Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

We are at the point in the 2012 baseball season where if nothing else it's fair to characterize the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series as improbable. Technically it could happen, and this site isn't the type to promote the abandonment of hope. We simply state for the record that the club is in the hole, and the reasons to believe they can still crawl out of it are dwindling as summer begins.

Chase Utley returning should provide a shot in the arm, as should Roy Halladay -- Ryan Howard on the other hand is a little less certain. Any notion he become The Big Piece the moment he step into the batter's box seems misplaced. His presence couldn't hurt either, but you are still relying on the rest of the roster to stay healthy at least, in many cases increase production as well.

I suspect none of the above registers as earth shattering to most observers. It's merely an attempt at establishing the common ground for what we all are watching unfold.

The reactions to which have been extraordinarily diverse.

There are no shortage of people willing to declare the Phils' season over, and plenty of them are quick to play the blame game. Ruben Amaro lives squarely in the crosshairs of the public these days, as general managers often do when the teams they run disappoint. Others might accuse critics of revisionist history, but fact is everybody's job comes up for review.

Defensive fans detect the overtone in that message though, and would contend in spite of having a poor season, times have never been better for the Fightins overall. After decades filled primarily with frustration, it's difficult to interpret the whining as anything beyond being a part of a bandwagon mentality. Apparently we should be thankful we've experienced good teams at all.

So who is in the right: is it the smug cynics climbing the sinking Titanic like rats, or the self-proclaimed flag bearers of the Phillies franchise?

In all honesty, what would you even have the organization do about this mess right now?

The season started on April 5, and this is the team the Phillies brought to the dance. Players can come back from injuries, but more could hit the disabled list just as fast. There are only two more directions for them to go that are guaranteed to impact the locker room this year.

Number one would be fire Charlie Manuel. It's not an original idea, and while Cholly is an oddball, all things considered it is hard to blame him for the position the squad is in given the circumstances. Manuel's neck will be on the line sooner or later, but since he's only the most successful manager in Phillies history, he's earned a longer leash than most.

Number two, I guess, is make trades, and there are a couple of problems with this. For one, it's hard to pull off big moves this time of year because a lot of front offices aren't sure whether they are buyers or sellers yet -- more than ever with the addition of a second wild card. Regardless, it ain't easy to measure what that accomplishes, unless it's only in the vain hopes of catapulting the Phils into contention this season.

In which case, you're not searching for a trade. What you want is a magic cure-all.

I'm not sure where the Phillies go from here, but it looks like a bumpy road to the postseason, and the path fades on the way to the World Series. My suggestion is you adjust your compasses accordingly. These Phillies may have a few tricks left up their sleeve, but nothing short of a complete reversal of fortune is going to push them over the top.

But you know what? After five consecutive NL East Championships, a parade, and a measured push for more, they deserve a slight reprieve. And as bad as things are or look, the team still has several elements working in their favor: they have talent, and they are willing to acquire more.

My advice is to everybody is take a deep breath, and accept this season is likely going nowhere. If they turn it around -- and rest assured they can -- that's amazing.

Otherwise, like it or not, the Phillies bought themselves a year to retool if need be. It's where they take us from here that should really decide some fates.

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs safety Eric Berry signed his franchise tender and reported to camp Sunday, though he is almost certain to miss Kansas City's preseason finale against Green Bay this week.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but had not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. The deal will pay him just over $10.8 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

Berry played in every game last season, less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made 55 tackles, a pair of interceptions and resumed his role as the heart and soul of the defense.

Falcons: 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signs
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifers

Throughout their seven-year history, the Philadelphia Union have had very few active players called up for U.S. national team duty.

That’s about to change now that Alejandro Bedoya is on the team.

On Sunday, it was announced that Bedoya — Philly’s marquee summer acquisition — is one of 26 players selected for important World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

The U.S. travels first to face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 (3:30 p.m., beIN SPORT) and will close out Group C action against Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 6 (8 p.m., FS1).

That means Bedoya — who’s started the last four games for the Union, helping the club to a 3-1 mark in that stretch — will miss Philly’s road game vs. the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m., TCN). 

All-star goalkeeper Andre Blake also won’t be available for that contest, traveling with Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers.

That will leave the Union, who are also managing injuries to midfielders Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Ilsinho, a little bit thin as they look to extend their winning streak to three games this weekend. 

But Bedoya’s inclusion on the USMNT roster is something the Union expected. The midfielder has been one of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s steadiest players over the past couple of years, as a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. 

He’s already made 53 appearances with the U.S. national team and figures to make his first as a member of the Union on Friday.

If he does, he’ll be the second active Union player ever to play for the USMNT, following a Maurice Edu appearance in April 2014 in the buildup to the World Cup (he was later cut from the preliminary roster, along with Landon Donovan, before the U.S. left for Brazil). Prior to Edu’s appearance, the closest a Union player had come to earning a USMNT cap was when Jack McInerney was selected to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but didn't play in any games.