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.
(NOTE: This article was written and posted prior to Odubel Herrera being placed on administrative leave by MLB, but it is left here in its original form).
Published May 28, 2019
For a team in first place, the Phillies sure seem to have their fair share of problems. And none of these issues sticks out more prominently right now than Odubel Herrera.
He had a nice run, all things considered, but the Phillies need to divest themselves of the most perplexing and perhaps frustrating Philadelphia athlete of the decade.
And they need to do it now before his continued struggles threaten to derail an otherwise promising season.
Following the 2016 season, his second year with the Phillies, he inked a 5-year extension that seemed to be an absolute steal for the team. He was a .291 hitter so far in his MLB career, and it seemed that he would be a valuable building block for years to come. Herrera, to his credit, responded with a solid 2017 season.
But then the wheels fell off.
After coming out of the gate scorching in 2018, he was atrocious for the bulk of the season as the Phillies faded badly as a team. Odubel was the poster child for what went wrong. Then, with all of the big changes the Phillies made in the offseason, it was fair to wonder if he would even maintain a starting spot.
He did, but it turns out he shouldn’t have.
He looks lost at the plate for a second season in a row, and he now finds himself losing starts and apparently the full confidence of his manager. Meanwhile, Nick Williams wastes away at AAA for the time being. Something has to give.
The best course of action is for the Phillies to find a willing trade partner to take on Odubel in exchange for whatever future considerations they are able to procure. Despite his struggles, there are probably still a few teams out there who think that they could turn Herrera around and are willing to gamble on him based on his relatively moderate salary.
Then, it should be Nick Williams time for real. He is far from a perfect solution, but the Phillies should plug him in every day for the next two months leading up to the trade deadline to finally see what he has before deciding what kind of move might need to be made before July 31 this year to address the outfield.
You could play Williams in center, but the Phils have always seemed hesitant to do that. So maybe they could slide Andrew McCutchen over and give Williams left field for the next 50 games or so. Again, not perfect, but any configuration would work better than the current one. Additionally, the Phillies can’t be serious about Scott Kingery playing center as a replacement for Odubel. You’re just hurting your ballclub everywhere with such a move.
But regardless of the “solution”, the “problem” must first be taken out of the equation, and that involves the jettisoning of Odubel Herrera, the proverbial “million-dollar player with a ten-cent head”, to paraphrase an old and financially-outdated expression.
The Phillies got him for nothing five years ago when they plucked him from Texas in the rule 5 draft. They got what they could out of him. If they lose him for next to nothing, so be it. It’s a better alternative than never finding out Nick Williams’ true value and either being forced to trade him for pennies on the dollar or getting nothing in return when he runs out of minor league options and other teams can claim him for free.
If an ideal resolution existed, the Phillies would have already pursued that avenue. This is simply the best move the Phillies could make at the moment. Things aren’t going to get better with Odubel.
Time to show him the o’door.
Don't tell me this shocks you. (Photo copyright Yong Kim)
Published May 21, 2019
Don’t worry, this is not a recurring feature on Philly Sports Complex.
But a special exception has to be made in this case when it comes to knee-jerk reactions during a very long and arduous baseball season. Because this was a game that the Phillies really should have won.
They got an excellent six innings from Zach Eflin in a solid bounceback start after a shaky one last week vs. Milwaukee. Then, the unheralded Edgar Garcia and Jose Alvarez combined to throw two shutout innings, and the Phillies went to the 9th inning clinging to a 2-1 lead thanks to a clutch Andrew McCutchen single that had given them the lead in the 7th.
But for the bottom of the 9th, it wasn’t Hector Neris coming in to seal the deal. Or Seranthony Dominguez. Or Pat Neshek. It was Juan Nicasio. Yes, that same Juan Nicasio who served up a 900-foot home run to Charlie Blackmon to lose a marathon 12-inning game last month. And although he did record a two-out save in the 10th inning to finish the job on Monday night, he is not the player you want on the mound in a conventional, bottom-of-the-9th with a one-run lead situation.
We are hearing that literally half the bullpen, THE GOOD HALF MIND YOU, was unavailable for Tuesday’s game. For Dominguez, he threw 32 pitches over two innings last night. Ok, maybe you could make a case there. But he had only pitched once in three days before that appearance.
Adam Morgan? He had appeared in three straight games, but he only threw a grand total of 17 pitches over that time. Give me a break. Guy could have pitched. Hector Neris threw 11 pitches in one inning of work last night. He wasn’t available either? You have to be kidding me.
Finally, Pat Neshek. I know the guy is old enough to collect social security at this point, but he has appeared in two games in the last eight days, throwing 25 pitches in the process. If he couldn’t go on Tuesday night simply because he got warm on Monday but didn’t end up entering the game, that’s pathetic. It’s pathetic and unacceptable.
Gabe Kapler probably deserves some blame here, but he’s probably under some kind of orders not to push guys beyond certain pitch and appearance limits that the organization feels are appropriate. Still, somebody, whether it’s Kapler or one of these well-rested pitchers, needs to step up and man up to get the damn job done.
A team that’s serious about contending can’t just say “Well, we’re working with half a bullpen today no matter what and regardless of how badly we need to finish the job in the 9th inning”. Where were these guys? Where’s Craig Kimbrel, for that matter?
This isn’t a bullpen that goes 5 or 6 guys deep. It’s a patch job beyond its top relievers. And all of those relievers were MIA on Tuesday. Too cold for them? It’s just beyond frustrating.
Maybe I should start taking nights off as a fan.
I was trying to find an image of a Phils reliever from tonight, but none were available.
Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece on Section215.com that talked about how much of a statement series the Phillies’ 4-game set against Milwaukee was. They had just won the first game, and I conjectured that if they could win three out of the four games against a very good team, they would be making a strong case that they already belong in the conversation of true contenders in the National League.
Well, scratch that.
The Phillies could not ride any momentum of Monday’s come-from-behind 7-4 victory, instead looking pretty lifeless in dropping the final three games against the Brewers. And there were many issues along the way.
First, the Phillies simply couldn’t get much offense going against the Brewers’ starting pitching, a group that is suspect to say the least. If Milwaukee is going to falter this year, it will likely be because of their lack of any true top-of-the-rotation options. But the Phillies made a couple of their guys look very good in this series.
On Tuesday, it was Brandon Woodruff allowing just one hit to the Phillies over six shutout innings. Yes, he did also issue five walks, but the Phillies couldn’t do anything to take advantage of them. Gio Gonzalez surrendered only one run to Phillies hitters in his start on Wednesday, and then Zach Davies (who is actually having a great year), allowed a single earned run in his start on Thursday. In fact, the Phillies only managed to bang out a total of 18 hits over the final three games of the series. The offense just didn’t do enough, simply put.
Bryce Harper already seems to be getting most of the blame around these parts, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Cesar Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen combined for four hits over the Phillies’ three losses. The Brewers, meanwhile, were mashing, and Phillies pitching didn’t seem to have any answers.
Jake Arrieta in particular looked extremely shaky as he continues his trend of coming up small in big spots in a Phillies uniform. Just when he looks like he has it turned around, he’ll throw in a clunker like Wednesday’s performance that saw him give up 5 runs (4 earned) over six innings, highlighted (or lowlighted) by issuing four walks. The Phillies need more, and should expect more, from this guy.
Thursday’s start by Zach Eflin was a disappointment as well, as he gave up four runs over five innings while also allowing a pair of hits to the opposing pitcher. The guy has been very good this season, but if the Phillies want us to start thinking of him as a rotation fixture, he’ll need to be better in showdown games like this one.
I was in attendance on Thursday, watching (most of) the team’s ugly 11-3 loss. And while I realize that baseball’s insanely long season is subject to many ebbs and flows, it certainly seemed to me like a lot of the initial excitement has worn off for this team.
That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom, as they are still in first place. But they are going to need much more. More from Harper and Arrieta, Aaron Nola and the rest. We’re still at an early juncture, and they have shown that they are capable of playing well. Heck, maybe they can even sleepwalk to a 90-win season and an NL East title if the division continues to be underwhelming.
But, right now, they are kidding themselves if they think they are ready to challenge teams like Milwaukee and probably others such as the Dodgers and Cubs for the right to be considered the class of the National League. I certainly hope it’s just the team having some issues as it tries to gel in its early stages. Thankfully, there’s still a lot of schedule left to get things right.
Right now, I’m not impressed. And Phillies fans frankly deserve more after the last few years we’ve had to tolerate from this team.
The one time the Phils kept Yelich from just trotting around the bases. Photo copyright Matt Slocum.
Published May 8, 2019
The 76ers forgot how to play basketball last night, in the process getting their doors blown off in a 36-point loss to Toronto as they fell behind 3 games to 2 in their best-of-7 series. This marks a stark turnaround from just a few days ago when the Sixers were in the drivers’ seat with a 2-1 lead in the series. It’s not looking good, folks.
So, let’s turn to our patented Philly Playoff Pain Index® to see how this series loss stacks up against other ones for our local teams since 2000. And yes, I realize that the series isn’t over, but come on. It’s over. Ben Simmons literally can’t shoot, and Joel Embiid is in endstage Joel Embiid Disease whereby consumption of junk food causes you, over several years, to injure your foot, knee, face and then finally destroys your bowels.
The parameters here...we’re looking for cases where a Philadelphia team led the series after Game 3 or later. And obviously, by keeping this restricted to series, the Eagles aren’t on here even though instances like this past season’s blown lead against the Saints aren’t any less painful. So, here we go with the pain index (1-10 scale, as usual) since 2000.
I’m going to preemptively call this loss to the Raptors a 7, by the way, assuming that the Sixers just roll over and lose by about ten points in Game 6. Onward!
2008: 76ers vs. Pistons
The Sixers really had no business hanging around with Detroit in this series after the Pistons posted the best record in the East during the year while the Sixers were actually below .500. But, after three games, Philadelphia found itself with a 2-1 series lead, holding the Detroit offense in check in both Games 1 and 3. Then, however, reality set in for the scrappy Sixers. A low-scoring team all year, they mustered only 84, 81 and 77 points in the series’ final three games, dropping it in six.
Pain Score: 3. You don’t even remember this series.
2009: 76ers vs. Magic
In basically a repeat of the previous postseason, the Sixers led 2-1 against a far superior team in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, this time against Orlando. Featuring a lot of the same personnel that they did in the year prior, the 76ers again stopped scoring, putting up 81, 78 and 89 points in Games 4, 5 and 6, all losses.
Pain Score: 4. A slight bump because of the repetition factor.
2000: Flyers vs. Devils
It really doesn’t get worse than this. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Flyers took a 3-1 lead over their archrivals. Then, the offense dried up, and the team scored a single goal in each of the three final games to lose in seven. Making things exponentially worse, of course, was Scott Stevens’ hit on Eric Lindros in the deciding game that might have been the single worst moment in Philadelphia sports history. The Devils, naturally, won the Stanley Cup that year.
Pain Score: 10. Well deserved.
2011: Phillies vs. Cardinals
The Phillies were the best team in baseball in 2011. Period. You’re not going to change my mind on that. They absolutely should have won it all, as the 2011 squad was superior to the team that actually won in 2008. But the Cardinals had other ideas in the first round, best-of-5 series between the teams. The Cards had the Phillies to thank for even being in the postseason in the first place, as the Phils dumbly swept the Braves on the final weekend of the regular season to allow the Redbirds to creep in. To beat the Phillies, the Cardinals would use a combination of solid pitching, timely hitting and a squirrel that distracted Roy Oswalt, winning the deciding Game 5 in Philadelphia by a 1-0 score despite Roy Halladay doing all he could. The Phillies simply had no answer for Chris Carpenter that night.
Pain Score: 10. Ryan Howard’s Achilles would agree. We’re all still waiting for another Phillies playoff game.
And that’s it, those are the only cases of a Philly team “blowing” a series lead in Game 3 or later this century. A little short, huh? Ok, bonus round. Let’s look at each of the most painful series losses for the Phils, Flyers and Sixers that didn’t necessarily fit the criteria we set out.
2012: 76ers vs. Celtics
It would have been easy to go after the low-hanging fruit of the team’s 2001 Finals loss to the Lakers here, but did anyone honestly expect that they were going to win that one? Or maybe it was just so long ago that any feelings associated with it have dried up. Instead, let’s turn to this Eastern Conference second round series from 2012. The Sixers had pulled off a big upset over Chicago in the first round, and they traded blows with the Celtics in this one before falling in Game 7. Yes, they probably would have gotten steamrolled by the Heat in the next round, but the team had gotten people to believe in them before ultimately falling to their oldest rival.
Pain Score: 6. Actually more painful than either of the 76ers’ series losses that we discussed previously. And probably not as painful as the loss to the Lakers, but I didn’t feel like rehashing that. So sue me.
2010: Flyers vs. Blackhawks
There are a couple of embarrassing/painful playoff losses to the likes of the Penguins and other rivals over the last few years, but the 2010 Stanley Cup Final loss to Chicago has to top all of them for the sheer sake of what was on the line and the horrible, horrible goal that ended the Flyers’ Cinderella run. The fact that the Blackhawks, who previously had an even longer Cup drought than the Flyers, would go on to establish a mini-dynasty only makes it hurt more. Or maybe less. I don’t know anymore.
Pain Score: 7. This was more total numbness than pain, honestly.
2009: Phillies vs. Yankees
This has to be considered more painful than either the Phillies’ 2007 first-round loss to the Rockies or 2010 NLCS loss to the Giants because a.) it’s the World Series and b.) it’s the Yankees and all that they represent. This thing looked like it was in the bag after Cliff Lee’s masterful performance in Game 1, but then Cole Hamels and most of the hitters except for Chase Utley came up small as the Phils dropped the Fall Classic in six games.
Pain Score: 8. Yes, it really hurt, but the fact that the team had won the previous year cushioned the blow ever so slightly. But, God, it had to be the Yankees?
Or maybe the 76ers don’t join this list after all. You never know, although I would be shocked beyond belief.
Having trouble at both ends. And I don't mean on the court.
Photo copyright Bill Streicher
Published May 4, 2019
First, an announcement.
I’ve been offered the chance to join another site as a contributor writing about Philadelphia sports. As such, I am not sure what the future will hold for PhillySportsComplex.com, as I may simply not be permitted to write material for another site, even my own. But it is my hope to keep this site up and running in some form or another, and I will also attempt to post links on it to send you to any work that I might write elsewhere.
Now, onto the actual article...
Welcome to Derby Day, where millions of people who have no idea about horse racing pretend to care/maybe throw down a few bucks for a two-minute race in a sport that said people will immediately stop thinking about until this time next year. But hey, you gotta love the pageantry.
Looking through the field for today’s big race, I can’t help but be reminded of some parallels between the names of each of these three-year old equines and some Philadelphia sports equivalents, both past and present. Let’s take a peek.
Enjoy the race tonight, everyone. A week from now, you won’t remember who won.
Trots faster than Hoskins
Published May 1, 2019
The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Boston Bruins last night to take a 2-1 lead in their second round Stanley Cup Playoff series. I know, you don’t care.
But the significance of this game and Columbus’ current position in the playoffs shouldn’t be lost on any diehard Philadelphia fan, especially big-time Flyers supporters. Because the Blue Jackets are riding their goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hard, and he answered the bell last night with 36 saves in his team’s 2-1 win.
That would be the same Sergei Bobrovsky that the Flyers gave up on, trading him to the Blue Jackets when he was 23 years old, netting only a few measly draft picks in return. The Flyers, you see, had Ilya Bryzgalov, and there was simply no future for Bobrovsky in Philadelphia. And so the team got rid of him two years into what would eventually become a Hall of Fame-caliber career. The Flyers shook him loose so fast that you’d swear it was because he sang a song with questionable lyrics 85 years ago.
Maybe Bobrovsky will lead the Blue Jackets (the Blue Jackets, come on!) to Stanley Cup glory this season, maybe not. But it’s fair to say that getting rid of him to completely clear a path for free-agent bust Bryzgalov was the biggest “oops” that any team in town made in this decade that we are rapidly approaching the end of. Yes, maybe the Flyers never end up with Carter Hart if they keep Bobrovsky, but Hart has a long way to go before we can all say that we got a happy ending despite the mistake of trading Bobrovsky, a goaltender who’s twice won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder.
With four pro teams (although the Flyers are challenging the definition of “pro” in recent years), Philadelphia has seen hundreds of players shuttle through town in the last few years. And so there are bound to be some regrets, “ones that got away” as this piece is entitled. Here are the biggest blunders from the last ten years, players that you have to just shake your head about and wish that they could have achieved their success here instead of elsewhere.
Also, please note, I’m not counting guys who already established themselves in Philadelphia before leaving town. So you won’t see the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, DeSean Jackson, etc. on here. That’s a whole other topic.
Dion Lewis - You may not even recall that the running back spent 2011 and 2012 with the Eagles, although he did only see 36 carries during that time, netting a pair of touchdowns. He also served as the team’s primary kick returner during that first season with the Birds. The Eagles were bad in those seasons (8-8 and 4-12), leading to Andy Reid’s ouster. And after Chip Kelly took the reins in early 2013, Lewis was sent packing a few months later in a seemingly minor move, traded to the Browns for Emmanuel Acho. Lewis would get hurt before ever suiting up in Cleveland, and was then cut. The Colts picked him up, but they released him as well. Then, the Patriots gave him a shot. At that point, we should have known that something was up. Lewis established himself as a useful NFLer in New England’s RB-by-committee, and he won a Super Bowl ring there. It was almost two, but Nick Foles prevented that. Now with Tennessee, he continues to be a solid player.
Carlos Carrasco - Credit goes to the Phillies for some of the trades they made earlier this decade involving their prospects, as most of them didn’t end up panning out. The Phillies made mostly correct decisions on who to trade, as guys like Kyle Drabek and Jon Singleton ended up being total busts. But if you reach just a little bit back into the end of last decade, Carrasco is the one truly regrettable piece that the team relinquished in a trade during the team’s run of dominance from 2007 to 2011. They sent Carrasco and a few spare parts to the Indians in 2009 for half a season of Cliff Lee, though they did get the “Ben Francisco bonus” to go along with that. If the Phils win the World Series that year OR later on after Lee came back following the 2010 season, then this would be a lot easier to swallow. Instead, Carrasco remains a strong rotation piece in Cleveland, having put up at least 17 wins and 225 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons. He’s also signed to a pretty team-friendly deal into his mid-30’s.
James van Riemsdyk - The Flyers corrected this before last season, but not before they lost JVR’s services from his age-23 through his age-28 seasons, the prime of his career, after a horribly misguided trade with Toronto in 2012. Good thing that the Flyers don’t have Paul Holmgren just hanging around anymore, right? Making things exponentially worse in the wake of losing a productive goal-scorer that the team really could have used is the fact that the Flyers swung and missed by picking up Luke Schenn in the trade. That guy suuuuuuucked. And even though JVR couldn’t even get the Leafs out of the first round during his time there, the Flyers didn’t achieve that feat while he was gone either. He looked good in his first year back with the team; here’s hoping that he has enough gas left in the tank to justify the “fix our mistake” money that the Flyers have spent on him.
Domingo Santana - Ok, I said that the Phillies really didn’t screw up too much with the young guys that they traded, Carrasco excepted. But we do have to make mention of Santana. When the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Astros in 2011, there was also a “player to be named later” in the deal. A few weeks later, Santana ended up being that player. Santana didn’t really flourish in Houston, but did post a 30-HR season with the Brewers after being traded there. And he’s now having a solid first year in Seattle following another trade. The kicker here is that, as the story goes, the Phillies screwed up by including Santana in the deal, as he wasn’t supposed to be on a list of available players that Houston could choose from. Thanks, Amaro. Side note: the Phillies traded another player who ended up being a good one, Jonathan Villar, to Houston the next season in the Roy Oswalt trade. Ed Wade, straight-up fleecing the Phils.
Eric Rowe - Another Eagle who ended up finding success with the Patriots, Rowe was a second-round pick in 2015. Unfortunately for everyone involved, that ended up being the third and final year of the reign of Chip Kelly, a season that went off the rails and seemingly “poisoned the well”. Rowe wasn’t exactly great as a rookie, but the team decided that he wasn’t part of their future, as they traded him away just days before the start of the 2016 season to those crafty (or, Krafty) Patriots for a fourth round pick. In his first season there, Rowe played an important role in New England’s secondary, and the team won the Super Bowl. The following year, they would of course be stopped by the Eagles. And last season, Rowe was put on IR in October, missing out on yet another Super Bowl run by the Pats. Still, that’s two rings for a guy that the Eagles saw enough of after one season. He’ll be taking his talents to Miami this year after signing a one-year contract with the Dolphins.
Andre Iguodala - Maybe the most regrettable departure from any of Philadelphia’s teams this decade, both in terms of what was lost and what came back in return. Look, I think we can all agree that Iguodala was ill-suited to be the focal point of a team as he basically had to be for a few years with the 76ers after Allen Iverson was gone. But everyone knew that he was very, very good. And so while it was hard to see him leave town in a 2012 trade between four different teams that might be the most convoluted thing I’ve ever seen, it hurts even more to know that the end result of said trade was the arrival of Andrew Bynum in town. Uggggggh. While Bynum was busy never playing a game for the Sixers, Iguodala played one year in Denver before being moved to the Warriors. And I’d say it’s been a smashing success for him there, what with the three NBA titles and Finals MVP award.
And that will put a bow on yet another painful trip down memory lane.
Where was Russian collusion when we needed it?
Published April 26, 2019
Nerd alert. There’s a big comic book movie out this weekend. Chances are you’ve heard of it. And so I don’t need to get too in depth about the background surrounding Avengers: Endgame and the infinity gauntlet. Let’s just get to it.
I got to thinking, which current Philadelphia sports figures could most use the infinity stones, based on the power that each one wields? Let’s take a look at each of the six infinity stones, or “inphinity stones” if you want to get all cute about it, and figure out how we could put them to their best uses.
All information regarding the stones’ abilities is used courtesy of Time Magazine’s “A Complete Guide to MCU’s 6 Infinity Stones”.
PS This contains no spoilers for the new movie.
Space Stone (Tesseract)
Ability: Gives user power over space, allowing them to create a portal from one part of the universe to another
We’ll start off with probably the hardest stone to relate to in this exercise, as I try desperately to search for a joke in here somewhere. To me, the ability to open a portal to a different part of the universe would come in handy for someone who is looking to get the heck out of Dodge, or who might need to in the near future. So we’ll hand it over to Gabe Kapler for safe-keeping right now. He doesn’t have an immediate need for it, but he’ll sure need to lube it up with some coconut oil and use it however he needs to use it in a hurry if he fails to get this Phillies team to the playoffs after ownership spent hundreds of millions of dollars on it.
Ability: Allows user to control the mind of others
Howie Roseman sure doesn’t need this, as he already knows all and sees all. We’ll have to look for someone else in a coaching or management position in town. Let’s settle on Brett Brown, and for various reasons. First, he’s dealing with a lot of strong personalities on the team, and so this way he can get them all on the same page to do his bidding. Of course, Ben Simmons is already totally under his thumb, so that’s one less mind to control right there. But Brown will also need the stone to convince GM Elton Brand that he’s still the right guy for the job, as well as all of the fans that he should come back for a seventh season and beyond, even after they lose to Toronto in five games. Brett Brown is great. Brett Brown is great. Brett Brown is great...
Ability: Gives user the power to manipulate matter, such as changing its forms
Nobody in town could use the ability to alter their battered body more than Carson Wentz, Donovan McNabb’s least favorite QB ever. Perhaps Carson could employ the stone’s powers to soften his bones or strengthen his ligaments mid-play somehow so that he could scramble freely or absorb yet another sack without permanently earning the nickname “Mr. Injury”. That’s Roman Quinn’s territory. Back off, Wentz.
Ability: Bestows upon its user an energy so great that it could be used to destroy an entire planet
There is no bigger athlete in town (in more ways than one) and whose franchise hinges so completely on him than Joel Embiid. If he’s healthy enough to play and is on his game, he’s a game-changer who makes the team a championship-caliber squad. But his frequent bumps, bruises, “maintenance” and the nonsense he sometimes gets involved in threaten to derail THE PROCESS at seemingly every turn. The guy is awesome, and the power stone sure would help him to max out his ability and the 76ers’ fortunes.
Time Stone (Eye of Agomoto)
Ability: Grants its user the power to rewind or fast-forward time
This is probably the most fertile ground we have to work with, as there are a ton of Philly sports figures who would like to reverse the course of time or maybe skip way ahead if they’re going through a rough patch. Let’s pick Aaron Nola here, as the Phillies’ ace sure would like to turn back the clock to his fine 2018. He’ll likely get things straightened out soon enough, but the fact of the matter is that he’ll probably never put up numbers as good as he did last season again. That’s not to say he can’t be a very good pitcher for a long time for the Phillies, but the team really blew it by not even making the playoffs last season when their top pitcher basically gave them a career year. Nola would like to just replay his 2018 over and over.
Ability: Allows user to steal, control or manipulate living and dead souls while also providing the gateway to an alternate universe
No team in town could use an alternate universe more than the Flyers, a franchise that’s now missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons, hasn’t won a postseason round since 2012, fired their coach and GM this past season and is so tone-deaf that they took down a statue of Kate Smith in five minutes when they’ve had five years to get rid of Andrew MacDonald but still haven’t. And so we will hand the soul stone over to new GM Chuck Fletcher so he can try to steer this team out of its years-long skid and get it back to being at least somewhat relevant in this town, even if it has to happen in another dimension.
Showing off more stones than the Flyers have in years
Published April 24, 2019
So much for that hot start.
After storming out of the gate at 4-0 and then eventually 7-2, the Phillies have lost nine of their last fourteen games, including three in a row, and now need a win tonight just to avoid sinking back to .500. Is the honeymoon over already? Maybe, but that shouldn’t come as a shock based on the team’s recent track record. Yes, there’s plenty of new blood on the team this year, but some of the same old problems have resurfaced of late, leading to the team’s slide.
A lack of timely hitting, like when runners are in scoring position, particularly doomed the team during their extra-innings loss at Colorado last Friday. By sheer numbers, the Phillies are actually doing pretty well this year with men on base, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that’s the case. Obviously, several regular players being out of the lineup hurts the team right now.
But one area where the team is measurably disappointing is groundball-to-flyball ratio, where they sit ninth in MLB so far. They are currently making 1.06 outs on the ground for every out in the air. For a team supposedly packed with power, this ratio really needs to flip. Not every one of those groundball outs are weakly hit, but the Phillies are definitely making it too easy on opposing defenses in this regard.
And speaking of defense, the Phillies are also struggling there, as they’re tied for the fourth-most errors committed so far this season. Cesar Hernandez “leads” the way with four. And now, a few words about this guy...it’s time to say goodbye. Obviously, with Scott Kingery out, there’s not a better option at second base at the moment. But as soon as Kingery is back and able to play, it’s time for him to assume his rightful position at the keystone, relegating Cesar to fill-in duty and, hopefully, an eventual ticket out of town.
Hernandez, believe it or not, is the longest tenured Phillie. This is his seventh season in town overall, and fifth as an everyday player. And I am hard-pressed to remember an athlete that hung around this town for that long who failed to do anything of note and that fans are so ambivalent about. Nobody would bat an eye if he were gone tomorrow. He is simply a replacement-level guy who doesn’t do anything particularly well. And, in the last few days, he’s hurt the team with mistakes, both mental and physical. For these reasons, and the mere fact that he remains as a link back to the ill-fated Ryne Sandberg era, the Phillies should act as soon as they can to rid themselves of someone who isn’t going to help them get back to respectability.
There is also an advanced stat called “Defensive Efficiency Ratio”, and the Phillies are 29th out of 30 teams in that category. So, it’s not all on Cesar, but maybe the team’s defense didn’t improve as much as we thought it had after last year’s disaster. For what it’s worth, they finished 28th in DER last season. Again, maybe playing a large chunk of the season with their everyday lineup intact will help matters, but injuries happen, so the guys on the field have to get it done, no matter who they are.
The supposedly revamped bullpen has been less than inspiring as well, ranking in the middle of the pack in ERA and the bottom third in opponents’ batting average against. Maybe David Robertson returns to health to help matters, but maybe he’s out long-term. Then what? The Phillies are unlikely to make a play for Craig Kimbrel, but they’ll have to reach for some kind of outside help if guys like Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez continue to bomb. Incidentally, Luis Garcia, whom the Phillies traded to the Angels for Alvarez, has an 0.87 ERA so far. Just saying.
Finally, let’s talk about Bryce Harper. He’s hitting .262 so far, which is mildly disappointing, although he’s been prone to big swings in batting average over the years. And he’s roughly on pace for about 35 HR and 98 RBI. I think we would all take that. Harper is also right at his career averages in on-base and slugging percentage. But he too is falling victim to that groundball-to-flyball ratio, which is at the highest rate of his career in 2019. It’s a small sample size thus far, but Bryce is rolling over or pulling off too many balls this season. Maybe he’s still getting used to his surroundings, but the Phillies are going to need him to put it all together soon.
As for his ejection the other night, I’m fine with it. It was the Phillies’ first ejection of a player, manager or anyone in four years, indicative of the team’s lackadaisical attitude in recent seasons. It was also a reminder that it’s not just his performance on the field that made Harper so desirable; it’s the competitive fire he possesses that will hopefully raise up his teammates around him.
On the surface, it was a dumb ejection. He didn’t need to be yelling at the umpire, though the ejection was also pretty unwarranted. But maybe it was necessary from the simple perspective of the team needing a spark. It certainly didn’t work in the short term, as the Phillies got shelled 9-0 in their next game, but last night’s game also offered a potential rallying moment at the end when the Mets’ Jacob Rhame pointlessly threw behind Rhys Hoskins twice in the ninth inning of a blowout game.
So, Phillies, it’s time to wake up before you see your good start completely wiped away. You’ve been given multiple opportunities to answer the bell. Let’s see if this offseason overhaul was truly worth it, or if it was just some sort of ill-advised spending spree that fizzled out as quickly as it began.
Kicking the Mets’ heads in tonight (maybe in more ways than one) would be a nice step in the right direction.
Published April 22, 2019
Thank God for the 76ers.
I have literally never said, written or even thought that before in my life.
But here they are, up three games to one over the Nets in their first-round series after a thrilling comeback win on Saturday, one that saw some tempers flare in the third quarter, resulting in the ejections of both Jimmy Butler and some no-name on New Jersey. Or Brooklyn, whatever they are. In that moment and the rest of the game that ensued, the Sixers showed more heart and fight than the Phillies or Flyers have in the last several years. But we’ll get to them.
Instead, let’s just first be grateful that the 76ers are seemingly well on their way toward a second-round date with Toronto, just as soon as they polish off the Nets tonight. No wait, Game 5 is tomorrow. Two “travel days” off for the second time in a series between teams that play 100 miles apart. Ok, NBA. Anyway, the Sixers will have three shots to avoid a first-round upset that many were starting to expect after the team sleep-walked through the end of the regular season, then pulled their patented “lie about key injuries” move to top it off.
Speaking of those Phillies that I mentioned...what a lost weekend in Colorado. The team dropped three of four and had to add more players to the growing list of the walking wounded. Friday night ended up being the most painful game of the bunch, as the team lost Scott Kingery to a hamstring injury. Kingery was filling in for the banged-up Jean Segura (also a hammy issue), and the team had no choice but to put both on the IL the following day simply because they needed healthy bodies and couldn’t afford to “wait and see” for a few days on either of them.
In addition, Andrew McCutchen also left that game with a knee problem, but he was able to play the next two games, so he mercifully seems fine. But all of that physical pain turned emotional at about 1:08 am, when Juan “Why Do I Have a Job?” Nicasio served up the winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning after the Phillies had taken the lead in the top half of it, wasting a 5-hit performance by Bryce Harper in the process.
The club also had to put reliever Victor Arano on the IL, and so now the shuttle between Lehigh Valley and the big club is in full swing with the season not even through its first month yet. In addition, the one game the team did manage to win in Colorado didn’t even go that great for Aaron Nola, who surrendered 3 runs on 9 hits in 5.2 innings but still escaped with a W thanks to some good run support. Nola lowered his ERA to 6.84, and obviously that still needs to come way, way down for the team to have any kind of chance this year. The Phillies are somehow still in first place despite losing five of their last nine games, and a key series at the Mets begins tonight.
Moving on to the Flyers, things got ugly over the weekend. Just one day after some good news (depending on how you feel about it) in the form of Alain Vigneault’s introductory press conference, the club shockingly announced that they were cutting all ties with Kate Smith, of all people. And this comes thirty years after she died, despite the fact that the organization routinely keeps around members of the organization who have long since outlived their usefulness (see: Holmgren, Paul).
Anyway, as you know, Kate Smith made the regrettable decision to record some pretty offensive song lyrics. Now, there is no excuse for that, even when you take into account that this happened over eighty years ago. Yes, over eighty years ago. The club’s knee-jerk reaction to remove her “God Bless America” recording from any future Flyers games PLUS take down her statue from the sports complex brought a wave of mixed emotions.
Yes, she said (or sung) something that was wrong for any era, but isn’t it a bit curious that the Flyers took this action over the course of a single weekend when the songs in question had been out there with nobody aware of them for decades? Plus, taking into account that Kate Smith has been associated with the Flyers for nearly their entire half-century of history, this is a break with tradition that’s very unFlyers-like.
On the plus side, I’m at least happy for Lauren Hart that she won’t have to time her singing of “God Bless America” to some old grainy video from the 1970’s. Now it’s up to the Flyers to play a meaningful enough game in the near future where they feel the need to trot out the song for good luck. Truth be told, it was probably time to move on from this ancient element of the franchise’s history anyway...but the manner in which this happened? It just feels wrong on so many levels.
Finally, the Eagles didn’t actively do anything this weekend, but they still remained first and foremost in the minds of the unwashed masses who listen to and call WIP during every waking moment of their lives. It’s draft week coming up after all, and of course every fan everywhere is an expert and has an opinion. Really riveting to listen to, let me tell you.
But the big story on the Eagles front is that Donovan McNabb opened his mouth and made some comments about Carson Wentz. It was just another entry in McNabb’s now decades-long revenge crusade against the Eagles and their fans, one that began when he was butt-hurt by the booing he received twenty years ago last week when he was selected over Ricky Williams.
McNabb’s comments were, like most things he does, utterly pointless, but honestly I really can’t dispute much of what he said. Wentz needs to stay healthy and technically hasn’t accomplished much in the NFL so far. Does he still lead the Eagles to Super Bowl glory instead of Nick Foles two seasons ago if he doesn’t get hurt? We’ll never know. But the fact of the matter is that he has never played an NFL playoff game. If he stays healthy enough to get the Eagles into the postseason and finally plays in one this season, he’ll be 27 years old. By comparison, McNabb had seven playoff games under his belt before he turned 27.
I’m not saying that I liked McNabb all that much or that Wentz can’t be as good as McNabb was, but he really has some catching up to do. And we all certainly hope he does, because statistically McNabb is the greatest QB the Eagles have ever had, but he’s also just a huge pain. It’d be nice to definitively hold someone up over him as a superior player at the position. It’s just exhausting to deal with all of this when games aren’t even being played.
Again, thank God for the 76ers.
"I'm just so happy to be off that smelly bench".
Published April 19, 2019
Passover begins tonight, so what better excuse than a religious holiday to base the premise of yet another Philadelphia sports article on? Today we’ll be looking at some of the Philadelphia sports figures that have been “passed over” in one way or another so far in the first few months of 2019.
These guys might want to think about smearing their front door next time…
Scott Gordon - The Flyers’ interim head coach since Dave Hakstol got the axe late in 2018, Gordon oversaw the team’s resurgence as they went from rock-bottom to the cusp of playoff contention. Of course, it helped that Carter Hart came up at the same time that Gordon was given the job. Still, Gordon won players over, and a fresh voice reinvigorated the team. For a while there, it looked that he could be a viable candidate to be hired to the position full-time if the Flyers could not convince Joel Quenneville to take the job. But the Flyers hit a wall at the end of the year and ultimately ended up well out of the playoffs. The luster had worn off Gordon, who did the best he could in a difficult situation, but it was still pretty obvious that GM Chuck Fletcher was kidding himself if he was considering keeping Gordon. Thankfully, the team went with Alain Vigneault earlier this week, going with his experience and track record as they passed over Gordon.
Nick Williams - The last-remaining piece of the Cole Hamels trade, Williams had a nice year in 2018 as a near-everyday player. Plus, he was still just 25 years old, and so he seemed to be primed to take the next step in 2019. Unfortunately for Williams, a crucial point in his career development happened to coincide with the Phillies needing to open their wallets to push the team into win-now mode. So, when the team signed both Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper to fill the corner outfield slots, Williams found himself without a position, as the team doesn’t really trust him in center field either, where he has only played 16 MLB games. You’ve got to feel for the guy, as he’s gotten just 15 plate appearances and played 4 innings in the field so far this year. For both parties, it’s probably time to move on.
TJ McConnell - Lost in all of the high-profile moves that the Sixers have made recently is the steady play of McConnell, who has dutifully fulfilled the “good guy off the bench” role in four seasons now for the team. But this year, even as he posted the highest shooting percentage of his career, he played a career-low 19.3 minutes per game, routinely playing even less (between 11 and 18 minutes per contest) in recent weeks. Obviously, playing time for guys of McConnell’s ilk is heavily dictated by the flow of the game, but Brett Brown hasn’t given him much of a look in the playoffs either, with TJ seeing court times of 15:49, 10:05 and 1:53 in the first three games of their series against the Nets.
Sean Couturier - There wasn’t much to hang your hat on, Carter Hart aside, from the Flyers’ season, but Couturier’s play was a revelation. He essentially duplicated his previous season and showed that his offensive game has truly arrived while he continues to hold down the fort defensively. He is, simply, one of the best two-way players in the NHL. But he did get passed over for the league’s Selke Trophy (awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game), not even making the cut as one of the three nominees for it. And this is despite being a nominee for it last year and finishing second in the voting. This year, despite being equally as good, he got snubbed even though his numbers compare favorably with the players who are up for the award. Whatever.
Scott Kingery - Kingery’s odd saga continues early in 2019. To recap: Kingery was a relatively unheralded minor-league player who put together a string of incredible play that was enough for the team to take notice and sign him to a long-term contract before he ever even played an MLB game before last season. The Phillies then proceeded to move him from his natural position at second base and jerk him all around the diamond (but mostly at shortstop) as he struggled mightily during his rookie season. He entered this year ticketed as a sort of “super-utility” player and appeared to be biding his time until an injury, trade or some other act of God gave him the chance to play every day once and for all. With Jean Segura’s hamstring strain earlier this week, Kingery has gotten to play for a few days, and he is swinging a hot bat. Maybe this will finally be the impetus for the Phils to do something (trade Cesar Hernandez?) that finally gets Kingery onboard full-time.
Cam Talbot - When the Flyers traded for Talbot in February, it was a bit of a curious move, but you could see what they were doing. The end of this season could be used as an audition of sorts, and then the team could choose to re-sign him in the offseason to basically back-up and mentor Carter Hart for a couple years going forward. Talbot himself even seemed in lockstep with that scenario immediately, saying all the right things. But Talbot dealt with visa issues before he could join the Flyers. Then Hart got hurt. Then Brian Elliott came back from an injury and played extremely well, leading to Scott Gordon keeping him in the cage in a last, desperate attempt to ride the hot hand to the playoffs (or something close to it). The end result for Talbot was that he was passed over and played sparingly behind Elliott and Hart, appearing in only four games as a Flyer. He was not good, posting a 3.70 GAA and .881 save percentage. Now, the Flyers have a decision to make about bringing him back, even in a backup role. Do they rely on his previous track record when making the decision? Because it sure doesn’t bode well for Talbot if he gets judged solely on game action with the Orange and Black.
Darren Sproles - The 93-year old running back remains undecided if he’ll come back for “one more NFL season” for the fifth straight year in 2019, but you have to wonder why the Eagles would even bother. When they traded for the Bears’ Jordan Howard a few weeks back, that would have seemed to almost certainly spell the end of Sproles’ time in Midnight Green. Yes, Midnight Green, not the overrated Kelly Green. Plus, there is every indication that the team will take another running back in the draft next week. Add it all up, and Sproles has probably played his last game for the Eagles. Again. Maybe. Who knows.
Happy Passover, everyone.
The side of your milk carton
Jerad Eickhoff earned an extremely low-pressure save last night for the Phillies, pitching the final four innings of the team’s 14-3 romp over the Mets. It was basically extended spring training for Eickhoff, who was seeing MLB action for the first time this year as he works his way back from injury. I didn’t even know he had been added to the active roster, frankly, but there he was getting in some work.
It was just Eickhoff’s third career relief appearance in the majors, and his first save. In doing so, he became the 58th different Phillies pitcher in the last 20 years to record a save for the team. For those of you who are bad at math, that goes back to the year 2000.
The long list is full of names you know, for both reasons good (Lidge, Madson) and bad (Papelbon, Wagner), and it also includes a pair of Durbins (JD and Chad) and a weird cross-section of veterans who you forgot played for the Phillies and youngsters you forgot ever pitched in baseball at all.
We can’t dissect everybody, but let’s take a look at some of the surprising and/or weird members who populate the list of Phillies “closers” this century…
Thomas Jacquez - Remember that #43 Jacquez jersey that you saw everybody wearing at the end of the 2000 season? No? That’s probably because his entire MLB career spanned nine appearances in September that year. But he did bag one save, doing it against the Marlins on September 17th. Replacing Jeff Brantley with two outs in the top of the 9th with the Phillies clinging to a 6-5 lead, Jacquez struck out Mark Kotsay to end the game. Less than two weeks later, the Marlins would shellac him for four runs in what would be his final appearance in the bigs.
Turk Wendell - The crazy, sharktooth-necklace wearing reliever had just one save in his multiple seasons with the Phillies. It came against his former club, the Mets, on September 6, 2003. He had a comfortable 3-run lead and made quick work of New York for the save. He even would have had a 1-2-3 inning if not for a Nick Punto error, but then he retired future Phillie Ty Wigginton to end the game.
Todd Jones - On September 23, 2004, Billy Wagner blew a save in the bottom of the ninth against the Marlins thanks to a David Bell error that sent the game to extra innings. Then, Jimmy Rollins homered off Armando Benitez to re-stake the Phillies to the lead. Enter Jones. He allowed one hit, but he struck out Marlins catcher Paul Lo Duca to end the game, recording his lone save as a Phil.
Ugueth Urbina - When he wasn’t trying to light someone ablaze whilst chasing them with a machete, Urbina was busy nailing down one save in his Phillies career. On June 11, 2005, Urbina finished off a 7-5 victory over the Brewers. That’s it, nothing exciting. I just wanted to get that first sentence in there. Moving on...
Francisco Del Rosario/John Ennis - Sometimes, guys are so insignificant that they don’t merit their own entry, instead needing to be treated jointly because no one, and I mean NO ONE, remembers a single thing about these two. In 2007, everybody and their mother saved a game for the Phillies, as nine different players picked up saves. Hard to believe for a team that made the playoffs, but they did end up settling on Brett Myers in the season’s second half. Ennis’ lone save with the Phillies came on August 26 of that season. It was much like Eickhoff’s save from last night, as Ennis pitched the final three innings of the Phillies’ 14-2 blowout over San Diego. Del Rosario notched his only save the following month, entering with one out in the ninth inning of a wild game against the Cardinals. He recorded the final two outs to preserve the 13-11 win, striking out Russell Branyan to end it. Big deal, even I struck out Russell Branyan.
Clay Condrey - Let’s throw Clay a bone here, because you probably didn’t realize that he recorded saves in three different seasons for the team from 2007-09. They were all in the classic “last guy out of the bullpen” mold as two came in extra innings, one was in the second game of a doubleheader, and one was an “Eickhoff”. Also, bizarrely, three of the four came against the Nationals, and they were all on the road.
Jose Contreras - Having been a starter for almost his entire major league career, Contreras came to the Phillies with the understanding that he would be used out of the bullpen when he signed before the 2010 season. He was 72 years old, after all. Contreras would go on to record nine saves during parts of three seasons with the team, though that time spanned only 84.1 innings. Again, he was old and was always hurt.
Phillippe Aumont - Flying in the face of the definition of a “save” that states that you have to actually record an out to be credited with one, Aumont amazingly had two in his career. They came back in his rookie year of 2012 when he got a late-season call-up, and before we all realized the horror that was to come. He polished off the Reds and Nationals pretty tidily in those two outings, and we all thought “Hey, this guy can really help the bullpen for a few years, he definitely won’t have a career ERA of 6.80”. We all know nothing about baseball.
Jerome Williams - Ending with the most recent guy on the list, we’ll highlight what may have been the lone bright spot of Williams’ atrocious 2015 season that saw him unceremoniously yanked out of the rotation. On August 28, Williams came into a game against the Padres with the Phillies holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, and he retired the side in order. Then, the Phillies tacked on five runs in the top of the ninth, and Pete Mackanin even let Williams bat before sending him back out for the ninth, which would be another 1-2-3 affair. It was 6-up, 6-down, a 2-inning save for Williams. And that’s about as good as it gets in a season where you go 4-12 with a 5.80 ERA.
Well, there are dozens of other pitchers that we didn’t even mention who have saved it for the Phillies since 2000, but there’s always room for more. Who’s going to be the next Eickhoff? Someone is out there.
Jarred? Jerod? Jerrad? Jarod? I give up.
Published April 11, 2019
It happened again on Wednesday night. As the Phillies were getting their heads kicked in by the Nationals, Aaron Altherr pitched the ninth inning for the team. He threw 19 pitches and actually recorded a pair of strikeouts while allowing a run on two hits. It was the most effective relief appearance the Phillies have seen this week.
Ironically, it may have also been Altherr’s last game as a Phil. With speculation that Roman Quinn could be activated soon, the team could be forced to expose Altherr to waivers in an attempt to send him to AAA. He doesn’t really have a place on the Phillies, but he would be an upgrade for plenty of teams (San Fran, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc.). So, thanks for the memories, Aaron. Maybe. I guess.
This was, of course, far from the only mound appearance by a Phillies “hitter” in recent years, as we take a look back on other instances of it from this century…
Tomas Perez - Harry Kalas’ favorite utility man of all time ended up being the first position player for the Phillies to toe the rubber this century, doing it on May 13, 2002 during a 17-3 loss to the Astros. With Hector Mercado giving up seven runs in the bottom of the eighth, Larry Bowa summoned Perez from his position at third base in order to get the last out of the inning. Facing Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, Perez induced a ground ball to third base, but the play resulted in an error by Jason Michaels, THE MAN WHO HAD JUST REPLACED PEREZ AT THE HOT CORNER. Perez retired the next hitter, though, and that was it for his career as a major league pitcher. With an ERA of 0.00, the guy could do it all.
Wilson Valdez - In the most famous example of a Phillies position player being brought in to pitch this century, Valdez didn’t come in during a blowout. Instead, the team was out of options during a 19-inning game with the Reds on May 25, 2011, having churned through eight pitchers on the night already, including five heroic innings from Danys Baez. Facing the heart of the Reds’ order in the top of the 19th, Valdez began by retiring Joey Votto. He then hit Scott Rolen with a pitch, which immediately qualifies him for sainthood in my book. Next up, Jay Bruce gave his offering a long ride to center, but it stayed in the yard for an out. Finally, Valdez got the next hitter, and it was on the bottom of the 19th. Valdez would mercifully not have to press his luck, as Raul Ibanez hit a game-winning sac fly.
Casper Wells & John McDonald - Yeah, I don’t remember this. Not only did both of these guys play for the Phillies, but they both appeared as pitchers in the 18th inning of a game against the Diamondbacks on August 24, 2013. It did not go well. First up, Wells became the Phillies’ tenth pitcher of the game as he started the inning with the game deadlocked 7-7. He actually got the first two outs, but the following six hitters all reached base, and McDonald came in. He allowed two more hits before striking out the immortal Tuffy Gosewisch to end the inning. But the damage was done, and the Phillies lost 12-7.
Jeff Francoeur - In a game that I reference time and time again as perhaps the team’s lowest point this decade, Frenchy pitched in the team’s 19-3 loss at Baltimore on June 16, 2015. After he tossed a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh, lame duck manager Ryne Sandberg said “sure, why not?” and sent Francoeur back out for the eighth inning as well. He threw 32 pitches that inning, giving up a run while leaving the bases loaded. Sandberg knew he would be quitting in the next few days; what did he care about leaving a non-pitcher out there to throw almost fifty total pitches?
Andres Blanco - On June 7, 2017, Blanco made his lone MLB mound appearance in a 14-1 loss to the Braves. He promptly served up a home run to Matt Adams before retiring the next hitter to finish with a tidy 27.00 career ERA.
Literally Everybody - Thanks, Gabe. Kapler drew the ire of everyone around MLB in his first season as a manager, sending Jesmuel Valentin, Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery and Pedro Florimon (twice!) to the mound at various points during the 2018 season. Collectively, the group surrendered 14 runs on 13 hits and 5 walks over 6 innings pitched. Kingery’s appearance was particularly eye-opening, as some of his lobs failed to register on the radar gun. But Valentin did strike out Milwaukee’s Hernan Perez, so that made it all worth it.
Just as you’d expect, it hasn’t been pretty when Phillies position players have had to come in and pitch this century. But at least we can agree on one thing: they were all better than Phillippe Aumont.
Well, 2019 was fun for one week.
Published April 9, 2019
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tomorrow night, which you probably didn’t even know because for the fourth time in seven years, the Flyers will not be participating in them. After a yo-yo season that saw the team’s typical bad start basically bury them by December, the team was resurrected after firing the GM and coach, working themselves back into the playoff picture on the back of their new (hopefully) franchise goaltender.
But an outstanding two months of play gave way to fatigue, with the team falling apart at the end. They ultimately missed the playoffs by a whopping 16 points, one of the worst results in the franchise’s half-century of hockey. In the end, there were some positives, but it was nothing short of a colossal disappointment for a team that seems perpetually stuck in neutral.
Back in early October, PhillySportsComplex contributor Matt Juliano and I made some picks and predictions for the upcoming season. Let’s go back and look at how we did.
We led off by discussing coach Dave Hakstol and whether or not this season, his fourth as Flyers coach, was “make or break”. We both said it was, and I asserted that he basically needed to win a playoff round in order to keep his job beyond this year. As it turned out, this year was truly “break”, as Hakstol got canned after 31 games, the team languishing near the bottom of the league with a 12-15-4 record.
The Flyers’ biggest move last offseason was to bring James van Riemsdyk back to town on a rich free agent contract. Last year, in Toronto, he netted a career high 36 goals to go along with 18 assists for 54 points. We talked about whether he would go “over” or “under” those totals. Matt was thoroughly unimpressed with the signing and took the under, while I said he would go 31G-28A-59P. This one turned out to be a bit of a split decision. JVR did indeed go “under”, netting 27G-21A-48P, but that was in just 66 games after he missed some time with an injury sustained in the second game of the season. He took some time to get going, but he was one of the top goal-scorers in the league in the final few months. He did basically what the team was paying for him to do, so the Flyers can at least feel good at the return they got on their money in Year One.
Turning to Flyers rookies, Carter Hart was of course the top name that leapt out, though I mentioned that I hoped the team wouldn’t need to see that much of him this year, as it likely meant that the goaltending was in bad shape. More on that in a bit. Matt and I also called out Oskar Lindblom, and he did impress this year. An increase in consistency and ice time could lead to big things for the winger next year. Philippe Myers also did a nice job in his 21-game debut at the end of the season, but Mikhail Vorobyev flamed out in his audition as the team’s 3rd-line center. It remains to be seen what his place on the team might be going forward.
One hot button topic this season was the status of Wayne Simmonds, who was in the final year of his contract with the Flyers. Matt and I concurred that the team should not have tried to extend him, as their signing of JVR basically made Simmonds expendable. In addition, his numbers have been trending down for a few years as he racks up more and more miles on a body that has seen a lot of hard minutes in the NHL. We both advocated trading Simmonds at the deadline, as that’s exactly what happened when the Flyers dealt him to Nashville for Ryan Hartman. Incidentally, Hartman outscored Simmonds after the trade. The Flyers may have gotten as much as they could out of the situation.
One overarching question we addressed was whether or not GM Ron Hextall had the team on the path to success. Specifically, we considered whether or not the team would be Cup contenders within the next two years. We said yes, and boy, do we both look wrong. Not only did Hextall shockingly get fired after the team’s slow start, but he was then subjected to a character assassination that revealed a lot about the turmoil within the organization. Hextall did leave some good pieces behind for new GM Chuck Fletcher to try and construct a winner, but I don’t think that even the most optimistic Flyers fan would consider the team any kind of contender next season, barring a huge, Phillies-like offseason of some kind.
A defining characteristic of the Flyers in the past few seasons has been long stretches of bad hockey, leading to losing streaks such as an awful 10-gamer last year. Matt and I considered what the team needed to do in order to avoid such season-killers this year. We both said that the penalty killing had to get better. It didn’t, sitting below 70% for a large chunk of the season under assistant coach Ian Laperriere, who amazingly still kept his job all year despite bodies falling all around him. In the end, the team “rebounded” to finish 26th in the league at 78.5%, which is still below where it needed to be. We said that depth scoring would also be key, and the results there were not great. Travis Konecny’s season was almost a mirror image of his previous one, but he didn’t make big strides. Nolan Patrick’s second NHL season has to be considered a disappointment after he too essentially replicated his rookie year. These two players especially need to provide more offense in order to take all of the onus off of the top guys.
Matt posed a question to me about what I thought would be the Flyers’ goaltending tandem by season’s end. He said he thought it would be Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. I agreed, but not without first pointing out that there was a lot to consider during all that time in between, as there was a lot of possibility for injuries and uneven (or straight up bad) play from the goaltenders. I was right, as the Flyers’ netminders couldn’t stay healthy, and stunk when they did play, essentially right up until Hart got the call. We both ended up being technically correct about the season-ending duo, but not before the Flyers set an NHL record for goalies used in a season. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you miss the playoffs by a country mile.
Lastly, we turned to the much-maligned Claude Giroux, who was coming off a career year in 2017-18. What was his outlook for this year? Matt was very skeptical of the captain, projecting a final line of 20G-51A-71P. Meanwhile, I expected a downturn from Giroux’s 102-point campaign, but I still said I expected results of 27G-63A-90P from him. In the end, Giroux scored 22 goals to go along with 63 assists for 85 points. I’ll take the win on that one. Sorry, Matt.
Oh, and as a bonus, we gave impressions on the team’s new mascot. Matt was horrified, just as many people were back when a certain orange monster was debuted back in September. But I was on board pretty early on, and thought there was some potential with Gritty.
Little did I know, he would be the team’s MVP. Let’s hope that 2019-20 gives us something ON THE ICE that’s actually worth watching.
Good seasons do not feature this.
The Phils host the Minnesota Twins tonight, as they get an early jump on their interleague schedule for this, the 23rd season of interleague play in Major League Baseball. 23 years! Where has the time gone? That means that we have an entire generation of largely subpar play from the Phillies versus their American League counterparts, giving us more than enough background for delving into the bad, the hilariously bad, and the sometimes not all that bad, which I’m actually going to try to incorporate a decent amount of here. So,let’s go...
June 13, 1997
The Phillies host Toronto for their first ever interleague contest, fittingly played on a Friday the 13th. Curt Schilling has the honor of becoming the first Phil to throw a regular season pitch against an AL opponent, and Phillies Franks spokesman Kevin Stocker records the team’s first interleague hit. The Phillies score the winning run in the bottom of the 8th when Stocker comes home on a wild pitch by the Blue Jays’ Dan Plesac, a guy who would go on to throw the final Phillies pitch at the Vet in 2003, which was also the last appearance of his career. Weird. Anyway, the Phillies win the game 4-3, marking the first, last and only time that they’ve ever been over .500 in interleague play since they lost the next two to Toronto and then suffered sweeps by the Red Sox and Orioles after that. I was at one of the losses in Baltimore, an 8-1 O’s win that was punctuated by a Cal Ripken Jr. grand slam that cleared the left field wall by one inch and that Gregg Jefferies frankly should have caught. Anyhow, the Phils finished the season 5-10 vs. the American League. It begins.
July 18, 1999
The Phillies top the Devil Rays 3-2 behind a complete game by Schilling and Scott Rolen’s two home runs. The win moves the Phillies’ interleague record on the season to 10-6, ensuring the club’s first winning season of interleague play. Kevin Stocker was in the lineup for the Devil Rays that day, something I completely forgot ever happened. “Devil Ray Dogs” just doesn’t have a good ring to it. Rolen would homer twice more the next day in a 16-3 Phillies rout that featured the next-to-last win of Chad Ogea’s MLB career.
June 7, 2002
The Phillies batter the Tigers 11-1 in their first interleague game of the season. Scott Rolen homers and knocks in five runs, while the Phillies get seven solid innings from ALL-STAR Vicente Padilla. Ron Kulpa is the home plate umpire, and reports are sketchy about whether or not he started antagonizing either dugout for no reason that night. The Tigers used five pitchers in the game, four of whom had a first name starting with “J”. You just don’t get this kind of research anywhere else, people.
September 1, 2003
In the final interleague game at Veterans Stadium, the Phillies lose a wild 13-9 affair to the Red Sox. The game was being played to make up for a rainout back in June, as interleague contests didn’t happen that late in the season back then normally. The Phillies’ bullpen implodes in the ninth inning, with Jose Mesa and Turk Wendell allowing six Boston runs. Marlon Byrd strikes out to end the game, but at least Tomas Perez got his bat on the ball when he grounded out against Sox reliever Byung-Hyun Kim in that inning, unlike two years before when this happened to his "sensitive area".
June 15, 2004
In their first interleague game at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies get roughed up by the Tigers in a 10-3 loss. Brian Powell (who?) takes the L in what was the first of his two ever starts for the Phillies before being sent to the depths of the bullpen for the rest of the year.
July 2, 2006
The Phillies beat the Blue Jays 11-6, but it wraps up their worst season of interleague play yet, as they post a 5-13 record. In the game, the Phillies beat up on Toronto starter AJ Burnett, a future 18-game loser for the Phils in 2014. You forgot about that one, I bet. Somewhat bizarrely, the Toronto series finishes a stretch of 15 straight interleague games that MLB set up for some reason that year. The Phils played 18 of their first 81 games against the AL in 2006, then had no interleague matches for the entire second half of their schedule. It was a strange system that baseball had for a few years to lump it all together like that.
June 29, 2008
The Phillies lose 5-1 to the Texas Rangers, as they finish with a horrid 4-11 record in interleague play. Man, that 2008 Phillies team stunk.
June 23, 2009
In their first meeting since the World Series, the Phillies obliterate the Rays 10-1, scoring six runs against David Price in the top of the first inning and never looking back. After the game, Rays manager Joe Maddon exclaims “See, this is why I completely underused Price in last year’s World Series! I invented baseball!” The Phillies still go 6-12 in interleague on the season, however.
June 25, 2010
I’m at a Blue Jays/Phillies game in Philadelphia, but it’s technically a home series for the Jays after the series had to be relocated since the city of Toronto was effectively shut down for an economic summit between world leaders. Good planning there. Anyway, this night happened to be Roy Halladay’s first career appearance against his former team. He was brilliant, throwing seven shutout innings. Ross Gload dropped 4 RBI on Toronto to help power the 9-0 win.
June 10, 2012
I finish spending an entire weekend in Baltimore (and survive) as I watch the Phils drop two of three to the Orioles. The Phillies take the opener on Friday night, but suffer extra inning, walk-off losses on Saturday (Adam Jones HR in the 12th) and Sunday (Matt Wieters double in the 10th). And that was basically enough baseball for me for about three years.
March 31, 2014
Things get crazy as the Phillies open the season at Texas and win 14-10. Cliff Lee gets the win despite surrendering 8 runs in 5 innings. Still, it looks like it could be a fun season for the Phillies and their fans. Spoiler alert: it was not a fun season for the Phillies and their fans.
June 16, 2015
I go to Baltimore AGAIN, and in one of the worst displays of anything I’ve ever seen, the Phillies lose 19-3. The Orioles pound out eight home runs, and it’s quite possibly the low point for this era of Phillies baseball. That is, until “manager” Ryne Sandberg straight-up quits the following week. Let us never speak of it again.
August 15, 2018
The Phillies defeat the Red Sox 7-4 to clinch a winning record in interleague play on the season. It’s just the eighth time in 22 years that they’ve done it. The Phillies go through eight pitchers as they Gabe their way to the win. Here’s hoping that tonight and beyond bring similar success, no matter what they have to do in order to achieve it.
Did they ever win a game wearing these hats?
Published April 1, 2019
That was fun.
Bryce Harper earned every dollar of his contract, Maikel Franco ended up being the second coming of Mike Schmidt after all, and the Phillies will never lose another game.
Well, let’s just hold off on all that for right now and be honest as we talk about the good and the bad of this young season so far.
Scary Good Lineup
The Cubs and Dodgers are also scoring at a prodigious rate so far this season, but based on personnel, you’d have to say that it would be a surprise if the Phillies didn’t end up topping the NL in runs scored per game by season’s end. There will be the inevitable injuries and slumps, but the order just appears so well-balanced that even without a few players firing on all cylinders at any given time, they can still crank out five or six runs in a game seemingly without much effort. And that will be a big help to the Phillies’ pitching staff, who won’t have to live and die with every pitch as they did last year when they went long stretches without getting any support.
Series Wasn’t Without Some Negatives
Every lineup regular had multiple hits in the series with the exception of Odubel Herrera, who went 1 for 10. In fairness, that one hit was an important one on Opening Day, but Odubel did also look lost at times by racking up three strikeouts in the series. Jean Segura also whiffed a bit, as he very surprisingly had four punchouts. He’s a guy who doesn’t strike out very much at all, so it was a curious start. On the pitching front, the main point of concern has to be Nick Pivetta, who needed 76 pitches and couldn’t even get through five innings on Tuesday. And Aaron Nola managed to walk five Braves in the opener, though he navigated around it. Better not press your luck there, Aaron.
Bullpen Mostly Good
On both Thursday and Saturday, the Phillies held seemingly comfortable leads before Atlanta home runs made the situation dicey. Hector Neris and David Robertson were the victims of said home runs, as the two of them allowed a combined five runs and six hits over their four total innings of work during the series. But the rest of the ‘pen shined, surrendering no runs and allowing just two hits in 6.1 innings pitched. Pat Neshek did an especially fine job, appearing in all three games. Neris seemingly got his act together with a clean inning on Sunday night, and Robertson should not be a point of concern, so maybe this bullpen can be a very good one.
Baseball is Back
Three games, three sellouts. Citizens Bank Park once again seems to be a destination, with a team on the field worth paying to see. And the crowds were fantastic all series long, even with the pointless controversy on Opening Day where ten drunk fans trying to be funny booed Bryce Harper after a strikeout, which led to the inevitable narrative about Philly fans being terrible. Well, guess what? This team is going to be very good, and the fans will play a big part in bringing the home-field advantage back to the ballpark and taking this show on the road to infiltrate enemy territory. So, be warned, New York, DC and whoever else, you had your fun at our expense the last few years. But that’s done. Get ready for the Phillies and their “terrible fans” to climb back on top. We’re the team to beat.
It just now fully sunk in that I don't have to play for the Nationals anymore!