Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Instant Gratification

Image result for bryce harper phillies bat flip
Honeymooning with Harper

Here we are, April 3rd. I can barely breathe I’m so far up to my neck in tax returns but I felt it necessary to waste some time for a discussion on what every one is talking about. Bryce Harper and the Phillies. Today’s loss was more exciting than any game in the past five years. Harper has brought an electricity to the team, the city, and the fan base so quickly I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like it.

The season is less than  week old and Harper and his team, it is his team I’d say, have already provided such instant gratification that you would not believe a Hollywood script written like this about the first 5 games of a baseball season.

Regardless of whether this hot start propels the Phils on to a great season and beyond, the Harper signing has already been justified. There is an effect happening with Bryce Harper that only a player of his stature could conjure in a sport that more than a few people in this town had written off as an also ran since Chase Utley stopped being the best player in it. Harper has immediately captivated the city by embracing it with a vigor you are used to seeing from someone like Brian Dawkins or Allen Iverson.

Since the signing and my post that hinted that Harper is a different person than we may have believed him to be when he played for the Nationals; I have seen him do nothing but double down on that sentiment. He has continually stated how he wants to set roots in this city (He and his wife Kayla put a birth announcement on instagram in front of the Ben Franklin Bridge!) and his embracing of the fans is refreshing for a sport that’s average age viewer does not know how to save it as a PDF. It feels like every interaction the cameras catch him having appears to be positive. He bows to the crowds thanking them for their enthusiasm. He's shooting bow and arrows after home runs with Maikel Franco, so Franco. He's waving "Hi!" to Odoobs from the dugout after Odoobs doubles (Odubel doubled 3 times Monday night). He appears to have a different handshake with just about every teammate like he's Lebron James forcing something in Cleveland except it's here and it's us so it's cool. Ask John Middleton if he thinks all of this stuff is good?

The opening weekend series in Philadelphia could not have gone any better for Gabe Kapler’s crew. Harper did not join in on the offense party that was the 10-4 opening day victory but the holdovers in the lineup from last year certainly did. Maikel Franco homered and Rhys Hoskins hit a grand slam following a Harper intentional walk. This game gave us a glimpse of what we know this offense should be capable of. Hell Franco was the best hitter on the team last year and he’s been crushing the ball in the 8 hole through 5 games. Oh, and Andrew McCutchen led off the season with a home run.

The crowds have showed Harper love normally reserved for a guy who just cured their kid’s cancer. The guy will do some wrong in 13 years but believe me when I tell you he can’t do anything wrong right now for this fan base.

So hopefully you were watching early Saturday evening when Harper stepped to the plate for the 8th time as a Phillie against none other than former Phillies' first round pick and Philadelphia area native Jessie Biddle. The lefthander missed his spot and Harper unloaded for an upper deck 465 foot blast into the cold early spring night. Pandemonium at the ballpark. I was up out of my seat at my friend’s house celebrating, scaring the shit out of his dogs and in turn my daughters. I didn’t care. Harper just went yard. First of 400 or so as a Phillie.

Move ahead to Sundee night and the home town Philadelphia Phillies are on Sunday Night Baseball for probably the first time since Joe Morgan and Jon Miller had the gig. All eyes are on South Philadelphia as the Phils look to get out the brooms. 

Oll Jake Arrieta got the start and it was very Jake Arrieta. That is to say he had control issues but was ultimately effective. Dude walked  6 and only gave up 1 unearned run on a brutal passed ball. Only blemish I’ve seen from JT Realmuto and his hose for an arm by the way. Also, full disclosure I did not know one thing about JT before we got him. Sad! I know. Anyway, couldn’t believe he was a white guy! Jacob Tyler is from Oklahoma. The more you know..

Back to the game. Andrew McCutchen hit his second homer of the early going and the Phils were up 3-1 when Harper led off the 7th with a frozen rope into the bleachers in right that caught ARod off guard in the booth. The fans needed a curtain call and he acknowledged. Electric (boogie woogie woogie?). Phils sweep the division rival Braves to start the season.

Tuesday night in DC was the real theater. The once proud son of the city was returning to the town he spurned despite being offered $300 million. Bob Costas and John Smoltz were in to broadcast the game nationally for MLB Network. The DC mayor tweeted and deleted a depiction of Harper as Benedict Arnold earlier in the day. The front row of a section in right field featured 7 guys wearing shirts that spelled out T R A I T O R. The Nats played a video tribute to him prior to the game that was showered with boos. When introduced to bat in the first he received a welcome of boos that would have made the hearty Philadelphia fans say, “yeah, that’s not bad.”

None of that mattered. The Phillies and Bryce Harper can hit. It didn’t hurt that Zach Eflin gave up nothin over 5 innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 3 hits and a walk. He was pulled with men on base in the bottom of the 6th  for a pinch-hitter and that did not turn out to haunt old Gabe. Harper and his team made sure of it. In that same bottom of the 6th Jean Segura shot a bases clearing 3 run double down the right field line to give the Phils some breathing room. Harper came up next and singled away from the shift to score Segura and pad the lead even more for the Phillies who were playing their second straight game on national television. They probably had two all of last year.

For the piece de resistance Harper made staying up til 11 to continue watching a game that was delayed at the start more than worth it. You could almost say this one was a carbon copy of the titanic upper deck bomb he hit Saturday night for his first of the season. This one, his third in four games, reached the upper deck and sailed right over about 1,000 or so crazed Phillies fans who had made the trip to DC and conspicuously congregated their seating in right field. Pandemonium in right field. Harper took a brief look at the majestic blast, took a few steps, and sent a sideways helicopter bat flip high into the air as he began his trip around the bases.

The Phils are back.

Thanks Bryce.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Phillies Sign Bryce Harper

Welcome Bryce, stay a while..

December 14th, 2010. That was the day Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. That was a pretty good day.

The time of year that coincides with the baseball’s winter meetings is generally referred to as “Hot Stove Season”. This year the pilot was out despite superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado entering free agency in their absolute prime.

By the time mid-January rolled around I had heard enough hot takes, twitter rumors, tips from Jerry in Baltimore who’s cousin works for the Phillies’ ticket office, “Sources:” and overall bullshit that everyone was feeding on surrounding these two guys.

I knew a couple things.

I knew Bryce Harper’s agent is Scott Boras. If you’re reading this blog you probably know the name JD Drew and can surmise how I feel about Scott Boras. Call me unsympathetic to the plight of Boras and his clients but the guy is not good for the game.

I know you can’t have a player who just came off a contract year where he hit 249 flatly reject a $300 million offer from the only pro team he ever played for, and then sit idly without a team until 2 weeks in to spring training and think you are dealing in reality.

Thankfully, I know that Major League Baseball doesn't deal in reality in regard to money or fan perception.

So by early February I had told my boss Dave that I did not want to hear one more thing about Harper until he was actually signed.

As the weeks dragged on Dave made it a point to walk into my office each morning and ask me if I had heard any news on Harper as he held the sports page and chuckled.

Thursday morning, 2/28, I was on my commute to work and gave old Angelo Cataldi a chance on the dial. This curmudgeon had officially had enough of the Bryce Harper saga. Before 7 AM he was leading a crusade to gather as many people as he could to attend Harper’s first game as a visiting player to make sure he felt the full wrath of Philadelphia’s fans for toying with our fan base for months. Cataldi went as far as to call Harper a maggot for the drawn out spectacle.

Fast forward half a day later and I’m returning to work after picking up some Turkish Taffy for the office and listening to the same sports radio station 94.1 WIP when a sounder came on and broke into the live radio broadcast.


This is the Best!

I returned to the office parking lot laying on the horn in celebration.

Man, I wonder how the crow Angelo ate Friday morning tasted. What a colossal prick.

Wow! What an offseason for our Fightin’ Phils. An argument can be made that GM Matt Klentak had already had a stellar off-season adding the likes of catcher JT Realmuto, shortstop Jean Segura, reliever Dave Robertson, and former MVP Andrew McCutchen who I think will win the award for weirdest to see in Phillies pinstripes.

Still, owner John Middleton knew as well as anyone that Gabe’s group lacked the player that would put the juice back in the ballpark that we all have missed since Ryan Howard was lying on the first base line with a torn Achilles.  

That’s why Middleton knew that he needed to give Harper, and Boras, what they wanted. You’ve heard it before, and I’m here to reiterate, it’s not our money so why should we worry about it? Baseball is such a joke it doesn’t even have a salary cap to level the playing field so spend away John.

13 years. $330 million. There is a signing bonus, I believe of $20 million this year, but I did not independently confirm that. The last 3 years will be less money than the first 10. Here is the official breakdown per MLB Reference:

Must be nice

The years, no trade clause, and the lack of opt outs tell you more about Harper than you thought you knew. Baseball is a different animal when it comes to contracts when compared to other sports. The money is guaranteed for longer periods of time and larger amounts, generally speaking. My impressions of Harper were superficial and I assumed him to be a primadonna of sorts. I thought he could pull a Lebron James and refuse to commit anywhere long term if Boras didn’t get record dollars. 

This contact tells me something different. He could have done, well, who knows what the hell he could have done but the meetings had to be crazy right? Seriously though, I have very little doubt he could have taken less years for more money a year, or at the very least structured a deal with opt outs or waiving no trade clauses. Harper did not do that. Bryce Harper has pushed all his chips in with the Phillies for the next 13 years and holy shit let’s just take it in for a minute. Let’s take a breath. Let’s embrace it and appreciate the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies were able to land the biggest free agent in the history of the sport.

In Harper, Middleton got enough juice to move a reported 180,000 tickets in 48 hours since the news of his signing. Gabe got the left handed power bat the lineup was craving.

We’ve all done it, well, I hope you’ve done it, but let’s see what this lineup looks like assuming everyone is healthy at the end of the month.

Alright Mae lead off centerfie— whoops wrong lineup.

Cesar Hernandez – 2B
Jean Segura – SS
Bryce Harper – RF
Rhys Hoskins – 1B
JT Realmuto – C
Andrew McCutchen – LF
Maikel Franco – 3B
Odubel Herrera – CF

That just sounds like runs to me. Who knows what batshit crazy lineups Gabe will wind up employing and I know there is talk about batting Harper in the 2 hole. I’m not with that camp. The analytics have their place and I do believe they give you an edge but your best hitter needs to hit 3. Harper needs to be the Phillies best hitter. Rhys Hoskins batting 4 and cleaning up should be the perfect protection for Harper to get pitches to hit. Most guys are going to make better contact on pitches in the strike zone. If there are people on base and people on deck the pitcher does not want to face then the guy at the plate is going to see more pitches in the zone.  Baseball is not rocket science; there’s a component of people who will tell you I’m the asshole when I don’t fully embrace the analytics revolution in baseball and I’ll live with that. But if you didn't think Chase Utley got better pitches to hit because Ryan Howard was on deck you weren't paying attention.

Honestly, the way the lineup gets filled out does not matter all that much. It will be nit-picking for the sake of it with the names that will fill it out in 2019 after the names that have filled it out for the past 5 years. Most importantly, we can expect to see Bryce Harper penciled in until my 5 year old daughter is headed off to college.

Catch you guys wearing number 3 Phillies jerseys drinking $9.75 light beers at the ball park.

Let's go PHILS!!!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

True Colors

Drivin' down the road tryin' to loosen his load, he's got 7 lineups on his mind. Take it easy, Gabe.

My kids, mostly my youngest daughter Clare, were real obsessed with the animated film Trolls there for at least 6 months. I saw the movie, or had it on in the background, a good 100 times no lie. The voices are Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick so it is basically a musical, if you’re not familiar. Anyway, they cover a Cyndi Lauper tune called True Colors in it. It’s a sappy song about someone showing another person that they are someone they can count on by showing them “their true colors”. And that's why Cyndi loves them.

I’ve had that song stuck in my head since Friday August 10th it seems because time and time again Gabe Kapler’s bunch has shown us their true colors during this stretch run of baseball. And that’s why I can’t stand them.

That was the day I wrote my only post of the season and put the mother of all jinxes on our hapless bunch of regular ass achievers.

The Phils could not have played more deplorable baseball since that day and I’m here to rehash the gory details with you.

Jesus H Christ it’s hard to know where to start but we’ll begin in South Philadelphia on August 28th.  On that brutally hot Tuesday night, my father-in-law Pete and his buddy Don, a Nats fan, and I descended upon Citizen’s Bank Park for what was expected to be a sweltering pitcher’s duel between Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer.

We got there early and beat the traffic taking the Blue Route over the Schuylkill. The three of us surveyed our options in Ashburn Alley and ultimately decided on cheesesteaks from Campo’s. I went wiz without. I almost always go with The Heater at Campo’s, essentially a buffalo cheesesteak, but when you run as hot as I do there’s no need to torture yourself at a game where an actual priority is trying to avoid visible swamp ass.

We got to our seats, about even with the third base bag 15 rows up, and the night was going along beautifully.  Aaron Nola dominated and the Phils tagged Scherzer for two home runs to chase him out after only 5 innings. I’d tell you who hit the home runs but it doesn’t matter. With the score 3-0 in the top of the 7th the Phils went to work on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Buckle up.

With men on second and third and one out after a Ryan Zimmerman double (Zimmy had 3 of them that night – that mattered), some dude hit a hot shot grounder to Carlos “oh I’m adding so much value but I can’t get my &*^ing batting average up above 230” Santana who proceeds to step on first to get the second out and then little leagues one off the backstop trying to cut the run at home. Okay, no big deal got the second out probably weren’t going to get the guy at home anyway. Nope. This bush league squad doesn’t have anybody backing up this play correctly. Mark it down folks,  a routine groundball to the first baseman that produced an out at first base also produced two runs scored due to an overthrow that stayed in the infield. Trash. 3-2 Phillies after 7.

Kapler’s crew was far from done on making mental errors beyond comprehension for guys that were, at the time, 9 games above .500 in a battle for first place in the division. By the 8th inning we took advantage of the sparse crowd and were sitting directly behind the Nats dugout and watched Tommy Hunter throw 11 pitches, all strikes, and get a 1-2-3 inning. I’m not looking it up but Seranthony had given up a walk off home run to Zimmerman the prior week. Gabe was determined to not let that fate happen again as he stuck with Hunter to face Bryce Harper to leadoff the 9th. After a tough at bat Harper walked on a questionable call and out popped Gabe. In came Pat Neshek. The sidewinder had been incredibly reliable to that point. Cue Anthony Rendon and an immediate two run homer for the Nats to take the lead 4-3 in the top of the 9th before this sad sack bunch could even record a goddamn out. Nola takes a no decision, 1 earned over 7, scattered 4 hits struck out 8.

The fun didn’t stop. Zimmerman hit that 3rd double, he was called out in live action, the Nats challenged, the Nats won. Okay, 1 out, man on 2nd with Matt Wieters at the plate. You know I’m looking this stuff up at this point. I came to find out Wieters actually hit the grounder to Santana in the 7th too. He would have a chuckle about these Phillies if he ever got to read this. Sorry, okay, 1 out man on second, Wieters at the plate, a left handed batter the Phillies employ a shift for because you know, he’s Matt Wieters. Zimmerman notices that Asdrubal Cabrera is playing a god knows where 3rd base and has his thumb directly up his ass while employing this shift that is so helpful to the Phillies. Zimmerman takes off, he’s slow, but so is Cabrera and I’m watching this thing unfold and this is gonna need to be a dead strike to a moving target that’s lumbering right next to another moving target and then you need to tag the guy on top of it. YOU EAT THAT BALL JORGE!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T THROW THAT SHIT!!

5-3 Nats half way through the 9th after the second overthrow leading to run(s) in 3 innings.

They had to tease us then. After a one out double from Nick Williams the Phils used their last position player in pinch hitter Wilson Ramos. Ramos had an incredible at bat that featured several deep foul balls and he wound up doubling deep down the right field line to knock in Nick. 5-4 Nats.

Maybe Alfaro doesn’t throw that ball into left field after Rendon went deep this game is tied. Maybe not.

Alright, so Alfaro is now at bat with 1 out and the Phils need a pinch-runner and Gabe already ran through everyone because of course he did. So up steps Vinny Velasquez, “I can run coach.” “Grab a helmet, Vinny!”

Alfaro skies one to fairly deep center, I wanna say it was the first pitch. Don’t quote me. I’m watching this thing come down and Velasquez is right in my view of it. Oh shit, this idiot left early and I could see it. Velasquez slides in making it to second with two outs. Not a meaningless accomplishment but certainly not a necessary one given the risk reward of it. What do the Nats do? Well they saw it of course. They throw the ball in and step on second base. It wound up having to be reviewed but we knew. Oh, we knew. Game over just like that 5-4 Nats win.

Don was happy with it. Pete and I were not.

In perhaps a bit of schadenfreude we listened to the postgame and man it was the turning point for me as to what this nit-wit Kapler had to say. “Vinny gave us a valiant effort out there tonight.”

Really Gabe? That’s what ya got for us? You can’t say something along the lines of “Listen we’re major leaguers, pitcher, position player or not, you can’t make mistakes like that.” Nope, Gabe just placates us in an effort to deflect blame from the guys who deserve it. I get why he does it, it just rubs me the wrong way the way he does it. I’m not done with Kapler, but I sure as shit am done with him this season.

Okay, long intro but a necessary anecdote to provide a window into the life of the Phils (and their fans) if you haven’t been paying much attention. There’s more against the Nats. The Nats have had a fun month against the Phils.

About three weeks later near the drain of this toilet bowl end of the season the Phils held a 6-3 lead in the 9th in the nightcap of a double-header they were hoping to avoid being swept in. Here are the results in the bottom of the 9th with Serathony Dominguez attempting to complete a 2 inning save:


Wild Pitch – Runner on 2nd

Walk, passed ball: Runners on 1st and 3rd

Strikeout – 1 out - runners on corners

Single – Run Scores, runners on 1st and 2nd - 6-4 Phillies

Fielder’s Choice – Runners at the corners - 2 outs

Single – Run scores, runners on 1st and 2nd - 6-5 Phillies

Walk – Bases loaded

Luis Garcia replaces Seranthony Dominguez

Walk – Tying run scores, bases loaded - 6-6 Not The Phillies

Strikeout – Inning, season, life over

I won’t go into detail but yada yada yada they got swept in that double-header.

So what is it that makes them so bad? At least right now? It’s a combination of things of course but to me it is the less obvious more nuanced aspects of baseball where they lack any cohesion. It starts on the defensive side of the ball where everyone seems to be shaky at best getting their job done for the Phils staff. The Phils are 14th out of 15 NL teams in both team fielding percentage (.980) and errors (115). Here are some quick numbers for you on the Phils every day players. Errors are easy to understand. Defensive WAR (DWAR) is not and I don’t pretend to understand but I trust these stat guys know what they are doing so I have that number listed as well. These are all per

Carlos Santana – First Base – 10 errors (12th out of 12 qualifying 1st baseman) and  -.9 DWAR (10th)

Cesar Hernandez – Second Base – 11 errors (tied for 7th out of 9 qualifying 2nd baseman) and -.07 DWAR (9th)

Maikel Franco – Third Base – 15 errors (8th out of 9 qualifying 3rd baseman) and -1.1 DWAR (9th)

Franco has only 117 games played and that many errors. Yikes.

Scott Kingery – Shortstop - 7 errors (1st out of 12 qualifying shortstops) and -.2 DWAR (10th)

Kingery only has 112 games played so the errors are skewed some. He’s one of only 3 every day shortstops in the NL with a negative Defensive WAR.

Rhys Hoskins – Leftfield – 6 errors (8th out of 8 qualifying leftfielders) and -3.5 DWAR (96th out of all 96 qualifying fielders – Bryce Harper is 95th at -2.9)

Men lie women lie, Rhys, numbers don’t.

Odubel Herrera – Centerfield – 2 errors (Tied 4th out of 10 qualifying centerfielders) and -1.0 DWAR

The Phils did not have a “qualifying right fielder or catcher” but I tracked down old Nicky Williams and he clocked in at -2.5 in 114 total games. Jorge Alfaro led (if you wanna call it that) all NL catchers in errors with 11 but his cannon for an arm must have saved him as far as the DWAR stat is calculated as he registered the only positive mark in this stat for a Phils everyday player at .2. Per this stat nobody but Alfaro has added value to this team defensively this year and I watch enough to know that Alfaro is allowing far too many wild pitches which do not get marked down as an error.

It’s a lot of errors. It’s a lot of playing in a spot or a position you are unaccustomed to because Kapler shifts his starting lineup as often as he shifts the players on the field. Once Asdrbual Cabrera became part of the everyday mix it was anybody’s guess what the infield structure would look like from day-to-day. Santana has played his share of 3rd base with Hoskins taking a break from being the worst outfielder in the game at 1st base.

Another glaring weakness, at least compared to the hey-day of Philadelphia Phillies baseball is stealing bags. For the goof I looked up the 2008 squad. Holy shit Jimmy Rollins went 47-50! Jeez, we tended to take Rollins' talent for granted when you look back at a stat like that. The 2018 version has gone 65 for 90. Haha. I realize that "oh the game has changed, its just home runs and walks now", but tell me having an extra 71 bags around wouldn't be helpful to a team who can't score runs because they don't hit the ball. The 2008 squad also got caught 25 times, but they stole 136. That's 85% completion compared to 72% on 71 more attempts. Sounds about right.

One of my main beefs is Kapler’s insistence to put his imprint on the game. Over managing can be effective, see Tony LaRussa and his resume. Gabe goes beyond that. He’ll bring in Seranthony Dominguez in the 6th or 7th just because he likes a matchup or two in that inning. He’ll change the batting order daily to the point where Aaron Altherr is batting third in a must win series opener against the Mets when he spent the summer in the minors and / or on the bench. He’ll use three pitchers in an inning like that’s something smart to do.

In one of the very few positive games for the Phils in the last month Gabe managed to make a fool out of himself, at least from my perspective. With the Phils leading the Marlins 11-1 in the top of the 7th at home Kapler allowed Zach Eflin to warm up for the 7th as Eflin was cruising along with 83 pitches and a 10 run lead. After the throw down to second, out pops Kapler. Huh?!? The ump stops old Gabe as he crosses on to the diamond seemingly to ask him, “What the fuck are you doing?” Gabe addresses the ump. Walks out to Eflin, says one thing, walks back to the dugout. Eflin gets the first guy to fly out and Kapler pops out and removes Eflin in the middle of the inning with a 10 run lead at 85 pitches. Call me old school or call me what you wanna call me but that is just a remarkably stupid thing to do whether you want to get your beleaguered bullpen work or not.

One more gem was Kapler pinch hitting back-to-back players in the second inning of a game! He’ll talk in the press conference after the umpteenth “worst loss of the season” about how he “believes in the talent of the ballplayers in that clubhouse.” Oh yeah Gabe? Then why you pinch hitting for Scott Kingery before he even gets an at-bat?

 Get over yourself Gabe, or the team will not win.

We’ve addressed the defense and the managing. Then of course there’s pitching and hitting. Two things the Phils seemed to forget how to do for the last 6 weeks.

The Phils have played 41 games since I published the only Hitter’s Count of the season when they were in first place at 64-51. Since then they have gone 14-27 to fall precipitously to .500 with 6 games remaining in the season. In those 41 games they have been outscored 223 to 165 a run differential of 58 runs. They are averaging losing 5.4 to 4.0 every night. Their opponent scored 8 or more 11 times in that stretch. That’s pretty hard to do.

Aside from Hoskins hitting home runs, there has not really been one guy to get consistent hits this year and that may be the biggest issue of them all. The Phils are hitting .236 as a squad. They are 13th out of 15 teams but the two teams below them are both hitting .235. With a stat like that, we should be happy they are a .500 baseball team but they gave us too much of a taste this summer of what they could be. 

As I sit and think about it I really place a lot of blame on Odubel Herrera. And I may have turned on my favorite player over the past month. I hope I am wrong but the optics on the guy are just terrible. If there is a chance to make a bone-headed play on the basepaths, it will be made. If there is a chance to appear as if his head is somewhere else while in the middle of the game, the chance is taken. And then there's his goddamn instagram account. This guy has ramped up his tourist like activity, and selfie game, and overall blase attitude before and directly after nearly every crucial loss the Phils have had. I don't mind if you're not Chase Utley on the diamond as far as intensity is concerned, but please don't advertise that you could seemingly care less about your team becoming a dumpster fire when it had a real chance to make some noise in a less than top heavy National League. As Odubel's play turned, the Phillies play seemed to as well. Here are his batting averages by month for the season:

April - 367
May - 283
June - 236
July - 253
August - 205
September - 164

He has found himself in and out of the lineup. Odoobs, along with basically everyone on the roster outside of Hoskins and  Nola, have to be on the hot seat with management this winter. There isn't a bat in that lineup that could not be replaced as far as I'm concerned.

Truth be told, in April most of us would have been pretty happy if I told you this team would be 78-78 with a week left in the season. If we were told the Phils would have a chance to sweep the Braves in the penultimate weekend of the season to be a game out of the division we would have jumped at that. LOL as to what happened.

But if I told you that on August 10th you’d have said, man, I guess the Phils showed their true colors the last quarter of the season.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The 1st Place Phillies

The Phillies Celebrate a Walk-Off Home Run from Maikel Franco

Wow. Been a long time. Nice to be back.

I know I haven’t been able to address the Phillies for my readers this year. 

You guys been paying attention? I know it was tough for me in the early going to tune into what I thought would be another season of Maik Franco hitting .230 with lackluster at bats. I was a bit frustrated GM Matt Klentak went out and got a 1st baseman for 3 years $60 million when Rhys Hoskins seemed to have first base covered. Cesar Hernandez leading off the season playing second base was not exactly moving the needle for me. Sure, I may be one of the few people who like Odubel Herrera, we’ll get to that numbskull at length, but how much was he going to do? That Aaron Altherr Nick Williams battle in right field, a barn burner.   JP Crawford and Scott Kingery? I had mild interest but Crawford never showed much life with the bat in the minors and Kingery remains a utility guy. Every single starter was a question mark to an extent with the possible exception of Aaron Nola. You had to like the Jake Arrieta signing at the time, it’s not your money. Hector Neris was going to be fine but you figured the closer would not matter much on a team that won 66 games in 2017.

I was very interested in the Gabe Kapler era from the get go. Interested does not translate into me thinking it was a good move, but it felt very un-Phillies like if you will, and I thought why not?

Press fast forward for 114 games so you can skip TMac thinking pop ups are home runs and home runs are pop ups all season long.

The Phils are in first f&^%ing place! And they have been every day post All-Star Break. At 64-50 they better hope to equal last season’s win total this weekend in San Diego with Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, and Jake Arrieta scheduled to go against the hapless Padres.

What the hell happened?

Somehow some way Gabe got these boys humming. I will admit I am paying much more attention the past month and a half than I did during the first two months of the season, but if you’re watching you know the two main reasons they are winning.

Aaron Nola pitching in the All-Star Game. He struck out Mookie Betts and got Mike Trout to pop up.

First and foremost is starting pitching. Right now Kapler’s crew is 3rd in the NL with a 3.75 ERA as a unit, and the starters are a shade lower at 3.70. Aaron Nola has solidified himself as a top of the rotation ace. He does not over power you but his ball just seems to dart away from the zone onto the black of the plate more often than it does not. Think Greg Maddux. Hmph. Nola has a 2.37 ERA and a WHIP of .99. Anything under 1.00 in WHIP, walks and hits per inning pitched, is phenomenal. It’s hard to give up a lot of runs if there aren’t base runners.

The Phils' other starters are doing their best to limit base runners as well. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have 11 to 1 and 10 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratios, respectively. After watching Velasquez up and down performance as a starter since acquiring him in the Ken Giles deal I have always thought his style of pitching would be better suited for the bullpen. Vinny has done his best to prove me wrong this season. He had a clunker of an outing on Wednesday, but in his prior 4 starts he allowed just 2 runs combined. He’s had a few games get away from him, including an outing where he was tagged for 10 earned causing the fairly high 3.98 ERA, but overall he has been an above average middle to back end of the rotation arm.

Zach Eflin could get a whole blog himself if these were my old writing days but this kid can throw. He was acquired in the Jimmy Rollins deal in 2014 believe it or not. At the start of the year Eflin was optioned to Triple A and the job was Ben Lively’s. Yada yada yada Eflin made his first start May 1st and has not looked back. He went 5-0 in June with a 1.76 ERA striking out 28 and walking 6 over 30.2 innings. He has been prone to give up the long ball of late and that has hurt him. If he can keep that blistering fastball down he should continue to be effective.

Then there’s Jake. In what can be considered perhaps the first bold move in what has become a series of bold moves from Klentak (I’m not calling the Carlos Santana signing bold) is the Jake Arrieta signing. There he was, the former Cy Young Award winner and World Series Champ, possibly washed up bearded surly intense prick battle tested vet, Jake Arrieta languishing on the free agent market all winter, all spring. Enough was enough. Hey Jake how’s 3 years $75 million guaranteed? Done.

After a career year at age 29 in 2015 for the Cubs that saw him go 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA he seemed to have lost the dominant edge. That didn’t stop him from going 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in the 2016 World Series if you were wondering. It just made him wait to get signed in 2018.

I would say he has been as good if not better than expected with a 3.11 ERA. He has had his share of dud starts but he has been the stopper during a losing streak on more than one occasion. He is probably the only guy on the team with enough clout to come out publicly calling out effort or poor play from his teammates and he’s done that. I don’t know enough to say he is a leader vocally in the clubhouse but he has to be a leader by example and this team had to have a calming veteran presence like Jake’s on this staff. The move made sense theoretically and it is paying dividends on the field as well.

So that’s the starting pitching. It’s the main reason they are in first place. At risk of losing you I’ll skip the bullpen breakdown.

Just know Gabe got warned by the MLB in the first week of the season for bringing in a reliever without properly warming him up. Calm down Gabe.

A few other things to know, Neris is no longer in the Majors. A guy named Seranthony Dominguez easily has the best stuff of a Phillies’ closer since, well Neris, when he was good last year. Pat Neshek looks to be really effective when healthy. Victor Arano can spin a pair when you need him to. Tommy Hunter may have settled into a setup role but Gabe can pull a fast one at any time and bring Dominguez in for the 7th instead of his customary closing role, so don't get too comfy Tommy. Gabe is not conventional when it comes his use of the bullpen. It has not backfired to a big enough extent to change it yet. We’ll see how it goes as each one of these games is essentially the biggest game these young guys have played in their lives.

The second biggest reason the Phils are winning is that they are finally taking pitches, making pitchers work, and getting on base via the walk. The Phils are 14th out of 15 teams in the NL in batting average at 235. How can you be a first place team hitting at a clip like that? It’s because they are 9th in on base percentage at 318 and 6th in home runs with 134 or almost 1.2 a game. The Phils hit 130 home runs total in 2015. Heh. The Phils are 3rd in walks in the NL with 433 or 3.80 a game. If we take a look at the 2015 number for walks we can have another laugh. They racked up had 387 walks in all of 2015 or 2.38 a game. Double heh! Carlos Santana (2nd), Cesar Hernandez (5th), and Rhys Hoskins (8th) are all in the top 10 in walks.

Other than the walks, the two biggest pleasant surprises and reasons for the Phillies success are the emergence of Maikel Franco and Nick Williams. Franco has been the everyday third baseman since half way through 2015. He showed real signs of promise that year in his age 22 season but had gotten progressively worse at the plate over the next two seasons. Miraculously, Maikel is currently leading the Phillies in batting average at 274. Of course the team almost dead last in average does not have a guy hitting near 300. As the season was progressing early, Franco was not seeing his name on the lineup card more and more and he was sitting for the first time in his career. Maikel has responded with aplomb and has continually gotten big hits, big home runs, and is more and more beating the ever present shift by finding holes on the right side of the infield for base hits. Last week he hit a 3 run walk off home run against the Marlins. You have to be happy for Maikel.

I single out Nick Williams, acquired in the Cole Hamels deal, as well because we were not sure what we were going to get from Nick this year. At first, it may have been more of Aaron Altherr’s dreadful play that forced Gabe’s hand to give Nick his shot but at this point Nick belongs. He has what I like to call easy power. It seems like he can smoke one into the upper deck on a rope without even looking like he’s swinging that hard. He’s up to 16 home runs and is one of 5 Phillies that should finish the season with 20 or more. Nick has made some plays in the outfield as well. Just the other day he went up and robbed a would be two run home run in Arizona.

I have to take a minute to discuss Carlos Santana. I mentioned he’s second in walks. I didn’t mention that he prefers to walk than swing the bat but now I did. I’m telling you, this guy takes more 2-0 pitches or downright hittable pitches than any guy I can remember watching for the Phils and we all watched Pat the Bat.  The signing just did not make sense to me from the jump so I’ve been skeptical but this guy is doing exactly what he’s done his whole career except worse. He’s hitting 219. 219! And that’s up from last week if I wanted to check it but I refuse. Can’t hit 219, and make $20 M a year, and be that selective at the plate, and make an error in four straight games at first base, and not get raked over the coals. Step it up Carlos. We’re waitin.

Rhys Hoskins participating in the Home Run Derby

Rhys Hoskins is on the verge. I can’t quite tell if he is perennial All-Star talent or just a guy that is an above average hitter contributing to a winner but not thee reason they will win. He gets on a roll where he does this thing as my buddy likes to say, “all he does is hit for extra bases.” Rhys came out of his impressive Home Run Derby performance rearing to go post break. He has 8 home runs since the mid-summer classic, 2nd in the NL to only Matt Carpenter. He is slashing 278 / 402 / 708 in the past 19 games that have seen the Phillies maintain first place. If he continues near this pace we can start talking about him being one of the stars of the game.

Sadly, my favorite player on the team is Odubel Herrera. Odoobs I call him. Make no mistake about it. Odoobs is a first class idiot out there. And off the field too judging by his Instagram activity. But also make no mistake about it, when Odoobs is going good at the plate there aren’t many hitters better than him in baseball. He is ridiculously streaky. He hit a high water mark, leading the league in batting average by 30 points on May 17 at 361. By June 12th he was hitting 283. Gabe sat him on June 13th. In the next 8 games he went 18-35 with 6 home runs and 10 RBI. Huh?

He is a clown on the field. His helmet is at least 2 sizes too big and that is despite a ridiculous frosted dreadlock mane look he has going. The helmet comes off 2-3 time  a game. He will go down 0-2 in the count with horribly timed leg kick pathetic swings and then the next swing he’ll rip one through the box right past the pitcher for a base hit. He’ll misplay a fly ball to the point you’d think he could get cut from Legion ball then he’ll make a diving play in the gap. He has mental errors on the base paths that are nearly unforgivable. I assume it all just a lack of concentration when he is not playing well. I may have just talked myself out of liking him so much..

Odoobs being Odoobs

As far as his social media activity is concerned I am just bewildered by his amusement of being in a different city every other week. Odoobs is constantly, and I mean constantly, instagramming the view from his hotel room and obviously very excited about the city he is in. He has been the everyday centerfielder for the Phillies for 3 + years. He’s been to all these cities countless times. I just get a kick out of him getting a kick out of it. Also, he lives in a high rise in University City overlooking the Schuylkill. He has fun and enjoys himself and clearly does not take it too seriously. He bat flips home runs better than almost anyone. I have a soft spot for him and have latched on to him for some reason. I’ve always had a favorite player on the Phillies. A guy I root for more than any one on the team. From Lenny Dykstra to Scott Rolen to Bobby Abreu (Odubel like player – just better) to Ryan Howard to Odubel Herrera. Those are my guys. Like it or not.
Lastly, we get to Matt Klentak. Most of my friends that are avid fans have not quite seen eye-to-eye with Klentak during the course of his tenure. Or at least they weren’t. Old Dartmouth is sensing opportunity this year and seizing it. What’s a prospect or two when you can acquire Asdrubal Cabrera and watch him mash game winning homers the week he comes over? Jorge Alfaro (acquired in the Cole Hamels deal) can’t block a pitch nor hit a pitch with much consistency? Well let’s bring in an All-Star catcher. Wilson Ramos, the injured catcher the Phils acquired, made the All-Star team this year and should only bolster the team’s chances when he gets back reportedly close to the end of the month. Klentak also added lefty bullpen arm Aaroun Loup and he has been ineffective at best in his two appearances but it was still a move to better the team in the now.

Seeing that there are no Yankee or Red Sox juggernauts in the NL this year the Phils have decided to push more chips into the pot. The Phils brain trust did not go all-in by acquiring Manny Machado but they have gotten incrementally better and have firmly stated they are here and ready to contend this year.

My prediction is that this team can hold on and make the playoffs this season. I think the youth can help in this situation when coupled with the right group of veterans the Phils have added. They handed the Dodgers a series loss right after LA had acquired Machado and stood toe to toe with the Red Sox for 14 innings at Fenway in a tough luck loss and came back the next night with an impressive win. It will be fun to have Boston at the Bank this month in a playoff like atmosphere. It has been 7 years since the Phils made the playoffs and we’re all itching.

Here are two bonus baseball related videos of my daughter, Avery. She is 4.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The State of the Sixers

Simmons and Emiid - 2020

The 76ers will play their 41st game of the season Thursday night when they travel to Boston to take on the Eastern Conference leading Celtics. Their record currently stands at an even .500, 20-20, and there are more signs for optimism than for pessimism for the first time in half a decade for this precocious up and coming talent laden team. Joel Embiid will almost assuredly make his first All-Star team after playing in 31 of the 40 games and averaging 24 points 11 rebounds and 2 blocks per game in 31 minutes. Ben Simmons, still considered a rookie after sitting out the entire year last year, has played as advertised. Simmons is every bit of 6 feet 10 inches tall and runs the point with vision and handle the likes of which NBA fans really have not seen since Magic Johnson retired.

As the Sixers cross the official halfway point of the season I wanted to reach out to my readers to let them know I still am following Philadelphia sports with a passion, but it has been difficult to find time and angles to write about. With the Eagles playing in the NFC Championship game this weekend I certainly could have provided some fluff about their marvelous season, but I do not pretend to know football well enough to report on it intelligently. So good luck to the Eagles this weekend and let’s keep our Ts and Ps with Carson Wentz for a speedy recovery.

I’ll tell you though, at times to the chagrin of my wife, I am fully invested in this Sixers team and their future. NBA basketball is exciting in Philadelphia for the first time since Allen Iverson was traded away 11 seasons ago. Having said that, it can be incredibly frustrating to watch this young team develop on the fly as they are prone to blowing big leads and making too many mental mistakes during crunch time. I have watched a significant amount of these 40 games and will impart with you my observations and opinions on the key players and management of this team.

What a Talent!

Joel Embiid – The Centerpiece

There is no limit to the amount of superlatives you can bestow on Joel Embiid. The 7’ 2” center from Cameroon is one of the few remaining big men in the league with a back to the basket post-up game. He can handle (relatively well for a man his size), he can shoot from mid-range, he can shoot from 3, he has tremendous vision and can pass better than expected, he rebounds well and is always active on defense blocking and altering shots. He has a tendency to leave his feet too quickly in anticipation of a block, but he should be able to clean that up. In an early win at the Los Angeles Lakers, Embiid put up the staggering line of 46 points 15 rebounds 7 assists and 7 blocks. Those numbers had never before been recorded in an NBA game.

Another thing Embiid may do better than any big man in the game is draw contact to get to the free throw line. With his skill set, opposing bigs have to stay in his face when he squares to the basket and he has developed a type of “swim move” you may have seen players like Kevin Durant and James Harden employ where he sees the defenders outreached arm in front of him and he brings the ball up to the shooting position right through that outreached arm to draw the shooting foul. His immense size also enables him to draw contact in the post and Joel knows how to shoot it from the charity stripe. He is shooting 79% on the season and is in the top 10 for makes in the league despite missing 9 games.

As far as chinks in his armor are concerned; he still has not been cleared by the Sixers’ crack medical staff to play on back-to-back nights. I am 32 years old and I play basketball on back-to-back nights. Something’s missing there. Embiid’s health will always be a concern, at least until he plays more than 60 games in two straight seasons, but that is something that is out of his control. Regarding what he can control, I’d like to see Embiid be stronger with the basketball. For such an immense man with obvious strength, he is constantly having the ball stripped from him when he is about to make a move. At times, it would appear that his body cannot quite catch up to what his mind wants him to do and he can look a bit gangly and out of control. I attribute this to having played just over 60 total NBA games since he was drafted in 2014 (and less than 20 during his lone season at Kansas). The guy did not pick up a basketball until he was 16 so expect him to get better as he gets more seasoned in understanding what he can and cannot do on the court.

Rookie of the Year Favorite

Ben Simmons – The Straw That Stirs the Drink

Simmons, along with Embiid, is a generational talent. The 21 year old Australian has a unique repertoire and is averaging 17 points 7 assists and 8 rebounds as the point forward for the team. At this time, Simmons best attribute is his ability to find the open man in a spot that best suits the player to make the next shot. His pass first mentality is a big reason why the Sixers have gone back and forth with the untouchable Golden State Warriors for the NBA lead in assists per game. Simmons has a variety of moves, most notably a behind the back dribble in traffic, that allow him to get free to make these passes. His height puts him at an advantage when smaller players attempt to guard him and his quickness, he has that ability to shrink the court he moves so fast, allows him to get by larger slower defenders. Simmons on a breakaway is really quite breathtaking.


Perhaps the most underrated part of Simmons game is his intensity. It has been on display of late after getting chippy with Marcus Morris of the Celtics in London last week as well as the dustup he had with Kyle Lowry at the end of the Sixers latest win on Martin Luther King Jr day. That grit can be seen on the defensive end of the floor where Simmons is active in passing lanes and in the paint blocking shots and cleaning the glass. Simmons ranks 8th in the NBA in steals at just under 2 a game and is also good for a block a game. Simmons demeanor on the court is often surly, which is a contrast to the affable Embiid who is constantly smiling and egging on a home crowd. I like Simmons having this mentality as he is all business on the floor and is not out there to make any friends with opposing players. I am more prone to respecting a Bad Boys Pistons mentality than an AAU Dwight Howard I’m out here to have fun mentality. It appears that Simmons and Embiid could be a good mix of both.

There is one glaring thing with Simmons, of course, the giant elephant in the room. The guy flat out can’t shoot a basketball. My theory is that his innate ability from the time he was very young made all of his handlers and coaches gloss over the fact that not only can he not shoot, but he appears to shoot with the wrong hand, and with god awful form at that. He was tall enough, fast enough, and strong enough to still dominate every league he played in until he got to the NBA. Now he’s running pick and rolls and every defender sags underneath and DARES him to shoot a wide open jumper from 15 feet away. Reluctant would be putting it mildly if we’re describing Simmons’ penchant for shooting a jumper.  If you’ve been following half as much as I have, then you know that Simmons shoots almost all of his shots within 8 feet or so of the basket and he does so with his right hand. Apparently, Simmons is right-handed but for some reason he shoots his jumpers, and free throws, with his left hand up and his elbow out. That is not a recipe for success as evidenced by his putrid 56% free throw shooting percentage (he is shooting 65% in January). Simmons will take and make the occasional jumper so it is confusing to me why he is not a bit more aggressive on offense but I believe that will come in time.

Lastly, Ben is just way too careless with the ball. He is 6th worst in the NBA at 4.0 turnovers a game (Embiid is 5th worst at 4.2). Ben’s turnovers seem to be mostly mental mistakes or caused by playing a bit too fast. He has a habit of leaving his feet before knowing where he’s going with the basketball and often times that leads to live ball turnovers and run outs for opposing teams. What makes matters worse is that it seems to happen more often when the Sixers are desperately trying to hold on to a lead late in games. Ben will need to clean that up but he is another guy that has only played 40 games in the last 2 years, so hopefully some seasoning can allow for these turnover issues to dissipate.

What Markelle is Kown For

Markelle Fultz – The What the F**k?

The Fultz situation has to be the biggest enigma in the NBA and it feels like it is barely getting any attention (luckily for the Sixers). This summer Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers’ GM, traded the number 3 overall pick along with another high lottery selection the SIxers owned from the Lakers, to the Celtics for the number one overall pick. They used it on the consensus number one selection 6’ 4” combo guard Markelle Fultz. The Celtics took Jayson Tatum out of Duke and while it is still too early to call, the Celtics have to be ecstatic with the way this trade is shaping up thus far.


Fultz looked like the guy who did it all for Washington in his lone season there in a few short outings in Summer League before he tweaked an ankle and sat out the rest of those games. Somewhere in between that time and the beginning of the regular season Markelle Fultz unlearned how to shoot a basketball. He played the first four games to start the season and had an almost shotput like form for his free throws and essentially refused to take an outside shot. Once again the Sixers’ crack medical staff have their hands on him after what they diagnosed as a “muscular imbalance” in his shoulder. The injury and subsequent loss of talent, to almost a Space Jam like level, is incredibly mysterious and disheartening for the fans. The Sixers’ management and lack of transparency regarding Fultz exacerbates the issue for all of us that care maybe a little too much about this team. By all reports he is healthy at this time but his shot is in such disrepair the Sixers are refusing to suit him up. It is scary and terrifying and just a sad situation that Fultz is in right now. Once again, Ts and Ps have go out to Markelle Fultz and his shot. He needs them.

Pass it to the Homie, Now You Hit It

Dario Saric - The Homie

Dario (it's pronounced "shar itch") plays a fearless brand of basketball and is effective at what he does. He is not an elite athlete but he makes up for that with a high basketball IQ that can be seen in the way he plays the game. He is the best offensive rebounder on the team and just has a knack for coming up with a tough rebound despite some physical limitations. He is another guy who can make great passes with ease and if his three point shot is falling you are absolutely in love with him. We saw it last season, and have seen some more of it this season, but Dario seems to play his best when the game is on the line. The Sixers were in the midst of yet another large collapse against the Raptors Monday when Saric stepped up and knocked down a big 3 pointer to give the Sixers some breathing room in their most recent win

The issue with Saric is not actually his issue. Too often Dario is the main option for a lineup that does not feature Embiid. Saric needs to be the second, third or fourth option and that is the plan when Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz are all clicking but right now the Sixers have to rely a little too heavily on the Croatian born power forward.

A Bonafide Shooter

JJ Redick – The Marksman

The veteran from Duke came to town on a one year $23 million deal. In his prior 11 NBA seasons he earned a little over $56 million. So this was quite the payday for a guy who really has put in the time and effort needed for an average at best athlete to thrive in the NBA. In his last 3 seasons, all with the Clippers, Redick made 200, 200, and 201 3 pointers. This season he has made 98 in 36 games. He is just a consistent pro. You don’t see a guy pull up on the dead run and make shots like JJ Redick can; the guy can just flat out shoot. My one knock is the careless turnovers I see too often from him in crunch time. When the Sixers get going bad, the turnovers seem to be infectious. As one of the few guys with big game experience on the team, you’d like to see more of a calming presence from JJ in the late game swoon situations.

Process Lifer

Robert Covington – The 3 Point Shooter?

RoCo is the only holdover from the dregs of the Trust the Process days and he got handsomely rewarded to the tune of 4 years $62 million about a month into the season. Covington was out to a blazing start leading the NBA in 3 pointers made for a stretch and the Sixers pounced to lock him up. The timing of the contract I felt to be somewhat odd. Covington has been a chucker of 3s since he came to Philly in 2014 but he has not exactly shot a high percentage, 36% for his career. After the torrid start that saw him shooting close to 50%, the Sixers went ahead and inked that deal. Covington shot 35% from 3 in December and is at 31% so far in January. He is perhaps the best perimeter defender on the team and with his size he rebounds well, so he is not a liability on the floor as far as intangibles are concerned. However, for the Sixers to truly contend they will need him to get that percentage up where Redick’s is at about 40%.

No More Rec League for TJ

TJ McConnell – The Sparkplug

Yes, you read that right. I can’t believe it myself. TJ McConnell the little white guy from Pittsburgh has officially made it in the NBA. I had a running joke with my buddies that TJ was still running at his local YMCA on Tuesday nights during the season just so he could get some burn. Well, TJ McConnell left the YMCA behind. This little pest (ask Demar Derozan) is just better than you expect him to be in every aspect of the game. He runs the back up point guard position and almost always provides a spark off the bench. He is constantly hounding opposing ballhandlers, usually playing full court defense, and can play passing lanes. His offensive game is really what makes him though. The guy has an uncanny ability to finish at the rim despite being overmatched athletically by virtually everyone on the court. He has a move where he circles under the basket and comes back out the other side to either find the open man or drain a 6 foot jump shot with remarkable ease. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I love TJ McConnell.

Playoffs or Bust

Brett Brown – The Really Cool Accent But Can He Coach?

In my best Brett Brown voice, “I like where we’re at as a team right now. We’re competing every night. We’re right there in the playoff picture. You have to understand we’re still an incredibly young team. Our two best players have never played a full NBA season and we’re finding a way to win games. Joel and Ben really have just scratched the surface of their talents and we’re still waiting on Markelle to find himself. Once we have our full compliment of players healthy and on the same page really I think the sky is the limit for this group.”

I like Bret Brown, you have to feel for the guy who lost 130 games in two seasons. I think he has the offense in a pretty good spot considering they were going to rely fairly heavily this season on Fultz’s playmaking ability. They are young and fast so it makes sense they run as much as they do, but it can’t come with the carelessness the Sixers usually play with. That being said, the jury is still out for me as to whether Brown will be leading this team when the Sixers are true contenders.

My two biggest knocks basically go hand in hand. The Sixers are dead last in the NBA in turnovers per game and the Sixers blow wayyyy too many big leads. I feel, to some extent, those two issues are a reflection of coaching. I’ve hammered home that Simmons and Embiid do not have much experience, but I have not seen much progress from them so far this season in taking care of the basketball. You just can’t win games by turning it over.  The blowing big leads thing is something you can’t quite put your finger on, but just know the Sixers are in their own heads when they enter the 4th quarter with a lead. They know a collapse is coming, the opposing team smells blood, and then Brown and his team only seem to make it worse by panicking. The Sixers were up 22 on the Celtics in London mid way through the second quarter and from there Boston went on something like a 75-35 run. It’s like the Sixers need to figure out how to stop the bleeding but they are hemophiliacs.

Brown has to do a better job of stemming the tide with timeouts. Too often he lets things ride and the Sixers continue to implode. Many times this season I will see a timeout during an opposing team’s run and the Sixers will come out of the timeout with a set piece that results in a turnover. It is poor execution and a lack of a sense of the moment for a team prone to making the same mistakes.

The Sixers have a tough remaining schedule in January that continues with another date in Boston tomorrow night and matchups with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Milwaukee to name a few. JJ Redick has been ruled out for at least 10 days with a knee bruise and Fultz’s return is still a mystery. I said to a friend the Sixers would be hard pressed to get 5 wins in this January that has them playing 12 games. Well, they are currently 3-1 in the month and have won 6 of 8 after a rough month of December. They will most likely need to finish the season a game or so better than the 20-20 record they have so far in order to make the playoffs. I’ll be watching and it will be exciting.

Until next time..
10 9 8 76ers!