It certainly is a long season, but that’s one of the many reasons why I love the game. The Phils know that after their 4-1 loss to the Braves tonight on national television as defending World Champions. I certainly am a little angry that the bats looked awful against Derek Lowe and I’m a little embarrassed, but there’s 161 more games (162 more games for the Mets to blow the half-game lead they have right now). But regardless, here’s some thoughts on tonight’s game:
I didn’t get to see the opening ceremonies but I saw the replay of it and I’ll probably end up watching it again and it seems like they planned it out really well. I love the fact that Charlie was raising the championship banner.
The bullpen had a nice night. Newcomer Jack Taschner, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, and Brad Lidge combined for three innings, a strikeout each, and no hits or walks surrendered. I was nervous about Taschner because I’ve heard that he can be wild at times but he looked alright tonight.
Let’s start with Brett Myers. I listened to the first four innings or so on the radio so I didn’t see pitch locations and such (I had to drive back to school today). But when they replayed the homeruns he gave up, it’s clear that he missed his spots in each of the pitches. He got the ball way up in the zone to Brian McCann and put the other two pitches right in the wheelhouse of Jeff Francoer and Jordan Schafer (Schafer did look completely silly against Lidge in the ninth). When I started watching Myers for the two innings I saw him, he was keeping the ball down and hitting his spots. That’s what he will need to do in order to be successful this season. He toughed it out for six innings and struck out six and only walked one. Take away those three bad pitches and that’s a solid outing for this early in the year. So maybe this isn’t a dark spot (grey spot?).
We got to find a way to get on base. Usually it’s not a problem. Driving in RISP is the usual problem. I know it’s the first game and all, but until the ninth, the Phils mustered two hits off Lowe.
These players have got to want to be in that position in the ninth inning with the game on the line. Ryan Howard looked nervous and you could tell he didn’t want to be in that situation tonight. He swung at junk from Mike Gonzalez (who looked awful tonight) and then took a fastball right down the pike. Raul Ibanez worked Gonzalez nicely but he did swing at ball four but since he’s the new guy in town, I’ll let him slide for tonight.
On the ball that went off of Myers glove where Utley had to shift directions quickly, he looked like he wasn’t ready to do that quite yet. However he did look pretty good charging some grounders. But it worries me that maybe he’s not 100% yet.
All in all, I think Joe Morgan may have said it best at the end of the game, I don’t remember his exact words but they were along the lines of saying that the Phillies know that this is just the first game and that the Phils will fight to the end and that’s why he truly believes that this team has the chance to do something special and repeat this year. And Joe would know. Well, I hope he’s right.
Team Preview: Atlanta Braves
Projected MLB Rank: 14th (t) — NL Rank: 9th (t) — NL East Rank: 3rd (t) — Record: (82-80)
Two pitchers remain from last year’s Atlanta rotation that are expected to make this year’s rotation. The pitching staff as a whole compiled a team ERA of 4.47 last season which was below the league average. With a team that has had a recent tradition of good pitching, a change needed to be made.
Enter Derek Lowe. He will probably become the ace in this rotation. Despite his age, he will continue to have success as long as he keeps his ball down. Last year for the Dodgers, Lowe went 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA throwing for nearly 200 innings in six of his last seven seasons.
Reliability continues with their next offseason acquisition. Javier Vazquez has thrown for nearly 200 innings since 2000 where he’s started at least 30 games every year since then. Vazquez is a strikeout pitcher who can let his ERA get up a little but should do a nice job now being in the National League.
The mystery starter is Japanese free agent signee Kenshin Kawakami. His better days may have passed but he pitches for a low ERA and from what I hear, recorded a career 3.22 ERA in Japan. The returning starters from last season add up to 44 starts for the Braves in 2008. Tom Glavine will be the fifth starter, and may have lost some touch, but he should keep the Braves in games. He only started 13 games last season for Atlanta compiling a 2-4 record with a 5.54 ERA. Jair Jurrjens was in the race for the NL Rookie of the Year as he went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA last season. Expect more of the same from Jurrjens this season.
Their bullpen could be better. Closer Mike Gonzalez should have a solid season playing a full year in 2009. Expect him to lower his 4.28 ERA. Manny Acosta had a decent season out of the bullpen with a 3.57 ERA in 53 innings as did Jeff Bennett with a 3.70 ERA in about 97 innings. Righty Blaine Boyer (5.88 ERA) and offseason acquisition Boone Logan (5.95 ERA) need to pitch better out of the bullpen for the Braves this season.
The Braves lineup has the potential to do some damage. I think the deciding factor on the success of the offense is on rightfielder Jeff Francoer. Last year, the 25 year old, hit a pitiful .239 with 11 homeruns (yes, he did play a full season). If he can’t find his swing again, the Braves probably won’t be finding October again.
The addition of Garrett Anderson does help but he may end up platooning with Matt Diaz in left. Apart from Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, there’s really nothing too special left in this lineup. Casey Kotchman and Kelly Johnson will give you production and 70-80 RBIs. Yunel Escobar probably won’t improve on his numbers. It’s exciting to watch Josh Anderson as he can steal bases and find his way on base but may end up sharing time in centerfield with Gregor Blanco.
They definately improved their rotation this offseason but in this division, their pitching is still considered average. Their lineup is average but if they all get rolling at the same time, they will make some noise, but in this division, I don’t think October will be where the Braves end up.
The World Baseball Classic rosters are set. The United States roster looks more promising than last time. The US is in Pool C with Canada, Venezula, and Italy and opens up the tournament playing in Toronto.
The tournament runs from March 5th-23rd in anywhere from Tokyo to San Juan and ending in Los Angeles. (http://mlb.mlb.com/wbc/2009/schedule/brackets.jsp) You can find the official WBC bracket there.
The US roster consists of players from 21 different MLB teams and is one of only two rosters that are made up of all MLB players. Here is how I think the lineup should be:
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Grady Sizemore
LF Ryan Braun
DH Chipper Jones
1B Kevin Youkilis
RF Brad Hawpe
3B David Wright
C Brian McCann
2B Dustin Pedrioa
However, I am not Davey Johnson and I’m almost positive that Derek Jeter will start at shortstop. Curtis Granderson would be the first pinch runner most likely and Mark DeRosa looks like he will be the infield utility guy. Chris Iannetta backs up McCann behind the dish. The starting pitchers featured on the roster are Jeremy Guthrie, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, and Jake Peavy. The rotation may shape up to look something along the lines of Peavy, Oswalt, Lilly, then Guthrie.
The bullpen is probably one of the strongest in the whole classic. The US boasts established closers like Brian Fuentes, Joe Nathan, JJ Putz, and BJ Ryan. The bullpen features emerging closers like Jonathan Broxton, Matt Lindstrom, and Brad Ziegler. It also contains guys like JP Howell, Scot Shields, and Matt Thornton. In the ninth I would hand the ball to Fuentes to face lefthanded hitters and Nathan to face righties.
I am most excited to watch the US play and to see how Brad Hawpe plays among all stars and how Johnson utilizes the extremely talented bullpen he has.
In other notes, how great is it to see mlb.com with the games of the day on the left side bar again? I am so relieved to hear that everyday we are getting closer to the season. The first spring training games start tomorrow with most of them at 1pm or 3pm. However at 7pm the Twins take on the Red Sox as Tim Wakefield takes the mound.
In honor of the first spring training games, I will start to release my projections for this season (as I mentioned in the previous post). I will start from who I think will finish last in the league working my way up to the best record previewing the teams’ seasons along the way. Tomorrow I’ll release who I think will be at the bottom of the barrel and here’s a clue, it’s one of these four teams…