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Monday, April 27, 2009

Have the Phillies Started Their Engines Yet?

After a few questionable weeks of the 2009 baseball season, it looks as though the Phillies are finally getting down to business after a weekend sweep of the division leading Florida Marlins. The last game, the team exploded for 13 runs as the get their record over the .500 mark and within a game and a half of the top. The main point here being if they can maintain a little bit of this momentum and finish the month with more wins than losses.

In the beginning, it looked as if Raul Ibanez was going to have 170 RBI, but he has cooled. At the same time other guys like Chase Utley and Shane Victorino have picked it up and helping them win these much needed early games. Ryan Howard, who has been relatively quiet with only three home runs to date, has at least kept his average respectable at .290. Luckily for the Phils, as the weather gets hotter, so typically does Howard.

The starting pitching on the other hand is surely not indicative of a team even close to even in the standing department. Of all the starters, Brett Myers has the lowest ERA, and that is 4.91. Jamie Moyer just picked up his third win, so maybe he is getting back to his 46 year old form. Cole Hamels, well, we’ll have to see whether that shot he took to his arm last week will actually affect his game. He said he wouldn’t miss a start, so I can at least be hopeful.

The Phillies are not supposed to count on the Mets collapsing and the Marlins and Braves withering away at the end of the year. They cannot rely on winning eighty percent of their games the last two weeks of the season. They must take control now, while they can, and get into first place. From that point they can work on staying there and building a lead that they won’t have to worry about surrendering once the last month of the season rolls around. But in order to do this they must start their engines and keep them in high gear for as long as possible and barring multiple injuries, they should be able to simply maintain.

Right as of this moment, they are 9-8, which can easily turn into 9-11 if they are not conscious of the fact that last year was the first winning April that the franchise has had in years. And what happened last year? That’s right, a championship. If they come out ahead this month, then staying ahead should be easier when they guys that start slow start coming out of their slow starts. Hopefully, the pitching will bring itself together so that the offense doesn’t need to score thirteen runs a game although it would be nice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles Select...

I have previously stated that I would not be doing a mock draft, and that is still the case. There is something about part-time bloggers, wannabe know-it-alls, and self-proclaimed experts putting stuff out there like its gospel when in actuality it ends up being more wrong than right. So I won’t bore you with some uninformed information about what the Miami Dolphins are going to do in the draft because I don’t follow Miami, or Chicago, or the New York Giants. I don’t write about those teams normally and won’t pretend that I have any clue as to what their going to do this Saturday. What I will do is, based on the picks they have now, go through the players that I think would fit the Eagles best in a given round. I will do my best in keeping it real of course, because things will change probably before they even use their first pick. Today, here are the first three rounds of picks. Next week (hopefully I’ll remember), I will revisit these selections to see just how far off I am.

First Round (Pick 21): Although the Eagles may have to trade up to get him, Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno is the best pick in the draft for their team. He is easily the best running back prospect available and will help the Birds’ offense almost immediately, just as long as he understands the playbook a little. The selection of Moreno makes the most sense, particularly with new bookends whose strengths are run blocking. It will also mean some relief to Brian Westbrook, who coming off a knee injury could use some help in the backfield. If the Eagles come out of the first round with Moreno and Jason Peters, then Philly fans should be more than satisfied. On another note, the Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986. Should there be no way to get Knowshon, either by trading up or otherwise, the next best pick at that position would be Tight End Brandon Pettigrew out of OK State. There is always the possibility that they trade this pick too, possibly even for Anquan Boldin.

Second Round (Pick 53): Should the Eagles get Moreno and answer their backfield issue they will then need to turn to address the tight end position. Pettigrew is long gone at this point and the next batch of talent isn’t as solid to be sure. Either Southern Miss’s Shawn Nelson or South Carolina’s Jared Cook (right) should be there unless there is a run on them earlier in the round. Offensively, both are sound, but neither are particularly good blockers. Cook has the best speed of the group, which to me puts him ahead of Nelson, but then again, I’m not in the Eagles’ war room. People have Cornelius Ingram out of rated pretty high on the TE list, but I expect him to be gone by pick 53. Philly could go defensive end here, but for the value of the pick based on their needs, tight end is the way to go.

Round Three (Pick 85): If West Virginia’s Pat White (left) is available they take him otherwise, they take the best defensive end on the board. They love guys that can do more than one thing well, and although he wants to be a QB in the NFL, White will probably have to wait to really get that chance anywhere he goes. In Philly, he will give the gadget-play loving Coach Andy any number of options, most importantly a Wildcat formation. As far as defensive ends go, the Eagles would love six feet six inch Michael Johnson from Georgia Tech, if he’s there. More likely than not though, he’ll be gone and they will chose from either Michael Bennett or Brandon Williams from Texas A&M and Tech respectively.

Tomorrow, will (should) be rounds four through seven. It should be exciting, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Anquan or Not To Anquan

Should the Eagles trade their remaining first round pick for Arizona’s Anquan Boldin? A good number of Birds fans would say yes. I say hold on there Sparky. Boldin would most certainly improve the wide receiving corps, that I have no doubt. But I feel that he wouldn’t really improve the team overall, especially when you have no one to back up Brian Westbrook in the backfield. No, leave Anquan out West. Work with what you have on the outside, which isn’t all that bad by the way, and go out and get what you really need…a running back.

Just imagine if you will…You have Anquan Boldin on one side, DeSean Jackson on the other and Kevin Curtis fitting perfectly in the slot. Brian Westbrook is in the backfield. McNabb takes the snap, goes play action faking the handoff. Westbrook takes off only to be met at the line and on the tackle gets his knee twisted. Oh no! He’s hurt. In comes his backup, not Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells, but the wonderful and talented Lorenzo Booker! Can you see the dropoff yet? Now you can say that there is a loss of talent between the first and second string of receivers, but when your big weapon, and B-West is still your big weapon, goes down, the offense begins to look a whole lot less scary.

The 21st pick isn’t even guaranteed to get you Anquan straight up. A 3rd or 4th rounder would almost certainly have to be included as well, so it is unlikely that after the Jason Peters trade, that the Eagles will give up one pick let alone a couple. They have holes and depth that needs to be addressed. Take safety for instance. Right now there’s Jones, Mikell, Demps, and maybe J.R. Reed, but really, using a 3rd round pick for this position would be a good idea.

Some would say that you could throw in a player. Really? Like who? Sheldon Brown plus the 21st pick is too much. And I can tell you now that there isn’t much of a market for Reggie Brown or Hank Baskett, not when the guy involved is better than those two guys combined. The first round draft pick is really the only chip the Eagles can dangle in front of the Cardinals. It is unlikely they’ll take a player the Eagles are willing to give up.

So I’ll say to Eagles fans, you must live without Anquan Boldin, and (I hate to say it this way) make due with what we have at the moment, which isn’t Thrash/Pinkston (pictured) or Johnson/Small. For once in a long time, receiver isn’t our biggest need; it may be a need, but not our biggest one. We need a complimentary back, we need a tight end, and we need a defensive end, all before we need a receiver. And while it might be flashy, with some razzle dazzle pop, adding Boldin will not necessarily be the answer.

Horrid Pitching by the Phils

Monday night’s Phillies game was called due to rain, and that might have been a good thing. The pitching has been horrid, inconsistent, and resembling nothing like the staff that took the mound last year, despite coming into the year looking like the strength of the team. Instead, from Cole Hamels to Brad Lidge, Phil’s fans have watched this team put up good offensive numbers, only to hover just shy of .500 ball. And despite his claim to the blame, it all can’t fall on ole Cole.

Hidden by this dark shadow of underperforming hurlers are a couple of bright spots that have undoubtedly helped this team avoid pure freefall. Raul Ibanez has put up a couple weeks of play by batting .386, leading the team in dingers and driving in 12 runs. More that what could have been expected from Pat the Bat, he has taken his spot in the lineup and just about eliminated the whole too many left handed bats cries. He still may not be worth the money he’s getting, especially when compared to Burrell’s deal with the Rays, but come season’s end, his consistency and overall ability to hurt the baseball, early naysayers might be speaking in a different tongue.

Should he keep it up for the next week and a half, Ryan Howard is having his best April since his MVP year in ’06. Gone could be the days where Ryan hits below his weight, as he came into the season in great shape. Whatever he did in the offseason certainly seems to have worked, and although he hasn’t put up crazy power numbers, he is holding his own batting .341. And when his power does switch on, and it will, watch out. I would even be willing to say that if he hits six home runs in April, he’ll hit fifty for the year, easily. In the meantime, he needs to simply maintain.

A third bright spot in the young Phillies season is the apparent return to health for Chase Utley. Many, including me, were unsure just how he would do following the hip injury, but obviously he’s fine. Batting .366 and what looks like to be well on his way to another All-Star caliber season. Chase is possibly the most important member of the team as he has the ability to carry a team when he is healthy. Where Jimmy Rollins is who provides the energy, or fuel to make this team go, Utley is the guy who keeps the team on track.

My hope is that the pitching comes together, that Brad Lidge doesn’t implode, Jamie Moyer turns fifty overnight, and that Cole isn’t a heartbeat away from arm trouble. It is the pitching that must pull through, because no matter how many runs Raul, Chase, and Ryan drive in, it won’t be enough to keep up with the runs given up. Right now, it’s early, a month from now there will still be time. Two months though, it may be getting to the brink when if the pitching hasn’t turned itself around, the chances of repeating would have shrunken as if they were in fifty degree seawater.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Eagles Bring Some Intrigue to Their NFL Draft

The Philadelphia Eagles have made the upcoming NFL Draft a bit intriguing for Philly fans. Nearly everyone in America knew that they were going to pick an offensive lineman with one of their two first round picks, and in essence they did with trading the 28th pick in the draft to the Bills for 2-time All-Pro Jason Peters. It won’t be know until the season starts whether Peters is the solid replacement to Tra Thomas that the Eagles organization thinks that he is or the guy who gave up the 11+ sacks last year, at least according to some stat geeks. Regardless though, this trade with Buffalo only increases a great deal of speculation on what will happen with their 21st pick.

At this point, I have no clue, but I suspect that they will draft a defensive lineman. I would be happily surprised if they picked a running back like Knowshon Moreno (left) or Beanie Wells (right) to complement Bryan Westbrook, but my gut tells me that they will leave that for the second or third round and get a second tier back. My eyebrows will also be raised a bit if they pick up Brandon Pettigrew (below) should he fall that far. No, look for the Birds to go ho-hum and select Tyson Jackson out of LSU and stick him in a rotation with Victor Abiamiri.
But what if….what if the Eagles see what’s coming down the road…an aging Westbrook, a young QB entering his third year, a dynamic wideout that makes defensive backs buckle. What if they see the opportunity to pick up that third piece to the offensive puzzle? A guy that will create a reason for safeties to move up and play the run, or a tight end that needs double coverage. This pick could be the one guy who will take us truly to the next generation of Philadelphia Eagles, the post McNabb, post Westbrook, and reluctantly, the post Dawkins Eagles.

To me, either Moreno or Wells will do, for that matter you can add Pettigrew too, but I would rather see one of the two top RBs in an Eagles uniform next season. Philadelphia replaced both of their offensive tackles with guys who are arguably better at run blocking than pass blocking, but that might not mean much since that was the case with Thomas and Jon Runyan. We will know just what they will do this Saturday. Perhaps this Eagles regime has seen the light, or perhaps not. Maybe they will finally understand what the fans mean when they say “playmaker,” or maybe they’ll risk ruining the franchise just to prove that their philosophy is right.

The other option they have of course is to trade their pick. I won’t give them the ability to trade out of the first round, but instead send it to Arizona for Anquan Boldin. That will enable the Eagles to slide Kevin Curtis inside where he belongs and solidify what will be the best receiving group, dare I say it, in the NFL. It wasn’t too long ago when Eagle fans had to bear witness to James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, but now on the precipice of what could be the last chance for Donovan and Andy Reid to make it back to the Super Bowl together, the Eagles might be prepared to go all out offensively, not unlike they did with T.O., only without all the drama.

The suspense is building and we might end up with something exciting or horribly disappointing. I am trying to think positive and believe that they will pick someone who will make the immediate impact and will help make the enigma that is DeSean Jackson, better. If only I could will them to select someone other than a lineman and to stimulate the fan base. Although they haven’t acknowledged that they are rebuilding, the letting go of Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas, and realistically Jon Runyan strikes another chord. Let’s make it official and draft the replacement to the guy who has been most important player on the team for the last couple of years, and get the best running back available to take over the reigns for B-West.

In other news regarding the Philadelphia Eagles….Cornerback Sheldon Brown wants out, especially after Joselio Hanson’s new contract. Brown has been the most consistent DB since the departure of Troy Vincent. Also, does anyone get the feeling that the Eagles are scared that Shawn Andrews might leave the game? Andrews missed all of last year and it was questionable whether or not he still wanted to play football. To try to ensure that he comes back the Birds signed his brother Stacy at the opening of free agency. Now they trade for his college roommate in Peters. Stay tuned, Philly might be signing two of his uncles, a second cousin, and his 3rd grade crush, just to make sure he’s back on the O-Line in ’09.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Phillies Vs. The Month of April

The Phillies cannot afford their typical April. Unlike last year, when they finished the first month of the season 15-13 as opposed to the 11-14, 10-14 they finished with in April of 2007 and 2006 respectively. Some believe that their first over .500 start in years and years helped propel them to a position to contend for the division title, and eventually overtake the Choke and Slide Mets. Going off on a quick tangent…They should call the Mets the New York Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches….My father used to call (and now I call) PB&Js, choke and slides because you would choke on the PB, and the jelly would help is slide down the throat. Here the Mets choke on the field, and slide down the standings. In any case, let’s stay focused.
It’s no secret that the past two seasons have yielded some exciting September baseball in Philadelphia, and this season may prove to be the same way. It is unknown just where the Phils will stand come playoff judgment day and even though we would like to think that they’ll be headed into postseason play, there are no guarantees. So despite the fact that this is a long season, April becomes August very quickly and it is absolutely vital that they get as many wins under their belts as possible, regardless of the month.

The Phillies could rely on the Mets being in it and then falling apart at the end and that would be safe bet. However, there is no need for all the drama, no matter how captivating it might be. In reality, it might hinge on the bullpens. Last year the Mets had to be rescued from the walking blown save, Billy Wagner, while the Phillies got the most consistent guy in the majors, Brad Lidge, (for two fringe players) and took full advantage of him all the way through the World Series. Can he be Light’s Out Lidge again? Maybe. The Mets pen certainly got better with an overrated K-Rod and the guy who should be closing, Putz.

Then again, it could be the rotation that defines the winner. Or, for arguments sake, another upstart Marlins team could play spoiler. There could be injuries too. If either Cole Hamels or Johan Santana go down for any real amount of time, their respective pitching staffs become iffy.

That is why the Phillies have to be as far above .500 as possible by the end of April. Another start with fourteen or fifteen in the loss column and not only will they need guys like Chase, J-Roll, and Ryan Howard clicking on all cylinders, but the pitching staff will need to be closer to perfect. Needing Jamie Moyer to haul in another 16 wins is not what Philadelphia fans want to see. So while I am not scared after three games and a 1-2 record, I am cautiously nervous because I have seen this Philadelphia Phillies team do some great things, but I have also seen them very flat. And I fear, that this year, the season will go as April goes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ocho Cinco on the Eagles? That's Craziness

Ocho Cinco on the Philadelphia Eagles is craziness. I mean, c’mon! How many receivers in this league have been tied to the Birds this offseason, something like six. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Marvin Harrison, T.O (again), Anquan Boldin, Braylon Edwards, and now Chad Johnson were all Philly bound at some point. And it is only a matter of time before Plaxico, Jerry Rice, and Steve Largent find their way to the rumor mill as future Eagles. It is getting a bit ridiculous. The Eagles are always looking for players that will upgrade a position and they have, according to media reports at least, been inquiring about wideouts. But I will put the chance of the Eagles obtaining Chad somewhere between slim and the space between Coach Andy’s cheeks…the ones in the rear.

First of all, Ocho Cinco is T.O.-lite, and there is no way that the Eagles are taking that big of a risk. They would take on an ego, especially if the talent and possibly more important, the salary outweighed the potential risk of discord and Johnson has shown that he can bring discord. Johnson is not so much an ego, but rather he is an honest to goodness leggo my eggo loon that could help the Eagles win, as long as he was happy. If not, who knows? The difference between Chad and Terrell is that Chad is a bit more fun, particularly from the standpoint of the fans. Legally changing his name to his Spanish nickname is fine by me, just down throw your teammates under the bus.

And do the Eagles even need Chad Johnson? I don’t know. They could use a guy like that to completely open the field, but the damage he would do to DeSean Jackson would be immeasurable. Jackson has an ego all his own, and sometimes his football smarts take a time out ala the play of him running down the field and releasing the ball just prior to passing the goal line. Jackson has a good work ethic, he picked up the offense well, and his potential at this very moment may not be has high as his mentor, the immortal Rice, but in the least Steve Smith. I must note that I have no idea how Boldin or Edwards would affect Jackson, but I don’t think either will suggest that DeSean changes his name simply to Diez (and that’s the number ten in Spanish for those not in the know).

I say no to Ocho Cinco, let him rot in Cincinnati. He does nothing for me in terms of helping the Eagles advance further into the playoffs and I don’t think that he could catch those McNabb passes to his feet any better than Kevin Curtis. There will be many Birds fans that that will want his skill, but few that want his character. Perhaps if there was a way to somehow convince that brain of Johnson and turn it into the boring, humdrumness that is the career of Hank Baskett, then the balance of what is and what should never be will be maintained in the realm of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ryan Howard Will Win the 2009 NL MVP...Book It!

The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies have had some questions going into the season. Not so much in the form of who will be on the roster, or the moves they’ve made, but regarding the guys they have, their stars in fact. Will Jimmy Rollins have a resurgence year after an average 2008? Is Chase Utley fully recovered from his hip injury? But neither of those questions is as big as Ryan Howard and how the best power hitter in the game today will do after a big contract, after the World Series?
Not that his skills will really be called into question, because we all know what he can do (hit home runs) and can’t do (field worth a lick), but his desire to lead this team back into the playoffs to defend their title, the first time any Philadelphia player has had to since 1984. Well, to start the answer off we’ll look at the Phillies Spring Training. Howard came into camp in the best shape ever and it showed on the diamond, knocking in 10 home runs in the month of March. And, in my simpleton opinion, this should be only a prelude for what people can expect in April. Even though he has struggled during the early months in previous years he is ready to put together the most complete season of his still young major league career.
A 0 for 4 with 2Ks performance in the first game of the year is not a great start but it’s too early to assume the worst. That being said, his performances that last few years have indicated that his offensive prowess is unmatched save one, Albert Pujols. I think that the Pujols MVP last year bothered Ryan. That he forced his will upon his opponents in order to take the Phillies to the top of the NL East, and not winning was a quiet but personal disappointment.
After his first MVP award in 2006, Howard was battling contract issues every offseason and these were distractions that took away from his conditioning. He became less disciplined at the plate and his production actually dropped in 2007 and 2008, in comparison to his MVP year anyway. Yet despite this, he was still among the most valuable players in the league, finishing 5th in voting in 2007 when the award went to Jimmy Rollins, and 2nd to Albert Pujols in 2008. And last year, it was most likely his .251 average that tipped the scales to the Cardinal.
Pujols remains is main competition but you may also consider Manny and Hanley Ramirez to be in the mix as well. This does not include Ryan’s teammates, who have collected their own share of MVP votes. But, barring injury, it will be Howard who prevails in ’09 as he and Albert go at each other in the statistics. Back in mid-Feb I predicted that he was going to hit a mere .252/48/144, and I’ll stick with the power numbers, but expect a thirty to forty point jump in the batting average as he sends the ball into the stratosphere nearly fifty times this season. Think I’m wrong…..I don’t think so. Ryan Howard will be the 2009 NL MVP….you can book it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Congratulations to Penn State...but not really

Congratulations to the Penn State Nittany Lions Basketball team for winning the NIT over Baylor last night at MSG. You are the top team of all the teams not considered as top teams by NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. By winning all of those high stressed tournament games, you have proven that not only can you beat good teams not wanting to be there, that you can do so without anyone noticing. All that you managed to do was prolong the inevitable, ending the season out of the Tournament. Fifty or sixty years ago, the National Invitational Tournament meant a great deal, unfortunately you are fifty or sixty years too late. No one will remember that the Nittanies beat George Mason in OT, or that you crushed Notre Dame. In fact, no one will remember who won the NIT in 2009 by the time July rolls around, let alone remember next year. Think of it this way, you are not the runner up to Miss America, you were runner up to the chick who went to the pageant to become runner up.

It’s shameful, I know, but despite you 27-11 record, how many Penn State basketball fans can deem this season a success? Winning the NIT may get you a banner to hang in the Bryce Jordan Center, but the fact that the team failed to add to its lowly eight appearances in the big dance diminishes the value of the season on the whole. But what can you do? You play the schedule you have, and you have to win the games you can. But now that win against NJIT is wasted, and as a matter of fact, that win probably didn’t help, particularly in the RPI. Needless to say, all of the patsies that Penn State beat got them no closer to the big dance than that win against Final Four participant Michigan State did. And Penn State is not the only one. A bunch of teams play walkovers at the beginning of the season in an effort to prepare for conference play and to enhance the record. And if you were in the Big East, you wouldn’t have gotten a sniff of a whiff of tourney consideration. Overall, the Lions probably didn’t deserve to make it to the big dance and probably shouldn’t celebrate the NIT win either. To win a consolation bracket is hardly to have won at all.

Breaking Down the NL East: Relief Pitching

Thirty years ago the use of relief pitchers was normally reserved for the eighth and ninth innings and even then those guys were hardly considered specialists as they could pitch 5 or 6 innings themselves. There weren’t the 7th inning setup guys to the 8th inning setup guys. There were relief pitchers and closers, and even then I can’t recall the term closer being used. But that was back when starters would pitch twenty complete games a year. Now, through a crack in the game’s evolution, starting pitchers are accustomed to believing that five innings means a quality start; the back four being left to the relief. And guys now make a good living pitching one inning, and sometimes one batter, every other game, making their roles on the team vital to its success. For my evaluation of the relief pitchers I took into consideration wins and saves versus ERA, WHIP, and Losses. I didn’t go into blown saves or holds since if a closer blows a save, they probably may have gotten a loss and that’s worse, plus blown saves in the seventh or eighth innings is plain stupid. Holds, on the other hand are a decent enough stat, ERA and WHIP will indicate just how they do well enough.
First (Score 3.55): The Philadelphia Phillies historically have had iffy relief pitching at best. Sure they’ve had bright spots here and there like Steve Bedrock Bedrosian, but generally guys like Roberto Horrendous Hernandez come to mind. Last year was a different story though, Brad Lidge was lights out, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson at the end of the year was nearly as good. The role players of Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey, and Chad Durbin each played a major part in the team’s success. Right off the bat in 2009 Romero is on a fifty game suspension however his absence will hopefully be minimized with the addition of Jack Tascher, a replacement lefty if you will. No one expect Lidge to go perfect again this year, but he should be far off. The Phillies have a good group and if there aren’t any injuries, they shouldn’t lose more than a dozen games for the team.
Second (2.37): If I were going on last year alone I would have put the New York Mets relief staff at the bottom of the list and I don’t think there would be many complaints. Their relievers, especially loud-mouthed Billy Wagner is a big reason they’ve missed the post season. The addition of K-Rod is not a big as the addition of J.J. Putz who, in my opinion is a better closer, but who will be relegated to the setup role unless Rodriguez melts down. Keep in mind that K-Rod did blow nine saves (not calculated into the score), so Putz might be the closer at season’s end. The rest of the riff raff including Pedro Feliciano and guys named Sean Green, Brian Stokes, and Carlos Muniz will have to hold down the fort until the late innings when the real players can come in to pitch. Hopefully for the Mets they can get into the eighth with a lead.
Third (0.76): As a complete shock to me, the Washington Nationals ranks third in relief pitching. This is due to young pitchers last year doing a good job, unnoticed by nearly everyone in baseball, plus the addition of a solid vet Joe Beimel. Joel Hanrahan, who had nine saves last year, gets the closers job it would appear, by default. Saul Rivera, Steven Shell, Garrett Mock, and Julian Tavarez round out the rest of the core relievers on this Nationals’ team. Shell and Mock were rookies last year, looking to make a living in the major leagues. In order to do that, they will have to ensure that any lead (however rare) they have when the come into pitch, stays that way when they hand the ball over to Hanrahan. Washington won’t win many games on merit, so the relief pitching has to be adequate enough not to lose any leads they get.
Fourth (0.66): It has been my contention for years that Mike Gonzalez is an underrated closer. He has been stuck on win anemic teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates where save opportunities were not real forthcoming. Last year on the Braves, no one could lock down that closer role, and much like Hanrahan in D.C., Gonzalez will have the closer’s job by lack of competition. Manny Acosta, Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, and Boone Logan make up the bulk of the rest of the squad, none of whom had an ERA under 3.50 last year. If they can keep the runs from scoring, then Gonzalez should have a career year in 2009. If the Braves are lucky, their pitching staff might get them a sniff of a possible postseason run.
Fifth (0.43) The Florida Marlins have found a way to remain somewhat competitive despite having guys with names you’ve never heard of, who have nothing real special to mention about them, and who may not make a roster elsewhere. Matt Lindstrom had five saves in 2008 and is the Fish’s closer. Kiko Calero, not to be confused with Kiki Vandeweghe was picked up from Oakland, and will provide some nice experience in the bullpen. The combination of Leo Nunez, Logan Kensing, Renyel Pinto, and Rick VandenHurk, who were a combined 10-8 with 0 saves, will be responsible for maintaining whatever leads the starting staff drops in their laps. Regardless, I can imagine them helping the Marlins to anything better than third place in the division.
Well, that’s it for this series. Thanks everyone for view, reading, and for the one or two comments I got from them. I hope I wrote without too much bias, even though I know some was blatant. It should be a great season, particularly if you are a Phillies fan like me, so it goes without saying….

Let’s look alive out there!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sixers Need to Trade a Star

There is only a matter of time before the obvious comes to light. The 76ers, although a young, perhaps up and coming, playoff team, have a dilemma on their roster. Not only do they not have a guy to play the point after this season, no sharpshooters, a potential bust in Elton Brand, but more intriguing they have two starters at small forward. Andre Iguodala was signed to a huge deal, paying him upwards of around 80 million dollars over the next six years. It was a great deal for Andre, but it proved to show little insight on the part of the Sixers. They drafted a guy by the name of Thaddeus Young back in 2007, who looks as if he is going to be a real player, at the three. Now what do they do? Neither can play the two guard, and even though they threw Young in at power forward, that is not his spot, that belongs to Marreese Speights.

It would appear that T.Young is hurt right now but he will be forever without of a position. His average of 15.2 points per game can be picked up by other guys, but his skill without the ball and his defense will be missed just as much. But what it can get the team is what it needs to get passed the first round of the playoffs. Thaddeus Young has absolutely the highest trade value on the team. He can get you a player like Michael Redd, maybe not straight up due to the salary cap, but Young would be the integral piece in any deal if you throw in Samuel Dalembert. I personally would rather the Sixers trade Iggy, but with the new contract is unlikely to be as desirable as a 20 year old kid who everyone knows can play and has nothing but upside at this point in his career.
Right now the Sixers have holes. And those holes are only going to get bigger when Andre Miller leaves town. There is no sense trying to force square pegs in when you can trade for round ones. The team on the whole is young enough to grow, and by adding a veteran that will clearly fill a need and the whole dynamic of the team changes. Maybe Elton Brand get good again, maybe the Sixers find a better shooting guard than Willie Green, and maybe the whole team goes to hell and Philly makes back into the lottery. Either way, Young is going to be a wasted talent, even more so if he stays in Philadelphia. Get what you can to improve the team, before his boat runs out of steam.

Breaking Down the NL East: Starting Pitching

Back in the 1980’s the NL East had some dominating pitching that mowed down opposing hitters. Steve Carlton began the decade for the Phils as one of the most intimidating southpaws in history and led into the phenomenon known as Doc Gooden. Gooden carried the Mets staff to a 1986 World Series Championship but was doomed due to his personal issues. The early 90’s saw the blossoming of the likes of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez to name a few. Today, Johann Santana and Cole Hamels lead the pack with young pitchers like the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson look to come into their own. On the opposite ends of the spectrum are Jamie Moyer and the now older Tom Glavine, both in the twilight of their careers, yet somehow remaining effective enough to remain in the league. I evaluated the starters on various categories, putting the heaviest weight on wins, ERA, and WHIP creating a “productivity” number. Here are my rankings for the National League East’s Starting Staffs.

First (Score 2.57): The New York Mets would probably be lost without their ace, Johan Santana (pictured) as the rest of the staff is made up of a prospect coming of age (Mike Pelfrey), an inconsistent pitcher who can be really good or really bad (Oliver Perez), a once promising starter who was hindered by injuries (John Maine), and a journeyman now in his 13th year and 7th team (Livian Hernandez). Santana ranked the highest of all of the starting pitchers in the division. He brings up the team’s average in nearly every category leading the pack with a productivity number of 5.5. If his team will hit behind him, he may be odds on favorite to win the NL Cy Young award.

Second (2.25): The Phillies of 2008 were extremely fortunate that their pitching remained in tact last year. Brett Myers was sent down to the minors midseason and returned a solid No. 2 behind Cole Hamels (pictured), who for some strange reason received no run support from the league’s most offensive team. The ageless wonder of Jamie Moyer pulled together 16 wins and Joe Blanton came to the Phils via Oakland and went 4-0 before having the postseason of his life. Kyle Kendrick will not be on the starting staff this year and is replaced by Chan Ho Park for found his competitive edge after being banished to the bullpen for the past several years. JA Happ, who will/should start the year in the pen may be counted on to start as well. Hamels finished second in the division with a score of 4.19 and Moyer slipped into the fifth spot in the NL East at 3.25.

Third (2.14): This is not the same Atlanta Braves pitching staff that won so many division titles, so many games, and now is left to fill spots with quality arms with guys who have names like Jurrjens and Kawakami. Derek Lowe (pictured) anchors this group and will have to win twenty games if the Braves are to be on the winning side of .500. Javier Vazquez has hoodwinked another team into thinking he can help them win, despite a career 127-129 record. Jurrjens had a decent year as a rookie. Now that teams have a book on him, we’ll see how well he does in 2009. Kawakami is a Japanese import and my guess is that he’ll be somewhere between Dice-K and Hideki Irabu. The all familiar name of Tom Glavine rounds out the rotation and as long as he can be effective, they’ll keep the 42 year old on the team. His season last year though (2-4, 5.54 ERA in 63 innings), wasn’t a good sign for things to come.
Fourth (1.56): There are no Josh Becketts, A.J. Burnetts, or Brad Pennys on this Florida Marlins team, Dontrelle Willis is even gone. Some might ask who’s left to pitch. Well, that’s a good question. Ricky Nolasco (pictured) is a big league pitcher for sure as he went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA last year and is young enough to expect improvement. After Ricky, there’s Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez, and Andrew Miller. All young, all unproven. Given that the NL East is chock full of experienced hitters I’m unsure just how they’ll do. Marlins prospects seem to be unlimited in their ability to mature quicker than others, so maybe they’ll be ok. In reality, the offense will probably have to carry the load if Florida wants to finish even in fourth place in the division.
Fifth (1.06): The Washington Nationals’ pitching staff is hardly worth mentioning. That organization hasn’t had a decent pitcher since they were in Montreal. Now they’re going to throw John Lannan (pictured), Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera. They are decent, but I don’t know that they are anything other than fourth starters on much of the other staffs around the league. Then add Jordan (not Ryan) Zimmermann and Shairon (that’s a dude’s name) Martis and you are looking at a 100 loss season. Is baseball really back in the Nation’s capital? It is if you are counting the visiting team. I’m sorry D.C. fans for being harsh, but pitching is key in this game and the Nationals don’t have it.
All this of course is barring injuries which are key to the success or despair of any team. If Johan or Cole goes down, then the whole landscape changes. From top to bottom I think the Phillies have the best rotation and while the New York Mets don’t exactly have slouches, the staff will lead the Phils to their 3rd division title. Heaven forbid Mike Pelfrey be a bust for the Metropolitans, because if he is, or hits a sophomore snag, then everything will rest on Santana.
One more in the Breaking Down the NL East series….the bullpen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Phillies Notes to Note

The Phillies recently released fourth outfielder Geoff Jenkins (below), making room for a move that will improve the club and their bench strength. They have two options, neither of them particularly bad. First, the Phillies have already been in contact with Gary Sheffield, showing interest in the former Tigers DH who is just shy of 500 home runs. The second would be Andruw Jones, still under contract with the Texas Rangers. While it is doubtful that either would get a full time playing gig with the Phils, they would provide a much needed right-handed bat off the bench to go with lefties Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, and Chris Coste. The Phillies will eat the eight million dollars still left on the Jenkins' contract.

Gary Sheffield has fallen upon hard times. Since leaving the Yankees the forty year old Sheffield had shown a steady decrease in his ability at the plate. Add to the fact that he no longer can play anything but DH or First Base, and he doesn’t provide that much to a Phillies team looking to repeat. On the other hand, from what I understand, the Phillies would only have to pay him $400,000 which is a bargain for a veteran bat.

The Phils are also looking into a trade for Andruw Jones, who despite ripping off the Dodgers for $14+ million; can still play the field. They would probably only have to give up a low level prospect for him or a journeyman in the system that wouldn’t make the big league club regardless. The Phils have a history with the Rangers too. They traded Vincente Padilla to the Rangers a few years back and recently received John Mayberry Jr. in a deal for Greg Golson. He would be a better fit for the Phillies since he still owns a glove and should still no how to use it. The big question surrounding Jones is whether or not he can regain his form from the earlier part of this decade, for from two years ago for that matter, or whether the overweight, lackadaisical shell of a former All-Star is all that is left.

The Phillies named their fifth starter, and his name is Chan Ho Park. Park had an outstanding spring and took full advantage of the opportunity to crack the rotation after spending the last few seasons coming out of the bullpen. He beat out expected starter JA Happ, who may either join the pen as long relief, or temporarily be sent to AAA. Happ will regardless be spending plenty of time on the big league roster. This solidifies the starting staff as Hamels, Myers, Blanton, Moyer, and now Park.

As the Phillies roster rounds itself out there are few surprises, with possibly the exception being Jenkins’ release. But despite that, the pitching staff looks in better shape than it did a year ago and the addition of Jack Taschner will help fill the void during the J.C. Romero suspension. Should Philly pick up either Sheffield or Jones, it will be interesting to see who the odd man out will be, although Stairs is the most likely candidate.