Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Now It's Time to Root for Cliff Lee

That's what I was telling myself after the Phillies unceremoniously ended their season, again failing to produce the requisite offense it takes to get to the World Series.

For a few brief moments, I thought the Phillies would pull this thing off, get to a game 7 and maybe even overcome their offensive ineptitude and get back to a third straight World Series. I felt that way when they scored twice in the first on a Chase Utley RBI double and Jayson Werth sacrifice fly. I felt that way in the bottom of the third, when right after his team had tied the game, Jonathan Sanchez blew up, walking Placido Polanco to start the inning, then plunking Utley and losing his mind when Chase had the audacity to toss the ball back to him. It wasn't the first time those two had at it.

I felt that way in the fifth when the Phils had the bases loaded. And I felt that way in the sixth when Raul Ibanez led things off with a double, then was sacrificed to third on a perfect bunt by Carlos Ruiz. I even felt that way with Ryan Howard up and the season on the line.

But as has been the case the entire NLCS, the Phillies came up small in each and every one of those situations. And I think that's why I wasn't in an absolute murderous rage when the season ended. It was almost as if you could see this coming with the way the series had been going. Through all six games, the Giants were simply better. They out-pitched the Phils. They out-hit the Phils. They out-played the Phils, in every conceivable way.

When the Giants needed a big hit, there was Cody Fucking Ross, or Juan Uribe, or Aubrey Huff, or Buster Posey. When the Phillies needed a big hit, hell just a decent at-bat or some contact, they popped up, struck out or weakly grounded out. It was the story of the series, and the story of Saturday night.

The biggest moments of the game weren't Utley's double or Huff's single or Polanco's throwing error or even Juan Uribe's home run. OK, maybe Uribe's home run. But just as big were the moments the Phillies came up small. In that tumultuous third inning, the Phillies had two on and nobody out, had just chased the Giants' starter after just two innings and two batters and had Citizens Bank Park rocking. Then Ryan Howard struck out, Werth flied out and Victorino grounded, no runs. Another missed opportunity.

The three biggest at-bats of the game were three of the worst at-bats in the history of baseball. The first came courtesy of Shane Victorino. In the fifth inning, with the game tied, Jayson Werth was intentionally walked with two outs to load the bases. In stepped Victorino in a dream spot. All the pressure was on Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner. All Shane had to do was wait for his pitch, a pitch to hit hard somewhere, maybe even a pitch to drive out of the ballpark or into a gap and give his team the lead. Instead, on a 1-0 pitch with the bases loaded in a tie game, Shane hit what equated to a swinging bunt right back to Bumgarner, hitting it about as softly as a human being can and killing the rally. It was devastating.

The next big spot came just an inning later. Raul Ibanez led things off with a double. Ruiz moved him along to third with a tremendous sacrifice bunt, putting Raul on third with one out. In came Ben Francisco to pinch-hit, and his sole objective was to get his bat on the ball and hit it out of the infield. Instead, he did neither of those, striking out looking on a pitch that was no doubt about it a strike. The only thing he really couldn't do there was strike out, yet he not only struck out, but struck out with the bat on his shoulder. It's the type at-bat that is inexcusable, especially considering the moment. Ben Francisco should be forced to give his playoff pay back for such a horrible at-bat. My roommate made a really good point too. Why, after an entire postseason of anemia, wouldn't Charlie have gotten Mike Sweeney a couple more at-bats so he could have used him in that spot?

I know Francisco has been this team's main right-handed bench bat, and he had played well down the stretch and had a decent game earlier in the series. But Ben Francisco has been known to strike out. Mike Sweeney is much more of a contact hitter. He would have been perfect for that spot. Admittedly, I didn't even think of it at the time until my roommate said it. I don't necessarily blame Charlie for that. Francisco has to get the job done. But it's something think about.

Of course, after Francisco struck out in embarrassing fashion, Jimmy Rollins flied out to end the inning, completely wasting a leadoff double by Ibanez.

And then there was that final at-bat of the season, the one that put an end to Philadelphia's postseason. With an entire year's worth of work on the line, the Phillies' $25 million man struck out looking with two on and two out and his team down by a run. I don't care if you thought it was a ball, hated the call or what. With the season on the line, you absolutely can't go down with the bat on your shoulder. You're taught from the moment you first step in the box as a little kid that the cardinal sin in baseball is to get caught looking. You swing at anything close with two strikes, and no matter how you look at it, that final pitch sure as shit was close. Ryan Howard should be completely ashamed of himself.

It was his third strikeout of the game, 12th strikeout of the series and 17th of the postseason. He struck out at least once in all nine playoff games, striking out three times in three separate games, including the final two games of the season. The same Ryan Howard who has averaged 136 RBIs in his five full big league seasons, the same guy who carried this team with 17 RBIs last October did not drive in a single run in this playoffs. You're not going to win many games if you're cleanup hitter isn't driving in any runs. And the Phillies didn't.

They lost this NLCS because they deserved to lose. The Phillies were better than the Giants on paper, but the Giants were better on field, and that's all that really matters. Now it's time to root for Cliff Lee to get the World Series ring he rightfully deserves.

Besides a 5-2 win by the Flyers, there wasn't much to help cheer anyone up either over the weekend. Sure, Penn State beat Minnesota 33-21, but beating Minnesota is nothing to write home about, especially when you lose your starting quarterback to a concussion while doing it.

First, the highlights. Robert looked really good before getting injured, completing 11 of 13 passes for 130 yards and a score. It was nice to see him look confident and competent once again, two things that were completely absent against Illinois. Silas Redd gained 71 yards on 9 carries, and it's pretty clear he's the best running back on the team right now. Plus, he looks eerily similar to Ki-Jana Carter without his helmet on. Though Evan Royster did finish with some nice numbers, gaining 62 yards on 10 carries, but he had one long run that skewed his average.

Derek Moye scored two touchdowns and had 81 yards receiving. Brett Bracket looked pretty good early on. And Anthony Fera was booming punts and dropping them inside the 20 like it was his job. Which it is. So well done, Fera.

Defensively, only two players showed me anything out there, and they were both in the secondary. D'Anton Lynn is a stud, and he had an interception to prove it. I really like that guy. And Malcolm Willis got a ton of PT with Nick Sukay out, and in my opinion the redshirt freshman was the best defender for Penn State all game long.

He just seemed to be making plays left and right.

Now for the bad. The offensive line still completely sucks, and I'm beginning to think that Stefen Wisniewski is actually the worst of the bunch. I don't know how this guy was once considered really good, because he is absolutely awful. Evan Royster, while averaging 6.2 yards a carry on Saturday, still looks slow and plodding and absolutely nothing like the player he once was. I think I kind of hate him now. Justin Brown also didn't get the ball enough once again, which makes me so mad because I know that guy is going to be awesome once these idiot coaches stop rotating receivers every damn play. Oh, and Matt McGloin showed precisely why he was a walk-on, his first pass notwithstanding. He's terrible. And so is Kevin Newsome. Let's hope Bolden's head isn't mush.

Defensively, I'm completely unimpressed with the entire front 7. All of them. The defensive line gets no pressure whatsoever and very little penetration on run plays. The linebackers don't even look like football players most days, most especially Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti. And the secondary is very talented, but Stephon Morris had a rough go of it Saturday, routinely missing tackles, something this entire team does way too often.

Sure, it was good to get back on the winning side of things. But you know things are bad when a 33-21 victory over an atrocious team is something to look at as a building block. It's been that kind of year.

Then there was the Eagles on Sunday. Not good. Yes, the Eagles were winning 19-10 in the fourth quarter, but then they gave up 27 straight points to lose going away.

Kevin Kolb did not look very good against Tennessee, which made Andy Reid's decision to name Michael Vick the starter after next week's bye pretty easy. Kolb was just 26 of 48 and threw two picks. Truthfully, it probably should have been three picks or more, had it not been for this insane catch by Riley Cooper.

It was a far cry from his offensive player of the week performance against Atlanta. There were several occasions where Kolb badly underthrew the deep ball, whether it was due to a lack of arm strength or simply making a bad pass. And the two picks were killers, but the game really turned on the fumbled handoff between him and LeSean McCoy at the Tennessee 1. From there, the Eagles never scored another touchdown, and the momentum swung in the Titans' favor.

That momentum stayed there because of Kenny Britt. Holy hell did that guy have a huge game: 7 catches for 225 yards and three scores.

All game long, Britt was completely abusing the combination of Ellis Hobbs and Nate Allen. Neither guy could do anything to slow the Rutgers product down. Yet time and time again, there was Hobbs lined up opposite Britt, and time and time again there was Allen left with the task of manning Britt in some sort of zone defense. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Britt was dominating on a Randy Moss in his prime level, yet Sean McDermott never once did a damn thing about it.

This is why Sean McDermott is a terrible defensive coordinator. I know the Eagles don't like to flip-flop their cornerbacks. Asante Samuel plays on the left side, and Ellis Hobbs on the right. And that's all well and good, especially in the days of Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, and Sheldon and Asante. Those guys were essentially interchangeable, because they all were good corners. Here's the thing though: Ellis Hobb is no Sheldon Brown or Bobby Taylor or Lito Sheppard. He's an average at best starting cornerback. And on Sunday he was getting torched.

If ever there was a moment to say, you know, this shit isn't working, Sunday was it. With Britt literally controlling the outcome of the game, it was McDermott's job to say screw this and have Asante follow Britt around wherever he went, left corner/right corner be damned. If you're not willing to do that, or Asante's not willing or able to man up the other team's best receiver, then what the hell did you pay the guy so much money for? Certainly not his tackling. And all the interceptions in the world don't mean dick if quarterbacks don't throw your way, and why would they if you aren't even covering the best receiver?

It was an absolutely atrocious coaching job by McDermott. He never made an adjustment, so the Titans just kept going to Britt and kept scoring touchdowns. It was awful. Truly awful. Just like the Phillies during those three at-bats and the entire NLCS, and just like Penn State this season.

Now really it really is time to root for Cliff Lee.

Oh, and the Flyers lost last night with an embarrassing effort. I hate 2010.

1 comment:

  1. You need to start killin' Ellis Hobbs. He's the worst starting defensive back in the history of football.