Tag Archives: NL East

Aaron Nola, The Symbolism of Facing the Rays, and the Concept of Hope on a Random Tuesday Night

(Picture via nola.com — Kinda makes you think)

I used to have this — for lack of a better term let’s call it a — ‘talent.’

You could name a random date between the months of April-October, and for an approximately seven-year span from 2006-2012, I could tell you what the Phillies did on said date. Not just whether they won or lost but final score, opponent, winning and losing pitchers, how runs were scored — everything.

Friends of mine who knew about it would tell friends of theirs. It wasn’t totally unusual to walk into a room and be suddenly greeted with:

“September 26, 2008.”

Let me think for a second. They beat the Nationals, 8-4. Wait, maybe it was 7-4, dammit, no, it was definitely 8-4. Joe Blanton got the win. Ryan Howard hit a three-run homer to center field in the first inning that Lastings Milledge leaped at the wall for but couldn’t bring back. Charlie Manuel got ejected in the top of the ninth inning just for the hell of it, and the Phillies put themselves in position to clinch their second consecutive NL East title the following day.

I think this whole thing started somewhere around May 12, 2006, when a then 22-year old Cole Hamels made his Major League debut on a Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds. Five shutout innings with only one hit allowed. I don’t recall ever being asked that date, but I wish I had.

Recently that ‘talent’ or whatever you want to call it has evaporated some. Name a random date from 2006-2012, and I’ll be very rusty trying to come up with the answer. Name one between 2013-2015, and I likely won’t know it. Combine less accessibility to games on TV along with the Phillies recent slide, and it had to end at some point. Shelling out money for MLB.TV to watch a team that is going to flirt with a franchise record for losses just isn’t that tempting.

I can count on less than two hands how many Phillies game I have watched so far in their hellacious first half of the season that left them with the worst record in baseball at the All-Star break. Tonight though, I’ll get one closer to double digits when Aaron Nola steps on the mound at Citizens Bank Park and throws his first pitch in the majors shortly after 7 p.m.

Hope is a beautiful thing, and tonight it comes in the form of a 22-year old right-handed pitcher who skyrocketed through the Phillies minor league system to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning after being drafted out of LSU last summer, leaving the team’s much-maligned front office almost no choice but to call him up to the show.

How Nola fares specifically tonight in his first start is arguably irrelevant in the long run. He won’t save the Phillies from 100 losses and the worst record in baseball this season, not with his perceived innings limit and the other eight players in the starting lineup with him. He won’t rescue them from the baseball hell that a laundry list of miscalculated personnel decisions has subjected them to for next season or two. He won’t automatically make them a contender again.

No, not even close. Nola won’t single-handedly do any of that, but perhaps it is fitting that his initial taste of major league baseball comes against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that rarely visits Citizens Bank Park but was here for a six-day stretch when baseball in Philadelphia was at its happiest over the past three and a half decades.

Hamels pitched like an ace that he would ultimately become. Chase Utley deposited a ball in the right field seats. Brad Lidge fell to his knees in celebration, and it rained a lot, so much that a mostly likable bunch of Rays players and coaches who played in the 2008 World Series decided to complain about Mother Nature among other things nearly seven years later.

Nola’s arm will not make that scene any more recent, but it can make the current mess a bit less painful and create the notion that better days are ahead even if they aren’t yet visible.

It won’t bring back the rally towels, and the scoreboard watching in late September, and the magical October nights when more than 45,000 fans rocked a ballpark to its core, but should those one day return over the next decade, Nola will likely be a driving force behind it.

Hope.

For such a short word, it’s a really powerful one, driving decisions that without it would make little to no sense, like being excited to watch a 33-62 baseball team in a bar on a random Tuesday night.

July 21, 2015.

Nine years from now, if I remember one thing from this nightmarish season, it will be whatever happens tonight.

Advertisements

Cole Hamels No Longer Sucks Against the Mets

In a lost season for the Phillies where positives are hard to come by, there might be a silver lining in that ace Cole Hamels may have finally solved his kryptonite.

After years of massive struggles against the New York Mets, it appears Hamels has at last figured out how to pitch against the National League East rival.

To the charts we go!

Date Stadium IP ER Score Winning Team Decision QS Career Record vs. Mets Career ERA vs. Mets
8/14/2006 CBP 8 0 13 — 0 Phillies Win Yes 1 W, 0 L 0
4/9/2007 Shea 6 3 11 — 5 Mets None Yes 1 W, 0 L 1.8
6/7/2007 Shea 7 3 6 — 3 Phillies None Yes 1 W, 0 L 2.57
6/29/2007 CBP 5 3 5 — 2 Mets Loss No 1 W, 1 L 3.12
4/18/2008 CBP 7 4 6 — 4 Mets Loss No 1 W, 2 L 3.55
9/7/2008 Shea 5 4 6 — 3 Mets Loss No 1 W, 3 L 4.02
6/10/2009 Citi Field 5 4 5 — 4 Phillies None No 1 W, 3 L 4.4
8/21/2009 Citi Field 5 4 4 — 2 Mets Loss No 1 W, 4 L 4.69
9/11/2009 CBP 6.2 1 4 — 2 Phillies Win Yes 2 W, 4 L 4.28
5/27/2010 Citi Field 6.1 2 3 — 0 Mets Loss Yes 2 W, 5 L 4.13
8/7/2010 CBP 7 1 1 — 0 Mets Loss Yes 2 W, 6 L 3.84
8/13/2010 Citi Field 8 1 1 — 0 Mets Loss Yes 2 W, 7 L 3.55
9/26/2010 CBP 4 5 7 — 3 Mets Loss No 2 W, 8 L 3.94
4/5/2011 CBP 2.2 6 7 — 1 Mets Loss No 2 W, 9 L 4.46
5/28/2011 Citi Field 7 2 5 — 2 Phillies Win Yes 3 W, 9 L 4.31
7/16/2011 Citi Field 4.1 7 11 — 2 Mets Loss No 3 W, 10 L 4.79
9/24/2011 Citi Field 7 1 2 — 1 Mets None Yes 3 W, 10 L 4.54
4/15/2012 CBP 7 2 8 — 2 Phillies Win Yes 4 W, 10 L 4.41
5/28/2012 Citi Field 8 4 8 — 4 Phillies Win No 5 W, 10 L 4.42
7/5/2012 Citi Field 7 4 6 — 5 Mets None No 5 W, 10 L 4.46
9/19/2012 Citi Field 6 2 3 — 2 Phillies None Yes 5 W, 10 L 4.4
4/28/2013 Citi Field 6 1 5 — 1 Phillies Win Yes 6 W, 10 L 4.27
6/21/2013 CBP 6 4 4 — 3 Mets Loss No 6 W, 11 L 4.4
7/20/2013 Citi Field 5 4 5 — 4 Mets Loss No 6 W, 12 L 4.53
8/28/2013 Citi Field 7 2 6 — 2 Phillies Win Yes 7 W, 12 L 4.44
9/20/2013 CBP 7 6 6 — 4 Mets Loss No 7W, 13 L 4.59
4/29/2014 CBP 4.2 6 6 — 1 Mets Loss No 7 W, 14 L 4.79
5/11/2014 Citi Field 7 1 5 — 4 Mets None Yes 7 W, 14 L 4.64
6/1/2014 CBP 7 1 4 — 3 Mets None Yes 7 W, 14 L 4.51
7/29/2014 Citi Field 8 0 6 — 0 Phillies Win Yes 8 W, 14 L 4.31
8/9/2014 CBP 7 1 2 — 1 Mets None Yes 8 W, 14 L 4.21

What we have here is a mess of data that covers nine years, three stadiums between the two teams, five managers, six NL East titles, and on a wider scale, two different presidencies.

Let’s pull some relevant numbers:

  • 31 total starts
  • Phillies are 11-20 in those 31 starts
  • 17 quality starts
  • Four starts where earned runs have been higher than innings pitched
  • Four quality starts in five games against the Mets in 2014 including four consecutive outings
  • The four consecutive quality starts streak ties a personal record against the Mets
  • 2.40 ERA against the Mets in 2014. (0.93 ERA last four outings)
  • Current career ERA vs. Mets lowered by .38 since the start of the season and by .58 over the last four starts.
  • Current career 4.21 ERA vs. Mets is lowest it has been since September 2010.

You might not think all of this is a big deal, but I’m telling you that it is. This is not some Drew Balis created narrative. Hamels’ problems against the Mets have been a real issue and acknowledged by mainstream media, specifically this CSN Philly piece by Corey Seidman from late April.

While I would like a bit of a larger sample size to make my point, four near lights out starts will get the job done here. There have been times earlier in his career where Hamels has been going great only to be tripped up when drawing the Mets, and that isn’t the case right now.

Why is it significant going forward though?

It’s important because Hamels has started four games against the Mets every season dating back to 2010 and already has five this year, and the Phillies have yet another series against them at the end of the month.

Whenever the Phillies face their NL East rival, there is a 60 percent chance that Hamels will pitch in a three-game series.

It also matters because as much as I hate to admit it, the Mets are pretty close to being a much improved team. Their rotation next season will feature Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Jacob DeGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.

Right now, the Mets lead the Phillies by four games. If the Phils want to escape the division cellar in coming seasons and snap out of this three year malaise, their number one starter is going to have to beat other teams in the NL East.

The Phillies are still 1-4 in Hamels’ starts against the Mets this season, but run support is now the sole problem as opposed to Hamels himself contributing to the poor record in the past.

If the Phillies can ever return to prominence over the next decade, the left arm of their homegrown ace will be a driving force, and beating the Mets, who figure to be contenders, will certainly be significant.

Much of the talk on Twitter has been about how dominant Hamels has been over the past two months, but after nearly a decade of watching him every fifth day, we already knew he was capable of that. We did not know, however, that he was capable of consistently pitching well against the Mets.

Now we know.

Related Cole Hamels coverage you might enjoy:

Cole Hamels is on the Mound Tonight and I am Hella Hella Pumped

Why I’m Not Buying the Cole Hamels Trade Rumors

Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.