Cliff Lee shuts down the Giants

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It seems like a year ago that the Giants took two of three from the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, but it was only about a week.  For that matter it seems like ten years ago that the Giants beat the Phillies in the NLCS, but it was less than ten months.  But one thing is exactly as it seems: these are two teams heading in starkly opposite directions.

The Phillies won their seventh game in a row last night. Cliff Lee was the master of ceremonies, shutting out the Giants on seven hits. He took only 106 pitches to do it, 76 of which he threw for strikes. And of course he didn’t walk a batter. If there was any doubt that things have changed, know that Cody Ross struck out four times.

Meanwhile Hunter Pence continued his excellent play since coming over in the trade from Houston. He had three hits, a homer included, and drove in two. He’s 9-for-25 with five batted in since joining the Phillies. And of course, they haven’t lost since he arrived.

The Giants are skidding and look outmatched against Philadelphia. For that matter, so does every other team in the National League.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉