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October 25, 2009
On the Beat
Jimmy Rollins was reflecting on the previous October and looking ahead to this year's postseason one day early in spring training, when he said something that made it clear the Phillies would not be complacent this season. "What we did last year, winning a World Series, was a great accomplishment and something we can cherish for the rest of our lives," the shortstop said. "You know what, though? The truly great teams are the ones who won more than one World Series. The teams people remember and talk about forever are the ones who did it more than once. That's what I'd like to see us do, and I think everyone else on this team feels the same way."
All these months later, the Phillies have put themselves in position to become the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series since the 1975-76 Reds. The 1998-2000 Yankees won three straight Fall Classics, and are the last team to accomplish the feat. The Phillies did their part as far as getting to the dance by beating the Dodgers in five games in the National League Championship, and will face either the Yankees or Angels in the World Series on Wednesday night in the home ballpark of the American League champion.
"Trying to win another World Series wasn't something we really talked about much when we got to spring training or when the season began," said first baseman Ryan Howard, the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS. "It was more of an unspoken thing, just everybody's mindset. We had pretty much the same group of guys coming back, and we knew what we were capable of. It was just a matter of us playing our game and going out there and doing it. I think it was that little underlying expectation that we had for ourselves that, hey, we know we can get back there and try to win it again."
Last year, the Phillies steamrolled the Rays in five games to win the World Series. The task would seemingly be tougher this time around against whichever team emerges from the American League Championship Series, which the Yankees lead 3-2 going into tonight's Game Six in New York. However, the Phillies have shown they have the blend of hitting and pitching that allows them to match up with anybody. They were fourth in the major leagues in runs scored in the regular season with an average of 5.1 a game, and seventh in runs allowed with a 4.4 average.
The Phillies overpowered the Dodgers in the NLCS, scoring 35 runs in the five games while hitting 10 home runs, which made up for the rather pedestrian slash stats of .231/.348/.500. "I think our lineup is outstanding," manager Charlie Manuel observed. "If you look down through our lineup, we've got guys who are dangerous and our power shows up, even in our seven hole. And (eighth-slot hitter Carlos Ruiz) is capable of sitting anywhere from 12-20 homers in a season. A lot of times we win games just because of the fact we can hit the ball out of the ballpark. We need to be a little bit more consistent and I'd say we can be a better hitting team. Right now, for the National League, I think we're outstanding. We can stay after you and put a big number on you any time during the game."
Starting pitching was supposed to be the Phillies' downfall this season, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took steps to rectify that during his first season on the job. He signed Pedro Martinez as a free agent at the All-Star break after the 219-game winner was unable to find a deal to his liking on the open market last winter. Then Amaro traded four prospects to the Indians for left-hander Cliff Lee in late July after finding the Blue Jays' asking price for Roy Halladay to be too steep. Lee is likely to start Game One of the World Series, with Martinez following him in Game Two. Lee provided 2.1 SNLVAR and a .550 SNWP in 12 regular-season starts, and Martinez contributed 1.3 SNLVAR and .536 SNWP in his nine turns.
"This is the best pitching we've had since I've been here," said Manuel, in his fifth season on the job. "In order for us to really have a lot of success in the Series, of course, we're going to have more consistent starting pitcher than we've had in the postseason. But we are very capable of doing that and I know, because of that, we can win the World Series again."
To think the Phillies are even in position to win consecutive World Series is rather amazing considering the franchise's history of losing. The Phillies are the only major league franchise to lose 10,000 games, and had only one previous World Series victory to their credit, beating the Royals in 1980, before last season. The Phillies will also be making just their seventh appearance in the Fall Classic in the franchise's 127-year history. However, the Phillies have slowly evolved into one of the best organizations in baseball in this decade, under former GMs Ed Wade and Pat Gillick, and now Amaro. They finished second in the NL East for three straight seasons from 2004-06 before breaking through with three consecutive division titles. The Phillies were swept by the Rockies in the National League Division Series in 2007, but have gone a combined 18-5 in the postseason in 2008 and 2009.
"When I was coming up through the farm system, this was considered a losing organization," said Howard, the Phillies' fifth-round draft pick in 2001 from Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). "When I first got called up, you saw the kind of the pieces to the puzzle. We kind of fell short in 2005, fell short in 2006, got over the hump in 2007 and had a quick exit. We just gained a lot of experience over those three years going into 2008 and then into this year and now it has all come together. I don't think I've ever played on a team that's been so fun. We have a great group of guys. We all get along. There is great chemistry and we all have a lot of fun. To be able to make it to this point again, it's definitely something very special because a World Series isn't guaranteed to anybody. For what we did last year, that was something special. But to get back to this point, to have the opportunity to try to do it two years in a row, that's even more special."
The groundswell of support for expanded instant replay seems to be growing with each blown call in the postseason. And the number of blown calls have reached the point where Major League Baseball has abandoned its long-standing policy of including at least one World Series rookie on the six-man umpiring crew it will use in the Fall Classic. Instead, all six umps will have worked at least one World Series.
Mike Port, MLB's vice president of umpiring, was at Angel Stadium for Game Four of the ALCS when third-base umpire Tim McClelland, a 26-year veteran, missed two obvious calls in the same inning. Port admits that he is flummoxed by all the bad umpiring.
"I don't know that I can explain it," Port told the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin. "I only know the effort and professionalism of the umpires. They don't make excuses when these things happen. They review plays. They try to be accurate at what they do. Sometimes, try as they might, things occur. It's not a lack of effort. It's a performance thing."
Part of the problem is that many of MLB's most experienced umpires are unavailable to work in the postseason because of injury or illness, including John Hirschbeck, Charlie Reliford, Jerry Crawford, Tim Welke, Ed Montague, Gary Darling, Rick Reed, Kerwin Danley, Alfonso Marquez, Brian Runge, Bill Hohn, and Ed Hickok.
Replays are currently used to determine boundary calls on home runs, but Commissioner Bud Selig is adamant on holding the line there, saying that he does not want to expand the use of video review any further. Ironically, one retired umpire who is strongly in favor of replay is Don Denkinger; Denkinger made the most famous blown call in World Series history in 1985. The Cardinals were holding a 1-0 lead over the Royals in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six and were ready to close out their second World Series title in four years. The Royals' Jorge Orta led off the inning by hitting a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped to pitcher Todd Worrell covering first. Denkinger called Orta safe, but replays showed he was clearly out. The Royals rallied for two runs to win 2-1 then rolled to a 11-0 victory in Game Seven for what remains their only world championship.
"I'm in favor of getting all the calls correct, whatever it takes," Denkinger told the Bergen Record's Bob Klapisch. "I don't see how (Selig) can get away with not using (replay). It makes no sense not to. There's nothing better than getting every call right. Why not have a guy in the (broadcast) booth who can review the play and get a ruling in 20 seconds? I don't think anyone wants to see the game delayed any more than it is but I think everyone wants to get the calls right. That's the scenario every umpire thinks about."
Yankees GM Brian Cashman took plenty of criticism following the 2007 season when he stood by while the Mets acquired left-hander Johan Santana from the Twins in a trade for four prospects. Cashman's reluctance to deal with the Twins looked even worse when the Yankees' string of 13 consecutive post-season appearances ended in 2008.
However, Cashman had a reason for not pursuing Santana and signing him to the type of lucrative contract-six years and $137.5 million-that the southpaw received from the Mets. That was that Cashman wanted to save money for last winter's free-agent class. He took his savings and went crazy on the open market, signing left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett, and first baseman Mark Teixeira for a combined $423.5 million. The trio combined for 15.3 WARP1 this season, and the Yankees are one victory away from their first World Series appearance since 2003.
"When we added David Cone from Toronto (during the 1995 season), we were a piece away at the time," Cashman told the New York Daily News' John Harper. "But when Santana became available, in my opinion we weren't a piece away yet. So I told ownership, 'Listen, six months really isn't a long time to wait, though it turned out to be a long time for me, to be honest, and if we can have the patience and discipline, I can't guarantee you we'll be able to get Sabathia, but think about what our organization will look like if we can add him and keep these other assets.'"
Ownership believed in Cashman's vision and he delivered, not only reeling in Sabathia but the other two trophy catches as well. "I remember being in our suite in Vegas (at the winter meetings last December) telling ownership, 'I don't know if we're going to get this done or not.' Atlanta was all over Burnett and I still wasn't feeling comfortable at all about CC. There was a moment when I was like, 'You know what, this is all going to blow up in my face.' But then CC invited me to his home in California, and it was like a John Calipari situation. Calipari's reputation is off the charts as far as being a closer, and when he gets in a home he usually walks out with his recruit. That's how I felt. I had to be able to close."
Despite all the turmoil surrounding the Dodgers, including owner Frank McCourt firing his estranged wife Jamie as chief executive officer one day after Los Angeles was beaten by the Phillies in the NLCS for a second straight season, GM Ned Colletti has no desire to leave the organization. That is why Colletti, whose contract was set to expire at the end of the postseason, agreed to a multi-year extension the day before the Dodgers were eliminated.
"Had I thought this was not the right place, I wouldn't be here," Colletti said. "I don't have to be here. I believe in the people here and the direction we're going. It is the right place to be. It's not a decision I made under duress."
Colletti was hired after the 2005 season, a year in which the Dodgers went 71-91. They have won the last two NL West titles, the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1977-78. Colletti had some missteps early on in his tenure, particularly in the free-agent market, as he signed right-hander Jason Schmidt for three years and $47 million, outfielder Juan Pierre for five years and $44 million, and center fielder Andruw Jones for two years and $36.1. That trio has combined for -2.0 WARP1.
However, Colletti believes he has learned from his mistakes, and that he now has the Dodgers well positioned to continue being contenders in the NL West with such young players as left-hander Clayton Kershaw, closer Jonathan Broxton, catcher Russell Martin, center fielder Matt Kemp, and right fielder Andre Ethier. "I think that some of the decisions that we made that didn't work out particularly well were out of impatience on our own part and trying to turn something around," Colletti said. "But I think the last year or so our deliberation and our thought process were keener, more fine tuned, and less impatient. We've established it now where we've gone three out of the four years this group has been in place, to the postseason, back-to-back LCS, so I think we're in a good spot."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills reportedly has a good chance of becoming the Astros' next manager. Astros GM Ed Wade is very familiar with Mills, who spent four seasons as the Phillies' bench coach. … Former Nationals manager Manny Acta appears to be the frontrunner to become the Indians' next manager, and is also in the mix for the Astros' job. If he winds up losing out on both fronts, there is a good chance he will wind up with the Blue Jays some time during the 2010 season, after Cito Gaston is (perhaps inevitably) fired. … Former big-league skippers Bob Melvin and Bobby Valentine have emerged as candidates for the Nationals' job, along with Dodgers bench coach Don Mattingly. Jim Riggleman, who finished the season as the Nationals' interim manager, will also get a chance at winding up with the gig for keeps. … With assistant GM Jed Hoyer set to become the Padres' GM, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has taken proactive steps to stem the brain drain by offering special assistant posts to two recently fired GMs, Kevin Towers and J.P. Ricciardi. … Despite sitting out this season because of shoulder surgery, right-hander Ben Sheets figures to be a hot commodity on the free-agent market, with the Red Sox, Brewers, and Rangers likely to be among the suitors. … Second baseman Orlando Hudson, stung by being benched in favor of Ronnie Belliard in the playoffs, has no desire to re-sign with the Dodgers as a free agent.