Grantland Says Its Time to Blow Up the Phillies

Grantland Says Its Time to Blow Up the Phillies

As far as season previews go, this is not the most
optimistic outlook on the Phillies. Grantland’s Jonah Keri asks, “At what
point does Philadelphia see the writing on the wall and start building for
tomorrow?”

This is the dilemma the Phillies
face heading into the 2013 season. They've already turned over more than half
the lineup, handing starting roles to much younger players. But none of those
players are premium prospects. Moreover, the team's trio of infield stars, the
ones who've been the face of Phillies baseball for nearly a decade, are still
around, fighting injuries and Father Time as they desperately try to keep the
Phillies relevant in a division that's left them behind. Then you've got the
starting rotation's three aces and the fire-breathing closer, all making big
bucks, all hugely attractive gets for many other teams were they to become
available. Four months from now, if Philly appears on its way to another
mediocre season, should the team cash in their biggest trade chips for younger
players who could help build a winning team for 2014 and beyond?

Maybe the bigger question is this:
If the Phillies do reach that point, could they go through with it — tearing
down the most dominant collection of players the team has seen in 30-plus
years?

Wow. So the National League East has left the Phils behind?
A division they finished in third place a season ago despite missing two of
their most important players for the first half the year. A division they won
for the fifth consecutive time just one season earlier. Don’t get me wrong, the
Washington Nationals are the favorites, but is their beating the Phillies again that
much of a foregone conclusion? At the very least, most people expect them to be
in the thick of the wild card race anyway.

You can talk about their age and question their health all you want. This is still a team with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard in the starting lineup, backed by a rotation of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee.

Keri has a point though. Sometime in the near future, the
Phillies are going to have to drift away from the core that brought a world
championship to Philadelphia in 2008, despite certain rankings being none too
high on the organization’s farm system.

Yeah, if the club tanks this season, they should become
sellers – just like they were last summer. But then again, it's only March 5.

Assuming there is some hope for the Fightins in ‘13, there
is plenty of room for radical change over the next couple years without Ruben
Amaro Jr. going out of his way to dismantle the team. Only four players on this
year’s roster are signed to sizable contracts beyond 2014: Ryan Howard, Cole
Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Jonathan Papelbon. What the farm system can’t immediately
replace, the Phillies should be able to go shopping for.

The post is worth a read, even if the tone might be
slightly off key. Keith Law may not like the Phillies’ prospects,
but a bunch of young outfielders and relief pitchers are already competing for spots on
the big club right now, while the organization believes kids like LHP Jesse
Biddle, C Tommy Joseph, and 3B Cody Asche could be building blocks of the
future.

Perhaps Keri's outlook is simply far more distant future than I am capable of thinking right now, but the Phillies’ primary focus today should be on winning this
year. We can play fill-in-the-blanks later.

>> Blow Up the Phillies! [Grantland]

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.