The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
Published November 29, 2020
The Eagles needed garbage time to make it a one-score game in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns, so how much hope really is there for the Birds to keep things competitive against the 7-3 Seattle Seahawks in front of the whole country on Monday Night Football this week?
To refresh your memory, the Eagles have lost their last six meetings with the ‘Hawks, most recently a pair of 17-9 finals last year, including the playoff loss that might have been the turning point of Carson Wentz’s career. Furthermore, those 8-point margins of victory were the closest of the last six meetings, with Seattle typically coming out on top by 10 to 14 points when they play the Birds during the Russell Wilson era.
Reaching back even further, the Eagles last beat the Seahawks in Philadelphia in 1989, although that long span only encompasses six losses.
Does any of this matter, as it relates to Monday’s game? No, not really. But it’s just an exercise to show how much difficulty the Eagles have had with this opponent even when things weren’t spiraling out of control, as 2020 is for them. What, then, can the Eagles possibly do to make this close and possibly even pull off a big upset to reclaim first place (uggggggh) in the NFC East?
Run the ball. Commit to it and stick with it. Things were going great early on last week before Miles Sanders butterfingered it away. That didn’t completely spell the end of the ground game, but Doug Pederson and company totally abandoned it once Wentz gifted a lead to the Browns. Ball control and time of possession have to be the name of the game this week if the Eagles are to stand any chance.
On the flip side, and this might seem directly to the contrary, you’ve got to take shots downfield. Maybe you’re laughing at my first suggestion that the Eagles pound the run, because Seattle allows the fourth fewest yards per game on the ground this year. But there’s a reason for that. Teams haven’t needed to do it very much because the Seahawks’ pass D is so bad (343.7 yards per game, most in the league by a mile).
It’d be nice to think that the Eagles could simply air it out and have a chance in this game, but their receivers and O-line simply aren’t good enough to offer Wentz (or Jalen Hurts?) an opportunity to win this game via the pass alone. If the Birds aren’t running to a sufficient degree for Seattle to worry about it, then the Seahawks can do enough to contain the Eagles’ passing attack. Essentially, you’ve got to run to keep them honest, which will hopefully allow you to exploit the many issues in their pass defense. One hand washes the other. I feel bad for even explaining this, because you’re obviously already very knowledgeable about football if you’re reading this site.
As for the whole Wentz/Hurts thing, it looks like the training wheels are finally coming off. The Eagles are supposedly going to allow Hurts to run a few plays without daddy on the field. Baby steps, but it’s a start. At any rate, going with different looks in this game might be just the kind of necessary gimmick to keep it from being a rout.
I do have to bring this back down to earth, though, because I don’t see much reason to think that this Eagles defense can stop Wilson and the Seahawks’ stable of weapons. The Philadelphia defensive unit has really been a mixed bag this season, but this is the best offense they’ve faced so far, and they haven’t shown the kind of big play ability necessary to turn the tide of a game.
I’m expecting this game to remain close for almost a half, but for the talent gap to show itself as Seattle blows it open after that. It’s going to take a lot of luck and nearly perfect execution for the Eagles to even get within shouting distance. They’ll be headed to 3-7-1 while the Iggle Preddigle machine moves to 7-3-1. As usual, I hope I’m wrong.
IGGLE PREDIGGLE: Seahawks 34, Eagles 14
Zero people are upset about not being able to go to this game. (PhillyInfluencer.com)
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A journey through the last quarter-century of Philadelphia sports, as seen through the lens of a true fan. The book includes an exclusive list of the 50 Most Disliked Philadelphia Athletes. A must-read for all of Philly's long-suffering fans, especially those who "grew up" during the 1990's and early 2000's.
Published November 17, 2020
The Philadelphia Flyers will always be working from somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to thinking up creative looks for new jerseys. And that’s because the Flying P has been around forever and is too perfect to ever change. Similarly, the orange and black and usually (but not always) white will always and forever be the color scheme for this franchise. And yes I know they’ve ventured out slightly with looks like this.
Overall, though, you can see why it’s pretty difficult for the Flyers to re-invent the wheel. And so we have this new look, their entry into the NHL’s “reverse retro” jersey line. They’re...fine. They look kind of slick, but how many ways can the Flyers move lines and colors around? They’re a bit hamstrung because they don’t have an alternate logo or former color scheme to fall back on. Apparently, this is a flipped version of the mid-’90s “Legion of Doom” team sweaters, but you could have fooled me. In the end, I think that this jersey is a decent addition in the pantheon of Flyers sweaters.
Now, to the other issue. Why is the NHL doing this? The answer is obviously to get people to buy jerseys, of course, because they are really going to be hurting for money if they have to play a shortened season in front of little to no fans. Owing to this factor, introducing this bold and exciting new line of sweaters feels hollow at best and a straight up cash grab at worst. Supposedly, Adidas and the NHL started working on this almost two years ago, but I feel like the process definitely got accelerated once the league started seeing losses a few months back.
It’ll be cool to see the Flyers in these duds, as well as some of the other nice ones that teams have come out with. But it really feels unofficial to me if they’re going to be making their maiden voyage in an empty arena, bubble situation, or some other circumstances that deviate from the norm. Because of that, I’m personally not going to be fully on board with this new look until the Flyers can play in front of a packed Wells Fargo Center wearing them. In much the same way that many elements of sports have seemed artificial lately (or actually are artificial, like pumped-in crowd noise) the reverse retro jerseys feel more like a video game add-on than a real life outfit, at least until we get back to business as usual.
Nobody has seen these jerseys in action on the ice yet, but I think they’ll end up looking pretty good. And I can forgive the rankings that mostly have the Flyers’ new look in the lower third of the league. The most universally applauded reverse retro jerseys, Colorado and Minnesota, pay homage to teams that moved. It was nice of those franchises to wax nostalgic about defunct, loser teams, but the Flyers didn’t have that option. Instead, they did the best they could with a classic crest and a color pattern that is too good to fool with. My only beef is that they could have really gone for it by slapping Gritty right on the jersey. That would have been fantastic, but I guess the world isn’t ready for that.
Each day, I’m getting more and more used to the idea that the 2020-21 NHL season is going to be a wash. In that case, I’ll be fully on board with seeing these jerseys on occasion during the 2021-22 season, assuming things have normalized. But if the NHL only plans on using these sweaters a few times during the upcoming abbreviated season, then it will have been a total waste of time and effort.
In short, I wouldn’t rush out to grab these babies, but maybe next year if they’re still a thing. If they’re never even worn in front of the home fans, however, were they even real? We’ll see what lies ahead.
Someone went on a TJ Maxx shopping spree. (CrossingBroad)
Published October 25, 2020
You can be forgiven if you don't remember left-handed reliever Aaron Loup's brief time with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Brought in from Toronto at the 2018 deadline, Loup had a 4.50 ERA in 9 appearances with the Phils, missing a chunk of time with injury before departing that offseason. And so it probably doesn't really hurt all too much to see him on the mound as part of Tampa Bay's vaulted bullpen that has helped to carry them all the way to the World Series. Along with his teammate Charlie Morton, himself an even shorter-lived Phillie, Loup has a chance to win a ring elsewhere after playing in Philadelphia.
To be fair, this is not unique to this city. The law of averages says that any title-winning team will be comprised of a guy or two who played part of his career elsewhere before landing in his current spot. But I thought it might be interesting to look back on the last decade and examine the cross-section of former Phillies who reached the pinnacle of success after moving on. As a fan of the team, this group will stir up some mixture of pain, indifference, and head scratching.
This one hurt. Pat Burrell, just two years removed from a hero's sendoff in Philadelphia, found himself as part of the Giants club that dispatched the Phillies in the NLCS on the way to a championship. At least Pat the Bat had already won here, though. The same can't be said for Aaron Rowand, who was beloved during his brief time in Philly, but bookended his career with titles for the other two teams he played for besides the Phillies. Fun fact: Rowand's only playoff series loss was the 2007 NLDS when the Phillies were swept by the Rockies. Apart from that, he only ever reached the postseason in 2005 (White Sox) and 2010 (Giants), going the distance in both of those years.
And you thought 2010 was painful? It's already been beaten to death how the 2011 Phillies were the best team in baseball, only to see the St. Louis Cardinals swoop in and deal them a devastating first round loss. But the insult to literal injury is that the Cards employed a trio of former Philadelphia washouts on their World Series roster. Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse had an excellent 2011 regular season for St. Louis. And even though his playoffs left a lot to be desired, he got his ring nonetheless. Utility man Nick Punto, who had started his MLB career with the Phillies a decade earlier, got regular at bats in the playoffs for the Cardinals during their title run. And elderly reliever Arthur Rhodes, who turned 42 during the 2011 World Series, nabbed his first ring and then retired. You may remember him as the guy who went 0-5 with a 5.32 ERA out of the Phillies' bullpen five years earlier.
The Giants did it again. No Burrell. No Rowand. But deadline acquisition Hunter Pence was a key figure for them. All for the low, low price of Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin, and Nate Schierholtz. No former Phillies were part of the Red Sox' 2013 championship team, but Pence came back for a repeat in 2014 with the Giants as the Phillies tumbled toward the bottom of the standings.
Did you remember that Ryan Madson won the World Series in 2015 with the Royals? Did you even remember that he ever pitched for them in the first place? Well, he did, just for that year. He was pretty dominant in the regular season, posting a 2.13 ERA, and then tossing three scoreless innings in the World Series. Could have fooled me. Again, this one didn’t really hurt, since Madson was a big part of the 2008 Phillies and had already reached his potential here.
After the 2016 Cubs won it all without the help of any former Phillies, the 2017 Astros* got the job done while employing Ken Giles and Charlie Morton. Mixed feelings here. First, while Giles could have been a valuable member of the Phillies’ bullpen for years, the team was right to trade him after the 2015 season. It certainly doesn’t help matters that what they got for him never panned out, but there aren’t too many Phils fans kicking themselves for dealing away Giles, even though he was a part of a title team elsewhere.
The Charlie Morton situation is a bit murkier. He was a nice, under-the-radar signing for the Phillies in 2016, and it wasn’t the team’s fault that he suffered a season-ending injury after just four starts. Maybe you can blame them for not making a big push to re-sign him, but who knew how valuable of a pitcher he would turn into, first for Houston and now for Tampa? Once you remember that we’re talking about the Phillies, though, it all makes sense. Even the smart moves end up blowing up in their faces.
The 2018 Red Sox didn’t feature any former Phillies, but the Nationals had Howie Kendrick in 2019. Kendrick had played for the Phillies in 2017, and he looked really good when he was healthy enough to stay on the field. But nobody really batted an eye when they dealt him to the Nats for a prospect they don’t have anymore and international bonus slot money. Good for Kendrick that he’d settle in as a valuable contributor in DC, because it wasn’t going to happen in Philadelphia. It was another decent move by the Phillies which didn’t pay off for them but that benefitted another team down the line.
This all brings us back to the present, with Aaron Loup and Charlie Morton (again) trying to pull off the feat of winning a World Series despite the hindrance of having spent part of their careers with the Phillies. It’s a tale as old as time. As stated, common sense says that these things will happen. But it remains part of the minutiae that us sports nuts obsess over, probably way too much.
His arm looks tiny. (Getty Images)
Published October 23, 2020
This year marks the 60th anniversary of director Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Owing to this, and since it's also the spooky season, we've decided to re-work some of his titles into tales related to Philadelphia sports. Get ready to be scared...
The Birds - Just as the original film famously had no soundtrack, this Philly-centric remake is also missing a lot of vital parts. In the end, though, it’s not scary at all because the birds just get injured every time they try to do something.
Frenzy - A thriller about NHL teams making aggressive moves in free agency. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is uncredited.
Lifeboat - A harrowing tale starring Carson Wentz, surrounded by a sea of nothingness, with zero support from his team.
The Lady Vanishes - Originally about the Kate Smith statue, this was re-worked into a stark look at Claude Giroux’s 2020 playoff performance for the Flyers.
To Catch a Thief - This screenplay was written by Phillies catchers about their experiences working with Jake Arrieta. Zing!
I Confess - Over a decade and a half after his greatest controversy, Donovan McNabb comes clean and admits he puked in the Super Bowl.
Shadow of a Doubt - A tale of Howie Roseman’s machinations behind the scenes as he prepares for the NFL draft. The film rightly concludes that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
The Man Who Knew Too Much - Sad story of how the 76ers didn't bring back Jimmy Butler, even though he actually knows how to win games, because he didn’t fit with what they were trying to do.
The Trouble with Harry - In the actual Hitchcock film, the titular character is dead the whole time, with locals trying to figure out how to get rid of the body. The new version concerns the corpse of Harry Kalas, which still manages to call a better game than Tom McCarthy.
The Wrong Man - Poorly received film about Brett Brown that took seven years to complete. Other Philadelphia figures considered for the title role were Gabe Kapler, Dave Hakstol, and Chip Kelly.
Vertigo - Panic ensues when the Phillies look so far up the standings that they can actually see the Braves.
Rope - A Jim Schwartz biopic, since he's running out of it.
Stage Fright - Aaron Nola takes the mound in September, putting everyone on the edge of their seats. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish.
The 39 Steps - Not really a film, as it’s basically just a slow motion video of what Jason Peters takes before every snap.
I hope I’ve sufficiently covered your favorite Hitchcock film and Philly sports lightning rod. Bonus points if you noticed that I made two Jimmy Stewart movie titles into comments about guys named Jim/Jimmy. You didn't notice that, though. Anyway, come back next time for more obscure and specific stuff that you can’t get anywhere else, nor would you want to.
Didn't he coach the Flyers at one point? (TelegraphIndia)
Published October 15, 2020
I never have been a supporter of “America’s Team”, and I never will be. Cut me open, and I’ll bleed Phillies red forever. Also, that’s just the color of my blood. But when it comes to what remains of these MLB playoffs, Phillies fans should just throw up their hands and hope the Atlanta Braves win.
Because shame and inadequacy can be powerful motivators to improve, and an NL East rival taking home the trophy might just help the Phillies in some form. No, the players aren’t going to start playing harder all of a sudden if they see the Braves win, but it might provide a necessary kick in the pants to the organization to get its “S” together so that they can become the next NL East club to win it all.
Prospects for this are dim at the moment, but you’ve got to start somewhere. At the very least, the Phillies have Bryce Harper locked down for his entire existence, as well as a studly looking Alec Bohm. They’ve also got a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation for the next couple years. Beyond that, there are a lot of question marks, like whether J.T. Realmuto will re-sign or if Rhys Hoskins will return to form once he recovers from his surgery. It’s far from perfect, but it’s what we’ll have to go forward with for now.
This certainly pales in comparison to those Bravos, who look like the class of the division for years to come, and so it will be incumbent on the Phillies to make moves to keep up with the Joneses. That’s a phrase that worked a lot better when Chipper and Andruw were in Atlanta.
Again, why does it make a difference whether the Braves win it all or fall short in their quest?
It has to do with the competitive balance of things. When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they continued a run of divisional dominance for three more years. That era crashed and burned in 2012, but the Phillies coasted on past success for several years. In fact, between 2009 and 2018, the NL East was the only division in baseball that didn’t win a title. And so it was easy for Phils’ management to point and say “Look how hard this is, none of our biggest rivals are winning championships either. Give us some more time”.
Well, guess what? Time’s up.
With the Nationals breaking through last year and the Braves getting dangerously close, the Phillies can no longer offer up such garbage. They need to get back to being a winning club, a playoff club very soon. This year would have been nice, what with nearly the entire league making the postseason. But they failed to even do that, thanks to the worst bullpen this side of my dad’s over-50 league.
Phillies fans have felt this frustration and embarrassment before (and, let's face it, we'll feel it again). Normally you wouldn't want things to get any worse by seeing a rival win a championship, but at this point, what does it matter? The fear of becoming irrelevant as the teams around them fulfill their promise is what the Phillies need. The Phils are far enough removed from Tampa and LA that they wouldn't feel any additional heat if either of those clubs won this year. But a Braves win would make things even more uncomfortable in Philadelphia, which is painfully necessary.
The fact that my wife is a Braves fan is not coloring my opinion here. (I know, I know.) While I want her to be happy, I grew up detesting that team, so I never want to see them succeed under typical circumstances. But drastic times call for drastic measures, and I think that Phils fans should be supportive of the Braves at the moment. If they win it all, maybe the Phillies will admit how far away they are from accomplishing a similar feat. And perhaps they'll start to make the right moves to turn this dumpster fire around.
Then again, maybe they're hopeless and will continue to be so, regardless of what other teams find the winning formula. Call me a glutton for punishment, but the Phillies need as many hard lessons as possible right now.
And no, I'm not going to say "Go Braves".
Crap, I said it.
Ok, let's not get carried away. (David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Published September 24, 2020
You have to wonder how many "last chances" an athlete can have for one team. For Vince Velasquez, the number is too high to count, but the situation dictates that the Phillies have to use him in a veritable "do or die" on Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
I think we can finally say, once and for all, it's time to put up or shut up and get out of town.
The five-year Velasquez experiment has had a few nice moments, but it's largely been a disappointment, one fueled by inconsistency and an inability to translate raw talent into tangible results. Vinny V has pitched in 111 games (98 starts) for the Phils, sporting a 4.75 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. Those are numbers that simply don't get it done, unless a guy is unquestionably your fifth starter and you're good enough to bail him out offensively most of the time. Needless to say, however, that hasn't been the case over the past few years.
Velasquez shouldn't have sniffed the rotation at all this year, let alone be taking the mound in such a crucial contest, but the team has no choice. His last two starts have shown us everything we've already known about him. In a big game against Miami, he was brutal and couldn't escape the fourth inning. Then he mostly redeemed himself with six good innings against Toronto, although he needed his typically high pitch count (104) just to get that deep. This is the finished product of Vince Velasquez, no longer a young player at age 28. He's not getting any better; he'll always be the poster child for unfulfilled promise, a maddening array of hits and misses.
Still, can he pull a rabbit out of his hat, just this one time? You'd be foolish to discount the possibility that he can come through in a critical spot, although you'd be exposing yourself to the same wounds that he's inflicted in the past. Do we even dare to allow for the possibility of being hurt yet again by a guy that we've already given up on more times than we can count? Like the Phillies, we have no choice. It's sink or swim with Vinny V, as scary as it might be.
This isn't to say that a good Velasquez performance in Tampa should guarantee an extension of his Phillies tenure or offer the organization some renewed hope in him. Far from it. Instead, it's an opportunity for this pitcher to give the team an iota of value for all of their troubles over the last five years.
Come up big and help this team make it into the playoffs, and Vinny can continue his MLB career somewhere else at least content in the knowledge that he came through in a tough spot and showed some return on investment for a team that needed him. He can safely avoid being a Phillies pitching punchline for years to come.
But if we see the Velasquez that we've gotten all too familiar with...overthrowing, walking guys, putting balls right over the plate for hitters to crush...then he should be spared no mercy.
One last dose of "classic Vinny V" that keeps the 2020 Phillies from missing the playoffs (yes, there is plenty of blame elsewhere as well) would be the final insult and absolutely make it open season on this guy. He would go down as one of the most painful busts we've seen in decades, something made even worse because the organization felt the need to give him chance after chance even when it was clearly a lost cause.
Am I basically threatening Velasquez here? Pretty much. And here it is, spelled out…
Prove that you belong in the majors and that this team didn't completely waste their time on you. Bring your best on Friday against Tampa. Because if you don't, if you show that we were right about you all along, then pack your bags and don't ever look back. Ya bum.
Was that last chance-y enough?
Hopefully Velasquez realizes the magnitude of the situation and responds in the best way possible. All you can do with this guy is hope. If he doesn't show up on Friday, the 2020 Phillies will be without any.
This will be his 99th start with the Phillies. It should be his last. Make it count.
One start will determine if his Phillies career was really bad or just regular bad. (Drew Hallowell)
Kevin Lagowski lives in Lincoln University, PA with his wife, son and dog. He used to work in the TV control room world, but now he's a technical writer.