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 in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.