Monday, August 23, 2010

Astros @ Phillies series preview, with Crashburn Alley

(Note: This post has been moved up in preparation for tonight's game. New news follows...)

Our favorite Phillies blog is easily Crashburn Alley. Today we talk with Bill Baer about the Phillies, Ed Wade, and the upcoming four-game set. (By the by, you can read our responses to CA's questions here)

AC: What is the typical Phillies fan's opinion of Ed Wade - sometimes we feel like we're the only ones in the world who actually think he's doing a pretty good job. How much credit should Wade get for the Phillies' World Series ring? How long of a leash should Astros fans give him?

CA: Most Phillies fans think of him as a joke because he was at the helm of so many bad teams during his time in Philadelphia. His motif was acquiring veteran relief pitchers when there was never a need as the team was frequently below .500 and out of the playoff hunt. He also traded Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen for next-to-nothing but I would argue that those trades were necessary regardless of what they got in return, similar to the Bobby Abreu trade.

Wade should actually get some -- not a lot, but some -- credit for the Phillies winning it all in 2008 as he was in charge when the core was drafted: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, etc. I'd give most of that credit to Mike Arbuckle, now with the Kansas City Royals.

Astros fans should extend that leash through the next couple seasons because they don't have any other choice. The team is in rebuilding mode. If they win 75 games next year the season can be considered a success.

AC: Brett Myers has been a stud for the Astros this season, turning 25 good starts into a potential $30m+ deal. To what do you attribute Myers' resurgence, and is it for real?

CA: Myers was chronically underappreciated as a starter in Philly due to his 2005 season that he never duplicated. He's not quite as good as his ERA says he's been, but if you expect a 3.75-ish ERA then you should be quite content with him.

I wouldn't call his performance this year a "resurgence". Most of his success stems from a reduced HR/FB rate, which is at eight percent last year compared to a 15 percent career average. It's not due to his being away from Philadelphia as his home/road splits are similar throughout his career, and it's not like the Astros home stadium is a pitcher's ballpark (116 home run park factor for right-handed batters according to so I'd attribute the reduced HR/FB rate to luck. In other words, expect him to be more homer-happy going forward.

AC: As you're lucky enough to be in the middle of a playoff hunt, what are your thoughts on how the rest of the season plays out in the NL East?

CA: The Phillies are no strangers to tight playoff races as they won the NL East on the very last day of the season in 2007 and on the last weekend in '08. Now that the Phillies are almost fully healthy, they are in great shape to make another late-season surge towards the division crown.

I was in charge of writing both the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves' season preview for Baseball Daily Digest and my conclusion was that the Braves were going to be tough all year long if they could stay healthy. They did, for most of the season, and got more than they expected out of some of their marginal players like Omar Infante.

Over the remaining six weeks, though, I don't think they will have the requisite offense to keep up with the Phillies. The Phillies also have a superior starting rotation, play better defense, and run the bases better and more efficiently (their trademark during the Davey Lopes era). I think the Phillies ultimately win the division and the Braves miss the playoffs.

AC: After three weeks of watching Oswalt, what are the early returns, and where does he fit down the stretch and into 2011?

CA: Oswalt admitted he had a "dead arm" which explains his six-inning, five-run debut against the Washington Nationals and a four-walk performance against the Marlins his next time out. Since then, though, he's been exactly what we expected -- a legitimate #1-B behind Roy Halladay. The addition of Oswalt means the Phillies' starting pitching can match up with anybody's especially in the post-season.

It's nice to have Oswalt for another year (another two years if the Phillies want to pick up his $16 million club option in 2012). GM Ruben Amaro doesn't get a lot of credit -- and I've been among his many critics -- but he's been mindful of the future as well as the present. Many GM's become myopic and only see the current season's finish line when they're in the middle of a playoff race. As such, you see a lot of puzzling moves in July and August. The acquisition of both Cliff Lee last year and Oswalt this year are two of the least puzzling transactions made in that span of time.

AC: We're a somewhat insecure fanbase, and are constantly wondering what other fans think about us. So, if you give any thought to Houston at all, give us an outsider's viewpoint on the organization.

CA: I don't think Philadelphia pays any attention to Houston, honestly, since the Astros are in the NL Central and haven't been relevant to the team's playoff chances. However, don't think we haven't forgotten what Craig Biggio did to Billy Wagner on September 7, 2005. The Phillies were right in the middle of the NL Wild Card chase with the Astros. Going into that game, the Phillies were 73-66 and the Astros were 74-64. The Astros had taken the first two games of the series by a margin of one run each -- the Phillies were looking to salvage the series and stay a half-game behind.

The Phillies were ahead 6-5 going into the ninth inning. Wagner got the first two outs of the inning easily. But Jose Vizcaino reached on an error by David Bell and Willy Taveras reached on an infield single. Then Biggio came up and hit a three-run home run to put the Astros ahead 8-6. Brad Lidge would then retire the side easily in the bottom of the ninth.

The Phillies played extremely well after that game, winning 15 of their final 22 games, but finished one game behind the Astros for the Wild Card. That home run by Biggio literally cost us a playoff spot. And we -- or maybe just me -- haven't forgotten, or forgiven.

AC: How do you see this series playing out?

CA: Phillies fans won't be happy unless the Astros are swept, but I can see the 'stros taking one of the games. Given Wandy Rodriguez's recent run of success and the fact that Kyle Kendrick is the worst pitcher in the rotation, the final game of the series seems winnable for the Astros.

Joe Blanton has pitched much better as of late and is traditionally a second-half pitcher so I can see him out-dueling Brett Myers in the series opener.

Cole Hamels, his last start excepting, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since May. Unfortunately, the Phillies don't score many runs for him. However, Bud Norris issues a lot of walks and he'll be facing the Phillies' regulars now that everyone is healthy.

And I definitely don't see J.A. Happ out-pitching Roy Halladay in the third game of the series. I'll say the Phillies win 3 out of 4, losing the series finale.

Big thanks to Crashburn Alley for taking the time to ask, and respond.