For a baseball fan like myself, it’s always a great summer when your home team is involved in a pennant race. My hometown Philadelphia Phillies have found themselves in the race for most of the past half dozen summers, finally reaching the playoffs a year ago when they won the National League East Division pennant on the final afternoon of the season. The Phils chased down the New York Mets last season, edging them by a single game after trailing by 7 1/2 games with just 17 left to play. This year the Phils are not in such desperate shape heading into the final week of the season. In fact, the club is firmly in control of it’s own playoff destiny. By winning their last 7 straight games, they have taken a lead over the Mets by a half game in the NL East, and the New Yorkers have lost their closer, Billy Wagner, for the remainder. Better still, the Phils are two games up on the Milwaukee Brewers, the nearest pursuers to the Mets for the NL Wildcard berth, and the Brewers may have just lost their 2nd best starting pitcher, Ben Sheets, for the remainder. So the Phils enter the next-to-last weekend in first place, and with a firm grasp on a playoff spot. They probably need finish only 5-4 to get the playoff berth, though will perhaps have to do better than that to nail down the divisional title. The Phils offense began the season being led by a red-hot Chase Utley, who bolted out of the gate on fire for the first two months, and Pat Burrell, who was picking up where he left off last season with big hits. Utley and Burrell’s fire was needed, as both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino spent significant time on the Disabled List early on, and Ryan Howard was ice cold the first two months. Just when Utley and Burrell began to cool, Howard heated up significantly, and was joined by outfielder Jayson Werth in leading the offense. Victorino returned and also got hot, and as September began even J-Roll began to get his game together and started producing. Howard has remained hot since June, and is a leading NL MVP contender heading into the final week, needing perhaps just one more hot week leading the Phils to that division title to clinch it. But the real reason that the Phils are in this solid position right now is an unexpectedly strong performance from the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. Cole Hamels has been as good as advertised most nights, and Jamie Moyer has once again defied Father Time to post one of his most consistently strong seasons in years. Brett Myers was downright awful for the first three months, got sent down to the minor leagues, and since returning two months ago has simply been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Joe Blanton was added in trade to provide stability, and he has done just that. He will never be a lights-out stopper, but he gives you a dependable, veteran, quality start most times out. Kyle Kendrick kept winning for awhile, but it was with mirrors, and the league finally caught up to him. To the rescue has come lefty J.A. Happ, who has been solid every time the Phils have given him a chance. In the bullpen, the off-season trade to bring in Brad Lidge as the new closer has proven to be perhaps GM Pat Gillick’s best acquisition to date. Lidge has been perfect in save opportunities, though he has struggled from time to time since being misused in the MLB All-Star game back in July. The rest of the pen has also been solid, with Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Clay Condrey, Rudy Seanez, and now the newly acquired Scott Eyre holding most of the leads with which they have been entrusted. Greg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett have been invaluable off the bench, and Pedro Feliz has been one of the best defensive 3rd basemen in the league when healthy. The Phils catching combo of Chris Coste & Carlos Ruiz is highly underrated. And for the pennant push there are veteran bench bats Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, and Tadahito Iguchi around for depth and pinch-hitting. Charlie Manuel’s team appears like it has everything that it needs heading into the final games, and hopefully into the playoffs, and there is every reason for we fans to believe that not only will this pennant push be successful, but that the season will continue well into October.
Jamie Moyer was born on November 18th, 1962, just two days short of my own first birthday.
John F. Kennedy was the President of the United States and dealing with the Cuban missile crisis, West Side Story was highlighting the motion picture scene, television was still in black & white and had only three channels available, and Richard Nixon had lost the California gubernatorial race stating famously “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore!”
In the preceding months, Hall of Fame athletes Jerry Rice of the NFL, Patrick Ewing of the NBA, Grant Fuhr of the NHL, and boxing champion Evander Holyfield were all born. All are long retired from their respective professional athletic careers. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer continues at age 45 to slip low-80’s fastballs and an assortment of breaking pitches past hitters in Major League Baseball.
The team that he now pitches for is my team, and his hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies. So far in 2008, the Phillies have been an underachieving squad that has alternated between first and second place in the National League East Division.
They were supposed to have a prolific offense, and they remain among the top five scoring clubs in the league, but they have been maddeningly inconsistent, scoring 20 runs one night and then going a week without scoring twenty total over five or six game stretches.
The starting rotation was supposed to be solid, with budding young ace Cole Hamels and returning member Brett Myers leading the way. Hamels has been okay, sometimes dominant, sometimes struggling. Myers was a disaster until a mid-season demotion to the minor leagues may finally have turned him around.
Through all the drama of a team trying to win its second straight divisional title, trying to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1980-81, the one consistently dependable character has been Jamey Moyer.
Last night in San Diego, Moyer pitched 7 innings of shutout ball to win a 1-0 duel with future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The win kept the Phils within one game of the front-running and suddenly hot New York Mets.
Moyer is now 11-7 on the season, with a strong 3.64 ERA, and has logged 151 innings over 25 starts. In short, Jamie Moyer has been a godsend for the Phillies.
Moyer was born in the area, in Sellersville, PA, and attended Souderton High School and Saint Joseph’s University, making us fellow Hawks.
He even made his Major League debut in 1986 for the Chicago Cubs against the Phillies. That’s right, he made his debut in 1986! After a promising first few seasons with the Cubs he was dealt to Texas where injury and inconsistency led to his bouncing between there, Saint Louis, Detroit, Chicago again, Baltimore, and Boston in both the Majors and the minor leagues.
Finally, in 1996, ten years after making his debut, Jamie was dealt to the Seattle Mariners, a move that would change his career and his life. Jamie got to Seattle at a great time. It was the heyday of the Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson days in the Emerald City, and he took off professionally.
For the next decade, from 1996 through 2006, Moyer became a consistently strong starter, winning 145 games while losing just 87, and producing a pair of 20-win seasons. As he aged into his forties and continued to win there, Jamie gained the nickname ‘The Ancient Mariner’, and was a local icon in the Seattle area.
During the 2006 playoff race, Jamie was dealt to the Phillies and pitched strong, going 5-2 for a Phils team that fell short of the playoffs. But in 2007, the Phils finally won the NL East on the final day of the season.
Who was on the mound on that final decisive Sunday but one Jamie Moyer. He pitched 5+ shutout innings that day, and the Phils moved into the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Once again this season, Jamie Moyer continues to defy the skeptics and Father Time, and continues to find MLB success. With the last two NL MVP’s in Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, MVP caliber 2nd baseman Chase Utley, longtime slugger Pat Burrell, revitalized closer Brad Lidge, as well as rotation-mates Hamels and Myers, the Phils are loaded with stars who apparently have more talent than Moyer.
But ‘The Ancient Mariner’ may in the end be the single most valuable player on this Phillies team. He just keeps confounding hitters, winning ball games, and keeping the Phillies close in the standings in this once again tight race.
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard may be the single most feared slugger in Major League Baseball over the past few seasons, and yet somehow the guy remains underrated. How else can you explain that the man who will be the National League leader in both homeruns and rbi will likely be left off the N.L. All-Star team when next Tuesday’s mid-summer classic takes place? Should he not make the squad, Howard would be the first player in 60 years to be leading his league in both categories and still not make the team. The problem for some who make the selections, and who evaluate ballplayers, is that Howard strikes out at an even more prolific rate than he homers, and that his batting average of .234 is too low. However, there are a number of problems with criticizing Howard for these perceived shortcomings. First, as pointed out in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer by writer Todd Zolecki, the folks at baseball think-tank Baseball Prospectus did research on the relationship between teams’ strikeout rates and run production for a period covering over a half-century, from the 1950-2002 seasons, and found no correlation whatsoever. In 2005, after taking another look at the strikeout-runs correlation, they noted that each strikeout only costs a team about 3/100’s of a run. Ryan Howard strikes out a lot, but that is highly overrated. If he struck out 50 fewer times, but instead 30 of those were groundouts and 20 were decent-length flyouts, would he be viewed any better? His average certainly would be just the same, and just as poor. However, again average is another deceptive statistic. A batting average determines roughly how many times out of every ten at-bats a player will get a hit. If one player will get 23 hits for every 100 at-bats, and another player will get 27 hits for every 100 at-bats, does that make the latter player much more effective? In fact, does it make that player more effective at all? Fact is that so far this season, Howard is the former player, while Kevin Kouzmanoff of San Diego would be a prime example of the latter. Howard is hitting .234 while Kouzmanoff is hitting .274 with 11 homers and 37 rib. Kouzmanoff is hitting 40 points higher. Who would you rather have on your team, now or in the future? Another factor to consider is that Howard has fallen into a pattern of starting slow and finishing big over the course of a season. Two months ago, he was hitting just .163, but has hit a solid .272 since that time. The fact is that Ryan Howard is one of the best run-producers in all of baseball, and scoring runs is the name of the game. He leads the majors in homers and is 2nd in RBI. Health allowing, he is going to smack close to 50 homeruns again this year, and drive in close to 140 runs. The final argument on Howard’s all-star worthiness should be the production of others at the position so far in 2008. The other leading contenders would perhaps be N.L. starter Lance Berkman (.348/22/70), Derek Lee/Cubs (.304/15/55), Adrian Gonzalez/Padres (.279/22/70), and Albert Pujols/Cardinals (.348/18/49). Both Gonzalez & Pujols have been named as reserves for the N.L. squad, and are deserving for consideration. But Howard’s 27 homers and 83 rbi lead both of them, even factoring in that Pujols spent some time injured. This time of year, every team can look around and find a couple of players on their roster who they believe should have been all-stars but who fail to make the final cut. On the Phils‘ roster most would probably try to make the case for Pat Burrell & Cole Hamels. But I think that an even more compelling case can be made for Ryan Howard, who because of an over-emphasis on his strikeouts and low average has somehow reached the status of underrated ballplayer. If the Phillies were to actually lose his 50 homeruns and 140 rbi, they would not replace them, perhaps ever again.
The Phillies have vaulted out to a four game lead in the NL East here in early June. With the last two National League MVP’s in slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and team leader shortstop Jimmy Rollins, along with one of the favorites for this year’s honors in all-world second baseman Chase Utley, the Phillies offense is off to another great start.
Speedy Shane Victorino has taken charge in center field and on the base paths. Veteran left fielder Pat Burrell has been productive as he plays out the final year of his contract. Newcomers at third base (Pedro Feliz), right field (Geoff Jenkins), and closer (Brad Lidge) have made huge contributions, as has outfielder Jayson Werth in an expanded role.
Newcomer Eric Bruntlett filled in well for Rollins when he missed a month due to an injury and is a quality infield reserve. Greg Dobbs has again been one of the league’s top pinch-hitters. And the catching duo of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste has been solid.
On the mound, Cole Hamels is an emerging NL All-Star candidate, as has been closer Lidge. Brett Myers has struggled at times in his return to the rotation, but seems to be rounding into form. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Kyle Kendrick have also pitched well of late.
The bullpen of Lidge, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, and Rudy Seanez has been strong all season. The club could probably use another lefty out of the pen, as well as one more reliable big-time starting pitcher, in order to hold off expected second half challengers.
A repeat of their 2007 NL East championship is not only possible, but at this point the Phillies have to be considered the favorites. Their top expected pursuers should still be the struggling New York Mets, and the pitching-starved Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the young Marlins remain their closest challengers at the moment as the two clubs open up a three-game series in Miami tonight.