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Phillies must find bats, or go the way of the Yankees

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They say that pitching wins championships, and while the adage is up for debate, one thing seems clear: no matter how good your pitching is, you have to figure out how to scratch out a few runs at some point.

The vaunted New York Yankees offense hasn’t been able to do it against the Texas Rangers, scoring only 11 runs in four games, with five of those coming in the eighth inning of Game 1. The Philadelphia Phillies have experienced similar problems, scoring six runs in a Game 2 victory over the San Francisco Giants, but only three runs total in Games 1 and 3, both defeats.

The Yankees and Phillies are both big-budget powers who met in the 2009 World Series. They both sport lineups dotted with All-Stars and MVPs, and yet both are failing to put together consistent production at the plate.

The Yankees squared up Texas Rangers starter Tommy Hunter often on Tuesday night, but were unable to come up with the big blow when they needed it, stranding 21 runners. They then watched A.J. Burnett and a beleaguered bullpen fall apart late. Now staring at three win-or-else games, including a potential matchup against the untouchable Cliff Lee in Game 7, the Yankees appear to be, in all likelihood, finished.

The Phillies are an even more puzzling case than the Yankees, as their powerful lineup goes hand-in-hand with what many think is the best starting rotation in baseball. Yet after one start for each of the “Big Three” of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, they are staring at a 2-1 deficit against the San Francisco Giants.

After hitting just .212 as a team in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, the Philly offense was a concern heading into the NLCS against the Giants’ vaunted pitching staff. But even so, this level of ineptitude is a surprise. Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino are both hitting .182. Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz are at .222. Chase Utley is at .100, albeit with a .308 on-base percentage. And Raul Ibanez is a big, fat 0-for-11. Only Ryan Howard (.364) has been consistently dependable.

Charlie Manuel was his usual unflappable self after Tuesday’s defeat, putting it in simple terms (from Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“Look, when you don’t score no runs, you don’t get no hits, it’s hard to win the game,” Phillies manager-poet Charlie Manuel said. “But I don’t know what we’re going to do about it. I can sit here and talk about it. I can go in and talk to them about it, but when the game starts tomorrow is when we can do something about it.”

And Shane Victorino sounded like Charlie Jr. with this Yogi-esque gem: “I don’t know why we’re not hitting. We’re not going to sit here and worry about why we’re not hitting. We’re going to think about when we’re going to hit.”

Will the Phillies find their bats in time? We’ll find out on Wednesday when they face Madison Bumgarner, a Giants rookie who has a 3.00 ERA over 111 innings this season, and who held the Braves to two runs over six innings in his only NLDS start.

The Phillies counter with Joe Blanton, the much-maligned portly right-hander who will be making his first start since Sept. 29 and should be very well rested. Perhaps too rested.

Philly is still in decent shape. They still have the “Big Three” lined up for the final three games of the series, and while Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain are formidable, there is no Cliff Lee waiting in Game 7. They also get to finish the NLCS in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.

Perhaps the Phillies should juggle their lineup, shifting Rollins to the top of the order and pushing Ibanez down — way down. But in reality Manuel is right, he has a ready-made lineup of stars, and there isn’t much he can do other then make a couple tweaks and wait for them to hit.

Game 4 would be a good time for them to start.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

First American League All-Star voting totals are in, Sal Perez leads in the voting

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez jokes during batting practice before Game 2 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets  Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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It seems early, but this is when it happens: Major League Baseball announcing the early results for All-Star Game voting. Voting started in April which makes it kind of hard to weigh-in with any sort of certainty about how anyone is doing, but it probably doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t matter much for a lot of reason. Among them:

  • There are different schools of thoughts about who should be an All-Star. Some people think the biggest stars should always make it. Others think it’s a reward for a good first half of the season. I really don’t care either way, but if you’re a “biggest stars” person, April is fine for voting. Famous stars are no less famous because they’ve had a bad couple of months.
  • Despite the fact that the All-Star Game “counts” for home field advantage, the way it is played ensures that who starts is not super critical. Starters will be gone after a couple of innings. No matter the vote totals, the same general bunch of players will decided the game one way or the other, early or late. It’s the All-Star Game. It’s kind of a circus regardless.
  • Major League Baseball does not really care about the integrity of voting. They encourage you to vote a gabillion times, and it’s all very clearly aimed at getting people to visit lucratively-sponsored web pages in order to do it. Which, hey, good for them for making money, but that’s not how you run a tight voting operation.

That last bit is sort of key. I don’t want to overstate how important this is because, again, it’s just the All-Star Game, but there is laughably obvious fraud going on with the votes. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten emails from MLB.com and Royals.com thanking me for my maximum five votes that day. Stuff like this:

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That was from a while back. Last I checked it thinks I’ve voted, like, 60 times or something. I haven’t voted once and, obviously, I haven’t listed the Royals as my favorite team. Someone is using my email address or ID or whatever. In my case it’s for Royals players. Maybe people from 29 other teams are hacking other people in their team’s favor too, but the point of this isn’t the specific votes. It’s that this isn’t exactly a high-integrity operation.

Because it’s just All-Star votes I sort of don’t care too much, but it’s at least smart to take the vote totals, especially the early ones, with a grain of salt, sit back and wait for the Home Run Derby and just remember that the All-Star Game is kind of a crazy non-serious event, no matter what people say about home field advantage. For now, here are the voting leaders:

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Cubs fan gets a tattoo that assumes a World Series win in the next four seasons

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This isn’t quite as risky as that (phony) story about the guy betting his life savings on the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. But it’s still a gamble, both in objective, statistical terms and in terms of the Cubs and their overall karma and luck and stuff. But you gotta have hope, man. Hope is the best thing. Or at least that’s what an escaped ex-con once said.

This got tweeted out in March, but WGN and other media outlets are just picking it up now. I most appreciate the comma after the indeterminate 201_ year, which assumes they may win more than one.

Tattoo experts: what’s the easiest fix here assuming nothing happens for the Cubbies by 2020?

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.