Every Ex-Phillies Outfielder Is Having an Awesome Season

Every Ex-Phillies Outfielder Is Having an Awesome Season

A rotating cast of Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Freddy Galvis (!) certainly isn't what most Phillies fans would have ever pictured the team's outfield looking like a couple years ago--hell, even at the beginning of this season--and though injuries (to Dom Brown and Ben Revere, namely) have much to do with this destabilization, there are days where you have to wonder how it ever came to this for the Fightins.

In the years that were good for this Phillies team, dating back to the days of Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell, the outfield was always a strength. But over the last three years or so, Ruben Amaro Jr. made the decision to cut bait with a number of the outfielders who helped power the team's glory years--due to age, increasing expense, seeming decline, and a number of other reasons, most of which seemed pretty sound at the time.

However, as luck would have it, this season has brought back basically every one of those decisions to haunt Ruben Amaro Jr. (and us by extension). If you're an MLB outfielder in 2013 and you once played for the Phillies, chances are you're having your best season in years, if not ever. To wit:

Jayson Werth. The seven-year, $126-million contract that Raw Power signed with the Nats in the 2010 off-season--one which still gets him booed by a good percentage of the Phillie Phaithful upon return visits to the Bank--looked like a disaster in his first few seasons for Washington, in which Werth missed a combined 92 games and hit a combined 25 homers. This year, however, Jayson might be an MVP candidate if he hadn't missed a month with a hamstring injury and if the Nats were doing a little better. He's batting a career-high .323, with 21 homers and a near-.400 OBP, and when facing the Phillies he's doing even better, batting .400/.466/.640 in 58 PAs against the Phils. Seven years at $18 mil a year is probably still a stretch for Jayson, now 34 years old, but man could we have used that outfield production this season.

Shane Victorino. As part of the Phils' half-hearted teardown at the end of last season, Victorino and his expiring contract was jettisoned to the Dodgers for Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin. After Shane did nothing for the Dodgers in 53 games and LA missed the playoffs, and after he got off to a slow start this year for the Red Sox after signing a three-year, $39 million deal, it seemed like Ruben let go of Vic at just the right time. But the Flying Hawaiian has roared back with a vengeance in Boston, hitting .328 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in the month of August alone. Now he's hitting nearly .300 for the season, with 14 homers and 20 steals, and according to Baseball-Reference WAR, he's been worth a career-high 5.7 wins this season, seventh-highest in the whole AL. What's more, on the Red Sox, Victorino is all but guaranteed to do something no one else on this list (or on the Phillies, natch) will do this season--play well into October.

Hunter Pence. The other casualty of the Phils' partial rebuild at the end of last year was Hunter Pence, who had a sub-par end of season and post-season for the Giants after being dealt for Nate Schierholtz and a couple minor-leaguers at the deadline (though the Giants would win the World Series anyway, and Hunt had that weird three-RBI double where his bat hit the ball three times on one swing). Anyway, Pence is having a much better year in his second season in San Fran--his first real walk year--hitting .287 with 19 homers and a career-high 21 steals (against just two caught, remarkably). His defense has been less unanimously celebrated, but Fangraphs value says he's having the best season of his career anyway, and his googly-eyed enthusiasm is certainly missed on and off the field in Philly.

Nate Schierholtz. The 28-year-old pro throw-in in the Pence deal performed unremarkably in his 37-game stint for the Phils at the end of last year, and was unsurprisingly let walk at the end of the season. For the Cubs, however, Nasty Nate has hit on a career power surge, knocking 20 dingers after never reaching double digits in any season prior. It's hard to get too mad at Ruben for not seeing this one coming, but given some of the scrubs we've had cycle through our outfield this season--all of whom have performed as such--it's especially irritating to see a career fourth or fifth outfielder like Schierholtz hitting at such a high level elsewhere.

Raul Ibanez. Perhaps the most surprising career resuscitation among the Phils' ex-outfield crew is the year Raul Ibanez is having out in Seattle. The 19 homers he had (as well as the two post-season pinch-hit blasts) he had in part-time duty for the Yankees last year was impressive enough after he seemed to be on his last legs as a 39-year-old for the '11 Phils, but this year he's gone yard 27 times in one of the sport's most hitter-oppressive ballparks, and at age 41, has posted the highest OPS+ of his entire career. Most remarkably, he's now hit more homers in his 40s than he did in his entire 20s, officially giving Ibanez one of the weirdest career arcs of any slugger in baseball history.

Marlon Byrd. OK, it's not really fair to count Byrd here--it's been eight years and now six teams since Byrd was a Phillie, and he wasn't a part of any of the division-winning squads of the late '00s and early '10s. But damn...even Marlon friggin' Byrd is having a near-All-Star year? The dude was all but out of baseball last year, posting an OPS under .500 as a 34-year-old, surely reaching the end of the line for his respectable career. But somehow, he not only caught on with the Mets this year, he had the best season of his whole career, hitting .288 with 22 homers for New York before getting shipped in a post-deadline deal to the Pirates, where he's hit .325 with six XBHs and eight RBIs in 11 games so far. It's maybe the most bizarre story of the whole baseball season, and it serves as just one more jab to the gut for the Phillies and their crappy, crappy current outfield.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

CLEVELAND -- Barkevious Mingo never really fit in with the Browns.

The Patriots will try to find an ideal spot for him.

A major disappointment in Cleveland, Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft was traded to New England on Thursday.

The Browns received a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft for the linebacker.

Mingo, a former LSU standout, has recorded just seven sacks in three seasons and spent much of last season on special teams.

Mingo's size -- 6-foot-4, 240 pounds -- and speed have made him intriguing, but Cleveland's coaching staff couldn't find the best way to utilize him. The Browns moved the 25-year-old Mingo from outside linebacker to inside earlier this summer.

Cleveland declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Mingo's rookie contract in May. With the trade of Mingo, left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert are the only first-round selections by Cleveland from 2007 to 2014 that are still with the team (see full story).

NFL: Harrison, Matthews and Peppers talk with PED investigators
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Green Bay Packers defensive players Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers met this week with NFL investigators looking into allegations linking them to performance-enhancing drugs, the players' union said Thursday.

Matthews and Peppers met with league representatives on Wednesday, while Harrison did so on Thursday, according to the NFL Players Association.

Last week, the league threatened Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and free agent Mike Neal with indefinite suspensions if they did not meet with investigators. All of them were mentioned in an Al-Jazeera television interview with Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic. In the December report, Sly made claims of PED use by several athletes, including Harrison, Peyton Manning and the three others, but later recanted his claims.

The since-retired Manning was cleared after a separate NFL investigation in which he granted interviews and provided all records sought by league investigators.

The league's deadline for cooperation from the four current players was Thursday. The NFL first notified the four on Jan. 11 about the investigation into the Al-Jazeera report (see full story).

Dolphins: Team intensifies efforts for Zika control at stadium
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins say they've intensified mosquito-control treatments at their stadiums because of the Zika virus.

The Dolphins' stadium is more than 10 miles from the nearest area of the virus outbreak. Even so, the Dolphins say they decided weeks ago to undertake additional treatments as a precaution.

Construction workers are at the site daily completing the latest phase in a $500 million renovation. The first home preseason game is next Thursday against Tennessee.

The Marlins and Miami-Dade County have stepped up spraying in and around Marlins Park "in an abundance of caution," team president David Samson said Thursday. Treatments targeting the mosquito that transmits Zika are being used even though the Marlins play most of their home games indoors under a retractable roof.

Marlins Park is about 2 miles from the nearest area of virus outbreak.

Treatments at the 265-acre Dolphins stadium site include the parking lot and follow recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those treatments are expected to continue through the football season and beyond.

Vikings: New stadium sells out for inaugural season
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have sold out their new stadium for the inaugural season.

The team announced on Thursday that they've started waiting lists for tickets and suites. The official capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium will be 66,655, with more than 60,400 seats committed for the entire season and the remaining single-game seats also sold out.

Returned tickets from visiting team allotments typically make a small number of seats available the week of each game.

The Vikings host San Diego on Sunday in an exhibition game, their first action at the $1.1 billion venue. The regular-season opener is on Sept. 18 against rival Green Bay.