Mike Trout's Philadelphia visit, and the most frustrating thing about being a baseball fan

Mike Trout's Philadelphia visit, and the most frustrating thing about being a baseball fan

In two games for the Los Angeles Angels in his first visit to Philadelphia, Mike Trout went a combined 2-9 with a triple, no runs and no RBIs. He walked twice, struck out three times, and stole a base. He wasn't one of the primary reasons the Angels won both games, though he contributed in each of the two.

This is what drives me absolutely nuts about baseball.

First off, it feels ridiculous to me that Mike Trout is only now making his first appearance against the Phillies. Trout's been in baseball since 2011, but if you're a baseball fan that mostly just watches the Phillies and the playoffs (in which, through no fault of his own, Trout has yet to participate), this could very well be the first you're ever seeing of the guy who's been roundly deemed the best player in the game for years already, like if you could've somehow made it until now as a basketball fan without seeing Blake Griffin. I can only imagine how annoying this must have been for fans in the pre-interleague era.

But really, this is frustrating to me because across the two games, Mike Trout has not been all that much more productive for the Angels than any of their other regulars. If you didn't know about his reputation--and you ignored the personal cheering section at CBP he had imported from Millville--you might not know he was all that much better than Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or even Grant Green.

Yeah, there were flashes. Trout's speed was certainly on display, and it was impressive watching him careen around the bases on that triple, or flag down that Dom Brown fly to deep center. He worked those two walks well, and got into deep pitch counts on other at bats. His steal was authoritative enough that it basically made Chooch's toss to second a moot point. Dude seems like he's probably a pretty good player.

But is he the best player in the game? If you say so. Fact is, in baseball, unless you're dealing with a player whose supremacy is as obvious and all-consuming as turn-of-the-century Barry Bonds or Pedro Martinez, two games just isn't enough--nor is three, or four, or even ten or maybe 20--to tell who the really, really good players are. The numbers say Trout's the best player in the game not because he hits 60 homers or steals 100 bases or bats .400--there's no one single number you can point to (besides advanced stats like WAR or Win-Loss %) as an indicator of Trout's obvious supremacy--the numbers say he's best because, over the course of the season, he contributes a whole lot of everything.

It's pretty tough to get a sense of that over two games. If you're an inferior squad going up against Peyton Manning or Kevin Durant in a single game, chances are you're going to get lit up for a pretty self-evident stat line, but if you're the Phillies going against Mike Trout, it'd probably take several series' worth of data for you to feel the brunt of his excellence. Maybe he'd be on a tear for one or two of those series, but very possibly, the super-hot Angels hitter would be Kendrick or Aybar or Colin Cowgill (who, going into today, had a higher OPS than Trout through 38 games), and you'd think that guy would be the perennial MVP candidate, if you didn't know better.

In a sense, this is the cool thing about baseball. It gives you an intimate bond with players like Chase Utley when you've seen enough of him to know when he's going to surreptitiously lean into an inside pitch to get on base, or try to sneak around third and score when an inattentive first-baseman is still distracted by a close play at the bag. You might not get a true sense of a player like Chase's greatness until you see them play hundreds of times, but then you feel like you understand them in a way that Yankees or Tigers fans never could, endearing them to you forever.

But in another sense, this is what sucks about baseball, and it's also why the sport has such a difficult time developing new stars when they're not chasing statistical benchmarks or making headlines off the diamond. Manning or Durant can let their play speak for themselves, with the potential to win new fans with each mind-blowing performance, but if you're a casual fan who only gets to see a couple Angels games a season, and Trout goes 1-4 with a walk and a steal, chances are you're not gonna go out and buy a Trout #27 jersey immediately after. You know he's great because the overall stats tell you he is, but to your eyes and to your heart-rate, he might seem like just another player.

I don't doubt for a second that Trout is as great as everyone says. But if for some tragic reason, this was Trout's last season in the majors, and someday my future robot grandkids hear about Trout's fleeting greatness and ask about what it was like to watch him play, my answer will be something like "Well, I only saw him play a couple games, and he had a couple hits and a steal and made a nice catch once. He seemed OK." They might not ask me any more sports-related questions after that.

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Pete Mackanin gave his team an earful after it lost for the 21st time in 26 games Friday night.
 
Reliever Joaquin Benoit thought it was a good idea.
 
And he believes it had an impact.
 
The Phillies reported for work on Saturday and beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, on Tommy Joseph's walk-off hit in the ninth (see game story).
 
"It always helps when the manager comes and talks about different situations and the things we need to do," said Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran in his 17th big-league season. "It always helps. It shows that everybody cares on the whole team and it's a wake-up call for everybody."
 
While Joseph was the ultimate hero for the Phillies on Saturday, Benoit and his mates in the bullpen weren't far behind. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to help put Joseph in a position to win it in the ninth.
 
Not long ago, the Phillies' bullpen was having big problems, giving up big hits and posting big ERA numbers.
 
But over the last five games, the bullpen has racked up a string of scoreless innings that numbers 19 2/3. That scoreless streak has lowered the bullpen's overall ERA from 4.82 to 4.23, not great, but better and moving in the right direction.
 
"I believe that we are going good, taking advantage of the situation," Benoit said. "I think we are being more consistent in the strike zone and getting ahead. That translates to zeroes."
 
Benoit had been critical of Mackanin for not having his relievers in set roles. The manager responded by saying it was difficult to give guys set roles when they were pitching poorly.
 
Performances are improving.

And roles are now emerging.
 
"I believe everything is going well for us and I believe everyone is where they are supposed to be," Benoit said.
 
Benoit took some pride in Saturday's win. He has pitched seven straight scoreless innings.
 
"Every win is a step forward," he said.
 
No matter how many steps this Phillies team takes forward, it will not be a contender this season. It has dug itself a huge hole and it wasn't expected to contend anyway. It is a rebuilding team.
 
But Benoit will likely pitch for a contender later this season. He is expected to be dealt to a contender in July. Who knows what he will bring back, but his value will only go up if he can keep putting up zeroes.
 
Neshek, too. He has allowed just two runs in 18 2/3 innings. He has 15 strikeouts and just three walks.
 
While it's not clear how long Benoit will be here, he believes this Phillies team has weathered the worst and is ready for a turnaround.
 
"It's tough when you are losing," he said. "When you start winning and you do the little things, I believe everything can change.
 
"I'm the kind of guy who likes to start over from zero so everything that happens is in the past and you start over from scratch and let's see where everything goes from now on."

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?