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 espn.com.

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!








Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Sad State of Affairs

Looks About Right

I know it’s been quite a while but given the current state of the team I felt it incumbent upon me to give my loyal readers an update on the sad state of affairs that is the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies. Have any of you been paying attention? Holy shit! They are going in the wrong direction again!

After a 2015 season that saw the Phils win on the last day of the season to avoid losing 100 games and a 2016 season that showed clear signs of improvement, it was expected this young group of kids would continue to build on last year’s 71 win campaign.

Well, after the longest May of Pete Mackanin’s life (it still has a week to go), that even saw him get a 2 year contract extension, the Phils would have to play their final 118 games at 56-62 to finish ahead of last year’s pace. It wouldn’t be impossible, but from the looks of things right now it’s right next to it. My god, they have been a 5-alarm tire fire the entire month of May having dropped 20 of their last 24. Today, they have to be praying for a rainout so they can avoid getting bushwhacked for a fourth straight time by the red hot Colorado Rockies in South Philadelphia. I’ve joked with my buddies that any team that gets done a series with the Phils leaves town with the NL RBI lead. Ask Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, or Charlie Blackmon about the Phillies staff. The Rockies are in town for a four game set and have outscored the Phils 23-4 in the first three games. But let’s take a step back from the here and now.

With three days left in April, the Phillies were 11-9, had just won 6 games in a row, and had scored 95 (4.75 per game) runs while allowing 84 (4.20 per game). In the 24 games since they have gone 4-20 while scoring 93 (3.88 per game) runs and giving up 141 (5.86 per game). Ugly is the first word that comes to mind to describe the play. Undisciplined, sloppy, disinterested, and stubborn are a few more. In those 24 games the Phils have held their opponent under 5 runs just 5 times and there is plenty of blame to go around among the pitching staff. The starters have a 6.39 ERA in May while the relievers are checking in with a better than expected but still not great 4.46 ERA. The staff on the season is at 5.10 overall.

Jeremy Hellickson has the lowest ERA of any starter at 4.28. Jerad Eickhoff has been up and down and registers at 4.70 while Vince Velasquez (5.98), Zach Eflin (5.36), and Nick Pivetta (5.12) have for the most part struggled.  Eflin has had some solid starts but has been blown out his past few. In 19 starts , Velasquez, Eflin, and Pivetta have combined to pitch 105 innings while giving up 117 hits,  21 home runs, and 37 walks while failing to reach the 6th inning 11 times. The Phils are 4-15 in those 19 games.

Twenty-four year old Nick Pivetta may not have been quite ready for The Show yet, but early injuries to Clay Bucholz and Aaron Nola forced the Phillies’ hand. Pivetta was part of a memorable moment, for the wrong reasons, in Texas when Pete Mackanin decided to lift the youngster with 2 outs in the fifth inning of a game the Phillies were leading 2-0 at the time. Pivetta was most likely gassed having thrown 107 pitches through four and two thirds but for a guy that had yet to record his first major league win this was a cosmic karmic fuck up by Petey Mack. You don’t pull a guy in that situation when he is in line to win a game and has yet to give up a run!

What happened? Left hander Joely Rodriguez came on and here is the game log for the rest of the inning. One man was on first base when Rodriguez entered with 2 outs.

Choo to second on balk by Rodríguez.
Mazara walked.
Chirinos singled to right, Choo scored, Mazara to third.
Odor singled to left, Mazara scored, Chirinos to second.
Rua homered to right (366 feet), Chirinos and Odor scored.
Gallo struck out swinging.

You have to laugh at the immediate balk and walk. Then you can cry from there on out. I was actually watching when this happened. It went south quick.

Another memorable couple of Ls came at home against the Seattle Mariners who dusted up Phillies pitching for 21 runs and 32 hits… in a two game series. The Tuesday night opening game of the series saw the Phillies jump out 4 nothing in the first inning only to see that lead vanish by the middle of the 5th. Trailing 5-4 the Phils put up another crooked number and took the lead 9-5 giving themselves a second 4 run lead in the same game. After Jerad Eickhoff squandered the initial lead by failing to complete the 4th inning, the bullpen combined to allow 5 more runs (3 earned) and give the Phillies the terrific feat of blowing two 4 run leads in the same game in a 10-9 loss.

The very next game with Seattle still in town the score was tied at 3 after 6 innings courtesy of a quality start from Eflin. Then veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit entered the game and failed to record more than one out in the 7th. Benoit gave up 5 earned runs and gave out 3 free passes while recording that out in a game he essentially lost for the Phillies. After the game, Benoit had the nerve to criticize Mackanin’s use of the bullpen and the lack of defined roles for the relievers. Whether or not Benoit had a valid point is moot considering the explosive diarrhea he resembled on the mound that day. Here is a clip of Joaquin spouting off.

So what about the offense you say? Boy oh boy, do they stink at the plate as well. At least in May they have. When you think about the Phils offense you have to assume they will live and die with the guys that should be their best two hitters. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Well, they’re dying here folks.

Odoobs, wow Odoobs. How many of you have been paying attention to his at bats this year? They are a thing of disaster. I’ve never seen a guy announcers discuss as “capable of winning a batting title” so absolutely clueless at the plate. The guy takes swings that you’d see your average little league rightfielder take against the best pitcher in the league. Then from time to time he’ll slap an 0-2 pitch in to left for a base hit and make you scratch your head, but make no mistake Odoobs does not have the correct approach at the plate (Where you at Matt Stairs?). After walking 10 times in April over 94 plate appearances, Herrera has eked out one walk during the entire month of May spanning 89 plate appearances. The nerve of this guy. Take it easy up there. His .205 average in May has his season average down to .231. His regression in his third year as the everyday centerfielder is not something you are expecting to see for a 25 year old who should be entering his prime.

Wild Swing, I Think I Love You

Maikel Franco has shown flashes of dynamic power over his still very young career but the only thing he’s done consistently at the plate is be inconsistent. He still flails wildly dislodging his helmet on far too many swings. His walk rate of 7.6% is in line with his career numbers and still far too low. In May, Franco is slashing a paltry .231/.292/.369 and the .231 batting average and .292 on base percentage are both improvements from April. The .369 slugging percentage which is 84 points lower than Ryan Howard slugged last year, is due to the fact that Franco has one home run in his last 82 at bats. The lack of power has been combined with an inability to drive in runs. Through 27 games, Maikel managed to knock in 25 runs despite his average hovering around the Mendoza line. Since then, he has driven in 3 over his last 14.  That kind of production is just not going to get it done.

Cesar Hernandez has cooled considerably in May after a torrent start. Tommy Joseph has come on of late after a slow start but has been inconsistent at best. The addition of Michael Saunders in the outfield has been a total non-factor. Freddie Galvis remains to be Freddie Galvis. Cameron Rupp has been serviceable and really just looks the part of a catcher if you ask me.

The lone bright spot, perhaps on the entire roster right now, has been the play of leftfielder Aaron Altherr. Altherr leads the Phils in home runs with 8 and had a stretch of 5 home runs in as many games including 3 straight games with a 3 run home run. Understandably, the power has cooled some since that outburst and Altherr has now gone 38 at bats without a home run. Nevertheless he has been drawing a few Jayson Werth comparisons due to his lanky frame and ability to hit for power. It remains to be seen if Altherr can continue to be an above average hitter but right now it’s what us Phils fans have to cling to given the current state of affairs for our ball club.

Until next time folks, whenever that may be.

Werth the Watch:

Cole Hamels started the season in typical Cole Hamels fashion but has been on the shelf with an oblique for a month. He was 2-0 in 5 starts with a 3.03 ERA in the early going.

Jayson Werth has been batting second and playing everyday leftfield for the first place Nationals. He's hitting .283 with 7 home runs and 16 RBI. He turned 38 last week and his gross paycheck every two weeks should average out to about $807,692 give or take a few bucks. He is in the final year of that contract.

Chase Utley is still starting about 75% of the games at second base for the 27-20 Dodgers. He bats 7th and has yet to hit a home run in 90 at bats. After a ghastly start that saw him batting under a .100 about a month in to the season he has turned it around some hitting .265 in May to raise his average to an even .200. It's the end of the line for Chase who is also 38 years old, but he's still out there doing it.

Chooch made it to town during that awful Mariners series and gave the Phils fans something to smile about. He's playing in about half the Mariners games and I'll do him a favor and not list his stats.

Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are out of baseball.

Ken Giles has 12 saves and a 3.44 ERA as the closer for the best record in baseball Houston Astros.

Jim Eisenrich is hitting lasers at a local high school field twice a week just for fun.

Pete Incaviglia is smoking Marlboro Reds and hitting moon shot home runs in beer league softball.

Lenny Dykstra is face down in a ditch and having a laugh about it.