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The Flyin’ Hawaiian returns to the Philadelphia Phillies

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Shane Victorino will help out the Phillies at 2019 spring training

Six and a half years have passed since the last time ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ pulled on the uniform of the Philadelphia Phillies on July 29, 2012 at Turner Field in Atlanta.

The aging Phillies dropped a 6-2 decision to their NL East Division rivals that afternoon. The defeat left them 12.5 games behind the second-place Braves and 16.5 off the pace being set by the first-place Washington Nationals.
The late Roy Halladay had taken the mound for the start that day. He would strikeout seven and walk just one over six innings and leave with the Phillies trailing by just 3-2 before the bullpen surrendered three in the 7th inning to break the game open.
The first five batters in the Phillies lineup that day were familiar to fans: Jimmy Rollins, Victorino, Chase UtleyRyan Howard and Carlos Ruiz. But all were between 31-33 years of age, beginning to push past their glorious prime years together.
Two days later, Victorino was one of the first to go in what would become a major rebuilding program that would last for more than a half-decade. He was dealt on July 31 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin, as well as a player-to-be-named who turned out to be in infield prospect named Stefan Jarrin.
On that same day, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr dealt away another starting outfielder, Hunter Pence, signalling a surrender of his team for the season. The club would actually heat up, pulling within three games of the second NL Wildcard with 11 to play. But that was as close as they would get.

Victorino became the left fielder for the Dodgers, stealing 15 bases over the final third of the season for a club that finished in second place in the NL West, two games off that final Wildcard pace and just five ahead of the 81-81 Phillies.
That off-season, Victorino became a free agent for the first time. He signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Boston Red Sox that would turn into three seasons when the Beantowners picked up his $13 million option for 2015.
In his first season with Boston, Victorino played right field. He would win his fourth career Gold Glove Award at age 33 and receive AL MVP votes as the Red Sox captured the World Series championship.
In the clinching 6-1 victory in Game 6 over the Saint Louis Cardinals, Victorino knocked in four of the runs with two hits, including a two-out, bases-clearing double to open the scoring in the bottom of the 3rd inning.
The following 2014 season was injury-riddled, with Victorino playing in just 30 games before succumbing to back surgery on August 5th. He returned in 2015 and again lost time due to a late-April hamstring injury. On July 27, 2015 the Red Sox dealt him to the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Josh Rutledge.
Victorino signed with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2016 season and went to spring training with them. He was released at the end of spring training, but signed a minor league deal to remain with the team. He was then released by the Cubs on May 23, 2016 and that was the end of his playing career.
Last July 3rd, Victorino formally announced his retirement from Major League Baseball. On August 3rd he signed a one-day contract with the Phillies in order to retire with the team for whom he had enjoyed his greatest successes.

Victorino was originally a 6th round draft pick of the Dodgers back in 1999 out of St. Anthony High School in Wailuki, Hawaii. Three years later he was left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft and was selected by the San Diego Padres. He broke into the big-leagues with San Diego for a 36-game cup of coffee at the start of the 2003 season.
On May 23, 2003 the Padres returned him to the Dodgers, realizing that they couldn’t carry him on their big-league roster all season. The Dodgers again exposed Victorino to the Rule 5 Draft in the next off-season, and on December 13, 2004 the Phillies pounced on him.
He would make his name in Philadelphia. In 2006, Victorino split his time between all three outfield positions. Then in 2007 he became the everyday right fielder as the Phillies won the first of what would become five consecutive NL East crowns.
When Aaron Rowand left in free agency, Victorino took over in center field. He would be the starter there for the Phillies for most of the next five years, until his 2012 trade to the Dodgers. He won three straight NL Gold Glove Awards from 2008-10, and was an NL All-Star in both 2009 and 2011. He received NL MVP votes in each of the latter two seasons.

And, of course, he was leaping on top of a pile of teammates as the Phillies won the second World Series championship in franchise history on October 29, 2008. Earlier in the month his grand slam home run off Milwaukee Brewers ace C.C. Sabathia had been one of the key hits in that entire postseason.
Victorino continues to call his native Hawaii as home for much of the year. His father, Mike Victorino, was elected as the Mayor of Maui last November. Back in November, Robert Collias at The Maui News asked Victorino what has become his focus in retirement:
Watching my children grow up, getting that opportunity as a father, to not have to worry about that 9-to-5 grind every day, but to have an opportunity to help be a part of their lives and their upbringing, basically be there for moral support.
Shane Victorino joined the Phillies today as a guest instructor. This is his first time in uniform since he left the Phillies in 2012.

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And now, for the first time since he pulled his uniform off on that late-July day nearly six years ago, Victorino will don a full Phillies uniform and take the field. He joins a long list of former Phillies players who have helped the team prepare this season including former 2008 World Series-winning teammates Jimmy Rollins and Chad Durbin.

When it was first announced back in mid-February that Victorino would be helping out at spring training this year, Tim Klepac at 12up described well what the Phillies hope to get from him: “Victorino’s relaxing demeanor is infectious and the front office hopes that will carry into their clubhouse in March.”
Originally published at Phillies Nation as Shane Victorino back in a Phillies uniform

Yankees and Red Sox may soon become Phillies division rivals

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Andrew Benintendi and the Red Sox could soon become Phillies division rivals

The Philadelphia Phillies baseball club and their fan base have now experienced seven consecutive non-winning seasons, six straight losers.

The front office is now in the midst of a pivotal off-season. GM Matt Klentak and his staff work the phones for potential trade partners. Owner John Middleton has promised to provide “stupid” amounts of money for them to shop in the free agent market.
It is all an attempt to return the Phillies to a consistent winner, something that became commonplace in the previous decade. The Phillies fielded a winning team in 10 of 11 seasons from 2001-11. That included five consecutive National League East Division crowns, back-to-back NL pennants, and the 2008 World Series championship.
As they make their plans, the Phillies brain trust is keeping at least one eye on their NL East rivals. The defending division champion Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, both of whom finished ahead of the Phillies in 2018, have already made big moves to improve their clubs.
The New York Mets and Miami Marlins finished behind the Phillies in the NL East standings this past season, and the Marlins are in a rebuilding program that may have them years away from contention.
Up in New York, the Mets have a new general manager who is on the verge of his own first big move. The Mets finished just behind the Phillies in 2018 and were coming up fast from behind when the season ran out on them.
But should the Phillies management actually be worried about the Braves and Nationals at all as they plan for the longer term?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken with a number of individuals in recent years about expansion and realignment. The goal has been rumored to be the dissolution of the two-league system with unity of rules, including a universal DH rule.
The result of expansion, with Montreal and Portland emerging as the two leading candidates, would come a 32-team league. Those teams would then be divided by geography into eight four-team divisions.
And here comes the potentially tough part. In many of the rumors the Phillies would be placed into a division with three other teams: the long-time division rival Mets, along with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Respected baseball writer Maury Brown of Forbes and formerly of Baseball Prospectus and USA Today was on this topic again today at Twitter as part of a discussion regarding the Portland efforts to build a ball park.
How does that sound to you, Phillies fans? The Phillies organization would have to be up to the competition provided by two behemoths from the Big Apple, and the traditionally powerful Bosox.
Each year, Forbes does a piece on “The Business of Baseball” in which they rank the value of each team in Major League Baseball. The Yankees ranked #1, the Red Sox were at #5, and the Mets were right behind as the sixth-most valuable. Among their current rivals, only the Mets rank higher than the Phillies, who finished as the ninth-ranked club.
That all matters when you consider the ability of those organizations to go after top talent. The overall allure of the Big Apple and all of the marketing opportunities that come with it always make the New York teams attractive.
Same goes for the lengthy winning traditions of the Yankees and Red Sox organizations. The combination of money and tradition make those two clubs perhaps the toughest in the game to compete against on a consistent basis.
Any plans for expansion, realignment, dissolution of the two-league setup, and major rules changes such as to the DH will likely come during the 2020’s. The Basic Agreement between MLB and the MLBPA will expire on December 1, 2021.

As baseball eventually comes to a new agreement with its players regarding the first-half of the new decade, many of these changes are sure to be addressed. By that point we should be getting a much clearer picture of the Phillies having to adjust to a much more difficult long-term competitive situation.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as MLB realignment could result in a Phillies competitive nightmare

Dodgers will have 2008 Phillies World Series hero Ryan Madson in their bullpen for the Fall Classic

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Madson will be trying to win his third World Series ring with a third different team

The Los Angeles Dodgers punched their ticket to the Fall Classic with Saturday night’s 5-1 victory in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series over the host Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

The Dodgers will now open the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park in Boston on tonight against the host Red Sox.
This is a return trip for the Dodgers, who a year ago advanced to the 2017 World Series. Los Angeles was edged out in seven games by the Houston Astros last October.
This also marks something of a return to baseball’s biggest stage for two key members of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship team, second baseman Chase Utley and relief pitcher Ryan Madson.
While Utley and Madson are under contract with and have played with the club this season, only Madson will actually be seeing action in the Fall Classic roster that was submitted today.
Madson began this season with the Washington Nationals. He was dealt to the Dodgers on August 31, three days after his 38th birthday.
He would make nine appearances for Los Angeles in September and was particularly effective over the final two weeks of the season. Madson allowed just one run on two hits with seven strikeouts and no walks in five innings down the stretch as the Dodgers battled for a sixth straight National League West Division crown.
Madson was on the Dodgers roster and made two appearances in the NLDS win over Atlanta Braves. He was then included on the NLCS roster in the victory over the Brewers. All total, he has seven postseason appearances so far this year, allowing just one run on six hits over 6.1 innings across seven games with a 6/1 K:BB ratio.
Utley has not appeared at all in this postseason for the Dodgers, though he has been given credit by players such as Matt Kemp and Enrique ‘Kike’ Hernandez for helping them.
A decade ago, both Utley and Madson were pivotal players in their prime as the Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win the club’s second-ever and most recent World Series championship.
Over 13 seasons with the Phillies, Utley became the greatest second baseman in the history of the franchise. The six-time NL All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner received National League Most Valuable Player votes on five occasions. He will surely be inducted to the Phillies Wall of Fame sometime in the next few years.
Madson was with the Phillies for the first nine of the 13 big-league seasons thus far in his career. He tossed 630 innings for the club, the vast majority of those as a key arm out of the bullpen.
Madson appeared on the mound in 491 games with the Phillies, with 478 of those coming in relief. He made another 33 relief appearances for the Phillies in the postseason from 2008-11. In the championship-clinching victory over the Rays he was touched for a game-tying home run off the bat of Rocco Baldelli in the top of the 7th inning.
A truly remarkable comeback story, Madson was out of baseball with various injuries for three full seasons. He returned in 2015 in surprisingly dominant form, becoming a vital member of the Kansas City Royals bullpen and winning a second World Series ring.

Utley will turn 40-years-old a week before Christmas and has announced that this will be his final season as an active player in Major League Baseball. Madson has made no formal announcement. But his continuing effectiveness should allow him to catch on with a team for the 2019 season, should he so desire.
Time stands still for no one, and that includes our sports heroes. Utley – warmly remembered by Phillies fans as “The Man” for his heroics here – will be rooting on his current Dodgers teammates as the events of the 2018 World Series unfold without his direct participation.
No matter what happens as this October battle winds the 2018 season to an end, the two will always be cherished and feted in Philadelphia for their contributions to the Phillies teams of the 2000’s.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Ryan Madson on, Chase Utley off Dodgers 2018 World Series roster

Final 2018 MLB Power Ranking

Ryan Braun and the Brewers ranked lowest
among MLB playoff teams
(Photo: Steve Paluch)
The 2018 Major League Baseball regular season has come to an end, and yet it still isn’t over. For the first time ever there will be a pair of “Game 163” events taking place.
The Chicago Cubs are hosting the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field at this very moment. The winner will be crowned champions of the National League Central Division. The loser will host the National League Wildcard Game tomorrow night.
Should the Cubbies win it would mark their third consecutive Central Division title. This will be their fourth straight postseason appearance. Back in 2015 the Cubs shut out the division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wildcard Game behind a 4-0 gem from Jake Arrieta.
The Brew Crew last captured the division crown back in 2011. That was the first division title for the franchise since their move to the National League for the 1998 season.
Prior to that you would have to go all the way back to 1982 and the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” team that won a second consecutive American League East Division title to find the last Brewers division championship squad.
Beginning at 4:09PM EDT the Los Angeles Dodgers will host the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium. The winner of that contest will be crowned as champions of the National League West Division. The loser will travel to either Chicago or Milwaukee, whichever also loses today, for a do-or-die meeting in that National League Wildcard Game on Wednesday night.
The Dodgers have been kings of this division for a long time now. Los Angeles has captured the last five National League West Division titles and seven of the last 10 division crowns.
Last year the Dodgers rolled through the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cubs, losing just once en route to the franchise’ first World Series appearance in nearly three decades. There they were defeated in seven games by the Houston Astros.
The Rockies played their first season as an expansion team back in 1993, and they have never won a division title. Colorado has advanced to the postseason four times, three as the division runners-up. Last year saw the Rockies losing an 11-8 slug-fest in the NL Wildcard Game to the Dbacks after finishing third behind LA and Arizona in the division during the regular season.
The Atlanta Braves are sitting home, able to relax and enjoy a few days break after running away with the National League East Division title. It marked the first division crown for the Braves in five years. Atlanta will travel to play whichever club wins the west in one National League Division Series beginning on Thursday.
Whichever team captures the Central Division title will play host to the survivor of the NL Wildcard Game in the other National League Division Series. That series is also scheduled to open on Thursday.
Over in the American League the match-ups have been set for some time. It will be the New York Yankees hosting the Oakland Athletics at 8:00PM EDT on Wednesday night in the American League Wildcard Game.
The winner of that game will then travel up to Fenway Park in Boston to face the host Red Sox in one American League Division Series beginning on Friday night. The Cleveland Indians will visit the defending World Series champion Houston Astros in the other ALDS beginning on Friday evening at Minute Maid Park.
Those four division series are each a best-of-five games, played in a 2-2-1 format as to home field. The winners in each league would advance to face one another in a best-of-seven League Championship Series. The winner of those would then meet towards the end of October in the 2018 World Series.
I released my first 2018 MLB Power Ranking on July 1, when the season was three months old. There have been four more since that time. Each time saw the Astros either alone at the top or sharing the top spot.
That remains the case in the below final 2018 MLB regular season rankings. The old saying remains true. If you want to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ. The Brewers are the lowest-ranked among all of the MLB playoff teams at 13th overall.

My formula for compiling the rankings has remained unchanged. I researched each of the 30 MLB teams current position in the four categories of winning percentageruns scoredpitching OPS, and fielding percentage. I then assigned each of those rankings a 1-30 value and added them up to determine an overall score.
To show team progression or regression through the season, I have included where each ranked at the MLB All-Star Game break in mid-July, then on August 15, and then after Labor Day weekend from left-to-right in parentheses.
1. Houston Astros (1-1t-1)
2. Boston Red Sox (2-1t-2)
3. Oakland Athletics (11-7-6t)
4. New York Yankees (3-3-3)
5. Cleveland Indians (10-4t-5t)
6. Atlanta Braves (4-6-4)
7. Chicago Cubs (5-8-6t)
8. Los Angeles Dodgers (6-9t-10)
9. Colorado Rockies (9-9t-11)
10. Washington Nationals (13-11-9)
11. Tampa Bay Rays (15-16-12)
12. Arizona Diamondbacks (7-4t-8)
13. Milwaukee Brewers (8-14-14)
14. Los Angeles Angels (14-12-15)
15. Seattle Mariners (12-13-16)
16. Saint Louis Cardinals (18t-15-13)
17. New York Mets (24-26-20t)
18. Pittsburgh Pirates (18t-20-20t)
19. Minnesota Twins (17-18t-20t)
20. San Francisco Giants (20-18t-17)
21. Philadelphia Phillies (16-17-18t)
21. Cincinnati Reds (21-21-18t)
23. Toronto Blue Jays (25-24-23)
24. Miami Marlins (23-25-26)
25. Kansas City Royals (27t-27t-27)
26. Detroit Tigers (22-23-24t)
27. Texas Rangers (26-22-24t)
27. San Diego Padres (27t-28-29)
29. Chicago White Sox (30-29t-28)
30. Baltimore Orioles (29-29t-30)
As I’m a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan, a couple of final words about the club’s performance this season.
First, as you can see from their rank at the MLB All-Star break and on August 15, the Phillies were never better than a middle-of-the-pack ball club from a statistical perspective.
Second, you can also see that the team plummeted down five places over the final month. Any Phillies fan who sat through the last two months can understand why.
Finally, a look over the full rankings shows that the Phillies finished just fourth among the five National League East Division teams. In fact, when looking at the numbers behind the rankings, the club finished just ahead of Miami as well.
The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies finished in the middle-of-the-pack as far as the overall MLB standings are concerned. Their pitching staff was competitive enough to be ranked in the middle as well.
It was the club’s 29th-ranked defense and 21st-ranked offense that held them back. It will be the job of Phillies management and ownership to fix the position-player mix in the coming off-season if they want to truly become a contending team in the 2019 campaign.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “MLB Power Ranking – 2018 Regular Season Final

Mid-September 2018 MLB Power Ranking

Terry Francona’s Tribe clinch the AL Central once again
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III via Wiki Commons)

This past week was the final full week of summer in the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season. 

The teams are now fully immersed in the stretch run, those final pivotal battles to determine division champions and wildcard playoff participants.

One team, the Cleveland Indians, has already clinched its division crown. 

Terry Francona‘s Tribe took the lead in the American League Central Division for good on April 21. Struggling a bit from mid-May through mid-June, once they got hot they pulled away and were never seriously threatened

In the American League East Division, the Boston Red Sox are on the verge of clinching. The Bosox “Magic Number” is down to just four to eliminate the arch-rival New York Yankees.

Out in the American League West Division, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros have re-established some measure of control. The Astros now hold a 3.5 game lead on the Oakland Athletics, four in the all-important loss column of the standings, and 11 is now their “Magic Number” to clinch.

Despite likely falling shot in their bids for a divisional crown, both the Yankees and A’s can begin printing their playoff tickets as well. Each team is firmly in control of the two AL Wildcard playoff berths, and they are headed for a one-game playoff showdown with one another.

The Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays each trail Oakland by seven games in the loss column. The A’s “Magic Number” is now just 7 in order to clinch that last available postseason berth.

While the AL playoff race is pretty much set, the National League races promise a far different and much more exciting final two weeks to the regular season.

Thanks to a collapse over the last six weeks by the second place Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves are closing in on the franchise’ first division title in five years. The “Magic Number” is down to just nine for Atlanta, though the Phillies and Braves will meet seven times over the final week and a half.

The Chicago Cubs are trying to take their third consecutive NL Central crown. It would mark the first time since a 1906-08 run that the Cubs finished in first place. Chicago has just a 2.5 game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers, three in the loss column, and it’s still a bit too premature to be discussing a “Magic Number” for the South Side ball club.

A two-horse race appears to be emerging in the wild, wild west. The National League West Division’s five-time defending champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, just took over the lead by a half-game on the Colorado Rockies.

The two clubs are tied in the loss column, and they will meet for the final time this coming week. That three-game set will take place at Dodger Stadium with a sweep by either team probably settling things.

The Arizona Diamondbacks began the month in first place. But losses in 10 of their last 14 have likely doomed the Dbacks to fighting for a Wildcard berth. Those two NL Wildcard slots are currently held by the Brewers and Rockies.

The Saint Louis Cardinals are just a game back of Colorado in the loss column for the second and final spot. Arizona and the Philadelphia Phillies are sitting four games out of that final playoff position and are both running out of time. If either or both is going to make a final push, the time is now.

There is an old sports saying that goes “If you want to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ.” Well at least as far as my MLB Power Rankings are concerned, that remains the case in Major League Baseball. The Houston Astros are once again on top. They have sat there alone or shared the lead all summer long.

My formula for compiling the rankings has remained unchanged. I researched each of the 30 MLB teams current position in the four categories of winning percentageruns scoredpitching OPS, and fielding percentage. I then assigned each of those rankings a 1-30 value and added them up to determine an overall score.

The current MLB Power Ranking going into games of Sunday, September 16 are presented below. Each team’s previous rank from the MLB All-Star break in mid-July, then the middle of August, and finally back on Labor Day is also presented from L-R in parentheses:

1.   Houston Astros (1-1T-1)
2.   Boston Red Sox (2-1T-2)
3.   New York Yankees (3-3-3)
4.   Atlanta Braves (4-6-4)
4.   Oakland Athletics (11-7-6)
6.   Cleveland Indians (10-4T-5)
7.   Los Angeles Dodgers (6-9T-10)
8.   Chicago Cubs (5-8-6)
8.   Washington Nationals (13-11-9)
10. Tampa Bay Rays (15-16-12)
10. Arizona Diamondbacks (7-4T-8)
12. Colorado Rockies (9-9T-11)
13. Los Angeles Angels (14-12-15)
14. Milwaukee Brewers (8-14-14)
15. Seattle Mariners (12-13-16)
16. Saint Louis Cardinals (18T-15-13)
17. Pittsburgh Pirates (18T-20-20)
17. New York Mets (24-26-20)
19. Cincinnati Reds (21-21-18)
19. San Francisco Giants (20-18T-17)
21. Philadelphia Phillies (16-17-18)
22. Minnesota Twins (17-18T-20)
22. Toronto Blue Jays (25-24-23)
24. Kansas City Royals (27T-27-27)
25. Texas Rangers (26-22-24)
25. Miami Marlins (23-25-26)
27. Detroit Tigers (22-23-24)
28. San Diego Padres (27T-28-29)
29. Chicago White Sox (30-29T-28)
30. Baltimore Orioles (29-29T-30)

These will be the penultimate MLB Power Rankings for this season. The final rankings are scheduled to come out on October 1, at the conclusion of the regular season and before the playoffs begin. They will be based on the final statistics accumulated by each team this year.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Mid-September MLB Power Ranking