any of these 10 players (and others, including Ryan Madson, Rual Ibanez and Placido Polanco) missing significant playing time, the thought of losing Utley creates even more apprehension.


For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, other writings and public appearances, please e-mail: or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.

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MLB: Power Ranking the Top 10 Likely Dubious Milestones of 2011

Baseball is a game of numbers and milestones, be they admirable achievements or regrettable results.

Earlier today, I posted a piece that ranked the Top 12 milestones likely to be reached in 2011.All of the featured players and their fans should be proud of these accomplishments that speak to their excellence over the course of their careers.

On the other side of the diamond, if you will, is this companion piece which features 10 more dubious milestones that are also likely to be reached in 2011.

Granted, there are several very good players on this slideshow, at least a couple of whom are strong candidates for Cooperstown. That makes sense as one has to be a pretty good batter to keep fanning at historic proportions, or a better-than-average pitcher to have the opportunity to uncork a ton of wild pitches or lose a bunch of ballgames.

The beauty of baseball is that the best players (and in fairness, not all of these guys are great, except compared to me and you), learn to come to grips with their failures because baseball puts a premium on a positive attitude and great resiliency.

Please join me on this slightly treacherous jog around the diamond in the following players’ honor.

Begin Slideshow

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