Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year End 2011, Bring on 2012

2011 was a season of high expectations  that ended that were not realized in three of the four major Philadelphia pro-sports (the Sixers may have actually exceed expectation in making the playoffs and extending the despised Heat to 5 games). The Phillies certainly built a team that appeared more than capable of winning the World Series, they just ran into the improbable, and very entertaining run of the St. Louis Cardinals (you have no idea how much it galls me to say that, for me, the Cardinals are the Dallas Cowboys of baseball), a run that highlighted why I believe baseball is the best of all sports, and why I believe that sports has so much to teach, that you never quit, no matter the odds, you play until it is over. In Baseball, you can never run out of time, you play until you win or lose. Are the Phillies still poised for success in 2012? Yes, but the window is rapidly closing for this talented but aging team.  The Flyers also lost to the eventual champions, but their shortcomings were exposed and they essentially blew up the team and started over with talented, and so far at least, hungry youth. Will it pan out?  We’ll see, but indications are they’ll be in the mix.  The Dream team, built like a fantasy football team, disappointed early before making a late run to respectability that was too little, too late. What about next year? Do we give Andy Reid and his plans one more chance?  I say yes, this team has holes, certainly, but a lot of talent. The window is still too far open to blow it up and start again. If they falter again next year, that may be the time for major change. Any way you look at it, 2012 has the chance to be very special, either for fulfilling promise or spectacularly dashing our hopes once again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis? Dontrelle that is!

The Phillies have taken their annual flyer on a former high draft pick (see Kris Benson, Matt Anderson) who has fallen on hard times in the hopes of capturing some of that bygone magic, this time in the person of Dontrelle Willis, former rookie of the year and second place finisher in the 2005 Cy Young race. Willis, still only 29 has not had any success in the major leagues since 2006, mostly due to control problems. However, he has held lefthanded hitters to a .200 average throughout his career, and an even better .127 average in 2011. The Phillies plan on using him as a situational lefthander, one brought in almost exclusively to face lefthanders, and this fact may result in a career resuscitation for  the D-train and  a big boon for the Phillies. Using him in a role in which he is well-suited should do much to restore his confidence. Plus, he can really hit, in 34 major-league plate appearances last year, he hit .387 with a homer, a triple and three doubles (1.032 OPS). With Willis, Lee, Hamels, and Joe Savery the Phillies will really be carrying some lumber on their pitching staff.   All in all, the D-train is a chance well worth taking for the Phillies.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Eagles should start Kafka if Vick can’t Go

Had enough of watching Vince Young quarterback the Eagles? I have. Vince was always a thrill ‘em or kill ‘em quarterback, one who could over come his poor mechanics and tendency to leave his receivers hung out to dry with his amazing scrambling and escape ability.  Seemingly no longer able to thrill ‘em , Vince has really showed none of the elusiveness and scrambling ability he displayed in his days at the university of Texas or his early years with Tennessee, we are left with the kill’em. His passes tend to be high floaters that even when completed lead his receivers into the dangerous territory patrolled by the headhunters in the defensive secondary.
Vince was brought in the rehabilitate his playing image similar to the way Michael Vick did, hopefully parlaying his retooling into a similarly large contract. Alas for both the Eagles and himself, he has been unable to do so. He will not be back next year, and as such, the Eagles owe it to themselves to see what Kafka can bring if Vick is still not healthy enough to play. Kafka could easily return as a backup quarterback next year, and now is the time, during this lost season, to see if he can fill in capably in the face of the seemingly inevitable Vick injury.  If he cannot, the Eagles can begin to plan on an alternative, either through free agency or the draft. Any way you look at it, Vince Young’s time with the team is over, and whether they admit it or not, the receivers will be thankful.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fire Andy? Maybe not yet

If last night’s 31-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks is any indication, the Eagles have packed it in for the season.  Very few players showed the kind of effort required to win in the National Football League as the equally playoff challenged Seahawks ran roughshod over the Eagles “defenders” (a term I use loosely).
DeSean Jackson, especially, appears to be mailing it in (way to make a case for that big contract, DeSean!).  I’ve been a Reid supporter for some time (Having watched the Eagles trot out too many inept coaches over the years to casually throw the winningest coach in their history out so quickly.) However, I do believe it is time for some massive changes. First, and foremost, relieve Andy of his position of personnel director. He has not shown himself to be the shrewdest talent evaluator as the lack of impact players from his recent drafts (the aforementioned DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy being exceptions).        
He has also not shown himself to be particularly adaptable during games, failing time and again to make adjustments when his meticulously thought out game plan goes awry.  He, and his thorough planning were thrown off by the lockout, his thorough building block plans and fondness for complexity in both his offense and defensive strategies undercut by lack of preparation time.  A more flexible coach would simplify and move forward. Flexible, Andy is not.
However, these qualities can be serious strengths when given time to prepare. Next year, with no threat of labor strife, he will be able to plan all offseason. That talent he has gathered can be molded into a cohesive unit. Juan Castillo should he be retained (and, unless a stellar coordinator becomes available I believe he should be)and he will be better with experience. He should be allowed to mold the defense in his own image, however. The current system predicated on a heavy pass rush generated by the wide nine alignment coupled with strong secondary coverage, requires at least decent linebacker play to defend the run(and make tackles) and cover the tight end, two areas where the Eagles are particularly deficient. Castillo, a former linebacker himself, must be allowed to upgrade the position either through the draft or fee-agency.
Reid should be made to get a game day coach, something new in the NFL, someone who specializes in in-game adjustments to compensate for Andy’s weaknesses. Players are substituted for when situations are occur in which they are unlikely to be successful, coaches can be too.  Unless Bill Belichick wants to come here, I believe Andy Reid should be allowed at least one more of the two years remaining on his contract to right the ship, but that doesn’t mean he needs to be given the same level of autonomy he currently employs. Force him to make some changes and both he and the Eagles should be better for it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Horror in Happy Valley

Jerry Sandusky, a man who, other than Joe Paterno, was the face of PSU football for 30 years, the architect of some of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen, is accused of praying on children he was entrusted to help. I'm just disgusted. This is the worst, worse than Free Shoes University, Cam Newton’s father shopping his son’s services to the highest bidder, UConn’s complete lack of academic progress, Tattoogate.  Appalling.  So many people trusted and respected this man.

I'm trying to cling to some hope, he hasn't yet been convicted, and despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence, he might be innocent (remember Dominique Strauss-Khan?) But if it's true, the coverup-for 7 years before news leaked...unforgivable.  If the administration conspired to cover up these shameful events, as it seems they must have, they must immediately end their association with the University, if not voluntarily, then by dismissal. There is absolutely no excuse for keeping such appalling crimes against young people secret, thereby implicitly condoning them.
There goes my foundation for smug superiority over most other big time football schools.  All my life I’ve been Penn State Proud. No longer. My shame and embarrassment pale in comparison to what was allegedly done to these young people.

This is indeed a dark day for those of us who bleed blue and white.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Has LaRussa changed the game again?

Twenty years ago, Tony LaRussa changed the way modern baseball is played, essentially creating the role of the modern one inning closer with his innovation of having Dennis Eckersly start the ninth inning in save situations with a clean slate, usually resulting in a quick 1-2-3 inning...Game Over! Prior to that, closers rarely came in unless the previous pitcher had run into trouble, usually leaving a couple of men on base for the closer to clean up. A far more difficult task with almost no margin for error.   This has lead to the modern era of cheap saves, and a manager's reluctance to use his best reliever, usually the closer, in any key situation that may arise before the ninth.
Now LaRussa is at it again. Using his entire bullpen almost very game in the NLCS vs. Milwaukee, matching up where he feels each has the advantage of opposing hitters. Sure, someone starts the game but there are no traditional starters. no one will see each pitcher a second or third time through the lineup. Good major league hitters usually begin to feast on all but the best pitchers at these times, they figure out what the pitcher is trying to do just as the pitcher is starting to tire, a lethal combination!  By changing pitchers so often, in the new LaRussa method, no pitcher faces a batter twice, all the pitchers are fresh and their stuff is at it's sharpest, pitchers can pitch almost every could revolutionize the game again. Teams with less talented starters (the Phillies will be very late adopters of this change) can use formerly weaker starting pitchers more frequently for shorter periods (think Kyle Kendrick, moderate stuff, but usually effective once or so through the lineup), will suddenly have effective staffs overall.
Batting averages will tumble. The game will change and adapt...for the better or worse? That depends on unforeseen consequences (will pitchers develop as well in the minors if they are never allowed starter innings to work on their craft?), or will they pitcher frequently enough that they end up with approximately the same number of innings, rendering the point moot?  I don't know, but the constant changes, the moves and counter moves (yes, the hitters will adapt) are what make baseball ever fascinating

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An early look at the 2012 Phillies Roster

We looked at the Phillies impending free agents, let’s look at what next year’s team should look like.  The four aces plus the Vanimal return, again providing the Phillies with the best roataion in baseball. Joe Blanton is under contract, and having been injured all year, we might be stuck with him, but if we can trade him, adios.  Kyle Kendrick proved valuable in a swing role, but is replaceable. If we can trade him for a need, do so. The bullpen can be filled from within and will look something like this: Antonio Bastardo (L), Joe Savery (L), , David Herndon, Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, Michael Schwimer and Mike Stutes (possibly substituting Kendrick for Blanton depending on trade possibilities). There is the 12 man pitching staff.
            In the infield, Polanco, Utley, Rollins (or prospect Freddy Galvis if Rollins signs elsewhere) and Mayberry, at least until Howard returns (usual recovery time from Achilles tendon surgery is 6 to 9 months).  The infield is aging, and none of these players (excepting Mayberry) is likely to play a full season (injuries must be factored in). I’d like to see them sign a more viable offensive infielder, one who would be an almost every day player, starting at very infield position and giving that player a day off. In other words, five players filling four positions, each one getting rest and , if all goes according to plan, staying more productive throughout the season because of this rotation. Texas’ Michael Young would be ideal.  In addition to these five, one more tradition utility player, Wilson Valdez, would make the team. Two catchers, this year’s tandem  Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider (excellent defensively, can’t hit a lick) return, at least until prospect Sebastion Valle is ready (expect to see him at Reading this year).
That brings the roster to 20, with the five remaining spots going to outfielders Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Domonic Brown.  Bring back Ibanez as left-handed pinch hitter and Ben Francisco as the right-handed pinch hitter and we’re set.  Mayberry can also fill in here as well, and will likely do so when Howard returns. 
            Of course, this looks very much like this year’s roster, and one thing we’ve seen from General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., he’s not afraid to make a bold move, something to shake up a batting lineup that has perhaps gone a little stale.  The winter meetings should be veeeery interesting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

This is how the season ends, not with a bang, but a Rupture…

            Achilles tendon, that is. As in Ryan Howard’s on the last play of the Phillies 2011 season. The play left Howard sprawled in the dirt, facing surgery, as the season came to a close. Are the current Phillies facing similar surgery? With a record payroll, a roster full of aging, but still productive players, what should they do. What should be there game plan?   Impending free agents Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson are in for big paydays, should they be resigned? Rollins almost definitely, unless someone else offers him Jayson Werth crazy money; Madson, it depends. Super-agent Scott Boras represents Madson, meaning his price tag is likely to be astronomical.  Is inexpensive internal solution Antonio Bastardo ready, or his September swoon too scary to entrust the ninth to him?  Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge have expensive club options, should they be picked up? Oswalt probably yes, Lidge almost certainly no. However, he might be willing to resign at a lower rate, especially if Madson leaves. An inexpensive closer combination of Bastardo and Lidge may do just fine.
            Raul Ibanez’ contract is up, and he almost certainly won’t be resigned, unless he’s willing to come back as Ross Gload. Speaking of Gload, who gamely battled through a painful hip injury that severely limited his ability to play in the field…waive bye bye. He did his job, but he’s expendable. 
            So we’ve reviewed impending free agents , who can or should leave, next time we’ll discuss who can and should stay and what the team should look like.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Playoff Baseball... Catch It!

If last night’s finish to the MLB regular season is indicative of what’s in store for the playoffs, we, as fans, are in for a real treat!  In playoff baseball, every out is important and teams never quit. Tampa Bay, behind 7-0 to the Yankees in the eighth inning, with their playoff lives hanging by a thread, battled back, scoring six runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull within one, then, with 0.108 hitting Dan Johnson at the plate and down to his last strike in the bottom of the ninth, ties the score at 7 with an improbable pinch-hit homerun. Tampa wins the game in the bottom of the twelfth when Evan Longoria hits his second home run of the game, completing an improbable comeback in the game, and the season as the Boston Red Sox blew a nine game lead after September 3 in the wild card race when they gave up a two run lead in the ninth inning of their last game and lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-3. Meanwhile, in the National League the Braves completed a similar collapse, losing to the Phillies 4-3 in thirteen innings while the St. Louis Cardinals finished off their own hot streak, overcoming Atlanta’s 10.5 game lead in the wild card standings on Aug 25 by winning 23 of their last 31 games.  The Phillies meaningless victory over the Braves guarantees them a series against these same red-hot Cardinals where each game is sure to be fought to the last out. In baseball, unlike other sports, you can never run out of time, until that final out is made you always have a chance. This intensity is ratcheted up in the playoffs where the stakes are so high, the intensity level so strong, that playoff baseball is the most entertaining, nerve-racking, exciting sporting event there is, and I, for one, can’t wait!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

All we are saying, is give Reid a chance

To listen to all the hue and cry emanating from Eagles fans you’d think Andy Reid had lost his mind and forgotten how to coach.  On the contrary, the one thing you can count on with the best coach in Eagles history is that he won’t change.  Reid is what he is, a great organizer and planner who prepares so well, and gets so locked in, that when the game starts, he cannot adjust, or at least until he explores all his contingency plans (this frequently results in wasted timeouts or delay of game penalties as he pours over his myriad options).   His preparation can’t be faulted. Where he might receive criticism is an inability to acknowledge his weakness, that in-game adjustments aren’t his strong suit and hiring a coach with this talent to help during the games. Not recognizing one’s own faults is an all too common trait.
Defensively, he has never valued linebackers, preferring to pressure the quarterback and cover receivers downfield, thus Eagles linebackers are frequently inexperienced low round draft picks or undrafted free agents.   This philosophy is not necessarily erroneous as during Reid’s tenure the Eagles defense usually ranks near the top of the league.  Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is learning, but all indications are no one works harder. I firmly believe He will adjust and integrate the many new players into the system   The Eagles have frequently started seasons poorly, but Reid usually gets things straightened out by October.  Let’s give him the chance again before we all fracture our ankles jumping off the bandwagon.  To all those calling for his ouster, I have two words:  Rich Kotite.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Bolden" go Where No Man has Gone Before

Saturday’s 41-7 victory over Indiana State couldn’t have been heartening to Penn State fans. The game was not expected to be more than a tune-up for next week’s big game against number 1 Alabama, and, it lived up to expectations. What fans hoped to get out of the game was an indication as to which quarterback should lead the offense, sophomore Rob Bolden or redshirt junior Matt McGloin . Instead, what we got was what we had going in, as the inadvertent graphic on the Big Ten Network broadcast displayed…Rob McGloin. Neither quarterback set the world on fire. Neither was terrible. McGloin's stats were slightly better, but Bolden's two long passes dropped by wide receivers.  My informal exit poll of fans leaving Beaver Stadium on Saturday was that the team looked more energetic with McGloin, and for this reason, he should be the starter.   I agree, they did look more energetic, but disagree in thinking this should make him the starter. This energy burst added by McGloin makes him the perfect reliever.   Bolden is the more talented of the two, but the less experienced (at least in terms of practicing the PSU offensive system).  McGloin, for all his energy, has a few flaws, chief of which is a tendency to attempt to force something that is not there. The more he plays, the more these flaws are exposed. However, if the PSU offense were bogged down, going nowhere, this aggressiveness and energy may prove to be the perfect pick-me- up (see last year’s Northwestern game, Paterno’s 400th victory, as example 1-A.) Bolden may or may not live up to the hype his status as a prime recruit engendered,  but he will have the chance to better develop  by starting and being given the opportunity to show that he can be the man for the next three seasons.  McGloin has shown he can be the energy boost needed to kick start a desultory performance, but when he is overexposed (see his five interception bowl performance), his flaws emerge for all to see.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The "U" Cheating? As the late, great Rich Ashburn used to say, "Hard to believe, Harry!"

I don't know about you, but I'm still in shock that those paragons of virtue at the University Miami were caught cheating. in college football.  If it could happen at a stellar program like Miami, where else could it occur? Florida State? Texas? Oklahoma? Somewhere in the SEC? The mind boggles.

Poor Al Golden, the Penn State grad was brought in, without a whiff of scandal, mind you, to take over what must have seemed a plum job at Miami after performing miracles at Temple.  In recent years Miami had seemed to overcome it's outlaw reputation, well earned under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Ericsson. It seems the "U" has been under investigation for some time, something for which they must have been aware, yet no hint of this pending thundercloud was leaked to Al as they enticed him south from not quite as sunny North Philadelphia. (Or, maybe he did know and my opinion is clouded by my blue and white colored glasses, but, somehow, I doubt it).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Five more Years!

I just read where Joe Paterno announced he wanted to coach for 5 more years. He’s been saying that since  I arrived at Penn State as a freshman in 1981, and if you ask me, he’s more than earned that right. Aside from being the winningest coach in major college history, Penn State fans can proceed with certainty that no Tressel-like revelations will ever taint their accomplishments as long as Paterno is there. Accusations that the game has passed him by are so much bunk as well. It’s been years since the old joke about the golfer buying Joe Paterno golf balls (guaranteed to go straight up the middle three out four times) was relevant. The offensive powerhouse of non-crowned but true national champion 1994 put the lie to that old saw forever. And the quarterback from that team? Local legend Kerry Collins. He just retired from the NFL where he played 17 seasons!  So no, the game hasn’t passed Joe by.  Despite rumors planted by rival schools trying to steal recruits from Penn State, Joe has no plans of retiring. So, here’s to five more years (and if he wants, five more after that)!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strange New World For the Eagles

The Eagles have waived goodbye to all their free-agents. How strange. I thought some were worth retaining (Middle Linebacker Stewart Bradley, running back Jerome Harrison, punter Sav Rocca), but history has shown, once the Eagles get rid of a player his days as a productive player are virtually over (witness Donovan McNabb, now a Viking for a mere sixth round pick, the Eagles thoroughly fleeced the Redskins on that one). As of now, it appears the Eagles will have rookie starters at right guard (First round pick Danny Watkins), middle linebacker (Casey Mathews), punter (Chas Henry), kicker (Alex Henery), and safety (Jaiquawn Jarrett).  Will the inexperience derail their Super Bowl hopes, or will youthful exuberance coupled with a simplified defensive scheme installed by new coordinator Juan Castillo finally lead them to the promised land? Of course, the Eagles hopes, as always, will rely on the potentially transcendent offense lead by Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, who, if they remain healthy, should be more than up to the task. And what of new reclamation project Vince Young? The Eagles have certainly cornered the market on athletic quarterbacks.  It should be a very interesting training camp as we see these disparate pieces come tighter without the benefit of the usual off-season minicamps etc.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They’re back!!!

The NFL is back, and for a self-avowed transaction junkie today is like Christmas morning. Will the Eagles sign a marquee free agent such as Nnamdi Asomugha? Will Kevin Kolb be shipped to the Cardinals? For who, For what? (Hmm, I think I heard that somewhere before) What Undrafted Rookie Agents will we sign, and will any be a diamond in the rough? Who’s going to end up where?  (What’s that? Downingtown East grad and Penn State traitor Pat Devlin has signed with Miami to compete against Wilson grad and Penn State spurner Chad Henne. For the starting QB spot.  How intriguing!) The Cowboys cut Marion Barber? What about Plaxico? All this has to be done in a rush as training camp opens…tomorrow!  Did the Eagles plan properly (they usually plan very well, it's once the game starts they have their issues, but that's another story) How can I follow it all? Will I get any work done?  All this and the MLB trade deadline too!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's In a Name?

  I myself prefer alliterative names, something with some meaning though.  I would have liked the name appropriated for the Flyers AHL franchise, The Phantoms.  
Names related to the region also work well, such as the 76ers, 49ers, Marlins, Cowboys (I hate giving them any props, but their name fits).
Fierce animal names are popular, Tigers, Bears..Cubs…Cubs?
 In the formative years of professional baseball teams were often called after their uniform color, hence we have such clever monikers as Red Sox, White Sox, Red Stockings and Brown Stockings (later shortened to Reds and Browns, though baseball’s St. Louis Browns, who currently reside in Baltimore and are known as the Orioles, are not to be confused with the Cleveland Browns, imaginatively named after coach Paul Brown, and my choice for third worst team nickname). Even these unimaginative choices would be better than Phillies.
World team tennis has appropriated perhaps the best combination of alliteration and local flavor, The Philadelphia Freedom. The baseball team could show a little muscle and push World Team tennis aside taking the name for a far more popular sport.  Or perhaps, a combination referencing the big money aspect of modern professional sport and local history…the Philadelphia Benjamins.
What do you think? Should we start a grass-roots campaign to rename our Phillies to something more meaningful, and far far cooler? Or , am I , like Don Quixote, merely tilting at windmills, taking aim at a beloved, if meaningless, traditional name? Let me know, and feel free to add your own suggestions.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Breakdown at the Break

The All-Star game is the metaphorical halfway point of the season and traditionally a time for baseball pundits to hand out midseason grades. Rather than closely follow tradition (and seriously, how bad could any grade be for a team with the best record in baseball?), I’d like to discuss how the Phillies will look for the rest of the season, what changes they should make,  and most importantly, will they succeed in the post season?  Right now, the two areas the Phillies most need to address are an inconsistent offense and the soft middle of their bullpen.  The offense has been an issue all year, but what to do? As stated in an earlier post, the available trade acquisitions, or, at least those discussed in rumors, represent marginal improvement at best. (never underestimate the ability of  Phils GM Ruben Amaro to surprise with a blockbuster out of , ahem, left field). The Phillies would most likely be better off allowing their younger players (Domonic Brown and John Mayberry) to grow while sharing playing time with seasoned veterans Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco.  Manager Charlie Manual has been harping on the players to take more intelligent at bats (Jimmy, in other words, when the opposition has just walked the pitcher on four pitches there is no need to swing at the first pitch) and the lineup has started to finally show signs of listening. Ryan Howard’s homerun numbers may be down but his RBI remain near the top of the league because of his willingness to take what the pitcher gives, cut down his swing and drive in runs with a base hit, sac fly, or ground ball.  Chase Utley (rounding into form), and even Shane Victorino have shown similar tendencies.  If they can keep up this trend in the second half with the pitching they have they should win the division going away.  This approach will serve them well in the playoffs as well, where all pitching is tough and runs are at a premium.
            The bullpen issues should also resolve themselves. Key performances from youngsters Antonio Bastardo , Michael Stutes, and even Juan Perez have been offset by mediocre (or worse) showings by David Herndon, Andrew Carpenter, Scott Mathieson (just optioned back to Lehigh Valley) and Danys Baez.  Waiting in the wings, however, are rehabbing veterans Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, and further down the road Joe Blanton, Roy Oswalt and Jose Conteras. Their return will allow the productive kids to slide back to more supportive rolls and the non-productive kids to slide back to Triple A.  Danys Baez has been a mentor to the young guns, teaching them about preparation, focus, how to shake off a bad outing  (he should know), and for this he gets to stay. (If they get to him the game is out of hand anyway). You know what they say, those who can’t do…teach.
            The Phillies, in other words, are in great shape, both for reaching the post-season and for succeeding there as well.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Flyers continue to channel Steinbrenner

Jaromir Jagr? The Flyers have finally rectified their mistake of drafting Mike Ricci instead of Jaromir Jagr in the 1990 draft. They've signed Jagr to a one year contract worth a reported $3.3 million.  I'm sure he's not over the hill at all (see: Paul Coffey, Tony Amonte, Peter Forsberg, et al) They've now employed at one time or another 4 of the top 5 picks of that draft..Ricci, Keith Primeau, Petr Nedved, and now Jagr, missing out only on top pick Owen Nolan (say, I wonder what he's doing nowadays?)

Bullpens? We don’t need no stinking bullpens!

                The recent dominance of Cliff Lee has been dissected in the media much of late, and deservedly so.  As a partial season ticket holder , I was able to witness Lee’s latest masterpiece against American League favorite Boston first-hand. (Curiously, though I’ve had this ticket package for 26 years, it was the first time I’ve seen Lee live, I seem to be on the Kendrick plan, having caught Kendrick, Blanton, or Worley in seven  of the nine games I’ve attended thus far, but I digress ).  Lee’s June statistics are astounding, 5-0 record, 32 straight scoreless innings (5th all-time in Phillies history, only 1 earned run allowed the entire month for an ERA of 0.21, 3 straight complete game shutouts, the first time a Phillies pitcher accomplished this since Hall of Famer Robin Roberts did so in 1950.) While this brilliance is amazing, the reason Lee is truly loved in Philadelphia, is his overall dedication and respect for the game. In the third inning he hit a sharp grounder to the third baseman and busted so hard down the line he almost turned a routine grounder into an infield single, being retired by a mere step. When was the last time you saw a pitcher run out a routine ground ball so hard?  Lee received a standing ovation from the Phillies fans for his hustle (it is this type of appreciation for his efforts that I believe is the true reason he spurned the extra millions proffered by the Yankees and returned to Philly).  In his next at bat, with Shane Victorino on third and one out, Lee lofted a fly ball to deep left, easily scoring the run. It was obvious in his approach that this was what he was trying to accomplish, and despite his status as a pitcher, and despite the fact that he was facing Red Sox ace Josh Beckett (who had an incredible 1.86 era at the time), I was more confident he would get the run home than I would be if certain position players had been at the plate in the same situation (Poor plate approaches by Phillie batters will be a topic for a future post).  Lee appeared to tire in the seventh, allowing two baserunners before inducing a double play to end the threat.   I presumed manager Charlie Manual would move to the bullpen, but Bulldog Lee’s pitch velocity in the eighth and ninth innings matched what he had been throwing in the first and he closed out a game , and a month for the ages.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Are the Flyers, the Yankees of the NHL?

You have to give the Flyers credit. They never rest on their laurels (even if those laurels are looking a little wilted after 36 years) and wait for something good to happen. They are always pushing to enhance their chances of winning the Stanley Cup, and they, more than any other Philadelphia team, reflect the fan base, aggressively focused on winning, occasionally to their own detriment, jettisoning young talent when a little patience would serve  them better (remember Patrick Sharp, Joni Pitkanen, Dainius Zubrus?).  Similar to the Yankees in the 80’s, they bring in fading stars who excite the fans, but whose best years are behind them, players such as Paul Coffey,  Adam Oates,  Tony Amonte, Petr Nedved, and  goalies such as John Vanbiesbrouck and  Sean Burke (twice). Well, they’ve done it again, jettisoning young captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter to sign productive, but aging (31) goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine year contract.  Bryzgalov almost certainly has a few highly productive years remaining..but nine?  And what happens to last year’s goalie of the future,  Sergei Bobrovsky. Obviously, the future came and went for the 22 year old.   The Flyers brought in quite a haul of talented but unproven players in the Richards and Carter deals, but will they be allowed to develop, or will they too become victims of Ed Snider’s Steinbrenner like impatience?  Of course, if Bryzgalov leads them to the Cup that they’ve been single-mindedly chasing since 1975, no one will care.  The Flyers are always trying, and for that, credit must be given where credit is due.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Take that Home Run Ball and …

I was at the  Phillies game last week when Ryan Madson blew his first save of the year against the Cubs.  He allowed Geovanny Soto to hit the tying home run in the ninth inning of a game the Phillies would go on to lose in the 11th.  Madson very nearly gave up the winning run when the next batter, Tyler Colvin, hit an apparent go ahead home run putting the Phillies behind 4-3.  Charlie Manual requested a review and the umpires overturned the ruling, determining a fan had reached over the wall to pull the home run ball in. Colvin was awarded a ground rule double, Madson closed the door and the game went into extra innings. What struck me was not that replay worked (and I didn’t see the replay until I got home and watched on TV due to the ballparks restriction on showing close plays on the big scoreboard), but that the fan reached over the wall to grab the ball, potentially costing the Phillies the game, only to throw the ball back!  I understand wanting a souvenir and a home run ball is quite a prize, but throwing it back? This has long been a tradition in Chicago, but is relatively new in Philadelphia where it has only been the norm for the last few years.  What really bugs me is…we had to steal a tradition from the Cubs?   Their track record of success is that strong that we thought we’d emulate them? (Though, to be sure, until 2008 they’d won twice as many World Series as the Phils, so goat or no goat, what do they have to complain about)?  I know, if I ever catch a homerun ball hit by the opposition (a negligible prospect given that my seats are behind third base), there is no chance that ball isn’t going home with me…no matter what the peer pressure.  Let’s keep our own traditions, ringing the “Liberty Bell” for home runs, Harry Kalas singing High Hopes after victories, Kate Smith’s  God Bless America before key Flyers games, even the awful Fly Eagles Fly after touchdowns (it does pull you in at the Linc, its so bad, its good!) So, denizens of the outfield seats of Citizen’s Bank park, “Take that Home Run Ball and …Keep It!”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are Phils offensive enough?

Okay, not really offensive, but do they have enough offense to support their stellar pitching staff? The notoriously impatient fanbase doesn’t think so, openly clambering for GM Ruben Amaro to trade for an established bat.  But, money matters aside (and they can never really be put aside), who would they get and where would he play?  Realistically, all the infield spots, catcher, and centerfield are locked in with well established, and well-beloved players.  Rightfield is the province of phenom Domonic Brown who has hardly been given the chance to prove or disprove the hype so…we are left with leftfield, currently manned be Raul Ibanez, whose high salary and advanced years make him practically untradeable. Additionally, after a horrendous start, Raul has produced steady, if unspectacular, numbers, in fact, numbers that are quite similar to those produced by any of the available “names” that have been bandied about, names such as Michael Cuddyer of the Twins or Carlos Quentin of the White Sox.  Personally, I’d rather see them platoon Raul with current Iron Pig John Mayberry. Each has holes in his swing, but is capable of more than adequate major league production if used properly.   Mayberry just kills lefthanded fastball pitchers and can handle lefty breaking ballers, which are currently giving Ibanez fits. Plus, he provides far superior speed and defense than any Phillie outfielder this side of Victorino.  Ibanez, while aging, can still be productive if placed in positions he is more likely to succeed. Best of all, both are here already. Mayberry can be recalled by eliminating the "finished" human walk machine, J.C. Romero and going with 11 pitchers ( a twelfth is really unnecessary with this starting staff and, of course, secret weapon Wilson Valdez), or, if the twelfth is a must, then returning versatile, if overmatched, Michael Martinez to the Nationals. Players like him are a dime a dozen, and with the current lack of offense, can be sacrificed on the altar of production.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Raiders Baseball has a Bright Future

Despite Twin Valley’s recent defeat in the quarterfinals of the state baseball tournament at the hands of Blue Mountain, the future is indeed bright for the team that calls the windblown field on top of the hill home.   Most key performers are returning, with the exception of graduating rightfielder Brandin Snyder, including standouts Jared Price, Izzack Albright, Billy Reardon, Matt McInaw and Jeremy Rahn.  Hopefully, the Raiders will use the experience gained through advancing to the state quarterfinals for the third straight year to avoid the “one bad inning” syndrome that seemed to plague them this year.  Coach Matt Royer won’t allow the Raiders to think they can just throw their gloves on the field and expect their opponents to cower in terror. I, for one, don’t expect that to happen either. This is a hardworking group of kids who will use their loss this year as motivation to come back even more prepared next season. As one hit wonders Timbuk3 once (many years ago)  proclaimed….Their Future’s so Bright They Gotta Wear Shades!