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.

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 Phillies at the Break

Maikel Franco has found his stroke.

At the All-Star Break, the Phillies have played to a 42-48 record through 90 games. That performance is borderline remarkable considering several factors. First of which would be that the Phillies were picked to win 66.5 games. In fact they were picked to be the second worst team in all of the Major Leagues. That projected win total would be a .410 winning percentage and their current standing has them winning at a .467 clip and on pace to win about 76 games. Vegas is generally not off on these kind of predictions by that many games so these young Phillies are certainly over performing through more than half the season.

Another noteworthy factor to the Phils’ pleasantly surprising season is the Jekyll and Hyde play of the ball club. Despite one of the worst run differentials in the Majors (runs scored vs runs allowed) this team came out of the gate winning at an unsustainable clip. On May 18th the Phils hit their high water mark of the season at 24-17 and they were right behind the Nationals for the division lead at the time. At one point, each of their prior 12 wins had come by a 1 run margin. This could not last, and it did not.

After that brilliant first month and a half the Phils stingy pitching fell apart and their bats fell even more silent than they had been. In the next 32 games the Phils went 6-26 and looked every bit the worst team in the league that we all kind of expected them to be. Aaron Nola fell apart. Vince Velasquez got hurt. The solid bullpen became a sieve and the bats are the bats, not very good. In those 32 games, which included 7 and 9 game losing streaks, the Phils were outscored 180-100 in total or 5.6 to 3.1 on average every night. The runs scored for the Phils were bolstered by some outlier games, they scored 8 twice and 10 once (in a game they lost!) so in the 32 games they scored 3 or less 21 times and 2 or less 17 times. Yikes.

But then something seemed to happen to cause a spark in Minnesota. After dropping the first two games in the Twin Cities to fall to 30-43 on the season, the Phils finally found their offensive groove. I picture Pete Mackanin having a conversation with Ryan Howard like the one in this clip, Howard is in the role of Crash Davis.  If he did, then it seemed to work. They won the getaway game in Minnesota and headed to San Francisco for the weekend where the Giants and their best record in the Majors awaited.  The Giants may have taken two of three in that series but the two losses the Phils absorbed were hard fought including an 8-7 extra inning loss on Sunday that saw the Phightin’s make several comebacks and show real signs of life on offense for the first time all season really.

With the confidence boost from playing the Giants tough, they rolled in to Arizona and returned the favor of a sweep to the Diamondbacks. From there they took two of three at home from the defending World Champ Kansas City Royals and followed that with a sweep of the hapless Braves.

So how did they turn around a season that looked dead in the water? It’s simple really. They started hitting and they started hitting home runs. In the 17 games since the rough patch, Mackanin’s bunch has gone 12-5 and mashed 23 home runs. For perspective, the Phillies managed 66 home runs in their first 73 games. They are hitting nearly half a home run more per game during this latest stretch.

Peter Bourjos has enjoyed some fairly unexpected success.

The Phils have done it with a collective of contributions. Most surprisingly, outfielder Peter Bourjos has caught fire after not doing much of anything at the plate through the first two months of the season. In the last 30 days, Bourjos is tied for 2nd in the NL with a .397 batting average. The man he’s tied with? Cesar Hernandez.  While Cesar and Bourjos have been doing it with a high average, Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp have been doing it with power. Franco leads the team with 18 home runs, just a homer shy of top 10 in the NL and 3 shy of the top 5. Meanwhile, Rupp has come in to his own as the every day catcher replacing Carlos Ruiz. Rupp is hitting a stellar .287, has 9 home runs (5 in the last month) and is second among catchers in doubles (17) and third in slugging (.507).

Maikel Franco has done a nice job of righting his ship after really looking helpless at the plate during the Phils’ June swoon. The 23 year old Dominican third baseman reached a season low .235 average during that series in Minnesota and has been on the same tear his team has been on since.  He’s raised his average 24 points in that time to .269 and has been red hot in July while riding a still active 10 game hitting streak that has him with a ridiculous slash line of .450/.476/.875 for the month of July.

Too much of this look from Aaron Nola.

As for the Phillies most important pitcher, that’s another story. Aaron Nola has been the definition of awful for over a month now. After lowering his ERA to 2.65 with 6 shut out innings in Milwaukee on June 5th, Nola failed to finish the 4th inning for four straight starts. This hurts. Nola was looking like every bit the ace we’re hoping he can become through his first 12 starts of the season, but he has lost the pinpoint accuracy he is generally able pitch with and he was/is in danger of being sent down to the minors. In his last start before the break he gave up 5 runs in the second inning to the Royals and it looked like another very short outing was in store for the struggling 23 year old. He was able to pull it together and finish 5 innings without giving up another run and the hope is that an extended break, Mackanin skipped his start during the last series in Colorado, will clear his head and allow him to regain his All-Star caliber play from the first two months of the season.

With Nola struggling the staff has two pleasant surprises on it in Jerad Eichoff and Vince Velasquez. As noted before, Eichoff was acquired in the Cole Hamels deal and Velasquez in the Ken Giles transaction. Eichoff has been the most consistent starter on the staff and had his ERA down to 3.30 after winning 5 of 6 decisions before struggling in the thin air at Coors Field and giving up a by far season high 8 earned runs in Denver. Velasquez has returned from a brief stint on the DL and essentially picked up where he left off. In his three most recent starts he’s allowed the following run totals: 0, 2, 2 and has picked up the win in all three games. His record stands at 8-2 and his ERA is an impressive 3.32, leading all Phils starters. The most seasoned starter on the staff, Jeremy Hellickson, has been a solid calming presence and given himself some trade value with dependable start after dependable start through the first half of the season.

Classic Odoobs

I’d me remiss if I did not mention the play of the Phils’ lone All-Star Odubel Herrera. Odoobs is the new Shane Victorino (unfortunately without the arm). He is the guy on the team that other fans definitely do not like. He’s flashy and cocky. He is starting to hit for more power and already has 10 home runs this year after hitting only 8 all of last season. His average has finally dipped below .300 and sits at .294 after a rough weekend in Colorado for him. He will make bonehead mistakes in the field and on the bases but the 24 year old "El Torito" from Venezuela clearly plays with a youthful exuberance that has been missing from the stagnant Phillies for too long. He may lead the NL in bat flips as he likes to celebrate the home runs he hits.

Ryan Howard is literally and statistically the worst player in Major League Baseball. It’s sad and depressing but that’s all I can say about that for now. At least he is not playing much at all these days as he provides negative value whenever he does. He is second on the team in homers with 12. That's all he can do at even close to a Major League level.

My prediction for the rest of the season is that the Phils continue their Jekyll and Hyde ways. They don’t have the talent to sustain the offensive success but they have some arms and some bats that should make them a competitive squad when things are falling right. It’d be hard to imagine the offense of the past three weeks continuing but if it falls back just some it would still be much better than the lack of anything during the 6-26 stretch. I believe the Phillies will finish the season with 74 wins and Maikel Franco will hit 33 home runs.

It should be fun to watch this group continue to grow and even more fun when the talent in the minor leagues joins the big league club.

Werth the Watch

Cole Hamels - Cole was an All-Star for the first place Rangers and is their staff ace. His ERA was down to 2.60 but he's had two straight rough outings and he is now at 9-2 with a 3.21 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 112 innings.

Chase Utley - Leading off and playing 2nd everyday for the Wild Card leading Dodgers. Chase had 6 hits in a 14 inning game two weeks ago. 6 hits! He's hitting .263 with 5 homers and 27 RBI.

Jayson Werth - Werth bats second and plays left for the first place Nats. The Bearded One came on in June after a slow start and is hitting .252 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI.

Jimmy Rollins - Designated for Assignment by the White Sox, no longer in the Major Leagues.