Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quite the Turnaround

            The Eagles turnaround from worst to first was impressive for several reasons, the fact that so many of the key players on the current roster were the same players who came in last in 2012, the fact that an entirely new defensive scheme was introduced, a bend-but-don’t break 3-4  that was almost 180 degrees opposite from the previous regime’s blitz-heavy 4-3, the fact that a new head coach with no NFL experience was bringing all sorts of new philosophies (quick tempo, different practice schedule, a reliance on sports science) to a team full of jaded NFL veterans who were likely to rebel against this college coaches ideas, and, perhaps most impressively, the team’s ability to gel despite the potentially fractious nature of the Riley Cooper fiasco makes this division title all the more remarkable. 

            After losing their first four home games of the season the Eagles now have a home playoff game, against the offensively prolific Saints, a tough matchup, but one that should be easier for the Eagles to play in the cold of Philadelphia rather than the Superdome in New Orleans where the Saints are almost unstoppable.  Win or lose, it has been an incredible season for Chip Kelly and the Eagles. The game Saturday night should continue this incredibly entertaining season , one made even more so in comparison with the desultory 2012.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The “Blizzard Game’ shows difference between Kelly & Reid

I love snow gams in the NFL , but for a while it looked like it was really going to kill the Eagles in their game against the Lions. The Eagles did nothing in the first half offensively. The passing game was non-existent and it looked like Shady McCoy wouldn’t be able to employ his patented jump cuts and direction changes with the footing so uncertain.  I even wanted them to play Polk with his power running style instead of LeSean (good thing I'm not coaching).  Kelly made adjustments at halftime, however, changing to a running McCoy between the tackles and even taking advice from a defensive back who suggested long post patterns, assuming correctly, that if he couldn’t turn and run with a receiver their defenders wouldn’t be able to do so either. Reid, for all his strengths, and his greatest was meticulous planning, was unable to adjust quickly. Convinced his detailed gameplan was the right way to attack a team, he stubbornly refused to adjust when the opponent provided evidence to the contrary. Kelly,  on the other hand, really seems to understand how to use his offensive personnel, and it appears he lets the defensive coaches run the defense...imagine that!  He's improving on his game management as well (his early troubles seem to be from inexperience with the pro-game (understandable) and because he was focusing on teaching his schemes to the players (also understandable). Things bode well for the future, and they should be able to concentrate on the defense in the draft (they are not terrible by any means, but some more athletic secondary players would be nice). Of course, if Johnny Manziel is there (he won't be), you still grab him. As good as Foles has been playing, Manziel looks perfect for Kelly’s offense. I'd plan on keeping Foles the starter going into 2014. If he falters next year, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota should be coming out in 2015 and the Eagles we can try for him.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Can Pedro Feliz be far behind? How 'bout Burrell? (Shane is stuck winning championships in Boston, poor guy).

I'm seriously very glad to have Ruiz back, he made the most sense for the Phils, and he can mentor whichever young catcher they bring along. He may not be able to catch 135 games any longer, but if he can catch 90 and , say Tommy Joseph can handle the other 72 while learning from the master the Phillies will be in fine shape. Ruiz' workload should diminish over the life of his 3 year deal, but he's well worth the cost in clubhouse leadership, fan support, and loyalty alone.

Glad to have you here, Chooch.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

World Series great baseball despite the absence of the Phillies

The World Series, despite the absence of the Phillies, and in spite of the presence of my least favorite team , the St. Louis Cardinals, whom I consider to be the Dallas Cowboys of MLB, (I'll never forgive them for J.D. Drew, among other transgressions), has been wonderful baseball. Two games ended on strange plays you almost never see, well, at least not as game-ending plays, let alone game-ending plays in the World Series, a walk –off fielder interference play in game three, and a pinch runner, Kolten Wong, someone only getting the opportunity to play in the World Series because they supposedly were a better option the lame Allen Craig, instead getting picked off first base for a walk-off pick-off in game four. The look on Carlos Beltran’s face as he stood at home plate, the bat suddenly taken out of his hands, was priceless.
Otherwise, great pitching, great defense, David Ortiz so hot you are amazed when he doesn’t get a hit…and, the one thing that to my mind, makes baseball better than any other sport, you never run out of time. No matter how far you get behind, you don’t lose until you make that third out in the ninth inning. Therefore, especially in the playoffs, you never see anyone give up, there’s always a chance.  To me, it’s what makes baseball the best, by far. It’s almost over for the year. Catch it while you can.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Philadelphia Fallows?

Are Philadelphia sports entering one of their all too frequent fallow periods? The Phillies missed the playoffs for the second straight year, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2002, the Eagles are 1 and 3, just gave up 52 points in a single game, and are struggling trying to implement a college system in the NFL, and are attempting to play a type of defense their personnel are unsuited for. The Flyers also missed the playoffs and start the season with an untested goalie, and the Sixers, well, they are playing for the number one draft pick in the NBA draft with a roster so bereft of talent that more fans may show up to boo the owner for buying the Flyers hated rival the Jersey Devils than to actually watch the team play. However, unlike previous periods, there actually is some hope. The Phillies have the funds to remake their roster, the Eagles, despite their numerous mistakes, are entraining and play in a division that I so bad, a 1-3 record leaves them a mere one game out of first place. The Flyers have a lot of young talent, one that could put it all together the way the Phillies did in 2007, and the Sixers , instead of patching a mediocre roster, have at least acknowledged the need to start over, and have acquired the draft picks to do so. It may be a fallow period, but it is not one bereft of hope as so many seasons in Philadelphia sports history have been.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

With Charlie fired, what is the plan for next year?

First of all, forget the interim tag on Sandberg. He will be back. The young guys on the roster (and maybe some of the vets too!) should consider this a tryout for 2014.
2014 is not lost. The Phillies have potentially good pitching, though with a lot of ifs (if Halladay comes back improved, and if anyone can, he can), plus Hamels, Lee, Gonzalez, the Cuban defector, (if they actually finalize the signing, and Kendrick back to #5 (He's a pretty good 5, not so good a 3). Additionally, I'd resign Lannan as the swingman/sixth starter. As for their Achilles heel, the bullpen, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There are jobs available, and young, strong arms to fill them, it depends who wants to take them (Diekman and DeFratus seem to be making their moves right now).
If the Phils can work in the young guys with the high priced vets, giving the older players some rest and developing the younger guys for full time roles down the road it could be a return to the good times. Rollins is still a good shortstop (with Galvis), especially if Sandberg can keep him playing hard.  Utley and more Hernandez at 2nd, Asche and Maybe Franco at 3rd, and Howard/Ruf at 1st, plus Chooch as a part time starter while mentoring the winner of the Joseph/Rupp/Valle competition next spring.  In other words I think the best bet is to hope at least some of the stars can still play, but start working in the youth, maybe add in an outfielder if possible via free agency, plus a bullpen piece or two and they could be right back in the mix.
The outlook is workable, if still peppered with ifs, but definitely workable.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Deadline Day

Today is the non-waiver trade deadline in MLB, and the Phillies are a mess. Their offense is almost non-existent, their bullpen is atrocious, and they are hampered by players with declining production and huge, untradeable contracts. Does this mean the Phillies are finished, that their fabled "window" of opportunity has slammed shut, dooming them to years of mediocrity at best?  Not necessarily. Two year ago, the Red Sox were in the same position, and now they are once again leading the American League East.  It took some creativity, but it can be done. The Phillies , like the Red Sox, are a large market team, with resources. It will take an overhaul, but, with some shrewd moves, keeping the right players, integrating the right rookies with their youthful enthusiasm into the lineup, and perhaps getting lucky and finding a trade partner to take some of the bad contracts (as the Red Sox did with the Dodgers), plus free agent signings and a change in their international signing policy (as recently exhibited with their lavish signing of Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez), the Phillies may turn it around quickly, perhaps as soon as next year.  What happens today may be the start of this retooling.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Who from the “Pig Pen” will make It?

For the past month the Phillies have been holding an open audition in their bullpen, running one arm after the other from their Triple A Farm team, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.  The jobs are there for the taking, someone from the “Pig Pen” will step up and claim them.   The Phillies bullpen, expected to be a strength this year, with Papelbon anchoring in the closer role, big money free agent Mike Adams signed to lock down the eighth inning, and sage veteran and World Series component Chad Durbin returning to the fold to join holdover lefthanded specialists Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Horst, there were expected to be just a few spots for the young arms being groomed in the minor leagues. 

Well,” the best laid plans…” as they say.  Durbin was frankly awful, and has since been released. Horst wasn’t much better and is currently injured, Adams never really was effective and is likely gone for the year, and the original best minor league arm belonging to Phillipe Aumont  was wild and ineffective. Since then, we’ve seen Aumont sent down, and Justin Defratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman,  Joe Savery and in the most recent surprise, J.C Ramirez be given opportunities to varying degrees of effectiveness.  Rosenberg was sent back, Savery has been up and down three times, and Aumont has returned (meaning two of the three players received from Seattle for Cliff Lee (Aumont and Ramirez) are currently in the big leagues).  The arms are strong, there will be growing pains, and not all will succeed, but it will be fascinating which of these young players becomes the real “piggy” and keeps a spot in the big leagues all for himself.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What should the Phillies do?

The season has gone pretty much as expected for  the Phillies, who entered the 2013 season with a lot of questions, questions that almost all needed to be answered in a positive manner for them to contend.

Yes, they needed to have everything go right, and, as expected, everything has not gone right. Still, no one has really pulled away , and if things go well from here on, they could still contend,  especially if Carlos Zambrano has something left in the tank. He's got to be better than Tyler Cloyd.

Should the Phillies blow up them team and start over? Okay...how?  Trade Cliff Lee (with apologies to Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettitbone, two things that have gone right) he has been their best pitcher. sure, if they were offered Giancarlo Stanton I'd do it, but Miami doesn't want an expensive player, so that won’t happen. Other than that or some similar outlandish offer, I’d keep him.

Trade Howard?  Not likely unless you pay almost all of his salary, and even then you still won't get anyone. Might as well keep him. Especially as he's a leader, good teammate, someone who can show the new young guys the way.

Trade Rollins?  I'd do it if the right offer came...and it may. They seem to have a capable replacement in Galvis, they can play Frandsen at second when Utley can't...intriguing, and worth exploring , wait for a contender who needs a shortstop and is willing to overpay. 

Trade Utley? There's the rub. He's the leader, the kind of player you wish everyone to emulate...but, he's older, brittle, and about to be a free agent.  You'd get something for him from a contender...but Ii think getting rid of iconic players who are the face of the team is a mistake, even though their production declines (Brian Dawkins anyone?) Keep him to show the new wave of Phillies how it should be done.

Trade Kendrick?   Maybe...his value is at an all-time high.  I've always been a supporter, thinking he was a valuable piece even as he was being pilloried by the fanbase, but I still think he's a fourth starter at best, and if you can get good value....I'd send him away, replace him with John Lannan when he comes back from injury ...and begin building for the future with new guys surrounding the old vets.

The Youngs? If you can get anything for either of them, do it and work their replacements in from the minors.  (Darren Ruf for Delmon, with Domonic Brown moving to rightfield, and Cody Asche at third for Michael). These guys might help contenders, especially as they are on one year deals so the buyer won't be stuck for long. 

Bottom line, I'd make some moves, and try to work more youth in around the core, so not a complete blow-up. The Yankees and Red Sox never seem to completely go with the youth movement, the try new pieces until they get it right and they always seem to be contending. The Phillies could do the same.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kelly plays it Safe

In the recently concluded 2013 NFL draft, new Eagles coach, and heralded offensive genius, Chip Kelly, played it straight down the middle...making the safe pick in almost every instance. The old football adages, build from the lines out, and pick the best athlete available regardless of position, certainly seemed in evidence. Taking Lane Johnson, a big, athletic, if inexperienced offensive tackle with the 4th pick in the draft, certainly followed this adage. Johnson, if ready, gives them the opportunity to return Todd Herremans to guard, have two large, bookends at offensive tackle, and motivate disappointing 2011 first round pick Danny Watkins to put up or shutup. If he's not ready, they can leave Herremans at tackle, continue with Watkins at guard, and wait until Johnson develops. Either way, a smart move.  Second round pick, tight end Zack Ertz, while not a glaring need, has great potential in an offense that relies on match up problems created by tight ends. Third round pick Bennie Logan returns to the line, this time, the defensive line and appears to be a solid choice. Matt Barkley, who likely would have been a first round pick if he had entered the draft last year, has the potential to be an absolute steal in the fourth round, and may be the quarterback of the future. If not, he merely cost a fourth round pick. He will be given time to develop, and may blossom with solid coaching and without the pressure to perform immediately. Later picks were all solid, if not spectacular.  All in all, safe picks...and maybe, just maybe, exactly what the Eagles need to return to perennial playoff contention.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Opening Day Roster Set

The Phillies have released their opening day roster, and it contains few surprises. Once Darren Ruf showed his outfield defense was not ready for prime time, there really weren't many remaining position battles. Would Ender Inciarte, the rule 5 draftee who would have to be offered back to the Diamondbacks if he didn't remain on the roster claim the last outfield spot (at least until Delmon Young is ready to play), he did. Would Humberto Quintero or Steven Lerud be the backup to starting cather Eric Kratz until Carlos Ruis completes his 25 game suspension?  It turned out to be the MLB veteran Quintero, a career backup known for his defense rather than the younger Lerud, a career minor league backup, also known for his defense.  Who would claim the last two spots in teh bullpen from the remaining contenders of Phillippe Aumont, Raul Valdes and Michael Stutes?  The answers: Aumont and Valdes.

The lack of intrigue is a good thing, because it means there are less questions on teh remainder of teh roster. The aging core, Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Michael Young have all been healthy and productive. Ben Revere looks like the real deal in center. Domonic Brown answered one of the major questions by seizing a corner outfield spot, showing all spring that he may have unlocked his tremendous potential.

The season is set to start, and the Phillies roster is pretty much what was expected. And that's a very good thing.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Phils First Full Squad Workout--If Wishes were Fishes...

Today is the first full squad workout for the Phillies, and so far, as is true everywhere, hope springs eternal. If everything breaks correctly, if Howard, Utley, and Halladay are healthy and their usual selves, Papelbon, Hamels, and Lee continue to perform at their historical levels, if Micahel Young can playe as he did in 2011, if Kendrick can continue to pitch as he did in his strong second half last year, if John Lannan can pitch as well as he did against everyone but the Phillies, if Mike Adams is healty and maintains his form, if some of the young players such as Dominic Brown and Darren Ruf step up, if Carlos Ruiz comes back as strong as last year after his 25 game suspension, if Ben Revere can catch everything in center field....if, if, if.

Probably to many ifs for the Phils to seriously contend, still if any team can, its this one. We can only hope.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Phillies Offseason Review on the Eve of Spring Training

Spring training is less than two weeks away, and the Phillies have all but completed their offseason moves (some minor league roster tweaking not withstanding), and to all accounts they have finished with the third in the NLEast offseason, just as they finished third in the NL east standings. Both the Nationals and Braves made bigger splashes, the Nationals acquiring centerfielder Denard Span from the Twins (while the Phillies acquired his backup from the Twins)  and signing former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano (giving them three closer quality relievers in Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, and Soriano. The Braves acquired both B.J and Justin Upton and the Phillies acquired Delmon Young. True, the Phillies did sign the best eight inning reliever on all of baseball over the past five years in Mike Adams, a useful bullpen component in Chad Durbin, and a former batting champ at third in Michael Young. Still, on paper, things look bleak. No addition to their roster is likely to bolster the Phillies on base percentage, all the additions are free swingers, meaning the Phillies will likely continue their trend of scoring 10 runs one game, then 1 or less the next two.

What they did maintain is payroll flexibility, if things break correctly, they should have the cash available to make a difference making acquisition at the trade deadline, and if things go poorly, they won’t be stuck with long term contracts for unproductive players.  So they Phillies season breaks down to what it always has, the health and performance of their aging superstars: Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins, along with in their prime stars Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. These guys must remain healthy and perform as a semblance of their normal selves for the Phillies will contend.  If not, the Phillies can begin to shed these movable contracts to build for the future.