Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

You don't need me or anyone else to tell you that there hasn't been a lot to cheer for this year in the city of Brotherly Love. The NFL playoffs occurred without the 4-12 Eagles even qualifying as an afterthought, the much-anticipated seasons for the Flyers and Sixers both ended disastrously, and over a third into the baseball season the Phillies are three games under .500, which is actually still a way better record than their run differential says it should be. Unless things get turned around in a big way for the Phils, 2013 will be the first calendar year of this century without Philly being involved in a single playoff game in any of the four major sports.

When your teams aren't winning, and it gets past the point where winning even really does your team any good, you need another reason to get emotionally invested--preferably one a little less depressing than tanking for draft positioning. The best reason to watch a losing team is if they have a breakout player--a guy who gives you hope for the future and makes things a little exciting in the present. Through about 40 games for the Phils, though, such a player seemed unlikely to emerge from the roster, and we were stuck with holding out for a healthy Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz doing damage in the lineup together, and getting to watch Cliff Lee do his thing every fifth start. It wasn't a lot to work with.

Then came Domonic Larun Brown. Technically, he'd been there all along, but somewhere along the line (ahem) the switch flipped from "tantalizing maybe-prospect" to "2001 Barry Bonds," and now he's not just the best hitter in the Phillies lineup--for the past two weeks, he's been the best hitter in the National League, and up there with Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera for the best in all of baseball. In those two weeks, he's hit .400 with nine homers and 23 RBIs, scoring 12 runs and even stealing three bases. In the blink of an eye, he's gone from being a fringe starter to an obvious All-Star, and someone who would probably be getting mid-season MVP consideration if his on-base percentage and defense were a tad bit better. (He has walked already this month, though. Twice!)

It's unbelievable to watch. As a result, the Phillies have gone from "eh, I'll watch them if I'm home and not doing anything else" to "OH CRAP DID I REMEMBER TO SET THE DVR??" You don't want to miss a single Domonic Brown at bat these days, because there's always a pretty good chance he'll do something like he did in the first inning of yesterday's game, where he crushed a Mike Fiers 3-1 fastball (at least I think it was supposed to be a fastball) into like the seventh deck for a three-run homer, his league-leading 16th on the season. It's not even the least bit surprising anymore--hell, if he had laced an RBI single to right instead, it would've almost been a disappointment.

It's been a little while since a Phillie, or really any Philly athlete, was this exciting to watch. Maybe Claude Giroux last season, definitely Michael Vick in his first year with the Birds, probably Ryan Howard during his 58-homer MVP run in 2006. Even if he doesn't produce anymore all season--and he's been so hot that once he cools off, it seems terrifyingly possible that he'll go through a slump nearly as ice-cold to compensate--Domonic belongs in that class now for the run he's had the last few weeks, and really the last month, making good on every positive long-term projection made of him that we had been squinting so hard to see in the man himself during his first three seasons of sporadic play in the big leagues.

Is it enough to save the 2013 year in Philly sports? Will we look back on this year not as the year of Andrew Bynum and Ilya Bryzgalov making all their headlines outside of gametime, of Andy Reid and possibly Charlie Manuel running their course in Philly, of the playoffs in all four sports going on without any home team to root for--but instead, as the year Dom Brown broke out as the next Philadelphia pro sports superstar? If he keeps it up, it's not impossible. How much fun would it be to watch him put on a show at this year's home run derby, to endure countless silly "Harper vs. Brown: Who would you rather have for the next five years?" debates, to be able to chant "M-V-P!" at him in August and September and have it be at least a slightly credible proposition? It'd wash a whole lot of the bad taste out of my mouth, for sure.

My roommate is a Mets fan, and as much fun as it is and has been for the last five years to make fun of him for it, I have envied this year that he at least had Matt Harvey starts to look forward to, that the team had a talent so electric that his presence alone could make a game a must-watch, and make every home game he pitched in feel like a playoff game. Now, the Phils have a player of their own like that, whose raw power and ability to put on a show makes you feel lucky to be a Phillies fan, regardless of how lousy their record is (and how much worse it probably should be). In this most dire of Philly sports years, we should be very grateful to the Domonator for that.

Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — At least Odubel Herrera was honest about it.

“I didn’t expect to hit it that far,” he said with a big grin on his face late Wednesday afternoon.

A couple of hours earlier, Herrera helped key an 8-5 Phillies’ win over the Detroit Tigers with a towering home run into the right-field seats against Anibal Sanchez (see Instant Replay).

Herrera unloaded on the hanging slider and finished with his bat high.

As the bat reached its apex, Herrera didn’t just let it go. He flipped it in the air as if to say, ‘Uh-ah, I crushed that one.’ In the annals of bat flips, it wasn’t quite Jose Bautista quality, but it wasn’t far off. The flip was so dramatic that Herrera admitted after the game that he would not have been surprised if a Tigers pitcher had retaliated and stuck a pitch in his ribs later in the game.

Retribution never came. And Herrera left Detroit with a smile on his face and yet another big day for the Phillies. He is leading the club with a .327 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage is second-best in baseball.

Herrera's big home run helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola and the Phillies on a day when they really needed a win. After all, they had lost four of their previous five and are headed into the den of baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday.

“For me, it was a must-win,” said manager Pete Mackanin, whose club is 26-21. “We’d lost four of five and I felt like we needed to come out of here with a win.

“The guys battled the whole game. To me it looked like they played like they had to win this game, which was nice to see. It looked like they played knowing we had to win. They were grinding and coming up with hits. Call it what you want, it was just the feeling I got.

“I’m not going to say I’m anxious to see the Cubs; they’re a hell of a team. But I’m hopeful we can take two out of three.”

The Tigers are one of baseball’s best hitting teams.

The Phillies are one of the worst. They entered the day scoring just 3.2 runs per game.

But on this day, the Phillies out-hit the Tigers, 12-10, to salvage one game in the series.

Nola went six innings, allowed four runs, a walk and struck out six. He left with a 7-4 lead. Things got hairy in the seventh, but Hector Neris cleaned up things for David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez registered his majors-leading 17th save.

In between, Peter Bourjos had a couple of big hits, including his first homer of the season. Andres Blanco started at second over Cesar Hernandez and had a couple of big hits, as well. Bourjos and Blanco even hooked up on a double steal with Blanco becoming the first Phillie to swipe home since Chase Utley in 2009. (An off-line throw to second by Tigers catcher James McCann helped.) 

“We have to try things,” Mackanin said. “We can’t bang it out with most teams so we have to try that kind of stuff, take chances.”

The Phillies actually banged it on this day.

Bourjos’ homer in the seventh provided some valuable cushion.

There are no cheap homers in spacious Comerica Park. Bourjos’ homer traveled 401 feet according to ESPN’s play by play.

Though Bourjos claimed he did not see Herrera’s bat flip in fifth inning, he was aware of it. For the record, Bourjos did not flip his bat on his homer. He put his head down and ran.

“I don’t have that kind of swag,” he said with a laugh.

Bat flips make some folks, particularly old-schoolers, uncomfortable. Bautista’s famous bat flip against Texas in the playoffs last season led to simmering tensions all winter and eventually a brawl between the two teams two weeks ago.

Mackanin actually seemed a little uncomfortable talking about Herrera’s flip.

“I did not see it,” Mackanin said. “A lot of players believe that they should be able to celebrate. But I didn’t see it. I wish you never brought it up.”

Herrera explained that he always flips his bat, even when he makes outs. This one had a little extra oomph, he said, because, "I didn’t expect to hit it that far.”

And how far did he hit it?

Well, ESPN’s play by play said it traveled 409 feet. MLB’s Statcast said it went 427.

Either way, that’s a long Uber ride.

Herrera was asked what was more impressive, the flip or the homer?

“Both,” he said with a laugh.

Herrera has become a more demonstrative player in his second year in the league. He’s letting his emotions show. On Monday night, frustration over a poor at-bat got the best of him. He did not run out a ball back to the pitcher and was benched.

On Wednesday, his emotion was more triumphant, hence the bat flip. But sometimes that can make an opponent angry. There were no repercussions Wednesday and probably won’t be because the Tigers and Phillies don’t see each other again this season. But down the road?

“I’m not worried,” Mackanin said.

“It was nothing personal,” Herrera said. “It was natural.”

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

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Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT — The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

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Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.