Phillies clinch NL East title

With their 10-3 win over the Astros on Wednesday night, the Phillies clinched their third straight division title. Raul Ibanez went 1 for 2 with a two-run homer, two runs scored and three RBI in the victory.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

On the third time around, the familiar white towels snapped in the seats and the same joyous roar rose high. The Phillies beat the Astros, clinching the division again, and the fireworks and the champagne were the same. The picture that will remain, after everything, was the charge of Phillies players out to the sign on the leftfield wall.

It is the sign with the microphone and the big red letters, the omnipresent reminder of Harry Kalas, the voice and the soul of the franchise who died in April. They gathered around the sign, all of them, jumping and joyfully pounding against it, showering it and the nearby fans with every available beverage.

You do not script these kinds of moments. They just happen if the stars are aligned just right. You do not script life, either. And here we all are again.

What a special moment for the Phillies and a great tribute to Kalas to win the division yet again. He was one of the greatest play-by-play announcers in baseball history and it was cool to see the players gather around the sign in the outfield to honor him.

The Phillies have the best offense in the National League and the sixth best team ERA. Their lineup consists of five guys who have 20 home runs or more, including Ryan Howard (43), Jayson Werth (35), Raul Ibanez (34), Chase Utley (31) and Jimmy Rollins (21).

A Dodgers-Phillies matchup would be fun to watch seeing as how L.A. boasts the lowest team ERA in the league and Philly can score runs in bunches.

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National League All-Star voting–who is leading and who should be

Last week we picked apart the American League all-star voting. Well, this week we will look at the National League, and after last night the starters have all been selected (aside from pitchers). You ready?

First base
Leader: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Mike’s pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals.
Well, this one is a no-brainer. Is it possible that Albert gets better with age? Yes, and his numbers border on staggering. 81 games in, he’s batting .336 with 31 homers and 82 RBI and a slugging percentage of .748. That projects to 62 homers and 164 runs batted in. What’s more, dude has a .993 fielding percentage. There is little doubt Pujols is the best player in the game, and he gets to flaunt it in front of his hometown crowd a week from Tuesday.

Second base
Leader: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Mike’s pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies.
This one is also a no-brainer that the voters got correct, though as a Mets fan it pains me to say that. Utley has 17 homers, 54 RBI, he’s batting .303 with 16 doubles and a .980 OPS—all unbelievable numbers for a second baseman. This guy is a gamer.

Leader: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Mike’s pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins.
This is getting to be a trend, but the numbers in the National League don’t seem to lie, do they? Hanley is batting .344 with 13 homers and 58 RBI, 26 doubles, 12 stolen bases and a .972 OPS. By comparison, he is hitting 119 points higher than JJ Hardy and 132 points higher than the slumping Jimmy Rollins. Case closed.

Third base
Leader: David Wright, New York Mets
Mike’s pick: Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks
. Wright was leading the league in batting for quite a while, and he’s currently hitting .333 but with just 5 homers and 42 RBI. By comparison, Reynolds has clubbed 22 home runs with 57 RBI while batting a respectable .271. At a power position, I’m giving the nod to the guy barely anyone gets to see play.

Leader: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Mike’s pick: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves.
This is close, because Yadier’s brother Bengie has 10 homers and 46 RBI for the Giants, but McCann is batting .311 with 8 home runs and 33 driven in, with 15 doubles and a respectable .988 fielding percentage.

Leaders: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Mike’s picks: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies
Ibanez is having a career season, batting .312 with 22 homers and 59 RBI, and Braun just continues to rake, with 16 home runs, 58 driven in and a .326 average. But Beltran, while he plays in the biggest media market and makes mega-bucks, is not going to get my all-star nod over Brad Hawpe. Beltran is hitting .336, but has just 8 homers and 40 RBI. Hawpe is hitting .328 with 13 homers and 56 runs batted in, 25 doubles and a stunning .993 OPS. If Manny Ramirez was playing most of the season, he’d probably be on this list, but I can’t consider a guy who’s only played 28 games, regardless of why he missed all that time.

Starting pitcher
As you all know, pitchers are chosen by the managers and will be announced this Sunday.
Mike’s pick: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants. Last year’s NL Cy Young winner got off to a slow start, but has been mowing hitters down lately, to the tune of 8-2 with a 2.37 ERA and league-leading 132 strikeouts with just 28 walks in 114 innings. Arizona’s Dan Haren is a close runner-up, with a 7-5 record for a crappy D-Backs’ team, and a league low 2.19 ERA with 113 K’s and 0.81 WHIP.

Relief pitcher
Mike’s pick: Heath Bell, San Diego Padres. When this former Met helped christen Citi Field by mowing down his ex-teammates in April, I thought it was just a phase. But dude leads the NL in saves with 22, and is 3-1 with a 1.34 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 33 innings of work. And here’s the best stat of all—Bell has saved or won 74% of his team’s wins. If he keeps that up, Bell will contend for the NL Cy Young and even garner some MVP votes.

Time for the Cubs to stop playing Board Games

It’s safe to say that this past offseason has been one of the worst for Jim Hendry during his tenure as General Manager of the Chicago Cubs. The Los Angeles Dodgers made a mockery of the Cubs’ right-handed lineup in the playoffs by not throwing a single left-handed pitcher at them, and the Cubs responded to this glaring weakness by trading Mark DeRosa, the most versatile and well-liked player on the team – not to mention cheap, since he was in line to make an affordable $5.5 million in the final year of his contract – in order to free up some cash to sign a left-handed power hitter. For God knows what reason, Hendry doesn’t even make an attempt to sign Raul Ibanez, a clubhouse prince who is good for 25 home runs and 100 RBIs year in and year out. Nope, Hendry set his sights on Milton Bradley, a talented but mercurial journeyman (the Cubs are the eighth team he’s played for since his Major League debut in 2000) who just happened to put up career numbers in a contract year. The words “career numbers” sound good, but they come with one big-ass asterisk. Take a look at Bradley’s career year numbers versus the 2008 stat lines of DeRosa and Ibanez:

Raul Ibanez: .292-85-23-110-2
Mark DeRosa: .285-104-21-87-6
Milton Bradley .321-78-22-77-5

It’s a pretty average stat line as career numbers go, and don’t forget that he put up those numbers primarily as a DH, and he still only played 126 games due to nagging injuries. Yep, this is the man that the Cubs hoped would save them, to the tune of three years and $30 million. To add insult to injury, DeRosa now plays for the rival Cardinals.

“Let’s see, if I strike out like that 100 more times this year…I still make $7 million! Ahhhh hahahahahahaha!”

And would you look at that; now that Bradley has his money, he can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Well, let’s qualify that — he’s actually hitting .333…from the right side of the plate. He’s hitting .194 as a lefty, has been suspended for bumping an umpire, sent home by his manager after trashing yet another water cooler, and poisoned yet another clubhouse with his unpredictable temper. Bradley said before the season started that he had changed, that those days of flying off the handle (remember when he tore his ACL yelling at an umpire?) were long gone. How on earth did the Cubs believe him? Didn’t they see the “South Park” movie? Bad people always say they’ll change, but they never do.

So what do the Cubs do with Bradley now? He’s expected to take the next two days off to work on his approach from the left side of the plate with new hitting coach Von Joshua. A good start, but we have some other, admittedly extreme suggestions to the Bradley problem that we think the Cubs brass should consider.

Read the rest after the jump...

Raul Ibanez placed on DL

In a rather surprising move, the Phillies have placed outfielder Raul Ibanez on the disabled list with a strained left groin. Though Ibanez missed a start last weekend with a sore Achilles tendon, there had been no mention of a groin injury.

Ibanez is hitting .312 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs. He is second in the National League in both home runs and RBIs. His RBI total ranks fourth in the Major Leagues.

He has struggled recently, though, and seemed to have a little trouble running at times in Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays.

Ibanez said on Sunday that he has had a sore left Achilles because of some bad shoes, but insisted it was not serious.

Ibanez has hit .194 (6-for-31) in his past seven games, although he also has three home runs and five RBIs in that span.

Fantasy owners had been waiting for Ibanez’s production to come down and it looks like it’s starting to happen, although maybe that’s more due to his injuries. Maybe the time off will do the 37-year old some good and he’ll come back slugging again in a week or two.

Ibanez irate over blogger’s PED speculation, but is Inquirer columnist to blame?

A story gaining major national attention over the last couple days is a story that Jerod Morris of Midwest Sports Fans wrote about 37-year old Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, who has been on a tear (.325, 20 HRs, 55 RBI) to start the 2009 baseball season.

The motivation behind Morris’ article (which you can read in full here) was to prove that Ibanez’s incredible start wasn’t due to the possible use of steroids or any other form of performance-enhancing drugs.

Here’s an excerpt from Morris’ article, although I implore you to read the entire piece because he dedicates most of the post to trying to prove that legit factors (i.e. the ball parks he’s played in, the pitchers he’s faced, etc.) have led to Ibanez’s fast start.

Thirdly, it’s time for me to begrudgingly acknowledge the elephant in the room: any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation.

Sorry Raul Ibanez and Major League Baseball, that’s just the era that we are in — testing or no testing.

The above except was enough to compel Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez to write a piece entitled, “A cheap shot at Ibanez.”

Here’s an excerpt from Gonzalez’s article:

Read the rest of this entry »

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