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.

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers ‘not very happy right now’

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers ‘not very happy right now’

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”

NFL Notes: Andy Reid doesn't believe costly hold on Chiefs was worth flag

NFL Notes: Andy Reid doesn't believe costly hold on Chiefs was worth flag

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs coach Andy Reid doesn't believe the holding penalty on left tackle Eric Fisher that cost Kansas City a tying 2-point conversion against Pittsburgh on Sunday night should have been called.

After watching film of the decisive play in the Steelers' 18-16 playoff victory, Reid said Monday that "I don't want to be fined any money, but I'd lean a different way."

Fisher appeared to hook Steelers pass rusher James Harrison on the conversion attempt with less than 3 minutes left in the game.

But the play was not cut-and-dried: Harrison dipped especially low and may have been losing his balance, and he likely would not have gotten to the quarterback anyway.

Still, the flag negated the successful 2-point conversion. And when the Chiefs tried again from the 12-yard line, Alex Smith's throw fell incomplete and the Steelers were able to run out the clock.

PATRIOTS: McDaniels staying on as OC
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels expressed appreciation for the opportunity to interview with the San Francisco 49ers but says for now he will remain in New England.

He said during a conference call Monday that the decision was what's "best for my family and myself" and that he will stay with the Patriots to focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the season "however it turns out."

McDaniels, who was a head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2009 and 2010, interviewed with the 49ers during the Patriots' bye to open the playoffs. He also interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Both McDaniels and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have been candidates for teams with open head coaching jobs this offseason after helping lead the Patriots to 14-2 regular season.

New England beat the Houston Texans 34-16 in the divisional round and will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's AFC championship game.

SEAHAWKS: Carroll says Sherman played with MCL injury
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on his radio show Monday morning that cornerback Richard Sherman played the second half of the season with an MCL injury in his knee.

Carroll told KIRO-AM that Sherman's injury was significant and it was "stressful" for Sherman to play with the injury.

Carroll did not specify which knee was injured, but said it was similar to Russell Wilson's sprained MCL suffered early in the season in that Sherman could play with the injury.

Sherman was not listed on any injury/practice report this season with a knee injury.

Any practices he missed were listed with the "NIR" -- not injury related -- designation with the exception of Week 12 against Tampa Bay when he was listed with an ankle injury.

Carroll said he had a "big meeting" with Sherman in regards to a tumultuous season for the cornerback that included two sideline blowups during games. "He has some regrets," Carroll said.

TITANS: Former Temple coach Jackson hired as WR coach
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have hired Frisman Jackson as their new wide receivers coach and Craig Aukerman as assistant special teams coach.

The Titans announced the moves Monday.

Jackson joins the Titans from Temple where he was passing game coordinator this past season and wide receivers coach the past two seasons. Jackson also coached at North Carolina State, Northern Illinois, Akron and Western Illinois.

Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie also coached Jackson when he was a wide receiver for four seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

Aukerman spent the past four seasons coaching the Chargers' special teams, the most recent as special teams coordinator, and has coached with the Jaguars and Broncos. He also coached at Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Western Kentucky and Findlay.