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.