Bird that Sings

April 5, 2011

Opening Daze; East and West

Filed under: Sports,The Philadelphia Perspective,Uncategorized — admin @ 12:49 am

It was looking pretty grim for the Philadelphia Phillies going into the bottom of the 7th, opening day at a sold out Citizens Bank Park.  Their Ace of Aces, Roy Halladay had already hit the showers and the Phils were down 4-0 to the rebuilding Houston Astros. The deficit wasn’t Halladay’s fault; he’d pitched well, but Phillies fans, sitting on their hands in the forty-degree chill of an April first afternoon, could not be blamed for wondering if maybe they’d been fooled again.


The team, picked as recently as two months ago to win their division, if not the National League, in a cakewalk, was looking alarmingly like the mid summer Phillies of 2010; decimated by injuries, without a closer in the bullpen and with holes all over the line-up.


And then it happened, it took me by surprise, and I could tell that it stunned them too, by the look in their eyes . . .


The Phils scored two in the bottom of the 7th, and then, in the bottom of the 9th, strung together six singles off of Astros closer Brandon Lyon, culminating in a walk off pinch-hit single by John Mayberry Jr.


The stadium went wild, the team ran onto the field and the Phillies ended up sweeping the Astros behind Ace#2 Cliff Lee, and Ace #3, Little Roy Oswalt. Was the rumored Phillies juggernaut getting ready to roll?


Hard to say, but it sure beats losing. Predictions about this year’s Phillies have been all over the lot, though in fairness, the ones predating the ongoing and ominous knee problems of second baseman, “The Great Chase” Utley, are now moot.


In February, Philadelphia Daily News Sports Editor Emeritus, Stan Hochman compared the Phillies coming 2011 run through Major League Baseball to Moses Malone and the World Champion 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers “Fo’-five-fo'” run through the NBA playoffs that year.


A more . . . sober assessment is the game-by-game analysis of my friend, Red “Fred” Trasatti, “the Cookie Rojas of Rock n’ Roll, ” that sees 93 wins for the Phillies and a dogfight with the Atlanta Braves just to get into the playoffs. Meanwhile legendary Daily News columnist Bill Conlin is stubbornly sticking to his 100 win season prediction. Personally I tend to go along with Conlin, but it’s just a gut feeling. The only prediction I’m willing to stand behind is that if Utley doesn’t play this season, all bets are off.


Sweeter than wine, softer than a summer’s night . . .


Meanwhile out in California, the World Champion San Francisco Giants were opening up against the Dodgers in LA, and their cross Bay, American League rivals, the Oakland A’s, were at home against Seattle, on a rare, “warm San Francisco night.”


While the Giants are “the people’s choice” in the Bay Area to win everything again, informed opinion surprisingly tends to like the A’s chances in the AL West better.


It remains to be seen. As the A’s demonstrated this weekend against the Mariners, they’re still not a good team, though it’s very early.


Even during the Money Ball playoff years of recent vintage, the A’s were notoriously slow starters; typically not gelling until the end of June at the earliest, by which time most of their fans had already given up on them.


The big thing with the A’s is that despite how good their trio of young starters, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, none of them are true Aces yet, and the team’s best power prospect, Chris Carter is still in Triple A, waiting for somebody to get injured. Meanwhile the new three, four and five hitters, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hidecki Matsui are a huge upgrade over the heart of last year’s line-up but don’t compare to 3, 4 and 5’s of the better teams in baseball.


If I was Billy Beane, and I assure you I’m not, I’d seriously think about trading Brett Anderson to Texas for the disgruntled, displaced Michael Young, and play Young at 3rd base or Shortstop in place of Kevin Kouzmanoff or Cliff Pennington. At this writing, Kouzmanoff and Pennington are the weak links of an A’s team that still lacks a big time power threat and needs all the offense it can get.


As for the Giants, only a fool would write them off, even after their embarrassing opening weekend, losing three of four to the Dodgers. While the Giants did not improve in the off-season they still have the same pitching and intangibles that won them the World Championship last year.


The Giants caught lightning in a bottle last year; you’d be crazy to think they can do it again,wouldn’t you?



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