Big Man and the Doctor: 'Nuff Said for Phils Victory

Big Man and the Doctor: 'Nuff Said for Phils Victory

It's always a nice feeling when you feel like your team has the game in
the bag in the first inning. When Ryan Howard lifted off on a three-run
blast in the Phillies' first time up in their second game at Miller Park
this trip, you could be pretty sure that the Brewers were just about
sunk with Cy Young candidate (and reigning winner) Roy Halladay taking
the mound in the bottom of the frame. Sure enough, Doc was dominant, and
despite some unnecessary suspense from the bullpen in the ninth, the
Brew Crew were shut down as the Phils won their fifth in a row, by a
score of 5-3.

The game was a relatively boring one in between that rockin' first
inning and a mildly heartburning ninth (the Brewers began the inning
down four but managed to bring up the possible tying run several times),
so rather than doing straight recapping, let's look at some player and
team numbers instead. Cool?

The Big Piece

Though
Ryan Howard's percentages have fallen this year pretty much across the
board, his counting numbers remain about as impressive as ever. Ryno's
three-run no-doubter tonight give him 32 dingers and 111 RBIs for the
season, both more than he had all of last year, and in only 137 games so
far. (Howard played 143 in '10.) His .836 OPS (as of yesterday,
probably in the low .840s with his performance tonight) is way too low
for a slugger of his stature and pay-rate, but good to know that the big
man still knows how to put points on the board as well as anyone.

The
Doctor Is In

Roy Halladay was predictably beastly for the
Phils tonight, giving up just one run in eight innings of four-hit, nine
K ball. (The three walks Doc gave up were a season high, but
considering that still puts him at just one per start, we'll let it
slide.) The nine punchouts put Big Roy over 200 for the fifth time in
his career (and fourth straight season), and with presumably at least
three more starts coming his way before season's end, he's got a fairly
good shot of breaking his career-best mark of 219, set with the Fightins
last year. Doc's start will hopefully be a challenging en garde
for Cliff Lee's start tomorrow, as the pair are undoubtedly two of the
three NL Cy Young front-runners at this point—though the third, Clayton
Kershaw of the Dodgers, also strengthened his case with an eight-inning,
one-run win of his own in San Francisco.

Choooooooooooch

Anyone notice how quietly awesome our starting catcher has been the last
few months? On July 6, Carlos sat with a batting average of .248,
looking like he was undergoing a major regression to the mean after last
year's unexpected .300+ hitting campaign. But in the 45 games since,
Chooch has goosed that average all the way back up to .283, getting his
OPS over .750—my highly unofficial cut-off line for when a player is
having an above-average hitting season. Ruiz has hit safely in 18 of his
last 20 games, hitting .388 over that stretch, and last night posted a
ho-hum 2-2 with two walks and an RBI. It's enough in my opinion to prove
that last year wasn't a fluke, and that Chooch has indeed turned
himself into a legitimate offensive threat in this league.

The Magic is Fading Fast

The Magic Number posted for the Phillies on Yahoo! Sports is currently a
paltry nine over the Braves, but by my highly unreliable calculations,
the number over the Cardinals to secure the wildcard is just
three—meaning that the Phils could theoretically clinch a spot in the
post-season as early as Sunday, If so, hopefully there will be ginger
ale and chips made available to the boys in the locker room for what
will undoubtedly be an incredibly unimpressed celebration.

108

All right, so I shouldn't even care about this and it probably doesn't
even make sense for us to push for it, but whatever—I really, really
want to see this team get to 108 wins. 108 wins would mean a 2/3 winning
percentage—in other words, the team would have won twice as many games
as it lost for an entire season, something that I don't believe has been
done in the NL since the '86 Mets. It's something only a truly great
team can do, though as the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners will attest, it
can ring a little hollow without a post-season to back it up. I'm
rooting for it, in any event, and the team only has to 15-6 to do it—no
easy task, certainly, but not impossible by any means. And at the very
least, I would like to see the team get to 102, thus making it the best
regular-season squad in the Phillies' 128-year history. That and another
ring, I'd certainly live without the 108.

Up Next

Cliff Lee—remember him?—will be facing our old friend Randy Wolf at 7:05
tomorrow night in the penultimate game of the series, and the last game
of the season before the Phils officially have to share face time with
the Eagles' 2011 campaign. Enjoy it while you can, kids—for as hyped as
the team is this year, we'd still have to be damn, damn lucky for
the Eagles' season to end up being anywhere near as pleasurable and
drama-free as it has been so far for the Fightins.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.