Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by Alex Ciepley
Hey, even good teams lose five in a row. Last year's Red Sox began May 2004 the same way the Cubs have begun this year's May: five games down. Of course, the Red Sox were actually a really good team, and even their losing streak left them at 15-11. The Cubs, right now, are 12-15. Suckity Suck Suck.
The Phils are in town, so in an effort to get to know our kinda-sorta Brotherly neighbors, Derek and I asked a few questions of Tom from Shallow Center. Be sure to check out his site, too, where Derek and I offer up a couple opinions on things Cubwise.
Derek: Has all the unfulfilled potential on the Phils left you suicidal, or merely filled with soul-crushing ennui?
Tom: What you see out of the Phillies over the first 29 games of 2005 is frighteningly similar to what they did in 2003 and 2004, so by now I'm rather used to it. Inconsistent starting pitching, a dreadful inability to hit with men on base, and a bullpen that uses gasoline to douse fires--who knew baseball had reruns?
The players checked out on Larry Bowa pretty early last year, but instead of cashiering him in June or July, when they should have, the Phillies let him ride out the season. Good 'ol boy Charlie Manuel has the reins now, and what has become depressingly clear is that it wasn't the manager that held this team back. Had the front office given Manuel a few months last season, it would have seen that, and been in a much better position to address critical roster questions in the off-season.
But creative thinking has never been a Phillies hallmark -- you might remember that Ryne Sandberg, after all, was a throw-in in the Bowa-for-Ivan DeJesus trade.
Derek: Which of these things is likely to happen first and why?
a) The Chicago Cubs win the World Series
b) Peace reigns in the Middle East
c) Bobby Abreu gets the recognition he deserves
Tom: Ah, the eternal "Why don't you guys like Bobby Abreu?" question.
Bobby is the perfect player to watch via boxscore. Good average, hits for power, steals bases, drives in and scores runs--what's not to like? Then you talk to a Phillies fan who actually sees him in "action" in Citizens Bank Park, loafing after shallow flies, approaching the right-field wall as if it's electrified, tagging the meaningless solo shot in a 10-1 game. Abreu is a gifted offensive player, but his lackadaisical approach to the finer points of the game is easily noticed by the smart, restless fan base that constitutes Philadelphia. Frankly, he'd be an absolutely perfect designated hitter, which is both a compliment and an insult.
So I guess the answer to your question is, uh, (b).
Alex: When Jim Thome became a free agent, he wooed the Cubs, who took a pass. Fast-forward a couple years, and that "pass" isn't looking too shabby. What do you expect from Thome for the remainder of his contract?
Tom: Wow, you guys sound like the clowns who like to pose as baseball experts on Philadelphia's all-sports radio station! I mean, the guy did slam 89 dingers and knock in 236 in his first two full seasons with the Phils. Granted, Thome has been simply awful in 2005 thus far; his trip to the disabled list suggests that a career-long back problem was more serious this spring than he let on.
Indeed, this is the second straight season which will see the big guy miss some significant time with injuries. He's getting older--hey, aren't we all?--and the worry around here is that the nicks will only get more and more frequent. Most of us accepted that by the end of Thome's lengthy contract, he'd be a roster liability. We figured it was worth it to get those power numbers--unseen in Philadelphia since Mike Schmidt retired--for several years up front, including, certainly, a couple of years beyond this one. Lots and lots of us are crossing our fingers and hoping that remains true, but we're much less certain than we used to be.
Alex: Jon Lieber! Which is shorter, this sentence, or the time he takes between pitches? How psyched are you to have him on the team? How dumb are the Yankees?
Tom: I'll be the first to admit that the Lieber signing looks a hell of a lot better than I figured it would be. His numbers, of course, speak for themselves, but what really impresses me is his mound presence. As you note, Lieber works quickly, which I so love--the guy just looks as if he wants the ball. He keeps his fielders in the game, he hits the corners, and he pitches like a professional. He's the Bizarro World version of Kevin Millwood. If memory serves, Joe Torre publicly expressed disappointment when he heard that the Yanks had let Lieber walk, and the more I see him pitch, the more I understand why.
Cub Town: What's your prediction for this series?
Tom: This is a lost baseball team you're going to see in Wrigley. The Phillies haven't won consecutive games in three weeks, and they appear to have no clue how to fix things. All of the previous two seasons' problems have reappeared, and no one can blame the manager now.
On the plus side, the Phils will send their two best pitchers, Lieber and comeback kid Brett Myers, to the hill this series. Both have sparkled this season. I look for Cory Lidle to lose Friday, for Lieber to do what a stopper is supposed to do Saturday, and for Myers to come up strong Sunday. Call it two of three for the Phillies.