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 September 22, 2018
Dad, I’m sorry. You were right.
Upon the announcement that the Phillies had signed Gabe Kapler to become the next manager, there was skepticism throughout the land. My father was key among the doubters. Coconut oil? Who is this guy? Most people kept an open mind at the time, and it was easy to. The team had a young nucleus of players that reminded everyone of the last great Phils squad at their beginnings. I mean, no one liked Charlie Manuel at first either, right?
These are the things I would say to my father to justify the hiring (as if the Phillies need or care whether I do so). For this, Dad, I’m sorry. You were right.
I won’t go play-by-play, but the season’s first few games in Atlanta were arguably the worst first impression a manager could make. With his pulling of Aaron Nola early and the bullpen fiasco, Kapler had managed to immediately alienate all of the “old-school” Phillies fans. I found this surprising, given the area was still in ecstasy over the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory. Everyone calm down, I said. This is just bad luck; no manager is this stupid.
I am an analytics guy. I am academically trained and experience-hardened in the use of analytics and how it can impact decisions ranging from home budgeting to workplace economics. Maybe this is why I stood by Kapler and his charts for so long. I’ve often been the young guy with the great idea supported by analytics, only to have “old-school” co-workers and supervisors roll their eyes. My defense of Kapler continued throughout the summer.
Here is the problem with Kapler and company’s use of analytics. You cannot ignore the human element and completely go off of the numbers. There are certainly times when using flyball ratios and the like can help determine which pitcher to bring in. But that doesn’t mean you should make the change every time the percentages say you should. When pitchers are changed so frequently, it skews the data that suggested a change was necessary. The situations are no longer the same.
Additionally, plugging and playing your position players multiple times per inning, let alone per game, is ludicrous. Half of playing the field is situational baseball, understanding not only where you stand but also where everyone else around you reacts on any given hit ball. Moving people around based on percentages and spray charts seems like a good idea, but you take away consistency and comfort in the positions.
Think I’m wrong (I know you don’t)? How are the 2018 Phillies a historically bad defensive team, despite the individual players mostly having a good or even great record of defensive competence? The sample size is big enough to show that it just isn’t working, at least not with this leadership’s direction.
Let’s talk about the pitching. Taking your starters out consistently by the 4th inning does nothing but increase pressure on both the starters and the bullpen. The starters know they are going to get the hook if they give up a couple of runs and the bullpen is having to come in and “save the day” each game.
For someone who is considered to be a “player’s manager”, Kapler treats the player’s emotions like they don’t exist and aren’t real factors that affect performance or outcomes.
I’m normally in the old-school mindset of “do what you are told” and “sacrifice for the greater good” when it comes to sports. But to completely ignore the human element with gametime decisions while publicly saying everything is great is just poor leadership. The Cubs and the Astros apply analytics just like the Phillies do. There is obviously a talent gap, but not as much as it shows in the standings. The difference is clearly Kapler’s ineptitude. I am still a supporter of analytics, but only in the hands of someone who knows how to implement them. Kapler does not. Period.
I am in Atlanta as I type this. When the Phillies were 1.5 games ahead of the Braves, I purchased tickets to take my son to his first Phillies game. It is tomorrow and Aaron Nola is on the mound. But today the Braves clinched the division. So I will be enjoying spending time with my son at his first Phillies game, but needless to say the atmosphere is not what I was expecting.
So on this day, as I begin to show my son firsthand the life of disappointment and frustration that comes with being a Phillies fan, I reflect back on this season and the many conversations I had with my father about Gabe Kapler.
Dad, I’m sorry. You were right.
I'm too exhausted to think of a biting caption.
Published September 21, 2018
Just when you thought the Sixers had turned a corner and were stepping out of the shadow of dysfunction that has cloaked them for years, they go and do this.
Things all started, of course, several months ago with the ridiculous Bryan Colangelo/Twitter scandal, leaving the Sixers without a GM. This led to coach Brett Brown being named interim President of Basketball Operations. It was made clear that he would temporarily function in the GM role and would be a big part of the selection process for the new hire.
And then we waited. And heard next to nothing for months. The whole situation was a real black eye for an up-and-coming franchise that needed strong direction from the top after a stupid social media situation blew up their front office.
So what do the Sixers ultimately do? They must have called the Flyers and Phillies, because in the end, they just hired from within, bumping the recently retired Elton Brand up to the GM chair, a man whose front office experience consisted of eight months as player development consultant followed by one illustrious season as GM of the Delaware Blue Coats (formerly those beloved 87ers).
I can’t condemn the move as a disgrace right up front, but it just seems typical of a franchise that has made nearly every misstep possible for the better part of a decade. Fortunately, some of that ineptitude has brought in top-end talent like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but so much more is necessary to make this team a true contender over the next few years.
One can argue that the lack of front office structure (thanks, Colangelo) really hurt the team this past offseason as they struck out at every turn to bring in “star” players via trade or any other method. At the very least, it didn’t help. So now, far too late, they finally have their man, introducing him at a typically “Sixery” press conference yesterday that did next to nothing to clarify the hierarchy within the organization.
Yes, the Sixers say that Brand and Brown will function in the typical GM and coach capacities, but do you really believe anything they (and specifically owner Josh Harris) have to say? I don’t think Brett Brown is power-hungry by any means, but now he’s supposed to report to one of his former players, a guy who he was also responsible for hiring. Maybe the 76ers don’t view the situation as a coach having to “report” to a GM, but any notion that on-the-court and off-the-court matters can be kept completely separate is foolish. At any rate, the situation has the potential for more butting of heads than usual within the front office of a professional sports franchise.
And the Sixers have only themselves to blame for that. It’s all part of a trickle-down effect. Sam Hinkie’s “process” detonated the team to the point that the league forcibly inserted Jerry Colangelo to restore some order. Four months later, an “exhaustive” search for a GM just so happened to end up with his son getting the job. Then the Twitter mess from a couple months ago caught the team with its pants down. In scramble mode, they kicked the can down the road and slid back toward laughingstock territory during a terrible offseason that didn’t see the team improve at all. And now we have Brand.
Hey, I hope the guy is successful. Maybe his relatability to players will be a boon to the organization, and maybe he brings new ideas and a fresh approach that pays off. He at least deserves a chance to call some shots without worrying about Harris and the co-bozos that own the team interfering. And hopefully he doesn’t get any pushback from Brown.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if those things happened, because this is the 76ers.
The whole Colangelo chaos and the ensuing GM “search” took place at an extremely inopportune time for the Sixers. But their response to it predictably wasn’t great. And it all culminated in yesterday’s tepid presser that did nothing to make fans feel any better about the situation.
The Sixers figure to be very good again, but can they get any better than being merely playoff fodder for the truly elite teams? Brand and Brown have a tall task ahead of them. Like Doug Collins once absurdly asked on behalf of Andrew Bynum, let’s say a prayer for them.
Second greatest Elton ever?
Published September 14, 2018
Hey, remember the Flyers?
Contrary to popular belief and despite what you hear on Philadelphia sports talk radio, they do still exist. In fact, the team’s training camp gets underway today, with the regular season kicking off in just a few short weeks.
And so now seems like a good time to do one of Philly Sports Complex’s patented lists. Let’s keep it light as we look at the top ten blueliners that the team has employed over the past couple decades.
10. Chris Therien – The Flyers’ all-time leader in games played by a defenseman spent a good chunk of that time with the team in the 1990’s, but he did play parts of five seasons with the Flyers after the turn of the century. “Bundy” was about as steady as they come back on the blueline, although his offensive game was nonexistent. Most memorably, he absolutely shut down Jaromir Jagr almost every time they played each other. It was uncanny.
9. Mark Streit – Already 35 when he came over in a trade with the Islanders during the summer of 2013, Streit was fairly productive for a large portion of his four seasons with the Flyers. Most notable was his offensive game, as he posted seasons of 44 and 52 points in his first two years in Philadelphia. Disappointingly, he only got to play in 13 playoff games during that time, but he ended up winning a Cup in Pittsburgh after he left town. Ew.
8. Ivan Provorov – When we do this list again in a decade (and we will, mark my words), this guy will be at the top of the list. At least, he’d better be. Provorov has already shown enough in his first two NHL seasons to indicate that he will be the team’s driving force on the blueline for years, barring injury or anything unforeseen. Of course, this is the Flyers, so something probably will. But regardless of that, his conditioning is unparalleled, allowing him to eat up big minutes on the backend. And he is up to that task. He’s only 21 years old; there’s a lot in the tank.
7. Matt Carle – Never one to put the puck in the back of the net all too often, Carle still contributed in a bunch of ways during his four years with the Flyers. He found his greatest success when he was paired with Chris Pronger, but who wouldn’t? In all, he totaled 137 points in 308 games with the Flyers, as well as an impressive +55 rating. But the Flyers let him walk in free agency after the 2012 season when he received a massive overpayment from Tampa. His play tailed off after a few seasons, he battled injuries, and he ended up retiring before his contract even ended. A rare good call by Flyers management.
6. Kim Johnsson – The only thing of value the Flyers received in the Eric Lindros trade with the Rangers, Johnsson was steady and reliable for three seasons with the Flyers. He scored 11, 10 and 13 goals in those years, to go along with assist totals of 30, 29 and 29. His numbers were actually similar in his fourth season with the team, but he missed almost half of it with an injury before leaving via free agency at season’s end. Underappreciated while he was here, Johnsson’s numbers were good enough to place him 16th all-time among Flyers defensemen in points scored, and second among European-born D-men in team history.
5. Shayne Gostisbehere – Nobody is ever going to confuse Ghost with Nicklas Lidstrom in his own end, but the guy sure can skate and fire the puck. A skilled power play quarterback, he’s pumped home 37 goals in three seasons and registered 150 points in 220 career games thus far. With a 50-point effort this coming season, he’ll already become just the sixth Flyer defenseman to ever reach 200 points with the team. Expect Ghost to finish, at worst, as #3 in career points among Flyers d-men.
4. Braydon Coburn – Let’s get this straight right off the bat: I do not like Coburn, and I go into explicit detail about this in my book. He could have been so much better with the team. But, being objective and looking at his body of work, he was largely effective over parts of nine seasons with the team, and he has played more games on the Flyers’ blueline than anyone else this century. But again, I expected more based on how he looked in his first season or so with the team. I thought he could use his size to establish himself as a physical presence in his own end while also delivering good offensive contributions. But it wasn’t meant to be. Not every defenseman can be Chris Pronger I guess.
3. Chris Pronger – This guy, however, was Chris Pronger. And even when his career came to a criminally early end when he took a stick to the eye at age 37, the captain was still performing at a high level. Really the only thing tamping him down into the third spot here is that his time with the orange and black was limited to just 145 games. But what a great stint it was. He had 92 points and a +30 mark over that time. Plus a marvelous playoff run in 2010. The Flyers made a big move to get him, and it nearly worked. But like seemingly everything they’ve ever done, injury got in the way.
2. Eric Desjardins – Desjardins was already on the backend of his career when Y2K came around, but he remained effective for another half-decade as the elder statesman on the Flyers’ blueline. He scored a career-high 15 goals in 2000-01, and he had a +30 rating in 2002-03, which was his best mark in that category. He did all this while playing in excess of 22 minutes a night in his 30’s because the Flyers really didn’t surround him with much help. Eric was a classy player and deserved his spot in the Flyers Hall of Fame.
1. Kimmo Timonen – Despite his small stature and being 32 years old when he came to the Flyers, Timonen’s hard work and toughness endeared himself to fans as he posted seven solid seasons for the team. Kimmo scored 270 points in 519 games with the orange and black, and he sits third in franchise history in assists and points among defensemen. And he was durable. He only missed 21 games in his time with the team before blood clots put his career in serious jeopardy. But he recovered, and the Flyers traded him to Chicago to give him one last shot to win a championship. And even though he was playing in a greatly reduced role once he went to the Blackhawks, our last image of Kimmo as an NHL player was of him holding the Stanley Cup over his head. Although it was disappointing that it didn’t happen with the Flyers, it was nevertheless a fitting end to a stellar career.
Published September 9, 2018
The Phillies sit 3.5 games back of Atlanta in the NL East with 21 games to play, seven of which are against the Braves. From all outward appearances, they are still very much alive in their quest for the postseason.
But we all know better. Ain’t gonna happen.
This pleasant surprise of a season was going well into late July. That’s when the Phillies lost three out of four to a subpar Reds team, then split a quick two-gamer in Boston that they really should have swept. They recovered nicely with a four-game sweep over Miami, but that’s when the wheels fell off. They are 11-19 since then, and they’ve fallen five games in the standings.
The season will likely still end up as the Phillies’ best since 2011, which is at least something. And it could very well be the first step toward a string of playoff appearances in the years to come. But, when it ultimately falls short of the playoffs this year, it’s going to stick in all our craws as a failure in some ways. Here’s why…
Nola’s Best Not Good Enough
You can’t overstate how dominant Aaron Nola has been this year. I even wrote an article about it a couple weeks ago before this season died completely. His numbers are Cy Young-worthy, and he honestly should even be in the MVP discussion. But he won’t win either because he will fall short of dragging the Phillies into the playoffs. On the bright side, it appears they have their ace to build around for the next decade. But the odds are that this season will be the absolute best one that he will ever post. Yet it still won’t be enough to get the team into the postseason, as they feature a sub-.500 record when anyone else starts the game. Speaking of which…
Young Starters Wore Out
For a time, the Phils were looking like they had arguably the deepest rotation in the NL, with Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin all looking dominant at times, and at the very least keeping the team in ballgames. It all seemed too good to be true. Turns out, it was. The Phillies are going to end up at least one quality starting pitcher short this year, and GM Matt Klentak has to take a good amount of the heat for that. He deemed the team’s starting pitching “good enough”, or at least didn’t like the asking price for the available pitchers on the trade market, and so he did not make a move at the deadline. The Phillies could have used Cole Hamels, as he has been lights out since being acquired by the Cubs. But Hamels or no, the rotation deserved a shot in the arm because it had a trio of young hurlers who were approaching career highs in innings pitched this season. No help came, and now the good starts by Velasquez, Pivetta and Eflin are distant memories. They all sport 4.00+ ERAs, and that isn’t cutting it, not with this team’s offense. And this leads me to…
Pop-gun offense can’t achieve any consistency
Once in a great while, the Phillies will score 7 or 8 runs, their “nibble away with walks and then get them home” approach working on occasion. But more often than not, they’re striking out in clutch situations and leaving tons of men in scoring position every game. Say what you will about old-timey stats like batting average, but when Maikel Franco’s .267 is the best mark on your team, you’ve got problems. The Braves have six regulars with higher batting averages. There is no comparison between the starting lineups of the two teams. You can live with a few power hitters in the .260 range, but you must have quality hitters who make pitchers pay for mistakes. Instead, the Phillies just hope for walks, because they only seem to make weak contact when opposing pitchers challenge them. And don’t even get me started on the seasons that Scott Kingery and JP Crawford are having. Ugh. A big-time free agency move or two is desperately needed this offseason.
Couldn’t beat lousy teams
By the time the Phillies get to the end of this season and all those games against the Braves, merely winning the head-to-head battle won’t be good enough. They’ll need to be almost flawless in those games (which they won’t), and this is because of their inability to take care of business against the drek of the National League. A 6-8 mark against the Mets is one of the first things to jump out, which includes losing three of five in a series to them last month. And, take out that 4-game sweep over Miami at the beginning of August and the Phillies are just 5-7 against the lowly Fish aside from it. On top of all this, lost series to teams like San Diego and Toronto show that the Phillies just aren’t ready to make that jump to the playoffs yet. The key to the schedule is holding down the fort and going .500 against quality opponents while you mop up against bottom-feeders, taking two out of three more often than not. Too many times, the Phillies have beaten themselves, in turn losing to lousy competition. True contenders don’t do that.
For these reasons and more, this season, even if it ends up in the 85-win range, will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Phillies fans everywhere. Klentak, Kapler and company have some pieces to work with, but actions need to be taken to assure that lost games and blown leads turn into victories next season. Otherwise, the Phillies will again find themselves being largely ignored by the fans in this city.
Until then, as always, go Eagles!
Pivetta is just one of many Phils to crash and burn as of late.
Published September 2, 2018
Ok, let’s try to think positive. The Eagles have won six of their last seven season openers, although that trend doesn’t really mean anything as we sit T-minus four days from kickoff with Atlanta on Thursday.
In the meantime, let’s at least consider how bad things could potentially be and get ready for it, as evidenced by these disasters of years past. We’re going from merely bad to gut-wrenching, taking into account both how lousy the actual game was and the tone it set for the season as a whole.
September 9, 2007: Packers 16, Eagles 13
What Happened: The Eagles had a tough assignment, starting their season at Lambeau Field. But they hung tough with the Packers and led 13-10 deep into the third quarter. That’s when Packers kicker Mason Crosby tied the game. Later on, he would ultimately deliver the game-winner with two seconds to play in the fourth. All of the Packers’ scoring came from just three field goals and an endzone fumble recovery. A great effort by the Eagles’ defense, who held Brett Favre in check all day, was wasted. The offense just couldn’t move.
How’d the Season Go: Poorly. The Eagles stayed under .500 all year until they won their last three games to finish 8-8. You can blame it mostly on the offense, as the team allowed fewer points than twelve other NFC clubs, including a pair of double-digit win teams.
September 8, 2002: Titans 27, Eagles 24
What Happened: Thanks to three TD passes from Donovan McNabb, the Eagles roared out to a 24-10 halftime lead on the road against a quality Tennessee team. But the offense went MIA after the break (where have I heard that before?) with three punts and two turnovers in the second half as the Titans came all the way back for the win.
How’d the Season Go: The Eagles recovered from this debacle to wax the Redskins and Cowboys in their next two games and get back on track. They’d go on to post a 12-4 record in their final season at the Vet. We’ll skip over how the playoffs turned out.
September 9, 2012: Eagles 17, Browns 16
What Happened: It’s not a misprint, the Eagles won this game. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fugly harbinger of things to come. Michael Vick connected with Clay Harbor for a touchdown with 1:18 left to help the Eagles avoid the embarrassment of losing their opener to the lowly Browns, but the win left more questions than answers.
How’d the Season Go: The Eagles beat the Ravens the next week to move to 2-0. But then things came apart at the seams. They lost nine of their next ten games, finishing in the league’s bottom five in both points scored and points allowed. And with their 4-12 record, they finished one win behind the Browns. Andy Reid got the boot, and it was Chip Kelly time in Philadelphia.
September 12, 1999: Cardinals 25, Eagles 24
What Happened: It was Andy Reid’s first game as head coach, with a journeyman QB named Doug Pederson under center for the Eagles. And things were going well, with the Eagles taking a 24-6 lead into the half. But the Cardinals chipped away, and it was 24-22 with two minutes left. Then Pederson threw to rookie receiver Brian Finneran, the Villanova product playing in his first NFL game. Even worse than just dropping the pass, Finneran bobbled the ball up into the hands of an Arizona defender, who ran it into Eagles territory. The Cardinals quickly got within field goal range and then milked the clock before kicking the winner with four seconds left. Ugh.
How’d the Season Go: The Eagles lost their next two games 19-5 and 26-0. But Reid righted the ship enough to post five wins, including a victory in the season finale against the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams, although they played all their scrubs in that one. We all chalked 1999 up to “growing pains”, and the Eagles made the leap the next year.
September 12, 2005: Falcons 14, Eagles 10
What Happened: Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, the Eagles opened in Atlanta on Monday Night Football against the team they had just beaten for the NFC title. A pre-game fracas led to Jeremiah Trotter being ejected, forcing the Eagles to start the utterly forgettable Mike Labinjo at middle linebacker. Did it matter that much? Hard to tell. But the Falcons scored two touchdowns three minutes apart in the first quarter. That was all they would get for the entire game, but the Eagles’ offense was sluggish and just couldn’t get going all night.
How’d the Season Go: The Eagles won their next three games, and all was well with the world. But Terrell Owens’ ego, an injury to McNabb, and numerous other factors combined to trash the season. The Birds’ aspirations of returning to the Super Bowl went down in flames, and they went 6-10. Needless to say, the Mike McMahon era was not a success. That season also featured the famous 42-0 loss to Seattle, also on Monday Night Football.
September 6, 1998: Seahawks 38, Eagles 0
What Happened: Led by Bobby Hoying, the Eagles came out and made a mess immediately. Warren Moon and the Seattle offense barely broke a sweat as they moved up and down the Vet turf. Hoying, in fact, never threw another TD in the NFL after being so hyped up entering that season. Needless to say, this was not a good way to start the year. Break out the paper bags.
How’d the Season Go: As bad as you’d expect. The Eagles were shut out twice more that season, never scoring more than 21 points in a single game. They finished 3-13, and they were probably lucky to even have a record that “good”. Ray Rhodes was mercifully canned, with the Eagles bringing in Andy Reid and then taking Donovan McNabb with the #2 pick in the draft as a reward for their pitiful record.
September 8, 2003: Buccaneers 17, Eagles 0
What Happened: It was the grand opening of Lincoln Financial Field. Monday Night Football. The Eagles versus the defending Super Bowl champions, the team that had just upset them to close out their old building less than eight months earlier. The revenge factor was high, and Eagles nation was thirsty for blood. And the Eagles got shut out. Plus, both of the touchdowns in the game were courtesy of Joe Jurevicius, the man whose back-breaking catch and run stands as the defining moment from the previous season’s NFC title game. Eagles fans were ready to detonate the Linc after one game.
How’d the Season Go: Things got ugly real quick, as the Eagles dropped another home game to the Patriots in Week 2. Then, following a crazy-early bye in Week 3, they pulled off a season-saving win in Buffalo. They would eventually ride a 9-game winning streak to a 12-4 record, and things were great until the NFC Championship Game. Again.
Just wanted to prepare you for the worst on Thursday. Just in case.
But I'll have something way more positive for you tomorrow! Come on back.
Published August 30, 2018
As the Eagles prepare to play their final game of the preseason tonight, their annual matchup with the Jets that I regard as the greatest rivalry in the history of North American sports, Eagles fans everywhere are suffering from a bout of…uneasiness.
Most of the concern has been about the health of Carson Wentz, and rightfully so, as he will hopefully be the leader and face of this franchise for at least the next decade. But months of idiots calling into the local sports stations speculating about when he might return has made this season feel much more urgent than it actually is. Because the truth of the matter is that, for the first time in our lives, this is not a life-or-death football season.
We got our Super Bowl. So, everybody relax. That doesn’t mean that we won’t all be upset if the Eagles go out and lay a turd 4-12 season, but worse things have happened. Like Chip Kelly. And Mike McMahon. And crushing defeats at seemingly every turn for decades. And those things all hurt like hell, because we didn’t have anything to fall back on. But now we do.
I can’t say that a lousy season this year would be totally excusable, but I would at least understand it. We all made the same deal with the devil or deity of our choosing. At some point in the past, you got down on your knees and said “Please, just give us one Super Bowl. Then we can be terrible for years after that, I don’t care”. Don’t deny it. So at least be true to your word and deal with it if they are awful this year or even the next couple. Odds are, if Wentz stays healthy, that they won’t be, but you never know.
I know that I basically sold my soul for the Phillies’ World Series win in 2008. I said then that they could be the worst team in the league for five years after that and I wouldn’t say a word. Funny thing was, the Phillies stayed an elite team, putting together three more great years that got them tantalizingly close to another title.
But then the bottom fell out, the crap years came, and we are now inching toward a decade of bad baseball. By this point, 2008 is far in the rear view, and I’m antsy. But it can never be taken away. This must be how the three Flyers fans still alive from their Stanley Cup days must feel. But, back to the Birds…
The team’s play, outside of perhaps the first-team defense, has been poor this entire preseason. Of most concern is the way that Super Bowl hero Nick Foles has performed. He’s come up small, and he hasn’t lived up to that nickname of his. And so the cacophony has grown from both the aforementioned moronic fans and media “experts” who do little more than throw darts to make guesses about when Wentz will ride in and save the day.
Still, there are only three scenarios.
1. Wentz is ready and will play right away.
2. Wentz isn’t ready and won’t play until he is.
3. Wentz is ready but the Eagles will be cautious, waiting to play him.
You’d think that there were about 500 possibilities if you’ve spent (wasted) any time listening to the buzz about town for months. Unfortunately, I have. But no matter what happens, just relax and remember back to a few months ago when the Eagles were on top of the world. In fact, they still are until someone brings them down.
And it will happen. Whether it’s a bad regular season this year or a playoff loss. Or maybe the Eagles win it all again, and it takes until next year or beyond for someone to seize their crown. No matter when and no matter how, they are Super Bowl champions and we can all revel in it forever.
I hate to break it to you, but the Eagles will lose to the Cowboys and Giants at some point. And there will be botched plays and entire games that get choked away. It’s all a part of sports. But we sit through drek like this so that we can enjoy the payoff like we just did.
I realize that telling Eagles fans, and really any and all Philadelphia fans, not to worry is like telling a scorpion not to sting. It’s in our nature. And once the games start counting for real, this season will feel just like any other, with fans hanging on every single play. And that’s fine.
But take a breath when things go wrong so you don’t end up in an early grave. Maybe this year, successful or not, can be more about enjoying watching the Eagles than the “watch with baited breath and hope they don’t lose even though you know they will” that has dominated our lives.
So let’s have fun this season. Because even if it is ends up being terrible, remember the deal you made. It happens.
But I’m totally going to freak out if they lose their first game.
You know that some dopes will do this if this season doesn't go as expected.
Published August 26, 2018
I know, talk about drastic. But, for all of the positives this season has given us, I can definitively say after yesterday’s game that 2018 will end the way the previous six seasons have for the Phils: without a trip to the playoffs.
They still sit at 69-59 and, barring an even worse stretch of baseball than the one they’re currently in, will finish over .500. And that’s something, at least. But it really looked as recently as a few weeks ago that they were a legitimate contender in a wide-open National League.
Now, after frittering away a 5-0 lead yesterday, they have lost six of their last seven games, with the only victory coming courtesy of Aaron Nola’s herculean effort on Thursday. Nola, in fact, has the Phillies’ last two wins. And even those analytics guys will tell you that you’re in trouble if you can only win every fifth day.
Even though I’m declaring the Phillies dead (and they are), they still sit only three games back of the Braves in the NL East. Atlanta is doing its best to keep the Phillies in it after losing consecutive games to the lowly Marlins, but with the likes of the Rays and Pirates (who they just swept earlier this week) on tap in coming games, they figure to get back in the win column in a big way.
Not only that, but the Phillies’ wild card chances look to be even bleaker thanks to hot stretches by teams like St. Louis and Colorado. Throw in the Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Dodgers, and it’s an absolute logjam just for the right to get into the one-game playoff. You can’t possibly like the Phillies’ odds there.
In recent weeks, the Phillies have lost two out of three to the stinking Padres, three out of five to the awful Mets, and now two in a row to the also-ran Blue Jays. At this point, they are kidding themselves if they think they are good enough. The offense goes MIA for entire games, and when they do actually score (like yesterday), it all comes early and the hitting dries up later in the game while their bullpen implodes.
Yesterday, the Phillies cranked out 11 hits in 5 innings, but then had just two hits after that point as a 6-3 lead ended up as an 8-6 loss. Unacceptable. Contending teams don’t take their foot off the gas, and they don’t blow big leads to below average opponents.
The Phillies aren’t bad, they’re just too inconsistent to make a serious playoff run this year. It seems like we’ll all just have to be happy with an 85-win season and the progress that it represents over the tire fire of 2017.
And, make no mistake, there have been positive strides. Now we just need to hope that these young players all round into the finished products that we were promised they would, because the gang’s all here. That “loaded” Phillies farm system we’ve been hearing about for years has basically yielded all its fruit. There aren’t any upcoming studs on the horizon.
When this season is in the can, the feeling will be one of general disappointment. Fans will say that the Phillies had a shot this year, but that they got in their own way. Oh well, they’ll surely spend in free agency over the winter, so maybe next year will finally mark their return to the playoffs. Maybe 2018 will have at least laid the groundwork for a perennial contender. Maybe maybe maybe.
But I know you’ve already stopped caring. The Phillies did this to themselves.
Published August 24, 2018
It’s time to have this discussion. Even if this largely successful Phillies season ends up falling short of a playoff berth, it won’t have been a lost cause. Because at least it has revealed to us that Aaron Nola is a true ace at the front of the team’s rotation. And not only that, he’s the best pitcher in the National League.
Thursday’s victory over 3-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer confirms it. Mad Max was his usual dominant self, but he made a fatal mistake that Odubel Herrera slammed out of the park to account for all of the scoring in the Phillies’ 2-0 win. Nola, while not perfect, made no such mistake.
His margin for error was razor-thin, as it has been basically all year thanks to the Phillies’ inconsistent offense. But he threw eight shutout innings against a Washington offense that had thwacked Phillies pitching to the tune of 18 runs over the first two games of the series.
Not only that, but he blew a fastball past Bryce Harper on his 102nd and final pitch of the afternoon with two men on base in the bottom of the eighth. If that was any other Phillies pitcher, we all know that ball would have ended up in the seats and the Phillies would have ended up losing 3-2. But Nola has been in that kind of zone all season long, and I really hope that he gets rewarded for his efforts.
Going back a few months, any and all Cy Young talk consisted of Scherzer vs. Jake deGrom, with Nola and a number of other pitchers jockeying for a seemingly distant third place. But no longer. While Aaron Nola is not going to toss up eye-popping strikeout numbers like the aforementioned hurlers, that just speaks to how good of a pure pitcher he is.
As Bryce Harper can tell you, Nola still does possess swing-and-miss stuff. But that’s not all he does. His repertoire yields weak contact from opposing hitters, making easy work for even the porous Phillies defense in the form of soft grounders and lazy flyballs to handle. He’s only allowed eight home runs on the season, less than half of his number from last year, which we all thought was his big breakout as he registered 12 wins and a 3.54 ERA for a lousy team.
Now, his ERA sits at a sparkling 2.13. Is this the new normal? Maybe not, but Nola has shown he is at least capable of an ERA hovering around 3.00. Maybe some years that ends up being around 2.70, others about 3.20, but I think all of us would sign up for seven or eight years of that.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of quality arms in the National League. But at 25 years old, Nola is primed to be the premiere pitcher in the league for the next several seasons with the likes of Scherzer, deGrom and Clayton Kershaw all on the “wrong” side of 30.
Nola has given the Phillies a quality start (6+IP, 3 ER or less) in 21 of his 26 appearances this year. And two of those came in his first two starts of the season when Gabe Kapler dumbly didn’t let him pitch deep enough into the game. But once Gabe took the reins off to some degree, Nola has been a monster.
If, say, he were injured and the Phillies had to send out some average pitcher every fifth day in his place, they would be nowhere near the playoff race at this point. And even if Nola was having a season that was merely “pretty good”, they still wouldn’t have a chance. Instead, his work this year has established him as the team’s most important player, and he is frankly the only reason they are hanging around in the postseason discussion to this point.
The Phillies have an excellent chance to win every fifth day when he takes the hill. But the man can only do so much. Other players have to step in and raise their level of performance like Nola has done. There is a possibility that 2018 will be the absolute best season of his career. To let it go by the boards without even seeing what he could do in the playoffs would be a huge missed opportunity.
To recap, Aaron Nola deserves to win the NL Cy Young Award this year. The Phillies, who sit one game out of a wild card spot and three back in their division, are 19-7 in his starts but below .500 when anyone other than him starts the game. He makes them a different team.
And yes, I know there is the whole Jake deGrom crowd stumping for him to win the Cy Young. He has been outstanding, but even with his performance this year, the Mets are below .500 in games he starts. Lack of run support? Sure. But all his greatness has effectively not mattered at all to his team. They’re lousy with him and lousy without him. Although they still give the Phillies fits for some reason.
Jake deGrom has been pitching with zero pressure on him for months now. Yesterday, the Phillies needed a win worse than John Kruk needs a cheesesteak. In a crucial spot facing the widely acknowledged best pitcher in baseball, Nola simply was better.
One could even say that, given that he has single-handedly kept the Phillies within striking distance of a playoff berth, Nola has been the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER to his team in the National League this season. Is there an award for that too?
While acknowledging the fine seasons that others are having this year, I make no apologies for my position: If Nola doesn’t win the NL Cy Young this year, it will be a travesty. And while the league has also seen excellent years from the likes of hitters such as Javier Baez, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and others, Nola at least deserves to be in the MVP discussion as well. He likely won’t, but my point still stands.
This Phillies season is looking like it probably won’t end up with a trip to the playoffs. But let’s all take some time to give credit to the man who is doing his absolute best to drag them there.
PS He’ll probably give up seven runs in his next start. Hey, I’m still a Phillies fan.
Ruben Amaro Jr. says "You're welcome".
Published August 21, 2018
This year marks the 25th anniversary of that memorable season in Phillies history when “Macho Row” went all the way to the World Series. Let’s ignore how it ended and just say it was still glorious.
Anyway, 2018 has been pretty good to this point, although it now shows signs of going off the rails. So, before that happens entirely and there are still some good feelings hanging around, let’s take a quick look back to 1993 with some FUN FACTS about that squad.
Three Players Had 100 Walks
Lenny Dykstra (129), Darren Daulton (117) and John Kruk (111) each hit triple digits in bases on balls, despite having just five balls between the three of them. It was some impressive work from the trio, as the Phillies as a team only had nine such 100+BB seasons over the next twelve years after that, with Bobby Abreu registering seven of those. Jim Thome had the other two.
They Could Barely Run
Outside of Dykstra’s 37 stolen bases, the Phillies did next to nothing on the basepaths in 1993. Mickey Morandini was the only other player in double digits with 13 swipes, and the team had 91 overall, next to last in the National League. Presumably, the lack of running was due to all the hangovers and beer bellies on the team. For the record, though, the AL was even worse that year, with the Yankees stealing a laughable MLB-low 39 bases. Typical, terrible Yankees.
They Were Still Clutch and Could Crank Out Runs
Daulton and Pete Incaviglia tied for the team lead with 24 home runs, but that only put them in a tie for 32nd in all of baseball (along with Cal Ripken Jr. and John Olerud). But despite a lack of raw power, the Phils still easily led the NL in runs that year and were second to the Tigers overall. They just knew how to produce runs, as they topped the NL in doubles and walks, and were second in triples. Add it all up, and the Phillies boasted three of the 22 players who scored 100 runs or more in MLB that season.
Mitch Williams Wasn’t the Only Wild One
Yes, the Wild Thing was ridiculous, and he in fact uncorked six wild pitches in 62 innings pitched during the 1993 season. But other guys got in on the act as well. Tommy Greene, in fact, led the NL with 15 of them, while Ben Rivera tied for third with 13 wild pitches. Curt Schilling had 9. In the end, 18 different Phillies pitchers threw a wild pitch that year as the team finished third in the NL in that category, behind only first-year expansion teams from Colorado and Florida. Sometimes it’s good to be wild.
Lenny Dykstra Almost Led Off Every Game
“Leading off and playing center field” isn’t just that annoying thing that Paul Jolovitz does when he gets his first caller of the night on WIP. It was also a perfectly accurate description of the entire 1993 season for Lenny Dykstra. Well, almost. He batted leadoff and started in center field for 160 of the team’s 162 games. The only exceptions were games on July 2 (which was the second game of a doubleheader) and September 29. The man who took his spot in the order and in the field on those two occasions? Ruben Amaro Jr.
Those Batting Averages Really Show How Baseball Has Changed
The Phillies had six players bat .273 or better in 1993, including three guys over .300 (although Jim Eisenreich didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify). By comparison, the current Phillies have just one guy (Maikel Franco) hitting above .273 this year. Baseball just isn’t about hitting anymore, I guess.
This Was the Only Time the Phillies Were Any Good Under Jim Fregosi
No disrespect to the team’s late manager, but his results aside from 1993 were…uh…bad. In six seasons at the helm for the Phillies, his teams didn’t even come close to sniffing .500 aside from their improbable 97-win campaign in 1993. Fregosi himself managed for parts of 15 seasons overall in the bigs. He finished over .500 five times: his first two years, his last two years, and 1993. That year, everything just clicked for him and the team. At least, until Joe Carter.
So, is there enough left in the 2018 Phillies that will make us remember them 25 years down the road? Or will they fade and become just a footnote in franchise history? Remember to come back to Philly Sports Complex in 2043 and I’ll break it all down for you.
You probably don't even remember who this is.
Published August 17, 2018
The Phillies welcomed the Mets to town yesterday, except they didn’t, because nobody ever welcomes the Mets or anything having to do with New York City. At any rate, they split, losing the first game 24-4 and then winning the nightcap 9-6. Things got weird. To wit…
- The amount of runs scored by the Mets yesterday (30) is the exact amount of seconds it takes you to smell the B.O. when a Mets fan enters the room.
- The 24 runs in the first game were a Mets franchise record for a single game. It automatically triggered a $5 million bonus for Bobby Bonilla for some reason. The Mets will now have to trade Jake deGrom in the offseason to afford it.
- Gabe Kapler employed Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery as pitchers in the blowout loss yesterday. It marked the first time that two position players pitched in a game for the Phillies since Dave Doster and Kevin Sefcik split the entire game on the next to last day of the regular season in 1998. The team sucked and Terry Francona didn’t give a damn.
- Kingery also homered in the game, his first hit in almost three weeks. In doing so, he became the first player in MLB history to…eh, I got nothing.
- The Mets scored in a bevy of ways during their 24-run onslaught. They plated runs via single, double, home run, walk, balk, error, ball girl interference, papal decree, hidden ball trick, hidden bat trick, spontaneous combustion and fake news.
- At least the Phillies hit four solo home runs in that first game. The last time they hit four solo home runs that accounted for all of their scoring in a game was on April 18, 1936. Look it up.
- The amount of elapsed time yesterday from the first pitch of the first game to the last pitch of the second game was 6 hours and 42 minutes. Even at that length, if it were a single game, it would have been the fourth-fastest one in MLB this season.
- Despite its importance in the standings, the second game last night was only watched by 1/10th as many people as the Eagles’ utterly meaningless preseason game. People who watched the majority of that game are idiots.
- The first game aired exclusively on Facebook yesterday, but after the Mets’ 10-run 5th inning, it was moved over to MySpace.
- Did you look up that thing about the Phillies hitting four solo home runs? Even though I said to, I lied.
- Wilson Ramos collected three hits in the second game yesterday, and is now 6 for 9 over his first two games with the Phillies. The team will induct him into their Wall of Fame tomorrow.
- By the eighth inning of yesterday’s first game, Dan Baker began sprinkling expletives in with the public address announcements. Nobody was there to notice or care.
- The combined 43 runs scored between the teams yesterday was the highest ever on a day that Chad Ogea didn’t pitch.
- The Mets had more hits yesterday than Rey Ordonez did in his entire career.
- Finally, after getting the win in the nightcap, the Phillies decided against sending Zach Eflin back to Lehigh Valley, instead designating him to work at Bull’s BBQ for the remainder of the series so that they can save $38 by not paying him for major-league service time.
Roman Quinn now sports the same ERA that Freddy Garcia did with the Phillies.
Published August 15, 2018
We all figured out a while ago that pitching was the strength of this Phillies’ team, but this is ridiculous.
The offense scrounged up just two hits in last night’s 2-1 loss, and its recent lethargy threatens to ruin what had been shaping up to be a promising Phillies season just a short while ago.
A quick look at the Phillies’ team page on Baseball-Reference.com tells the tale. The site lists the team’s top 12 players based on WAR for the season. That’s “wins above replacement” for the layman, which quantifies a players’ value relative to the league average at his position.
And according to said WAR, eight of the top nine performers on the Phillies this year are pitchers, with only Cesar Hernandez ranking among the hitters. No Odubel, no Hoskins, no Scott Kingery (i.e. the Second Coming of Chase Utley). It’s ugly, folks.
We were all ok with it when the Phillies were walking to get on base and then would bop a 3-run home run, doing enough at the dish to put some wins together. But the recent lack of clutch hitting, some would say “any hitting”, has brought the lineup’s deficiencies into sharper focus.
They strike out a ton and they don’t steal bases. And while they sit slightly above the league average in home runs, they are next to last in the NL in batting average and doubles. Simply put, the bats have gone silent.
Time to point some fingers.
Rhys Hoskins – He homered to knock in the Phillies’ only run last night, but had been mired in a 1 for 27 slump before that, an 8-game stretch that dropped his average 15 points. A season that looked ticketed for well over 100 RBI now seems like a 50/50 proposition.
Carlos Santana – After another 0-fer last night, he’s hitting .214, 35 points below his 8-year career average. He still ranks highly in walks, but that’s cold comfort for fans because this guy was paid to swing the bat and provide some power.
Odubel Herrera – In his first 57 games this year, he hit .304. Over the last 56 games, he’s hit .238. And that nice power bump? He’s going on three weeks without a homer now.
Scott Kingery – His last hit came on the day that the Phillies acquired Asdrubal Cabrera. Remind me why he is even on the team right now instead of getting at bats in Lehigh Valley.
Cesar Hernandez – He remains the team’s stolen base leader with a whopping fourteen on the year, but he has not swiped a bag in thirty games. He has five extra base hits since the start of July.
And it goes on and on, with plenty of blame to pass around. Still, amazingly, the team finds itself in a wild card spot today. That, of course, will change abruptly if the offense doesn’t start showing the ability to hit out of a wet paper bag.
Add up all of these funks and it’s resulted in a 2-5 record over the last seven games for the Phils, with the team scoring just 16 runs in the process.
The best way to fix this? Obviously, Matt Klentak needs to find a flux capacitor in order to construct a time machine, go back a few weeks, and get Manny Machado. But, in all seriousness, this is the team, and there’s not a whole hell of a lot Gabe Kapler can do.
For a change of pace, I for one would at least like to see the Phils take Justin Bour out of the barn and trot him out there to start at first base for something like three of the next four games. It’s not going to shock the world, but it’ll at least make a change to a lineup that is desperately in need of one. Beyond this, unfortunately, I can’t say I have any other bright ideas.
I don’t mean to leave you out in the cold with this writing, which poses all questions and no answers. I’m just following the example set by the Phillies’ offense for the majority of the season and their last few games in particular.
I think mostly I’m just starting to lament the inconsistency of the team’s hitting so much because this season, which had the potential to be a special one, is slipping through their fingers.
And I don’t want to say “it was fun while it lasted” just yet, but they’d better start hitting the ball and scoring some runs soon, or it will be exclusively Eagles season around here in the blink of an eye.
Falling in the standings. And everywhere else.
Published August 11, 2018
Surprise! Did you remember that teams can still make trades in August?
Trader Matt Klentak sure did, as yesterday the Phillies acquired first baseman Justin Bour from the division rival/laughingstock Miami Marlins, who continue to get rid of any player who makes more than $11.50 an hour under Derek Jeter’s guidance.
Bour now presumably becomes the Phillies’ top bat off the bench and should occasionally spell Carlos Santana at first base. It was a solid move that had no real downside. It was also not the only notable August trade that the Phillies have made in recent years.
I smell another trip down memory lane…
Hopelessly out of the playoff race, the Phillies sent beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers after a decade of quality play in Philadelphia. Among the pieces involved in the deal, the Phils got catcher A.J. Ellis in return. He literally cried about it. What a wuss.
A year before they dealt Ruiz, the Phillies sent the even more beloved Chase Utley to LA in an August deal. Talk about diminishing returns. All the Phillies got back were two fringe players. Darnell Sweeney was one of them, and he batted .176 in 37 games down the stretch for that Phillies team, not resurfacing in the majors again until this year.
Another trade with the Dodgers. This one seems like it actually worked out though. The Phillies traded Roberto Hernandez and received Victor Arano and Jesmuel Valentin in return. Not too shabby. They also finally gave up on John Mayberry Jr., sending him to Toronto for some guy who never became anything.
Remember Michael Young’s one partial season with the Phillies? Well, it ended when they traded him to…(looking it up)…the Dodgers! What the hell?
Joe Blanton’s time in town came to an end. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they traded him to the Dodgers. Yep. Again, nothing of note came in return.
The Phillies “purchased the contract” of Mike Sweeney from Seattle, in a move that is very comparable to the one they just made by bringing in Bour. Sweeney, however, was 36 at that point, and the 5-time all-star would actually retire at season’s end.
In a pair of moves that would pay big dividends, the Phillies got Scott Eyre from the Cubs and Matt Stairs from the Blue Jays. Both would play roles in the team’s World Championship that season. Pat Gillick identified a couple areas where his loaded team needed some improvement, and the results spoke for themselves.
The Phillies acquired pinch hitter/strikeout machine Russell Branyan. After nine at bats as a member of the team, they traded him away 22 days later.
The Phillies were really busy in August of 2006. Players of note that they brought in included Jeff Conine and Jose Hernandez. But, in a prime example of “playing the long game”, the Phillies were able to get Jamie Moyer from the Mariners. That move wouldn't pay off that year, but as we all know, Moyer spent several more years with the team, and he was a factor as the Phils won the World Series in 2008. This was an extreme outlier, as these August deals are usually just rentals. But it worked out great for the Philllies in this case.
This all brings us back to the move that was just made. Justin Bour is likely a one-and-done for the Phillies, who don’t really have space for him on the roster beyond this season based on contractual obligations. So, if he’s just a temporary Phil, let’s hope he makes this stint with the team count.
All in all, a solid move from Klentak. It was surprising to see Bour on the move, so kudos to the Phillies for making it happen. We'll see if it pays dividends.
Justin is pumped about getting out of the basement.
Published August 8, 2018
This stuff writes itself.
Zhaire Smith, the first round pick whom the Sixers traded for on the night of the 2018 NBA draft, was sent home from summer camp on Monday after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot. And so it goes.
Smith going all Barbaro on us is just the latest in a long line of injuries to the 76ers’ young players that threatens to derail promising careers and “The Process” as a whole before it has a chance to achieve its ultimate goal.
The 76ers are far from the only professional sports franchise to endure a string of crippling injuries, but man, it feels like they must have incited the wrath of God somehow. To be fair, much of it is self-inflicted since they have not shied away from bringing in players with known injury histories.
Still, this is ridiculous, and it’s been going on for a long time. In fact, their impossibly bad luck with injuries can be traced in a direct line back to six years ago this week. Let’s look at the timeline, as it has run from then until now…
August 10, 2012
The mistake that started this trend. The Sixers acquired Andrew Bynum from the Lakers. A powerful 24-year old center, he could have been a star in the making. But he had the knees of an 80-year old. The Sixers knew this, but they rolled the dice anyway. Needless to say, it did not work out. Bynum’s knees began barking before training camp even started. The season moved along, he made no progress, and then he suffered a setback while bowling. After waiting and waiting, he finally had surgery on both knees in March, months after everybody realized he would never play a game as a Sixer. What a waste of a human being.
June 27, 2013
At the NBA draft, the Sixers traded for Nerlens Noel, who had been drafted sixth overall by New Orleans. Noel may very well have been the #1 pick that night, but he was dealing with a knee injury that had caused him to slide down the draft board. And so the Sam Hinkie-led Sixers, sensing a bargain could be had, swooped in to nab Noel (and a 2014 first round pick) from the newly and dumbly named Pelicans. Noel would be given time to recover, but it was assumed he would suit up later in the season for the Sixers. Guess what? He didn’t.
June 26, 2014
Leading up to the 2014 draft, the Sixers sat in the third slot. It was widely assumed that they would end up with Jabari Parker, with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid going off the board before that. But Embiid had had back problems, and then had foot surgery just six days before the draft, clouding his outlook. It was probable that he would miss several months. When he was still available at the #3 slot, the Sixers figured they already had a terrible team and nothing else to lose, so they selected him. He would go on to miss the entire season.
June 13, 2015
Joel Embiid’s CT scan showed that his foot had not healed to the expected degree, putting him at risk for missing a second straight season.
August 18, 2015
Embiid has a second surgery on his foot, effectively ending any chance he had of playing in 2015-16 before that season even began. Two years in, he had played zero games in the league.
February 28, 2016
The Sixers’ top pick from that year’s draft, Jahlil Okafor, was actually enjoying a reasonably productive rookie campaign. But on this date, he suffered what was thought to be a shin contusion. It ended up being a small tear in his knee, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Recovery from the knee injury limited his games the following season, then he would appear in just two games in his third season in the league before the Sixers traded him to Brooklyn. He left Philadelphia having played in only 105 games over parts of three seasons. The Process whiffed on that one.
September 30, 2016
Three months after the Sixers selected him in the NBA draft, top overall pick Ben Simmons hurts his ankle in training camp. He was found to have broken a bone in his foot, with the initial diagnosis being a 3-to-4 month recovery time. But, as we all feared, he missed the whole season. Can’t say it was surprising after the Sixers did their usual lying, procrastinating and withholding of information for most of the season before shutting him down.
October 26, 2016
Over two years after being drafted, Joel Embiid finally plays his first NBA game. He ends up being fantastic, even as the team limits his minutes and gives him planned games off. But despite these precautions, his “rookie” year ends after just 31 games played, as he again is shut down with a knee injury. As usual, the Sixers drag things out and lie through their teeth about it for the last few months of the season.
October 23, 2017
Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in the draft, plays in his fourth career NBA regular season game for the 76ers. But a supposed shoulder injury then shelves him for the next 68 games. It will never be known how much truth there was to the injury claim, but his absence was at least partially attributable to a case of “the yips”, with the situation being made worse by the Sixers’ typical bumbling attempts at a cover-up.
March 28, 2018
In Fultz’s second game back from “injury”, he accidentally runs into Joel Embiid and breaks Embiid’s face, causing him to miss the rest of the regular season and the first few games of the playoffs. But at least we got the whole “Phantom of the Process” thing out of it.
August 6, 2018
First round pick Zhaire Smith breaks his foot. If you’ve been paying attention, you know there is literally no chance he is going to play this season.
Put this all together and it’s pretty spectacular that all this has happened to one team in the span of just six years. Although, you’d be hard-pressed to find a franchise that deserved it more, based on the organizational philosophy they embraced under Sam Hinkie and the lackluster treatment of their fans throughout all this.
But, Smith injury aside, the team appears to have turned the corner and is coming out of its dark time. At the very least, there’s no way the next half-decade or so can be as bad as the last few years have been.
We are still talking about the 76ers though, so never say never.
Not pictured: Bynum's knees buckling under the weight of the jersey
Published August 6, 2018
I know what you’re thinking as we come off an entire weekend celebrating the tenth anniversary of the 2008 World Series Champions. You’re thinking that this current team, even though they’re in first place, doesn’t hold a candle to that squad. And when you look at the luminous careers that many of those players went on to have, you are correct to some degree.
But think really hard to where you were mentally ten years ago. Was it a foregone conclusion that those Phils would steamroll their way to a World Series win? Hopes were high around town, but they were far from favored to go all the way.
On August 6 ten years ago, those Phillies awoke to a 1.5 game lead in the division with a record of 61-51. From that point on, they would go 31-19, although their division lead peaked at 3.5 games, so they never were able to get truly comfortable. Maybe that served them well as they headed into the postseason.
Today, the current iteration of the Phillies is 63-48 and also enjoys a 1.5 game NL East lead. With a nearly identical situation facing them as their predecessors a decade before, maybe the question of whether or not they are better than the 2008 team is the wrong thing to ask. Instead we should ask, can they achieve the same result?
The answer is yes.
Don’t be thrown off by the fact that the Phillies’ infield in 2008 featured the last two NL MVPs in Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, as well as perennial all-star Chase Utley. If we were going to do a position-by-position breakdown of the two clubs, there would be no comparison. That team’s offense was pretty special, even though they did only finish ninth in baseball in runs per game. Instead, they simply depended on home runs, where they ranked second overall.
The current team can’t compete in the power department with the 2008 team, but they have seen an uptick in the long ball recently. The offense’s inconsistency comes to light here and there, but they are playing exactly the way that Gabe Kapler wants them to. So far, you can’t argue with the results.
And at the very least, the 2018 Phillies are better at third base and left field than the 2008 Phillies were, with Odubel Herrera (brain cramps aside) keeping things close in center field as well.
On the pitching side, the raw numbers compared to league averages are actually pretty close, but the eye test confirms that the current rotation is way better than 2008’s. Cole Hamels then vs. Aaron Nola now is an interesting study. Hamels cemented himself as a stud #1 pitcher during the 2008 playoffs, but at this juncture of the season back then, we didn’t know that. I personally feel better about Nola right now than I did about Hamels ten years ago today.
Jake Arrieta, despite some bumps, is still a former Cy Young winner and provides this team with a far superior #2 option than the 2008 Phillies had in Brett Myers. And for all the love that Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton have received since then, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin are a more formidable duo.
And don’t look now, but the Phillies’ current bullpen has been righting the ship of late. Maybe the return of Pat Neshek was the turning point, but at any rate they look to be four or five quality pitchers deep in the bullpen. Obviously, the 2008 ‘pen’s “Bridge to Lidge” was a strength for that team, but maybe these current guys are at least in the discussion as being that good. Remember, 2008 also featured guys like Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin. They had effective seasons, but they weren’t exactly Hall of Famers.
Finally, if the 2018 Phillies are going to pull off the seemingly impossible, they will need some luck on their side. But, you know what, the 2008 team had plenty of it.
In the first round, they drew the Brewers, who only made the playoffs because CC Sabathia dragged him there. He was spent by the time the postseason started.
Then, in the NLCS, they had to deal with the Dodgers after they had surprisingly swept the NL-best Cubs in the first round. Despite heroics from Manny Ramirez, the Phillies clamped down on the rest of the Dodger hitters in a 5-game win. Also, Clayton Kershaw was a rookie and had not yet become the dominant pitcher we all know him to be, so he was a non-factor in the series, throwing just two innings in relief.
Finally, the Phillies were matched up with Tampa in the World Series after they dispatched the defending champion Red Sox in seven games in the ALCS. David Price was the hero in that series, but overrated Rays manager Joe Maddon used him extremely poorly against the Phillies, opening the door for a title to come to town. Also, they were the Rays.
The 2008 Phillies only had the fifth-best record in baseball during the regular season, but things broke the way they needed to, and we will remember them forever because of it.
That 2008 World Series win feels inevitable in hindsight, but it was anything but. In fact, you can argue that the Phillies fielded better teams in the three following seasons, but as we all know, they never hoisted the trophy again.
You simply never know.
Even without a big piece like Manny Machado, the current Phillies have a real chance to be standing on top in late October. Stranger things have happened.
Published August 3, 2018
Eagles great Brian Dawkins takes his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame tomorrow. But you already knew that. It’s been a long time coming.
Dawkins is definitely in the conversation of the greatest Eagles ever, especially among defensive players. Now, many will say that Reggie White is the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL and therefore holds that distinction for the Eagles as well, as he terrorized quarterbacks for eight seasons while wearing Kelly green.
But for my generation, Dawkins is the greatest Eagle we have ever seen.
White left town after the 1992 season. I was eight years old and not able to fully appreciate what he did for the team. But then less than four years later, Brian Dawkins came to town. I was just reaching the age where I could recognize special players when I saw them. And almost immediately, Dawkins gave that impression.
He took hold of the starting free safety position a few weeks into his rookie year of 1996 and he did not relinquish it for the entirety of his time in town, which stretched through the 2008 season. He was also legendarily tough, only twice missing anything that could be considered a significant portion of the season despite playing a decade and a half at full throttle on every play.
A ferocious hitter, outspoken leader and ideal team captain, Dawkins absolutely epitomized everything that Philadelphia fans want their athletes to be. Yes, we frequently delude ourselves into thinking that we are the only town that prizes these kinds of values in their players, but Dawkins certainly seems to have had the good fortune of playing almost his entire career where his style of play would be the most appreciated.
Just look at the #20 Eagles jerseys you see on people’s backs every day, a decade after his time with the team ended. Chase Utley might be the only other athlete of this generation to get that kind of treatment. Rarified air indeed.
Dawkins didn’t even win a championship as a player, yet he still gets this kind of adulation. I’d argue that there isn’t another player anywhere whose fan base loved him more despite the fact that he never brought a title to the town. It is a bit of a dubious distinction to be sure, but it only serves to highlight how special he was to the people that watched him every week and saw his Spartan-like dedication to his team’s success.
Fittingly, Dawkins did win a ring as a team executive last season. If anyone in the organization deserved it, he did, although it wasn’t the same as winning one as a player would have been. Still, a nice capper to his football life.
Dawkins took his natural talent and augmented it with unparalleled hard work and commitment so that he got every last bit out of his career that he could. A superior student of the game as well, he earned every tackle and every interception. Mind and body, he was a complete player. And now he’s a Hall of Famer.
It would be nice to forget about the three seasons he spent in Denver at the end of his career because Eagles’ management made a poor choice letting him go. Not only was he still playing at a high level at the time, but his mere presence served to elevate his teammates to achieve their best as well. You can’t put a price on what he meant to the team, although the Eagles apparently did. And so one can hardly fault Dawkins for harboring a grudge about the way he left town.
But to us fans, he never left. And it was truly special to see him come back to the Eagles’ organization after his playing days ended. He has moved on once again now to seek other opportunities, which is well-deserved on his part, as he has accomplished everything he could in the game of football. He has given all he could, especially to this town and these fans. And we love him for it.
Tomorrow, the greatest Eagle I have ever seen becomes a Hall of Famer. And even if you don’t think he’s the best you’ve ever seen, you have to admit, he was everything that we want a professional athlete to be.
The perfect Philadelphia Eagle.
I think he was pretty good.