Tomorrow night's game featuring Joe Blanton and Mark Buehrle will be broadcast nationally by MLB Network, with Bob Costas and long-time major league pitcher Jim Kaat calling the game.
Yesterday, Kaat and Costas offered their observations on the Phillies struggles in a four-game stretch that has seen them score just eight runs to open up the season.
Kaat was teammates with Charlie Manuel on the Twins from 1969 through 1972 and the two men remain friends. Kaat also pitched for the Phillies from 1976-79, going 27-30 with a 4.23 ERA, 3.2 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 87 starts and 15 relief appearances.
Here are the Phillies-related excerpts from the conference call with reporters:
Kaat on how worried the Phillies should be about their offense: “I don’t know about worried, but knowing Charlie Manuel, and Bob has sat in with me on a number of conferences, and Charlie will make no secret about the fact that he’s a hitter. He wants a team that can provide some offense, so this is very frustrating for him right now not having [Ryan] Howard and [Chase] Utley, and [Jim] Thome with a bad back and getting off to a slow start. I read his comments everyday in the Philadelphia paper and he’s going to try to conjure up some kind of a lineup or figure out a way. He doesn’t have to pay much attention to his pitching. Rich Dubee will handle that and they’ve got solid pitching anyway. Right now, it’s a frustrating time for Charlie, not because they lost three of their first four, but all of a sudden, because he’s looking at a lineup where he’s saying, ‘Man, we don’t have anybody that can hit that three-run homer. We don’t have any extra base-hit power.’ He’s going to try to figure out where he can get that from or put a lineup together that might. Or he’s going to have to change his philosophy, which is going to be very difficult for Charlie to do, and turn into Gene Mauch and start bunting, hit-and-run and steal. That’s not his style, but maybe that’s the way they’ll have to play this year.”
Costas on the decline in production by the Phillies’ offense: “I’m just looking at my notes for Thursday’s game and … in 2009 when they went back to the World Series, the Phillies scored 820 runs. The next year they scored 772, and last year they scored 713. So, that’s more than 100 fewer in the space of two years, and they had Ryan Howard for the full season and Utley for part of the season a year ago. Now they begin this season without either one of them and question marks as to when they’d be back, and already looking at a 100-run falloff in a space of two years, so that’s what Manuel’s worried about.”
Costas on Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard: “Also, and this is no knock on anybody, Jimmy Rollins is still a very good player, but Jimmy Rollins is not the MVP player from 2007. The production is not at a peak as it once was. Basically, those were the three guys, apart from pitching, who were the heart of the team. Did they have other good players? Of course they did, but Rollins, Utley and Howard, in some order, were the heart of the team. One of them is now in a little bit of a decline. Again, he is still a very good player, Jimmy Rollins, but in a little bit of a decline, and Utley and Howard are out. That’s the heart of the team.”
Kaat on the Phillies’ lineup without Howard and Utley: “Another point, just speaking from a pitcher’s standpoint, is now when I get that lineup card that the manager hands me and I look at it and say, ‘This is who I’m pitching against.’ Even though you respect every hitter that steps in a box in a big league game [and] has a bat in his hands is dangerous, all of a sudden [in] your mind, you’re much more aggressive in your approach to say, ‘Wow, I don’t have this three [or] four guy that I’m going to waste about 15 or 20 pitches on.’ I think that’s going to have a good effect on the opposing starting pitchers to challenge the Phillie hitters. It’s going to, in this day of counting pitches and innings limitations. All of a sudden, you can get through that lineup in fewer pitches than you ever did before. And as a result, if you’re a pretty good pitcher, you’re going to take your team deeper into the game. Even though Howard, when he comes back, may not be the real Ryan Howard, he’ll be a threat and he’ll intimidate some pitchers where he can affect the guy that hits before him and after him. Until they get back, Charlie’s going to figure out a way to put some kind of a lineup together that can pose a threat to the opposing starting pitcher.”
Costas on who can help the Phillies fill the void in their lineup: “Now in fairness, they have added Hunter Pence, in the middle of last season, so there’s a very important bat that they didn’t have before. They have to have their fingers crossed that John Mayberry, who’s going to get time in the outfield and some opportunity at first base with Howard out, that he can blossom the way they hoped that he would. If he has a big year and if Pence has a big year for a full season with Philadelphia, that makes up some of the difference. Not all of it, but some of it.”