Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Making History

The last time the Phillies played a World Series Game 6, it ended with Joe Carter jumping around the bases after his Series-winning home run in 1993. With that unpleasant reminder out of the way, here are a few historical notes heading into tonight's do-or-die Game 6.

Chase Utley, with his 5 World Series home runs this season, and Ryan Howard, with his 12 Series strikeouts, have tied major-league records, but there are plenty more records out there for this year's team.

With 10 home runs already in this World Series, the Phillies now have 24 this postseason, breaking last year's club record of 18. The major-league high is 27 held by the San Francisco Giants in 2002. Only the Rays last year and the Houston Astros in 2004--both had 26--have hit more in one postseason. (The Yankees this year have 5 against the Phillies and 19 overall.)

Howard holds the franchise playoff record with 25 career RBI (in 31 games), but he's not alone in breaking the old Phillies mark of 16 set by Mike Schmidt in 36 games. Shane Victorino (23 in 31 games), Utley (19 in 31), and Jayson Werth (17 in 30 games with the Phillies) did as well. And Raul Ibanez (13 in 14 games with the Phillies) and Carlos Ruiz (13 in 31) are close.

Also, Howard's 15 RBIs this postseason is just 4 behind the all-time single-season record, currently held by Boston's David Ortiz in 2004, Anaheim's Scott Spiezio in 2002, and Cleveland's Sandy Alomar in 1997. However, New York's Alex Rodriguez has 18 this postseason.

And one last follow-up on a previous post, the Phillies still have yet to get a pinch-hit this postseason. Pinch-hitters or players who replaced starters are now 0-for-20 in 2009. The last Phillie to get a pinch-hit in the postseason was Geoff Jenkins, whose sixth-inning double in Game 5 last year ignited a rally.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In A Pinch

How long has it been since a Phillies pinch-hitter got a postseason hit? The last guy to do it is no longer with the team.

Players who either pinch-hit or replaced starters during the game are 0-15 this postseason. The blame can be shared across the board as four players are among the hitless. Miguel Cairo, not on the World Series roster, is 0-5 this postseason. Ben Francisco is 0-4 as a pinch-hitter or mid-game replacement, while Greg Dobbs is 0-4 and Matt Stairs is 0-2 with two walks.

The last Phillie pinch-hitter to get a hit played a significant role in the team's 2008 World Series title. Geoff Jenkins ripped a sixth-inning double during the re-start of Game 5 in 2008.

The last Phillie on the 2009 World Series roster to get a pinch-hit was...surprise, Eric Bruntlett, who hit a home run in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One And Done

How important is it to win the first game of the World Series, especially if you're the visiting team? If history is any indication, it's simple: lose and you're toast.

Only once in the last 26 World Series has the visiting team lost Game 1 and then won the Series. That occurred in 1992 when Toronto dropped the first game, but rallied to beat the Braves in six games.

And it's not just the visitors who can't afford to lose Game 1. Just three teams have lost Game 1 in the last 21 World Series and still managed to win the series. Those were the Angels in 2002, the Yankees in 1996, and the Blue Jays in 1992.

Historically, Phillies teams have done well in the first game of a postseason series, going 12-6. They're also 4-2 in the first game of the World Series, having lost Game 1 in 1950 and 1993.

The current group of Phillies are 5-0 in the first game of their last five series, with their last loss coming in Game 1 of their 3-0 series loss to Colorado in 2007.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Phillies' Postseason Stars

It can be easy to take this talented group of Phillies for granted, even with one World Series title and another possibly on the way. That's because they're the deepest team in Phillies history; when several players are off, several others step up.

How else to explain the fact that six--six!--Phillies are having postseasons that so far rank among the best in team history. (On a previous blog entry, I looked at the best single-series NLCS postseasons in team history.)

For argument's sake, I'm considering only those players in team history who played at least two postseason series in one year, meaning players from 1915, 1950, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 2007 are disqualified. Jay Johnstone went 7-for-9 in 1976, but it's not fair to say he had the best-hitting postseason in team history. That means players from 1980, 1983, 1993, 2008, and 2009 merit consideration.

This year's top performers include NLCS MVP Ryan Howard--on pace for the best postseason in Phillies history--two-game winner Cliff Lee, earned-run-free Brad Lidge, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. Surprisingly, neither Jimmy Rollins nor Chase Utley has enjoyed a noteworthy postseason either in 2008 or 2009.

Including those six, whose final numbers depend on the 2009 World Series, here are the top postseasons in Phillies history, including the 10 best by everyday players and the seven best by pitchers.

Player Year G H BA R HR RBI OBP Slg % OPS
  • Ryan Howard 2009 9 11 .354 8 2 14 .461 .741 1.202
  • Lenny Dykstra 1993 12 15 .312 14 6 10 .450 .729 1.179
  • Shane Victorino 2009 9 13 .361 8 3 7 .439 .722 1.161
  • Gary Matthews 1983 9 10 .333 5 4 9 .411 .733 1.144
  • Jayson Werth 2009 9 9 .281 10 5 10 .394 .812 1.206
  • John Kruk 1993 12 14 .298 8 1 9 .431 .468 .899
  • Carlos Ruiz 2009 9 9 .345 4 1 7 .500 .500 1.000
  • Pete Rose 1980 11 14 .325 5 0 3 .431 .348 .779
  • Pete Rose 1983 9 11 .343 4 0 1 .388 .375 .763
  • Larry Bowa 1980 11 15 .348 5 0 2 .391 .372 .763
Pitcher Year Rec. IP H ER BB K ERA Saves
  • Cliff Lee 2009 2-0 24.1 14 2 3 20 0.74
  • Cole Hamels 2008 4-0 35 23 7 9 30 1.80
  • Brad Lidge 2008 0-0 9.1 6 1 3 13 0.97 7
  • Brad Lidge 2009 1-0 4.0 6 0 3 4 0.00 3
  • Steve Carlton 1983 2-1 20.1 18 3 8 20 1.50
  • Curt Schilling 1993 1-1 31.1 24 9 7 28 2.61
  • Steve Carlton 1980 3-0 27.1 25 7 17 23 2.32

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catching On

What is it about catchers starring in the National League Championship Series? Through four games, the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz leads the team in batting average (.500) and on-base percentage (.667), is tied for the lead in hits (5), runs (4), and walks (4), and is second to Ryan Howard in RBIs (4), slugging percentage (.900), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) at 1.567.

If it weren't for Howard, Ruiz would be the runaway leader for NLCS MVP. That's not so uncommon among National League catchers.

In the past 10 years, three catchers have been named NLCS MVP--while none have ever won the award in the American League since its AL inception in 1980. The three were Ivan Rodriguez with Florida in 2003, Benito Santiago with San Francisco in 2002, and Atlanta's Eddie Perez in 1999.

Two other catchers have won the award since it began in the NL in 1977: Atlanta's Javy Lopez in 1996, and Darrell Porter of St. Louis in 1982.

Ruiz's numbers so far compare favorably with the best NLCS showings of recent years. Here's a comparison:

2009 Carlos Ruiz .500 BA, .667 OBP, 1.567 OPS, 5 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI
2006 Yadier Molina .348 BA, .423 OBP, 1.075 OPS, 8 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI
2003 Ivan Rodriguez .321 BA, .424 OBP, 1.031 OPS, 9 H, 5 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, MVP
2002 Benito Santiago .300 BA, .364 OBP, .964 OPS, 6 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, MVP
2000 Mike Piazza .412 BA, .545 OBP, 1.487 OPS, 7 H, 7 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI
1999 Eddie Perez .500 BA, .524 OBP, 1.424 OPS, 10 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, MVP

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Perfect In The Clutch

Cole Hamels has history and experience on his side in Wednesday's NLCS game against the Dodgers. The Phillies, ahead 3 games to 1, will advance to the World Series with a win, and the team is historically perfect in such series-clinching situations.

The Phillies as a franchise are 6-0 in games in which they can possibly clinch the NLCS or World Series. Hamels is one of just four Phillies pitchers to start such a game. The others: Steve Carlton, Marty Bystrom, and Tommy Greene, with those last two names making for a great trivia question.

Bystrom was the first Phillies pitcher in team history to start a possible series-clincher, when he took the mound against Houston in Game 5 of the best-of-five 1980 NLCS. He pitched 5.1 innings, allowing 7 hits and 1 earned run. Dick Ruthven, a starter working in relief, got the win in the 10th inning.

Carlton twice won series clinchers, first taking Game 6 of the 1980 World Series against Kansas City, and then Game 4 of the best-of-five 1983 NLCS against the Dodgers. Greene won Game 6 of the 1993 NLCS by defeating the Braves with 7 innings of 5-hit ball.

Hamels, of course, started both deciding games for the Phillies in 2008, beating the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS. He got a no-decision against the Rays in rain-delayed Game 5 of the World Series, as J.C. Romero took the win.

In those six games, Greene is the only starter to allow more than 2 earned runs. Here's a list of all six.

1980 NLCS Bystrom 5.1 IP 7 H 1 ER no decision
1980 W.S. Carlton 7 IP 4 H 1 ER Win
1983 NLCS Carlton 6 IP 6 H 1 ER Win
1993 NLCS Greene 7 IP 5 H 3 ER Win
2008 NLCS Hamels 7 IP 5 H 1 ER Win
2008 W.S. Hamels 6 IP 5 H 2 ER no decision

Monday, October 19, 2009

One More For The Ages

In the first game of the Phillies' 2008 World Series Championship run, Cole Hamels pitched a gem against Milwaukee. He allowed just two hits--at the time the fewest allowed by a starter in team playoff history--threw 8 shutout innings and struck out 9. I called it one of the Phillies' best playoff pitching efforts ever, ranking it just below Steve Carlton's 1980 World Series Game 6 clincher, after reviewing every Phillies playoff game in team history.

Now, after Cliff Lee's brilliant Game 3 effort last night--plus Pedro Martinez's NLCS Game 2 and an additional Cole Hamels outing later in 2008--the list needs some updating. Seems the Phillies are in the Golden Age of playoff pitching, considering Hamels, Lee, and Martinez bumped off legends like Grover Cleveland Alexander and Curt Schilling (and Danny Jackson) from the list.

Here's an update to the Phillies' top 10 postseason pitching efforts, with World Series games in bold. All the others were either NLCS or NLDS games, and all were victories except for games by Martinez and Konstanty.

1980 Carlton: 7 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 7 K 110 p (72 strikes)--won W.S.
2008 Hamels: 8 IP 2 H 0 R 0 ER 1 BB 9 K 101 p (67 strikes)
1993 Schilling: 9 IP 5 H 0 R 0 ER 3 BB 6 K 147 p (99 strikes)
2009 Lee: 8 IP 3 H 0 R 0 ER 0 BB 10 K 114 p (76 strikes)
2009 Martinez: 7 IP 2 H 0 R 0 ER 0 BB 3 K 87 p (57 strikes)
1983 Denny: 7.2 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 0 BB 5 K 109 p (73 strikes)
1950 Konstanty: 8 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 4 BB 0 K no pitch count
2008 Hamels: 7 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 5 K 101 p (67 strikes)--won NLCS
1980 Carlton: 7 IP 7 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 3 K 105 p (66 strikes)
1983 Hudson: 9 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 9 K 120 p (84 strikes)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Winning In Spite Of Themselves

Chase Utley's second error in as many games underscored the playoff pressure players feel. Utley is now tied with Jimmy Rollins for the team lead in errors with three over the last two seasons.

But the Phillies haven't let their defensive lapses stop them. Amazingly, the Phillies are 10-2 in the last two postseasons in games in which they've made an error.

Just how unlikely is that? Well, through the first half of 2009, the Phillies had the exact same number of wins in games in which they made an error. They were 10-14 through the first 81 games. For the year, the Phillies were 29-25 when they made an error.

They had just 76 regular-season errors and a .987 fielding percentage; in the National League, only Pittsburgh had fewer errors (73) and a higher percentage (.988).

Friday, October 16, 2009

From MVP To Least Valuable?

Jimmy Rollins has a reputation as a star who shines brightest in the big games. It might be time for a makeover.

Rollins, a three-time All Star and the 2007 NL MVP, has been the least productive Phillies regular in the last four postseason series. Since the start of the 2008 NLCS, Rollins is hitting just .208, with a leadoff-hitter's nightmare .253 on-base percentage. He has just 1 home run and 1 RBI during the 15-game stretch.

He also leads the team in errors for the past two postseasons combined with three, which doesn't count his delayed toss to Chase Utley that threw off the play's timing in last night's game.

By comparison, Pedro Feliz, the next-worst productive regular, is hitting .229 over the last four postseason series, with 3 RBIs and a .312 OBP. He also has no errors the last two postseasons.

Rollins' inability to draw walks--amazingly, he has just 1 in the last 10 playoff games--is a major weakness for a leadoff hitter batting in front of 30-home-run sluggers like Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez. It's also why Rollins is able to claim a 5-game playoff hitting streak; since he never walks, he typically records 5 at-bats a game, as he has for 11 of the last 15 postseason games.

It's possible either hitting coach Milt Thompson or manager Charlie Manuel has encouraged Rollins to be more patient at the plate recently, since he has seen significantly more pitches over the last three playoff games. He has averaged 5.2 pitches per at-bat in the last three games, compared to 3.76 per at-bat in the 12 previous games dating to the 2008 NLCS.

If that doesn't work, might Manuel consider dropping Rollins in the lineup? Even if Manuel did nothing more than flip Rollins and Feliz, the team would see an improvement in the on-base percentage of its leadoff hitter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And Then There Was One

Things change fastball in baseball, as Brett Myers found out today. The Phillies' 2009 opening-day starter was not included on the team's NLCS roster.

His mid-season hip surgery, and a subsequent eye injury in August, kept Myers off the field for long stretches of the season. Still, Myers pitched in relief in eight games during September and October, as well as two-thirds of an inning in the NLDS against Colorado.

The absence of Myers, as well as Kyle Kendrick, from the 2009 NLCS roster means that only one Phillies pitcher remains active for the NLCS who was on the team's playoff roster just two years ago: Cole Hamels.

Besides Hamels, the other pitchers on the 2007 NLDS roster were: Myers, Kendrick, and Clay Condrey (all of whom weren't chosen), Jamie Moyer and J.C. Romero--both of whom are injured--and Antonio Alfonseca, Tom Gordon, Kyle Lohse, and Jose Mesa, none of whom are with the team.

Talk about a change-up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Phillies' NLCS Best And Worst

It seems it wouldn't be a National League Championship Series for the Phillies if they didn't face the Dodgers. This will be the eighth NLCS for the franchise--and the fifth time the team has played Los Angeles.

The teams are split historically, with L.A. winning the first two league championship series (1977, '78) and the Phillies taking the NLCS in 1983 and 2008.

Including the club's three other NLCS appearances in 1976 (vs. Cincinnati), '80 (Houston), and '93 (Atlanta), here are the best and worst Phillies NLCS performances by position.

The best:
C: Bob Boone, 1977: .400 BA
1B: Pete Rose, 1980: .400 BA, .520 OBP
2B: Manny Trillo, 1980: .381 BA, .935 OPS, 4 RBI, NLCS MVP
SS: Larry Bowa, 1978: .333 BA
3B: Mike Schmidt, 1983: .467 BA, 1.329 OPS, 5 runs scored
LF: Gary Matthews, 1983: .429 BA, 1.571 OPS, 3 HR, 8 RBI, NLCS MVP
CF: Garry Maddox, 1980: .300 BA, 3 RBI
RF: Jay Johnstone, 1976: .778 BA, 1.911 OPS (7-for-9 in three-game series)
P: Steve Carlton, 1983: 2-0, 0.66 ERA, 13 K in 13.2 IP
P: Curt Schilling, 1993: 0-0, 1.69 ERA, 19 K in 16 IP, NLCS MVP
P: Cole Hamels, 2008: 2-0, 1.93 ERA, 13 K in 14 IP, NLCS MVP
P: Brad Lidge, 2008: 3 saves, 0.00 ERA, 6 K in 4.1 IP in 4 G
P: Mitch Williams, 1993: 2-0, 2 saves, 1.69 ERA, 5 K in 5.1 IP in 4 G
P: Ryan Madson, 2008: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 4 K in 5 IP in 4 G

The worst:
C: Bo Diaz, 1983: .154 BA, .231 SLG.
1B: Richie Hebner, 1978: .111 BA
2B: Joe Morgan, 1983: .067 BA, .176 OBP
SS: Jimmy Rollins, 2008: .143 BA, .217 OBP, 8 strikeouts
3B: Mike Schmidt, 1977: .063 BA, 1 RBI
LF: Pete Incaviglia, 1993: .167 BA, .167 OBP
CF: Garry Maddox, 1976: .231 BA
RF: Jim Eisenreich, 1993: .133 BA, .200 SLG
P: Jamie Moyer, 2008: 0-1, 40.50 ERA, 6 ER in 1.1 IP
P: Larry Christenson, 1978: 0-1, 12.46 ERA, 6 ER in 4.1 IP
P: Jim Lonborg, 1977: 0-1, 11.25 ERA, 5 ER in 4 IP
P: Ron Reed, 1980: 0-1, 18.00 ERA, 4 ER in 2 IP in 3 G
P: Larry Andersen, 1993: 0-0, 15.43 ERA, 4 ER in 2.1 IP in 3 G
P: Tug McGraw, 1976: 0-0, 11.57 ERA, 3 ER in 2 IP in 2 G

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Phillies' Best Postseason Catcher

Carlos Ruiz twice gave the Phillies the lead in Sunday's 6-5 win with RBI singles. He also moved into a tie for the team record for most career postseason RBIs by a catcher. (Granted, the Phillies postseason records aren't like the Yankees'--Yogi Berra had 10 RBIs in the 1956 World Series alone, and 39 for his career.)

Ruiz is now tied at 7 with Bob Boone and Darren Daulton. With one more RBI this series, he'll also tie Boone ('80 World Series) and Darren Daulton ('93 World Series) for most RBIs in a postseason series with 4.

Ruiz has been a standout in his five postseason series, hitting at least .313 in four of them. He's at .333 against Colorado with three RBIs, following up on last year's World Series when he hit .375, with 1 home run, 3 RBIs, a .500 OBP, and a 1.188 OPS.

Ruiz's continued productivity is unique among Phillies catchers in the postseason. All Phillies catchers combined had just 2 RBIs in the club's first five postseason series (1915, '50, '76, '77, '78). The Phillies' first postseason RBI by a catcher wasn't until Boone got one--and only one--in 1976.

Meanwhile, Ruiz has now reached base safely in seven straight games. Not coincidentally, in his three full seasons as a starter, the Phillies have won the National League East all three years.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Werth Streaks Ahead

Jayson Werth’s eighth-inning home run did more than just offer hope to the Phillies in Thursday’s 5-4 loss. It also extended his postseason hitting streak to 11, giving him the highest total among active major leaguers. He was tied with Scott Rolen, who has a 10-game streak.

Werth also moved closer to the Phillies’ postseason hitting streak record of 13, held by Greg Luzinski. The Bull got hits in his first 13 postseason games, from the 1976 NLCS against Cincinnati into the 1980 NLCS against Houston.

Luzinski hit .326 during his postseason streak, going 16-for-49 through Game 2 of the ’80 NLCS. Then, Luzinski went colder than Colorado in October.

In his next 10 postseason games, including three ’80 NLCS games, three ’80 World Series appearances, and four ’83 ALCS games with the Chicago White Sox, Luzinski had just four hits in 33 at-bats, for a .121 average.

Unlike Luzinski, Werth got off to a slow start as a hitter in the playoffs before catching fire. He hit .235 in his first six playoff games prior to the 2008 season, when he played in the 2004 NLDS as a Dodger, and then the 2007 NLDS with the Phillies.

However, Werth is hitting .348 (15-for-43) during his streak, which began in Game 2 of the 2008 NLCS against Los Angeles.

The major-league record for longest postseason hitting streak is 17, shared by three players: Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, and Hank Bauer.

From Start To Finish

Charlie Manuel's decision yesterday to use starting pitchers Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ as relievers, while controversial, was hardly unprecedented in Phillies postseason history. And, except for one spectacular exception, the past results matched yesterday's loss.

Yesterday was the ninth time in Phillies history that a manager resorted to using a starting pitcher as a reliever in the playoffs. The team's record when it happens is now 1-8.

Here are the eight occasions when the Phillies lost:

Game 2 2009 NLDS: Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ
Game 2 2007 NLDS: Kyle Lohse
Game 3 1993 NLCS: Ben Rivera
Game 5 1983 NLCS: Marty Bystrom
Game 1 1950 World Series: Russ Meyer
Game 3 1950 World Series: Russ Meyer
Game 4 1950 World Series: Robin Roberts
Game 5 1915 World Series: Eppa Rixey

And the only time the Phillies used a starter as a reliever in the postseason and the team won was in Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS against Houston. In an electric series finale, manager Dallas Green turned to both Larry Christenson (in the seventh inning) and Dick Ruthven, who came on in the ninth and also pitched the tenth inning to get the win.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rollins Gets Defensive

Newcomers Cliff Lee (a complete-game victory) and Raul Ibanez (2-4, 2 RBIs) carried the Phillies as they began their World Series title defense. But the longest-tenured Phillie made a quieter impact in a way that typified his season and his career.

Jimmy Rollins made a running catch down the leftfield line early in the game, then made another wind-impacted into-leftfield-back-toward-the-infield catch that typified the Gold Glove defense he's displayed since his first full season as a starter and 2001 22-year-old All Star.

His offense, when better or worse, gets the most focus, but Rollins could join a select group of shortstops in major-league history. Rollins has won two straight Gold Gloves. If he wins a third this season--highly likely, since he made just six errors all year--he'd trail just seven shortstops all-time who have won more. And just two National League shortstops will have topped his three: Ozzie Smith and Dave Concepcion.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Comparing 2009 vs. 2007 NLDS Rosters

It's not surprising if this year's Phillies' pitching staff doesn't dwell on the team's 2007 NLDS loss to Colorado. That's because so few of the 2009 pitchers were around in 2007.

When the Phillies released their NLDS roster Tuesday, just three pitchers remained from the NLDS roster from 2007: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Kyle Kendrick. The rest are either injured (Jamie Moyer and J.C. Romero), not selected (Clay Condrey), or gone (Antonio Alfonseca, Tom Gordon, Kyle Lohse, and Jose Mesa).

Half of the position players are gone, too, including Wes Helms, Tadahito Iguchi, Abraham Nunez, Michael Bourn, Pat Burrell, and Aaron Rowand. The six remaining regulars are Greg Dobbs, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz is still around, but Chris Coste and Rod Barajas aren't. Half of the everyday starters return from the 2007 Game 1: Rollins, Victorino, Utley, and Howard.

Monday, October 5, 2009

World Series Champions' Magic Number

Baseball has seen all sorts of world championship pitching staffs since the start of the modern World Series in 1903. One star young pitcher would lead his championship team in wins one year (Babe Ruth, with 23 wins for Boston in 1916) and then go on to become the all-time leading home run hitter and win four more World Series as a legendary outfielder for the team's rival.

There would be teams with a 34-game winner (Boston's Joe Wood in 1912) and ones with seven pitchers who'd record at least 10 wins (Cincinnati's 1976 Big Red Machine).

But never in baseball history has a team won the World Series if its winningest pitcher didn't have at least 14 victories for the team during a full season. (Fernando Valenzuela led Los Angeles with 13 in strike-shortened 1981.) In fact, just two World Series champs had a winningest pitcher with less than 15 wins: the 2003 Florida Marlins with three 14-game winners, and the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, led by John Candelaria (14).

In other words, the odds aren't in the Phillies' favor heading into the playoffs. And it doesn't look too good for L.A. either.

The winningest pitcher on both teams finished with just 12 wins. The Phillies' Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Jamie Moyer reached 12, while Chad Billingsley had 12 for the Dodgers. Every other team in this year's playoffs features a pitcher with at least 15 wins.

And you thought it was bad for the Phillies that their closer is 0-8 with 11 blown saves and a 7.21 ERA.

Looking for a bright side, or perhaps an asterisk to the rule? Cliff Lee finished with 14 total wins for the season if you count the seven he won before his trade from Cleveland.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Going Long In The Postseason

The Phillies will enter the postseason as the National League's top power-hitting team. They lead the league in home runs, runs, slugging percentage, and total bases heading into the weekend series with Florida. Their 220 home runs is the most in team history, surpassing the previous high of 215 set in 2004.

The team also leads the majors in grand slams with 11, four more than the next closest teams. This season they also became just the 12th team in baseball history with four players to hit at least 30 home runs (Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley).

What will all that power mean in the postseason?

Well, the Phillies set a team record with 18 postseason homers last year, topping the 14 hit by the 1993 National League champs. Only seven teams in baseball history have hit more during one season, including their 2008 World Series opponent. Tampa Bay's 26 last year is one shy of the record, held by the 2002 San Francisco Giants.

Of those seven teams, however, only the 2002 Angels (24 HRs in 16 games) and the 1995 Braves (19 HRs in 14 games) went on to win the World Series. (The full list is here.)

Six of the team's eight starting regulars have hit postseason home runs, with Ryan Howard's career total of five tying him with Greg Luzinski and Gary Matthews, one behind all-time team leader Lenny Dykstra. Ibanez and Pedro Feliz are the two Phillies who've yet to hit postseason home runs. Ibanez reached the '00 postseason with Seattle, while Feliz played in the '08 playoffs, as well as in '02 and '03 with San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Utley's Power Outage

The Phillies' crawl toward the playoffs has highlighted a few problems that could await when they get there, in particular the bullpen troubles, and Cliff Lee's inconsistency. But one more question is worth asking: Is something wrong with Chase Utley?

Utley is having the worst month of his career. He has 2 RBI in his last 14 games, just 2 home runs in September--none in his last 17 games--and no multi-RBI games in a calendar month for the first time since 2003, when he played just half of August as a rookie.

After an 0-for-4 game against Houston Tuesday, he's now 3-for-27 in his last seven games with 0 HR and 1 RBI. His numbers have fallen to season lows: .286 average, .402 OBP, .924 OPS (on-base % plus slugging %). It's the first time he's threatened to drop below .400 in OBP all season.

One reason Utley's slide has fallen under the radar: He still leads the team in runs (111), OBP, and OPS. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, with a weak .294 OBP, dreams of "falling" to Utley's .402.

Still, Utley's slippage is reminiscent of his 2008 power outage, when he had a 27-game homer-less streak in August and September, and finished with just 2 HR in September. Utley also needed hip surgery after the season, an injury he played through, but one that contributed to his struggles down the stretch.

So that brings us back to the question: Is something wrong with Chase Utley?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rushing To The Top?

The Philadelphia Eagles have had legendary running backs, including Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, Wilbert Montgomery, Ricky Watters, Herschel Walker, Keith Byars, and Brian Westbrook. None of those players, however, holds the team's all-time record for rushing yards by a rookie.

The record-holder is none other than Correll Buckhalter, who ran for 586 yards in 2001--his highest total as an Eagle--and is currently on pace to top 1,000 yards for 3-0 Denver.

Rookie LeSean McCoy looks to give Buckhalter's record a challenge this season. With 148 yards after three games, McCoy is on pace to reach almost 650 yards. (Westbrook ran for just 193 yards as a rookie.)

Of course, Westbrook's injury boosted McCoy's playing time against Kansas City. But with McCoy showing such promise in the Eagles' version of the Wildcat offense, he hardly figures to be banished to the sidelines for long when Westbrook returns.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Closing Arguments

Brad Lidge has endured one of the worst seasons in history for a Phillies closer—and that’s saying something considering the years had by the likes of Jose Mesa, Mike Williams, and Jeff Brantley.

Lidge has 10 blown saves and a 7.24 ERA, which puts him on pace to have the worst ERA in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 15 saves in a season, according to baseball-reference.com. Colorado’s Shawn Chacon is the current leader with a 7.11 ERA and 35 saves in 2004.

And, according to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, no team has won a World Series with a closer who blew at least 10 saves.

With just 12 games remaining, Lidge should be safe from breaking the major-league record of 14 blown saves in a season, held by four players, most recently Ron Davis in 1984.

Oddly enough, Lidge (31 saves) and Ryan Madson (8 saves) could team up for a bit of Phillies relief pitcher history. A Phillies reliever has recorded 30 saves 12 times. Prior to this season, just twice has one reliever reached at least 30 saves while another had more than four. And no second reliever has ever topped eight saves.

In 1996, Ricky Bottalico (34) and Ken Ryan (8) teamed up on a 67-95 team, while in 1995 Heathcliff Slocumb (32) and Toby Borland (6) combined for a team that went 69-75 in a strike-shortened season.

Not exactly legendary names from the past. Then again, Lidge and Madson aren’t exactly having legendary seasons; they’ve also combined for 16 blown saves.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Win 90, Reach The World Series

Here's some good news for this year's Phillies team, which had 87 wins heading into the doubleheader with Florida. When they reach 90 wins, they will have punched their ticket to the World Series, if history holds form.

The last four times the Phillies have won at least 90 regular-season games they've gone on to reach the World Series (2008, 1993, 1983, and 1980). They are the only major league team to have a streak of four years during the league championship series era, which began following the 1969 season.

In fact, just two teams in major league history have longer streaks. The New York Yankees reached the World Series every time they won at least 90 games nine straight times (1960-64, and 1955-58), and also eight straight (1947, 1941-43, 1936-39). And the New York Giants (now San Francisco) did so eight times (1921-24, 1917, 1911-13).

The last time the Phillies won at least 90 and failed to make the World Series was 1978, when the team went 90-72 and lost to Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Roster Roulette

Could two Phillies who provided memorable images from the 2008 postseason find themselves on the outside looking in during the 2009 postseason? Philly-area native Jamie Moyer, who celebrated the team's title by digging up the pitching rubber, and big-swinging, Los Angeles Dodger-beating Matt Stairs could easily be bypassed when the Phillies choose their postseason roster.

The team simply has too much talent for 25 spots. That's a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The Phillies have 12 position players that appear to be locks: Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Feliz, Ibanez, Victorino, Werth, Francisco, Dobbs, and defensive backups Bruntlett and Bako.

There are 9 pitchers that seem to be safe: Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Martinez, Happ, Lidge, Myers, Madson, and Durbin.

That leaves 4 spots for 9 likely candidates, by my count: Moyer, Eyre, Romero, Condrey, Park, Walker, Stairs, Cairo, and Kendrick. The injury/recovery status of Eyre, Romero, Condrey, and Park will affect the decision.

Walker's strong outings have made the decision even tougher for the Phillies brass. He has appeared in six games in September--among the bullpen leaders--and has a 1.93 ERA since his June call-up.

The decision on Moyer and Stairs could be the team's toughest. Happ's emergence this season could make Moyer's role in a postseason bullpen redundant. And Stairs has slumped for large stretches of the season; still, he's a lefthanded bat off the bench.

Last season, the team kept 11 pitchers on the postseason roster. If they keep 12 this year, it would seem likely to be the 9 definites plus Walker, Eyre, and likely Romero. That would leave the 12 position player definites, plus perhaps Stairs. Or will the Phillies keep 13 pitchers (Moyer?) and 12 position players?

In the absence of a N.L. East challenger, the postseason roster dilemma may be the most compelling question this September for the Phillies.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kolb And The 2007 Quarterback Class

Two Texas-born quarterbacks likely will lead their teams into Sunday's Eagles-Saints game. That's where the similarities end, unfortunately for the Eagles.

Unlike three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees (Austin, TX), Kevin Kolb (Victoria, TX) has struggled on the rare occasions he's taken the field during his three seasons. In fact, at this early stage, he's one of the worst of the 10 quarterbacks taken in the 2007 NFL Draft. Of the 10, one became a wide receiver (Isaiah Stanback) and another is out of the NFL (Jeff Rowe).

Kolb and Cincinnati's Jordan Palmer are the only 2007 quarterback draftees without a career touchdown pass. And Kolb, Palmer, and Drew Stanton are the only ones who have yet to start an NFL game. Kolb alone hits the trifecta, though: he has the worst career quarterback rating of the bunch (25.0).

The other draftees are JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, the two quarterbacks taken ahead of Kolb at 36th overall, as well as John Beck, Trent Edwards, Troy Smith, and Tyler Thigpen.

The majority of the NFL's star quarterbacks are full-time starters by their second season, players such as Brees, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Eli and Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. There are exceptions, including players who started in their fourth season, such as Jake Delhomme, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Cassell. And the Eagles' newest acquisition, Jeff Garcia, spent years playing in the Canadian Football League before becoming a four-time NFL Pro Bowler.

For now, however, Kolb's ranking among the worst of the 2007 quarterback draft class stands out, even more so compared to this week's opponent. Brees has 174 career touchdown passes and 107 career starts. If he does start, Kolb will at least get rid of one zero on his quarterbacking resume.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Eagles New Rushing Leader?

Brian Westbrook could pass an Eagles legend in Sunday's game against Carolina, on the way to a potentially record-breaking season for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Westbrook needs just 74 yards to pass Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren and become the second all-time leading rusher in Eagles history. Westbrook currently has 5,721 yards to Van Buren's 5,860. Wilbert Montgomery is the all-time leader with 6,538, putting him just 817 yards ahead of Westbrook.

Montgomery's record is easily within reach this season for Westbrook, who has topped 817 yards rushing each of the last three seasons. However, those are the only three seasons he has started more than 12 games in his seven-year career, so while a healthy Westbrook would surely catch Montgomery, an injury-free season isn't guaranteed.

Westbrook, a third-round pick who was taken 91st overall, was a steal in the 2002 NFL Draft. Of the seven running backs picked higher than Westbrook, only two-time Pro Bowler Clinton Portis (9,202 career yards) has outplayed him.

In fact, Westbrook alone has outgained the combined rushing totals of the two running backs picked in the first round, William Green (2,109 yards) and T.J. Duckett (2,814), both of whom are now out of football. The other backs picked ahead of Westbrook include DeShaun Foster (3,570), Maurice Morris (2,612), Ladell Betts (2,966), and Lamar Gordon (774).

Assuming Westbrook plays 16 games, he needs to average a little more than 51 yards a game to pass Montgomery. If Westbrook can stay healthy, he'll run his way into Eagles history by season's end.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Phillies All-Time 9 Poll

The Phillies website has an interesting poll: The All-Time 9 allows voters to select the best seasons by players at each of the nine positions. It's pretty comprehensive and provides a look at many of the best seasons in team history. (Each player only has one season chosen, so players like Mike Schmidt who had several monster seasons only have one season included.)

The players I chose looked awfully familiar to the all-time Phillies team I picked in a blog entry earlier this year. Except, oddly the All-Time 9 offered no Bob Boone season to choose from--he had his best Phillies season in 1978. However, while Boone's longevity and consistency make him the team's best catcher ever, he didn't have a standout season better than the ones presented.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Phillies vs. MLB's Best

ESPN's Peter Gammons wrote a column Saturday about the strength of the National League West and referenced the winning percentages of division teams when playing outside their own division. At first glance, it didn't look good for the Phillies compared to other playoff contenders.

Gammons wrote: "In games played outside their own division (versus teams from the NL East, Central and interleague play) the NL West this weekend was 24 games over .500, the NL Central five under, the NL East 24 under; in the American League, the West was 33 over .500, the East 28 over, the Central 37 under."

It'd be easy to assume that the NL East-leading Phillies might be in trouble in the playoffs considering their division is 24 under--and second-worst among all divisions. But that's where statistics lie.

The Phillies clearly play in a bad division, as reflected by Gammons' numbers. But that doesn't mean the team itself has played badly against teams outside of their division. That distinction matters as the Phillies head toward the playoffs.

The Phillies were just 20-22 against teams outside of their division through June. But they went 23-10 in July and August, and overall they're 45-37 for the season. Even better, the team has a winning record against two of their three potential NL playoff opponents: Colorado (4-2) and St. Louis (4-1), as well as possible World Series foe New York (2-1). On the down side, the Phillies are just 3-4 this season vs. Los Angeles and 1-2 against Boston.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Eagles Stand Alone

Andy Reid recognized the importance of a quarterback to a team's success when he drafted Donovan McNabb with the team's top pick in Reid's first NFL draft in 1999. And for all of the team's success since then, including five NFC championship game appearances and one Super Bowl showing, the Eagles still stand alone when it comes to yardage-compiling quarterbacks and Super Bowl titles.

Philadelphia is the only NFL team without a single-season 4,000-yard passer in team history nor a Super Bowl title among teams in existence since Super Bowl I. The other teams without 4,000-yard passers either won a Super Bowl (Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Tampa Bay) or haven't been around since Super Bowl I (Seattle, and the Houston Texans).

The lack of a 4,000-yard passer in team history is particularly stunning considering the Hall of Fame-, MVP-, and All-Pro-caliber quarterbacks to play for the Eagles. Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen didn't reach the mark, nor did 1990 NFL MVP Randall Cunningham, or standouts such as Ron Jaworski, Roman Gabriel, Norm Snead, or McNabb. All except Van Brocklin had 3,000-yard seasons for the team.

So which comes first for a team in existence since 1933: a 4,000-yard passer or a Super Bowl title? Both are long overdue.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hitting A Wall, Or Hitting Awaits?

What you make of the Phillies' current hitting struggles depends on your perspective. There's supporting evidence for optimists and pessimists alike.

For pessimists: The Phillies have scored just seven runs in their last six games--a run of ineffectiveness unlike any stretch this season or last. In 2008, the team twice scored just seven runs over four games, but they had nothing approaching such a bad six-game swoon.

In fact, the Phillies weren't shut out over the final 47 games of 2008 on their way to a World Series title. And in all of September, they scored less than three runs only once.

Now, for the optimists. The 2009 Phillies have scored at least seven runs in a game 37 times this season and still have 30 games left to play. Last year's world champs scored seven or more a total of 42 times, so this year's team is on pace to top last season.

Plus the 2008 team was shut out eight times last year; the 2009 Phillies have been shut out just six times and, with two shutouts already in September, would seem to have topped their quota for the month.

So, do the struggles of the last six games signal the just the tip of a season-dooming iceberg? Or are the Phillies about to break out for another epic September slash through the National League? Optimist or pessimist--history's on your side either way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Major League Record In Sight?

The Phillies, with a long list of prodigious home run hitting teams, have never had one with four players having seasons like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez.

All four could top 30 home runs, which would tie the major league record for most players on one team to reach 30. It would also be the first time it’s happened in Phillies history.

Howard (37) is already there, with Utley and Werth (29 each) locks to reach 30, barring injury. Ibanez (27, with 33 games left) would seem to be a sure thing as well, except he has just one home run in his last 30 games.

The closest prior to this season? Three Phillies reached 30 homers three times in team history, including each of the last two seasons. Last year, Howard (48), Utley (33), and Burrell (33) did, while in 2007, Howard (47), Rollins (30), and Burrell (30) hit the mark.

Prior to Howard’s arrival in Philly, the only other occasion was 1929, when Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (43) teamed with Lefty O’Doul (32) and Don Hurst (31).

Speaking of Howard, with three home runs he’ll have hit at least 40 home runs for a team-record fourth straight season. Before Howard, the team record was two straight seasons: Jim Thome in 2003 (47) and 2004 (42), and Mike Schmidt in 1979 (45) and 1980 (48).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Best Player Of My Lifetime

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said the best player of his lifetime is Derek Jeter. My first impression was the King should stick to what he knows best (the NFL). But with a little digging, I found King is not so far off. And maybe, just maybe, Jeter is more than a great player who benefits from playing on a moneyed team that buys other top players to reach the playoffs.

I started following baseball in the mid-1970s, so my options are numerous, listed here alphabetically: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken Jr., Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, and Robin Yount.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and any other performance-enhancing drug (PED) suspect doesn’t count. Are some unknown PED guys on my initial list? Possibly, but I don’t think so.

Other potential candidates either have played too few seasons (Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard) or their best years occurred just before my baseball-following time (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays).

I love high-average hitters, but if we’re looking for the best overall player, there has to be more. Sorry, Boggs, Carew, and Gwynn. Also, for me, top everyday players trump pitchers so that eliminates the best two pitchers I’ve seen (Carlton and Maddux) as well as Johnson and Ryan.

That leaves Brett, Griffey Jr., Henderson, Jeter, Ripken, Schmidt, and Yount. Schmidt (three-time MVP and five-time top-five finalist) beats Brett (one-time MVP and four-time top-five finalist).

Two-time MVPs Ripken and Yount, unlike Schmidt and Brett, never led their league in any of the three major hitting categories. Neither has Jeter, who has never been an MVP and only finished in the top five twice.

Griffey Jr., a one-time MVP, had nine outstanding seasons and finished in the MVP top-five five times. But injuries curtailed his career; his first 11 seasons were stunning, but he dramatically tailed off after the 2000 season. And Henderson, a one-time MVP and two-time top-five finalist, is right there with Rose as the greatest leadoff hitters of all time.

But I’m going with Schmidt as the best player of my lifetime. He was the best offensive and defensive third basemen in baseball history. He led the NL in homers eight times, in RBIs four times, won 10 Gold Gloves. In 14 seasons, from 1974 to 1987, Schmidt had just one sub-par season (1978) and was named to 12 All Star teams.

Here’s my personal top five: Schmidt, Brett, Jeter, Carlton, Carew.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Howard Making History?

Ryan Howard's two home runs and five RBIs in the team's 6-2 victory over New York give him 34 homers and 104 RBIs for the season. It's the fourth consecutive year he has at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, something only Hall of Famer Chuck Klein has achieved in team history.

That's just the start of what could be a season for the ages for Howard. In Major League history, just five players have been their league's single-season leader in home runs and RBIs more than twice, and the list is a Who's Who of the all-time greatest.

Mike Schmidt ('80, '81, '84, '86) and Hank Aaron ('57, '63, '66) are the only National Leaguers with more than two such seasons, while Ted Williams ('42, '47, '49), Hank Greenberg ('35, '40, '46), and Babe Ruth ('19, '20, '21, '23, '26, '28) did it in the AL. That's it. No Albert Pujols--he hasn't done it even once--no A-Rod, no Bonds, McGwire, Mays, Musial, heck, even no Hack (Wilson).

Howard, of course, led the NL in homers and RBIs in 2006 and 2008. He's currently third in both HRs (behind Pujols with 40) and RBIs (trailing Prince Fielder with 110) but is riding one of those scorched-earth hitting tears that would allow him to catch both players by season's end. He has eight homers and 22 RBIs in his last 11 games.

He's also heading into what historically has been his hottest month. Howard has more HRs and RBIs in September than any other month. He totaled 11 homers and 32 RBIs last September; Pujols had eight and 27, while Fielder collected 6 and 21.

Can Howard do it? Absolutely. Remember, Howard already is the fastest Major Leaguer to 100 and 200 career home runs. With 40 games remaining, he could potentially finish with 45 homers, 150 RBI, and a place in history.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Phillies' Best In-Season Trades

Cliff Lee’s hot start since joining the Phillies (4-0, 0.82 ERA) brings to mind another Cy Young-winning lefthander to pitch for the team—and not Mark Davis (NL Cy Young for San Diego in ’89) or Willie Hernandez (AL Cy Young for Detroit in ’84).

Four-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Famer Steve Carlton is the Phillies’ all-time greatest trade acquisition, coming to the team from St. Louis before the 1972 season for pitcher Rick Wise. But Lee, last year’s AL Cy Young winner with Cleveland, has the potential to become the Phillies’ best in-season trade pickup.

(Some would say the best in-season trade the Phillies made was getting rid of Bobby Abreu in 2006 for essentially cab fare, but we’re talking player upgrades and not team-chemistry improvements.)

Lee is not unique on the current Phillies roster. Other in-season acquisitions include Jamie Moyer in 2006, Joe Blanton, Scott Eyre, and Matt Stairs in 2008, and Ben Francisco, who came along with Lee.

Lee’s competition for tops all-time in-season, though, includes some of the bigger names in team history, including outfielders Garry Maddox, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Bake McBride, and Tony Gonzalez (three .300 seasons in the 1960s), as well as pitchers John Denny (the ’83 NL Cy Young winner after being acquired), Gene Garber, and Terry Mulholland.

Oddly, the team’s only in-season infield pickups of note were long-time Phillie Tony Taylor in 1960 and Placido Polanco in 2002.

It wouldn’t take much for Lee to top the other pitchers. Denny, a 1982 pickup, won the Cy Young Award the next year, going 19-6 on the NL champions, but he won just 18 games combined over the next two seasons before being traded. Garber was a solid reliever on some great bullpens in the 1970s, and Mulholland was an All Star on the ’93 NL champs, but neither player is one for the ages.

Lee has tougher competition among the outfielders. Maddox played parts of 12 seasons with the Phillies and was fifth in MVP balloting in 1976 when he hit .330. Dykstra, who starred in the early part of the Steroids Era, played parts of eight seasons, was a three-time All Star, and the NL MVP runner-up in ’93.

Kruk was a part of the team for six seasons, making three All Star teams, while McBride played parts of five seasons, hitting .309 for the ’80 World Series champions.

So who is the all-time best in-season pickup? Excluding Lee for now, I’d go with Maddox, followed by Dykstra, Kruk, Taylor, and McBride.

Friday, August 14, 2009

One More Pro Bowl-Caliber QB

If you put aside the issues surrounding Michael Vick, the Eagles' acquisition fits right in with the team's successful history of picking up Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. The Eagles have acquired--rather than drafted--most of the best quarterbacks in team history.

Six of the Eagles' top nine quarterbacks in completions and passing yardage joined the team after Pro Bowl seasons elsewhere--or would eventually become a Pro Bowler. That includes Ron Jaworski (an Eagle from 1977-86), Tommy Thompson (1941-50), and Norm Van Brocklin (1958-60), all of whom took the Eagles to the league championship game.

Other Pro Bowl pickups in the top nine include Norm Snead (1964-70) and Roman Gabriel (1973-77), both named Pro Bowlers prior to, and also with the Eagles. Bobby Thomason (1952-57) was a Pro Bowler only with the team. And Jim McMahon (1990-92), and Andy Reid pickups Jeff Garcia (2006) and now Vick aren't in the historical top nine, but were Pro Bowlers before the Eagles landed them.

All-time completions and passing yardage leader Donovan McNabb, No. 3 Randall Cunningham, and No. 6 Sonny Jurgensen are the only draftees in the top nine.

Where does Vick fit into that mix? At 29, he's the same age as Jaworski when he took the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and just a year older than McNabb during his Super Bowl season. However, at the same age Cunningham's best Eagle days were behind him.

Can Vick, in a new environment and with less physical wear and tear than other 29-year-olds, produce like Jaworski or McNabb? Maybe not, but for the Eagles, it's better for him to try it here than with any other NFC team.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Give Buddy Ryan Credit For Helping Cris Carter

Sports Illustrated's Peter King includes ex-Eagle Cris Carter on his list of potential 2010 NFL Hall of Fame inductees, along with Dick LeBeau, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Richard Dent, and Russ Grimm. If so, ESPN and others will certainly enjoy themselves at former coach Buddy Ryan's expense for his famous quote, "All he does is catch touchdowns."

Ryan, however, did Carter a huge favor by cutting him before the 1990 season. I covered the Eagles in 1989 for Eagles Digest and Carter was a sullen, moody, selfish player. He later admitted that he was abusing drugs and alcohol and that Ryan helped him turn around his personal life.

He joined the Vikings, and after getting clean became second to Jerry Rice all-time in receptions and touchdowns by a receiver. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and one of just five players in NFL history with more than 1,000 receptions.

So if Carter indeed makes the Hall of Fame in 2010, let's give a little less grief and a little more credit to Buddy Ryan, who gave Carter the reality check that saved his career.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Phillies' Batting Champ Drought

The last time a Philadelphia Phillie won a batting title, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Elvis was inducted into the Army, and the average American worker made $3,851 a year. You could say it's been a while.

Richie Ashburn, with a .350 average in 1958, topped no-names Willie Mays, Stan Musial, and Hank Aaron and was the last Phillie to win a batting crown. The other seven National League teams in 1958 have since seen a player win at least one title, and newcomers like Colorado, San Diego, and Montreal/Washington also have produced batting champs. Florida (which began play in '93 and whose Hanley Ramirez leads the NL now), New York ('62), Houston ('62), Milwaukee ('69/moved to NL in '98), and Arizona ('98) are the others without batting champs.

Batting average is the only major hitting or pitching category in which the Phillies have drawn a title blank since 1972. Ryan Howard claimed home run and RBI titles in 2008, Curt Schilling took the strikeout crown in '98, John Denny led the league in victories in '83, and Steve Carlton took the ERA title in '72.

The Phillies batting-average dry spell actually isn't so unusual, considering the team has had few high-average-hitting stars since 1958. Aside from Pete Rose, most of the team's batting-title contenders rode one-year hot streaks. The closest were Jim Eisenreich, who hit .361 in 1996, and Bake McBride, who hit .339 in 1977. Both would have led the league, but the platoon players had too few at-bats to qualify.

Since 1958, 12 Phillies have finished in the top five in hitting, with three second-place finishes: Tony Gonzalez (.339 in '67 to Roberto Clemente's .357), Rose (.331 in '79 behind Keith Hernandez's .344), and Rose again (.325 in '81 to Bill Madlock's .341),

However, in the last 27 years, just four Phillies have finished in the top five: Lenny Dykstra--fourth in '90, John Kruk--third in '92, Bobby Abreu--third in '99, and Chase Utley--third in '07.

No Phillie is currently in the top 10 this season, so the streak figures to continue. Of the current players, Utley and Shane Victorino figure to have the best shot, though neither seems likely to pull it off. Average-wise, Utley goes hot-and-cold too frequently, and Victorino's high-water mark seems to be in the .310 to .320 range.

Who does that leave as a possible future batting champ? In a few years, perhaps Triple-A stud Michael Taylor, or Double-A star Domonic Brown. Good thing Ruben Amaro kept them off the table at the trade deadline, or the Phillies' streak could easily stretch another decade or so.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Best Phillies Team

The Phillies’ two World Series-winning teams would seem to be the obvious choices as the best clubs in team history. But not so much.

As I wrote in the previous days’ entries, the fourth-best team was the 1950 club, the third was the 1976 101-win team. That leaves the competition down to the 1980 champions and this year’s team, one that’s significantly better than last year’s World Series winners. By adding a reigning Cy Young Winner (Cliff Lee), a 2009 All Star (Raul Ibanez), and a confidence that comes with the title, the ’09 team easily trumps the ’08 winners. But how do the 1980 and 2009 teams compare?

The 1980 team featured two Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton) and a hard-to-believe 17 players who’d be named All Stars during their careers. Seven of the eight regulars were All Stars at some point (Garry Maddox was the only one not named).

It’s hard to tell how the careers of the 2009 players will play out, but already 11 players on this year’s team have been named All Stars, including six of the eight regulars (except Carlos Ruiz or Pedro Feliz) and not counting yet-to-be-activated Pedro Martinez.

The key to comparing the teams is to focus on the individual season and not a player’s career. Some Phillies greats didn’t produce in ’80, or haven’t yet in ‘09: Bob Boone (.229), Greg Luzinski (.228), and Garry Maddox (.259) struggled then, while Jimmy Rollins (.242) and Ruiz (.231) are having off years now.

Conversely, Carlton won the Cy Young and Schmidt was NL and World Series MVP. Barring a freakish hot streak by Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, there won’t be any regular-season award-winners on the ’09 club.

The ‘09 team, however, has strengths the ’80 team didn’t. The starting rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Jamie Moyer/perhaps Martinez is far better than the ’80 staff of Carlton, Dick Ruthven, Bob Walk, Randy Lerch, and Nino Espinosa/Larry Christenson.

The ’09 everyday regulars are also having better years than the ’80 starters. Howard tops an aging Pete Rose (.282 BA, .352 OBP), Utley’s better than Manny Trillo, Ibanez bests Luzinski, and Shane Victorino is better than ’80 Maddox. Boone/Ruiz is a wash. That leaves Bowa over a slumping Rollins, Schmidt ahead of Feliz, and Bake McBride ahead of Werth.

The ’80 team gets points for its bullpen and bench strength. Tug McGraw was otherworldly after returning from his injury (1.46 ERA for the season), and Ron Reed, Dickie Noles, and Kevin Saucier held down the fort. The ’09 team has potential over the next two months to swing the vote, though, with Brad Lidge finally coming around, and J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Brett Myers due back.

The ’80 team demolishes the ’09 club in bench depth. Lonnie Smith, Keith Moreland, Greg Gross, and Del Unser pushed the ’80 starters for their jobs, while ’09 backups Greg Dobbs and newly acquired Ben Francisco are the only bench players who could be considered starters on other teams.

The final tally: the ’09 team’s everyday lineup and starting pitching are better than the ’80 club. Only the ’80 bullpen and bench beat the ’09 club. Remember, the ’80 team finished just 91-71, winning the division following a gut-wrenching series in Montreal on the season’s last weekend. Aside from a total collapse, the ’09 team should easily win the division and head to the playoffs as the defending World Series champs and likely NL favorites to reach the World Series.

What do you think? Let me know by commenting or sending me an e-mail.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Best Phillies Team, Part 2

Following up on yesterday’s entry: Is this year’s Phillies team the best in club history? I’ve narrowed the competition down to four: 2009, 1980, 1976, and 1950.

I expected the 1950 team would give the ’80 and ’09 teams a challenge, but it looks like just the fourth best of the bunch. The Whiz Kids got hot for one season behind 25-and-unders Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Curt Simmons, Del Ennis, Granny Hamner, and Willie Jones.

Despite having just three players named to that year’s All-Star team (Roberts, Jones, and Jim Konstanty), the Phillies claimed four of the top seven spots in the year-end MVP balloting and six of the top 16. Reliever Jim Konstanty (16-7, 22 saves) won the award and Del Ennis (4th), Granny Hamner (6th), Robin Roberts (7th), Andy Seminick (14th) and Curt Simmons (16th) rounded out the group.

Despite the team’s strong lineup, the Phillies lacked starting pitching beyond Roberts and Simmons; the other four starters combined to go 31-32. Also, the bench was weak, with no player hitting above .250. The team, under manager Eddie Sawyer, finished 91-63 and won the National League by two games over Brooklyn before the Yankees beat them in the World Series in four straight.

Next up: the surprise of the bunch, the 1976 Phillies, a team loaded with highly talented players at divergent stages of their careers. A whopping 14 players on the roster would make an All-Star team at some point in their career, from 40-year-old reserve Tony Taylor (an All Star in ’60) to 25-year-old Greg Luzinski, in the middle of four straight All-Star seasons. Every starter (Bob Boone, Dick Allen, Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, and Luzinski) except Garry Maddox and Jay Johnstone would be selected at some point.

The pitching staff featured six eventual All Stars and two Cy Young winners in Steve Carlton (’72, ’77, ’80, ’82) and 34-year-old Jim Lonborg (’67 with Boston), whose 18 victories that season would be one less than he’d collect in his final three seasons combined. Jim Kaat, Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, and Wayne Twitchell were the other All Stars.

Manager Danny Ozark’s ’76 team went 101-61 and won the division by nine games before running into the Big Red Machine. Cincinnati beat the Phillies in three straight before demolishing the Yankees in four straight in the World Series.

Schmidt, Luzinski, Maddox, Carlton, and Lonborg had standout seasons. Bowa (.248), and aging vets Allen (15 HR, 49 RBI) and Kaat (12-14) didn’t. The bullpen was phenomenal with Reed, McGraw, and Gene Garber putting together the first of two straight seasons that Baseball Prospectus would rank second all-time in baseball history.

The ’76 team had a solid bench (Bobby Tolan, Tim McCarver, Ollie Brown), but only a so-so rotation beyond Carlton and Lonborg (Kaat, and 22-year-olds Larry Christenson and Tommy Underwood). As a result of its average starting pitching and off years by a few regulars, the ’76 group is just a notch below the 1980 and 2009 teams, whom I’ll profile tomorrow.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is This The Best Phillies Team Ever?

The big question raised by the imminent arrival of pitcher Pedro Martinez to the Phillies lineup isn’t who will be the team’s fifth starter. When you’re talking about a team choosing for its fifth starter between either a three-time Cy Young winner or one who’s won more than 250 career games, can you really go wrong?

The more intriguing question: with Martinez, who also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting seven times, and the recent addition of reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, is this now the best team in Phillies history?

Sadly, of course, the Phillies aren’t the Yankees when it comes to great teams, so the list of contenders is shorter than Carlos Ruiz (does every home-plate umpire have to be taller than him?).

The contenders include the title teams of 2008 and 1980, the World Series teams of 1915, 1950, 1983, and 1993, and the 100-regular-season-win teams of 1976 and 1977, as well as this year’s group.

It’s pretty easy to eliminate some from the list quickly, starting with the World Series teams. Grover Cleveland Alexander’s ’15 team featured three Hall of Famers but pitcher Eppa Rixey (the Reds) and shortstop Dave Bancroft (New York Giants/Boston) would make their names elsewhere. Pitching carried a workmanlike lineup.

The ’83 Wheeze Kids included the most Hall of Famers ever on one Phillies team with four (Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Steve Carlton), not counting Pete Rose. But as the team’s nickname implies, they’d seen better days.

The ’93 team had unique chemistry—Lenny Dysktra’s arms indicated maybe there was a little too much chemistry—and a solid pitching staff led by Curt Schilling (16-7) and Mitch Williams (43 hair-raising saves). The 97-victory team knew how to win and how to have fun, but Schilling is the only possible Hall of Famer, so the greatness factor is missing.

Then, you have to choose between the back-to-back teams. The 1976 and '77 teams were similar except for a few players that give '76 (Dick Allen, Dave Cash, Jay Johnstone) the edge over ’77 (Richie Hebner, Ted Sizemore, Johnstone/Bake McBride) The pitching staffs were roughly the same, though Jim Lonborg and Jim Kaat were better in ’76.

And, without a title to back it up yet, I’ll still take the 2009 team ahead of 2008: Raul Ibanez over Pat Burrell, Lee over Kyle Kendrick, and the '09 team has the swagger of having won a World Series. Brad Lidge and the bullpen were better last season, but there’s still two months and an incoming Brett Myers to remedy that. This year’s group has the largest division lead in the majors at 7 games, has a better winning percentage than last year (.575 vs. .567.), and gets Lee and possibly Martinez for the rest of the season.

That leaves a Final Four of 1950, 1976, 1980, and 2009 for tomorrow’s entry.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Philly Sports Trifecta?

Tonight is the first of possibly three straight nights of Philly sports teams taking over the national spotlight. Villanova plays North Carolina at 8:47 on CBS; the defending World Series champion Phillies (5 beautiful words!) host Atlanta in the Major League season opener Sunday night on ESPN2; and if 'Nova pulls off the upset tonight, the Wildcats will play for the national championship in Monday night's NCAA final.

I said to a friend that I could see perhaps Nova beating Carolina, but it wasn't likely; this isn't like '85, I said. "North Carolina is a team of stars," I said.

My friend said, "What do you think Georgetown was?" And he's right: The '85 Hoyas were the defending national champs with one of the best college centers of all-time in Patrick Ewing. Entering the championship, they'd won 17 straight and four of their five tourney games by double digits. Every Georgetown starter was an eventual first- or second-round NBA draft pick: Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Bill Martin, and Michael Jackson.

So I'm changing my mind: why can't Nova do it tonight against Carolina's team of future NBAers? As I noted back in early February, this Wildcats team has the elements you need to advance in the NCAA tournament: smart players, an aggressive defense, inside-outside scoring, a deep rotation, and recent tourney success.

And Villanova has experience against elite tourney teams, having lost to the eventual national champion in three of the last four tournaments. Nova fell to Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year, Florida in the 2006 Elite Eight, and North Carolina in the 2005 Sweet 16.

But there won't be a loss this year. I predict a tight game, with Nova's foul shooting providing the difference in a stunning upset.

Philly fans will barely have time to recover from the win before two more nights of Philly sports in the spotlight. What a weekend!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reviewing Our Final Four Picks

With the Final Four set, it’s time to look back at the genius of our pre-tournament picks. There are only two people who picked a winner still alive: me (woo-hoo!) and that college hoops guru Troy V. of Yardley. We both went with the unconventional pick of North Carolina.

Phil and I both “won” by getting two of the four right: N.C. and Villanova for me, N.C. and UConn for Phil, who went with the homer pick of Wake to win it all. Kurt also played the homer card (Pitt) and finished with one of four (N.C.). Troy’s only correct pick was N.C. and poor Dave, who doesn’t really follow college hoops, was kind enough to make us all look good by going 0-for-4. Basically, Dave got as many right as Troy V. did in his initial pre-bracket guess of Sam Adams, Blue Moon, Guinness, and Molson.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And the WInner Is ... ?

Hey all,

It's tourney time! You've made your pre-tourney picks, now it's time to take it a step farther: Who will win the whole thing?

You've had two days to look at the brackets (with only a day and a half left!), so send it in, Jerome! (That's a Bill Raftery reference, for all you hockey fans out there.)

My pick: North Carolina. I know, way out on a limb there, huh? My Final Four: No. 1 seed N.C., No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 Memphis, and No. 3 Villanova. I'd really like to pick Gonzaga to upset N.C. to make the Elite Eight, but the Tar Heels have so many future NBAers they could beat the Sixers many nights.

And I was sooooo close to picking Wake, Phil: Louisville-Wake is going to be a great game. — John

Who will win it all? AIG. They clearly have nerves (and perhaps other body parts) of steel over there on that squad.

My revised Final Four are: Pitt, Louisville, Memphis, UNC. Eventual champion: Pitt, beating Memphis in the final.

Biased? Of course. Realistic: as long as past performance is no indication of future results, I believe so. This may be the only time in my lifetime where I get to put Pitt on the final line and have it be more than just a theoretical possibility.

Thanks for the “Send it in Jerome” quip John… brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it. (Now if we could only get Raftery to stop doing his annoying little “Team x comes out…man-to-man!” thing. I think he’s OK as a commentator, but should have shoes thrown at him when he does that.) — Kurt

Ok, I crunched the numbers (threw the dart at the brackets), hit Chattanooga to win it all, rethought my process, and decided to be a lemming - let's go!!!

Final Four: (drum roll please as everyone waits with baited breath—by the way, what is baited breath? Is that some kind of fishing reference? Does it smell fishy? What if you don't like fish, can you wait with pizza breath?)

Louisville ... Memphis ... Pittsburgh ... North Carolina.

National Champion: (shock of all shocks) North Carolina,

I'd be happy to share my Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen, even the thrifty thirty-two's, but I don't think anyone would find inspiration in my picks. I'm looking forward to watching the games. Gotta love this time of year, if only for MARCH MADNESS.

As an aside, I heard from "a source" that Troy Vincent, having come in second in votes for the the Players’ Union’s executive director position, would be willing to accept a leadership role with the players union, if asked…..All you have to do is ask ... call, write, text ... just get it out there. — Troy V. of Yardley


Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt and Syracuse.

Rematch of the Big East Final with Louisville and Syracuse, except this time Syracuse cuts down the nets.

However, I want the right to change my prediction if Eric Devendorf gets in another fight with a girl on campus and feels the need to punch her in the face. If he does this, they may hold him out of a practice or team meeting. — Dave

The question I asked myself was: Which is worse, picking Wake to go to the Final Four and they don't, or not picking them to go to the Final Four and they do?

I don't think I could forgive myself if they made the Final Four and I didn't pick 'em that far, ergo: Wake losing to Pitt, with the Grubby Tar Holes defeating UConn in a mythical consolation game.

p.s. Chelsea's 4pts behind Manchester United in PL and onto FA Cup Semis. But y'all probably already knew that. — Phil

Wow, could we have a Wake (Phil)-Pitt (Kurt) national championship? Yes, we could. Talk about a test of friendship. John

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Tourney Upset Special

Looking for a first-round underdog to pick in this year’s NCAA Tournament? Go west!

No. 14 North Dakota State will play defending champ Kansas in the early game Friday in Minneapolis and the Bison are primed to pull off a tourney upset in their first-ever NCAA tourney. N.D. State, which just finished transitioning from D-II, also became the first team ever to reach the NCAA tourney in its initial year of eligibility.

The team’s senior stars—guards Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson and forward Brett Winkelman—have already posted upsets during their careers, beating 8th-ranked Marquette in the 2006-07 season, and 13th-ranked Wisconsin in 2005-06.

They also had close defeats to power-conference teams Kansas State and Texas Tech in past seasons and a 61-57 loss to Pac-10 champ USC this year, so a game against Big 12 regular-season champ Kansas shouldn’t be intimidating.

Woodside averages 23 points and 6.4 assists, while Winkelman averages 18.8 and 7.3 rebounds. Second-year coach Saul Phillips’ team is undersized, but dangerous from the outside. As a team, they hit 41% of their threes, with Woodside, who scored 60 points against Stephen F. Austin earlier this year, hitting at a 43.7% clip.

The Jayhawks, on the other hand, lost every starter from last year’s champs and don’t have a senior starter. In coach Bill Self’s five past NCAA tourneys, the Jayhawks have reached at least the Elite Eight three times. However, Kansas has twice lost first-round upsets in 2005 (Bucknell) and 2006 (Bradley).

Bucknell, Bradley, and now the Bison: sorry, Kansas, but it looks like an attack of the Killer Bs.

(This note isn't exactly Philly-based, but I'll get to that with more tourney picks and info in the days ahead.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Best of Temple Hoops

Temple joins La Salle and Villanova as the only Big Five schools to win what’s considered to be a national championship, though the Owls won their title after taking the 1938 NIT, a year before the NCAA Tournament began.

Harry Litwack and John Chaney both made the Hall of Fame as coaches and the Owls’ legendary players include perhaps the best backcourt in college history: Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear. Oddly, many of Temple’s stars didn’t transition well to the NBA; Lear, Bill Mlkvy, Bill “Pickles” Kennedy, Lynn Greer, Nate Blackwell, and Pepe Sanchez played in a combined 130 NBA games—less than two full seasons.

Another oddity: the Owls have more Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tourney when they’re a double-digit seed than when they were a No. 1 or 2 seed. They’re 4-3 as a No. 1 or 2 with an ’88 Elite Eight showing, and 6-5 with Elite Eight trips in ’91 and ’01 when seeded 10th or lower.

The first team:
1. Bill Mlkvy (1949-52)
Amazingly, Mlkvy, the Owl Without a Vowel, led the nation in scoring (29.2 ppg.) and was second in rebounding (18.9 rpg.) and assists (7.0) in 1950-51 when he was a consensus All-American. Mlkvy scored 73 in one game and finished with 1,539 points and a current school-record 21.9 career scoring average.

2. Guy Rodgers (1955-58)
A star on Temple’s two Final Four teams (’56, ’58), Rodgers was a consensus All-American in ’58 and went on to become the most successful ex-Temple NBA star. He led the NBA in assists twice and finished second six times on the way to four NBA All-Star appearances.

3. Hal Lear (1953-56)
Lear finished a brilliant career as the MVP of the 1956 NCAA Tournament, taking Temple to a third-place finish. He finished with 1,472 career points and a 19.0 career scoring average, and teamed with Rodgers to become the best backcourt in Big Five history.

4. Mark Macon (1987-91)
The McDonald’s All-American didn’t disappoint, becoming the only four-time first-team all-Atlantic 10 pick in conference history. He led the Owls to a No. 1 ranking in the ’87-88 season and Elite Eight finishes in 1988 and ’91. Macon ended his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,609, still No. 1) and steals leader (281, now third).

5. Eddie Jones (1991-94)
Jones was the 1993-94 A-10 Player of the Year, which gives him the slightest edge over teammate Aaron McKie. He finished with 1,470 points in three seasons before becoming the 10th overall pick in the ’94 NBA draft. He and Rodgers are Temple’s only NBA All-Stars; Jones was a three-time selection.

The second team:
Aaron McKie (1991-94)
Mike Bloom (1936-38)
Dionte Christmas (2004-08)
Bill “Pickles” Kennedy (1957-60)
John Baum (1966-69)

The best team: 1955-56
Led by Guy Rodgers and Final Four MVP Hal Lear, the ’55-56 Owls finished 27-4 under Harry Litwack. The pair combined for 60 of the team’s 76 points in the 83-76 NCAA tourney semifinal loss to Iowa (Lear, 32; Rodgers, 28).

Other top teams:
1987-88: John Chaney’s nationally ranked No. 1 team, which finished 32-2 and in the NCAA’s Elite Eight, featured perhaps the Owls’ best all-around collection of talent, with Macon, Tim Perry, Howard Evans, Mike Vreeswyk, and Ramon Rivas.

1937-38: The Owls won the initial NIT—and de facto national championship since the NCAA Tournament started the next year—behind first-team All-American Mike Bloom and NIT MVP Don Shields.

1957-58: Litwack’s other Final Four team featured Rodgers, Kennedy and Jay Norman, and finished 27-3.

1986-87: Nate Blackwell, Perry, Evans, and Rivas finished 32-4, with a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tourney.

1999-00: The 27-6 Owls finished the season ranked 5th nationally behind Quincy Wadley and Pepe Sanchez and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Final Fortune-tellers

March has arrived—with a blizzard to boot! It's also time to look to the court and let the madness begin. For this week's blog picks, I'm throwing down the gauntlet: make your picks for the Final Four. (In men's basketball, Handwerk, not Premier League semifinals!!!).

The winner gets bragging rights, and the ever-so-valuable extra chip the next time we play poker. — John

The 4 teams I like to go the farthest in the NCAA tournament are Oklahoma (my pick to win it all), Kansas (best coach in college hoops), UNC and Pitt. Not sure on the Final Four until the brackets come out since these teams may be placed in the same regions.

Sleepers are Butler and Washington.
Out early: Villanova, Xavier and every Big Ten team.

Great time of year. — Dave

Good idea making at least one sleeper pick. Something tells me it pains you too much to pick a certain Jesuit university to reach the Final Four. I'm talking Gonzaga—what, were you thinking St. Joe's???? — John

As Dave wrote… a tough task without knowing who’s going to end up in which region, but alas, my final 4 picks: UConn, Pitt, Oklahoma, Kansas.

Sleepers: Creighton, LSU

Slugs: Clemson, Missouri, Marquette—Kurt


Tough tasks—that's our business, gentlemen, and that's why a throng of 7 follow our deep thoughts (8 if we accidentally include Gray on an e-mail).

I'm going off the board for my first pick: Gonzaga, not as a sleeper pick, but one I think will make it and shouldn't be considered a sleeper anymore. Gonzaga is one of only nine schools to have reached each of the past nine NCAA Tournaments, and is the only school not from a major conference to do so. (Thank you, Wikipedia). The Zags have also been to three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight since 1999—it's breakthrough time. Plus they have the talent to do it.

My other three picks: An ACC team (North Carolina), and two Big East teams (UConn and Louisville). My sleepers: Arizona and Xavier. The duds: All SEC teams (particularly Tennessee) and Duke (3 total wins in the last 3 NCAA tourneys). — John

My Final Four: UNC, Duke, Wake, Miami .... wait a second, you probably meant the NCAA tourney, right? My bad. I thought we were to pick the ACC Final Four. Sorry.

NCAA Final Four: UNC, UConn, Memphis, Oklahoma

Home by 3/23 (if not sooner): Duke, Mich St.

Wearing a glass slipper (makes it to Elite 8): Butler — Phil

Ouch, picking UNC over good ol' Wake—that had to hurt. — John

Final four what? How about Samuel Adams Lager, Blue Moon, Guinness, and Molson.

Sleepers: Riverhorse, Labatts

Might as well be water: Coors Light

Sorry guys, without the brackets I'm lost. — Troy V. of Yardley

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Big Five & The NBA All Star Game

When Jameer Nelson was named an NBA All Star this year, he became just the second former Big Five star to become one since Guy Rodgers in 1967; Temple’s Eddie Jones made teams in 1997, ’98, and 2000. Which raises a question—all the great Big Five players and nationally ranked teams since 1967 and just two NBA All Stars?

That’s just the start of the surprises surrounding former Big Five stars and the NBA’s midseason showcase game. You could win bets all year long with a few of the questions surrounding the Big Five and the All Star game.

A few examples: How many Big Five players went on to become NBA All Stars? (Here's a clue: fewer than 10.) Or, who were the only two former Big Five players to make more than five NBA All Star teams? (That question is an all-time stumper.) How about, which Big Five school has the most? Which has none? And how many of the former Big Five players to make the NBA All Star team could you name?

One thing is clear; the glory years of Philly hoops and the NBA All Star game were the 1950s and ‘60s. At least one former Big Fiver made an NBA All Star game every year from 1951 to 1967, except for 1965. In the 42 years since, the game has featured a Big Fiver just four times.

So who were the seven Big Fivers—that’s right, just seven—to be named NBA All Stars? With thanks to basketball-reference.com, they were:

La Salle:
Larry Foust: ‘51, ‘52, ‘53, ‘54, ‘55, ‘56, ‘58, ‘59
Jack George: ‘56, ‘57
Tom Gola: ‘60, ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64

Guy Rodgers: ‘63, ‘64, ‘66, ‘67
Eddie Jones: ‘97, ‘98, 2000

St. Joseph’s: Jameer Nelson: 2009

Villanova: Paul Arizin: ‘51, ‘52, ‘55, ‘56, ‘57, ‘58, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘62

Penn: None

Anyone could have guessed Arizin was one of the two former Big Fivers with more than five NBA All Star appearances. After all, he was named one of the NBA’s all-time top 50 players. But La Salle’s Larry Foust? Unless you were born in the 1940s or earlier, it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever even heard of one of the Big Five’s most successful NBA stars.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All-Time Phillies Team

In honor of the start of the defending World Series champion Philllies season (what a beautiful phrase!), a loyal reader with the same initials as mine submitted his selection for the best 25-man Phillies team of all time. (Here's a link to the all-time best Phillies in the World Series.) Take a look at Joe R.'s picks—and send along your own thoughts. — John

1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
SS: Jimmy Rollins
3B: Mike Schmidt
LF: Del Ennis
CF: Richie Ashburn
RF: Chuck Klein
C: Bob Boone
Reserves: Infielders (Pete Rose, Granny Hamner), Outfielders (Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Johnny Callison) Catcher (Darren Daulton).
Pitchers: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels, Ron Reed, Gene Garber, Tug McGraw, Jim Konstanty, Brad Lidge

Those Four Little Words

Hey all,
It's time for those four magic words when your team is the defending world champion: pitchers and catchers report! For the world champion Phillies, that day is Saturday. Though it's not my official weekly prediction, I'll say that the Philllies do indeed have pitchers and catchers who report.....

Anyone else have crazy-solid predictions? — John

My equally esoteric prediction is that, now he has a huge contract, Ryan Howard has his worst year at the plate in 2009. — Kurt

[Written while Gray watches "Survivor" in the background]

I predict there will be lying, back-stabbing, and petty, selfish behavior on "Survivor" this season. I also predict, I won't be watching it.

I predict another loss to an unranked team and Wake will no longer be in the top 25.

I predict switching managers halfway through the season isn't going to take Chelsea to the top of the Premier League. (The guy's also the Russian national team coach!)

I predict that Jim will smirk smuggly and Michael will say something wildly inappropriate. (Sorry, Gray just switched over to "The Office.") — Phil

Phil, I like your pick better than last week's NFL Pro Bowl pick. I figured for sure you were going with the over/under on the NBA All-Star game (what's that number, 391?).

I just took Daniel to his first Big Five game (I won't get into the details of who won the St. Joe's-Temple game and whether I played on 8th-grade teams that scored more points in the first half than a certain losing team: 21), so I'll go with another Big Five match-up for my pick. St. Joe's visits La Salle Saturday and recovers a sliver of pride with a double-digit win over the Explorers.

And I'll guess the All Star game has 8 players who score at least St. Joe's first-half point total. — John

Monday, February 9, 2009

Philly's Best NCAA Tourney Hope

Two seemingly inconsequential acts stood out in Villanova’s 94-91 Big East conference win over Providence last Thursday. The first occurred at halftime, just after a Friar slipped past a flat-footed Nova defender, grabbed the rebound of a desperation three-point heave, and scored a buzzer-beating layup.

Nova led, 49-34, but that didn’t stop one Nova player from giving his lazy teammate a quick, disapproving basketball-shove to the chest (it happened quickly and the cameras didn’t linger long enough to identify the two).

Then, early in the second half, Scottie Reynolds was sprinting upcourt on a secondary break when he slowed down to milk the clock, a beat before coach Jay Wright signaled him to do the same thing. What do the two plays reveal? These players are thinking for themselves on the court, playing aggressive but smart basketball, and not overly reliant on their coach.

Those are the teams that make noise come NCAA tourney time. And, if Nova’s recent tourney history is indicative, that noise will come late in the tourney.

Villanova’s current run of four straight tourneys is the school’s longest since the Wildcats went to seven tourneys between 1980-86, a run that included the ’85 title. And in three of the last four, Nova lost to the eventual national champion: Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year, Florida in the 2006 Elite Eight, and North Carolina in the 2005 Sweet 16.

History aside, this team is built for tourney success now. At 19-4, 7-3 in the Big East, Nova wins with an aggressive defense and a varied inside-outside offense led by hard-to-match-up 6-9 forward Dante Cunningham, and equally tough-to-stop junior guard Scottie Reynolds, both of whom have lit up opponents for 30-plus points. They have a solid seven- to eight-man rotation full of scorers with double-digit potential.

Three of their four losses have come to teams currently in the top 10 (UConn, Louisville, and Marquette). The Wildcats won’t beat themselves and they stay close with good teams: their four losses are by an average of less than six points.

Tuesday’s game against visiting No. 10 Marquette is the toughest test remaining for No. 13 Nova, which has won 25 straight at the Pavilion. If the Wildcats win, they’d be favored in all of their remaining games and could finish the regular season with 13 straight wins and a likely 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Put it all together—smart players, aggressive defense, inside-outside scoring, a deep rotation, recent tourney success, and a possible high tourney seed—and you’re looking at a Final Four contender.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Dry Season

This is the annual time of “The Great Blackout”—the one month of the year when I can’t claim the TV at any moment because “The Game” is on. No Phillies, no Eagles, no wish for Sixers or Flyers, no undefeated regular season for the Hawks. And no desire to learn about throw-ins and yellow cards, either—sorry, Phil. I’m going to have to do some digging for my picks this week. Anyone want to take a shot at some games—if you can find something worth pickin’? — John

I’ll stay away from picking Wake hoops games, thank you very much. The latest slump (1 win in last 4 games) has my head spinning. Chelsea hasn’t been all that strong either.

And since the Steelers have won everything there is to win in the NFL, I can’t go there either.

Hmmm....what’s left?....I got it! I’ll take the over (64.5) in the Pro Bowl. But I'll leave it to you, John, to find out if I'm right or not. — Phil

I wondered how desperate might this week’s picks be? Hockey? Even worse, Quebec Nordiques hockey? But no, oh no, leave it to Phil to go to a new low...... — John

You shouldn’t have to dig too far, as one of the surprise teams this year in Men’s College Hoops visits your area.

Syracuse plays Villanova at the bailed-out-to-the-tune-of-$25B-Wachovia Center this Saturday. Despite just eking by Providence in its last game, VU is the hotter team coming into the game. Add to that that VU “takes care of business” at home, and SU is 3-3 on the road, and you end up with a win for the Wildcats, 78-68. — Kurt

I’m going with college hoops, too, a tough matchup that I’ll probably watch: Gonzaga-Memphis Saturday night. I like Gonzaga to go far in the NCAA tourney, so I see this as a good out-of-league test for the Zags. I’ll take Gonzaga in a shootout, 81-74.

Saturday night at 8:00 on Fox is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Budweiser Shootout. I am not sure but I believe this is a car race. I will go with the red car. John, let me know if I am correct. — Dave