Gauging Nats Fans Feelings On Jayson Werth and Their Young Ball Club

Gauging Nats Fans Feelings On Jayson Werth and Their Young Ball Club

Prior to the Phillies kicking off a series tonight against the
Nationals in DC, we thought we'd ask the biggest Nats fan we know, Cathy
Taylor aka Miss Chatter, about how their team has fared early in 2011.
We also asked about our old friend Jayson Werth and just what kind of
expectations Nats fans have for their club. You can follow Miss Chatter on Twitter or read her blog featuring her awesome photography here.

Enrico: The Phillies are off to a
nice 7-2 start which I think has Phillies fans pretty excited with their
performance thus far into 2011. The Nats are off to mediocre 4-5 start
that puts them right in the middle of the pack in the East. We haven't
spent much time watching the Nats yet this season, have DC fans liked
what they've seen thus far? Feel free to touch on our old pal Jayson
Werth and his beard's performance thus far, if you so wish.

Miss Chatter: Jayson Werth's beard has put on a phenomenal
performance so far this season, after a nervous offseason wondering if
he'd make an appearance in spring training. He did and has been there
since. (Love the twitter account!) Jayson Werth, beard owner, has had
so-so results thus far this season in the field and at the plate. Off
the field, however, I admire Werth's talk. He is defending his new ball
club vigorously and with humor, which has been rather endearing. Fans
were rather stunned at the length and value of the contract he was
given, and there is some "show us the money" regarding him.

The Nats have had a rough start to the season thus far. They just
lost prized third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to the disabled list for a
strained abdominal muscle. That's a heavy blow. The DL stint arrives on
the heels of losing 2 of 3 games in their first two series, but then
they won 2 of 3 against the Mets to finish their first road trip with an
even record. New first baseman, Adam LaRoche, who was brought on as a
defensive upgrade over Adam Dunn, is also walking a fine line that could
easily land him on the DL. First, he revealed he has a balky shoulder
and can't really make throws. Then he strained his groin in the game
Sunday, but expects to be back today. If the Nats lose Zimmerman and
LaRoche, things could get very interesting.

However, Nats fans have been pleasantly surprised by the starting
pitching so far this season, and are particularly eager to see Jordan
Zimmermann thrive in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
His success also eases nervousness over the future of Stephen
Strasburg, who likely won't return until next season. The solid bullpen
arms of Storen, Clippard and Burnett have also continued their dominance
in tight situations.

When he had his welcome to DC presser, Werth talked a lot
about building for the future, but not necessarily winning now. What's a
best-case scenario season for Nats fans this year?

Best case for Nats fans this year is umm, well, I'm not exactly sure!
I wouldn't even dare to predict a final record for the season. I would
have to say best case for Washington this year is if the team stays
healthy and Bryce Harper makes a loud statement in the minors over the
course of his development, Strasburg's rehab proceeds swimmingly and
Jordan Zimmermann's starts this season go deeper and remain effective
all year. Also add Ian Desmond committing less errors in the field and
Danny Espinosa becoming a true batting threat consistently!

What's the one thing about this Nats team that has encouraged you the most about their future?

One thing? Only one? (Why am I having such a hard time thinking of
something?!) I'm going to say the talent and progress of the young
players provides the most encouragement for the future (catcher Wilson
Ramos, 2nd baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond). I guess
that's three things.

Looking forward to spending so much quality time with Philadelphians over the three game series in DC?

Only if they're housebroken! I kid! I love a good baseball
conversation with fans of any team, so if Philadelphians come down and
respect our house and want to talk baseball, then that's fine.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case in the past (nightmares of last
year's opening day still haunt me).

Thanks to Miss Chatter for her time and her photo of Jayson Werth above.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.