Why Ruben Amaro Receives Too Much Blame For the Phillies’ Current State

The Golden Age of Philadelphia baseball is over. Injuries, advancing age. and all-time terrible innings of baseball have combined to turn the Phils from the best team in the league to a very mediocre one. Much of the blame has been shoved on general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s shoulders for making a series of poor decisions. However, looking past his poor track record from the past two seasons, Amaro actually did an excellent job positioning his team to win another World Series from 2009-2011.

In 2009, with their offense surging and many of their position players (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins) still in their prime, the Phillies needed to aquire another pitcher to make a run at a consecutive World Series title. Amaro went out and brought in the best pitcher on the market, Cliff Lee, and none of the prospects he gave up in return have featured in the big leagues. And while the Phillies lost to the superior New York Yankees in that season’s Fall Classic, Amaro had done everything he possibly could to assemble a championship-winning team.

 

Wanting to go one step further next season, Amaro then took a huge risk in the hopes of winning it all in 2010: he traded for Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in baseball, but also traded Cliff Lee for prospects to rehaul a suddenly thin minor league system. At the time, there was very little criticism for the deals. Praise was universal about Amaro’s acquisition of Halladay, and while fans hated to see the universally popular Lee depart, they understood that the organization was in desperate need of prospects. At the time, however, there was concern that Amaro had given up Lee to Seattle for not enough talent. These concerns, knowing what we know now, were well founded: J.C Ramirez and Phillippe Aumont have both struggled in limited major league action, and Tyson Gillies is still toiling down in the minor leagues. However, the Phillies team Amaro assembled was still good enough to win 97 games, the most in baseball. He even acquired Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline in order to bolster an already strong rotation. But this trip to the postseason would not end with a trip to the World Series; in fact, the Phils would be defeated by an inferior Giants club in the first round of the playoffs. Yet again, Amaro did his job: he assambled a team that won the most games in baseball and were certainly capable of winning the World Series. The players were the ones at fault, not Amaro.

 

 

Amaro again did a good job building the 2011 Phillies. Realizing how good Cliff Lee was, he pulled off the biggest surprise that offseason when he signed the stud lefthander to a free agent deal. In doing so Amaro put together one of the most talented pitching staffs in the history of the MLB: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, the homegrown Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

 

Unfortunately, in order to sign Lee, Amaro had to let rightfielder Jayson Werth walk, but Lee was and is the more talented player. And even though the Phillies would cruise in route to winning 102 games, Amaro made another deal at the deadline, sending some quality prospects for the solid outfielder Hunter Pence to bolster a thin outfield corps. Instead of having Werth, Amaro acquired someone 4 years younger, someone who would make $3.5 million less in 2011 and $2.5 million less in 2012, and while producing more at the plate: Pence hit .317 hit adding 22 homeruns and 97 RBIs in 2011, while Werth hit a paltry .232 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs (all those numbers from Baseball Reference).

 

All in all, the 2011 Phillies were one of the most talented baseball teams I have ever seen. Most of that is thanks to Amaro. Yet the Phillies failed yet again in the postseason, as they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round. Granted, injuries played a key part in their campaign: Utley would be hampered yet again by knee injuries and Oswalt would suffer a back injury which would lead to inconsistent form. But the Phillies still had a stellar rotation, still had two former MVPs in their lineup (Rollins and Howard), still had Pence as an above-average 5-hole hitter, still played flawless defense. There are no excuses that the Phils lost in 2011. Amaro is not to blame.

 

Since then, unfortunately, Amaro hasn’t made as productive decisions. He has been unable to put together a productive bullpen since 2011, although, yet again, performance is a large reason for the decline: Antonio Bastardo’s ERA rose from 2.64 to 4.33 in 2012, Chad Qualls was just plain awful, and Michael Stutes couldn’t remain healthy. However, one sigining that could come back to haunt Amaro was his signing of Jonathon Papelbon. In general, the position of closer is by far the most overvalued in baseball, and probably in professional sports. It makes no sense to sign closers to colossal free agent deals when the players who play the position are so volatile in performance year to year. The position of closer is an interesting one, and I will cover it at greater depth in some point, but paying over $10 million a year for a player who pitches at the max 70 innings a year, which is the most Papelbon ever pitched in a season (last year via Baseball Reference), is just foolish.

 

Also, the trade of Pence to the Giants was a disappointing one, strictly because they gave up so much in order to acquire him just a year before. After dealing their top pitching prospect, Jared Cosart (who pitched brilliantly in his major league debut a few weeks ago), and their top position prospect, 1B Jonathon Singleton, to get Pence from the Astros, they only got one player with a real chance of playing in the big leagues, catcher Tommy Joseph. Joseph has even struggled this season in the lower minor leagues.

But overall, Amaro has done an admirable job. He was willing to take massive risks in order to achieve greatness with this franchise. He should not be slammed by revisionist history because those risks didn’t pan out. The fact of the matter is that if the Phillies had added one more World Series title to their resume from ’09 through ’11, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Two Fall Classics in such a short period would have made all those involved with the successes, including Amaro, legends. Just because the players didn’t accomplish what they were more than capable of doesn’t mean that we should heap all of the blame on Ruben Amaro Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stu Holden’s Latest Setback, And What It May Mean For the US Soccer Team

Today, during the Gold Cup final which the US won, 1-0, over a resilient Panama team (a recap will be coming your way later), talented center midfielder Stu Holden went down to injury. Again. Holden reportedly suffered a sprain to his right knee. The biggest shame of recent times for the USMNT has been Holden’s persistent injury problems. Holden has not played significant minutes for his club side, Bolton Wanderers in England, since the spring of 2011, as he has battled major knee injures, from an ACL tear (which I am actually recovering from right now, so I know how painful it is and how grueling the 9-month rehab period is) to microfracture surgery to repair torn cartilage.

The US missed Holden dearly during his time on the sidelines. Holden is the rare American player who is completely comfortable in possession, and he is capable of impacting the game both offensively and defensively. He demonstrated when he returned from his injury nightmare that he can still be the same player.

Luckily for the US, central midfield is one of their deepest positions. Michael Bradley, the engine room for a quality Roma side, and Jermaine Jones, a bruiser from German club Shalke, man the two starting positions in Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. And Landon Donovan has shown that he is more than capable of playing alongside Clint Dempsey as a more attacking midfielder. However, Holden could have proved a vital addition to the squad during the World Cup next summer. Playing him instead of Jones would allow Bradley to become more defensive while still using his ball retention skills to great effect. The US side would become much more attractive with those two sitting behind Donovan in midfield, and Holden could replace most of Jones’ defense physicality while adding his own passing signature. Now, after Klinsmann said after the game that “It’s not looking good for Stu”, it is safe to assume that Holden’s injury to his knee is more serious than the sprain that was originally reported. For such a class act (he even won the 2008 Humanitarian of the Year Award in MLS) this latest setback can only be classified as a shame.

The Worst Inning of Baseball Ever Played

For those of you who follow baseball, you probably know that the Philadelphia Phillies aren’t playing too hot right now. In fact, today they lost yet again to the Detroit Tigers, 12-4, dropping their 8th game in a row. I mean, come on. That’s just really impressive. Props to my Phils for never stopping at just ordinary badness. They always go above and beyond the call of duty in order to suck.

And today, the Phillies decided they were going to lose in a special way. Bored, I assume, of just plain ol’ losing by scores like 5-4, 4-1, and 10-0, the Phils decided today to actually score runs! Before the other team! A novel idea! After storming out to a 3 (3 runs!) run lead in the 5th, the Phils remembered that they were destined to lose this game and be swept for the second series in a row. After surrendering the lead during a 3-run 5th inning, the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies proceeded to play the Worst Inning in the History of Baseball.

It all started with a Jake Diekmam walk to lead off the home half of the 6th inning, not an uncommon occurrence. Then things got weird. Tigers catcher Alex Avila then laid down a bunt to move over the runner, when Diekman decided to nail Avila in the back instead of just throwing it to first baseman Darin Ruf in order to record the out. Not satisfied, however, with that misplay of a bunt, Diekman then proceded to botch another bunt defensively, waiting too long to throw to first to retire Ramon Santiago.

Then things got ugly.

After Austin Jackson recorded the first out on a flyout, Don Kelly hit a routine fly to left fielder Steve Susdorf, making his first big league start. Susdorf then dropped the ball, allowing all of the baserunners to move up ninety feet and recording the first run of the innning. Tigers 4, Phillies 3.

But the Phils weren’t through. Relief pitcher Luis Garcia then walked the next batter on 4 pitches, walking in another run and leaving the bases loaded. After that, Prince Fielder hit a grounder to Ruf, who through it away from catcher Carlos Ruiz. And then, after an 11 pitch walk to Victor Martinez, walking in the second run of the inning, Garcia served up a grand slam to Jhonny Peralta, ending the carnage.

All in all, the Phillies surrended 8 unearned runs in the bottom of the 6th inning on 2, yes 2 hits. There were 3 errors. There were two botched bunts defensively IN A ROW. There were three walks in total, but two with the bases loaded. One of the hits was the second bunt play that Diekman botched, so there was really one legitimate hit in the inning, the backbreaker by Peralta.

After the game, Jimmy Rollins commented, “That was embarrassing”. Really, J-Roll? I’m just happy I got to witness history. I witnessed the Worst Inning of Baseball Ever Played. Please comment if you know of an inning worse, because that would be truly exceptional.

Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: The Union are Terrible When Playing A Man Up

Although they made it difficult at times, although there style of play is not exactly gorgeous, and although their struggles while possessing a man advantage continued, the Union scored a late goal yesterday to defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0, sending the Pacific Northwest club to their first home defeat of the season. Union supporters will be concerned that the Boys in Blue could only muster 1 goal even though they played up a man after Jun Marques Davidson blatantly headbutted Keon Daniel, earning himself a straight red card from referee Baldomero Toledo.

Red cards for Union opponents are not uncommon. The excellent Philly Soccer Page covered it extensively here, how the Union seem to instigate red cards as easily as Ryan Howard strikes out. But the Union haven’t been able to capitalize on their opponents hot-headedness. In fact, have only mustered 4 wins out of the 9 total games in which their opponents have went down a man.

So, the obvious question becomes, why?

And the answer, sadly, seems just as obvious: the Union do not play well when they are in possession of the ball. That is not to say that there is no one on the team who is capable enough technically to really hold on to the rock. However, those players are either miscast in their roles in the current system (Michael Farfan), only selected as a substitute (Kleberson), or left off of the gameday roster entirely (Roger Torres). In the case of Torres, the most talented passer by a mile on the squad and the only player really capable of operating as the central creative fulcrum week in and week out, the Union should either play him as soon as possible in a meaningful league fixture, or sell him. There is no room in MLS for expensive players who can’t even make the gameday substitutes, either for his lack of skill or his coach’s maladroitness managing his club.

However, even though they are one of the least stylish teams in the league, the Union summoning up their inner Stoke City has generated some decent results. Through 22 games the Union have collected 34 points, positioning themselves as a playoff team after many people (myself included) projected them to finish near the bottom of the conference during the preseason.

So the big question becomes, should the Union sacrifice their brutish, direct style, one that has seen them in the playoff places throughout the season, for a prettier, possession-based game? I think, with a home game against Chicago coming up, the Union should transition to a more attractive game. Even though Chicago have seen an uptick in their fortunes after a dreadful start to the season, they still are significantly behind the upper class of the league in Portland, Salt Lake, Kansas City, and LA (and basically every other team in a playoff spot). The Union should start Torres so that he can find the holes in the Chicago defense. Moving Michael Farfan onto the left wing will enable him to cut onto his stronger right foot while retaining possession and playing long switches to Sebastian Le Toux playing high on the right wing, enabling the U to retain some traces of their direct style. And by playing the left-footed Fabinho at left back instead of the right-footed Raymon Gaddis, someone can exploit the space being created by Farfan when he comes inside. If John Hackworth uses that lineup, he won’t even need an opponent’s red card to barely win 1-0.

Sugested roster next week vs. Chicago:

Macmath; Williams, Okugo, Parke, Fabinho; Le Toux, Carroll, Torres, Farfan; Casey, McInerney

FX is Rapidly Becoming THE Network

As I sat last night and watched the third episode of the excellent new show The Bridge on FX, it becomes ever clearer that FX is the highest quality television network today. After AMC relinquished its crown as the King of Television when follow up shows to Golden Age classics like Breaking Bad and Mad Men paled in comparison to those great shows. FX stepped up, and in a big way.

FX currently boasts some of the best dramas on the small screen, and if not the highest viewed comedy, then certainly the best reviewed by critics (Louie), and a solid core of laughs after that (Always Sunny, The League, Wilfred). The core FX shows that have flourished over the past three to five years (Justified, Sons of Anarchy), have been bolstered by a stellar rookie class this year: the aformentioned Bridge and the phenomenal The Americans. The first season of the Americans is probably my favorite season of television ever. It centers on a Russian spy couple living under cover in the US during the height of the Cold War. The brilliant Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys must navigate many obstacles, including an FBI agent living across the street. The couple paints a very different picture of the American Dream than what we are used to.

And The Bridge is by far the best new show of the summer. Anchored by two strong leads in Diane Kruger (of National Treasure fame) and Demian Bichir, it follows the story of two detectives, one American and one Mexican, as they hunt a serial killer in both El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, where thousands of people are murdered every year. This taut thriller captures its audience immediately, and does not relinquish its grip as it pulls its viewers deeper and deeper into a world where borders, both literally and figuratively, are often crossed. And the amazing thing about the show is that it is just getting started. Andy Greenwald, a television critic for grantland.com, reported on a recent podcast of his that The Bridge’s showrunner, Meredith Stiehm, said that the serial killer case will be wrapped up before this season is even over, and that The Bridge has only just started to explore the connections between the two towns of El Paso and Juarez.

FX has truly become the King of Television. With Breaking Bad ending this season (tear…) and Mad Men near the end, AMC badly needs some fresh blood to increase its quality (and now, I’m not talking about another boring, repetitive season of The Walking Dead, although the Season 4 trailer looked pretty cool). Unless channels like Showtime and HBO step it up, FX will rule television for the foreseeable future.

Why Yeezus is Genius, But Isn’t Great, Only Good

As some of you may know who read my first post, I love Kanye West. In my opinion, he released the two greatest rap albums of all time (and 2 of my favorite albums in general) in The College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A supremely talented individual, he also was the producer for many of Jay-Z’s best songs, from “Lucifer” to “Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City)”. In other words, Yeezy is the real deal.

Another one of Kanye’s most prominent features, and many would say his most prominent feature, is the disparity in his music. From the feel-good soul of College Dropout, the snyth strings of Late Registration, the electronic groove of Graduation, to the bombastic, maximist sounds of Dark Fantasy, Kanye has no qualms about rapidly changing styles from album to album. That being said, I knew that Yeezus wouldn’t play it safe. I knew it wouldn’t be like Magna Carta Holy Grail would inevitably turn out to be: the least ambitious hip hop album ever.

But I wasn’t ready for Yeezus.

The abrasive, minimalist beats of Yeezus were harsh-sounding. His arrogant lyrics (I mean, I Am A God, one of the weak points of the record, actually features God) totally turned me off.

But, for some reason, I went back a few weeks later for another listen. And that time I liked what I heard. The beats sounded catchier, especially on “On Sight”, “Black Skinheads”, “Blood on the Leaves”, and “Hold my Liquor”. Another thing I immediately noticed during my second listen was how much “Bound 2” sounded like vintage, Dropout Kanye.

And I became addicted to Yeezus. By now, I have probably listened to it over 10 times front to back. It is hypnotizing. I can’t get the hand-clapping, butt-shaking beat of “Black Skinhead” out of my head. The triumphant horns of “Blood on the Leaves” fill my every passing moment. “Bound 2” was even added to my hallowed Best of Kanye playlist on Spotify.

But there is still something missing.

The total lack of pop separates this album from his other classics. And not in a good way. All in all, I would place this album right above Watch the Throne on the pantheon of Kanye records, but below College Dropout, Dark Fantasy, and Late Registration. While critics unsurprisingly adore the album, claiming it is another Yeezy masterpiece, I think Yeezus will go down in history as the Rap Album That Could Have Been.

Oh, I agree with the critics. Yeezus is a masterpiece. Just a significantly flawed one.

3.5 stars

First Post (Yay!)

Yes, I know what you are going to say.

I suck at WordPress (pictures are confusing).

Well, hopefully you guys won’t hate me that much because my header pic is some generic photo of a rocky shore somewhere in New England. By the way, my number 1 priority right now is to learn how to upload a sick picture of Ron Burgundy playing the jazz flute. That would be pretty cool.

So, anyways, this is my blog. Duh. As many of you know, I like to talk, well, a lot. And about a variety of subjects. From the Philadelphia Union to Kanye West, from The Wire to Bruce Springsteen, and a variety of other topics, I have a wide range of interests. That is why this blog won’t focus on just one aspect of pop culture. I will cover whatever is interesting me the most at the time. Yeah, expect a lot of Union coverage. Expect a ton of Sixers’ posts even though they will suck this year. Actually, expect Sixers’ posts because they will suck this year (ALL HAIL SAM HINKIE). Expect coverage of Walter White’s final days on Breaking Bad. Expect Pearl Jam album reviews.

And most importantly, expect the jazz flute.

Let’s have some fun.

Sports, Music, Movies, Television