Brandon Phillips: Respect Your Elders
Let me make this clear: I am a Brandon Phillips fan. Watching him play my Cardinals the last five years with the Reds in the NL Central, how can you not appreciate his talent?
He's going to bat about .280 with 20+ homers and 20+ steals virtually every year which is tremendous production from a second baseman. He's not a big guy, but he takes entertaining, vicious hacks a-la Prince Fielder which means he hits some real bombs from time to time. Yet he doesn't strike out a whole lot - he's only reached the 100 K mark once and that in a year he hit 30 home runs. He's a tough out, he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, and you have a to love a guy with no shortage of confidence. Phillips will be the first to tell you he feels he should be an All-Star every year.
All that said, his proclaimed hatred of the Cardinals prior to the Cards-Reds series this week shows the young man has a lot learn about respect.
Phillips told the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy, "I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. ... All they do is b---- and moan about everything, all of them, they're little b----es all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."
Mmmkay. Message received.
I assume Phillips was referring to the Cardinals' complaints about slick baseballs at Great America Ballpark last year (from John Smoltz and Chris Carpenter) and this year in the Cards' first series in Cincy in April again from Carpenter. In response, Reds' starter Aaron Harang has noted that no other teams have complained.
It's not a huge deal. So apparently, the Reds' clubhouse staff doesn't rub the baseballs as well as the Cardinals like. Call it home field advantage or something. Big deal.
What IS disturbing is while Tony La Russa can play head-games with the best of them, two Cy Young Award winners like Smoltz and Carpenter? These guys have always been all-business. They don't play games, period. I think it's fair to say that 99.9% of all major-leaguers that have played with or against these two pitchers hold them both in the highest regard as competitors and how they respect the game.
Which is everyone except for Brandon Phillips, I guess.
Now, Phillips has never played for a winning Reds team in his life so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe all this Reds postseason talk is making him forget what's going on with his own team. That the architect is former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty. That guys like Scott Rolen and (now Jim Edmonds) bring a wealth of experience that he doesn't have.
Was Phillips insulting former Cardinals on his team now? Of course not. Was he even really insulting the current Cards? Doubtful. Most other teams feel the same way he does about La Russa and Duncan. The problem is he's too dense to realize that his Reds are winning because they are playing baseball the "right way" this year - and more consistently than any time in recent memory. Sorry to say, Brandon: your Reds are learning to play "the Cardinal Way".
Guess you'll have to hate yourself now.
The Hard Nine
1. Worst Everyday Player in the Majors - One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, recently examined ten candidates for "Worst Everyday Player" in the majors and justifiably, Skip Schumaker was on the list. Skip is a below average defender at second base with no power and no speed and if he doesn't hit .300, he really brings no benefit to a baseball team, except for his positive attitude and team-first approach. He's only batting .260 this year after three straight .300 campaigns so he has been a disappointment to say the least.
So it was thrilling to see him drill the first pitch he saw from Mike Leake with the bases loaded last night in Cincinnati for a Grand Slam to deep center field. He was looking for a pitch to hit at least a sacrifice fly off of and hit a big fly instead. Bravo, Skip. Now, try to get that average and defense back up to par, okay?
2. Houston, We Have Liftoff - The Astros are still dead last in runs scored in the Nation League, but they are sure doing what they can to make up ground in that department. After pulverizing the Cardinals bullpen last week, they continued last night with a 10-4 thrashing of Atlanta, who like St. Louis, has one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
Michael Bourn continues to be a pest on the base paths, Jeff Keppinger is one of the best offensive second baseman around, and Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are still steady producers. But the real excitement is coming from new blood in Brett Wallace (yes, the former Cardinals first-round draft pick) and third baseman Chris Johnson who is simply raking (and I'm quite thankful seeing as I grabbed him in my fantasy league!). Wallace's call up to Houston was rather remarkable. The Astros sent Lance Berkman to the Yankees, traded for Wallace from Toronto and then immediately called him from AAA Round Rock to install him as their everyday first baseman. After bouncing around, "Thunder Thighs" Wallace has a home and in our division no less.
3. Trading For a Royal Is Probably A Bad Sign - Now, trading for TWO of them? Royals GM Dayton Moore must have some interesting dirt on Braves GM Frank Wren. Yes ,the Braves big trade deadline acquisitions included not one, but TWO Kansas City Royals and neither player is anywhere near as talented as Carlos Beltran. If I was a Braves fan, I'd feel queezy about what that says about my team. Naturally, in the 10-4 loss to the Astros, ex-Royals Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel performed to their typical standards. Ankiel was 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts and Farnsworth got just one out while yielding four earned runs while taking the loss.
4. Worth the Price of Admission - The Tampa Bay Rays' David Price won his 15th game last night to set a Rays' team record and take the lead in the AL in pitcher wins. The Rays are just a game and a half behind the Yankees and solidly in the driver's seat for the Wild Card. It doesn't get any sweeter than seeing the Rays playing in October and the Red Sox not.
5. And Down the Stretch They Come - In five of the six divisions the first and second-place teams are separated by just 1 1/2 games or less. It seems baseball has more parity now than even the NFL. What a great month this is going to be.
The Reds-Cardinals race will be a showdown in the NL Central but I expect the Cardinals' veteran experience will carry them to yet another division title.
The Twins and White Sox are tied in the AL Central. Those two teams are so evenly matched, it's a coin-toss. But while I'm a bit of Twins fan, I feel the ChiSox deeper rotation is going to win them the division.
The Phillies and Braves can't seem to decide who should win the division. The Phillies have been decimated by injuries all year, but the Braves (like the Cards) are a very flawed "good" team. If the Braves don't put some real distance between them and the Phillies, they may lose their lead if the Phils get hot when Ryan Howard and (later this month) Chase Utley return. Still, I think the Phils will come up short.
The truly scary NL teams, for me, are fighting in the NL West - the Padres and Giants. Both teams have elite pitching. Both teams have managed to maintain enough offense to keep the wins coming (the Giants, in fact, have the same run-differential as the Cards). The Wild Card team could definitely be one of these teams and I think they both make the playoffs.
The AL East is also far from determined. The Rays have a less consistent offense than the Yankees, but thier pitching has more upside. But as is the case in the NL West, it doesn't matter - both will be playing in October.
6. Rockies Have Some Valuable "CarGo" - Usually the Oakland A's are known for trading away pending free-agents for high-quality prospects, but, the Rockies appeared to have gotten the best of the A's in the Matt Holliday trade two years ago. In that deal, the Rox got Carlos Gonzalez, who at 24 years of age is on pace for 38 homers and 117 RBI while leading the league with a .327 average - MVP numbers to be sure in this so-called Year of the Pitcher. His splits greatly favor him at home (as always with Rockies players) but the scary thing about CarGo is as a lefty batter, he actually hits left-handed pitchers better than righties - .329 to .326 and 11 of his 25 homers have been off lefties in nearly half the at bats he's had against righties. I hope La Russa remembers that the next time he brings in Trever Miller to face this dude.
7. St. Louis Rams Finally On The Rebound - The heretofore St. Louis "Lambs" are making progress which is nice for borderline NFL fans like myself. After watching Sam Bradford destroy the Mizzou Tigers for years, it's nice to be able to root FOR the guy, and nicer still to hear that he's been very good in team scrimmages this week. Hopefully, he will stay upright long enough to earn some of that $50 million guaranteed money he got in his first contract.
8. Going For A Perfect Ten - As my wife will tell you, I have been waiting and praying for Jaime Garcia to get his 10th win for a while now. He's had some recent inconsistency. The offense has often let him down as well as the spotty bullpen. But tonight wouldn't been any more perfect a time for that to happen as a win will give the Cards a win over the Reds and a tie in the standings atop the NL Central.
9. When a Cardinal No-No is a Good Thing - Finally, I've been thinking recently: the Cards had two pitchers in the CY Young vote last year. We will have another this year in Adam Wainwright, barring injury or meltdown. But with all this dominant Cardinals starting pitching, we've not had a no hitter thrown by a veteran in as long as I can remember. Why do I say veteran?
The last two no-nos have been thrown by Cardinal rookies (Bud Smith in 2001 and Jose Jimenez in 1999) both would hardly qualify as being expected. And prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1983 to see a veteran (Bob Forsch) throw a Cardinals no-hitter. It's all fun and interesting when a rookie does it, but it's not the same. They don't know what is going on - they can't fully enjoy it. Heck, Bud Smith won SEVEN GAMES in his career, one of them was the no-no, of course. Those are freaks of nature. Those kids got lucky, in a way. When a veteran does it, there may be some luck involved, but for the most part it is a pitching performance that is meticulously crafted from start to finish like a chess match.
So for me, it's far more exciting when a veteran does it. They know how difficult it is and how rare. It's time for Waino or Carp to make some history.