Tag Archives: Chase Utley

Rebuilding the Colossal Wreck That is the Phillies

8 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

PHILADELPHIA—During the Phillies run to five straight playoff appearances, crowds packed Citizens Bank Park and wondered what newcomers might be in red and white pinstripes at the July 31st trade deadline.

All was right in South Philly as Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley led a potent offense and a young Cole Hamels was part of a group of aces that shut down hitters right and left and included Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Fast forward to the present and the 2015 All-Star Break.

Today, the Phillies once mighty empire is in ruins. They have the worst record in baseball, finding a seat at Citizens Bank Park isn’t hard and the fans that do come see the team don’t have a lot to cheer about. In fact, as football season draws closer and the losses continue to mount, expect to hear E-A-G-L-E-S chants.

The star players from the team won the World Series in 2008 are shadows of their former selves thanks to a combination of age and injuries. Howard is batting just .218 with 14 homers and 41 runs batted in, boy wonder Utley is batting just .179 with just four homeruns and 25 RBIs, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is hitting .225 with one homer and 15 RBIs.

Heck, on Monday night, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the former MVP that proclaimed the Phightins “The Team To Beat”, added insult to injury by helping his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, win the game by driving in two go-ahead runs.
Before that at-bat, Rollins was batting a paltry .208.
The Dodgers, contenders in the NL West, are probably in search of additional pieces to help them make a run at the post season.
Maybe they need to bring their shopping list to Philadelphia.

It’s time for the Phillies to start moving folks. Howard has only one year left on a large contract that probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Meanwhile, Hamels is 5-6 with a 3.02 ERA that includes several outings where run support was hard to come by.

And contenders like the Dodgers and the New York Yankees could use a closer like Jonathan Papelbon to get them over the postseason hump.
You see, the Phillies need prospects. They need good, young players to bolster a thin farm system. And you can’t get those prospects when you have a bunch of guys that are not only a part of the past, but have become a pretty ineffective part of the present.

The long-term rebuilding process of turning the Phillies back into a contender will come under the watch of new team president Andy MacPhail, a man who comes from a long line of Hall of Fame front office guys. MacPhail was the general of the Minnesota Twins during their 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams season and most recently reviving a moribund Baltimore Orioles team.

The challenge for MacPhail will be to find a general manager that really knows talent because I get the feeling that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s contract will not renewed.

You’ll also need a good manager to turn a bunch of young players into a contender. With all due respect to Ryne Sandberg, who resigned as Phillies’ manager last month, a laid-back, milquetoast approach won’t get the job done.

From what I understand, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a Philadelphia-area native, is in the final year of his contract. He has a World Series ring and the Angels have finished no worse than third during his 15-year tenure as a manager. If I’m MacPhail or the new GM, I am on the phone with Scioscia at the end of the season.

When he assumes command, MacPhail needs to definitively show Phillies fans some that there’s going to be light at the end of what has been become a dark and gloomy tunnel.

Or the only memories that the Phillies will have are those of an empty stadium.

Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

20 Feb
Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.

Phillies Need to Face the Reality of Rebuilding

1 Oct

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—During the early part of the 2014 season, the Phillies left you with the impression that they could just have timely hitting, good defense and good pitching on a consistent basis, they were close to being a contender in the National League East.

It was something General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed and it was something manager Ryne Sandberg talked about even after nights when the Phillies offense came up short or the starting pitching put them in a deep hole from which they could not recover.

That was not only wishful thinking on part of Amaro and Sandberg, it was downright delusional.

Instead, the Phillies did what bad teams usually do, play well in one aspect of their game and suck in some other part. That was the most consistent aspect of the Phillies in 2014 and it resulted in the team’s last place finish (73-89) in the NL East.

To be honest, this season was doomed from the start, going back to the off-season when the most significant free agents signings were aging, over 30-something veterans like pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

While the latter actually had a decent season, the former pitched like the 37-year-old man he was during the season.

Burnett won just two games after the All-Star break and finished the season 8-18 with a 4.59 earned run average. The team also didn’t have left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who finished his season on the disabled list, for most of the season.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (now a free agent) was hot and cold, often struggling to get out of the first inning.

The only bright spots for the Phillies in 2014 were Cole Hamels, who got little help from his offense, and the young bullpen. Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but finished 9-9 and often lacked run support. He also had a no-hitter he shared with two other pitchers.

The Phils offense was a constant problem all year outside of Byrd, who led the team in home runs and lead-off hitter Ben Revere, who batted .307 and tied for the National League lead in hits.

Unfortunately, Amaro’s resurgence of the “Wheez Kids” was a monumental failure and it’s painfully obvious that change has to come, especially on offense.

That means that it’s time for the Phillies to come to the realization that Amaro has been avoiding for a long time—it’s time to say a fond farewell to the now 30-something guys who won the 2008 World Series whose best days are collectively behind them.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of course, the hardest player for the Phillies to move will be first baseman Ryan Howard, who will be 35 in 2015, because the team still owes him $60 million. No one around baseball wants to take on that salary.

Howard is coming off a season where he batted just .223 with 23 homeruns and 95 runs batted in with a league-leading 190 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2011 that Howard has played more than 150 games in a season.

After struggling through a myriad of leg injuries over the last couple of years, it was an accomplishment for Howard to finish the season. While those injuries are fully healed, I don’t think Howard was ever 100 percent back to himself from a baseball perspective.

That said, I think a change of scenery to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter might do him some good and even bring about resurgence in his career.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley have no-trade clauses in their contract. Rollins, the Phillies all-time leader in hits, told reporters back in June that he would be open to a trade if the team goes into complete rebuilding mode.

Guess what? That time is here.

Utley, who struggled in the second half of the season, should consider waiving his no-trade clause as well because it’s going to be a long time before this team is a contender again. I don’t know if Utley will like playing for a young, rebuilding team.

Out of the Phillies younger players that have come out of their system in the last year or so, third baseman Cody Asche was the only one who solidified a starting spot next year in the Phils starting lineup. There’s also talk that prospect Maikel Franco could be on the roster next year.

The Phillies will likely part ways with Domonic Brown, who had an awful season and regressed as a hitter. He batted .235 with just 10 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .285. In 2013, Brown had a .272 average with 27 homers, 83 RBI, and a .324 on-base percentage.

The Phillies will have a solid bullpen next year with a solid corps of young arms led by hard-throwing righthander Ken Giles, who will be the team’s next closer if they can’t find a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon, who served a seven-game suspension near the end of the season for an obscene gesture. He saved 39 of 43 games in 2014.

Giles, whose fast ball was clocked at 100 miles per hour, had a 1.18 earned run average in 44 games and had a 3-1 record with one save.

Amaro himself is on the clock in 2015—the final year of his contract. He has to figure out a way to get this ship going in the right direction for next year and beyond.

If he doesn’t, Amaro will be given his walking papers the same way former assistant general manager for amateur scouting Marti Worlever got his near the end of the 2014 season.

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

Utley’s Walk-Off Homer Backs Up Stellar Effort by Phillies Bullpen

27 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Chase Utley went 3-for-7 Thursday with three RBI including a two-run walk homer in win over the Miami Marlins.

Chase Utley went 3-for-7 Thursday with three RBI including a two-run walk homer in win over the Miami Marlins.

PHILADELPHIA – Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Phillies fans is watching the offense struggle to score runs, especially when their pitchers—both starters and relievers– are doing all they can to keep the team in the game.

It took the Phils offense 14 innings to finally put the game away on Chase Utley’s two-run walk-off home run to give the Phillies a 5-3 win over the Miami Marlins in front of 34, 168 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

But it was the effort of the bullpen—Jake Diekman, Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Ken Giles, Mario Hollands and winning pitcher Justin De Fratus—that kept the Phillies in the game.

“I think the bullpen is on a roll as a group,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “They’ve found their niche in the game. We’ve got situational guys and they’re feeding off each other. Competition within themselves and they’re just all doing the job.”

Like a hot hockey goalie, the Phillies bullpen stood on its collective head against the Marlins for seven innings and allowed no runs on three hits. They have not allowed an earned run in 24 of their last 25 innings. (They have 0.72 earned-run- average in nine games since June 17). Since June 3, the Phillies relievers have an ERA of 1.10.

“It’s a good thing to see and it just shows the hard work they’ve put in,” said Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels.

Meanwhile, it was Utley’s first walk-off homer for the Phillies since 2006 when he did it against the Houston Astros. The Phillies second baseman had been struggling and was 1-for-10 for the homestand coming into Thursday night’s game. Utley was 3-for-7 with three runs batted in against the Marlins.

Utley was in an 0-2 hole after taking an off-balance swing at a pitch. He made up for it on the next pitch by knocking the ball into the seats in right field.

“Especially after that swing in the dirt and so it was good to see him regroup and get a pitch he can really handle,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “He’s a grinder. Three RBI in the game, scrapped out a hit and the big shot at the end.”

With the exception of three solo homeruns to Giancarlo Stanton, Jarrod Satalamacchia and Marcell Ozuna, Hamels threw well enough to keep the Phillies in the game. He gave up six hits-three of which were not the long ball. He struck out seven with no walks in seven innings on the mound.

“It’s a situation when you get behind in the count, especially to all three of those hitters, they’re very good. They have power and when you make a mistake, they’re going to hit it a long way,” Hamels said. “When you don’t get ahead of hitters in general you put yourself in a bad situation.”

Hamels left the game in the top of the seventh down 3-2, but somehow his teammates got him off the hook for the loss when Domonic Brown scored from third when Marlins first baseman Jeff Baker mishandled a routine ground ball hit by shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who hustled down the line.

“Jimmy put the ball in play and hustling down to first base makes a difference there,” Sandberg said. “It was an open door and then we depended upon our bullpen and we used about all of it.”

The Marlins jumped on the scoreboard in their half of third when Satalamacchia belted a solo home run to the left field seats. Stanton homered in the fourth and Oduna hit one out in the seventh to give Miami a short-lived lead.

The Phillies scored their first two runs on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Ruiz that scored Utley. The Phils tied the game in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Utley that scored centerfielder Ben Revere.

 

Brown’s Fielding Miscue and Lack of Offense Doom Phillies in Loss to Miami

26 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Domonic Brown has been struggling at the plate and in the field. His misplay of a fly ball cost the Phillies in Wednesday's loss to the Miami Marlins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Domonic Brown has been struggling at the plate and in the field. His misplay of a fly ball cost the Phillies in Wednesday’s loss to the Miami Marlins. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—It was one of those nights where the Phillies (35-42) could point to doing really well in couple of facets of their game, but found themselves faltering in others.

They got solid effort from their starting pitcher  and a solid effort from their bullpen. The usual suspects of not enough hitting and a bad mistake in the field sealed their doom in a 3-2 loss to the Miami Marlins in front of 23, 360 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett didn’t have a bad night at all. He had eight strikeouts while allowing just five hits and three runs. But he had one bad inning that wasn’t exactly his fault.

With two on and two outs in the fourth inning, Miami leftfielder Marcel Ozuna hit should have been an easy fly ball to Domonic Brown in left. But the Phils outfielder over ran it and the ball ended up going to the left field wall to score Giancarlo Stanton from second.

That led Burnett giving up a two-run double to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to give the Marlins a 3-0 lead they had no business having in the first place.

To his credit, Brown didn’t hide from reporters in the training room or in the showers after the game, he took full responsibility for his blunder in the field.

“That’s a play I gotta make for my team,” Brown said. “That changed the whole game. I told A.J. I was sorry about it. But that play has to be made. It was a hard-hit line drive. I made a break in and that was definitely a big mistake. It was a low liner, I took a step in, but it was too late.”

Takeaway Brown’s blunder in the field, the Phillies might have come away with a 2-0 shutout, but that’s the maddening luck of a mediocre team that just can’t seem to get it together.

“If that ball’s caught right there, there’s no runs up on the board, it’s the third out,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “A .J had enough stuff to throw a shutout the rest of the game.”

Meanwhile in a solid display of backing up your teammate when stuff hits the fan, Burnett said there was no need for Brown to apologize to him. He said he should have gotten Saltalamacchia, who was 1-for-15 against him with nine strikeouts before that at-bat.

“I felt like I should have picked (Brown) up the next at bat. That’s what we do. You pick each other up,” Burnett said. “If the pitch is a little bit low to (Saltalamachhia) and you pick (Brown) up. He plays hard, he comes in everyday and prepares and goes about his business. It’s not like he’s trying to miss balls out there. Plays like that happen you gotta pick your teammates up.”

On the offensive side, the Phillies had their shots. In the second inning, they had men on second and third with just one out, but could not score. With the bases loaded and one out, the Phillies could only get a sacrifice fly from Chase Utley that scored Ben Revere.

An RBI single by Brown scoring Marlon Byrd in the bottom of the sixth to cut the Marlins lead to 3-2. That’s as close as they would come.

Miami starting right-handed pitcher Henderson Alvarez wasn’t necessarily the second-coming of Cy Young or Walter Johnson, but he did well enough to keep the Phillies bats at bay. He allowed just two runs (one earned) on seven hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.

 

Phillies Inconsistent Offense Gives Them Little Chance to Win

15 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is 3-for-15 in his last five games. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is 3-for-15 in his last five games. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—If you look at the standings coming into Sunday’s games, you notice that the last place Phillies are five and a half games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in the National League East standings.

The Braves and Nationals aren’t world beaters because they’re both just three games above .500.

When you see where the Phillies are, you get the feeling that if they can start playing with more consistency, they can get right back in the pennant race and all will be right with the world.

Right? (crickets)

At 29-38, the Phillies are what their record says they are a last place team that runs hot and cold, mostly cold. In this last homestand, the Phillies swept the San Diego Padres, but then lose two out of three to the last-place Chicago Cubs.

The starting pitching and the relief pitching have improved over the last month or so. The offense has been woefully inconsistent. They’ve been shut out nine times including seven times at home.

In Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Cubs, the Phillies managed to get just three hits and three walks off Chicago starter Travis Wood, a pitcher who didn’t get past the fifth inning when the teams met in April.

“We’ve been hot and cold and inconsistent on a string of games on the offensive side of things,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “Everybody’s had a chance, everybody’s had opportunities, we just haven’t able to put numbers on the board consistently. … It’s about picking it up on the offense. ”

That was something that really bothered Sandberg who said that Wood was putting balls over the plate, but his team couldn’t get any wood on the ball. The Phillies were hitless until the sixth inning.

“He pitched up in the zone and got away with it,” Sandberg said. “We couldn’t get on top of him. Those are balls if you get on top, you can drive them. He got away with pitching up… For us not to make an adjustment and get on top of some balls when a guy pitches up, those are hittable balls.”

Over the next 35 games including their next road trip through Atlanta and St. Louis, the Phillies are going to be facing teams that can score runs and with the way they’ve haven’t scored runs this could be a stretch of games that is going to determine whether they’re going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.

“If we pick it up on the offensive side of things,” Sandberg said. “We have to play to a different level and we have to do things better to get through this stretch.”

That’s been the hard part for a Phillies team that can’t seem to put anything together. The maddening part about this is that they are still in the race, at least for now. I guess you can hang your hopes on that possibility.

Looking at the way this team has played this season, I don’t see it and I’m not buying it. With this team’s luck, they might go on a tear on offense only to have the starting pitching or the relief pitching go into a slump.

Let’s face it when you can’t perform well enough in every phase of the game on a consistent basis, you are grossly mediocre or just bad. The Phillies, even with all the veterans, are just a bad team right now. As much as I like the Jimmy Rollins and the Chase Utley’s of the world, they may be on contending teams by August if they don’t start winning soon.

“Every game is big from here on out,” Utley said. “I definitely believe things can get better. There are guys in this room that want to get better.”