Behind the Mic: MLB – Expected – Unexpected

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

I ended last week’s blog with a “Go, Phillies!” sign-off. Well, they are indeed playing well. As teams approach the completion of the first quarter of the season, they are, unexpectedly, rising in both the standings and in admiration.

But, I digress. The team that was really expected to do very well was the Yankees and they have not disappointed. They are tied with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball. They have won 19 of their last 22 games; average six runs per game and are carrying a team ERA of 2.88 which happens to be the third best in baseball. With those stats, they win most games by three runs!

Everyone expected them to have one of the best, if not the best, offenses in baseball, but I do not think fans expected their pitching staff to be this good. If the pitching and the bats continue as they have, they can certainly claim to be one of the best teams in baseball history.

The Phillies, on the other hand, were not expected to be one game out of first place and winning 60% of their games at this point or at any point in the season. They still trail the Braves by a game, but have been winning 73% of their home games and have won seven of the last 10.

Odubel Herrera is batting .360 and leading the National League in hitting. And that is a shock! The last Phillie to lead the NL in hitting was Richie Ashburn 60 years ago! Manager Gabe Kapler seems to be pushing the right buttons (the three-run homer by pinch-hitter Nick Williams in the sixth inning on Sunday to beat the Mets is a good example).

Last year, they were 6-22 in May and ended up losing 96 games. With the additions of Rhys Hoskins for a full season, Scott Kingery from the minors, Carlos Santana, and Jake Arrieta via the trade route, they are greatly improved. Aaron Nola’s ERA is 1.99. It is a team with good starting pitching and an adequate offense. Their bullpen remains suspect with two saves blown last week.

Talent-wise, the Nationals and the Braves could stand in the way of the Phillies making the playoffs. The Nationals look like the best team in the division and are making their climb to the top. The Braves are obviously in first place as I write this. But the Phillies ARE sandwiched between the two.

The Yankees, on the other hand, appear to be, as expected, the best team in baseball. However, it is always exciting to look forward to the unexpected – Go, Phillies!

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. New York Giants QB Eli Manning will be in court this week defending himself against a lawsuit that says he sold fake helmets to collectors. The plaintiff wanted “game-used” helmets and claims the ones he received were “bogus” and Manning knew they were. Interesting case. Stay tuned.
  2. This might make Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but some sportswriters are claiming that the NFL Cleveland Browns may have improved the most through the draft. Of course, if the Browns win three games, the writers can claim that they were right. The bar is not set very high here.
  3. It was obvious the Yankees were probably going to have the best offensive team in baseball. They have not disappointed. For the first time in their exulted history, they had four players hit 10 or more home runs by the 40th game. They had never had that distinction in 50 games before! By the way, the Texas Rangers did it in 2003.
  4. The Celtics crushed the Cavs by 25 points in the first game of the NBA Eastern Finals and held LeBron James to just 15 points. Despite not receiving one Coach of the Year vote from his peers, Brad Stevens has shown in the playoffs that he is already one of the top coaches in the league. It was his formula that stopped Ben Simmons and the Sixers in the Eastern semifinals.
  5. Speaking of the NBA, I unexpectedly have really enjoyed the playoffs. There is plenty of defense, intensity, and some spectacular offense. I have become a fan!

Behind the Mic: Strike Two – Y’er Out!

Play ball!  Major League baseball has begun.  And, once again, a new radical idea to shorten the length of games has surfaced.  Former Mets’ general manager Steve Philips recently suggested changing walks to three balls and strikeouts to two strikes – in other words every at-bat starts with a 1-1 count on the batter.  His research indicates that 40% of the time a batter faces a 1-1 count anyway.  This is drastic, to say the least, but creates interesting discussion.  There have been many other suggestions and some have even been tried in lower levels of professional baseball.

Do you like any of these changes?

  1. A pitcher must deliver a pitch within 20 seconds. The batter must be in the box for all 20 seconds and the clock stops the second the pitcher starts his pitching motion.  If the batter steps out of the box during the 20 seconds, the pitcher may throw an official pitch anyway.
  2. The batter must keep one foot in the box throughout the at-bat. There are some exceptions.  What would big Papi do?
  3. Intentional walks would require no pitches, just an indication from the manger to the home plate umpire.
  4. Some want to limit the number of commercials, while some want to put a between- innings time limit – 2:30. At the 2:15 mark, the batter must be in the box and the 20-second clock for the pitcher begins.
  5. Pitching changes must be completed and ready for play in 2:30. Failure to accomplish this would result in a ball being called by the umpire.
  6. Only three player conferences between pitcher-catcher, player-player, or manager-player would be allowed per game. This rule would not apply to pitching changes or player substitutions.
  7. Place a runner on second base with no outs to start an extra-inning game. Statistically, a game would end after ten innings 50% of the time and 75% of the time in the eleventh inning.

It is estimated that implementation of some of these rules could save between 10 and 15 minutes in the length of the game and games would average less than three hours.

Does baseball really need to drastically change to keep their fan base and, more importantly, to grow the base of the younger generation?  For now, I do not see any of these suggestions (with, perhaps, the intentional walk modification) happening soon.

And I, for one think that’s a good idea.

Play ball (as we know it!)

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I lost around nine hours this weekend watching the Masters. If you are a golf fan, I’m sure you found both Saturday and Sunday riveting.  Thank goodness for TiVo – speeding through commercials helps, but the Masters limits the number of commercials so it doesn’t help much.  It sure was dramatic and Sergio’s emotional win was not to be missed.
  2. Speaking of golf, in the recently completed Western Intercollegiate golf tournament at San Jose University, there were five holes-in-one. They were by four players from three teams.  Hunter Epson of Pepperdine in a shotgun start made one on his very first shot in the tournament.  His teammate made one in the same round.  Daniel List made one during the final round, but the topper occurred when Cal’s William Aldred made one in the second round and another in the third round.  They all used a different club, did not shoot under par, nor finished in the top 20.
  3. Did you notice that Tim Tebow, former Heisman winner at Florida and NFL player, hit a home run in his first at-bat as a professional baseball player.

  1. I, for one, would love to see the Eagles draft Stanford RB/WR Christian McCaffrey in the NFL draft. The McCaffrey family – Aunt Monica, Uncle Billy, and father Ed all went to, and excelled in, basketball at Allentown Central Catholic and Ed, of course, also played football at Central.  He went on to play at Stanford and starred for the Denver Broncos in the NFL.  Bring Christian to Philadelphia!
  2. We found out this week that former Pitt and Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett has been diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative condition linked to dementia and depression. This neurological disease has already claimed the lives of more than 50 former NFL players.  The players make a great deal of money, but there is a steep cost.

Behind the Mic: Watching Baseball

The Chicago Cubs have me watching baseball again.  And I would suspect a larger number of people will tune in to see if the Cubs can win their first World Series since 1908, 108 years ago. Teddy Roosevelt was the president.  They last played in the World Series in 1945.

The Cleveland Indians have not set the baseball world on fire either.  Their last World Series victory was in 1948 during the Harry S. Truman administration.  They did play in the 1997 Series and blew a ninth inning lead and lost in the eleventh to the Florida Marlins.

It will be very interesting to see if this storyline catches on with ALL fans.  World Series ratings have declined steadily, with three of the last four years owning the lowest ratings in history.  I, for one, became interested enough to watch the Cubs in their playoff games.  I enjoyed the games and was also frustrated by the sport.  There are things wrong with baseball.  With that in mind, I, along with many others, have come to some conclusions:

  1. There are too many playoff spots. Ten teams make the playoffs: five American League teams and five National League teams.  There are a possible 42 games that could be played to decide the overall champion.  42 games!  With the current set-up of three divisions, changing the format would be difficult.  Eliminating one wild card berth only reduces the playoffs by two games.  We are stuck with this system.
  2. The games take too long. This is the biggest drawback to truly enjoying baseball.  Pitchers take too long to pitch.  Batters take too long to get ready to hit.  Managers have too many options available that only slow down the game.  So, what is there to do?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Hitters must stay in the batter’s box.
  • Pitchers must throw a pitch in 20 seconds.
  • 2:00 breaks between innings.
  • Three mound visits per game, not counting pitching changes.
  • Limit the number of pitching changes per inning.
  1. Start games earlier. I know this is an East Coast problem, but would it be bad to actually finish games BEFORE midnight?  Regular season games take around three hours.  The playoff games usually take around 3.5 hours.  Throw the first pitch at 8:00pm and the problem is solved.  Wait to 8:30pm and lose a big part of your audience.
  2. Young people are not watching. Because of reasons #2 and #3, young people have just not been turned on to the sport as far as viewership is concerned.  Sure the seats at the ballparks are filled for the most part and television revenue is up, but overall viewership is way down and the long-term outlook as far as interest has to be in trouble.
  3. The All-Star game winner gets home field advantage for the World Series. The team with the best record during the regular season should get home-field advantage.  The powers-that-be should not use a game that is so unlike a real game.  Enough said.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME WORLD SERIES MUSINGS) 

  1. The Cubs actually won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908.
  2. The Indians lost three World Series match-ups in 1954, 1995, and 1997.
  3. Indians’ manager Terry Francona led the Boston Red Sox to a championship in 2004, following an 84-year drought. Ironically, he was hired by the Red Sox over Joe Maddon.  More irony in that Cubs’ General Manager Theo Epstein hired Francona over Maddon in Boston and hired Maddon in Chicago.  He seems to know what he is doing.
  4. Joe Maddon grew up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He attended Lafayette College and played baseball and football.  He received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Lafayette in 2010.  As a player, he was never able to go higher than Class A in his baseball career.
  5. On Friday, October 28, the RCN-TV crew will have the Parkland – Emmaus game LIVE at 7:00 PM. Emmaus can win the EPC South championship with a win.  That game will be followed by Easton-Nazareth.  That game is on at 10:00 PM.  The crew will have Georgetown at Lafayette on Saturday LIVE at 12:30PM.  Freedom-Liberty will be on at 7:00PM.  By the way, you can catch both of these award-winning bands on November 10 (8:00 PM), 11 (6:00 PM), and 12 (8:00 AM).

And that will end the regular season with District playoffs up next!

 

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 9-4-1; Overall – 64-41-1 – 61%)

 Gary's Picks

Week Eight

TENNESSEE
SEATTLE
NEW ENGLAND
OAKLAND
CINCINNATI
DENVER
KANSAS CITY
DETROIT
ARIZONA
GREEN BAY
JETS
DALLAS
MINNESOTA

 

Behind the Mic: All-Star Break!

It’s the mythical half-way point in the major league baseball season.  It’s hard to believe that the first games were played back on April 3.  I made my predictions for the season the very next day so just as it is time for each team to get their mid-term grades, I suppose I should see how I am doing with my season predictions.  I have listed the teams in the order I felt they would finish.  The number in parentheses indicates where each team currently stands in the division.

American League
West

  1. Houston (2) – Got off to a terrible start, but playing better now. Can they catch the Rangers?  Not with another slump in the second half.
  2. Texas Rangers (1) – I didn’t see them being one of the best teams in baseball – I was wrong – again!
  3. Seattle (3) – Offense has looked good; their pitching has not. They are right where they should be.
  4. LA Angels (5) – Veterans have not been good; playoffs seem out of the realm of possibility and most feel they have the worst farm system in baseball. Dare I say bleak future?
  5. Oakland (4) – Better than expected? Or are the Angels just worse?  Nothing they have done has worked out so far.

Central

  1. Kansas City (4) – My worst pick of the entire list of teams. Their starting pitching is just awful, as was my pick for them to win the pennant.
  2. Cleveland (1) They look like the best in the Central – good pitching and an improved offense. Cleveland wins the NBA and now, maybe the World Series?
  3. Chicago (3) – Really started the season well and then they fell apart going 15-19 in last 34 games. They will not contend.
  4. Detroit (2) – Most thought they would be better than I did. They were right, but this is a wide-open division.  I might end up being right.
  5. Minnesota (5) – A complete disaster.

East

  1. Toronto (3) – Still in the playoff hunt and they have the potential to be very good at the end of the season.
  2. Boston (2) – They score more runs than any other team and have the highest team batting average; starting pitching has been good. Could be in first by season’s end.
  3. New York Yankees (4) – Where have the real Yankees gone? They really were not expected to contend, but they are the Yankees (or are they?)
  4. Tampa Bay (5) – One of the worst records in baseball – they need the Joe Madden magic.
  5. Baltimore (1) – Obviously, I botched this pick. They hit the ball.  Starting pitching might falter, however, so I could still recover from this pick.

My pre-season prediction: Kansas City will win the American League pennant.
My Grade – F

National League
West

  1. San Francisco (1) – The Giants win in even-numbered years (what? – I read it somewhere); will battle the Cubs for supremacy.
  2. LA Dodgers (2) – They should make the playoffs, but I do not see them catching the Giants.
  3. Arizona (5) – They were expected to contend, but starting pitching is woeful.
  4. San Diego (4) – Will not contend; rebuilding after trying their best with deals last year.
  5. Colorado (3) – The Rockies are competitive, but not strong enough to challenge for West title.

Central

  1. Chicago (1) – Great start – 11-11 since, but they could break the championship drought. The All-Star break will probably help them.
  2. St Louis (2) – They will be in the playoffs, despite not winning much at home in the first half of the season. They will hope that Chicago swoons again.
  3. Pittsburgh (3) – The lack of pitching has hurt the Pirates this year. They are potentially still a very good team.
  4. Milwaukee (4) – This team is better, but they are in the toughest division and exceeding expectations.
  5. Cincinnati (5) – The Reds have done what they were expected to do – lose.

East

  1. NY Mets (2) – They struggle to score and Washington just is better. Should still make the playoffs.
  2. Washington (1) – Great starting pitching with enough offense makes the Nationals the East champion. No collapse this year.
  3. Miami (3) – The Marlins have really improved as demonstrated by their record. They probably will not make the post-season, but currently have a very successful year.
  4. Philadelphia (4) – Rebuilding and winning more. Neither is a bad thing.  Even though they are in fourth place, the future looks brighter every week.
  5. Atlanta (5) – They have lived up to their very low expectations. They will lose 100+ games.

My pre-season prediction: Chicago will beat the Mets for the N L pennant.
My Grade – A-
Overall Grade – C-

Cubs win it all!!  Only time will tell.

 
ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Did you see where NFL.com listed Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson at the very bottom of their power rankings for coaches? That’s right – he was ranked #32 out of #32.  Nowhere to go but up!
  2. By the way, Bill Belichick ranked #1 and former Eagles’ coaches Andy Reed and Chip Kelly were #6 and #20, respectively.
  3. Golf rules played another major role this past weekend in the US Women’s Open championship. In a three-hole playoff, Anna Nordqvist brushed the sand on her backswing on the second hole and incurred a two-stroke penalty.  She was not told until the third hole.  Television replays clearly showed that she committed the violation.  To make matters worse, the USGA President repeatedly congratulated “Bethany Lang” for her win.  The winner was Brittany
  4. Since my last blog, notable sports icon Pat Summitt passed away. She may have been the best-ever as a women’s basketball coach.  Buddy Ryan also passed away.  There were very few similarities in their coaching style.
  5. The RCN Blue Mountain League crew had a nice reunion with the volunteer workers at Balliet Stadium in Coplay last week. They have done a wonderful job on the field and continue to work to improve the entire summer baseball experience.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The Ryan Howard Saga

I have some very fond memories of Philadelphia Phillies’ First Baseman Ryan Howard.

I had the good fortune of seeing Ryan play when he was a hot prospect with the Reading Fightin’ Phillies (then called the “R-Phillies”), the long-time Double-A affiliate for its parent club.  While I was a big Jim Thome fan at the time, I could tell the first time I saw Howard that he was going to be a player for the ages (it wasn’t hard—he hit two monstrous home runs that day).

When the time came to move Thome, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that it was the right move.  I had seen Howard carrying teams with his bat and be a major force in a lineup that was already belted with legendary names like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and company, and his power bat (and at that time, a productive .300 hitter) would be the perfect fit for the middle of that order.  The Phillies would go on and win a club-record five consecutive NL East Division titles and put together the greatest, successful run in the 100-plus year history of the franchise.

That time when Howard was just coming up through the organization is the first thing that comes to mind when people bring up the issue becoming the biggest elephant in the entire Delaware Valley region right now…what to do with this aging superstar?

I have to admit…I have been cringing at some of the comments that people have been bringing up to me recently regarding Howard:

    • He can’t hit his weight
    • His strikeout total might be higher than his batting average
    • Two Phillies pitchers have higher batting averages than Howard

(All of these are either true or could be a reality!)

This whole season has not gone the way I had expected…as I had hoped.  While the Phillies win total heading into June is impressive, this team is still not going to win anything in October.  Ideally, the young prospects would play well and show that the future is bright, and guys like Charlie Morton (lost for the year because of injury) would pitch well enough to force a contending team to overpay for his services enabling the Phillies to pick up a few more pieces to help them for 2017 and beyond.

And…for purely selfish reasons, the “Big Piece” would pair with Darin Ruf for a presentable tandem in the heart of the batting order.  Not a return to glory.  Not a cry for a push for Howard to play every day.  Just hit well enough (and field decently enough) to not be embarrassed.

When the cries for Howard to be benched/traded/released started, my defense was that it was a rebuilding year and Howard wasn’t blocking the way for anyone currently pushing him for the first base job (especially with a mediocre spring training and even weaker early season performance by Ruf).

But the team’s overall success, mixed with its offensive struggles and Tommy Joseph’s hot Triple-A start, has exacerbated the Howard issue.  Howard’s struggles have glaringly revealed him as a massive liability on a team that might just actually have a shot at the final wild card berth.

This was not the way it was suppose to be…and it’s not fair.  For Howard, for Phillies followers, or for a life-long baseball fan who is becoming more and more removed from America’s Pastime due to its continuing lack of tradition, passion and interesting story lines.

Considering…

  • I have to go to a Double-A game to see a manager have a genuine argument with an umpire—something replaced at the Major League level with six minutes of standing around waiting for replays, only to have a 70% chance of getting the call correct in the first place.
  • I have to look at Bartolo Colon alerting the opposing team’s catcher to throw strikes because his back hurts too much to swing the bat or run the bases.
  • I have to dismiss Bryce Harper’s blatant disregard for protocol and tradition by cursing at umpires well after his ejection simply because, without him, the game would be virtually void of personalities and big time stars we can root for.

Ryan Howard use to be one of those people.  He’d literally carry teams for weeks.  He was a great interview with interesting and sometimes abrasive view points.  He brought thousands and thousands of fans to the ball park, and gave millions of fans thrill after thrill for many years.  He was fun to watch and someone everyone wanted to see hit.  And man, in his heyday, could he ever hit.

Unfortunately, Howard’s legacy is going to be tainted, at least in the short-term, by his Babe Ruthian-like demise.  It gets harder to listen to the truth about the current situation, and remembering the good times becomes more of a strain on the old noggin.

If only there were other things in pro baseball to complain about…
******
On a more positive note, be sure to check out the District XI high school baseball championships games broadcast live this week on RCN-TV.  Check out our broadcast schedule here on the RCN-TV website for the latest details on teams and airtimes.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Prospects Update

Today here at “The Shop,” we bring you comments from the Phillies minor league prospects followed by some insights on their “ceilings” and potential arrival times in the Big Leagues.

Starting right-handed pitcher Jake Thompson and left-handed hitting outfielder Nick Williams, seems to be the odds-on favorites among the top blue-chip prospects to get the call to the major leagues.

Williams could be helped by the fact that Cody Asche won’t start the season on the Phillies roster and Aaron Altherr won’t be ready until late in the summer.  Both Asche and Altherr were penciled in as starters for the parent club before spring training began.  Because of the ‘numbers’ issue in the outfield—or, more appropriately, LACK of numbers, Williams could be one player that gets bumped up a little earlier than expected.

Plus, Williams had a torrid September last year, during the Reading Fightin’ Phillies playoff run, which the organization’s top brass saw first-hand.  A quick start by Williams might give Phillies fans what they’ve already started clamoring for—and that’s a fast promotion to the Big Leagues for some of these high-profile prospects the team received in trades over the last year.  However, it has usually been the Phillies objective to get young players as much minor-league seasoning as possible before reaching the major leagues.  Given the team is not ready to contend and there’s really no reason to start these players “free agency clocks” (the time teams have players under contract), you probably won’t see many of these players before Memorial Day.

A quick example that supports this theory if Maikel Franco, who got hot in Triple-A to start last season and was promoted while he was swinging the bat well.  Dominic Brown is probably a good example of the ill-effects of rushing a young prospect through a system too quickly.

If a team’s success starts with pitching, Philadelphia should be in good shape when you look at their Triple-A starting rotation.  Joining Thompson are Mark Appel (a former top draft pick), Zach Eflin, David Buchanan and Adam Morgan (the latter pitched well enough to make the Phillies out of spring training but was demoted in favor of power-armed Vincent Velasquez).    The Phillies have so much depth in fact, that two pitchers (Alec Asher and Severino Gonzales) who pitched for the Phils last year will start this season down in Double-A.  While not all of these hurlers may be impact players at the major league level, the team has much needed depth and find themselves in the fortunate situation in which not all of these young arms HAVE TO mature into top-level pitchers in order for the franchise to have continued success.

If a couple of these guys can contribute consistently for the Phillies, they will have a nice pitching staff for years to come.  This is a sharp contract when the team looked at having just a couple blue-chip prospects in the farm system and, when most of these guys fizzled out, the team struggled with very few reliable reinforcements available to help out.

For more insights on the Phillies top minor league prospects, check out our most recent “SportsTalk” podcast, here .

Don’t forget to share your baseball opinions by emailing us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.net) and tune in to hear us read and respond to your opinions on our Thursday “RCN SportsTalk” show live at 7pm and on our weekly podcasts.

The SportsTalk Shop: Nationals, Phillies Spring Training Issues

Spring Training baseball is underway, and the Nats and Phils have two opposite perspectives on what to watch for this month during the exhibition season as they get ready to accomplish distinct different goals in 2016.  Here’s a look at key issues for both teams as the pre-season unfolds.

 

Nationals…

 …continue to look for and add depth.

 

This, in my mind, was one of the biggest issues with the 2015 Nationals.  When injuries came, they had one or two “backup” plans, and when they didn’t pan out, there were major issues.  Acquiring players as the season unfolds, both quality bench personnel, along with high-character guys, are key for this team to make it to the next level.  Washington does not want to get painted into a corner where they have to make a move for someone like another Jonathan Papelbon out of necessity, but should be continuing to look for ways to add depth into and throughout the season.  Just ask the Phillies how important a “minor” addition like Matt Stairs turned out to be.

 

Speaking of depth, the Nats need to bring up at least one or two players from the minors that will contribute.  With the number of injuries players sustain today, it isn’t realistic to think that five, or even four, members of the starting rotation will make it through an entire year—no matter how good they are.  Plus, they need players to come up and challenge the veterans.  Guys like Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo, Lucas Giolito and others must continue to improve and push the more established players at the Major League level (both Difo and Giolito had nice performances last Friday).

 

Finding a couple players to contribute as the season wears on is key to driving this team forward–if, for the purposes of just this year, that role is simply to light a fire under a current player who’s underperforming.

 …the return of Rendon—the REAL Rendon.

 

Anthony Rendon was one of a number of injured players during 2015.  He did play last season, but he wasn’t the Rendon that people wanted…needed for the Nationals to play a legitimate playoff run.  Instead of building on a tremendous 2014 campaign, a string of issues (starting in spring training and lingering throughout the year) kept the third base-turned-second baseman from ever truly hitting his stride last summer.  This spring, following the acquisition of second basemen Daniel Murphy, he’s been returned to his natural defensive position and hopefully will lead the team offensively in the way the team needs him to be.  The Nationals have done a great job, in my opinion, building an offense around the core.  But Rendon is that special player that, if healthy, is the guy who can carry a team during team-wide struggles and also is the guy I’d want at the plate with the game on the line.

 

Getting him ready for the season is nice, but, perhaps more than any one position player, a healthy exhibition season and a clean, injury-free, path to Opening Day is one of the most important issues for Washington this month.

 

 

Phillies…

 Maikel Franco MUST continue improving.

 

Much like Rendon, Franco, right now, looks to be the centerpiece of the Phillies position players and will be looked to (until proven otherwise) as the team’s “go-to guy.”  The Phillies have done a great job of building a collection of great prospects, with the knowledge that, while some young players won’t live up to their potential, an increase in the number of blue-chip players in the organization strengthens the chances that SOME of these players make a significant impact.  The organization has been hedging their bets and not riding all their hopes on one player.  However, Franco—a home-grown entity—has been touted as the one key player to build around.  If he regresses, it won’t end the rebuild, but any lack of progress this summer will be tough for Phillies to deal with, especially from a PR-standpoint (see the 76ers situation).   Franco is the guy who Phillies fans can see–right now–in Philadelphia, and he’s shown flashes of amazing ability.  The fan base can be patient if they have some hope that they can see in close proximity.  Philadelphia’s starting third-baseman is off to a great start (he’s already hit as many home runs the first week of spring training as the two previous pre-seasons combined.)  As long as he continues to flourish at the Big League level this summer, it is easier to sell the fact that more players like him are coming down the pipeline.

 

 

…the pitching watch.

 

Through all the horrible 2015 baseball seen in the Delaware Valley…it was made dreadfully worse by poor pitching.  Again, new GM Matt Klentak has done a great job of building an abundance of low-risk, high-reward players, in the hopes that a few can be serviceable major league hurlers—either to be traded away for more prospects, or as veterans to help hold a future pitching staff together with experience.  There’s a number of pitchers to keep an eye on as spring training and the regular season unfolds, and a finding a few gems this season could really help the rebuilding efforts along.

 

Keep in mind, even the older veteran’s success—pitching or position players–can impact and have a significant influence on the future.  If one or more players is having a solid season heading into July (and approaching the trade deadlines), a contending team may be desperate to add a necessary piece (see the Nats’ with Papelbon a year ago).  Players that don’t figure in as regulars in the Phillies lineup two-to-three years from now (Carlos Ruiz, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Charlie Morton and others) might get you a diamond-in-the-rough prospect that helps Philadelphia in future seasons?

 

 

Join us on “RCN SportsTalk” in the coming weeks (Thursdays live, 7-8pm on RCN-TV or catch our podcasts here) as we get updates on the Phillies and Nationals’ spring training updates from the team’s beat writers.  We’ll also have discussions on this weekend’s Pennsylvania and Washington, DC high school playoff action on this week’s program.

The SportsTalk Shop: Thinking Warm Thoughts…

In the fallout of record amounts of snowfall, coinciding with the cold and blustery conditions we suffered through this past weekend, I’d like to pass along the following public service announcement…

“We’re under a month away from the start of Major League Baseball’s opening of spring training!”

I said in an earlier post that I’m more confident in the Nationals’ chances of making the playoffs this year and it should be a great summer/fall for fans in the Washington, DC region.

While many baseball fans will write off 2016 year as a lost year for the Phillies—with most of the organization’s top prospects at least a few months away from being on the major league roster—I think there are many intriguing storylines for the upcoming season.

The “SportsTalk” cameras recently had a chance recently to speak with some of the key members of the organization going forward, new General Manager Matt Klentak, Manager Pete Mackanin, who’ll begin his first full year as the team’s skipper, and young right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola.  Despite the fact that Nola enters the season with just a few months of Major League experience under his belt, he holds the distinction of being one of the “oldest” members of the pitching staff, and could very well be the “eldest” pitcher on the team’s Opening Day starting rotation.

Here is Mackanin’s thoughts on a number of issues, including:

  • his approach of how Ryan Howard will be used this season
  • a critical season for third baseman/outfielder Cody Asche
  • a peek at what his Opening Day outfield alignment could look like
  • who has the edge to round out the starting rotation
  • the competition for the team’s closer position
  • why fans should be enthusiastic about the 2016 Phillies ball club

New GM Matt Klentak answered questions on:

  • what are this year’s team goals
  • why the team is headed in the right directin
  • young, highly touted prospect Vincent Velasquez, who was acquired in the Ken Giles’ trade
  • an off-season conversation he had with Ryan Howard, regarding his future with the Phillies

Nola also talked about his expectations for the new season, how he and his teammates will approach a “rebuilding season,” and his insights on how he’s learned to have success, even on days in which he doesn’t have command of all his pitches.

There could very well be a number of additional storylines that develop and players to watch over the next several months for the “Phightins,” as they continue to turn over the roster and look to rebuild after a period that will go down as the greatest era in team history.  With young prospects like Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn, Andrew Knapp and a host of good, young pitching prospects, it may not be too long before the Phillies return to the upper half of the division and resume stringing together playoff appearances.

Check back to the “SportsTalk Shop” as we get closer to Opening Day for more insights on the Phillies, the Nationals and topics of interested for baseball fans in the RCN viewing area.  Also, email us your baseball comments and opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond on an upcoming edition of “RCN SportsTalk.”

The SportsTalk Shop: A Dimension of Versatility

While the jury will be out for some time on this year’s Phillies trades, one aspect of these moves is clearly developing.  In addition to getting highly regarded minor league players and prospects, the players they’re acquiring seem to be versatile—in terms of ability, skill set and potential roles they could have in this club.

This is even more important on a rebuilding team as it’s not locked in stone which players will be playing which positions as the team continues to evolve…and hopefully improve.

Can you imagine Ryan Howard playing another position?  Remember the failed attempts to move Chase Utley to third base?  How about the lack of quality catchers behind Carlos Ruiz the last several years?  The Phillies had to move Jim Thome and Placido Polanco to part ways with some valuable veterans in order to open up spots for the next generation of Phillies players.  The current crop of prospects in the Phillies farm system will find it to easier to reach the Major Leagues, not just because of the present holes on the roster, but also because a good number of up-and-coming players have the ability to play different positions.

Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez have had good seasons and look to have starting positions waiting for them in 2016.  Freddy Galvis—at least for the moment—has played well enough to hold down the shortstop spot until J. P. Crawford arrives.  But most positions going forward are very much up for grabs.

The advantage of the young players now in the Phillies’ fold is not just that they have Major League potential, but they have the ability to move around and play different roles, should the need arise.  Franco can also play first base.  Hernandez has played shortstop, third base and outfield, even though he looks more comfortable at second.  Newly acquired Darnell Sweeney projects as a utility guy, but has some pop and speed and played regularly at second, short, third and center field.  Galvis, too, has looked like an above-average defender, regardless of where he’s placed on the diamond.

Fans already can see the benefits of having different players’ ability to play multiple positions.  Interim Manager Pete Mackanin has frequently double-switched in games, allowing more flexibility with his batting order late in games, while not sacrificing anything defensively.

Here’s a look at the younger players in the upper-level of the Phillies farm system.  Top prospects are listed in BOLD, and players, at least at the beginning of the season, projected as “super utility” (or not quite everyday) players are in italics.

Nick Williams (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – projects to be a left fielder per Baseball America, but has played all three outfield positions and has a blend of speed, power and the ability to hit for average.

Roman Quinn (drafted by Phila, 2nd round) – Despite an injury, Quinn had a great season at Double-A after making the transition from shortstop to the outfield.  MLB.com suggests he can be an above-average defender in center field with more experience.

Cornelius Randolph (draft by Phila., 1st round) – An MLB “Top #100 Prospect” who has bat speed, strength and patience (according to MLBPipeline.com), coming on a solid season in the Gulf Coast League.  Randolph has played the middle infield positions with some believing he could play 3d base, but with Franco occupying that position, he saw time in left field this past summer.

Jorge Alfaro (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – The key piece in the Hamels’ trade, boasting perhaps the greatest potential of anyone acquired in the deal, was hurt for much of the year.  With raw power, he’s currently listed as the #2 catching prospect in all of minor league baseball.  However, he can also play first base and some feel he could also be an everyday right fielder, or even play first base.  This is important with the development of Phillies’ farmhand Andrew Knapp, who had a strong second half in Double-A and might be closer to the Major Leagues than Alfaro is at present.

Odubel Herrera (Rule 5 selection) – Per his Rule 5 status, Herrera had to stay on the Big League roster all season or be offered back, but the Phillies had no problems finding a spot for him, and even felt comfortable moving Ben Revere for him at the trade deadline.  He’s a quality MLB bat and seems to be improving as the year has gone along, both offensively and defensively.  However, if Quinn has another big season in 2016 and makes the jump to the Big Leagues, Herrera can also play left field and is a natural infielder.  The Phillies should be able to find a way to get plenty of “ABs” for him going forward.

Aaron Altherr (draft by Phila., 9th round) – While not everyone in the Phillies organization viewed him as a blue chip prospect, I was impressed from what I saw in Altherr’s play in Triple-A this season.  More importantly, some of the guys who saw Aaron play on an everyday basis said they felt he could be an everyday MLB outfielder—at least on the current Phillies team.  He has nice range and a strong arm, which lends him to playing all three outfield positions.  Offensively, he was one of the top hitters at Lehigh Valley.  Supposedly, the Phillies wanted him to continuing playing every day and was not promoted once Revere was traded.  I am glad he received a “pre-September” call-up and hope that he gets even more of a chance to showcase his skills (and hope he doesn’t turn into another Darin Ruf, who really never did seem to get an extended look).  If he continues to play as well as he has at the Major League level, he may force the team to have him in the lineup every day.

Cody Asche didn’t exactly shock and awe anyone with his offensive outputs.  But if Asche and Ruf remain on the team beyond their arbitration years, both can play a couple different spots defensively and could see themselves as platoon or bench options as the other young players develop.

Trying to predict an everyday lineup is nearly impossible at this point, which is a good thing.  The future Phillies manager (whether it’s Mackanin or not) will have many different options where to bat and position players in the field.  This will also help the front office in trying to improve the team.  If/when they assume the team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot, it will keep options open in trying to acquire additional players through trades and free agency.

Even the most skeptical Phillies fan has to be impressed with the moves being made by the Phillies front office over the last several months.  While it might still be a stretch to be in playoff contention next summer, outgoing CEO Pat Gillick’s ominous warning that the team may not be a contender until 2017 or 2018 may not be correct after all.

Behind the Mic: Bad, Worse, Worst

We all knew the Phillies were going to be “bad” this year.  Every baseball analyst at the beginning of the season predicted that the Phillies would be the worst team in baseball.  It appears, now that we are at the All-Star break, that “worst” may not be a strong enough word.

“Worst” is the superlative for “bad” – you remember how your English teacher talked about degrees of “not good” especially when it came to your English.  In this case, the superlatives for “bad” are “worse” and “worst”, not “badder” or “ baddest”.  I suggest that for the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies, we need to consult a thesaurus to find the appropriate adjective to describe them.  None of the above seem strong enough.

The 1997 Phillies lost 61 games by the mid-season break.  At the All-Star break, this year’s Phillies are 29-62.  Let’s put THAT into perspective.  It is the worst All-Star record for ANY Phillies team in history.    And that is saying something.  Since 1900, of the 20 worst season records in baseball history, the Philadelphia Phillies (6) and the Philadelphia Athletics (3) own nine of them – that’s right – almost half.  By the end of this season, I will probably be able to eliminate the word “almost” from the previous sentence.

The 2015 Phillies have 29 wins, nine fewer than the second worst (I need to find another word) team in baseball right now – the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers are 18.5 games out of first place in the National League Central division, but they are trailing the very best team, the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Phillies are 21 games back!

The Phillies will lose 100+ games.  They have lost their manager (even he couldn’t stand watching this team and he was getting paid for it); Ruben Amaro, Jr. has been just awful as the general manager; and the press only talks about who will be gone on the team roster by July 31.

Their three most recognizable players, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz, are batting .226, .179, and .234 respectively.  Statistically, they are among the worst (getting the picture here?) at their position.  And the pitching has been so bad that in one game the bullpen took the phone off the hook!

The Philadelphia Phillies have been around for 133 seasons.  From 2010 through 2012, they ranked first in National League attendance each season, averaging 45,000 fans per game.  This season, they are averaging 24,400.  Everything, it seems, from talent to fan support, is diminishing at an alarming rate.

So how would you describe the 2015 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies – abhorrent, atrocious, hellish, horrible, horrid, nauseating…?  Consult a thesaurus because both you and I know it is “worse” than “worst”!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. There was really good news out of State College this week that freshman Saquan Barkley of Whitehall has impressed the Penn State staff with his athletic ability and his community involvement in the Lift for Life charity. One player was quoted as saying he is a “freak athlete” and that’s a good thing.
  2. Good for Lancaster, Pa.! The town more widely known around here for their horse and buggy Amish citizenry put on a great U. S. Women’s Open golf tournament this past weekend.  134,016 fans attended the four-day event and that set a new Open record for attendance.
  3. Jordan Spieth won the John Deere Classic, his fourth golf tournament victory of the year on Sunday. He became the first to win four in a year before the British Open since Tiger Woods in 2000.  His golf earnings this year are $8,709,836.  He is 21 years old!
  4. Tiger Woods, according to Golf Digest, had a net worth at the end of 2014 of $1.37 billion which includes golf, endorsements, corporate outings, etc.
  5. It appears the EPC basketball boys’ and girls’ favorites will be attending school at Parkland. The Stellar tournament is always a good indicator of winter success and the Parkland girls won the championship and the Parkland boys lost in the finals to Archbishop Carroll.  The Parkland football team is heavily favored to win the EPC football championship in the fall.