The Washington Nationals dropped their first series of the year to the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Opening Day saw two Ian Desmond errors lead to 3 runs as Max Scherzer‘s strong debut and Bryce Harper’s home run being wasted. In the second game, the Nats won on the backs of the Zimmermen — Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer and Jordan Zimmermann gave up only a run. On Thursday, DE6MOND struck again with another costly 2-out error costing the Nats 2 runs. Stephen Strasburg couldn’t overcome that or the damp, cold weather in a 6-3 loss to Matt Harvey. Three runs off the Mets bullpen made it feel closer than it was.
Moving on and to the city of brotherly love (based on what I heard on radio, by bus – perhaps deserved after this poor performance) the Nats look to right the ship against the Philadelphia Phillies who have (Southeast) Jerome Williams on the mound Friday night.
Helping us prepare for the Phillies series is another decorated guest prognosticator, Kevin McGuire of Macho Row and College Football Talk. This is the fifth time for him with the Phillies . He’s also talked about the Eagles when I was doing this feature in football season. That could come back someday, but we’ll see.
WFY: Let’s not waste any time – why does GM Ruben Amaro still have a job?
KMc: It is my belief the Phillies are a family-oriented type of franchise. Sometimes they have a hard time parting ways with their own kind, and Amaro has been a part of the Phillies franchise in one way or another for decades before becoming a part of the front office. He played here. His dad played here. They like Amaro and want to give him time to fix things. It is a fault of the franchise that probably held on to Ed Wade for a few years longer than they should have. But the pressure is starting to rise and there needs to be some sort of plan in motion seen this year, I think.
WFY: The Phillies contending days are a distant memory, their two pennants and second world championship even farther. Does getting to watch some fan favorites like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley from the Phillies mini epoch make the decline a little easier to handle than watching a bunch of no-names losing 90 games a year? Not that we have any concerns about that in the nation’s capital where we don’t have all that hardware yet…
KMc: It depends. Chase Utley is treated like a god here. Ryan Howard, not so much. People have long been wanting to ship Howard out of town, so there is no solace there by the general fan. Years from now though, when those players are gone and we have more time to reflect on just how good things were here for that stretch, they will all be welcomed back like heroes, even Howard.
WFY: How did the Phillies look in their first series, against the Boston Red Sox? How did the Sox look; the Nats play them next week? Why does it seem like the Phillies always open with interleague?
KMc: The Phillies were routed in the season opener, 8-0. Cole Hamels gave up four solo home runs and reliever Jake Diekmann served up a grand slam to Hanley Ramirez in the ninth inning. Hamels was not sharp, but look at his career numbers in his season debut and it was really par for the course (he’ll be fine, he always has a rough season debut though for whatever reason). The offense was non-existent, and that figures to be the story of the season in Philadelphia. The top of the order failed to get a hit (Utley reached on an error), and there is not a real threat anywhere in the lineup. The Red Sox are going to mash some hits and score some runs this season. It can be a dangerous lineup, and if they can add another good starter in the rotation they should contend (Hamels trade talks are still out there).
This is the second season of season-long interleague play (which I am no fan of, by the way), and for the second straight year the Phillies opened against an AL team. Last year they opened in Texas and had their home opener against the Royals. This year Boston was in town. I’m not sure if there is anything to it, or if it is just a coincidence.
WFY: Who is left to pitch for the Phillies with Roy Halladay retired and Cliff Lee out indefinitely?
KMc: After Hamels, the Phillies will go with free agent pick-up Aaron Harang for however long he may last. David Buchanan me his major league debut last season and remains not he roster. Right now he is the third pitcher in the rotation. He is followed by Jerome Williams, who wears a pink glove and was added through waivers last season. If Cliff Lee returns this year (I doubt he will), he’ll complete the five-man rotation. But of Lee does not come back, I’m not really sure where this team goes for a fifth starter (Kyle Kendrick is now with the Rockies). The hope is Chad Billingsley is healthy enough to join the rotation soon. He was signed on a one-year deal with a injury history, so the Phillies are crossing their fingers on this one.
WFY: Dominic Brown was seen as a promising prospect for a few years – how is he doing now?
KMc: Well, right now he is on the disabled list to start the season. And you are right, he was once seen as a promising prospect, but so far he has yet to really show why on a consistent enough basis. Brown has been poor in the outfield and his offense is not quite what it was supposed to be at this point in his development and career. Brown is the one prospect Amaro held on to while moving players and prospects over the years, which does not help the situation either. After making his big league debut five years ago and getting a full-time role four years ago, the Phillies needed more out of him by now.
WFY: Do the Phillies have any other prospects starting to come up to the majors?
KMc: There are a few down the line worth watching. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is projected to be the next franchise shortstop once he is ready, but he was only in single A ball last year so he is still a couple years away. Last year’s top draft pick was on pitcher Aaron Nola out of LSU. He was placed right into double A and could be seen this summer, especially if things are unstable in the rotation. The other player that could be seen is Maikel Franco, who plays third and first base. The Phillies will likely end up using him at first base with Cody Asche covering third base. Of course, Ryan Howard is still at first…
WFY: How is Ryne Sandberg doing as a manager?
KMc: I am honestly not really sure. I almost feel inclined to give him a pass to a certain degree given what he has to work with in the clubhouse, but we are now 1.5 seasons in with Sandberg as manager and there are some things that were supposed to be fixed that have not played out as advertised. Fundamentals is still an issue with some, and that was supposed to be the big difference with Ryne as manager. We’ll see what happens this season. There is no doubt he knows his baseball, but there needs to be some positive development on the field this season.
WFY: Given the Phillies decline, was their season series victory over the Nats last year any more satisfying? I owe somebody a half-smoke. What is the perception of the Nats from the Phillies fanbase?
KMc: I’m not sure how much satisfaction most Phillies fans took in anything that happened last season, including a season-series victory over the Nationals. But hey, I’ll take it I guess. I think most Phillies fans recognize the Nationals as the top threat in the division right now, and perhaps that is starting to add some fuel to a regional rivalry, but that won’t really take form up here until the Phillies have something to play for. The Jayson Werth stuff is getting old at this point, I think at least, but there is always Bryce Harper. I think he is perceived as a punk, but he’s a punk we’d all love to have on our team.
WFY: How is the local/regional beer selection at Citizens Bank Park?
KMc: When it comes to this topic I like to defer to Lee Porter, a local food blogger who does a masterful job mapping out the beer selections throughout Citizens Bank Park on his website. One thing he has already noticed for this season is there will be more mega cans of the more common beers available this season, which may or may not be a reason why some of the previously offered local brews have been cut from the menu. There is still a good selection of local breweries in the stadium, so it may not be a big deal for most, and there are some new options available.
One thing that should also be noted for some higher brow readers, the Phillies have a new deal in place with Chadds Ford Winery and now serve various wine selections in the stadium. Mixed drinks are also more available at certain locations as well. Some are going to need it.
WFY: Is that sign still blocking the skyline in center field? Have their been any significant upgrades to the ballpark since I went there 10 years ago?
KMc: I have good news for you! After a decade of that darn useless sign obstructing your view of Center City, the Phillies are kinda sorta making it less of a distraction. While the sign is still in the parking lot, the height of the sign has been reduced, reportedly going from 157 feet high to 115 feet. It is supposed to be used for its initial purpose of being a message board as well. I’ll have to go to a game though to see just how much of a difference this has made. I’ll be there Sunday for the Phillies-Nationals afternoon game. I’ll report back if you are interested.
WFY: Since it’s 2015, who is the best #15 in Phillies history?
KMc: This one is easy. Dick Allen, who wore the uniform number from the dreadful season of 1964 through 1969, and again in 1975 when he returned to the team. The number was also worn by guys like Rick Schu, Steve Jeltz and Dave Hollins and was most recently worn by John Mayberry Jr. Simply said, there is no competition here for Dick Allen, who should probably be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
WFY: How do you see this series shaping up? What about the Nats-Phillies season series?
KMc: I expect many disappointing series from the Phillies this season, including this weekend at home against the NL East favorite Nationals. I think the Nationals are going to be very good this season (we’ll see what happens in the postseason), and I think they have a relatively easy time taking the season series from the Phillies this summer. Cole Hamels will be back on the mound so I think the Phillies can take one game in the set, but it will not come easily. It should be a beautiful weekend for baseball in Philadelphia though.