Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making sense of the Phillies

I always like to listen to Glen Macnow and Ray Didinger on WIP on Saturday mornings.  The two seem to gel well together and really know their stuff regardless of what sport they’re talking about.  Last Saturday I happened to be tuned in as they were discussing the Phillies.  Ray made the point that he usually doesn’t look up at the standings until Memorial Day to evaluate where teams are and how they’re doing.  With this past weekend being Memorial Day weekend, Ray came to the logical conclusion that the Phillies are who they are which is a roughly .500 baseball team that’s going to look half decent sometimes and lost at other times.

                                                         Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Josh Beckett celebrates his no-hitter against
the Phillies with his Dodger teammates.
The last three games are a great example of this.  Sunday, the Phillies, inexplicably, on their home field, got no-hit by Dodgers’ aging veteran Josh Beckett.   They showed no signs of life.  The next day the Phillies broke out offensively in a 9-0 blanking of Colorado.  But last night, they looked like the offensively inept Phillies again losing 6-2 to Colorado setting up for tonight’s rubber game.

While there are still four months of baseball left, as I write this on May 28, I think this is who the Phillies are.  They’re going to get your hopes up one night only to crush those hopes shortly thereafter and I’m not falling for it.  It’s who they are until they prove otherwise.

Coming into the season there were lots of questions about Ruben Amaro’s decisions to keep the veteran nucleus of the Phillies together.  What’s particularly frustrating about the Phillies 22-27 record through 49 games of the season is that the veterans on the team have provided decent production.  Chase Utley looks like an All-Star, Jimmy Rollins can still play great defense at shortstop, his discipline at the plate has significantly improved as his on-base percentage is up to a career high of .356, and Ryan Howard could very well wind up with over 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs this season if he stays healthy.   Marlon Byrd is batting .289 and has proved to be one of the better moves by Ruben Amaro Jr. and AJ Burnett has posted a respectable 3.51 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.  While Jonathan Papelbon takes a lot of heat in the city he’s converted 13 of 14 save chances and has a 1.96 ERA.

But what’s disappointing is that the Phillies bullpen has blown far too many leads late in games, and the younger players on the roster are not doing their job.   Domonic Brown, hailed as one of the Phillies top prospects and the future of the organization while the Phillies were busy winning NL East division titles, is hitting .202.  Cody Asche has looked lost at times at third base.  Ben Revere has struggled mightily to get on base for a man who prides himself on speed and someone who has been given lots of chances to lead off this season.  So where does that leave them?

The Phillies have a group of veterans producing but not well enough to carry the team to the top of the standings, and they don’t have much promise regarding young talent on the major league roster right now.  You might as well keep your fingers crossed and hope the veteran production continues but it’s hard to see that carrying the Phillies anywhere this season considering the veterans aren’t getting the help they need and even when the Phillies have leads late in games, nothing is safe considering the path to Jonathan Papelbon is often a nightmare and right now the Phillies are without one of their more consistent starting pitchers in Cliff Lee. 

                                     Yong Kim/ staff photographer
Ruben Amaro Jr. should not remain as Phillies general manager
past this season. The Phillies are nothing more than a .500 team.
So while the Phillies are only five games behind in the NL East until I see some more consistency this looks like a third straight season without the playoffs and the future looks less and less promising.  Standing pat when the recent past hasn’t yielded favorable results usually isn’t a good idea.  Look at the other professional sports teams in Philadelphia.  The Eagles brought in Chip Kelly after a 4-12 season under Andy Reid.  Kelly completely changed the culture within the organization and won the NFC East last year and the Eagles look to be favored to do so again this year.  The Sixers brought in Sam Hinkie as their general manager and he totally blew up the roster and now there is some hope for the future of the organization.  Since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, the Flyers have only won two playoff series so they decided to move on this season with Craig Berube as head coach and after the season hired Ron Hextall to take over as general manager.  The Phillies changed managers last season but the core of the roster is largely the same and Ruben Amaro Jr. is still the general manager.  After this season, it seems only logical more drastic changes be made.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Eagles Draft Analysis with Zach Berman

With the NFL Draft a thing of the past, I figured I would take a look back at how the Eagles did and I talked to Philadelphia Inquirer Eagles writer Zach Berman to evaluate their selections.

The Eagles were under a lot of scrutiny after their first-round selection of Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith.  Smith wasn’t viewed as a first-round pick entering the draft and even himself was surprised to be picked in the first round.  The Eagles were a bit unlucky in the first round as their six players who they targeted with the 22nd pick were all gone by the time pick 22 rolled around.  With pass rusher being their biggest need in the eyes of most, Berman believed it was still important to address a need.

                                                                   Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Even Marcus Smith himself was surprised when
the Eagles drafted him in the first round .
 “If you like the player, which clearly they liked him, then you get him,” Berman said. “It’s always better to be a pick early than a pick late.”  Anthony Barr from UCLA was the highest rated pass rusher on the Eagles board and after Barr and the five other players they were looking at were off the board they moved back to 26 and saw another pass rusher, Dee Ford from Auburn, go at 23 and so the Eagles took Smith.

Berman believes Smith has the frame to be a situational pass-rusher and is a good enough athlete to be molded into a starter but it really depends on the learning curve with which he adapts to Bill Davis and the 3-4 defense.  Someone who Berman believes will make more of an immediate impact was the Eagles second-round selection Jordan Matthews, a wide receiver from Vanderbilt.

“He’s got good size, he’s got good speed, he’s got great production and by all indications he’s a good character guy,” Berman said.  “So he’s got what the Eagles were looking for.”  After releasing DeSean Jackson this offseason, Berman thinks Matthews can help fill the void.

                                          Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports

The Eagles will look to Jordan Matthews to help make plays on
offense in 2014 as they move forward without DeSean Jackson.
“I think he can be a day one impact player,” Berman added of Matthews.  Another player the Eagles drafted in hopes of being another playmaking wide receiver was Josh Huff from Oregon.  The value in the third round isn’t bad, but it could look a lot better when the season starts.

“There’s no one in the NFL that will have a better idea of how to use Josh Huff than Chip Kelly,” Berman said referencing the familiarity Kelly has with Huff from their time together at Oregon.  While Huff was drafted in the third round, if Chip Kelly figures out a good scheme fit for him in his offense, then Huff figures to be yet another playmaker for the Eagles.
                                                          Scott Olmos/USA Today Sports

Given that Josh Huff is familiar with Chip Kelly, the
Eagles hope he can fit right into the high-tempo offense.

Berman felt the Eagles late-round picks made sense as they added defensive backs Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds and defensive linemen Taylor Hart and Beau Allen.  Secondary was a big need for the Eagles and Berman felt that Watkins was a good fit.

“His versatility in nickel situations, dime situations, and on special teams is nice,” Berman said of Watkins.
Reynolds is another good fit in Berman’s mind as he believes the safety from Stanford gives them some depth at a position they very much needed some depth at.  Reynolds could wind up being a nice playmaker on defense for the Eagles as Berman pointed to his six interceptions two seasons ago, three of which were returned for touchdowns for the Cardinal as something to be excited about.

Taylor Hart gives the Eagles a prototypical 3-4 defensive end and is another guy Chip Kelly is familiar with having came out of Oregon and Beau Allen was a true nose tackle that gives the Eagles some depth behind Bennie Logan at nose tackle who played a lot as a rookie last season.

A common thread now having seen two drafts with Chip Kelly as the Eagles head coach has been his penchant for drafting players from the Pac 12 who he had at Oregon or went against.  Berman thinks it’s a practical approach for someone entering his second season in the NFL having spent lots of years in the college ranks.

“If you have familiarity with a player and have a better idea of how he’ll translate to the NFL, then it makes,” Berman said.  In the last two drafts, the Eagles have drafted Zach Ertz, Matt Barkley, Josh Huff, Taylor Hart, and Ed Reynolds, all from Pac 12 schools.

Berman added that he felt the Eagles did alright after an unfortunate first round.  “In terms of what you were going into the draft looking for I would give them a B-, I think the first round didn’t really go their way but I think they recovered nicely,” Berman said.

As we head towards the summer, the pieces are beginning to fall into place for the 2014 Eagles and Berman doesn’t expect many other major personnel moves to be made now that the draft is over.  “I think for the most part what you see now is going to be most of their roster,” Berman concluded.