NLDS Preview: Phillies vs. Rockies

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phillies_091006.jpgThe good news for fans of the Colorado Rockies is that their team — on the strength of their big 2007-esque second-half surge — is once again baseball’s feel-good story.

The bad news? The Phillies don’t really care.

Since firing manager Clint Hurdle and replacing him with Jim Tracy, the Rockies have gone 74-41 (.643) to go from last place in the NL West to within three games of catching the division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The NL wild card entrant scored the second most runs in the National League, were second in home runs, second in on-base percentage, second in slugging and fifth in stolen bases.

Even the pitching was improved with solid seasons from Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis, plus the emergence of Jorge De La Rosa (16-9), who finished 16-9 after losing his first six starts.

But now the bad news: De La Rosa will be a non-factor, as his injured groin will keep him out at least until the NLCS, should the Rockies manage to advance that far.

Also, the Phillies are simply a terrible matchup for Colorado.

2009 NLDS Probables
Game 1: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Cliff Lee
Game 2: Aaron Cook vs. Cole Hamels

Game 3: J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton or Pedro Martinez vs. Jason Hammel
Game 4: Whoever is left vs. Jason Marquis

Game 5: Jimenez vs. Lee

The Phillies appear to have the edge in starting pitching, though maybe not as big an edge as it appears at first glance. Lee started hot after joining Philly at midseason, but had mixed results down the stretch, including a six-inning, seven-run outing against the Brewers on Sept. 25, and a three-inning, six-run outing against the Astros on Sept. 4.

2008 playoff hero Hamels was spotty all season, a maddening occurrence that continued into September. And Happ, the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher over the course of the season, faces — against all logic — an uncertain role.

On the Rockies’ side of things, Jimenez has blossomed this season , and Cook and Hammel have been solid. But without De La Rosa, and with Marquis coming back to Earth after a dazzling first half, the edge has to go to the Phillies.

THE OFFENSES
As mentioned above, the Rockies have been a run-scoring machine this season despite the loss of Matt Holliday in an offseason trade. Troy Tulowitzki has been the star, reverting to 2007 form (better, actually) after a 2008 season hampered by injuries. His .297/.377/.552 line makes him the big threat in a solid Rockies lineup.

The problem is the Phillies’ offense is even better. Put together a powerful lineup with stalwarts Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, throw in a career season from Raul Ibanez, and you have a force to be reckoned with.

The Phillies led the NL in doubles, home runs, slugging percentage, RBIs and runs scored. They were also second in stolen bases, with Utley, Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino each swiping at least 20 bags. Once again, edge goes to the Phillies.

Numbers
Phillies won season series 4-2
Phillies outscored Rockies 31-28 

Runs per game
Phillies: 5.06
Rockies: 4.96

Runs allowed per game
Phillies: 4.38
Rockies: 4.41

Overrated angle
The Phillies bullpen:
Yes Brad Lidge has had an awful season. Yes Ryan Madson has had moments where he has struggled. But this is a short series with two off days (if it goes to a fifth game), and the Phillies have a wealth of starting pitching. Some combination of Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez could be available in relief, taking pressure off the back end guys. And Lidge finished the season with three scoreless outings. I’m not saying he’s anywhere near 2008 form, but that’s gotta be a good sign right?

Underrated angle
The lefty-righty matchups:
With De La Rosa out, the Rockies have no left-handed starters to face a Phillies lineup dominated by lefties (Ibanez, Howard, Utley) and switch hitters (Rollins, Victorino). On the other side of things, the Phillies are loaded with left-handed starters (Hamels, Happ, Lee) to face a Rockies lineup dominated by left-handed hitters. This will give Philly a huge edge.

Prediction:
Despite the matchup problems, the Rockies — led by Tulowitzki — should be able to score some runs on the Phillies. The problem is Colorado’s pitchers should struggle against that dominant Phillies lineup. And when you consider the Rockies’ home/road splits (51-30 in Denver/41-40 away from Denver) the Rockies really needed homefield advantage to make this happen.

Phillies in 4.

Must-Click Link: Where’s Timmy?

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Tim Lincecum last pitched last season for the Angels and he did not pitch well. Over the winter and into the spring there were reports that he was working out at a facility somewhere in Arizona with an aim toward trying to latch on to another team. He didn’t. And, given how his velocity and effectiveness had nosedived over the previous few seasons, it was probably unrealistic to think he’d make it back to the bigs.

But now, as Daniel Brown of the Mercury News reports, he seems to simply be gone.

He’s not missing in any legal sense — his friends and family know where he is — but he’s out of the public eye in a way that most players at the end of their careers or the beginning of their retirements usually aren’t. He’s not been hanging around his old club, even though the Giants say they’d love to honor him and give him a job if and when he announces his retirement. He’s not hanging around his high school or college alma maters even though he makes his home in Seattle, where they are. He’s gone from being one of the most identifiable and conspicuous presences in baseball to having disappeared from the public eye.

Brown’s story is an excellent one, touching on Lincecum’s professional rise and professional fall, as well as the personality traits that may suggest why he’s not eager to be making headlines or posing for pictures. A good read.

 

Major League Baseball claims it will “redouble its efforts” on expanded netting

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Yesterday, during the Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the stands along the third base line where she was sitting. In some parks that ball would be stopped because of netting down the line.

There was no netting that far down the line in Yankee Stadium, because (a) Major League Baseball does not require it; and (b) the Yankees have still not committed to expanding it like other teams have.

A few minutes ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement about the injury:

I’m not sure how baseball can “redouble” its efforts given that its efforts thus far have been to completely delegate the responsibility of expanded netting to the 30 clubs.

This delegation came in December of 2015 when Major League Baseball released its recommendation — not its mandate — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of the clubs’ choice. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected.

While these recommendations were better than nothing, they also seemed far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league and its clubs than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.

The stuff about fan education was obviously a creature of an assumption-of-the-risk calculus. It was, essentially, a disclaimer of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety and, as such, was aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury. A way of saying “hey, we told the Yankees [or whoever] that they should do more, please don’t sue us too.”

It’s one thing to do all of that and walk away, as the league seemed content to do in 2015. It’s another thing to walk back today, as Manfred is, claiming that the league will “redouble” such transparently ineffective efforts. It’s frankly insulting. Yet this is baseball’s approach to the matter. The league is, for whatever reason, afraid to tell its clubs that it has to do something that is so clearly prudent. It, apparently, is waiting for a someone to be killed by a foul ball before mandating netting rather than meekly suggesting it.

Oh, I’m sorry. Waiting for someone else to be killed. Because it has happened before. Absent prudent protections it will, inevitably, happen again.

While Major League Baseball may have been safe from being held responsible for such things due to its ticket disclaimers and assumption of the risk arguments in the past, it won’t be in the future. One would hope it will not take death or debilitating injury of a fan for the league to accept it.