8

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner, sometimes I feel like my only friend, is the city I live in, the city of Angels. Lonely as I am, together we cry.

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Today was a weird day. It began with the news of a school shooting in Matthews, a community in southeast Mecklenburg County. Fortunately, it was not a mass-shooting, it was a dispute between two people. Unfortunately, the victim died. Coming on the news of the heinous shooting in Pittsburgh, it’s all enough to make you quite sad. It’s enough to shake your faith in humanity.

The gun control debate has become quite tiring. Neither side has nudged any closer to the other. That’s sad, because most of the public agrees- some people shouldn’t have access to guns. The mentally ill, convicted felons, domestic abusers- none of them should have a gun. Almost everybody agrees. That won’t fix everything, but it will at least help some things.

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Tonight’s GOTV playlist:

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers- Under the Bridge
  2. 50 Cent- Piggy Bank
  3. Eric Clapton- Layla
  4. Rihanna- S.O.S.
  5. Aerosmith- Living on the Edge

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Tonight’s candidate of the night is Jon Tester. Senator Tester has served as a leader in Montana’s State Senate, and for two terms in the U.S. Senate. Despite the state’s Republican tilt, Tester has managed to keep winning.

Tester is the kind of Senator who is a majority maker. If Democrats can keep him in the Senate, a majority will be in reach soon. Donate here. Volunteer here.

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Tonight’s story of GOTV past- the 2008 PA HDCC. The story of that cycle was winning in spite of everything. Yes, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania big, but not necessarily in the most competitive House seats. We also had a cool dozen Democratic State house members and staffers indicted in conjunction with the “BonusGate” investigation. Despite that, we grew our 102-101 majority to 104-99. It remains the high water mark for PA Dems since 1992.

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For my money, this is my wish list for the Phillies off-season:

  1. Bryce Harper
  2. Manny Machado
  3. Patrick Corbin
  4. Craig Kimbrel
  5. Cole Hamels (if available)

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So What Were the Phillies?

Just under a month ago, the Phillies were down around two games out of first. Just over a week ago, the Braves lost five in a row, and seemed to let the Phillies back in for one more shot at the NL East. The Phillies lead the NL East for the bulk of the Summer, and were once fifteen games over .500. The Phillies left for their final road trip of the season eight days ago at 78-73. It feels like that was long ago.

The Phillies are 78-81 now, going into the final series of 2018. They were among baseball’s worst teams in the final two months of the season. They just went 0-8 on a road trip. Worse yet, the Phillies looked uncompetitive on the trip, losing the first three games in Colorado while giving up over ten runs a game. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Phillies were throwing the games on this trip.

The Phillies achieved something amazing this year: their first 155 games were all played with a chance to make the post-season, and yet they can’t win more than half of their games. They managed to improve by at least twelve games over last season and yet finish so badly that they left a bad taste in your mouth. They managed to improve by 12 games while being much worse offensively and defensively. They have a line-up where nearly every position hit double digits in homers, yet they fell way off offensively from 2017. The bullpen was very good, even though everyone they tried at closer stunk. The team made no sense.

The Phillies spent almost the entire season contending for the playoffs, and yet they’re going to finish more than any one player’s worth out of the playoffs. After Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, name me another player you want to definitely keep. Tell me you wouldn’t even entertain firing the manager and GM, even though the team is 12 games improved over 2017. Tell me what part of this team couldn’t use improving.

The Phillies have some major advantages going into the off-season- a low payroll, lots of money, excess of starting pitching, and a good minor league system. They’ll need to use those advantages actively this Winter. They have some raw ingredients of a good team, but clearly in hindsight, they weren’t close to good. Maybe the positive season we thought happened, in fact did not.

The Pressing Phillies Questions, Re-Visited

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the “most pressing questions facing the Phillies” for the remainder of this season. With the team playing badly, and with Seranthony Dominguez letting them down in what should have been an easy win last night, I feel like it’s at least time to update the answers to the questions I had.

Number one, I wrote:

Is Seranthony the closer moving forward? My answer is no. He’s a guy with high velocity, sure, so he’s probably a major league reliever. His command hasn’t been impressive though, and the movement on his ball has diminished as the Summer went. I think he was lightning in a bottle, not our Kenley Jansen.

I’m more sure of this than when I wrote it. I’m not ready to DFA Seranthony, but it’s clear the league has figured him out. He’s not ready for this role.

Number two, I wrote:

What’s Odubel’s future in Philadelphia? It’s not looking great. His stat line usually comes out good, he’s shown impressive power this year, and he does make some amazing plays in center. He’s super streaky though, and sometimes really stinks. He makes bonehead mistakes. He’s a liability when he’s off. With the Phillies needing to open up a spot if they sign Bryce Harper this Winter, Odubel’s second half is making him expendable.

I’m pretty much sticking by this, too. Odubel is a really likable, fun player. He’s also been terrible since the beginning of June. You can’t be that streaky.

Number three, I wrote:

What’s Roman Quinn’s future? As bad as Odubel has been, he’s opened the door for Roman Quinn to get a chance. I see Quinn limited to being a fourth outfielder at this point, as he gets hurt too much. He should get to play right now though, as long as he keeps hitting.

I’m sticking with Quinn as a fourth outfielder. He’s played well, but he broke a toe and is limited right now. I like Quinn, but my opinion isn’t moved.

Fourth, I wrote:

Should Carlos Santana start over Bour? Right now? No. Bour is hitting better, right now. We need to win games, right now. You deal with the contracts in the Winter. For now, give me Bour.

For the moment, I have to admit some error here. Bour got hurt right after I wrote this, and after his return, the Phillies have been able to get him at-bats by sticking Santana at third. Santana has been hot as well. The future at first base is murky though, not unlike what it was from 2012-2016, where a big contract controlled baseball decisions.

Fifth, I wrote:

Can Jerad Eickhoff save the Phillies? This is a sleeper story on the horizon. Eickhoff was so good in 2015 and 2016 that many fans saw him as a cornerstone. Then in 2017 the Phillies seemingly tried to pitch him through pain/nerve damage, and messed him up bad. Now he’s rehabbing back towards the majors, just as several starting pitchers are hitting career inning highs, and several relievers look cooked. They very much need Eickhoff to be right.

This was unfair of me to write. I got right that the Phillies starters were getting tired- Eflin particularly stinks right now. Eickhoff save the team after missing most of two years with injuries that the team seemingly mishandled? Best case is he gets in some work and is ready for 2019. Gabe’s not even starting him.

Sixth, I wrote:

Is the back end of the Phillies rotation cooked? Eflin, Pivetta, and Vince are looking really inconsistent lately. Could they be out of gas? It sure looks it. The Phillies need some reinforcements.

I think I nailed this, mostly. Eflin is done, and shouldn’t be sent out there to fail anymore. Pivetta has been very unlucky this season, and should finish the season out to help continue his maturation process. Vince has actually made a good impression on me this season, but isn’t going to save us right now.

Seventh, I said:

Why does Scott Kingery still start games? No, for real, why? He’s terrible offensively. He’s not a good shortstop. We sent Crawford down after he came off the DL, but Crawford at least can man the spot defensively. Cabrera should be playing shortstop every single game remaining, and if it weren’t for his contract, Kingery belongs in AAA. I don’t think his whole career will stink, but the Phillies rushed Kingery up early. He’s not someone who should be playing in a 2018 pennant race.

Ok, imagine this- I’m re-thinking my position on Kingery. I don’t see what the Phillies do. I don’t think it works out. They get paid to be right though. Since I think the Phillies are toast, play him somewhere- like second base. I have been a Cesar Hernandez fan, and I still think he’s better than Kingery, but his second half has left me wanting more. Let’s see Kingery play there too.

Eighth, I wrote:

Can the Phillies win games when Rhys Hoskins isn’t hot? It seems no. Rhys is having a really good season, and I’m a fan, but he’s been a bit streaky this season. When he’s in a funk, or even is just normal, the Phillies struggle. They’ve put a lot on a first year player this year.

Let’s rephrase this- can they win at all? He homered in every weekend game to reach 30, and the Mets won twice. Rhys is a really good hitter that played out of position this year, and I get why, but he’s not going to carry this bucket of slop offense to the playoffs on his own. The Phillies need to commit to him, but they need to add too.

Ninth, I wrote:

Will Nick Williams be back in 2019? I think this comes down to Williams and Odubel trying to hang on. Right now, I’d pick Williams. If we sign Harper, I think Odubel would lose his job, even though he’s the best center fielder in the group.

You know what, I have no idea here. I like a lot about Williams, but I’d like his glove more in left, and his bat in the lower part of the order. Is he back? I don’t know.

Tenth, and finally:

What’s with Gabe’s line-up card? Not starting Bour and Cabrera against de Grom is a sin. Making sure he gets Kingery at-bats is a sin. Throwing Seranthony out to close is a sin. Gabe has to do better, this team can win right now.

I’m actually more positive than not about Gabe Kapler. Really. But, I got this right.

Be Bold?

The Pressing Phillies Questions

One could argue that the last four Phillies games were the worst four of the season. Losing a series to the Mets this season is inexcusable, but I could grant the de Grom game to them, just not getting shut out by Vargas. Then the first two Nats games were both really ugly, especially since the Nationals are throwing in the towel on the season trading away some key players. The last few days have given rise to several key questions moving forward:

  1. Is Seranthony the closer moving forward? My answer is no. He’s a guy with high velocity, sure, so he’s probably a major league reliever. His command hasn’t been impressive though, and the movement on his ball has diminished as the Summer went. I think he was lightning in a bottle, not our Kenley Jansen.
  2. What’s Odubel’s future in Philadelphia? It’s not looking great. His stat line usually comes out good, he’s shown impressive power this year, and he does make some amazing plays in center. He’s super streaky though, and sometimes really stinks. He makes bonehead mistakes. He’s a liability when he’s off. With the Phillies needing to open up a spot if they sign Bryce Harper this Winter, Odubel’s second half is making him expendable.
  3. What’s Roman Quinn’s future? As bad as Odubel has been, he’s opened the door for Roman Quinn to get a chance. I see Quinn limited to being a fourth outfielder at this point, as he gets hurt too much. He should get to play right now though, as long as he keeps hitting.
  4. Should Carlos Santana start over Bour? Right now? No. Bour is hitting better, right now. We need to win games, right now. You deal with the contracts in the Winter. For now, give me Bour.
  5. Can Jerad Eickhoff save the Phillies? This is a sleeper story on the horizon. Eickhoff was so good in 2015 and 2016 that many fans saw him as a cornerstone. Then in 2017 the Phillies seemingly tried to pitch him through pain/nerve damage, and messed him up bad. Now he’s rehabbing back towards the majors, just as several starting pitchers are hitting career inning highs, and several relievers look cooked. They very much need Eickhoff to be right.
  6. Is the back end of the Phillies rotation cooked? Eflin, Pivetta, and Vince are looking really inconsistent lately. Could they be out of gas? It sure looks it. The Phillies need some reinforcements.
  7. Why does Scott Kingery still start games? No, for real, why? He’s terrible offensively. He’s not a good shortstop. We sent Crawford down after he came off the DL, but Crawford at least can man the spot defensively. Cabrera should be playing shortstop every single game remaining, and if it weren’t for his contract, Kingery belongs in AAA. I don’t think his whole career will stink, but the Phillies rushes Kingery up early. He’s not someone who should be playing in a 2018 pennant race.
  8. Can the Phillies win games when Rhys Hoskins isn’t hot? It seems no. Rhys is having a really good season, and I’m a fan, but he’s been a bit streaky this season. When he’s in a funk, or even is just normal, the Phillies struggle. They’ve put a lot on a first year player this year.
  9. Will Nick Williams be back in 2019? I think this comes down to Williams and Odubel trying to hang on. Right now, I’d pick Williams. If we sign Harper, I think Odubel would lose his job, even though he’s the best center fielder in the group.
  10. What’s with Gabe’s line-up card? Not starting Bour and Cabrera against de Grom is a sin. Making sure he gets Kingery at-bats is a sin. Throwing Seranthony out to close is a sin. Gabe has to do better, this team can win right now.

That’s it for now. Hopefully we do some winning soon.

The Phillies are Built to Last

There was a certain satisfaction in watching last night’s Phillies win. The Boston Red Sox are certainly not one of my favorite teams, but they are baseball’s best team this year. The Phillies dropped a tough 2-1 battle on Tuesday, but managed to split the season series with a team that should easily top 100 wins. Boston may very well have this year’s AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, but the Phillies didn’t back down from them in any of the four games, in either park. Down 3-0 on Wednesday night, facing a sweep, they fought back and won 7-4. That is a satisfying win.

When you look at the Phillies line-up, you aren’t overwhelmed. Nobody is going to hit .300 in this line-up. It’s highly unlikely anyone hits 40 homers. Rhys Hoskins is probably the only guy that drives in 100 runs, or probably hits 30 homers. They’re a bottom of the league team in batting average. What do they do well? They take a lot of pitches. Their on-base percentages are deceptively good. They’ll probably have six or seven guys hit 20 homers or more. They hit well later in the game. It’s not that they have nothing going here, but they’re not a line-up that impresses you much.

The Phillies are a good team because they can pitch. Aaron Nola has been outstanding. Jake Arrieta has been way better than some fans give him credit for. While they’re inconsistent, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez have all dominated at times, in a season where they all made tremendous leaps forward. The bullpen has become deceptively strong as the season rolls along. This team has pitched it’s way into contention, despite relative youth and inexperience, and one of the worst defensive clubs in baseball.

And yet, despite all of those positives, I’m not sure they will win the division. They are two games back of Atlanta for the first time since the virtual beginning of Summer. Atlanta has a young, ready for prime time offense. They’re beating up on bad teams better than the Phillies right now. Atlanta’s doesn’t seem like the same level as the Phillies, but they’ve done a more than admirable job, and the numbers are way closer than you think. Who wins this division probably comes down to whether Atlanta’s starting pitching or Philadelphia’s offense is better- assuming Washington is who they look like at this point.

In the long run though, the Phillies are poised to dominate the NL East. If you were to ask me what I’d rather have to improve in free agency- starting pitching or offense- I’d take offense every time. We’re coming up on a major off-season, with major available bats like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper on the market, and the Phillies are well-positioned to make monster bids on both. Other than the often-injured Clayton Kershaw, there are less available game-changing arms on the market, and they will be very expensive. Atlanta simply doesn’t have the kind of money the Phillies do either, whether to extend contracts to their own players or free agents.

Even if the Phillies third through fifth starters don’t all solve their consistency issues, the Phillies have a dominating AAA staff that is cruising through the International League, and Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina waiting in the wings to eventually fill in here. The Phillies will not need to dive into the expensive starting pitching market as much as Atlanta and others will. They will be able to spend in free agency to fill in their 2019 line-up, and trade from their depth of pitching to get more bats. With their deep pockets, the Phillies can build a sustained winner. The NL East is going to hate this group for a long time.

Some Friday Thoughts

A bunch of random stuff.

  1. #LABron? LOL. LeBron James will be a free agent in under 48 hours. Many people seem to think he’s going to the Lakers. He may want to live there more, in which case he’s probably going. If it’s a basketball decision though, he’d be foolish to go there. Right now, they have very little of value. If they trade for Kawhi Leonard, they’ll trade it all. Even if Kawhi and LeBron both get there, Golden State will beat them. I know the media wants the Lakers to matter again, but LeBron should let that mess of a team just die.
  2. Putin is going to play Donald Trump. If you’re not terrified of their impending summit, you should be. Trump is almost certainly going to end up giving the far more cerebral Putin something of value. Like Crimea.
  3. Anthony Kennedy was a rotten SCOTUS Justice. I know it’s sad he retired, and his replacement will probably be worse, but Kennedy was an awful judge. He just upheld the Trump travel ban, gutted union rights, and hurt women’s health care in the span of a week by voting just like Gorsuch and Thomas. He voted for Citizens United. He voted to make George W. Bush the President. Cry me a river, I have little good to say. Besides, he’s retiring to let Trump pick his replacement- because that’s what he wanted.
  4. Wtf World Cup?!? Germany, out. Italy, not there. USA, not there. Why would I care? Worse yet, Senegal got eliminated because of yellow cards. Go Mexico, I guess, but I’m struggling.
  5. The Phillies and Rangers should work out a blockbuster trade. As I stated before, the Rangers have some players who make sense in Philadelphia. Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Adrian Beltre would make the Phillies serious contenders- together. Matt Klentak can make it happen- and he should.
  6. The Democrats are probably going to lose Senate seats in 2018. The U.S. Senate race in Florida is polling all over the place, with both Senator Nelson and Governor Scott leading different polls. Democrats are in very difficult defense races in West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. There are several other races, namely Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Jersey, that could go south on them. Meanwhile, they have a shot to pick up Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas. The odds aren’t great of Democrats picking up two Senate seats, and the majority. They may be as unlikely to hold all 49 they have now, too.
  7. Roe v. Wade is probably dead, but that’s not all. So the bad news is that Roe v. Wade will probably die at the hands of Donald Trump’s next SCOTUS pick over the coming few years. The awful news is that this will probably motivate Republicans to come out and vote this year to support their President. The worst news? Roe v. Wade may look like the top of the iceberg as issues of executive power, LGBT rights, election law, and issues Kennedy gave us the fifth vote over reach the court.
  8. Rising interest rates and cost-of-living issues are the top political issues no one is talking about right now. The cost of living has been rising faster than wages for decades, but that’s not news. The news is we’re in one of those periods right now. The cost of borrowing money is starting to rise. The cost of essential goods like gas is rising. The trade wars we are launching against Europe, China, Canada, Mexico, and others will raise prices. Their retaliatory tariffs will spike the cost of some of our key products, causing layoffs and outsourcing of jobs. Prices are going up, and that’s bad for middle America.
  9. Steven Tyler was in Bethlehem and I’m mad I missed it. I’ve been on an Aerosmith kick lately, particularly their 90’s era records “Get A Grip” and “Nine Lives.” The bluesy feel they took on during that period fits life right now. So naturally I missed Steven Tyler coming through Bethlehem for a solo show. Oh, and I missed Joe Perry and his band coming through, a month or two back. Bad timing never fails!
  10. I’m really angry at Joe Crowley. The reports are that he didn’t run much of a race to keep himself in. Now we’re being forced to listen on how “the future” is Dem Socialist. He probably would have lost on demographics, but at least he’d have tried. I will not support a Democratic Socialist party. We really didn’t need to give them there one good primary night of this season, just so they could sing the virtues of embracing a 28 year old, ex-Sanders organizer as our future.

Several Ideas for Matt Klentak to Make the Phillies Great Again

The Phillies are 41-34 and in second place in the NL East. They lead the Wild Card race on June 25th. In their last four series, they’ve won two of three from Colorado, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Washington, all teams considered to have playoff aspirations. The Yankees come in next for three games in a good measuring stick series. Phillies fans should be getting excited.

If you listen to some though, the team still isn’t very good. What about the batting averages? Do we trust the pitching? The bullpen stinks! Why does the batting order keep changing? Gabe Kapler over-manages and doesn’t know what to do with the bullpen!

There’s some truth to all of that. It’s all overkill couch-quarterbacking on talk radio too. The Phillies basically are what they are, a good team with flaws, a playoff contender who could make noise, if they can overcome their flaws. If General Manager Matt Klentak can make some moves to improve them, he should do so. He also shouldn’t blow up his minor league system, or young team, unless he can make some high impact moves. Klentak could make this a great team, but he should be cautious about doing too much- this team may organically grow into what we hope anyway.

If I was the GM, here’s what I’d do before the deadline, in order:

  • Get the bullpen some (left-handed) help. This is the biggest need this team faces. Sure, Kapler refuses to manage like a human being and assign roles in his bullpen, but the truth is that he also doesn’t have a great bullpen. Some of his best guys- Dominguez, Ramos, and Arano, in particular- are super young and learning on the job. He’s trotted out Adam Morgan, Hoby Milner, Zac Curtis, and Austin Davis as his lefty specialists to get out Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, just in our division. In terms of just in-game impact for this season, someone of the caliber of Jake Diekman to be the go-to left-handed reliever in this bullpen would really stabilize things. I’d even argue the Phillies should go for two relievers if the outlook on Pat Neshek isn’t good. Placing all of the leverage situations on a couple of young, talented arms could overwork them, and encourages the mismanagement of the bullpen that Kapler has shown this year.
  • Get the rotation a (left-handed) high end starter, if affordable. You never have enough pitching. I think the Phillies need more relief pitching, but another high end of the rotation starter, preferably a lefty, wouldn’t hurt. Cole Hamels name will get tossed around a lot, and I’d definitely consider him. I don’t think the prospect package will be anything near what we got trading him away, that contract is almost over, and you know he’s comfortable here. He’s not the only guy I’d look at though. J.A. Happ is a less flashy version of the Hamels option, and is pretty effective at what he does. Madison Bumgarner, if everything’s working, is money for a stretch run. There are plenty of options, and that’s even assuming there’s no way we could land one of the Mets couple of aces.
  • Get another power bat, if affordable. I’d obviously like to get Manny Machado, and sign him long term. I don’t consider this to be our top need though, at least not this Summer. I also realize it could be hard to trade for him and get an extension done, as he seems to want to test the market. Even so, if the price/long-term impact/need for a deal match up, he would wildly improve this line-up, and I’d want him. Or someone like him. Preferably we’re looking for a shortstop or third basemen here.

I wouldn’t go crazy and sell off the farm for anything less than a star that I can either immediately extend, or control beyond this year. This team’s development is far from complete, and they’re only going to get better. While many fans are down on JP Crawford’s bat this season, I wouldn’t rush to trade him- he’s actually considerably younger than the rest of this young line-up. I still think he’ll end up fine. I’m also seemingly higher on Nick Williams and Nick Pivetta than some of the other young guys on this team and would like to keep them.

We’re at the end of June and these Phillies look like the real deal. Matt Klentak could go put them over the top, in the post-season with baseball’s elite, this year. While he should be thoughtful about how, I don’t think he can afford to be timid. C’mon Matt: Make the Phillies Great Again.