Phillies' Ibanez reacts to grounding out to end the seventh inning of their MLB baseball playoff game against the Cardinals in Philadelphia

Destiny denied: The Phillies learn that pitching isn’t enough

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Someone tell me when I can breathe.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the Cardinals’ 1-0 win over the Phillies was the best pitching matchup I’ve witnessed since Morris vs. Smoltz.  Not when you figure in the stakes involved. Not when you appreciate just how brilliant Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter each were.  This, to put it bluntly, was pitching porn. It was a shame that either of these two aces had to lose. But Roy Halladay losing after such a brilliant performance reminds us that it takes a full team, not just a dream rotation, to win it all.

You’d be excused if you thought that Philly had, in fact, won it all several months ago.  The moment Cliff Lee signed last winter was treated as a coronation by some. How could a team with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt not lead the Phillies to a world championship? Over the past five years it’s been understandable to see Phillies fans adjust from rooting for a team that loses a lot to a perennial favorite, but even the world championship in 2008 didn’t change the tone surrounding this team like putting these four aces together did. The mood changed from one of hope and confidence to one of expectation in the winter of 2010-11, and it carried on throughout the year as the Phillies built an insurmountable lead in the NL East.

But those of us who’ve been around the block in the NL East a little bit — specifically, those of us who knew and loved the Braves of the 1990s — know that the regular season is a very different beast than the playoffs.  Those fantastic rotations are great for building a lead over the course of months. They give you an advantage four out of every five nights or so between April and September and they allow you to steadily — almost boringly — put yourself ahead of the competition.  Depth and pitching rule all in the summer.

But in the postseason, with so few games in play, that advantage is greatly reduced. Even against a seemingly overmatched opponent, that advantage only persists in a couple of games. And even in those games, it takes nothing more than a hit or two — like, say, a Rafael Furcal triple and a Skip Schumaker double — to neutralize even that.  Roy Hallday pitched brilliantly after falling into that 1-0 hole. But he needed help to get out of it, and that help never came.

In June, a team’s bats can go to sleep for four or five games and no one thinks anything of it.  I bet there were a number of stretches where Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz and everyone else in that Phillies lineup slumped around the same time.  It’s survivable then.  It’s a death sentence in the postseason, and that’s what the Phillies received this past week. The game story surely breaks down Howard’s 0-for-15 to end the series and all of the other similar ugly numbers, but you don’t need to know those specifics to know that Halladay was on his own tonight.  For as valiantly as he pitched, he needed someone to come through and they didn’t.

But it’s not just a story of failure. Credit Chris Carpenter for brilliance of his own. A three-hit shutout — indeed, the first 1-0 shutout of his career — tied this one up in a bow.  He had help from some spectacular defense by Rafael Furcal too.  And of course those two hits by Furcal and Schumaker. Neither of which were part of the Cardinals’ plans for dominance of the National League last winter.  Neither of which carried the Cardinals through the regular season. They just … happened.

And the fact that they just happened should be well-remembered by fans of the next team that assembles a seemingly invincible roster.  Fans of the next version of 2011 Phillies who believe that, because of some audacious moves by the front office, the regular season is a formality and that postseason glory is theirs for the taking.

Baseball just doesn’t work like that. It takes more than just a great pitching staff.  It takes more than a great lineup. It takes more than great defense. It takes all of those things playing the ying to the other two things’ yangs for six months. And then it takes them all converging at once for a week or two in October.

Didn’t happen for the Phillies this year. And to expect with any degree of certainty that it was going to way back in the winter was folly. Let it be a lesson we all remember in the future.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.

Diamondbacks hire Mike Fitzgerald to head Research and Development department

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mike Hazen, new Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Red Sox, addresses the media during a press conference to announce his promotion before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on September 24, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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According to an official announcement, the Diamondbacks have acquired former Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald as their new Director of Research and Development.

Fitzgerald joined the Pirates’ front office in 2012, where he frequently accompanied the team on the road to help breach the divide between analytics and the clubhouse. According to a profile written by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh in 2014, Fitzgerald’s multifaceted approach brought balance and perspective to the organization, whether he was assisting coaches in making statistically sound decisions, optimizing the batting order, weighing in on scouting and personnel decisions, developing more effective defensive positioning, or keeping players and personnel appraised of the latest developments in sabermetrics.

In the wake of Fitzgerald’s departure, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington praised the Diamondbacks for a smart acquisition and said that the club has every intention of finding a replacement analyst, albeit one who will have some big shoes to fill.