Five in a Row and Five Games Back

Five in a Row and Five Games Back

Healthier than they've been all season, the Phillies have put together a post trade-deadline run that sees them banging on the door of Wild Card contention in time for the change to playoff baseball weather. Kyle Kendrick, now firmly in the rotation, has been brilliant, and last night he pitched the Phils to their fifth straight win and ninth in their last 11. They now sit five games back in the Wild Card hunt, just one game below .500. 
Kendrick has won five of his last six starts and allowed just two runs in his only loss over that stretch. In last night's 3-1 win over the Marlins, Kendrick went seven strong, holding a no-hitter until the sixth inning. 
Surrendering only two hits all night, Kendrick struck out a career-best eight batters. He escaped a bases loaded situation in the sixth by striking out Giancarlo Stanton and allowed his lone run in the seventh before turning the game over to the bullpen for the final two frames. Justin De Fratus induced a pair of strikeouts, and Jake Diekman got Jose Reyes to fly out for the third. Antonio Bastardo had the closing duties for the night, and he took home the save facing only three batters, the last of whom was Greg Dobbs, who struck out to end the game. 
At the plate, Domonic Brown put the Phils on the board in the fifth with a shot to right after Ty Wigginton drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Michael Martinez doubled aboard, then was moved to third by Kendrick. With two outs and Jimmy Rollins at the plate, Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc uncorked a two-strike wild pitch, and Martinez was across the plate before the Miami battery could clean up the spill. Ozzie Guillen hilarity ensued as the Marlins manager protested for a strikeout he wouldn't get until after the damage was done. 
That was all the offense the Phillies would need with Kendrick on the hill and a suddenly solid bullpen locking things down. CSNPhilly's John Finger points out that KK is 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA in his last nine starts; including his previous seven relief appearances, his ERA is below 2 at 1.98. Yanked in and out of the rotation and started on a moment's notice when needed, Kendrick has done everything asked of him, and now found a groove that is helping to fuel once-lost playoff hopes. [Full recap and a look at how Kendrick has emerged]
Pittsburgh is the team just in front of the Phils on their way up the ladder, and the Bucs have lost four straight. The Dodgers are a game back of the Cardinals, who hold the final Wild Card slot and lost in San Diego last night. The Brewers, also sitting at 70-71, and the Diamondbacks (69-72) are fighting for the spot too. 
Twenty-one games to go. How many can the Phillies win?
(AP Photo)

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. ... It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. ... Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz falls far behind Elliott, Prescott in Rookie of Year odds

Carson Wentz's Rookie of the Year odds took a hit, the Eagles' Super Bowl odds shortened and the Vikings' lengthened after Sunday's 21-10 win.

The Eagles are 33/1 to win it all, a week after being listed by Bovada at 50/1. The Vikings, meanwhile, went from 7/1 to 9/1. They still have the third-shortest Super Bowl odds in the NFL and are two spots ahead of the Cowboys (14/1). 

Wentz, who had his worst statistical game against Minnesota, is now 9/1 to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Last Wednesday, he was 6/1.

Wentz trails Cowboys studs Ezekiel Elliott (2/5) and Dak Prescott (11/5) on that leaderboard.

As far as this week, Wentz is favored to throw for more yards than Prescott. Wentz is 5/7 to outgain Prescott through the air in Week 8, while Prescott is 1/1 to outgain Wentz.

Elliott's over/under rushing total against the Eagles is 99.5. He's rushed for 130-plus yards in each of his last four games, and the odds are 3/1 that he'll reach that number again this week. 

The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Washington's Matt Jones (16 for 135).

Elliott is also now on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. Dickerson had 1,808 in 1983; Elliott is on pace for 1,875. Will Elliott break that 33-year-old mark? A "yes" bet pays 2/1; a "no" bet pays 1/3.