Although the first weekend of Interleague Play was once reserved for geographic rivalries, this year will be different as the Yankees will host the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Now, you might be asking, “Who are they? What should we know about them?” Stay tuned.
As sports fans in New York, we pretend not to know much about Philadelphia and their teams. There is, of course, a bitter rivalry between Eagles and Giants fans, between Northern Jersey residents and Philadelphians, between Santa Claus and batteries. We know that cheese steaks are delicious — provolone is the way to go — and Philadelphia could become a surrogate sixth borough if this whole high-speed rail thing happens. But what about the Phillies?
To prepare for the weekend, Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley e-mailed me about doing previews on each other’s sites. My Yankees preview went live on his site last night, and you can find it here. Below are Bill’s answers to my questions. Bring on the Phillies, I say. We can handle ‘em.
1. I know that New York and Philadelphia sports fans have a rather uneasy relationship. There’s no love lost between fans of the Giants and fans of the Eagles. But considering the esteem in which Yankee fans generally hold the Mets, shouldn’t Yankee fans also root for the Phillies?
Crashburn Alley: For some reason, I had a feeling you were going to ask this question. I’ve been thinking about it since I first e-mailed you, and I still don’t have a great answer. Personally, I don’t really buy into the whole “you have to hate these guys, no matter what” credo, so to me, it doesn’t matter who you root for as long as you’re not a Mets fan. Apply that to a Yankees fan… yadda yadda, as long as you’re not a Mets fan. So, with my convoluted logic, Yankees fans should hope for the Mets’ demise, even if it comes at the hands of the Phillies.
The Phillies and Yankees don’t play each other much aside from this thing they call interleague play, so the Phillies’ success doesn’t hamper the Yankees’ playoff hopes any aside from the three games every three years.
2. When Ruben Amaro let Pat Burrell walk and then signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year deal, most baseball fans considered this a bad sign. Who’s laughing now and how long will Ibanez keep this up?
CA: No one doubted Raul’s ability to hit, but the signing was ill-advised for a number of reasons:
- His age: He’s owed $31.5 million from 2009-11, his age 37-39 seasons. He might be hitting great so far, but there’s no guarantee that 38- or 39-year-old Raul will.
- His handedness: Another lefty in the Phillies lineup? Lefty overload! Ibanez’s presence in the lineup gives manager Charlie Manuel less flexibility, and necessitates that Jayson Werth (the only feared right-handed batter in the lineup) break up the trio of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Ibanez.
- The contract, at the time, set the market value for all-hit, bad-fielding corner outfielders like Burrell and Adam Dunn. By signing Ibanez that early, they guaranteed that they’d be paying nearly top-dollar.
- Of the slugging, poor-fielding corner outfielders available in free agency, Ibanez was arguably out of the top three. Despite what the numbers from the first 40 games of the season might tell you, signing Burrell or Dunn, even at the deal Ibanez got, would have been a better bang for the buck.
As I wrote at Baseball Daily Digest:
There’s little Ibanez can do in his first season to justify the contract. Sure, he could OPS+ 170 and perhaps save a couple babies from a burning building, but other than that, the contract was illogical and we’ll have to wait out at least two of the three seasons before passing judgment. Certainly, we’ll have to wait more than the first five weeks.
3. The Phillies recently DFA’d Miguel Cairo, a one-time favorite of Joe Torre. After getting around 16 ABs over the first six weeks of the season, the Phillies brain trust decided enough was enough. How do you feel about the Phillies’ roster this year?
CA: Like every other Phillies fan, I have my own idea as to what Amaro should have done with the roster. However, I give Amaro a lot of credit for how he handled the off-season: making small, but effective trades as well as handling eight tough arbitration cases.
What I would have done, though, was allow John Mayberry — a slugging right-handed corner outfielder — to start the season on the 25-man roster instead of wasting that spot with Cairo, who presented absolutely no value to the team.
The Phillies still need a right-handed bat. Any time they notice that, Mayberry is down there in AAA Lehigh Valley. He’s just a phone call away.
Regarding Jack Taschner, I realize that the Phillies needed a lefty out of the pen and Taschner was a last-ditch effort to fill that void, but they could have done better. Will Ohman took decades to sign with a team, and was even rumored to be interested in joining the Phillies. When that never came to fruition, Amaro claimed the payroll was maxed out. Well, Ohman only signed for $1.55 million for one year with the Dodgers. Cairo is slated to make a half-million this season. The World Champions didn’t have a cool million to spare?
Even if they didn’t, they could have paid all but $1 million of Geoff Jenkins’ or Adam Eaton’s contract and attached a mediocre Minor Leaguer so that some team would see the warm bodies and have no problem helping the Phillies clear $1 million of payroll space.
Joe Beimel is another name I was hoping would be in the Phillies’ red pinstripes, but alas, like Dunn, he is a National.
4. The Phillie Phanatic: Great mascot or the greatest mascot?
CA: The Phanatic shoots hot dogs out of a gun. That’s a big plus in my book, even if you’re not a mascot.
5. When the Phillies won the World Series in October, they did so under controversial circumstances. The team tied Game 5 amidst a torrential downpour and then had to wait nearly 48 hours to complete the suspended game. Bud Selig didn’t know what to do, but Phillies fans didn’t care. After 28 years, the World Championship was theirs. How does it feel to win a title after such a long drought? What are your expectations for this season’s title defense?
CA: At the time, I thought Bud Selig botched it horribly, and I still think that. It’s not that hard to hop on “teh interwebs” and type in “weather in philadelphia tonight” and see that the forecasts called for rain, rain, rain. Oh, and rain as well.
Regardless, Selig A) decided to allow the game to begin, and B) when it did begin to rain, he did nothing to halt play, instead waiting for the game to be tied before leaving his seat.
If the Phillies had lost that game, I would have gone Jack Nicholson in The Shining on him.
6. Bonus: Predict this weekend’s series. The Sunday Sabathia-Hamels match-up should be a good one indeed.
CA: Game 1, Myers vs. Burnett: Myers has been pitching well lately, and Burnett has not. Still, it’ll probably be a slugfest given the lefty-heavy lineups and the lefty-friendly ballpark. 9-7 Phillies.
Game 2, Happ vs. Pettitte: Happ has been pitching long relief so far this season, so he may not have the durability to go more than four or five innings. And he’s no Cole Hamels, either, so he’s going to get a few balls tagged. A more moderate affair than the Myers/Burnett game, so I’ll put the Yankees down as the victors here… 6-3. Quality start from Andy.
Game 3, Hamels vs. Sabathia: Both have been pitching much better after shaky beginnings. When I was on Pro Baseball Central a few weeks ago, they laughed at me when I said that Cole Hamels was in the same conversation as pitchers like Sabathia, Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum. Perhaps you’re laughing along with Steve Keane and Joe McDonald. But I’ll be the one laughing on Sunday! Cole wins a close one, 3-1 and goes eight strong innings.
(Predictions extracted directly from my crystal ball. Forward all litigation to my lawyer.)
* * *
So there you go. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed rooting for the Phillies. I developed a fondness for the team after four years of college just a few miles from the ballpark. This weekend, though, my loyalties lie firmly with the Yankees and their current nine-game winning streak.
Thanks to Bill for answering my questions, and be sure to check out Crashburn Alley for all of your Phillies needs.