Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday season pickings

After a week off for the holidays, I'll bet you're just soooo excited to make your picks this week!

I could go with a gimme—the Giants over the Eagles—but I just can't pick against the Birds. It's gonna be a painful game to watch, but I just can't pick against them.

I'll go with St. Joe's (3-3) over Creighton (4-2) Saturday night in the Hawks' first game this season at the Palestra—their home away from home while the Fieldhouse gets a makeover. The place will be rocking and Creighton won't know what hit them. — John

I love your selection this week and I will be one of the fans at the Palestra. I am in Chicago so I will go with the Bears this weekend although I don't know who they play. — Dave

I'm outside of Philly, but that's not compelling me to pick the Eagles….

I notice I'm in the basement on John's "Standings Ovations.” Perhaps I allow personal loyalties to play too strong a part in my picks. Or perhaps John never bothers to look up the Premier League scores and/or Wake soccer scores.

Regardless, I'm remaining loyal and going with host Wake Forest over South Fla Sunday afternoon in the NCAA soccer quarterfinals. (Chelsea losing 2 out of its last 3 at home has put them on my "naughty" list, so there will be no more mention of them for a while.) — Phil

Your records, I believe, are all current and correct. I do admit to giving up looking for Kurt's 3-man Colorado HS football scores after a quick internet check revealed that I need to get a life. Much like the Chelsea players. See, Phil, you may not be allowed to talk about Chelsea, but you can't stop the rest of us!!!! Chelsea. Chelsea. Chelsea. — John

Well, I, too will stick with college hoops, and with the team with which I am most closely allied. Tonight’s the “City Game” in Pittsburgh… Pitt v. Duquesne. This used to be a pretty good early test for both teams… at one time. Lately, though, the Panthers have been mopping the floor with the Dukes. And tonight shouldn’t be any different. Pitt wins handily, 86-60. — Kurt

It’s time Andy Reid returned to his head coaching philosophy, which is much like the name of his alma mater, Brigham Young University—bring them young. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a mantra espoused by both Reid and the movie “Wild in the Streets” (1968). In this movie, thirty becomes the mandatory retirement age.

Similarly, early in Reid’s coaching career with the Eagles, he used this magic age to determine when it was time for Eagles’ players to be sent to greener pastures. However, Reid’s philosophy has apparently changed, and so have the fortunes of the once vaulted, gold standard, Super Bowl-contender Philadelphia Eagles.

The 30-and-over roster crowd includes David Akers, Correll Buckhalter, Brian Dawkins, A.J. Feeley, Darren Howard, Donovan McNabb, Juqua Parker, Jon Runyon, and Tra Thomas. And let’s not forget that the whole offense is based around one individual that will be turning 30 next year, Brian Westbrook.

With the exception of Westbrook, the “baby” of the afore-mentioned group, we can all agree that the talent level of this 30-something group has diminished, while their propensity for injuries as increased. It’s time for Reid to draw on his coaching roots and inject the talented youth throughout the roster to revitalize this team and make it relevant again.

With regards to this week’s match-up with the New York Giants, contrary to the Erratic Sports Propaganda Network, or ESPN for short, I do not buy into the drama and hype perpetuated by its television channel, web site, and magazine. I do not agree that the Giants are infallible, unbeatable, or guaranteed a Super Bowl win this year. I believe the Eagles will keep their slim playoff hopes alive by not losing to the Giants this week. Of course, wording my prediction that way does not preclude a tie! — Troy V. of Yardley

Wow—that's a great point about the 30-year-olds. Why did he stop that philosophy? The funny thing is, for all the grief he took then about it—he was right. When he was doing it, they were winning; once he stopped, the wheels came off.

That said, I'm not letting you off that easy. "Wild in the Streets"??? You must have WAY too much free time on your hands! — John

Pot (John) accusing Kettle (Troy) of being black (having too much free time on his hands)?!? — Phil

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Most What-If-full Time of the Year

When the Eagles aren’t dominating the NFC, December in Philly is clearly the most “What If”-full time of the year. Accordingly, here are a few “What Ifs” to make you think, until Sunday’s play-calling really makes you think.

* What if Andy Reid had stuck by his old “Logan’s Run” approach to 30-year-olds? Remember “Logan’s Run”—the movie where 30-year-olds were to be eliminated?

A friend noted that Reid has not stuck to his own rule in recent years—with disastrous results.

Remember Reid’s early years, when he believed players were damaged goods when they hit 30? It was clearly stated and understood even by the players. Guys like Jeremiah Trotter, Duce Staley, and Bobby Taylor, among others, were victims of the age whack—and yet the Eagles kept winning.

Now, the Eagles field a team of plus-30s that includes inconsistent performers like Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Juqua Parker, and David Akers, among others—and the Eagles figure to be playoff-wannabes for the second time in three seasons.

Seems like it was easier for Reid to cut guys back in the day because they weren’t “his” players, guys that he’d drafted or signed and gotten to know.

* What if Pat Burrell did the unthinkable for most pro athletes today and decided he’d rather go for a repeat title than for the big bucks?

Imagine if Burrell, already rich even by pro athlete standards, chose to sign with the Phillies for a “mere” $5 million or so per season and agreed to a platoon role. Would the Phillies want him for that amount in that role? Of course.

That’d be far cheaper than any free agent pick-up they could find, and they’d be keeping a player who’s respected in the clubhouse. And even Burrell might be relieved by not having to play like a $14 million player.

If he did it—a ridiculously unlikely idea—Burrell would bask in a season of adulation from fans recognizing a guy who just wants to win.

* What if Jamie Moyer signs with another team?

That’d be the first truly down note of the 2008 Philadelphia Story. Could it happen? Certainly. Will it? Let’s hope the Phillies don’t let it come to that.

* What if Detroit tanks this season, either by not making the playoffs or falling out in the first round? Will the rest of pro hoopdom finally realize what basketball purists have known for years: Allen Iverson’s style of play is a team-killer.

* What if we’ve seen the best days of Brian Westbrook? A 29-year-old NFL running back—dealing with multiple lingering injuries—is not the future of a franchise.

So if Westbrook’s days are numbered—and they are—who’s next? You can bet the Eagles are scouting the college ranks for running backs, because their next featured running back is not currently on the team.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Best of St. Joe's Basketball

Now that it’s December and the Eagles have won the NFC West (4-0) but lost to almost everyone else (2-5-1), there’s no better time to turn to college basketball. In Philly, that means the Big Five.

As Philly hoops fans know, city teams repeatedly have produced the nation’s best players, from St. Joseph’s Jameer Nelson recently to Villanova’s Paul Arizin in the 1940s.

To start the new season, I figured I’d select each Big Five team’s all-time top 10 players, and also name each school’s best team. First up: St. Joe’s.

The first team:
1. Jameer Nelson (2000-04)
He was the consensus 2004 college player of the year, leading the Hawks to a perfect regular season (27-0) and into the Elite Eight. Nelson is St. Joe’s all-time leader in scoring (2,094), assists (713), and steals (256), and currently plays for the Orlando Magic.

2. Cliff Anderson (1964-67)
A 6-foot-4 rebounding machine, Anderson holds career school records for total rebounds (1,228), single-season average (15.5 rpg.), and single-season scoring average (26.5), among others. He was tenth nationally in rebounding as a sophomore (15.5), and eighth in the country in scoring as a senior (26.5).

3. Mike Bantom (1970-73)
The Hawks’ sole basketball Olympian (1972), Bantom averaged 20.0 points and 13.7 rebounds for his career. The 6-9 center is the school’s second all-time leading rebounder (1,151) and led St. Joe’s to two NCAA tourneys. His nine-year NBA career (1973-82) is the longest of any Hawk.

4. George Senesky (1939-43)
The 6-3 forward is the only Hawk to lead the country in scoring, with 23.4 ppg. as a senior when he was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year. Senesky scored more than half of his career points that season (515 of 969). He played eight NBA seasons and coached the Philadelphia Warriors to the 1956 NBA title.

5. Bobby McNeill (1957-60)
A complete player, the 6-1 McNeill had career averages of 17.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. McNeill led St. Joe’s to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history and two NCAA tourneys before playing two NBA seasons.

The second team:
Jim Lynam (1960-63)
Paul Senesky (1947-50)
Tony Costner (1980-84)
Delonte West (2001-04)
Maurice Martin (1982-86)

The best team: 2003-04.
It’s hard to argue with a team that went unbeaten during the regular season (27-0) and was ranked No. 1. Nelson and West—the best backcourt in school history—led a perfectly balanced team that included eventual NBAer Dwayne Jones, eventual A-10 co-Player of the Year Pat Carroll, and defensive stopper Tyrone Barley. Coach Phil Martelli’s team finished 30-2, reaching the Elite Eight; St. Joe’s has reached the Elite Eight three times (’04, ’81, ’63) and the Final Four once (’61).

Other top teams:
1960-61: Ramsay’s 25-5 Final Four team featured Lynam, Jack Egan, Vince Kempton, and Frank Majewski.
1965-66: Ramsay’s last team was the preseason No. 1 team in the country and was led by Anderson, Matt Goukas Jr., Billy Oakes, and Tom Duff and finished 24-5.
1962-63: Lynam, Bill Hoy, Jim Boyle, Tom Wynne, and Steve Courtin directed Ramsay’s 23-5 Elite Eight team.
1980-81: Coach Lynam’s 25-8 team, which upset No. 1 DePaul on the way to the Elite Eight, featured Costner, Boo Williams, and Bryan Warrick.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

History in D.C.

A little history will be made in Washington, D.C.—and not of the political variety. Georgetown and Maryland will play each other Sunday for third place in the Old Spice Classic.

Big deal, you say? It is for people who don't have the luxury of the Big Five, as Philly hoops fans do.

Georgetown and Maryland—separated by 12 miles, two leagues, and a tangled history—have one of the greatest rivalries that isn't. They share a recruiting base and the hoop hearts of the nation’s capital, but they don’t share the court too often.

I wrote a story for ESPN about the game. It's here for those who are curious.

For Big Five fans, the countdown of the best players from each Big Five school starts tomorrow with St. Joe's.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brown Out

Seven players caught passes in the Eagles’ 48-20 rout of Arizona Thursday, led by star rookie DeSean Jackson’s six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Noticeably absent from that group: former “future star” receiver Reggie Brown. A hamstring injury at the start of the season caused him to miss games, as did a groin injury midway through, which have contributed to his worst pro season, a benching, and a future in serious jeopardy.

To borrow the UPS slogan, what can Brown do for the Eagles?

The fact is, Brown always showed more “potential” than production. In six full college and pro seasons (three each), Brown has topped 816 receiving yards just once—his senior year at Georgia when he had 860.

This season will make it seven years below 817, since he has just 13 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown—and what appears to be a permanent place on the bench.

DeSean Jackson has clearly passed Brown on the depth chart—and in the attention he draws from opponents. Who scares opponents more: Jackson or Brown?

The real question is, what to do with Brown now?

He’s clearly not going to replace Jackson or Kevin Curtis. Brown has had more than one catch in a game just twice all season (6 against Chicago, 4 against Washington). Hank Baskett (28-for-409 yards, three TDs) and Jason Avant (24-251-2) are plenty productive enough to serve as backups to Curtis and Jackson.

That five-year contract extension the Eagles gave Brown in 2006 doesn’t look like such a hot move now, unless the Eagles can trade him in the offseason. But what can they expect for a receiver unlikely to see much action the rest of the way?

For now, Brown seems destined to join the ever-growing collection of unproductive wide receivers taken by coach Andy Reid during his 10 seasons.

Reid has drafted 11 receivers; Jackson is the first to make a major impact. (Sorry, but one 4th-and-26 catch does not make former first-rounder Freddie Mitchell impactful).

For a West Coast offense reliant on productive receivers, Reid has come up empty in the draft. His picks: Jackson, Jason Avant, Jeremy Bloom, Brown, Billy McMullen, Freddie Milons, Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, Gari Scott, Na Brown, and Troy Smith.

If the Eagles feel they’ve resolved their offensive woes, then Thursday’s game presents a new low for Brown. The offense looked great—and he was a non-factor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One More Move

Eagles coach Andy Reid promised changes heading into Sunday’s game and he certainly delivered. Aside from the demotions of tight end L.J. Smith and linebacker Omar Gaither, Reid also made a little halftime switch that’s drawn some attention.

Now it’s time for one more move: take the play-calling away from Marty Mornhinweg. Whatever loyalty Reid feels he owes Mornhinweg as a fellow former college and pro assistant and Mike Holmgren disciple has long been repaid. At the expense of the Eagles.

It’s time to cut the cord.

Mornhinweg has proven he is incapable of helping an NFL team win. His quarterbacks and skill players may put up gaudy numbers—Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia and Steve Young had Pro Bowl seasons for him—but winning is what counts in the NFL. And Mornhinweg has a track record of failure.

In his last two seasons as offensive coordinator in San Francisco, the 49ers went 10-22—before a 12-4 season after he left to become the head coach in Detroit.

The Lions then went 5-27 under Mornhinweg, giving him the worst winning percentage of any Detroit coach to last a season. He was the worst coach for perhaps the worst NFL franchise ever. And he’s all ours.

Mornhinweg is now in his third season as the Eagles offensive coordinator, and the team has gone 23-19-1, with one playoff appearance (assuming the Eagles miss the playoffs this year—a pretty safe assumption.) The Eagles were 31-17 in the three seasons prior, with two NFC title game appearances, and one Super Bowl showing.

The combined record of teams Mornhinweg led as either head coach or offensive coordinator in his most recent seven years: 38-68-1, with one playoff appearance.

That’s 107 games over the course of seven seasons—enough to get a pretty good read on a coach’s ability. Or lack thereof.

Football is a team game. To win, the offense has to be effective and balanced enough to sustain drives and keep its defense off the field for long stretches. Three-and-outs and failed third-down conversions cripple a team’s defense.

The Eagles had six possessions of three plays or less by halftime alone in Baltimore’s 36-7 rout Sunday. And in their last three games, the Eagles have converted just nine of 42 third-down opportunities.

Kolb, assuming he’s named the starter, deserves to show what he can do in a balanced offense, not one that throws the ball 61 percent of the time, as the Eagles have this season—which is even higher than the 55 percent of the past two seasons.

The offense’s failures are not all on McNabb—or Kolb. Mornhingweg and his play-calling sit at the core of the Eagles’ offensive woes. It’s time for someone else to call the shots.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pickin' & Grinnin'

I’m sure Man U. has a big soccer match this week against Woman U. and that somewhere there's an obscure high school event with Kurt's name all over it, but I'm going with the local boys and their attempt at a Rose Bowl bid: Penn State over Michigan State.

But just to show I have varied interests, I'm adding a second pick and a challenge. I'll take the Flyers over the Coyotes Saturday night. And the challenge: is the following name a Flyer or an Ikea product? Leksvik. — John

Props to:
* Albright for being selected to the ECAC Division III Football Bowl Championship series. Best of luck against Montclair State… you have my support, but just not my pick this week.

* The Hi-Plains Patriots for capturing the Colorado Class A 6-man football championship. Led by Kraig Tagtmeyer’s 307 yards rushing, the visiting Patriots should throttle the hosting Idalia Wolves, 74-24.

* John for picking a hockey game.

* Kurt for not picking the Eagles last week.

My picks: Texas Tech over Oklahoma; The Rams over the Eagles; and despite an undefeated record and a win over them earlier this year, Dayspring Christian (Eagles) falls to Merino (Rams) in the Colorado Class A 8-man football championship. — Kurt

Wow—two bold picks: a Tech win and the Rams beating the Eagles. But if the Eagles beat the Ravens, who they actually play this weekend, does that mean the loss to the Rams and the win over the Ravens gives them another tie for the weekend? — John

I like the fact that Andy Reid finally “Buddy-ed Up" yesterday and read his clubhouse the riot act. Count on an inspired game this Sunday. Season ain't over! If they pull this off, we have Arizona at home on a short week, and we can start thinking about a run for the playoffs. Eagles 17, Ravens 13 — Carnac the Magnificent

The heart weighs heavy with Wake not winning the ACC soccer tourney. At least I/we have the NCAAs to look forward to where Wake not only is the defending champion, they are this year's #1 seed. That'll have to wait though until next week since Wake doesn't play until the second round (11/25).

Still, I know how much y'all look forward to my Demon Deacon picks, so I'll go with Wake's field hockey to knock out the Orange in the national semis Friday in L'vull, KY.

And predictions wouldn't be predictions without a little PL: First-place Chelsea (32pts) at home over 17th place (out of 20) Newcastle (13pts). Game of the weekend: Aston Villa (23pts) handles visiting ManU (24pts).

p.s. Yes, John, there is a Santa Claus and Chelsea won last week. — Phil

I stopped believing in Santa awhile ago, but I've always believed in Chelsea. Of all the soccer teams I’ve seen (Caitlin’s, Daniel’s), I've never seen a soccer team better than Chelsea. Oh, by the way, Leksvik is an Ikea product; however, a Vaananen is a Flyer. Go figure. — John

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Rookie

Please step away from the ledge, all you Phillies fans. Slowly crawl back inside the building and refrain from panicking. Yes, Chase Utley will have hip surgery next week and is expected to need four to six months to recover.

And yes, with a straight face Ruben Amaro Jr. did mention Eric Bruntlett as a legitimate replacement. The same Bruntlett who couldn’t hit a beach ball as a month-long fill-in last season for Jimmy Rollins.

You can exhale because Amaro also mentioned minor-league shortstop Jason Donald. And if he learned anything from Pat Gillick, Amaro will have Donald playing second base starting today in the Arizona Fall League.

Donald currently is tearing up the league, hitting .407 with five homers and 17 RBIs and is second in the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s also coming off a phenomenal 2008 season.

He guided Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, leading the team in batting average (.381), on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He even played in two all-star games last season: the Eastern League All-Star game and the MLB Future All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

So Donald knows his way around the big stage.

The questions: can he make the jump from Double-A Reading, and can he make the transition from shortstop to second? Let’s give him a shot to answer the first question in spring training, and let’s get him working on the position now to see if he can answer the second question.

But one thing the Phillies shouldn’t worry about as they look to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champs since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds: starting a rookie.

The Phillies are the only one of the last four World Series teams not to start a rookie infielder. The 2008 Rays had third baseman Evan Longoria, the 2007 Red Sox started second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and the ’07 Colorado Rockies had shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

To go even farther, eight of the 20 World Series teams over the last 10 years had a rookie starter make significant contributions throughout the season.

Along with the previous three, those players include Chris Burke (’05 Astros), Miguel Cabrera (’03 Marlins), Alfonso Soriano (’01 Yankees), Ricky Ledee (’99 Yankees), and Randall Simon (’99 Braves).

Let’s not forget: the last Phillies team prior to 2008 to reach the World Series featured a rookie shortstop. All Kevin Stocker did after getting called up in July was hit .324 with a .409 on-base percentage for the 1993 National League champs.

And the 1980 champion Phillies featured two rookies in key roles: outfielder Lonnie Smith, who hit .339 and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting, and catcher Keith Moreland, who hit .314 while leading the team to a 22-11 record in games he started.

The Phillies ought to give the kid a shot. There’s a long history of rookies making an impact on World Series-contending teams and Donald’s 2008 season demonstrates he’s ready for the Big Show.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Philly’s Top Iconic Sports Images and Events

November 19th is the 30th anniversary of “The Miracle at the Meadowlands,” when Herm Edwards picked up a last-second fumble and ran it back for a game-winning touchdown against the New York Giants.

The play’s uniqueness—a last-second hand-off when the opponent can’t stop the clock? A fumble? A return TD?—has stirred imaginations for decades, not just locally, but nationally.

So what better time for a good, yet slightly sad, question: how many such nationally iconic moments have involved Philadelphia sports teams, players, and coaches? Unfortunately, fewer than you’d think.

Here are the 15 images and events that already have stood the test of time, or certainly figure to do so. The goal is nationally iconic; not those legendary local moments that are burned into the brains of the Philly faithful.

Mike Schmidt’s home run in Montreal in 1980, for example, was a classic—but a lack of national TV exposure doesn’t make it iconic. And Wilbert Montgomery’s 42-yard touchdown run against Dallas in the NFC Championship game was nationally covered but simply hasn’t endured.

Not all of the moments were kind to Philly. Joe Carter and The Fog Bowl don’t take Philly fans to their happy places. But it’s hard to argue that Carter and the playoff loss to Chicago aren’t iconic.

And so, here’s the list, with YouTube links where possible. Have your own thoughts—or is something missing? Let me know.

1. Wilt’s “100” sign
2. Bednarik standing over Gifford
3. Schmidt’s leap onto McGraw
4. Carter’s homer off Mitch’s pitch
5. Lidge celebrating on his knees
6. John Cappelletti’s Heisman speech
7. Doc defying gravity against the Lakers
8. Dwayne McClain’s raised arm
9. The Miracle of the Meadowlands
10. Bobby Clarke’s toothless grin
11. Bunning’s Father’s Day no-hitter
12. Chocolate Thunder flyin’, Robinzine cryin’
13. Iverson and “practice”
14. Fourth-and-26
15. The Fog Bowl

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Streaks on the Line

It's pickin' time and aren't all of our teams looking so ... unappetizing. Dallas and Philly at 5-4??? Steelers' fans calling for Leftwich over Big Ben? Penn State coming off a dreadful Iowa loss. And the cold weather beating up Colorado cyclists--Brrrr..... Good thing we always have Albright football!!!

Send 'em in—and will Carnac and Kurt ever lose? — John

They say good things come in threes: This year in Philadelphia, the Soul, lead by owners Ron “Jaws” Jaworski and Jon Bon Jovi, won the AFL championship, the Phillies won the MLB Championship, and…???

Here’s the problem: The 76ers may be fighting an uphill climb this year as the Detroit Pistons have recently added Allen Iverson to their roster, the Flyers are still trying to find an identity, and the Eagles are struggling against teams with winning records.

Good news: The Cincinnati Bengals do not have a winning record. At 1-8, they are definitely a beatable team for the Eagles. After coming off a convincing loss to the New York Giants, the Eagles should be able to turn things around and find a way to beat the Bengals this Sunday. Fortunately, Westbrook (a.k.a the Philadelphia Eagles) is relatively healthy for this week’s match-up. Will the Eagles be the third good thing to happen to Philadelphia? It is unknown at this point, but this weekend’s game should put a W in the win/loss column as they vie for a playoff spot. Eagles 34, Bengals 14. — Troy V. of Yardley

I thought Penn State would be the third titleist that Philly fans could claim. But Iowa? IOWA?!?!?!

Still, I know a winner when I see one—that's you, Troy—so I'm riding your coattails on this one. I'll even throw you a bone and add a pick of Dallas to beat the Redskins. Terrell Owens and DeMarcus Ware will have big games, and the Cowboys get paybacks for the loss earlier this season.

I may be picking 'em, but I won't be rooting for the Cowboys! — John

Remember those really dumb plays Reid called at the end of the loss to the Giants last week? He'll keep on dialing them up, and this week they'll work throughout the game against a woeful team. The Birds win big, and Andy will be feeling like he's Buddy. A motivated Eagles secondary pulls off a safety in this laugh-fest. I love safeties. Eagles 36, Bengals 13 — Carnac the Magnificent

The question: what do you love more, safeties or Buddy Ryan? And if Gern had an opinion, he'd say neither: Larry Bowa is always the answer! — John

Alright, I went outside my comfort zone last week and picked Big Ten football. Shouldda known a conference that calls itself "Ten" but has eleven schools isn't a conference that can be easily analyzed. So I'm dusting myself off and returning to the beautiful game this week with two picks.

First, Wake handles the Wahoos Friday in the ACC soccer semis. Wake took care of UVa a week ago in Charlottesville and I don't see why the outcome won't be the same in Cary, NC.

Second, despite the distraction of Drogba's being fined for tossing a coin thrown at him back into the stands after scoring, Chelsea, standing atop the PL, will pick up 3 more points against cellar-dwelling West Brom. — Phil

That Drogba has some nerve. — John

I agree, but perhaps he’s finally letting some emotion show (poorly directed, no doubt) after that humiliating loss to Rocky in front of Gorbachev

Making a choice in a 3 vs. 4 seed match-up surely puts my streak at risk (I could have easily pansied-up and picked the Bengals to lose). But with risk comes reward right? (I’ll answer that … sometimes. But a reward in an endeavor such as this?) Nonetheless…

I see “The West” prevailing again, as Brit Andy Murray dispatches Russian Nikolay Davydenko in 3 sets in Tennis’ Masters Cup. — Kurt

Friday, November 14, 2008

Philly's Sportsman of the Year?

Sports Illustrated has rolled out its red carpet and begun its Super Bowl-style pre- pre-game announcement of SI’s 2008 Sportsman of the Year. The early essays allow writers to profile those who won’t win, kind of like the Super Bowl pre- pre-game shows that interview NFL stars not in the game.

SI has chosen to go with a big red carpet, considering its off-beat selections, which, for the most part, are just topics the writers want to feature, and not genuine Sportsman candidates.

They offer kind-hearted athletes, such as two Central Washington softball players and Oakland Raider good guy Nnamdi Asomugha (Spell-check, please!), plus the adversity-challenged, like boxer Bernard Hopkins and soccer star Hope Solo.

The winner to be announced Dec. 2, of course, will be Michael Phelps, or SI is off the Mark Spitz.

So who would be Philadelphia’s Sportsman of the Year? As with the Phelps pick, there’s really only one place to look. And the winner is: Andy Reid!

No? Okay, it’s just as easy to eliminate other Philly hopefuls. Any Sixers? Two Andres but no Answer here. The Flyers? They have an Ossi and a Lasse and if you know them, you’re reading the wrong blog.

For the Eagles, it’s kind of like Reid’s play-calling: McNabb, McNabb, McNabb. He’s having a good year—except for that small part about the team’s last place standing in the NFC East—but it’d take a miracle run to the playoffs. And everyone knows the Eagles don’t run.

Hopkins, college hoops, horses, or any Olympic hopefuls can’t compare to the area’s biggest story, the World Series champion Phillies—who provide more choices than Baskin-Robbins.

Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer—even Charlie Manuel, of all people. You could make a great case for each one: the MVP candidate, MLB’s top closer, the NLCS and World Series MVP, the early-season anchor, the team’s winningest pitcher, and the Manager of the Year runner-up.

But to pick one guy would be like selecting an MVP from the 1980 team—not the ’80 Phillies, the ’80 Miracle on Ice team. Like Mike Eruzione and his crew, this ’08 miracle that ended in icy conditions was utterly unpredictable.

The Phillies rallied from 3.5 games back with 16 to play—and won the division by 3. That’s a 6.5-game swing in 16 games.

They finished 13-3 in the regular season, 11-3 in the postseason. And throughout the entire season, a new player would pick up others who were struggling.

From Utley and Pat Burrell early, through Hamels, Moyer, and Jimmy Rollins in the middle, to Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Brett Myers back from the minors down the stretch this year’s Phillies were a roller-coaster ride that ended at just the right time.

And since when do the Phillies have a bullpen as dominating all season as the one anchored by Lidge, Ryan Madson—the bridge to Lidge—and J.C. Romero, among others?

Would it have been easier if the 79 days spent in first place had been 100 or more? Easier, sure; as memorably exciting? Not a chance. Was there a better way to end a 25-year city title drought than a wild season that ended with snow in October and a last game that lasted three days?

SI has chosen two teams as its Sportsmen of the Year since making the ’80 Olympic team its choice: The ’99 U.S. women’s soccer team, and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The ’08 Phillies won’t be the third.

But anyone along for the wild ride knows the validation would be nothing compared to the celebration.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stuck in the Middle with You

Cincinnati’s Reggie Kelly could star in one of those old American Express commercials: “Do you know me? I’m the tight end for a one-win NFL team. But come Sunday, I’ll probably collect more yards than All-Pro Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. See you then!”

If the trend holds, Kelly will feast on the middle of the Eagles’ defense, specifically linebackers Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. The 5-4 Eagles have allowed opposing tight ends to notch two 100-yard games—with four other tight ends topping 63 yards against the Birds.

That’s six players with at least 63 receiving yards in nine games—while Westbrook has topped 63 yards rushing just twice. The Eagles have made stars of the likes of Kevin Boss, Randy McMichael, and Vernon Davis.

It’s no secret that coach Andy Reid undervalues linebackers. He has drafted just three linebackers earlier than the third round in his 10 NFL drafts—and only one since 2001: Matt McCoy (63rd overall in 2005), Quinton Caver (55th in 2001), and Barry Gardner (35th in 1999).

Those non-descript names aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for drafting linebackers. But just because Reid’s linebacker picks have been poor doesn’t mean he should abandon the position or relegate it to the later rounds.

That’s a strategy that has handicapped the Eagles, while the Cowboys (All Pro DeMarcus Ware) and Redskins (All Pro LaVar Arrington, starter Rocky McIntosh), among others, have used their high draft choices on top college linebackers.

Granted, Reid did draft all three Eagle starters, but none was among the top 70 players taken in his draft; in other words, a big-name impact player. And Bradley, from Nebraska, is the only linebacker Reid has taken from a powerful BCS college conference higher than the fifth round since 2001.

That kind of neglect at linebacker has allowed opposing tight ends to eagerly await Eagles games. The opposing tight end has led his team in receiving yards six times this year. As a group, they’re averaging 4.7 catches and 65 yards a game, compared to 3.4 catches for 40.6 yards for Eagle tight ends.

As for the Eagles' tight end spot as the team prepares for the Bengals, coincidentally, Cincinnati—the college, not the NFL team—provided the Eagles with the one tight end who has had a starring role so far. Maybe backup Brent Celek, who caught six passes for 131 yards against the Seahawks, should introduce himself to Reid.

“Do you know me? I hold the Eagles’ regular-season record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end, and I’m the only Eagles tight end to top 100 receiving yards this season. You know where to find me—on the sidelines next to you. See you then!”

Linebacker note:
Reid is not alone in Eagles history when it comes to drafting linebackers. In the last 40 years, the Eagles have drafted just two linebackers in the first round. Jerry Robinson, ex-UCLA assistant Dick Vermeil’s 1980 pick out of UCLA who became a 1981 Pro Bowl choice, and 1970 draftee Steve Zabel from Oklahoma.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Picking On Each Other

Anyone up for making a few picks? — John

The King of the Jungle Bowl

There’s going to be a lot of roaring this weekend as the Lions get a game against the visiting Pride. Though the visitors have played valiantly this season against stronger competition, they’ve been unable to come out the victor all too often. Such will be the case again this weekend at Shirk Stadium as Albright defeats Widener, 24-17.

In other Eastern PA football action, De Sales University will… oh wait, that’s right, their football program disbanded after the entire squad got kicked off the team for constantly being late for practice—half the team was unwilling to give up its Dungeons and Dragons lifestyle, and the other half was addicted to playing Boggle.

Luckily for De Sales, though, there is still much excitement over its athletics as the Lady Bulldogs upset their way into the Freedom Conference finals. The game is against the top-seeded Eagles of Eastern, a team that is 28-1 overall, and 8-0 in conference. As defending Conference champs and having been to the NCAA tournament last year, the #3 seed Lady Bulldogs know how to play in big games. But that pedigree won’t help much as they confront a squad that lost only 10 games in its 28 regular-season best-of-3 matches. Eastern def. De Sales, 3-0. — Kurt

Those predictions would make the De Sales SID proud (if we had one...). And by the way, we cool guys played pinochle in college. Dungeons and Dragons was soooo theater-crowd. — John

Is Kurt permitted to talk about my alma mater and include my Albright Lions in his weekly selections? I do agree with him that "we" will beat Widener this weekend.

With that being said I want to take every one to scenic Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a Saturday noon kickoff between the Pitt Panthers and Louisville Cardinals. Like most Dave Wannstedt-coached teams Pitt is truly baffling. For the first time in many years Pitt was ranked going into the season and they rewarded their diehard fans with a opening-day home loss to powerful Bowling Green. They then reel off 5 consecutive impressive wins and get back into the rankings. What happened next? You guessed it, a blowout loss at home to the mighty Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. They then go on the road and win a 4-overtime game at Notre Dame. The teams combined for 7 field goals (no touchdowns in OT) with the Pitt kicker hitting all 4 and Notre Dame only connecting on 3.

With that detailed analysis I haven't the slightest idea of what is going to happen on Saturday except Louisville plays at Pitt and Dave Wannstedt will be on the sideline. — Dave

It's my understanding that I'm not not permitted. Besides, Albright has much to be proud of, and I thought this was a great venue to share with the world. For example: Who knew that most of Albright's enrollees are overachieving hairdressers? Ooops, excuse me... hairstylists?

Go Lions (and not the Nittany variety.) — Kurt

I KNOW John's absolutely LOVIN' all these in-depth analyses. I'll try my best to keep up with this week's theme: The Other Guy's Alma Mater...

I'd really like to rattle Kevin (Thank you!) and pick the Hawkeyes from the seat of Johnson County, Iowa, and birthplace of Herbert Hoover (Iowa City was founded 1839 as the capital of Iowa Territory, inc. 1853). Instead I'm going with the Nittany Lions from State College, PA located amid farmland in Centre County (settled 1859, inc. 1896).

[Note to anyone wishing to pick the Wake/UVa game: I'll be there cheering on the Demon Deacs. So be sure to factor that into your prediction...] — Phil

I'm drawing a blank on Steve and Brian's alma mater (Rosemont?) and I'd never pick against Kevin's Penn State since "we" Philly fans want to win yet another title. Kurt and Dave got each other, leaving only...Wake.

Sorry, Phil, but with my worst-in-the-group ranking, I'm doing something worse than picking against Wake—I'm picking them to win. Go, Deacs!

The Eagles extended their winning streak to 3 and looked great last week against a mediocre at best football team, the Seahawks. If the Eagles are firing on all cylinders, they may be able to hang in with the Giants, who are playing solid football at this time. Eagles 24, Giants 28. — Troy V. of Yardley

Troy, you're steering clear again of the Cowboys? You're doing Philly proud, which I know was a goal of yours! — John

Cowboys are on a bye. — Troy

Can I still pick them to lose … a head coach? — John

Let's take a look at Week 9 for the Birds when they were coached by the Great One. Buddy Ryan's record was as follows:
1986: Lose to the St. Louis Cardinals, 13-10
1987: Lose to the Stinking Giants, 20-17
1988: Lose to Atlanta, 27-24
1989: Lose to San Diego, 20-17
1990: Beat Washington, 28-14
In each of these years, the Birds had pulled out wins the week before, as is the situation faced by Reid's Birds this year. So, even if Buddy were coaching right now, the Birds would have an 80% chance of losing by a field goal. Prediction: Eagles 20, Stinking Giants 23. — Carnac the Great

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Phillies' All-Time World Series Best

For all those Phillies fans who thought they had this team figured out heading into the World Series, join me in raising your hands in the air like you just don’t care. A World Series championship wipes away the worries of second-guessers, right?

What was known was obvious: Charlie Manuel is a good guy but he won’t win any awards for his in-game management. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard are going to shine offensively on the big stage while the bottom of the lineup continues its rally-killing ways. And our pitching will dominate.

Well, going one out of four ain’t so good—kind of like the big hitters’ big-game production.

The Phillies overwhelming World Series title—they didn’t trail for even half an inning—arrived because Manuel was a genius, the bottom of the lineup was tops, the subs rose, and the pitching was outstanding.

The only Phillies regulars to hit above .300 for the World Series were not the big-name stars: Jayson Werth (.444), Carlos Ruiz (.375), and Pedro Feliz (.333). Howard (.286) was the only one of the big guns to hit above .230: Rollins (.227), Utley (.167), and Burrell (.071) put together World Series hitting displays that usually lead to disaster.

So, how good historically were the efforts of Werth, Ruiz, Feliz, and the pitchers compared to past Phillies World Series performances?

Unfortunately, as fans know, it doesn’t take long to study the comparisons. The 2008 team was just the franchise’s sixth World Series team—and three of those Series were losses in five games or less.

If you were to name the best Phillies World Series performances, you would assume the team’s legends would fill the lineup, guys like Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, and Greg Luzinski.

And you’d be half-right. Here are the best Phillies World Series performances at each position (click on the names to see their stats):

Starting Pitchers:
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1915)
Robin Roberts (1950)
Steve Carlton (1980)
Cole Hamels (2008)
Ken Heintzelman (1950)

Relief Pitchers:
Tug McGraw (1980)
Jim Konstanty (1950)
J.C. Romero (2008)

Pitching and first-base production are the two spots Phillies players have come through most consistently in the World Series. All of the team’s historically best pitchers stepped up when it counted, with 2008 Series MVP Hamels able to rank just fourth on the list.

McGraw, of course, was magic in ’80; the only reason Brad Lidge, who put together the best season of relief pitching in Phillies history, is not on the list is because he only pitched two innings, though they were perfect.

Bob Boone (1980)

Boone was a monster in ’80, hitting .412, driving in four runs, scoring three times, and finishing with a .500 OBP. He edges out Ruiz and his magnificent 2008 Series.

First Base:
Fred Luderus (1915)

Who? With guys like Ryan Howard, Pete Rose (1983, ’80), and John Kruk (1993), how does some no-name win out? Easy: He was a star—the only offensive one in 1915—who hit the Phillies’ first World Series home run and drove in 6 of the team’s 9 RBIs in the 4-games-to-1 loss to the Red Sox.

Second Base:
Mariano Duncan (1993)

What? The Phillies have had Hall of Fame-caliber second basemen in Utley and Joe Morgan (1983), as well as 1980 NLCS MVP Manny Trillo. Doesn’t matter. Duncan collected 10 hits and five runs in the six-game Series loss to the Blue Jays.

Granny Hamner (1950)

This is the closest competition with both Hamner (.429) and Larry Bowa (.375 in 1980) starring in the Series. But Hamner had a higher slugging percentage (.714 to Bowa’s .417) thanks to two doubles and a triple.

Third Base:
Mike Schmidt (1980)

After a “Who?” and a “What?” at two other infield spots, third base is a “Duh!” Schmidt had two homers, 7 RBIs, scored six runs, hit .381, and was the Series MVP.

Lenny Dykstra (1993)
Jayson Werth (2008)
Bake McBride (1980)

Here’s a roll call of star Phillies outfielders over the years: Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Chuck Klein, Pat Burrell, Greg Luzinski, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Calllison, Garry Maddox, Cy Williams. But none make the World Series list. Go figure.

Dysktra’s ridiculous 1993 postseason included his 4-homer, 8-RBI World Series. McBride (.304) and Werth (.444) both had sneaky-good Series outings. There’s not really any other close competitors. Again, go figure.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A New Day

The joy of the Phillies’ World Championship still hung in my house like the “#1 Fan” finger poised above the living room TV.

By Sunday night I was finally, genuinely believing both that the Phillies had won the title and that no one would take it away. They couldn’t, right? Hey, I’m a Philly fan so someone—the umps, Joe Carter, Bud Selig—is looking to get us. (By the way, could Miller Lite’s Commissioner of the No-Taste League do any worse than Bud?)

I even once believed my brother had the power to conspire against the Phillies. One night, my dad took my brother and me to a regular-season, non-descript game against the Montreal Expos, one the no-luck early-70s Phillies for once had in the bag.

But my 10-year-old brother Paul thought it’d be a good idea to cheer for the Expos to make things interesting, and to prolong our day at the Vet. So he cheered every Montreal hit, cheered every Phillies out, and didn’t stop cheering until the Phillies lost.

I had malice in my heart—even if I was too young at 7 to spell malice. How could he have done this? He helped the Expos beat the Phillies! Only logic, my dad, my age difference, and my size (4 inches shorter) kept me from pummeling my brother.

Anyway, today, comforted by the exorcism of 25 years of championship-less ghosts and a magical nay-saying brother, I relaxed and watched the Eagles’ 26-7 win over the Seahawks, then settled in to watch Comcast for Ray Didinger’s expert post-game analysis.

During a commercial, I ended up talking to my wife. No worries, I thought, knowing my regular-guy two-minute-warning clock would get me back on the couch before the show resumed. Every guy knows the drill when you’re battling commercials and a conversation with the wife.

Like a quarterback, you should throw your comments to the sidelines to kill time. “Yes, you’re right there.” “No, I couldn’t argue about that.” “Let me think about that one—but again, I think you’re right.”

But something happened as I ran through my progressions. I stopped caring about getting back to the TV.

I certainly wanted to watch Didinger, who never fails to comment on the game like no one else on TV on any network. But as I sat listening to my wife, I realized something drastic had changed.

I didn’t need to watch. For years, I did. Because if I watched, the answer would come. The one thing keeping Philly teams from a title would reveal itself, either in commentary, or in a highlight, or in a post-game interview, or most certainly in the game itself.

One thing or another, the games or the commentary, would take us home, to the land of milk and honey and championship rings. Guide us, Ray-Diddy, V-Heb, the Gov, Barkann, Mitchy-Poo, Ricky-Bo. (By the way, please cease with the nicknames!).

All of these thoughts went through my head as I stood there listening to my wife.

I actually don’t know what she said while I considered this. Or what thoughts must have raced through her head as I stood there so long: “Geez, he’s actually still listening—I must be saying something smart.”

All I know is that it dawned on me: I’ve seen a Philadelphia World Champion for the first time since I was 13. There’s nothing on TV right now that can top what I’ve just seen for the last week. There are no answers to the mystery, no magical formula to be revealed.

There’s nothing more to be done or said. Philly has a World Champion; the Phillies won the World Series. It’s time to relax and enjoy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Phillies Win! Will Our Weekly Picks?

Quick note: The Phillies won the World Series. I could type that sentence 142 times and not get tired of reading it. The Phillies won the World Series.

However, after long, rain-delayed nights, Game 5-winning celebrations, and Broad Street parade insanity—enjoyed with my daughter Caitlin and two other class-cutting friends whom I won’t name to protect the innocent—I haven’t had a chance to write.

Thankfully, that’s where friends step in, contributing this week’s picks:

2008 World Series Champions—Philadelphia Phillies!! You’re kidding me! I don’t believe it! Incredible! Last week I predicted the Phillies would win the World Series in 6 games. They did it in 5!!! Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, World Champions!

As for my pick: a certain trend doesn’t bode well for the Philadelphia Eagles this week against the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles have lost their 8th game in each of the last two seasons the Philadelphia Phillies were in the World Series. In 1983, head coach Marion Campbell’s Eagles, led by Ron Jaworski, lost to the Chicago Bears in a defensively tough game, 7-6.

In 1993, Rich Kotite and Randall Cunningham led the Eagles in a 16-3 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals. The Eagles are coming off of an important win against the Atlanta Falcons, but once again find themselves traveling across the country to play in hostile territory. The Seahawks are floundering, having had high hopes of making the playoffs this year, and are desperate for a win to turn their disappointing season around. It will be another close game. The Eagles will be lucky to win and will require Brian Westbrook to once again carry the team by himself to victory.

Philadelphia Eagles – 45, Seattle Seahawks – 10 — Troy V. of Yardley

Seems like this was a time for streaks (both good and bad) to end and new ones to begin.

Readers of this blog, and those not residing beneath rocks, no doubt are now aware that Philadelphia's 25 years of suffering (at least sports-related) is at an end.

Yet I doubt many were aware that Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten home streak also ended recently (10/26 0-1 to Liverpool). The Blues hadn't lost at Stamford Bridge since February of 2004. No, it's not 25 years, but still 86 home games without a loss is quite impressive and a Premier League record (the old record coincidentally held by Liverpool at 63 games from 2/78 - 12/80).

Turning the page... Philly now has its own streak of two consecutive sporting championships (why not count the Soul?!), so I'm looking for Chelsea to begin a new home unbeaten streak of their own by handling Sunderland Saturday.

(While I'm on the topics of streaks coming to an end, regardless of what happens on Election Day, January 20, 2009 will end a 20-year streak in which someone with the last name of either Bush or Clinton was President—and it's not too hard to imagine that the streak could have extended to 28 years!) — Phil

How can you pick against Sunderland? Heresy, I tell you, heresy! — John

Things Pittsburgh Football: The University of Pittsburgh Panthers travel to South Bend, IN, to take on the Golden Domers. It’s been a topsy-turvy season for the Panthers—two embarrassing losses to Bowling Green and Rutgers, and a road win against then-No. 10 USF. Both teams are 5-2, but considering last week’s action—Pitt’s loss to Rutgers, and ND’s convincing win over Washington—it doesn’t bode well for the Panthers. But for some strange reason, that’s when Pitt plays its best. Pitt wins in a squeaker, 21-20.

The Pittsburgh Steelers end their 0-2 slide against NFC East teams and beat the Redskins, in Washington (oops, Maryland) on MNF.

On record alone, the WPIAL AAAA high school playoff game between the Upper St. Clair Panthers (6-3) and McKeesport Tigers (7-2) appears as if it will be a close game. It won’t… McKeesport takes the win in a cake walk, 42-17. — Kurt

As we enter game 8, we should look at the Birds' historic record for game 8's. Specifically, let's look at the era of greatness, the Buddy Ryan years. We have:
1986, beat San Diego 23-7
1987, beat Washington, 31-27
1988, beat Dallas 24-23
1989, beat Denver 28-24
1990, beat New England 48-20

So, the Birds were 5-0 in Game 8 under the Great One's years. Now, they face a feeble Seattle team. If Ryan were coaching, I'd pick the Philadelphia Eagles 45, Seattle Seahawks 10. But, the Winner ain't in town any more, so my prediction is less sanguine: Birds - 34, Hawks 10. — Carnac the great

A 34-10 predicted rout is "sanguine?" Wow, in a mere days a Phillies World Championship has spoiled us. And it's nice to be so spoiled!

I need a win for once—my predictions have been worse than the Rays. Troy V. and Carnac are so far ahead of me I can barely even see them.

So I’m taking a gimme in what used to be a rivalry. Oklahoma blows out Nebraska Saturday night, 63-21. — John

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now A Word From Tampa Bay

If it’s any consolation, the city that owns Philly isn’t making it easy on its followers.

Tampa Bay has beaten Philadelphia in too many key games recently, in particular: the 2003 NFC Championship game victory over the Eagles as the Buccaneers went on to win the Super Bowl—in the last Eagles game at the Vet—and also the 2004 Eastern Conference finals Game 7 win over the Flyers, as the Lightning eventually won the Stanley Cup. (Yeah, it's hockey, but we'll still count it.)

Now, though, the Phillies have the Rays and their fans on the edge of a season-ending, World Series-failing precipice.

“I’m losing a lot of sleep over it,” said Mike Alstott, the former Tampa Bay running back who was part of the Buccaneers’ 27-10 win over the Eagles in the 2003.

I interviewed Alstott for an ESPN story and we got around to talking about the Phillies and Rays. Alstott knows several players through a variety of ways, including charity work, namely Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, J.P. Howell, and Jonny Gomes.

Alstott has season tickets to the Rays and attended the World Series games in Tampa Bay. He’s a good guy with a key to the city of St. Petersburg, a Super Bowl ring, and an active charitable organization.

But here’s hoping he’s a lousy prognosticator.

“We were up 3-1 against Boston and ended up having to go to a Game 7,” Alstott said. “So my prediction: We’re going to a Game 7.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

One And Done

One more win. The Phillies are one win away from a city’s citizens celebrating an end to 100 seasons of title-less Philadelphia teams, dating to the 1983 76ers.

That means the city is less than 24 hours away from a possible celebration that would be a Philly fan’s version of the first moon landing, V-E Day, and the ’80 Phillies and ’83 Sixers parades combined. The wait has been too long, the build-up too intense.

Until then, here are a few nuggets to consider heading into Game 5.

* The Phillies’ bullpen has been unhittable in the postseason—and getting better with each series. Here are the bullpen’s numbers for each of the three series:

World Series against Tampa Bay: 8.2 IP 2 H, 1 ER, 12 K, 1.09 ERA

NLCS against L.A.: 18.2 IP, 13 H, 2 ER, 17 K, 0.97 ERA

NLDS against Milwaukee: 10 IP, 13 H, 4 ER, 9 K, 3.60 ERA

* This is the fourth time the Phillies have won three games in a best-of-seven postseason series: the 1980 World Series against Kansas City; the 1993 NLCS against Atlanta; and the 2008 NLCS against Los Angeles. Each of the previous three times, the Phillies won the next game to take the series.

* The team has 9 World Series home runs in just 4 games—only the 1993 Phillies had more homers in an entire postseason (13 in 12 games). The 2008 team’s 19 this postseason in 13 games is a Phillies record.

* The Phillies are perfect at home in the 2008 playoffs (6-0) and are 23-6 in their last 29 games overall.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mail Call For Jimmy Rollins

Dear Jimmy,

Thanks for doing Oaktown proud by getting to the Series! But from one Oakland-raised, undersized, National League MVP middle infielder to another, all I can say is, I feel your pain.

Your postseason and World Series nightmares are nothing, trust me. I know, I’ve been there.

But let me pass on a little secret. If you win a World Series (or two, as I did), all’s forgiven. What’s that? Say it ain’t so, Joe?

It’s true. I’m in the Hall of Fame—and not all my former World Series star teammates can say that. (Bet you thought I wouldn’t throw you under the bus, huh, Pete.)

But here’s the thing, Jimmy. Shake it off. Yes, you have the worst postseason batting average of any full-time starter for the Phillies or Rays (.191). And yes, you’re 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the World Series—geez, you’re not alone on your team there, are you?

But I was worse, a lot worse in the postseason. Ready for this—it’s ugly, but I’ve seen your postseason, so I know you’re used to ugly:

.100 in the ’73 NLCS loss to the New York Mets
.000 (0-for-7, with six walks) in the ’76 NLCS win over the Phillies
.000 (0-for-11) in the ’79 NLCS loss to Pittsburgh
.154 in the ’80 NLCS loss to the Phillies
.067 in the ’83 NLCS win over the L.A. Dodgers

And if you just want my World Series stats (good thing I had some clutch teammates!), here they are. Maybe they’ll be a little pick-me-up for you:

3-for-24 in ‘72 (.125) 6 walks
7-for-27 in ‘75 (.259), 5 walks
5-for-15 in ‘76 (.333), 2 walks
5-for-19 in ‘83 (.263), 2 walks

Ready for more, Jimmy: Bill James called me the best second baseman of all time and I hit better than .273 just once in 11 different postseason series. And the kicker: I hit .235 in 23 World Series games, with just seven hits and eight RBIs in four different World Series appearances.

So don’t worry, Jimmy. It’ll all work out in the end. If you have Hall of Fame teammates to bail you out—hallelujah for Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose (he's a Hall of Famer to me)—all’s good.

Because believe me, nothing’s worse than having teammates like the ones I had when I was an Astro before I got traded. Ask Brad Lidge—getting out of Houston makes all the difference.

Your Oaktown pal,

Joe Morgan

Thursday, October 23, 2008

World Series picks

Note: All picks below were made prior to the first game of the World Series.

Hey all,

Following the genius of Carnac, I'm laying down a one-week rule: This week's picks have to be World Series picks. And I don't mean World Series of Australian Rules Duck-Duck-Goose or FIFA/CONCAFAFACFAFAC soccer.

You're on the line for a Phillies/Rays World Series pick. Choose whichever game you want, factoring in the pitchers, catchers, DHs, home-field advantage, Phanatic mojo—whatever, it's your call. — John

Boy, you sure are keen on regulating even the minutest aspect of daily life. Ever think about running for office? But I digress…

Game 2, Thursday Oct 23: James Shields gets shelled, but feels OK knowing he’s not Brett Myers, who gets shelled more. Rays win 9-7. — Kurt

May I pick there will be at least 4 games? — Phil

You may if you can name the four combined Hall of Famers from the Phillies' 1950 and 1980 World Series teams. There were 2 each. No internet checking, but you can ask your co-workers. — John

My guess (I’m going for extra credit points…): Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts; Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. — Kurt

Give that man extra credit points! You get to watch the game tonight for free! — John

I wish…. My cable system doesn’t carry cricket matches. — Kurt

Hard to believe that less than 1 1⁄2 years ago (April 18, 2007), Charlie Manuel challenged the Burger King character and 610 WIP host, Howard Eskin, to a fight. Eskin’s constant criticism of Manuel had finally come to a head after an 8-1 loss to the New York Mets, when Eskin challenged Manuel on the lack of emotion demonstrated during and after the game. Eskin’s question? “Don't you think it would help your players if they saw you fired up a bit more?”

Fast-forward to today: The Phillies have outplayed the Mets for the National League East lead two years in a row. Not only that, but this year the Phillies have fought their way through the playoffs and now find themselves in the 2008 WORLD SERIES—the first appearance since 1993. Manuel has rallied his team to the pinnacle of baseball.

Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard are going to step up and play exceptional baseball this round, providing that extra boost to the beginning of the batting order. Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and company will continue their great playoff efforts. Pitching will remain consistent, and let's not forget that the Phillies have something the Rays don’t: a closer. The Philly Phanatic will continue the antics—unmatchable! And finally, Manuel will do what Terry Francona, manager of the Boston Red Sox, was unable to do, and that’s beat the Rays in six games and give this city something it hasn’t had since 1980—World Series Champions!!! Phillies win game 1, 3, 4, and 6.

Enough “fire” for you, Eskin? — Troy V. of Yardley

That's a well-researched, well-thought-out pick—and it comes with a Burger King reference, too! What's not to love about it. — John

Phillies = political harbinger? Consider: Every time the Phillies win the World Series, a Republican wins the White House. — Kurt

I believe I told Phil 6 months ago that there was going to be a parade down Broad Street for our 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. However, I am worried about this series. The Rays come out of the best division in baseball and the best league in baseball. The experts keep waiting for them to fail yet they keep winning. With that being said, I am still predicting the Phillies in 7 games, with Jamie Moyer picking up wins in games 3 and 7. The young Rays will struggle with his off-speed stuff, much the way Moyer has dominated the Florida Marlins over the years. I have no faith in Myers winning a game, so Moyer is the key. — Dave

My pick makes it unanimous: Phillies in 6 and a winter of warm memories! — John

Second To None

Chase Utley could do something no second baseman has done in almost 50 years: become a World Series MVP. Utley’s Game 1 fireworks—2-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 stolen bases—put him on pace to become the first one since New York’s Bobby Richardson in 1960 against Pittsburgh.

Utley showed no rust after a week off, pounding a 2-2 first-inning pitch into the right-field seats in his first World Series at-bat. He gave the Phillies a lead they’d hold for their first Series win 15 years.

“I don’t think [the layoff] threw off our timing too much,” said Utley.

While Richardson is one target for Utley, past Phillies second basemen are simply low-hanging fruit. In only one game, his chase to match the output of past Phillies second basemen in the World Series is already over when it comes to driving in runs.

There have been six second basemen on the Phillies’ five World Series teams:
1993: Mariano Duncan/Mickey Morandini
1983: Joe Morgan
1980: Manny Trillo
1950: Mike Goliat
1915: Bert Niehoff

Those six combined drove in just seven runs in 26 games. Utley already has as many as Duncan, Trillo, and Morgan each managed. Coincidentally, Morgan opened Game 1 in 1983 much like Utley, going 2-for-4 with a home run.

Of the six, only Duncan came through in the World Series, though, hitting .345 (10-for-29) with 2 RBIs. Morandini (.200), Morgan (.263), Trillo (.217), Goliat (.214), and Niehoff (.063) produced largely forgettable results.

“When you watch Utley day-in and day-out, and the way the guy goes about playing baseball, I think he’s one of the best players in the game,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “His mindset is, I know I’m going to do good.”

Perhaps also worth noting about Richardson and that 1960 Series: His American League team lost to a team from Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Men in the Mirror: The '80 & '08 Phillies

What a season: A mad-dash scramble to make the playoffs when the season appeared lost midway through September. An MVP-caliber season from a Hall of Fame-worthy power hitter. Perhaps the best infield in all of baseball. A dominating lefthanded ace on the mound, followed by a tall righthanded set-up man and a no-doubt-about-it closer.

Yep, that 1980 season was something, alright.

If it seems that this is finally the Phillies year, it may be because the 2008 Phillies have so many similarities to that powerhouse 1980 team. In terms of the players—and how the season played out—’80 and ’08 are close to mirror images.

The 1980 team finished 91-71 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day. The 2008 Phillies went 92-70 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day.

Each team featured solid to standout players at every position. Six of the eight everyday players on the 1980 team were an All Star during their Phillies years (amazingly, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride weren’t, though both finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting in one Phillies season).

Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley are the only ’08 All Stars so far, but that serves to highlight the one key difference between the teams: age.

In ’80, all but two of the starters were in their 30s (Manny Trillo and Greg Luzinski being the 29-year-old exceptions). In ’08, all but two of the starters are in their 20s (Pedro Feliz and Pat Burrell are in the 30+ Club).

In ’80 Mike Schmidt collected 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, and the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty McBride finished in the Top 10. In ’08, Howard had 48 home runs, 146 RBIs, and could win the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty Chase Utley figures to have a Top 10 finish.

Both teams’ infields were among the Majors’ best and match up well in comparison with each other: Pete Rose-Howard, Trillo-Utley, Larry Bowa-Rollins, Schmidt-Feliz. Each teams’ left-side defense was up to Gold-Glove standards.

As for pitching, the comparisons are downright eerie. Each team was led by a dominating lefty (Steve Carlton, Cole Hamels) and had four starters pitch at least 150 innings. The ’08 Phillies have five relievers with 50+ innings pitched; the ’80 Phillies had four.

And when the late innings rolled around, ’80 manager Dallas Green turned to 6-foot-6 righty Ron Reed for a set-up man, much like ’08 manager Charlie Manuel goes to 6-foot-6 righty Ryan Madson. The closers (Tug McGraw, Brad Lidge) were nothing short of spectacular, putting together perhaps the best relief seasons in Phillies history.

McGraw went 5-4 with 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA in 92.1 IP, with 75 strikeouts in the regular season. Lidge finished 2-0 with 41 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 69.1 IP with 92 strikeouts.

Finally, the way the two teams reached the playoffs makes the comparison all the more fitting. The 1980 team scrambled down the stretch, going 13-5 after sitting 2.5 games back on Sept. 16. The 2008 Phillies finished 13-3 after being 3.5 games back on Sept. 10. In ’80, they won 6 of their last 7; in ’08, the Phils won 6 of their last 8.

So far, the two teams even have the same number of postseason wins—7. But can the ’08 team bring home the ring like the ’80 Phillies?

“In terms of personnel and the way they play the game, [this team is] very competitive with the ‘80s guys,” said Dallas Green. “You’ve got a lot of similarities in power and defense. They have good pitching. And they have a lot of heart, which should carry them through.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sports, Sports & More Sports (I think)

Anybody know who won Wednesday night???? I’m so giddy, I could wear a Cowboys shirt (almost). This is going to be such a great next 2 weeks that I wish I were unemployed so I could really soak it in….

Time again for the Carnac Invitational, as the weekly picks should be known until Carnac gets one wrong. I'll send mine in a bit, but I'm almost considering picking Jamie Moyer's game again, based on Phil’s theory—don’t jinx things now. I HAVE to pick Moyer—that’s why the Phillies won the NLCS! – John

Trinidad & Tobago won, 2-1. The score’s deceiving because the U.S. squad came in “light” having already sewn up a place in the CONCACAF finals.

Oh, did you mean something else? Obama won. McCain sounded like a broken record. — Kurt

You could have made all that up for all we know! And NOOOOOOObody will bother to verify the facts. GO PHILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – Carnac

Well played, Kurt!! Premier League's back! After the brief WC qualifying hiatus, the boys are back on pitch. Toughest decision, though: Which game to pick? Carnac’s making a stink of things being 2-0. To keep pace it’d be easy to weigh in on the Liverpool (17pts) Wigan (9) match. Or nearly as certain is the Middlesbrough (9) Chelsea (17) fixture.

But I'll show Carnac, that sometimes it’s more fun to go out on a limb. I’m going with Stoke City, who is enjoying their first season in the Premier League, to continue Tottenham’s worst start since 1912, with a win at home in Britannia Stadium. (For those of you uninformed on Premier League, this is the equivalent of picking the Bengals over the Lions—few really care, but I know our host, John, has a soft spot for the Hotspur!)

Bonus pick: 13-0-0 Wake over 6-5-1 Dook Saturday night in Winston-Salem. And yes, I'm talking NCAA men’s soccer here) — Phil

Well, I figured everyone (except Phil) is going to be weighing in on MLB, NFL or College FB, so I’m going to weigh in on the Australia Tour of India. The 2nd test begins tomorrow, after a tightly contested 1st match that ended in a draw. Despite playing on foreign soil, I’m going to say Australia will prevail. (Of course, we won’t know until Oct. 21 when the cricket match is over.) [John: Note that this is just for the 2nd test, not for the entire Tour, or for the 3rd and 4th tests.) — Kurt

“Australia Tour of India?” The only good Australians touring India are Midnight Oil. — John

My stone-cold pick for Week 7—the Philadelphia Eagles will not lose this week in football! My Jimmy Johnsons predictions for this weekend:

* Defensive coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jimmy Johnson, will have his most successful run defense outing, as his “Sieve of Eratosthenes” which usually allows prime numbered running backs—and all other numbered running backs—to gain insurmountable rushing yards, will be resting through the Eagles’ bye week.

* NASCAR driver, Jimmy Johnson, currently number 1 in the Sprint cup point standings, will win at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday, and avoid getting into a fight with dueling duo’s Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

* Ex-Dallas Cowboys/Miami Dolphins head coach and current FOX sports commentator Jimmy Johnson, will continue his flawless hair day streak this weekend as he fights off a hoard of beauty pageant contestants in the FOX studio local shopping area while trying to purchase all available hair-care products.

And finally, my congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for their amazing run through the NL Championship! Hello, World Series! — Troy V. of Yardley

Who gave you guys homes in this area without checking your allegiances? When you'd rather talk Eratosthenese then errors-by-Furcal-ese on a day like this, I question why I even continue to lose playing poker with you.

I’m sneaking in my pick before Kevin even realizes Penn State plays this weekend: No papers, no TV, no idea, I figure. With apologies to Jamie Moyer for ditching him after he provided the Phillies their only 2008 postseason losses, I'm going with the Nittany Lions over Michigan—to snap a nine-game, 12-year losing streak to the Wolverines.

Sorry, Troy, but Michigan has two Johnsons on their roster—it appears it won’t be a perfect weekend for Johnsons everywhere.

Since I do not have TV, I have decided to go to the PSU game! I will tell stories at our next poker game. The spread was 23 1/2 the other day. Tough to beat that spread. – Kevin

Starting off with some boxing as 26-year-old Kelly Pavlik takes on Philly tough guy Bernard Hopkins, who is John’s age, tomorrow night in Atlantic City. Have to believe Pavlik will win but might not be able to knock him out. My pick: Pavlik by unanimous decision.

On to the Pennsbury Falcons who are back on the gridiron tonight traveling to William Tennent (wherever that is). Pennsbury is 6-1 and, to my surprise, has actually thrown a few passes this year. I think they completed 3 last game. Tennent hasn’t won a game so I am picking Pennsbury by 40 points.

Lastly, if you stayed up to watch the Boston Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit entering the 7th to win 8-7, you have to believe that Tampa will have a tough time rebounding from a tough defeat. They had the champagne all ready and now have to travel back to Tampa. — Dave

Nice pick on Pavlik. That’s definitely the big event of the week. Hopkins will stay close in, make it hard for Pavlik to drive that hook, but I think Pavlik’s the hungrier one here.

Things did not bode well in Game 4 of the NLCS when Rafael Furcal ran through Larry Bowa’s signal to hold up at third on Ramirez’ single and narrowly missed the tag. Furcal was lucky there, but he burned up his Baseball Karma with that measly run, and paid dearly in Game 5, committing three costly errors that contributed to two runs. Luckily for us Philly fans, third-base coaches can’t be substituted for shortstops (even if they were legendary shortstops in their prime). And so we move on to the World Series! I like Hamels pitching in Game 1. The Phils begin with a BIG win in Tampa. — Carnac

If Carnac’s going with the Phillies, I'm liking our chances! And finally, some Phillies talk! — John

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The National League Champs!

The Phillies are going to the World Series. I didn’t expect to write those eight words when I started this blog, but it’s such a beautiful sentence that I think I’ll be repeating it over and over for the next week until the World Series starts.

So many crazy things to consider, so much time over the next week to write about them, but here are a few random thoughts to consider after last night’s 5-1 NLCS championship victory.

Look Out, Lefty
Cole Hamels has now pitched two of the top seven postseason games in Phillies history. His line from last night: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 104 pitches (68 strikes).

As noted yesterday, he’s now the first Phillies pitcher to win three straight postseason starts. And with more of the same—meaning two good World Series outings—he could end the season just behind the legendary Steve Carlton in career Phillies postseason victories (Carlton has 6, Hamels 3).

It’s Outta Here!
With Jimmy Rollins’ first-inning home run, the 2008 Phillies moved past the 1983 Phillies for most home runs in a postseason. They’ve hit 10 in 9 games, and now trail only the 1993 Phillies (13 in 12 postseason games).

What’s surprising, though not if you’ve seen the games, is who’s not leading the charge. Ryan Howard has none and Chase Utley has one. Pat Burrell (3), Rollins (2), and Shane Victorino (2) have done the most damage.

Looking at the numbers below from every Phillies postseason, it’s amazing to consider that the 1980 Phillies hit just four postseason home runs—and went homerless in 7 of their 11 games. Mike Schmidt had a team-high of two.

Here are the Phillies all-time postseason home run leaders, thanks to the Phillies’ Larry Shenk: Lenny Dykstra (6), Greg Luzinski and Gary Matthews (5 each), Schmidt and Burrell (4 each).

2008: 10 HR in 9 games
2007: 5 HR in 3 games
1993: 13 HR in 12 games
1983: 9 HR in 9 games
1981: 4 HR in 5 games
1980: 4 HR in 11 games
1978: 5 HR in 4 games
1977: 2 HR in 4 games
1976: 1 HR in 3 games
1950: 0 HR in 4 games
1915: 1 HR in 5 games

The Game Actually Mattered
Isn’t it an odd coincidence that Brad Lidge ended up being the pitcher who decided the home-field advantage for the World Series—which now works against the Phillies?

In the 15th inning of the All-Star game—after having warmed up six times and thrown upwards of 100 pitches—Lidge allowed the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly to Texas’ Michael Young. Since the American League won the All-Star game, the AL team gets to host the World Series.

Other Philly-related quirks from that game: ex-Phillies manager Terry Francona guided the AL to the win, and Public Enemy No. 1, J.D. Drew, was the game’s MVP.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Will Hamels Make History?

The Phillies’ rich pitching legacy—from Grover Cleveland Alexander to Robin Roberts to Steve Carlton—includes Hall of Famers and Cy Young winners. But heading into tonight’s NLCS Game 5, Cole Hamels could make history by doing something no pitcher in the Phillies’ 126 years has accomplished: win three straight postseason games.

The Phillies couldn’t wish for a better starter heading into their potentially series-clinching game. Hamels has been exceptional in his three postseason starts—two this season and a loss to Colorado in 2007.

He has not allowed more than three earned runs or six hits in any outing, has reached the seventh inning and at least 100 pitches, and has a glittering 2.08 ERA. He's even hitting .333 (2 for 6) with a run scored.

When the games matter most, Hamels has been at his best.

“Going out there in the big game, you want to be that guy that can dictate it,” Hamels said. “And I think if you have the mind-set and the talent to do so, then you should be able to go out there and have success. That's something I have the confidence that I can go out there and do.”

Hamels’ success has come without the benefit of much run support. In his three postseason starts, the Phillies have scored a total of eight runs (2 against Colorado, 3 each against the Brewers and Dodgers).

Carlton, who started a Phillies-record 13 playoff games, came closest to winning three straight starts. He took Game 3 of the 1978 NLCS and Game 1 of the 1980 NLCS before registering a no-decision in Game 4 of the ’80 NLCS.

He then won two straight in the ’80 World Series against the Royals, including the deciding Game 6, before losing Game 1 of the ’81 Division Series against Montreal.

Roberts and Alexander each pitched just two postseason games for the Phillies. Curt Schilling started four, going 3-1, but he suffered a loss in Game 1 of the 1993 World Series before winning Game 5. John Denny, the 1983 Cy Young Award winner went 1-2 in the ’83 postseason.

“I know I have the talent to do it,” Hamels said. “It's just a matter of time and getting the opportunity to do it. I've had the opportunity this year, and I've been able to not only come through but hopefully put us into more situations where I can do it again, and again, and again."

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Nasty Boys, Part 2

Lost in Sunday’s 7-2 NLCS ugliness, after the five-run first, beanball battles, and Manny being manic, was the quiet brilliance of the Phillies’ strongest asset in the playoffs: the bullpen. Once again, the team’s relief pitchers took the mound and took control.

In Game 3, Clay Condrey, J.A. Happ, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, and J.C. Romero allowed just four hits and one earned run in 6.2 innings of fort-holding-down work.

In three NLCS games, the bullpen has been spectacular, yielding just seven hits and one earned run in 12.2 innings of relief, for an amazing 0.73 ERA. For the 2008 playoffs, they’ve allowed five earned runs in 22.2 innings for a 2.02 ERA.

“From top to bottom, this is the best bullpen I’ve ever been on,” said Brad Lidge.

It hasn’t just been Lidge, who has two saves in this series and four overall in this year’s playoffs to raise his career total to 10. With another save, he’ll trail only Dennis Eckersley (15) and Mariano Rivera (34) for career postseason saves.

So far, the Phillies have used seven relief pitchers against the Dodgers: the five from Game 3, plus Lidge and Ryan Madson. While Lidge’s 45-for-45 perfection stands out, it’s easy to forget that the Phillies’ bullpen led the National League in ERA this season with a 3.19 ERA and had just 15 blown saves, lowest in the league.

The bullpen’s success echoes great ‘pens from the past, including the 1996 Yankees (John Wetteland, Rivera, Jeff Nelson) and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds (the Nasty Boys of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton). Both of those teams took home World Series titles.

If the Phillies’ relievers continue their success against the Dodgers for the rest of the series, their numbers could be similar to the ‘90 Reds’ bullpen, which allowed 3 hits and 1 earned run in 18.1 innings against Barry Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the 1990 World Series, the Reds’ bullpen was even better: they gave up just three hits in 13 innings and no earned runs in a four-game sweep. In that Series, the Reds upset a heavily favored defending World Series champion (the A’s of Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire).

Coincidentally, if the Phillies beat the Dodgers to reach the World Series, they could face a heavily favored defending World Series champion (Boston). If so, the bullpen seems ready to answer the call.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guessing Games

Same friends, same feature, new picks of the weak. All picks were made prior to the Phillies' Game 1 NLCS game:

Brian Westbrook—two broken ribs, a sprained ankle, and still in the game last week—amazing! Westbrook can win the game on his own. The only problem is, I think he found where he left his glass jaw at the beginning of his Eagles' career.

Unfortunately, Westbrook's shoes are going to be hard to fill, and if he doesn't play to his potential, Correll Buckhalter is going to have a hard time picking up the slack. Also, Andy Reid did not do Donovan McNabb any favors this season, as he was unable to provide the team with reliable support from a number one wide receiver.

McNabb, an exciting player and definitely in the top 15 of active NFL quarterbacks, does not have the ability to single-handedly win a game like his comrade, Westbrook. Both teams are evenly matched, and the Eagles are traveling across the country to play in hostile territory. It will be a close game, and will take an incredible team effort from the Eagles to win this week in San Francisco. Eagles 45, 49ers 10. — Troy V. of Yardley

Finally, the red-headed step child of professional sports is off and running, and none too soon… this baseball season needs to be cut in half, seriously. But I digress. The Flyers will not be intimidated by the Rangers’ good 2-0 start. Largely because the Rangers will be weary from their time in and flight from Prague. That, and a band of gypsies will steal their gear. — Kurt

Y'all busted on me last week for picking soccer matches. Now Kurt goes with hockey! Hockey?!? Seriously??? I thought the NHL shut down a few years back? — Phil

We may need a new rule for the picks: to choose a game, the sport's athletes must have more teeth than fingers and toes combined. Sorry, Kurt, that could hurt the chances for hockey. — John

I will once again go back to the Eagles flying out West to play the 49ers but they will win by a field goal only. I’m concerned that the Phils will lose the series to L.A. and end their season. And Pennsbury will again win (this time by 3 TDs) to Bensalem on Friday night. — Dave

I'm not sold on the Eagles this week—Pennsylvania’s best football team this year is probably Penn State, right Phil? I do know one thing: no matter what happens against the 49ers, Reid will make sure they don’t lose next week. “Bye” is a beautiful word.

I'm going back to the well for my pick: Jamie Moyer and the Phillies in Game 3 Sunday against the Dodgers. I’ll even go out on a limb and say the victory will give the Phils a 3-0 lead. I’ve got to put my misplaced faith in Philly teams somewhere now that the Eagles are playing like the Golden Era of Ray Rhodes. — John

I'm glad to see we're talking more about “the beautiful game.” Anyway, moving on...I’ll continue discussing futbol partly because I enjoy the game, but mostly because it requires John to look up soccer scores to see if I’m right or not!

As we all know, the Premier League is on hiatus whilst World Cup 2010 qualifying is underway. So I, too, will turn my attention to WC10 qualifying. There are more things [certain] in heaven and earth, Horatio [Dave], than a Pennsbury England taking care of Kazakhstan in Wembley on Saturday. England leads its group with 6 points and is undefeated while Kazakhstan has lost its last two matches by a combine 6-1. — Phil

My Pick: Dodgers over Phils, Game 3. The Phils will probably be 2-0 before this game, thanks to the home-field advantage and ever-so-slight pitching advantage. But when the action shifts to the Left Coast, expect a new series to emerge. The Dodgers will be red-hot once again, and the patient and disciplined squad managed by Torre and Bowa will break things open with at least two wins in L.A. Expect things to be tense when the action comes back to the Bank! — Carnac the Magnificent

Two weeks in and some of us already have our routines: John = Old Man (Moyer); Carnac = ManDate wannabe (Bowa); Phil = Futbol (But really, Kazakhstan? I'd have thought we'd make at least a month til they made the blog); Dave = Scary Gambling (betting points on HS football). Then the surprises: Troy V. of Yardley picking the Eagles? Hockey mentioned? And I thought our poker table talk was strange. — JR

Impressive work by all of you. I now know what is going on in the sports world without a TV! — Kevin

Just a Little Patience

If Charlie Manuel had a plan for his hitters to get to Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe and his snake-level sinker in Game 1 of the NLCS, it probably was as simple as the good ol’ boy’s mannerisms: Patience, boys, patience.

And, boy, did Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell follow the Charlie manual perfectly.

Lowe cruised through the first five innings, allowing four hits and a walk. But something about the at-bats Howard and Burrell put together the first two times through the line-up gave a hint at things to come.

They patiently laid off Lowe’s out-of-the-zone sinker, making him work hard during each of their at-bats through four innings.

To that point, 14 Phillies had come to the plate, with Howard and Burrell combining for four of the 14 appearances (28%). However, they saw 25 of Lowe’s 57 pitches—a whopping 43% to just two hitters.

And it wasn’t because Lowe was loading up the pitch count on strikeouts; Howard had none and Burrell collected a single and a five-pitch strikeout.

The payoff to waiting out Lowe’s low balls came in the sixth. Lowe was tiring after throwing 75 pitches through five innings, and with the fatigue and the need to throw strikes, he wasn’t as fine with his location.

Suddenly—boom, home run on a sweet-spot pitch to Chase Utley, another home run to Burrell on a 3-1 pitch that had to be a strike, and just like that the home team was on its way to a 3-2 comeback win.

The same pitcher who had been 5-0 with an 0.85 ERA in his previous seven starts against the Phillies got the boot with one out in the sixth, down 3-2 after 90 pitches.

For the game, Howard averaged 5 pitches an at-bat, Burrell 6—both team highs by far. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, the top-of-the-order guys whose job is to work the pitcher, each saw just 3.25 pitches per at-bat.

Looks like they need to borrow Howard and Burrell’s Charlie manual.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Phillies’ All-Time Best Opponents

Oh man, oh man, enough with almighty Manny already.

With all the dread about Manny and his dreads, you’d think Ramirez will single-handedly beat the Phillies in the NLCS, or that the Phillies had never played anyone so good in their postseason history. You’d be wrong on both counts. If baseball history shows anything, it’s that pitching wins, and rarely can one man do it alone. (And what ever became of the beast from the last series, C.C. Sabathia, anyway?)

For further proof, just look at the Phillies’ own brief postseason history. The team has faced 14 opponents in 11 different postseason appearances; the Dodgers will be the 15th foe. And while Manny certainly ranks among the better players the Phillies have faced, he’s not at the top of a powerful list.

Here are the best players the Phillies have faced in the postseason, by position, listed in my order of preference at each spot. Got an opinion? Send it along!

The list certainly brings up a few questions: With so few ’08 Dodgers listed—and Maddux and Kent way past their primes—anyone else think the Phillies should take this series easily? How did the Phillies lose to the Rockies in ’07? How did the ’93 Phillies beat the 104-win Braves? And can anyone name two pitchers from the dominating 1976 Reds—who swept the Phillies and Yankees? Ahhh, I sense future blog topics….

C: Johnny Bench, ’76 Reds*
C: Yogi Berra, '50 Yankees*
C: Gary Carter, ’81 Expos*

1B: Eddie Murray, ’83 Orioles*
1B: Tony Perez, ’76 Reds*
1B: Johnny Mize, ’50 Yankees*
1B: Steve Garvey, ’77, ’78 Dodgers
1B: Todd Helton, ’07 Rockies
1B: Fred McGriff, ’93 Braves

2B: Joe Morgan, ’76 Reds, '80 Astros*
2B: Roberto Alomar, ’93 Blue Jays
2B: Jeff Kent, ’08 Dodgers

SS: Cal Ripken, ’83 Orioles*
SS: Phil Rizzuto, ’50 Yankees*
SS: Dave Concepcion, ’76 Reds

3B: George Brett, '80 Royals*
3B: Pete Rose, ’76 Reds
3B: Pedro Guerrero, ’83 Dodgers
3B: Terry Pendleton, ’93 Braves

DH: Paul Molitor, ’93 Blue Jays*

OF: Joe DiMaggio, ’50 Yankees*
OF: Tris Speaker, ’15 Red Sox*
OF: Manny Ramirez, ’08 Dodgers
OF: Rickey Henderson, ’93 Blue Jays
OF: Andre Dawson, ’81 Expos
OF: Harry Hooper, ’15 Red Sox*
OF: George Foster, ’76 Reds
OF: Tim Raines, ’81 Expos
OF: Joe Carter, ’93 Blue Jays

P: Greg Maddux, ’93 Braves, ’08 Dodgers
P: Nolan Ryan, '80 Astros*
P: Tom Glavine, ’93 Braves
P: Whitey Ford, ’50 Yankees*
P: Jim Palmer, ’83 Orioles*
P. John Smoltz, ’93 Braves
P: C.C. Sabathia, ’08 Brewers
P: Fernando Valenzuela, ’83 Dodgers
P: Don Sutton, ’77, ’78 Dodgers*
P: Vic Raschi, ’50 Yankees
P: Tommy John, ’77, ’78 Dodgers
P: Steve Rogers, ’81 Expos
P: Jeff Reardon, ’81 Expos
P: Pat Hentgen, ’93 Blue Jays

* - Hall of Famer