Can anyone beat the Phillies?

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The Phillies have won ten in a row. Fourteen of their last 15. Twenty-two of 26.  It’s getting a bit difficult to find appropriate superlatives, so let’s just throw out some stuff and try to grok how great things are going for this team at the moment:

  • The Phillies used only two relievers — Madson and Lidge — in their three games against the Braves, for a total of five innings.
  • Roy Oswalt, who turned in the best performance of all of the big three in the series, has allowed one run in his last 22 innings. In 11 starts since the trade which brought him over, he is 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA. The Phillies have now
    won 10 straight Oswalt starts.
  • Cole Hamels is 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA and is holding batters to a .173 batting average over his last five starts.
  • As Todd Zolecki notes over at MLB.com, while the Phillies offense hasn’t been hanging eight or nine runs a game on guys lately, they have been knocking opposing starters out of games early lately, and getting into the bullpen.  This is less sexy than high scores, but it’s proved to be an effective means of winning via a war of attrition.

Any reason for concern? It’s hard to find one that gets you animated.

  • They bumped Roy Halladay back a day for his next start. He could very well be tired at the moment — he gave up a whopping three runs in seven innings against the Braves, the sad sack — so it makes sense that they need to rest him, what with him not having done this pitch-in-October thing before.
  • Jimmy Rollins is still hurt — he’s expected to play before the regular season is over — but they survived much of the year without him, and are thriving without him at present.
  • I also suppose the Phillies would have liked to seen the offense put up more runs on Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the two rookie starters the Braves thew at them on Monday and Tuesday, but hey, who needs runs when you got the Big Three?  I think they’ll sort it out.

I’m not one to make bold, confident predictions — baseball just doesn’t lend itself to that sort of thing — so I won’t make one now. I will say, however, that I have a hard time seeing anyone go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia once the playoffs come.  If they get the best record in the NL — which is highly likely – they’ll be able to pick a division series schedule that allows them to use only three starters.  After that, they can just go for broke with Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt and plan on resting them up all winter.

The only thing that can derail them? The very nature of baseball itself. Strange things can happen in the playoffs. For years people said that no one could match Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in the playoffs and — on paper anyway — that was true. With the exception of 1995, however, someone always managed to find a way.  The NFL has the “any given Sunday” reputation, but it’s in baseball where anything can truly happen.

But yeah: if you put a gun to my head right now, I say it’s the Phillies title to lose.  Does anyone really think otherwise?

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

Braves
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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.